After the November elections, there was a sense of disbelief that Bush had won again—and there needed to be some reason why the Democrats couldn’t prevail. It couldn’t just be that, while Kerry did wind up getting more people to the polls than Gore, Bush’s camp just did a better job of “firing up the base.” Yes, in 2004, “scare tactics” worked like a charm.
The big catchphrase that started gaining momentum leading up to November 2 was “moral values”—which all got distorted because of an exit-poll question. There were six or seven questions asking people what was the most important issue determining their vote. The big ones like the economy, jobs, health care, terror—those were all there. So was moral values, which got something like 24 percent. But while terror and the economy are specific issues, moral values was the only general one. The fact of the matter is, there are moral dimensions to each of those other issues.
Take taxes. It is immoral to give big tax cuts to the affluent and create these enormous deficits. It is also immoral to give tax cuts to the affluent in a time of war—a precedent set by the Bush administration. However, there was a knee-jerk reaction to this one exit-poll question after the election. It seemed like moral values, whatever that means, was to blame.
And it doesn’t help that Republicans have this narrow view about moral values that has to do with a someone’s personal sex behavior as opposed to public morality. If that’s the definition of “moral values,” then obviously those images of gay couples getting married in San Francisco and Massachusetts had an effect. That’s right: we shouldn’t worry about the immorality of Republican support for companies moving offshore and setting up subsidiaries, which is usually just a mailbox in the Bahamas, all for tax purposes.
What you do in the privacy of your own bedroom, between consenting adults, I don’t think that is a moral issue. But did gay marriage freak people out? Did it make people vote for Bush because of it? Did it cost the Democrats the election?
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Sure, there are people freaked out by the idea of gay marriage. One thing I read, though, is that in the 11 states that had initiatives banning gay marriage, that that didn’t have anything to do with voting for Bush; that he did worse in, like, 10 of those states than he did in 2000.
Basically, gay marriage didn’t help Bush as much as people thought. There is no doubt that America is getting more liberal all the time. There is also no doubt that there is a large group of Americans that don’t like that America is getting more liberal. But every year the approval rating of gay marriage goes up. There is more acceptance among young people. Yet, I don’t think you get people to vote because they favor gay marriage, but you can definitely get people to vote because they can’t stand the thought of it.
We are actually a more liberal country than the mainstream media would have you believe. So why is conservatism prevailing? The analysis of the election regarding moral values is wrong. There are other “moral” issues that people think about consciously or unconsciously. Some people, and I don’t agree with this, thought Bush was more straightforward than Kerry. He doesn’t waiver, he’s resolute, he “knows his mind.” The Bush people did a good job of making people think that Kerry didn’t have these qualities. Someone’s “character,” especially in a prominent position like the president, is a moral value, too.
And what, really, is a moral value? Americans tend to be more uptight about sex and more accepting of violence. Americans also have a good work ethic. We are also pretty slow when it comes to accepting something new and different. These all have their good and bad aspects, but rest assured that, if American history shows us anything, it’s that eventually we come to accept a lot of what we considered unacceptable in the past.
How long will that take? Who knows? It could happen with this next generation who have grown up with gay family members, gay friends and gays in mainstream entertainment. But it will happen.
The Al Franken Show is on Air America, weekdays, from noon to 3 p.m. Find out more about his insightful books at al-franken.com .