We left one columnist's views out of our election coverage. A computer glitch kept us from reading it until now. It may be just as well. The subject of her column — moral-values voters — was being hotly debated right after the election.
It all started when exit polls said voters most often cited “moral values” as their reason for voting. The conventional wisdom quickly developed that religious voters gave Bush his win.
But New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer cast doubt on the conventional wisdom. If religious voters put Bush over the top, how come he didn't do better in states where marriage was on the ballot, drawing many religious voters to the polls? And isn't “moral values” too vague a term to tell us anything meaningful about these voters?
Defenders of the moral-values vote answered that more than 80% of these moral-values voters chose Bush. The voters considered the term meaningful enough to make them favor one candidate. This doesn't mean that there is a moral consensus in the country. But it does mean that moral issues matter to voters.
This is where Cathy Cleaver Ruse comes in. She's the director of planning and information of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All of this is by way of introducing her column about moral values. It was left out of our election commentary, but now deserves the spotlight as our guest editorial:
For the Republicans this campaign was about fighting terrorism. For the Democrats it was about the president's running of the war in Iraq. The media talked endlessly about the economy.
So who knew? Who knew that, on election night, the news media would announce that there was a more pressing issue that motivated people to vote this year — that the issue most voters thought was most important in this election was “moral values”?
In fact, the National Election Pool, the official election source for broadcast and cable television stations, said that nearly a quarter of all voters cited moral values as the most important issue on their minds. The economy and jobs was the next most important issue, followed by terrorism, followed by the war in Iraq. And while voters were divided almost evenly on these issues, the issue of moral values was different. Of the 22% of Americans citing moral values as their top concern, 80% voted for Bush and 18% voted for Kerry.
Moral values beat out Iraq? Terrorism? The economy? And jobs? How could this be?
President Bush mentioned abortion once during his speech at the convention. He mentioned marriage once. He mentioned both just a few times during the debates. Certainly the president mentioned these issues on the stump. He called marriage and the sanctity of life “the values that are important to our nation.” In speeches he would routinely say, “I stand for marriage and family, which are the foundations of our society. I stand for a culture of life in which every person matters and every being counts.” Even so, these were not the centerpiece of his campaign. Far from it.
For his part, Sen. John Kerry stayed as far from these issues as he possibly could. On abortion, he said things like, “I believe that I can't legislate … my article of faith.” On embryo-destructive research, he vowed to “embrace empirical science based on facts, not ideology.” On same-sex marriage he opposed a constitutional amendment on the grounds that there's already a federal law in place — a law he voted against.
Whether he intended it or not, Senator Kerry became the choice of the Hollywood elites and, through this association, his values were identified as their values. As President Bush said during the campaign: “Most of our families don't look to Hollywood as a source of values.”
The election hit Hollywood hard. The editor of the Hollywood Reporter said, “All the studio execs are bummed. I have to tell you, when gay marriage becomes a bigger issue than the Iraq war, we're missing something.”
Truer words were never spoken. They're missing something. Moral values were not invited into the polling booth, but they managed to elbow their way in anyway. How did this happen? We will no doubt be chewing on this question for weeks and months to come. But there are a few things we ought to remember. Through the grassroots efforts of Catholics and others, 11 states placed initiatives on their ballots to defend traditional marriage. Every one passed handily.
Catholic activist like Karl Keating of Catholic Answers got his pro-life voter guide into the hands of millions of Catholics. And on the fundamental issues of the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage, Catholic bishops from coast to coast spoke out in an unprecedented way. The election was a teaching moment, and they took it.
Come to think of it, we all did.