In the aftermath of the 2004 presidential election, political pundits attributed the success of the Republican campaign to the genius of Karl Rove, President Bush’s seemingly all-knowing media and culture guru who convinced 11 states to include a massive on the general election ballot banning same-sex marriage. This move proved to be a specific attempt to pander to evangelical Christians, a group that encompassed about 26 percent of Americans in 2004. Not only did the legislation pass in all 11 states, but it also passed with a convincing 71-percent of the vote on average, displaying the impressive power of evangelical mobilization, especially in crucial swing states like Ohio.

By igniting the “morality” debate, the Republicans successfully and continuously defined what is and what should be moral in America. Journalist Thomas Frank wrote that the Republicans depicted their “age-old folkways” as “under siege from a cabal of know-it-all elites.”

Official exit polls from the 2004 election showed that the most important consideration for those who voted for Bush was “moral values.” The Democratic approach of using elitist language to mobilize voters around reforming a dismal economy effectively distanced them from those who might have benefited from their policies. New York Times columnist David Brooks noted, “In the information age, social values and cultural capital shape a person’s economic destiny more than the other way around.” The Democrats missed that boat entirely in 2004.

After Bush’s victory, constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage failed in Congress, and Republicans pursued a tax policy that proved harmful to the many religious voters who had tipped the scales for them in 2004. The Republican leadership essentially exploited religious and values voters.

Democrats should bring these inconsistencies to the voters’ attention in the upcoming presidential election. Yet the Democrats, as the GOP demonstrated in 2004, must successfully discuss moral values with the American people in order to be successful, changing their campaign philosophy by honestly engaging in this conversation.

A two-fold plan for success first requires that Democrats no longer fear the Christian Bible. They must relay the message that the Bible encompasses many liberal beliefs – Jesus himself was a reformer. Further, the progressive civil rights movement that many Americans now accept and revere was grounded in religious beliefs and led by ministers like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Second, in order to resonate with values voters, Democrats must encourage voters to view the platform through a moral lens. If the candidates hope to make the lackluster economy a major issue in 2008, they need to emphasize the moral questions surrounding massive the outsourcing by General Motors, Ford Motor Company and other manufacturing companies whose policies tend to further exacerbate the gap between the rich and the poor.

In the fall 2005, John Edwards took a national tour, which included a stop here at the University, speaking to college students about poverty, “the moral issue of our time.” Edwards used simple rhetoric to describe the 37 million Americans living in poverty everyday. He referred to the fact that not only is charity a central theme for religious people, but it would also benefit the many religious voters who are poor.

This model can also apply to the war in Iraq. Because Pentagon data suggests that almost two-thirds of U.S. Army recruits in 2004 came from poorer areas of the country, Democrats could take a moral stance on the massive cost of the war by reminding voters that the government can ameliorate hunger and lack of health care by spending the same amount of money here at home. If Democrats can then present this not as an elitist issue but a moral one, the chance of victory in 2008 becomes much greater.

The Democrats must swallow their pride and discuss issues in a manner that makes sense to Americans. The moral road is the one to travel; the Democrats must merely pave it in order for values voters to follow.

Andrew Kurland is an LSA and School of Music senior.

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