Accuracy in Media

In the wake of exit poll evidence that “moral values” became more of a campaign issue than Iraq or the economy, some journalists are insisting that the phrase doesn’t reflect opposition to abortion and homosexuality. David Brooks of the New York Times ridicules “the official story” that “throngs of homophobic, Red America values-voters surged to the polls to put George Bush over the top.”

Brooks may have a vested interest in rejecting the common definition of “moral values” because he wrote a book, Bobos in Paradise, describing the rise and growing influence of a “new elite” in America who “have combined the values of the countercultural sixties with those of the achieving eighties.” A review by the Conservative Book Club commented, “Their morality is flexible. They reject spiritual authority, and value ‘diversity’ and ‘choice’ over profound truth and ideals.” This movement can more accurately be described as libertarian or libertine.

A November 6 article by Times reporter Jim Rutenberg also questioned the meaning of the term “moral values” and their influence. But he quoted Republican pollster Bill McInturff as countering, “The people who picked moral values as an issue know what that means. It’s a code word in surveys for a cluster of issues like gay marriage and abortion.”

Although Brooks reported that Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center said there was no “disproportionate surge in the evangelical vote this year,” a Times story by Laurie Goodstein and William Yardley quoted John Green of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics as saying that the evangelical vote for Bush went from 71 percent in 2000 to 76 percent this year. Bliss, however, said the Bush coalition included “a much larger group of more traditional religious people, many of them outside of the evangelical tradition.” These people, he said, “tend to hold traditional views on sexual behavior.”

On, Steve Waldman and John Green cited evidence that Bush made significant gains among Catholics, going from 46 percent of the Catholic vote in 2000 to 52 percent in 2004. In Ohio, Bush got 55 percent of the Catholic vote compared to just under 50 percent in 2000. That was a shift of 172,000 votes to Bush?more than his actual margin of victory. In Florida, Catholics went from 26 percent to 28 percent of the electorate, and Bush went from 54 percent to 57 percent of them. That was a Bush gain of 400,000 voters?more than the margin of victory. Waldman and Green point out that, “?President Bush’s views on abortion and gay marriage are more in line with official church teachings?” That’s the meaning of “moral values.”

Brooks points out that Bush “did not gain significantly in the 11 states with gay marriage referendums,” as if this demonstrates that traditional moral values were not a major factor for him. That may be true only because Bush did not explicitly and consistently campaign against homosexual marriage. Indeed, one week before the election, in an interview with ABC’s Charles Gibson, Bush even endorsed homosexual “civil unions.” If Bush had followed through on his family values rhetoric with specific support for these ballot measures, he might have benefited from their passage. They won by margins ranging from 57-86 percent. 

Bush talked about marriage between a man and a woman and used the phrase, “Culture of Life,” which is right out of Pope John Paul II’s anti-abortion vocabulary. In reality, Bush supported a candidate in the Pennsylvania Republican primary, Arlen Specter, who was pro-abortion and pro-homosexual rights, over a solid conservative Catholic candidate, Pat Toomey. That has come back to haunt Bush now that Specter, who won his Senate race and is preparing to take over chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is threatening to block any pro-life Bush judicial appointments.

The Republican establishment also supported Peter Coors in the Senate primary election in Colorado over a more conservative candidate, former congressman Bob Schaffer. Coors won and campaigned for the Senate seat in the general election as a family values conservative. But his company’s financial support for the homosexual movement?which he did not disavow?made him into a laughingstock. On NBC’s Meet the Press, Coors was greatly embarrassed when host Tim Russert noted that the Coors Brewing Co. was helping underwrite a homosexual festival featuring events such as the “Leather Rail, Raunch Fetish Night and a male nude revue.” Coors’ Democratic opponent, Ken Salazar, won by about 100,000 votes in a state that Bush carried by more than 100,000 votes.

If the influence of “moral values” had been properly understood by the Bush campaign and top Republicans, the election could have produced two more conservative Republican Senators, Pat Toomey and Ken Schaffer, and the Bush victory could have been much larger. The media campaign to defuse the importance of “moral values” should not obscure these critical facts.

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