November 4, 2004
In the voting booth, morality apparently still matters.
That's what exit polls revealed during Tuesday's elections. This turns out to be good news for Republicans nationally, and bad news for Democrats, especially for a certain U.S. senator in New York who might be eyeing the White House. And it's great news for the country.
Exit polling indicated that the top issue for voters was "moral values," which barely edged out the economy, terrorism and the war in Iraq. This is profoundly encouraging. After all, society's moral decay has been particularly stunning over the past three to four decades. The line between right and wrong has blurred. The value of life has been cheapened, most obviously through wide-spread abortion. A coarseness in our culture has desensitized many to violence. Marriage and the family have been shaken by sexual permissiveness. And it's no mere coincidence that all of this occurred while religion was being pushed out of the public square.
On Tuesday, of those who picked "moral values" as their leading concern, 78 percent went for President George W. Bush, a Republican, while only 19 percent for Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat. Other numbers and trends point in the same direction. For example, the president won by a large margin among those who regularly attend religious services. Bush scored particularly well with evangelical and "born again" Christians. In contrast, those who only occasionally or never attend church went largely for Kerry.
A case also can be made that people tend to embrace more traditional values as they marry and have families. Bush apparently carried married voters by about 10 percentage points.
To his credit, the president spoke movingly during the campaign about promoting a "culture of life." Last year, he signed a ban on partial-birth abortion - a ban that even many pro-choice politicians support. But Kerry, who professed that life begins at conception, could not muster the moral courage to vote to ban this barbaric act.
Bush also called for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. As was made clear in 11 different states voting on marriage amendments to their constitutions, the public overwhelmingly backs the traditional definition of marriage. Support ranged from 57 percent to 86 percent.
Meanwhile, there is little doubt that the hard-core, liberal base of the Democratic Party is bewildered by this strong support for the traditional definition of marriage. They also are militantly pro-choice on abortion. Then throw in a public embrace of Hollywood and the music business - which many see as engaged in an assault on values - and the Democrats' woes on these moral issues mount.
The economy, health care and Iraq can be debated, with each party at least having some chance to win voters. But it's difficult to see how the Democrats can make serious headway on moral values. The left-wingers who provide the money and are most active in the primaries block anyone from leading the Democratic Party who boldly espouses traditional values.
A favorite of the Democrats' base, of course, is New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. They probably would love to see Clinton as the party's presidential nominee in 2008. She certainly has strong leftist credentials, including her vote against the partial-birth abortion ban and opposition to a federal constitutional amendment on marriage.
It's hard to think of a more prominent and polarizing candidate than Sen. Clinton. Her husband, President Bill Clinton, as a governor from Arkansas, could pass himself off as a somewhat more moderate Democrat in 1992. Whether that turned out to be true or not is debatable. But Sen. Clinton has no such wiggle room. Her liberalism is far too well known.
The Democrats face a daunting values gap, a sizable church-attendance gap and a significant marriage gap. Meanwhile, the Republican Party has a tremendous advantage on "moral values," which they must not neglect for both their own political viability and the health of our society. The highlighting of "moral values" during this year's election offers real hope that America's moral decline is not inevitable.
Raymond J. Keating is a columnist for Newsday. Read this article on the Newsday website (link closed). Reprinted with permission of the author.