Four years ago, Bush’s Brain Karl Rove swore that he would not rest until the four million Evangelicals who did not vote then would turn out yesterday. And they did. They came in droves. They told those who did the exit polls that the issue that brought them to the franchise was not their own unemployment or under employment, or even the loss of their family members in a war of choice. They came to vote for “moral values.”
After Rove told participants at an American Enterprise Institute seminar in 2001 that the goal of the Bush re-election campaign would be to make sure that all 19 million Evangelical Christians voted, his team hired Ralph Reed to take charge of the effort. Reed, the veteran of the Christian Coalition, mobilized his contacts and his good looks and went after the withheld votes.
The effort began to pay off by the summer of 2004 when the National Association of Evangelicals released a report, For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility. “Because Jesus is Lord over every aspect of life,” the report argued, Evangelicals should take an interest in public policy and vote to enforce their “values” over the polity. There are two sections of the document that are helpful guides to “moral values”: (1) “Christian citizens of the United States must keep their eyes open to the potentially self-destructive tendencies of our society and our government… We work to nurture family life and protect children,” and (2) “We work to protect the sanctity of human life and to safeguard its nature.” In other words, the report highlighted the twin “moral values” of anti-gay marriage and anti-abortion, of the preservation marriage as a heterosexual institution and of the prevention of women to determine the fate of their bodies.
Bush ran an election campaign that appealed to this definition of “values.” The fear of gay marriage and of abortion trumped all other issues, even a ransom-sized deficit and a murderous war. Some of this should have been predictable. The Pew Center for Religion and Public Life released a poll in August 2004 that showed 64% of those asked clearly saying that “moral values” is their most important issue. Blinded by the enormity of the Iraq lies and the deficit, progressives and liberals could not see how significant this “moral value” problem would be. We took comfort in the aggregate data that shows how a large percentage of the population is actually not averse to abortion and knows someone who is gay or lesbian. But the aggregate poll might have been weighted to the coasts, and not to Kansas.
The Faith-Based initiatives, the ban on “partial-birth” abortions, the position against gay marriage, the refusal to fund stem-cell research, the “crusade” against Islam and Bush’s personal story of transformation and forgiveness appealed to a population that is piously fundamentalist. Without meaningful work, with relatives and friends on the battlefield, with more and more corporations in domination over their lives, people who turn to Bush and to Evangelicalism do so for stability and order. As everything falls apart, belief provides organizations and institutions, and ideological stability. Religious organization offers the soul of soulless conditions.
Progressives are loath to offer a frontal criticism of the theocracy that has overtaken the South and the Midwest — where under the command of tolerance we have to endure the intolerance toward women and their bodies, toward gays and lesbians, towards anyone who does not fit the compass of the “moral values” mass-produced by the established churches. It is time to throw off our forbearance and open a direct debate on the suppression of rational argument in favor of theocratic bigotry.
Homophobia elected Bush.
Misogyny elected Bush.
Unreason elected Bush.
VIJAY PRASHAD teaches at Trinity College, Hartford, CT. His latest book is Keeping Up with the Dow Joneses: Debt, Prison, Workfare (Boston: South End Press). His essay, “Capitalism’s Warehouses”, appears in CounterPunch’s new book, Dime’s Worth of Difference. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org