Forty-four years ago, at the age of thirteen, I became “politically aware” while reading Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater’s “Conscience of a Conservative.” Four years later, as I entered college, Goldwater, accepting the Republican Party’s nomination for president, declared that extremism in defense of liberty was no vice. Subsequently, Democrats depicted Goldwater as a right wing extremist anxious to expand the war in Vietnam and get Americans moving in their covered wagons down those dusty roads to Sunday campground meetings. Consequently, Lyndon Johnson easily won the 1964 election then, within three months of his inauguration, began expanding both the war in Vietnam and the welfare state.
Americans generally fall in the middle of the political spectrum. Although many conservative Republicans lament that the political center skews too far to the left, while their Democratic counterparts believe America is tilted too far to the right, most voters drive down the middle of the road. The Democratic left, however, wearing the mantle “progressive,” often depicts their Republican opponents as a monolithic monstrosity, that most fearsome of political beasts, the dreaded “Rightwingconservativechristianfundamentalist.”
To the consternation of many Americans living west of Death Valley and east of the Monongahela River, this election turned on moral values. According to CNN polls, 22 percent of voters stated that moral values were their primary concern while 20 percent named the economy and jobs, 19 percent picked terrorism with 15 percent citing the war in Iraq and 8 percent selecting health care concerns. Although Republicans garnered significant numbers of voters among each of those categories, 80 percent of those who believed this election was primarily about cultural issues voted for President Bush. Indeed, Senator Kerry was more right than he knew when he asserted Americans were concerned “about the direction this nation is heading.” The focus on cultural issues also was reflected in the average 71 percent approval rate of constitutional amendments banning gay marriage in the eleven states where they appeared on the ballot. Additionally, 65 percent of Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring parental notification prior to a minor having an abortion. Even in the People’s Republic of Berkeley a voter initiative calling for police leniency toward criminal prostitution failed by a two-to-one margin.
Many on the left have characterized this election as “turning back the clock.” Some tremble in fear of that Rightwingconservativechristianfundametnalist beast poised to eliminate “a woman’s right to choose,” reintroduce the draft, widen what already is Global War on Terror, use the Patriot Act to institute a police state and criminalize homosexuality. In reality, the election was decided not by the extreme right but by a majority of middle-of-the road voters who work for a living, marry the opposite sex, support national sovereignty and, as astonishing as it may seem to residents of San Francisco and Greenwich Village, believe in God. Indeed, many of those who supported John Kerry hold approximately those same values. Could it be the dreaded Rightwingconservativechristianfundamentalist beast dwells mostly in the minds of radicals who dwell in a parallel universe where men marry men and the cultural epicenter is Hollywood?
Blinded by ideology, the extreme left, which unlike the extreme right occupies a much wider portion of its host political party, cannot see that most Americans believe marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman, abortion, especially in the third trimester, is reprehensible, and that U.S. national sovereignty should focus on America’s vital national security interests, not those of the United Nations, France or Germany.
Republicans made gains among blacks, Hispanics, and women despite the fact that Democratic programs have a greater appeal to those constituencies. What Democrats missed is that a significant number of blacks believe that homosexuality is morally objectionable and (dare I say it?) sinful. Hispanics generally hold strong family values and most, being Roman Catholic, oppose abortion. And while many people living west of Death Valley and east of the Monongahela River find it incomprehensible, most women prefer men who prefer women to men.
Could it be that this is a country of God-fearing, Bible-reading, SUV-driving and opposite sex-loving Americans’ Whodathunkit? For starters, the majority of the electorate.