The long hual effect

From the Week in Review > Maybe Same-Sex Marriage Didn’t Make the Difference”>The New York Times yet another analysis about what the values vote means. They won the battle we’ll win the war!

Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, a coalition based in New York, said the poll results show remarkable progress made by gay-marriage advocates.

"Civil unions didn’t exist five years ago," he said. "If the center of the country has moved to a place of civil union or gay marriage, that suggests that the idea that there’s a massive public rejection of gay people is ridiculous."

Mr. Wolfson, author of "Why Marriage Matters," likened the status of gay marriage to the status of racial equality after the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, which, he said, led to years of upheaval and backlash before legislation was passed that supported racial equality. "This is the classic American pattern of civil rights advance," he said. "It’s patchwork. Some states move toward equality faster, while others resist and even regress."

Yet gay rights’ advocates will need to grapple with the surge in voting by evangelical Christians and those who ranked "moral values" first among their concerns. "When the right wing attacks us it hurts, but it can help," Ms. Bonauto [civil rights project director for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders] said. "This is going to be an enormous unifying force for us. They had a good day, so to speak. But not as good a day as they think they had."

A new evangelical politics

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank sees the emergence of a new kind of evangelical politics in the recent US election. She argues that while organisations like the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition may have previously mobilised voters for Reagan, this time it was grass roots Christian activism that got the turnout for Bush. She writes:

In the past, evangelicals participated in politics reluctantly, at the urging of such figures as Jerry Falwell and, later, Pat Robertson. This time, more than 26 million of them turned out — 23 percent of the electorate — in local church-based networks coordinated closely with the Bush campaign.

"You see the maturation of a movement that began in the late ’70s with the Moral Majority," said Michael Cromartie, who directs the Evangelicals in Civic Life program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. "Now these people don’t need to be told. They have their own opinions about the state of the culture, and they’ve gotten organized. It has more power because it’s decentralized and organized."


Milbank quotes Barry W. Lynn, from the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State speculating that the Left Behind novel’s have played a part in this:

Lynn said that a number of evangelicals, inspired in part by minister Tim LaHaye’s "Left Behind" novels, have come to view politics as part of their religion. "There is a strain of evangelical Christians who believe it is political figures who usher in the Second Coming," he said. As such, Bush "is the spiritual and political leader of a moral revolution."

This certainly fits with my reading of Rapture Culture, Amy Johnson Frykholm’s fascinating reader reception study of Left Behind culture. One of the striking things is the way readers move between engagement with the Left Behind series and other elements of popular culture. This has the effect of creating a kind of seamless imaginary world in which the imaginative possibilities of the Left Behind series become a very real part of daily life and thus daily political choices. I think the Left Behind series is performing an important bridging function that hasn’t been fully explored yet.

In a not very good review of Rapture Culture (when will mainstream reviewers get over the quick easy jabs at post modernism) Stephen Prothero (chairman of the Department of Religion at Boston University who should know better) does make a perceptive point. He argues that the Left Behind series and other evangelical mass cultural products are about maintainance not conversion:

Decades ago the sociologist Peter Berger contended that worldviews
perpetuated themselves (and the societies in which they were embedded)
through "plausibility structures" that sustained in the minds of
believers the reality of those perspectives. Churches and religious
institutions do much of this work, but so does the Left Behind
publishing firm, Tyndale House, the evangelical girls’ magazine Brio
and Billy Graham’s World Wide Pictures. Although evangelicals often
raise funds for their forays into mass media by promising to make
converts, the real purpose of those raids may simply be to hold on to
believers already made through procreation or proselytizing. Even
religious traditions that prize sudden transformations in tent meetings
must labor to keep the hearts and minds of the Christians they have
birthed and baptized. And evangelical media, whatever we may think of
their politics, or the virtues of alchemizing atheists into Christians,
play an important part in doing just that.

It seems that these books and other forms of evangelical culture, not just firey Sunday sermons, are in fact "alchemizing" christians into activists. Milbank quotes some striking rhetorical examples:

Though such views are a minority, there were glimpses of that passion on the campaign trail. Last month, at an invitation-only meeting with Vice President Cheney, a questioner rose and said: "I personally think, next to Jesus Christ, [Bush] probably took the greatest load upon his shoulders of any individual, so it had to be with strong backing that he has been able to stand for his testimony for the Lord Jesus Christ."

At another invitation-only event, a questioner asking about Bush’s "faith-based initiatives" told the president: "I believe that the enemy that we need the greatest freedom from right now happens to be Satan, and it’s the enemy that we also don’t necessarily always see. There’s so many people who are being attacked on every level."

Leaders of Christian political organizations have spoken of Tuesday’s results as providential. "Only the Lord could have orchestrated an election in which the president got a wonderful majority vote and at the same time we had a basic Christian institution of marriage on the ballot," Tom Minnery, Focus on the Family’s vice president of public policy, said on the group’s radio show this week.

The organization’s head, James Dobson, said, "I think God has honored" Bush because "the president did acknowledge Jesus Christ." The same program broadcast a statement by Dennis Prager, a Christian commentator, saying "civilization as we understand it was in the balance" in the election, and "a beautiful man has been vindicated."


One of the interesting things about these examples is the confluence between the leadership and the grass roots. It looks like they have fully bought into the divinely mandated version of the Bush mission.

This is a fascinating example of the real-time effect of the apocalyptic myth not just transforming the daily lives of believers but also effectively reshaping the national political agenda.

More Values data

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank does the values math and gets some slightly different figures:

Many religious conservatives have asserted that Bush owes his victory to values voters. That is partially true; more voters (22 percent) said their top issue was moral values than any other single issue, and an anti-gay-marriage ballot initiative in Ohio helped Bush win that crucial state. But, according to exit polls, moral issues ranked below national security issues (34 percent when terrorism and Iraq were taken together) and economic issues (25 percent when combined with taxes).

Washington Blade Blog on the values effect

Lots of interesting election analysis from Washington Blade Blog about the ‘moral values’ effect. Although various politicians, such as
California Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein, is crediting the mass gay weddings as a factor – "It  gave [conservatives] a position to rally around. The whole issue has been too much, too  fast, too soon” – as Blade news editor Ken Sain points out other’s aren’t convinced:

Gay leaders — like Matt Foreman of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force — disagree, pointing out that while 2,796,147 Ohioans voted for President Bush, many more (3,249,157) voted in favor of the constitutional ban on gay marriage and civil unions. So obviously not all those who oppose equal rights for gay couples voted for President Bush.

But Sain’s colleague Steve Koval points to a perceptive critique of the Foreman argument by James Dao in the NYT:

Indeed, in Ohio, 221,000 more people voted for president than for
the constitutional amendment. But an analysis of several counties also
indicated that the drop-off in voting for the amendment was
significantly larger in Democratic counties than in Republican ones,
suggesting a higher sense of intensity about the measure among

In rural Shelby County in western Ohio, for
instance, the number of people who cast ballots for the amendment was
just 1.5 percent lower than those who voted for president. By
comparison, there was a 6 percent drop-off in heavily Democratic
Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland.

Shelby County was
significant because it registered the largest increase in support for
Mr. Bush among Ohio’s 88 counties this year, a jump of eight percentage
points from 2000, to 71 percent, according to a Republican analysis.

Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron who has studied
religion in politics, said such figures indicated that fervent support
for the amendment in conservative areas might have caused turnout to
rise by as much as 3 or 4 percent. And that might have helped tip the
election to Mr. Bush in this most vital of states.

Staff writer Lou Chibbaro provides some additional detail on the exit poll data which puts the stats on gay marriage in a much more interesting light:

The exit poll also revealed that 26 percent of the respondents favor
allowing same-sex couples to "legally marry," 35 percent favor civil
unions for same-sex couples, and 36 percent favor "no legal
recognition" for same-sex couples.

Among those who said they
favor allowing gays to legally marry, 22 percent voted for Bush, 77
percent voted for Kerry and 1 percent voted for Nader, the exit poll
showed — that’s very close to the same candidate preference breakdown
for gay voters themselves.

Among those who favor allowing gays to
obtain civil unions, 51 percent said they voted for Bush, 48 percent
said they voted for Kerry, and 0 percent reported voting for Nader.
That candidate percentage breakdown is very close to the general split
in the U.S. popular vote between the candidates.

Among the voters
stating in the exit poll that they favor “no legal recognition” for
same-sex couples, 69 percent said they voted for Bush, 30 percent said
they voted for Kerry, and 1 percent reported voting for Nader, the exit
poll found.

On those figures a convincing 61% favour some kind of recognition for gay partnerships.

Steve Kovol points to the surprisingly insightful comments from conservative NYT columnist David Brooks writing on the ‘Values Vote Myth’:

Here are the facts. As Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center points out,
there was no disproportionate surge in the evangelical vote this year.
Evangelicals made up the same share of the electorate this year as they did in
2000. There was no increase in the percentage of voters who are pro-life.
Sixteen percent of voters said abortions should be illegal in all circumstances.
There was no increase in the percentage of voters who say they pray daily.

It’s true that Bush did get a few more evangelicals to vote Republican, but
Kohut, whose final poll nailed the election result dead-on, reminds us that
public opinion on gay issues over all has been moving leftward over the years.
Majorities oppose gay marriage, but in the exit polls Tuesday, 25 percent of the
voters supported gay marriage and 35 percent of voters supported civil unions.
There is a big middle on gay rights issues, as there is on most social

Much of the misinterpretation of this election derives from a poorly worded
question in the exit polls. When asked about the issue that most influenced
their vote, voters were given the option of saying "moral values." But that
phrase can mean anything — or nothing. Who doesn’t vote on moral values? If you
ask an inept question, you get a misleading result.

I think one of the really interesting things that doesn’t come out in this kind of polling data is the connections that exist for many people between "moral values" and national security. A standard trope in Bush’s war on terror rhetoric is: "they attack us because of our commitment to the values of liberty, freedom and democracy". His other trope is that these values of freedom and liberty are god given and thus the war on terror is divinely mandated. Thus "moral values" are at the heart of the war on terror and many Bush supporters would see the "attack on marriage" as a parallel "attack on America". The culture war and the terror war are parallel wars in the minds of many Americans. Remember Pat Robinson’s response to 9/11 and his blaming of gays feminists and abortionists for the attacks.

Gays vote for Bush

Chris Bull’s Campaign Notebook at has a fascinating set of statistics from exit polls indicating that 20% of self identified lesbian and gay voters voted for Bush, only a 5% decrease on his LGB vote in 2000.

"In 1984, when the Republican candidate for president, Barry Goldwater, voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the nation’s leading academic survey of voting behavior did not find a single African American who voted for Goldwater in their national sample. Why, after running a campaign that repeatedly attacked our right to marry did one in five LGB voters vote for Bush?"

One possibility: Even though he has a stellar gay rights record in the senate, Kerry spent little time courting gays and lesbians, fearing it would drive away anti-gay voters and associate the campaign with unpopular same-sex marriage. While one can’t really criticize Kerry’s strategy, one that the gay rights groups signed off on, it meant that he failed to capitalize fully on anti-Bush sentiment in this voting bloc.

The other explanation is the way in which security concerns dominated the campaign. In PlanetOut’s unscientific survey of our members, we found similar support for Bush. These voters argued that they were overlooking Bush’s anti-gay stance because they believed he was better equipped to fight the war on terrorism, a cause that affects everyone. Like it or not, that was the rationale.


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.

Encouraging Discussion On Blogs

Another good practical tip from Charlie Lowe

Try blog discussion leaders. I do a lot of group work, so one approach has been to have each group responsible for posting to the class blog at a different time. Perhaps in response to an assigned reading, or a reading of their choosing. If class is on Wednesday, I would have each group member post a blog by noon on Tuesday. Then everyone, including those that posted originally, is repsonsible for posting so many comments by class time. This begins the conversation outside of class. As the teacher, I respond with just a few comments. Some directly to the original weblog. Some in response to a comment.

This is a similar model to what I have done with discussion boards, but I think blogs may facilitate this more because someone can scan the different posts, rather than just forum topics, and choose which to respond to.

Was it about the gays?

In the wake of President George Bush’s decisive victory in the US presidential elections, and a clean sweep by Republicans in the senate and house elections, many commentators are pointing to “values” and gay marriage as the clincher in these victories.

In a round up of press reports the BBC highlighted the following comments:

In the Washington Post, John Harris wrote: “George W Bush’s presidency – its governance and its politics – was organised from the outset with an unwavering eye on keeping the conservative base of the Republican Party intact, energised and loyal.”

And exit polls showed that morality and values were the issues motivating President Bush’s core conservative supporters.

“This was not about a difference of policies but a difference over values,” said David Gergen on CNN.

And he said that disagreement on social issues such as gay marriage might lead to division in the country and a sense of alienation for John Kerry’s supporters.

For Democrats, “there will be a sense of isolation from the majority. A feeling of ‘is this the country that we thought it was’?” Mr Gergen said.

Lisa Keen on points to interesting poll data (unsourced):

In a result that surprised many, more voters identified “moral issues” as their “most important issue” than any other issue. Twenty-two percent of voters said moral issues were their most important issue, compared to 20 percent for the “economy/jobs,” 19 percent for “terrorism,” 15 percent for “Iraq,” 8 percent for “health care,” 5 percent “taxes,” and 4 percent “education.”

However I also remember reading another comment (somewhere now lost in the blur of election web surfing) that exit poll data was markedly different in different parts of the country, indicating a divide between those voting on moral issues and those voting on Iraq.

Keen also points to the comments of Gergen and other talking heads:

Political commentator David Gergen, who worked for both President Reagan and President Clinton, suggested that sentiment against gay marriage was “underneath” the numbers. Political talk show host Larry King said he thought gay marriage was illustrative of a “large cultural division” among voters.

“God, guns and gays,” said CNN “Crossfire” co-host Paul Begala, in summing up voter sentiment. Begala and the program’s other liberal representative, James Carville, both seemed to concede that the Democratic Party’s open support for equal rights for gay people cost it a significant number of votes.

Michael Tackett of the Chicago Tribune also sees moral values as key and points to the unique commbination that he thinks got Bush back:

President Bush put together his winning coalition by tapping into the emerging strength of moral issues as political decision points, the surprising electoral potency of rural America and just enough women who put a premium on security.

That combination was so strong that it overrode deep dismay over the war in Iraq and the direction of the economy. And it put the president in office for another four years.

US Blogger Markos Moulitsas (Daily Kos) is even more blunt in his Guardian column

So how did Bush even get this far? By demonising an entire group of people — gays and lesbians. By cynical appeals to religion. By slandering a true war hero. And, most importantly, by scaring people. You see, terrorists would detonate a nuclear bomb in a major city if Kerry were elected. Only Bush can protect us.

And those efforts, as I have written before, were all aided and abetted by a well-oiled message machine the likes of which the American left is still unable to match.

But Moulitsas sees a ray hope in the darkness. He believes the Bush victory will galvanise a new era of progressive activism:

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but one that should hopefully lead to a brighter future. Bush owns his messes, and now he’ll be forced to clean them up. He won’t be able to hide behind 9/11 seven years into his term. Unless the Republicans can engineer a recovery of epic proportions, they will have a great deal to answer to in the 2006 midterms and 2008. And God help Bush if this nation suffers another terrorist attack.

But best of all, we’ll continue to see this great resurgence in progressive activism – the kind not seen in American politics in over a generation. None of these new activists heeded the call to arms only to abandon the fight today. We are energised, and will continue to fight for a better future for our country.

The big money donors on the left have woken up to their responsibilities, and are working to match the $500m the right pumps into their machine each year. The blogs will continue to grow, as will our new radio personalities. The seeds of a genuinely liberal media have been planted and will continue to bear fruit. Our newly minted thinktanks will work to match the right’s successful efforts in defining the political lexicon – death tax, tax relief, compassionate conservatism. And activists will be better trained to carry the fight into the field.

Obviously the passing of constitutional amendments banning gay marriage in 11 states is indicative of this cultural divide in the US. However this needs to be seen in a broader context. Mark Foreman from the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force points to some positive elements of the voting pattern.

First the campaign in Oregon – the state which had the most well funded and co-ordinated anti-amendment education campaign managed to close the gap significantly:

Oregon – the only state that had anything close to the amount of money needed to run a competitive race – came closest to defeating its amendment. When the Oregon campaign started, polls said the amendment would carry by 27 points, meaning that the effort to defeat the amendment moved the electorate by 17 points in less than three months. It was the only campaign to show a significant movement in the electorate during the course of the campaign….

“The Oregon results clearly show that we can move hearts and votes when we have the resources to reach voters and speak to them directly about marriage and why it matters to gay people,” said Foreman.

Second the comparative figures between the presidential vote and the amendment vote in some states don’t bear out the contention that gay issues were necessarily uppermost in voters minds:

Karl Rove, the President’s chief political adviser, hoped to use same sex marriage to energize and turn out evangelicals to vote for the President’s re-election. He believed that at least 4 million evangelicals sat out the 2000 race. Returns do not indicate this strategy worked in the three battleground states where anti-gay marriage amendments were on the ballot. For example, Sen. Kerry carried Oregon by a wider margin than Vice President Gore in 2000. In Michigan, Sen. Kerry received the same percent of the vote (51%) as Vice President Gore and increased the number of votes in the Democratic column by 227, 422. Finally, in Ohio, Sen. Kerry won at least 49% of the vote (Gore won 46%) and 199,435 more voters cast a vote in the presidential race than on the marriage amendment, indicating that the presidential race – not the marriage amendment – was the pull to the polls.

One of the clearest analyses of the values issue and the role of homophobia in the election comes from Jeff Sharlett at The Revealer a website devoted to religion and the media. He points out that the amendments were more a political strategy “designed by GOP strategists to drive otherwise lazy, Republican-leaning voters to the polls.” He goes onto suggest, from his own experience as well as sociological data, that an abstract homophobia might be an underlying core value driving American belief. His piece is worth quoting at length:

In 2002 and 2003, my friend Peter Manseau and I spent about a year traveling the United States, reporting a book called Killing the Buddha: A Heretic’s Bible, a sort of spiritual geography of the nation. When we published the book earlier this year, interviewers asked us time and again: What’s the common denominator of American faith? What is it that most of us share?

We lied every time. We offered up sincere but misleading tributes to freedom of speech as the American devotion. We avoided the answer that had made itself as plain as the two-lane roads we drove on: The greatest common denominator of American belief is anti-homosexuality.

In Alan Wolfe’s sociological survey, One Nation, After All, he writes that he discovered that most middle-class Americans are free of overt bigotries — except homophobia. The exception to the rule of tolerance in American life, he argues, is the widespread belief that homosexuality is just not ok. Really not ok; whereas most Americans practice a nonjudgmental pragmatism with regard to others, homosexuality comes in for special condemnation.

Wolfe found this common thread through careful sociological analysis. My co-author and I tripped over it without even looking. In the strong majority of hundreds of interviews we conducted, believers of nearly every variety volunteered their opposition to homosexuality. I’m talking not only about Christian conservatives, although it’s worth remembering that that designation applies to the majority of Americans. We also heard about how wrong homosexuality is from Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, New Agers, Santeria practitioners, even Wiccans.

Most of these people are surprisingly abstract in their thinking. There may be a certain disingenuousness to the popular anti-homosexuality mantra, “hate the sin, love the sinner,” but nearly everyone we met really did distinguish their hatred of homosexuality from their dealings with homosexuals….

It’s neither simple nor shallow. My travels — and this election — suggest to me that it is deep, profound, and made up of many meanings, spiritual, physiological, political, metaphorical.

And it’s crucial to understanding the passion for “morality” that become this election’s X-factor…There must be more to it than can be explained, or justified, by the vast, empty term “values.”