I would have posted these comments in the various threads to which they relate, but I find myself wanting to address issues raised by a number of our faithful contributors.
First, I'd like to address legitimate points made by Sheldon Richman in his"Ugh" post. Sheldon puts his finger on some very important points that we should not forget. It is surely true that"the left-socialist pundits and cultural elite" have serious problems. I suppose that part of my own revulsion toward some of those on the evangelical right is rooted in the fact that the debate has shifted rightward in American politics, and it is only natural that those of us who normally would be identified as"right-wing" simply because of our support for the free market would spend some time critiquing other"right-wingers." This is not unusual; I have always believed that New Leftists of the revisionist historical variety have been among the most trenchant critics of the liberal-welfare state. Sometimes, those on the"inside" of the old left-right political paradigm are in the best position to critique other insiders.
The main problem, however, is that libertarians essentially transcend the conventional left-right dichotomy.
I agree with Sheldon that"the typical Bush voter" is most likely"not a racist, gay-bashing, theocratic fascist." The typical voter supports the war and the other conservative positions for more" common sense" reasons than those provided by evangelical preachers or neoconservative intellectuals. And I'd venture to say that Sheldon is probably correct that many of these pro-Bush voters"probably generally favor smaller government over bigger government," even if Bush has proven that he's fully a part of the"bigger government" contingent. We do not serve our purpose if we demonize the men and women on the street who are just searching to provide themselves and their loved ones with decent and safe lives. I have argued these points explicitly in my"Caught Up in The Rapture" article:
A few caveats are in order. In this discussion, I have not made any broad claim about religion, per se, as a corrupting social force. Nor have I indicted people’s right to worship or voice their religiously inspired political beliefs as they please. We live in a historical moment when people are searching desperately for guidance in the face of terrorism and war. That there are legitimate secular alternatives to religion, which might provide us with spiritually uplifting answers, does not obscure the fact that religion exists. It is not about to wither away anytime soon; it is not about to be wiped out as"the opiate of the masses." It will continue to provide many individuals with the emotional fuel they require to make sense of life’s tragic circumstances.
Moreover, this discussion is not meant to indict any particular religion or sect. That some pietists have endorsed government intervention does not mean that all pietists are"evil." Even in today’s culture, pietists are not the only religious group wreaking havoc with American politics. And there are many other non- (or anti-)religious ideological groups trying to ram their particular social agendas down the throats of the American people; some of these groups are notably secular and left-wing. That’s just the nature of the society in which we live, a society where government’s raison d’etre is not the protection of individual rights, but the dispensation of privilege. That governmental role has had the effect of multiplying the number of groups engaged in internecine competition for political or social benefits, and these groups will be inspired by any number of religious or secular ideological doctrines.
That our focus here has been on the indecent impact of religion on politics, however, does not mean that religious people are incapable of being decent. The lessons of the Old and New Testaments, with their select stories of human redemption and human dignity, have had a measurable positive impact on many good and moral individuals. That supreme atheist, Ayn Rand, once said that religion had long monopolized"the highest moral concepts of our language," such notions as"exaltation,""worship,""reverence," and the"sacred," all of which speak to legitimate, this-worldly human needs. She readily affirmed the importance of certain religious doctrines to the evolution of the ideas of individualism and freedom, and celebrated individuals such as St. Thomas Aquinas for acting as the Aristotelian progenitor to the Renaissance. ...
[However,] [t]he central issue is that more and more Americans are enraptured by a religious sensibility that is becoming increasingly influential on popular culture and on domestic and foreign policy. Religion is being used by the representatives of government and politically constituted groups as a statist tool for the remaking of the modern world. And therein lies the danger.
The Founding Fathers—most of them deist in their religious orientation—understood the supreme importance of the separation of church and state, even if they sought the entitlements of rights and revolution on the basis of the"laws of nature and of nature’s God." For those of us who understand the equally important separation of economy and state, it is clear that the erosion of these principles has led to the erosion of the very rights for which the Founders fought.
It will take nothing less than an intellectual and cultural revolution to rediscover—and implement—these sacred political principles that stand at the core of the distinctly American imagination.
On this last point, I'll cite Ayn Rand again. Rand was well aware of the fact that many people tacitly accepted certain ideas without really grasping the premises of those ideas. Her whole ethical system can be understood as a means of shifting what Michael Polanyi once called"the tacit coefficient of meaning," that is, making explicit that which is merely implicit in people's economic, political, social, or cultural ideas and/or practices. In the end, she argued that it is only by" checking one's premises" that one could begin to articulate a radical alternative."Ideas cannot be fought except by means of better ideas," she wrote."The battle consists not of opposing, but of exposing; not of denouncing, but of disproving; not of evading, but of boldly proclaiming a full, consistent and radical alternative."
My opposition to religious fundamentalism is no less forceful than my opposition to the secular leftists who endorse their own brands of worship. But I do stand by my view that the rising tide of religious fundamentalism in this country played a crucial role in the re-election of George W. Bush, and it is Bush's pietistic ideology, as I have argued, that is particularly troublesome insofar as he is inspired by it to mount the kinds of domestic and foreign policy initiatives that I reject.
Irfan Khawaja remarks, however, that my position that the evangelical vote was necessary to the achievement of Bush's re-election means that if we remove the evangelical vote, Bush would not have been re-elected. (For fans of internal relations, I guess we can say that this implies that the evangelical vote was internal to Bush's victory such that the removal of it would have fundamentally altered the outcome.) I'd tend to agree with that proposition if it were possible to view the situation with the proviso,"other factors being equal." Unfortunately, I do not believe it is a legitimate conclusion in a multi-causal model of voter behavior. For example, I will admit that if it were possible to separate attitudes from within a fundamentalist voter's mind, some of these voters would have still supported Bush on the question of national security quite apart from their religious convictions. But as John Arthur Shaffer suggests in his comments on Arthur Silber's post,"Don't Blame the Victim," it is not that easy to separate out specific positions from the fundamentalist, who, like any other person committed to a set of integrated ideological beliefs, sees those positions as an expression of an essential core.
Yes, people do vote for candidates for a variety of reasons, and I don't think we bolster our case by ignoring those reasons. But we also cannot ignore the core beliefs of a certain sector of the electorate that voted in overwhelming numbers for a specific candidate. It's all about checking the premises of those core beliefs, not singling out the believers as"evil," because those beliefs reflect the stated beliefs of the very man whom the believers supported en masse.
While we're pointing fingers at the liberal-left for denigrating these believers, let's put all of this in perspective. There is irony here in that the left-liberal critics ultimately agree with Karl Rove and the President's key strategists, from whom we heard the constant mantra throughout this election season:"First, secure the base." Rove dreamed of solidifying and extending that base. To a very large extent, those dreams were realized. Recognizing the brilliance of that strategy is a backhanded compliment, if you will, to Karl Rove, coming from those who decry its outcome.
And given the comments of Barry Rosenthal and Tex here, I think a persuasive case can be made that, indeed, the Rove strategy was critical to the particular success in Ohio, a state without whose electoral votes, Bush would have lost. The anti-gay marriage and anti-gay civil union amendment won in that state by a 62% to 38% vote, with a 1.2 million vote differential, as Barry reports. Bush won the state by 136,000+ votes. Exit polls reported that close to 70% of supporters of the Ohio ban voted for Bush. If that ban were not on the ballot, not firing up a certain group of evangelical voters who voted also for Bush, Kerry may have eked out a narrow victory in Ohio. Republican strategists understood this, as Tex suggests, which is why the Bush campaign encouraged the Ohio ban initiative, running advertisements on radio, by phone, and in mass mailings.
Nothing I say here contradicts points made by Irfan and others that many voters, quite apart from that fundamentalist bloc, voted for Bush because they saw in him a steady, self-confident leader in the war on terrorism. That, coupled with a very effective campaign which targeted Kerry's lack of credibility, clarity, and consistency, made for a winning formula. Rove said as much this morning on"Meet the Press." It takes a lot more than a fundamentalist base to deliver Bush the Presidency with a higher percentage of the vote than any Democratic candidate since LBJ's 1964 landslide, as Rove suggested.
But the mantra is still valid:"First secure the base." Rove did. Bush won.
Finally, I agree with Irfan on many of the points he makes about Ronald Reagan, and I agree that Reagan said a lot of awful and outrageous things during his presidency. More importantly, his practical legacy did not match his rhetorical one. Still, my admiration for Reagan remains focused on Reagan at his libertarian rhetorical best, as I express here and here. I just don't find the same libertarian rhetorical streak in George W. Bush. And perhaps, in the long run, that is best. I wouldn't want Bush to be mistakenly identified as a libertarian. Mistaking Reagan for a libertarian had its costs, after all.