Values

Everyone’s reporting on the values issue and Karl Rove’s masterly strategy. No one yet seems to know quite what it means. The NYT sums up the numbers succinctly:

It was not a landslide, or a re-alignment, or even a seismic shock. But it was decisive, and it is impossible to read President Bush’s re-election with larger Republican majorities in both houses of Congress as anything other than the clearest confirmation yet that this is a center-right country – divided yes, but with an undisputed majority united behind his leadership.

Surveys of voters leaving the polls found that a majority believed the national economy was not so good, that tax cuts had done nothing to help it and that the war in Iraq had jeopardized national security. But fully one-fifth of voters said they cared most about “moral values” – as many as cared about terrorism and the economy – and 8 in 10 of them chose Mr. Bush.

In other words, while Mr. Bush remains a polarizing figure on both coasts and in big cities, he has proved himself a galvanizing one in the broad geographic and political center of the country. He increased his share of the vote among women, Hispanics, older voters and even city dwellers significantly from 2000, made slight gains among Catholics and Jews and turned what was then a 500,000-popular-vote defeat into a 3.6 million-popular-vote victory on Tuesday.

On Rove Andrew Sullivan admits that Bush’s strategist read the American electorate – or at least an important part of it – better than anyone else:

A lot of gay people are devastated this morning, and terrified. We have seen, and not for the first time, how using fear of a minority can be so effective a tool in building a political movement. The single most important issue for Republican voters, according to exit polls, was not the war on terror or Iraq or the economy. It was ‘moral values.’ Karl Rove understood the American psyche better than I did. By demonizing gay couples, the Republicans were able to bring in whole swathes of new anti-gay believers into their party. With new senators Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn, two of the most anti-gay politicians in America, we can only brace ourselves for what is now coming.

Joel Achenbach in the Washington Post goes to the nub of the “values” rhetoric:

The term wasn’t defined, and Democrats spent much of yesterday protesting that they have morals and values, too. The term is basically a code phrase for abortion and gays. For some people, particularly religious evangelicals, these issues are even more important than Iraq, terrorism, the economy, health care, the environment and education. Moral issues gnaw at the guts of people who think they know right from wrong and normal from sick. The reelection of George W. Bush as the 43rd president of the United States appears to be at least in part because of a fear that liberals favor marital unions among sodomites.

Greg Grieve, a Fellow at NYU’s Center for Religion and Media, makes a very perceptive comment on The Revealer website:

[a colleague] and I have been talking about ‘moral values’ all morning. And it seems to us that it is working as an empty signifier, similar to Barthes’ notion of ‘myth,’ onto which people are projecting their conceptions. As Barthes writes in ‘Myth Today’: ‘The signifier presents itself in an ambiguous way: it is at the same time meaning and form, full on one side and empty on the other.’ (117) As the Russian saying goes: ‘A sacred space is never empty.’ There seems to be a need for two steps: (1) to debunk the Myth of moral values, and then (2) to craft a new ‘myth’ that democrats can control for progressive ends.

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