This article will appear in The Daily Times (Pakistan) November 6th, 2004, The National Catholic Reporter (USA) November 26th, 2004, The Muslim Observer, and The Minaret (CA).
In an unexpected turn of events, incumbent George W. Bush by getting re-elected has orchestrated a revolution under the cover of elections.
A Comprehensive Victory
His reelection and the gains made by the Republican Party in the two house of the Congress, they now control the Senate with 55 of the 100 seats [44 Democrats and 1 Independent], and the lower house with 231 seats out of 435 [200 Democrats and 1 Independent] has made Washington DC a bastion of American conservatism. Adding insult to injury the Democrats senate leader Tom Daschle was defeated signally symbolically the absolute sway that the Republicans now hold on American government.
The victory was comprehensive. It leaves those who reflect upon the nature of America and its future with a very profound and serious question. Are these results indicative of a fundamental change in American political culture or is it merely the consequence of transitory factors such as the war on terror, a weak Democratic candidate and the manipulative skills of a Machiavellian genius – Karl Rove the political strategist behind the Bush campaign?
If this was a fluke then the liberals and progressive elements in the country must prepare to launch a better campaign in 2008 with a powerful candidate. Time to search for a Clinton clone, politically capable of running from the center with confidence and culturally acceptable to the Deep South.
This is not a Fluke
There is no doubt that John Kerry in spite of his extraordinary performance in the debates and his remarkable recovery in the last week was inherently weak on the electability scale. The fact that he was the most electable of all Democratic candidates does not bode well for the party. John Kerry is a liberal democrat from Massachusetts, the Mecca of American liberalism, a “believing”, Catholic and a Senator. According to a Pew Survey, only 20% of the American population is liberal and 34% is conservative. According to The New Republic 29% of the voting electorate in 2000 was conservative but in 2004 the conservative constituted 34% of the electorate. This demographic edge forces democrats to run from a position much to their right, while the Republicans have to make fewer adjustments.
In the last seven elections, the Republicans have won five times and the Democrats only twice. In fact the Bush family has a better record at winning the White House than the entire Democratic Party in the last quarter century. Bill Clinton won the White House twice, in the opinion of some analysts such as Paul Begala of CNN’s Crosfire; the Southern Democrat “was perhaps one of the finest Republican Presidents we ever had”. Given this demographic and historical background, why then was a Bush victory not a foregone conclusion?
There were many reasons why those unhappy with Bush felt confident that he would be defeated. The biggest of all reasons was the mess and chaos that Iraq has become and the clear evidence now that American invasion of Iraq was unjustified. Bush critics felt that the Iraq fiasco would underscore the reckless and misguided nature of the Bush foreign policy forcing even the staunchest of his admirers to rethink their vote. The second reason was the state of the economy. The huge deficit, job losses, declining wages, high unemployment would, many Democrats felt would generate discontent and hurt the incumbent. Big issues such as social security and health care remain insecure. The shallowness of the case for Iraq, the growing anti-Americanism abroad, and the failure to apprehend or neutralize Bin Laden would expose the ineffectiveness of the so called war on terror and therefore for a better security, better economy and a better future, Democrats thought that a majority of Americans would vote for change.
Increasingly analysts all over are converging on the singular role of evangelical Christian turnout at the poles to explain the election outcome. They argue that George W. Bush managed to preserve his formidable Christian coalition, even added to it, and thereby regained the White House on the strength of the “Christian Vote”. It is ironic that while American Muslim “leaders” bragged about the power of the Muslim Vote block (between 1.2 to 1.8 million) as playing a potentially pivotal role in this elections, the player that ran away with the election is the Christian Vote block which can now be safely estimated at about 40 million (34% of the electorate).
In spite of losing the debates, scoring consistently around only 50% on job approval ratings for months, clearly appearing to have lost control on his most important project, Iraq, failing to bring Bin Laden to justice and while presiding over a very troublesome economy, George W. Bush managed to carve out a major historic victory. It cannot be a fluke; there is more to this than meets the eye.
Many analysts argue that Karl Rove was able to mobilize and expand the Christian vote block by manipulating wedge issues such as gay marriage and abortion. Does this mean that the Christian vote block will vote for its candidate regardless of his or her effectiveness? Certainly not.
The Christian Block Vote
It is my contention that in the last three years, since the attacks of September 11th, deeply religious Americans have experienced an existential anxiety that is translating into a political backlash that is threatening American secularism, American democracy and America’s traditional respect for international law and international public opinion.
Unlike Europe, American has always been a religious nation. Alexis Tocqueville in 1831 claimed that religion was the first political institution of American democracy. On November 2nd was saw this first political institution unleash a backlash against the assault on Christianity from Muslims; therefore the support for Bush’s irrational and bloody foreign policy, and against the growing secularization of American society; therefore the across the board support for ban on gay marriage. Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Utah and Oregon passed constitutional amendments banning gay marriages. A large number of voters, nearly 25%, said that the primary issue for them was “moral values”. Moral values are being widely understood as the Christian conservative opposition to gay marriage and abortion rights. But I suspect there is more to it.
The rise of political Christianity, a coalition of white born again Christians, conservative Catholics, African Americans and Hispanics, is concerned with more than gay marriages and abortion rights. Political Christianity seeks to breach the wall of separation between the Church and State and wishes to make this country a Christian nation. America has been experiencing nativist Christian resurgence that is both self righteous and “untraditional”.
It is unwilling to compromise and is uncomfortable with enduring American traditions of religious tolerance, freedom of conscience, fundamental equality of all and appreciation for diversity. This nativism can be heard in the calls for restoring America’s moral values and in political works of scholars such as Sam Huntington who ask, “Who are we?” or in the fears of Pat Buchanan who declares “The Death of the West”.
George W. Bush has returned to the White House on these nativist fears. He is probably convinced that God is firmly in his corner and his mission to “save America” is indeed divine. He is going to charge into battle against dragons overseas and wrestle monsters at home. By George!, America will be born again, pure and Christian.
On November 2nd political Christianity captured the White House, the Senate, the House in Congress and the Supreme Court. Bush is expected to appoint anywhere between 2-4 Supreme Court judges which already enjoys a 5-4 conservative edge. With every branch of the government under control – effectively neutralizing the much-touted divisions of power in the American constitution – political Christianity has taken American democracy hostage.
It is time for American Muslims, American Jews, American Hindus and Buddhists, American Christians who are moderate, secular and liberal, to come together to form a moderate and pragmatic center, eschewing the aggressive anti-religiosity of the extreme left, respecting the religiosity of the right, to restore balance, and preserve American democracy and its traditionally balanced relationship with its first institution – religion.