It Wasn’t Just The Christian Right. But it is now.
By Laura Spero
In the six days since the election, most of us in the blue northeast have moved from disbelief to shock to a settling grief. People are coming to work wearing black. Some of us are angry, but mostly we are still too dumbfounded to really get worked up. We got worked up during Bush’s first term, and were positively frantic by election day…now we are just amazed. HOW could this happen?
It’s a question Democrats need to ask themselves, and not just because it’s the only thing they can think of at the moment. The political landscape in this country has reached some sort of climax—one we will only understand in the context of history—with the results of Tuesday’s election, it is poised to go careening in a dramatically new direction. If Democrats want to have sway in the route that American politics will take in the future, they’d better figure out how this happened.
The most obvious answer is to point to the conservative religious right, which has mobilized tremendously under Bush. This unique political climate has evolved not as a de-localized slide to the right averaging out to a new center; rather, the right has simply leapt off to the ultra-right, with conservatives gaining control of the Republican party, and the left is now standing here alone like a snubbed date, asking, HOW?
But there’s more to it than extreme conservatism. Let’s not make the mistake of saying, “All those religious fanatics have taken over the country!” I can’t say I know any authentic religious right-wing conservatives in Maryland , but I still know plenty of people who voted for Bush. Leading up to the election, I made a point of trying to tally their views and understand just how they could choose to vote for George W. Bush, and I came up with some rough trends.
First, there are rich people who want to be richer. No big news there. They can share a paragraph with corporate people who want to be more corporate.
Second, there are single-issue voters. Many of these also come from that wing of religious conservatives—pro-Lifers, anti-Gay rights. But there are also one-issue gun owners; one-issue tax cutters. The biggest, undoubtedly, are the one-issue Israel voters. I know intelligent, kind, environmentally conscious, gun-opposed individuals who believe that if we don’t protect Israel, nobody will—and someone will always stand up for the environment if it gets bad enough, right?
Third, there are smart people who are economic conservatives and “just can’t vote for a liberal like Kerry.” These people have always voted Republican, and they despise Bush, but they cannot abide a president who is going to spend all this time on social welfare and federal aid for the oppressed. This is the group I find hardest to understand, because it is clear as day that Bush is no economic conservative in practice; moreover, this group of voters is tuned-in enough to understand the atrocities by which this administration should have been evaluated. To be fair, this group also accounts for many of the folks who broke from a lifetime of Republican voting and reluctantly went Democratic.
Finally, there are the casualties of a brilliant Republican political campaign. We in the true blue states tend to think (mistakenly) that this group, along with religious conservatives, account for all of Bush’s supporters. Swing voters who ultimately thought that Kerry was too wishy-washy or that the country needed steadfast defending. Bush’s appeal to these people was holistic: it was an image, a sense. Maybe it was a sense of protection (built upon a carefully instilled sense of fear), maybe a sense of admiration (for Bush as a regular guy who doesn’t talk all presidential).
But most of all, that image was a sense of great pride and purpose in the American Way , which George W. Bush has deemed sacred. Not Christian—God in so many letters offends too many people, and you certainly can’t go around the world spreading God. But Freedom and Democracy, there’s nothing offensive about spreading those, and Bush convinced many people that America has a sacrosanct duty to do just that. When you can put God in your apple pie and eat it too—you get all the Godliness, none of the God, and a really good piece of pie.
And when you add up all these groups of people—the religious right, the wealthy (but not wealthy enough), the one-issue voters, the intellectual economic conservatives, and the people who like the idea of “spreading freedom” too much to consider how one goes about such a task, you’ve got a lot of people. Apparently.
But what’s really worth noticing is that this collection of voter-pools is not especially conservative. The conservative right might have tipped Bush over the edge, but he was not elected by an ultra-conservative populace.
And perhaps that is what we in “liberal” America are sensing as we stare at each other speechlessly, unable to articulate our horror. That the country is about to go in a wildly new direction that most people don’t really agree with. If you add up the “sacrifices” that each of Bush’s constituencies was willing to “live with” for the sake of some other interest, and you get a President who, on the whole, holds a lot of views that we are going to live with.