The post-apocalyptic mentality that instantly overwhelmed Kerry supporters (or in some cases, more accurately, Bush-haters) is one that is necessarily being thrown off very quickly. The question, “why?” is being asked with less desperate heavenward pitch, and Dems and progressives are ready to take inventory of the successes and failures of their campaign.
One particularly startling fact made cringe-inducing clear by the election outcome and exit poll questions is that Americans, or at least the Americans voting for our very first Divine Right president, are placing moral values above even a bloody and mishandled war on their list of political concerns. (The most amazing detail of this revelation is that it seems to suggest that morality is compartmentalized into a category unto itself, rather than a force that might, usefully, play into a decision to support a mendacious leader responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths). But everyone knows “moral values” is a semantic expression, hiding in its simplistic and socially retarded connotations an allegiance to fundamentalism that just happens to lend ideological support to exclusion and prejudice. Many of these people don’t love Jesus, so much as they hate gays.
The success of George W. Bush in his political dominance is not a statement of particularly notable leadership, but one of foresight and the insidious capability to rally a formidably large bloc that already exists. Perhaps the ultimate horrifying result of George II doing this was that he vindicated and legitimized a manner of thinking that any so-called democracy should fear allegiance with. The same “moral right” or “religious right” that supports a ban on gay marriage and a fervent belief in a false connection between Iraq and September 11, is the same one that operates websites like www.politixgroup.com (located just one link away from the Heritage Foundation’s mouth piece of malignity, Townhall.com) which equates Kwanzaa and its message of ethnic unity with that of the Nazis, and in a breathtaking display of insanity, protested the admittance of Matthew Sheppard’s soul into heaven. The courting of these people is nothing short of an endorsement of their entire community, from God-fearing to hate-mongering.
In the wake of their failure to capture completely the interest (they did, mostly, capture the votes) of progressives and thaw the frost-minted hearts of moderate conservatives, Democrats are ready to make exuberantly a terrible, terrible mistake: reconnect with Middle America with a faith-based dialogue.
It is a long-held tenet in American government that religiosity be checked at the door of schools and courtrooms, and that express appeals to faith, by analogy, are incongruent with constitutional democracy. Unfortunately, like leading a nation into war under false pretenses, if you can claim the support of the teeming masses of porous citizens, you can redefine a whole society, not with laws, but with ideas. George W did not have to rewrite the Constitution to use his faith in the campaign; he just had to augment the creation of a culture where that is acceptable.
Democratic attempts to co-opt the faith based discourse will undoubtedly fail spectacularly. The most obvious problem will involve the very nature of the discourse. It is the Republican’s language and the Republican’s terrain. In order to enter the realm, Democrats will be forced to adopt the words and definitions of their opponents. There will be little to no difference in the message. This is precisely the weakness of John Kerry’s campaign that failed to capture the attention of Republicans who might have been looking for a legitimate change. Consider the language Kerry adopted as pressure increased on him to appear tough on terrorism; “Hunting down and killing the terrorists,” as a sound bite (read: in this culture, reality), sounds awfully similar to “smoking ’em out.” The real challenge to Democrats is to talk about the issues Middle America cares about differently, rather than repackaging Republican rhetoric.
More importantly, making the specific religion of fundamental Christianity a special interest that will dictate political climes is, to put it plainly, wrong. National publications like The New York Times ran article after article pounding the not very round table of the media angrily with its fist over the unabashedly faith-based Bush policies. Democratic critics blasted the president for using religion to muddle the comprehension of issues by constituents. These cries of “foul” were not rooted in jealousy of the strength of the president’s base, but in the duty of protecting the democratic system and the secularity that maintains it.
The Democrats do need to reconnect with Middle America, but further politicizing religion is not the way. Instead, the true nature of a belief structure riddled with hatred and intolerance and reinforced by manufactured fear needs to be exposed as a formidable danger to democracy. If the Democrats barrel right, it will validate every Republican practice they condemned. If Election 2004 can teach us nothing else, let it be that the road to hell is paved with the co-opted language of a war-mongering regime, and good intentions.
ELIZABETH BOYLAN can be reached at: email@example.com