“Moral Values”

Exit poll results released on Wednesday indicated that a plurality of voters considered “moral values” to be their top concern in this election. Democrats immediately seized on this as the main explanation for Bush’s victory: it fits their pre-conceived notions about the red states being populated by ignorant Bible-thumping rednecks, easily led against their better interests by evil Republican operatives, and that the election was won because of Rove’s machiavellian placement of gay marriage as a ballot measure in a number of states. There are two problems with this thesis: a technical one that touches on cooperative game theory, and a general one, on what it means to be a national party.

The technical one is something I suspected after hearing these results earlier in the week. Common sense and cooperative game theory would note that the election does not swing on core Republican voters, anymore than it swings on core Democratic voters. Neither of these constituencies are much influenced by campaigning and will vote with the party they identify with, regardless of what the candidates say or do. Barring vast demographic discrepancies in these constituencies (of which there’s little evidence, as most people now identify themselves as “independent”), the election swings on the persuadable middle. This much is common sense, even though this was apparently ignored in the immediate analysis. Slate, however, did just present an analysis of what actually motivated the swing voter to choose one side or the other:

A good part of the answer lies in the terrorism gap. Nationally, 49 percent of voters said they trusted Bush but not Kerry to handle terrorism; only 31 percent trusted Kerry but not Bush. This 18-point gap is particularly significant in that terrorism is strongly tied to vote choice: 99 percent of those who trusted only Kerry on the issue voted for him, and 97 percent of those who trusted only Bush voted for him. Terrorism was cited by 19 percent of voters as the most important issue, and these citizens gave their votes to the president by an even larger margin than morality voters: 86 percent for Bush, 14 percent for Kerry.

The handling of the war on terror (or whatever one calls it) is a persuadable issue. Despite the crap I saw coming out of the Michael Moore-wing of the Democratic party, I was willing to be persuaded by strong policy positions and concrete plans of action. I was left utterly befuddled by Kerry’s notion that terrorism can be treated as a prosecutorial matter. I believe that eventually a Kerry Administration would “get it” (ceteris paribus, states facing the same circumstances will tend to respond in the same ways, given time), but I fear that it would have been years before they realize that they were wrong and need to come up with another way to think about it. And these would have been bloody years, leading to more delay and heartbreak decades from now. But I had remained persuadable until that point in early October. This piece has a perfect-hindsight campaign strategy that would have persuaded me before then.

The larger issue is the Democratic claim of being a national party. This claim is under threat, as the party is now only capable of reliably delivering only the Northeast and California. Further, its members appear eager to dismiss 60 million fellow countrymen as just so much rabble. Listening to NPR, one rarely hears criticism for the election loss directed inwards, but towards Christian fundamentalists, Diebold, Ohio conspirators, the great unwashed of the middle America who simply don’t agree with the Democrats message in 2004. How is this a national party? I am reminded of Garry Wills 1990 book, Under God, his account of the influence of religion on the 1988 election. Back then, the Democrats appeared to be simply clueless on how to speak to middle America. With Clinton, they appeared to have solved this problem. In 2004, they appear to regressed into contempt for middle America.

I would have loved to feel able to vote for a Democrat in this past election. I feel that a liberal hawk would have been better suited to wage the war, that we could have someone far better than Rumsfeld, to say nothing of Ashcroft and the like. And I would have felt better about how domestic policy would have been carried out in time of war. Concerns about the larger issue put aside or deferred until later, it would have been possible for the Democrats to have carried the White House in 2004, even with ignoring middle America, as enough swing voters, those whose main concern is the war on terror, could have been persuaded to come over or come back with a credible position on the war and what needs to be done. Sadly, this was not the case this campaign season. Hopefully, it will be the case in 2008.

Update: Michael Totten, as usual, has a couple good posts on similar themes. Also, this open letter that was referenced on instapundit is interesting to read. To highlight the Democrat’s burning finger of blame, I’d just like to note that this week’s Prairie Home Companion had Garrison Keillor humorously referred to getting over the election by leading a committee to pass a constitutional amendment barring born-again Christians from voting. Humourous, but somewhat horrifying as it reflects the sentiment of the audience.

Update2: Via Winds of Change, Norm Geras has this point writing about Iranians and Kurds celebrating Bush’s victory:

One of the questions, then, that might usefully be asked on the liberal-left is why people struggling for democracy in their country, and others who were the victims of a genocidal assault in theirs, should hope for and be happy about the victory of a man who is so reviled by all ‘right-thinking’ – i.e. most left-thinking – folk.

4 Responses to ““Moral Values””

  1. Jacob Haller Says:

    The argument about the Democrats not being a national party cuts both ways, doesn’t it?

    I think both arguments are overstated, though. The current method of electing the President really emphasizes regional differences even where they don’t necessarily exist — one place can be labeled red and another blue even when the difference in the popular vote is only 2% or less. I’m sure you’ve seen maps like .

    I agree that ranting about how stupid people who voted for the victorious party isn’t particularly productive, but it’s not clear to me that Democrats are the only ones who do it. I admittedly don’t remember too well what happened twelve years ago.

    I hope that you are right about the invasion of Iraq being a necessary master-stroke in the war against terrorism, although I have a great deal of difficulty in thinking that the goal is possible, that these steps could actually take us to that goal, and that (even if my first two concerns are not well-founded) the way the administration has chosen to approach the steps has been at all competent and likely to result in much progress towards the ultimate goal.

    I am very interested in seeing what will happen in the next few years in the aftermath of Arafat’s death.

  2. Cheng Says:

    I think I’m as much grumpy about some of the post-election reaction as anything else, especially from a party that claims to represent the interests of the common man and whose elites subsequently dismiss broad swaths of the country populated by the common man. This is not the actions of a national party. My complaints are a hope for a better Democratic party in 2008; I would rather vote for a Democrat, but felt that I couldn’t do so this year because I give higher priority to the handling of the war.

    Liberalization of the Middle East is the only thing I can see in dealing, long term, with jihadist terrorism. Someone once observed that war between, say, France and Germany is now unthinkable, not because of the terribleness of war, but in a literal sense of war not being thought of as a policy option. This is despite a century of brutal warfare between these two countries. If this can happen there, I believe it can happen elsewhere, at least to the point that apocalyptic terrorism isn’t cheered on (and supported) by large segments of the population. It doesn’t have to involve turning the Middle East into New England. Note that this is also the work of decades, and month-to-month results in Iraq can’t be judged until later.

    In terms of the Iraq being a first step, take a look at Paul Berman’s Terror and Liberalism, some of the more recent Bernard Lewis books, and the reasoning (WMD aside, as it was written in 2002) behind Kenneth Pollack’s The Threatening Storm.

  3. Dennis the Unix Admin Hidary Says:

    If Kerry would have gotten tough in the war on terra I’m glad he lost. I voted for Nader anyway. I don’t really pay much attention to the Kerry/Bush debate on how to best prosecute the war on terra. To me it’s like listening to a Southern Baptist and Pentecostal debating some theological point. Both sound wrong to me.

    In my view, the US needs to be in a permanent state of war. The upper class of the colonies plan was to kill their way to the West Coast, then started on Hawaii, the Philippines, then after WWII it got really ugly. The Cold War was a good excuse but this war on terra idea started even before that ended. So a decades long Cold War ends, a short hiatus and the war on terra starts, which from what I can see so far is a war on Arab nationalists. Bin Laden was actually more-or-less created by the US and Pakistan’s ISI to drive the USSR out of Afghanistan by what I guess we’d nowadays call terrorism. When the US entered his country (Saudi Arabia) in the early 1990s, he soon after turned on us, as did other prominent Saudis. His main demand was for the US to withdraw from Saudi Arabia, which didn’t happen, but 9/11 was the perfect catalyst to get his main demand granted, which was, the US army announced its leaving Saudi Arabia less than two years after 9/11. So 9/11 worked, as it got him what he has wanted all along, US troops out of Saudi Arabia. Paul Wolfowitz alluded to this last year.


    I’m not sure what the war on terror is, although it looks like a war on any Arab nationalist who doesn’t like the US ruling class controlling Arab oil (which means US troops in the Persian Gulf of course). The US is sending $1 billion a year to Colombia to kill off anyone opposed to us messing with their oil as well. And trying to overthrow Hugo Chavez. Because Colombia and Venezuela have a lot of oil as well. Actually the US elite have been wacking Colombia ever since it invaded Northern Colombia a century ago and renamed it Panama.

    Just as I’m happy the US idle class lost the war in Vietnam (which was won by the Vietnamese and the American people), I hope for the day when the US has a similar helicopter on the roof of the embassy later pushed off an aircraft carrier moment where the US loses the war on terror and the Arabs get rid of outside interference. That is, if the white mans burden can be cast off and those savages can figure out how to run their own countries.

  4. Cheng Says:

    Wow, I actually hadn’t expected a Chomsky/Zinn/Ramsey type of response.