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Up on Morals Charges

"If you think something is right, you have a moral obligation to act.'' -- San Francisco Gavin Newsom, quoted in the New York Times, Nov. 5.

By Frank Gruber

It took me a few days to gather my thoughts for a "post mortem" about the presidential election; first I had to get past the "mortem" part.

But let's keep things in perspective. Back in summer 2003 everyone expected a Bush landslide.

Iraq went south, but it was a mistake to expect that the administration's cupidity and incompetence in Iraq, and the resulting mess, would translate into a Kerry victory. By the time the general election came round, Iraq was an overall plus for Bush: the fabled undecideds in the middle didn't care much about it, while the self-inflicted chaos of Iraq increased the fear factor and made Bush's base more fervent about the President and his "resolve."

If 9/11 never happened, and if there were no war in Iraq, Bush would have been a one-term president.

Maybe. Maybe not, because the Democrats have conceded half the field to the Republicans, and any football fan knows that you can't win the game if you play it all in your half.

The problem with the electoral map for Democrats is not that there is a solid South and solid if sparsely-populated Mountain West and Plains. After all, there is a solid Northeast, a solid West, and nearly a solid Midwest.

The problem is that the campaigning takes place only in the tenuous blue states -- sometimes, to push the football metaphor, in the red zone of those states. As a result, Republicans have to devise not only a message that appeals in the old Confederacy and in rural America, but also one that works in Ohio and Iowa. Did Kerry ever try to communicate to anyone outside his base or the twixt and tweeners in the battleground states?

That's where we get to that values and religion thing, which I don't mean to overdo. Some of the most churchgoing people in the country -- African-Americans and Latinos -- vote Democratic, so there must be something else going on. And there is no reason to panic; the country is more tolerant than it was.

Consider attitudes toward gays. In 2003 the Supreme Court ruled that anti-sodomy laws were unconstitutional. According to the Gallup Poll, between 1986, when the Court had upheld such laws, and 2003, the percentage of Americans who believe that homosexual relations between consenting adults should be legal increased from 33 to 60 percent. Polls show most Americans would accept civil unions, something unthinkable only a few years ago.

Since the 50s and 60s, given a little time, the left has won every battle of the culture war including liberalized divorce, contraception, repeal of restrictive immigration laws, censorship, civil rights, premarital sex and the rest of the sexual revolution, women's rights including abortion, and acceptance of homosexuality, not to mention the ascendancy of the devil's own music.

The left needs to understand that cultural conservatives may have won most of the elections since 1968, but as they see it, they're losing the Big Game and the left is running up the score -- by pushing every right to an absolute.

I'm fairly comfortable with where the culture has gone during my lifetime, but during the World Series I had an inkling of what makes these folks so mad. I was watching a game on TV; a commercial for Levitra came on featuring a woman with a come hither look who explained about how the product resulted in "long-lasting erections" and "quality sex."

During the World Series? Okay, I understand that there is one standard for Janet Jackson and another for pharmaceutical corporations, and I know that half the vulgarity on TV comes from the same guy who owns Fox News. But the left started this free speech thing. I'm proud of that; Lenny Bruce is a hero of mine. But I'm also willing to say sometimes I don't like our tawdry and vulgar culture either.

Liberals insult evangelical voters and others who put their values ahead of their economic interests by calling them irrational yahoos. Naturally, they don't like it.

We shouldn't be making this mistake; after all, our heroes from Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King framed their arguments in moral terms and appealed to the best instincts of friend and foe.

When Gavin Newsom justifies marrying same-sex couples by saying he had a moral obligation to act, notwithstanding the law, do we liberals call him irrational? No, but if a woman in Kansas votes for Bush because unborn babies are more important to her than, say, the minimum wage, we call her irrational. She's not voting "her true interests."

Wednesday evening there was a fascinating discussion on the Jim Lehrer NewsHour that illustrated just how far liberals are from understanding this. The participants were an evangelical pastor who said issues like abortion were "non-negotiable" for him and his flock, a more mainstream cleric who emphasized the full range of Biblical values, an academic who thinks the culture war is exaggerated, and liberal writer Barbara Ehrenreich, of "Nickel and Dimed" fame.

At one point, the moderator, Gwen Ifill, asked Ehrenreich what she thought of the fact that married women favored Bush more than single women. Ehrenreich said this mystified her, but that she thought that it reflected that within marriage a wife was the "economically worn down person" who as such accepted "the views of the male."

This from a feminist? Who do you think makes those evangelical families join those churches? Who does the home schooling? The dads?

Then Ehrenreich attributed the growth of evangelical churches to the services they provide; services like childcare, or help for the unemployed, services Ehrenreich said "government used to provide." I'm all in favor of Head Start and unemployment insurance, but might it occur to Ehrenreich that churches and other religious organizations have been providing these services for centuries -- since long before the welfare state, and that a lot of people might prefer to receive these services from their own communities and not from government?

I'm not saying that liberals should change their values. I believe our values are more consistent with the Constitution and our legal and political traditions than the values the Bush administration espouses. I am saying that if liberals want to talk to people on the other side, if they want to persuade them, they have to stop calling them idiots, bigots, and dupes.
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