One of the problems of a socialist work environment is that when things don't happen the way we expect we tend to look for blame when there is none to assess. So it was yesterday morning when we heard the news that John Kerry had arranged a press conference to concede the election.
In the gallery artists were installing an exhibit dedicated to the Black Panther activist and exile Assata Shakur. When news broke about the Kerry press conference the professor in charge of the exhibit began railing about the disenfranchisement of blacks in Ohio. "They were intimidated to stay away from the polls."
"I have to respectfully disagree," I said. "If anything the state broke down into two power centers- Democrats and people of color voted for Kerry; the rural families voted for Bush."
"No, no. I read reports of blacks being disenfranchised."
"I'm sorry you think that way and I wished I could agree with you, but even the cases of vote fraud listed on Michael Moore's website were due more to the voters' negligence and lack of common sense than any attempts by the GOP."
We went on for a bit in this manner; the discourse civil and respectful but still disagreeable. But the simple fact is that more than 55 million people nationwide voted in favor of a second term for George W. Bush Tuesday. With memories of Florida in the 2000 election still fresh in the minds of voters, politicians, and election judges across the country this election was scrutinized like none other.
It hurts to ponder the prospect of another four years of Bush/Cheney, especially with Cheney throwing around that often misused word "mandate" yesterday: even though Bush received more votes than President in history Kerry received more than 51 million votes. Even though the man I voted for didn't win, Tuesday the democratic process worked. It's a hollow victory, but a victory nonetheless.
What does frighten me about the Bush victory were reports that the most important issue among voters who supported him was "moral values." Evangelicals, faith-based organizations, and families who espouse more taditional values across the country came out en masse for Bush. Karl Rove said that their were four million evangelicals in the country who did not vote in 2000. Coincidentally the difference in the popular vote was 3.5 million.
This concerns me greatly as I feel this issue is a violation of the separation of church and state. I wrote the other day about the evangelical program that urged its viewers to vote for leaders who espoused Christian values, saying that not doing so would be a sin since the right to vote was a "blessing handed to us from God", conveniently forgetting that the American Revolution was fought for the freedom of man to do as he wished, including not worshipping a God, if he so chose.
If one takes a look at the electoral map and sees the blood-red swath across the middle of the nation notice that one thing these places have in common- besides being rural- is the firm establishment of religion in the community. In many communities churches, faith-based groups, and evangelicals are the only groups providing social services to their communities. Ultimately the people they service will espouse their beliefs and thinking.
To my eye it reads like a large scale version of ministering: proselytizing to easily swayed people grateful for a small amount of relief. So it goes without saying that they should preach to the people they help conservative viewpoints on issues like abortion, stem cell research and same-sex marriage because of the homogenized nature of their communities and their lack of life experience outside of them.
What offends me most about these groups is that they feel the need to foist their beliefs on us, like the ministers who frequent my neighborhood, going door-to-door to rustle new members to their flock. But it isn't enough to bring along the newly converted. They must remind those of us whose thinking is a tad more complex that we're "sinners" and need protection from our own perverse thoughts. Their one nation under God is a Christian deity who gives non-believers their just desserts. There is no room for atheism, agnostics, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, or even Catholicism. This nation was built on the foundation that every voice, every thought- no matter how contrary- has some merit and can be voiced without consequence.
Tuesday showed with perfect clarity that the line separating this country from the fundamentalist religious states of the Middle East, North Africa, and the Indian sub-continent is a fragile gossamer at best, if not completely broken. We must be ever vigilant to ensure that every voice has an opportunity to be heard. We must take the hope of those 51 million Kerry votes and let those voters know that it wasn't all for naught. Otherwise we regress further and have a hard time getting people to the polls in 2K8, which makes the 19 million evangelicals the most cohesive and influential voting bloc in the country
Update: As if this fire need any more tending, consider that in Illinois Alan Keyes' carpetbagging campaign for Senate managed to garner one million votes, or 26% of the vote. Keyes' platform was nothing more than excessive quoting of Scripture, crazed comparisons of abortion to terrorism and slavery, and vicious slurs against Barack Obama. Yet it connected with one million voters. I don't want to think of what would've happened if the Illinois GOP had any efficiency to its operation. Keyes might have made it a tough race.
Then we would have had to rely on the "Saturday Night Live" theory of race in America: Obama won because light-skinned blacks are smarter than dark-skinned blacks.