It's been interesting listening to opinions about last week's national election. Many of the pundits are at a loss to explain it, but they didn't predict it either so perhaps it's not surprising. While groping for an explanation, they talk of the great divide between "red" and "blue" states, and the sinister influence of evangelical Christians. I think both characterizations are oversimplified, and in some cases intellectually lazy.
Take our own state. Alaskans voted for Bush by a margin well in excess of the president's home state of Texas, but here in Juneau Sen. Kerry won by 4 percent overall and by more than 15 percent downtown. Such examples are to be found all over the country, and indicate a more complex situation than to pass it off as "red and blue" states. It is more revealing to see a map of voting results county by county, where Bush predominated in roughly 5 out of 6. It suggests differences between urban and rural values as much as secular and religious. Since most big media operations are based in Eastern big cities, it isn't surprising they reflect trouble understanding people living in a different cultural environment. As a graphic example, Fox News contributor Geraldine Ferraro characterized those who live outside the "blue" coastal regions to not have the "intelligence or talent" of those with the taste and sense to do so. That's condescension.
In his New York Times piece "Living Poor, Voting Rich," normally lucent columnist Nick Kristoff made the statement that "one third of this country are evangelical Christians." In fact, Evangelicals represent no more than 10-12 percent of voters, nor did they show up this time around in numbers much in excess of past elections. While they voted overwhelmingly for Bush, Kristoff's statement says more about the speaker than the topic. Lacking basic understanding of his subject, he resorted to labeling and exaggeration. The bulk of Bush votes had nothing to do with Evangelicals.
If there is a simple explanation for this election, it's the difference in effectiveness of the two campaigns. Kerry's was hurt by misjudgments (John Edwards was largely a dud, the war-hero thing backfired somewhat, etc.) and Bush's stayed on message (whether you liked it or not is another matter). This election was the Democrats' to loose, and they lost it.
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