More on the “morals” vote

/ 6 November 2004

Pastordan has an interesting diary up at the dailyKos which argues for why “the ‘morals’ vote didn’t cost us the election.” I need to ponder his argument a bit more, because I’m not completely convinced — in part because I’d like him to be right about this, which suggests I may not be critical enough of his argument. In any case, one of the points he makes is this:

So what's it all mean?  Well, that Bush's base truly is white evangelicals, and that base turned out more strongly than Kerry's base--those who wanted change, and those who opposed the war.  That's the real story behind the values question.

Moreover, Bush was able to poach a few minority votes, primarily by appealing to black and Hispanic family values, but probably also by convincing a few Jews that his support for Israel was more firm than Kerry's.

This suggests to me that the appropriate response on the "morals front" is not to make the Democratic party more religious, nor to make its candidates use phony religious language to hoodwink voters into thinking that the candidate agrees with their values.

More important, neither is the answer to "reframe the issues," at least not by itself.  Instead, I think what needs to happen is building upon the connections and affinities that already exist among the 76% of voters not affiliated with conservative religious beliefs.

Primarily, as many around this board have suggested, that's going to mean making the moral values issues revolve around social justice, not sexual ethics.  Steering the conversation in this direction will build up or preserve solid constituencies among blacks, Hispanics, and moderate evangelicals.

Where I think I might disagree with him, albeit only in a small way, is that he thinks it's not about reframing the issues but about building up affinities with social justice issues, rather than sexual issues. I think that task IS about reframing the issues, because simply emphasizing social justice won't "cancel out" the hard work of engaging homophobia. And it will take concerted efforts by those of us who care about Christian beliefs to do that work. He's right that not very many Americans, to date, identify with progressive Christian values. That needs to change, as well, and I think one element of how we go about changing that is by being more clear about the biblical roots of social justice and more humble -- but also more personal -- about how our faith connects to our daily lives.