America is in a moral crisis – that crisis being that a majority of Americans don’t believe that Democrats have any. Okay, admittedly that’s an overstatement, but judging by poll results from last week’s election, it’s not far off the mark.
Exit polls showed that the issue voters were concerned about over any other was not Iraq, not the war on terror and not the economy. Instead the issue that headed the list – by 22 percent – was “moral issues.”
“That was probably the biggest surprise of the election,” Stephen Hess, a political expert at the Brookings Institution, told a reporter from the Associated Press. “What it turned out to be was Bush’s two issues, which were terrorism and moral values, trumping Kerry’s two issues, which were Iraq and the economy.”
This has led the spin experts and a long list of Democratic politicos to declare that the Dems need a makeover and that they must return their focus to traditional values.
“If we don’t step back, take a good hard look and address these issues, we’re going to be in the back seat for many years to come,” said Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) during an interview with CNN.
The last Democratic president and still the crown prince of the party, Bill Clinton, addressed the issue in a speech last Friday to the Urban Land Institute.
“If we let people believe that our party doesn’t believe in faith and family, doesn’t believe in work and freedom, that’s our fault,” he said, adding that Democrats “need a clear national message and they have to do this without one big advantage the Republicans have, which is they won’t have a theological message that basically paints the other guy as evil.”
The battle of good v. evil
Clearly painted as evil in this election were gays. No less than 11 states had measures on the ballot that sought to “protect traditional marriage” by banning marriage equality for gays in their constitutions. Those measures passed in all 11 states, often overwhelmingly. President Bush frequently blames the headway gays have made toward obtaining marriage on “activist judges.” In the wake of last week’s election, however, openly-gay U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass) blamed gay-friendly activists for the Democratic defeat and said they’re over-zealousness set the scene for Bush’s reelection. Frank told the Washington Blade that the decision of officials across the country, including in San Francisco, to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples “created an appearance that this was getting out of control.”
In the same Blade article, which reported that Bush received nearly a quarter of the gay vote across the nation, Patrick Guerriero, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, said Bush’s victory sends the LGBT community a clear message.
“Whether we like it or not, the gay community has a lot of work to do,” Guerriero said. “It has not changed the hearts and minds of Americans in the South and in other key states.”
That was made abundantly clear by the success of the anti-gay marriage measures, which passed in Mississippi, for example, by a margin of 86-14, and 75-25 in Kentucky.
“What does that tell us?” asked activist and legendary women’s music performer Cris Williamson in a BTL exclusive interview. “Is that a great place for us to be? Probably not, but isn’t that where we need to go?”
In Michigan, one of only two states to capture 40 percent or more of the “no” vote, gays fared better. In fact, at the press conference conceding that Michigan had lost its hard fought battle against the anti-gay Proposition 2, Jeffrey Montgomery, executive director of the Triangle Foundation, said the severity of the attacks on gays by right wing extremists during the campaign would help the LGBT cause in the long run.
“They have helped us to move ahead by compelling thousands of our fellow citizens to consider LGBT equality and support our right to fair treatment,” he said. “While those who waged this campaign of hate prevailed at the polls, they have intensified and hastened the march toward the day when all of us, gay or otherwise, will achieve equal status and equal opportunity.
To reach the finish line, gays will have to work with Democrats to help redefine “moral values” and show how our community is as faith-filled as any other.
“The Democrats need to prevent the Republicans from having the monopoly on so-called moral values issues,” said Eric Davis, a professor of political science at Middlebury College in Vermont, in an interview with the Associated Press. “There are elements of the Judeo-Christian tradition that the Democrats could talk to. There is a long tradition of social justice in the Bible. The Democrats maybe need to start emphasizing their own values.”