I voted for Bush but I am a social liberal, an economic and environmental moderate, and a strong believer in the separation of church and state. Based upon what I have been told by many on both sides of the Great Divide, I should be very concerned about what the 2004 election results say about our nation, a result to which I contributed with my vote.
But I am not worried about the social and moral state of the nation more than usual, and think voters are a lot smarter and more nuanced than many are giving them credit for: a vote for Bush was not necessarily a vote against social tolerance or any other broad-based agenda. In my case, I just thought it best to return Bush to office to (attempt to) finish what he began regarding the war on terror. I simply thought he was the best choice at this time under these circumstances: that’s it – no broader agenda than that.
I didn’t give the guy a “mandate,” I gave him a vote based upon my own personal juggling and balancing of priorities, just like most of the rest of the nation that doesn’t have a stereotypical “agenda” and set of litmus tests. And a lot of people vote Republican out of a perceived preference from their wallets, whether they admit it to pollsters or not.
And then there is the whole red and blue nonsense: a stark graphic that purports to reveal so much more than it actually reveals as to end up a net knowledge — or at least insight — loss. The red and blue depiction (see below) DOES reveal the political realities that derive from our winner-take-all electoral college system for the states in presidential elections, but otherwise it fails both on geographical and on social/moral levels because its surface is so glossily shallow it obscures equally or more important underlying truths and realities.
As to the moral issues, for once I agree entirely with Frank Rich, who as a political columnist I typically view as a fine theater critic:
- There’s only one problem with the storyline proclaiming that the country swung to the right on cultural issues in 2004. Like so many other narratives that immediately calcify into our 24/7 media’s conventional wisdom, it is fiction. Everything about the election results – and about American culture itself – confirms an inescapable reality: John Kerry’s defeat notwithstanding, it’s blue America, not red, that is inexorably winning the culture war, and by a landslide. Kerry voters who have been flagellating themselves since Election Day with a vengeance worthy of “The Passion of the Christ” should wake up and smell the Chardonnay.
The blue ascendancy is nearly as strong among Republicans as it is among Democrats. Those whose “moral values” are invested in cultural heroes like the accused loofah fetishist Bill O’Reilly and the self-gratifying drug consumer Rush Limbaugh are surely joking when they turn apoplectic over MTV. William Bennett’s name is now as synonymous with Las Vegas as silicone. The Democrats’ Ashton Kutcher is trumped by the Republicans’ Britney Spears. Excess and vulgarity, as always, enjoy a vast, bipartisan constituency, and in a democracy no political party will ever stamp them out.
If anyone is laughing all the way to the bank this election year, it must be the undisputed king of the red cultural elite, Rupert Murdoch. Fox News is a rising profit center within his News Corporation, and each red-state dollar that it makes can be plowed back into the rest of Fox’s very blue entertainment portfolio. The Murdoch cultural stable includes recent books like Jenna Jameson’s “How to Make Love Like a Porn Star” and the Vivid Girls’ “How to Have a XXX Sex Life,” which have both been synergistically, even joyously, promoted on Fox News by willing hosts like Rita Cosby and, needless to say, Mr. O’Reilly.
Hypocrisy, mixed loyalties, the pursuit of profits – all of these pretty much guarantee the propagation of trash culture in all its exuberance and pressure to keep governmental hands off of our activites and ourselves.
- It’s in the G.O.P.’s interest to pander to this far-right constituency – votes are votes – but you can be certain that a party joined at the hip to much of corporate America, Mr. Murdoch included, will take no action to curtail the blue culture these voters deplore. As Marshall Wittman, an independent-minded former associate of both Ralph Reed and John McCain, wrote before the election, “The only things the religious conservatives get are largely symbolic votes on proposals guaranteed to fail, such as the gay marriage constitutional amendment.” That amendment has never had a prayer of rounding up the two-thirds majority needed for passage and still doesn’t.
….But it’s not only the G.O.P.’s fealty to its financial backers that is predictive of how little cultural bang the “values” voters will get for their Bush-Cheney votes. At 78 percent, the nonvalues voters have far more votes than they do, and both parties will cater to that overwhelming majority’s blue tastes first and last. Their mandate is clear: The same poll that clocked “moral values” partisans at 22 percent of the electorate found that nearly three times as many Americans approve of some form of legal status for gay couples, whether civil unions (35 percent) or marriage (27 percent).
Powerful points all, and numerically undeniable. The 22% may want to tell the rest of us how to conduct our lives, but the 78% can tell then where to put their moral values.
Rich then makes note of which group the speakers at the RNC belong to:
- Sam Brownback, the Kansas senator who champions the religious right, was locked away in an off-camera rally across town from Madison Square Garden. Prime time was bestowed upon the three biggest stars in post-Bush Republican politics: Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Arnold Schwarzenegger. All are supporters of gay rights and opponents of the same-sex marriage constitutional amendment. Only Mr. McCain calls himself pro-life, and he’s never made abortion a cause.
And that’s the Republican future.
There will always be cylces of action and reaction to speific issues (which may be the case right now regarding gay marriage, a reaction by many that “things are moving too quickly”), but there is zero question that the greater arrow of American history moves in the direction of greater tolerance and personal liberty.
The geographical assumptions require more looking into as well. First, here is the red (Bush) and blue (Kerry) map reflecting the winners by state for the 2004 election (all maps courtesy Michael Gastner, Cosma Shalizi, and Mark Newman at the University of Michigan).
Rather stark in the regional solidarity, which has led many to declare “two Americas.” But Gastner, Shalizi, and Newman give that view a twist by weighing for population, creating a “cartogram”:
Assuming for a moment there ARE two Americas, they start to look a bit more equal from the population perspective.
Here is the vote by county, a much less monolithic view of the vote (USA Today version here):
And here is the county cartogram:
Then, perhaps most revealing of all, the trio use red, blue and their union, purple, to reflect actual vote percentages rather than winner-take-all:
Suddenly it becomes graphically clear that there is relatively little true “red” America: there’s an awful lot of purple and blue out there, and that’s where the people tend to be. Back to my opening paragraph, I am personally quite purple and I am not alone.
Yet another way to look at this data was very cleverly devised by Robert David Sullivan, who cut up the nation into 10 political regions, each representing about 1/10 the electorate (around 10.5 million voters).
- The 10 Regions approach also puts the perplexing question of what the Democratic Party needs to do about the South in a different light. Right now, common wisdom is that the party must reduce the Republican margin in Appalachia by somehow neutralizing the “guns, God, and gays” issues that have doomed Democrats in rural areas. But it could be just as important to build on the party’s foundation in Southern Lowlands, which is more urban, better-educated, and more populated by racial minorities than the other Southern regions (indeed, Southern Lowlands has the highest percentage of blacks in the population, nearly 28 percent, of any of our 10 regions). In states like Illinois, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, the Democrats compensate for their weakness in rural areas by rolling up big margins in major cities and holding their own in the suburbs. Unless the party manages to nominate a Democrat with strong appeal for white rural voters (and those are getting hard to find), it will have to think about doing the same thing in North Carolina, Virginia, and especially Florida, where the Southern Lowlands cities of Daytona Beach and Orlando could combine with the El Norte southern tip to offset the Southern Comfort Gulf Coast and panhandle.
Again, no monolith, but an intricate system of politically-similar regions that mix and match their way across what is a very complex and heterogenous nation.
Despite what you may have heard about the 2004 election, the 100 flowers still bloom and will continue to do so largely unfettered. Fear not the great cultural/political clampdown, for it isn’t coming.