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Misunderestimating “Jesusland”
By Mark Kittel


It’s making the rounds on the blogosphere and drawing laughter and derision from both ends of the political spectrum. It’s the “Jesusland” map, and it looks like this:

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Certainly there is wishful thinking expressed in this fantasy map, of Northern and Pacific states seceding to join Canada and leaving the Midwestern and Southern states to enjoy a fundamentalist theocracy. But it’s also a very crude attempt at explaining Bush’s victory. The UK Daily Mirror featured Bush on its November 4th cover with the question, “How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?” The map’s answer is, “They are all ignorant and uneducated Bible-thumpers who believe Bush talks directly to Jesus.”

If that’s as far as anyone cares to understand the people that voted for Bush, then we can rest assured that 2008 will see Rick Santorum being nominated to run for president – and quite probably winning.

It is very true that fundamentalist Christians were an important factor in re-electing Bush. But it’s ludicrous to suppose that every one of the 59 million voters that chose Bush is a fundamentalist right-wing Christian. Many are likely Christians who would not consider themselves to be fundamentalists or evangelicals. Many are quite likely simply not Christians – some were probably conservatives from other religions, especially Islam and Judaism, and some probably would simply call themselves non-religious. Personally, I know a handful of people that voted for Bush. Not one of them is a regular church-goer, all would recoil at being called a fundamentalist, yet they voted for Bush and truly believe that the fundamentalist element won’t really be that important or disastrous an effect on the second Bush administration.

It would also be foolish to assume that everyone who voted for Bush also supports everything that Bush stands for. Florida’s ballot is an excellent example. Notwithstanding the accusations of fraud, Bush won Florida fairly handily in this election. Florida also passed a $1.00 increase to the state’s minimum wage – an issue that Bush has resolutely opposed at the Federal level. The ballot measure passed with a whopping 72% voter support – which means that a lot of Bush voters had to have supported an initiative that the president – and his brother, the governor - would have opposed. Or there’s California, where Kerry won with 55% of the popular vote. The state also passed a proposal to spend some $3 billion on stem cell research – a measure that contradicts the president’s stance on this issue. This proposal passed with nearly 60% support – and that means that at least some of the Bush voters must have also voted to fund stem cell research.

Similarly, it is foolish to assume that everyone who voted for Kerry must be opposed to the Bush platform in every way. Eleven states passed bans on gay marriage in this election. Nine were states that would be considered part of “Jesusland” so that comes as little surprise to most people. But two other states also passed bans on gay marriage – Oregon and Michigan. Yet these states went fairly solidly for Kerry. Thus, at least some people who voted for Kerry must also have voted to ban gay marriages – and it’s reasonable to assume then that in those other nine states, many of those who did vote for Kerry also voted to ban gay marriages. In Mississippi, for example, the gay marriage ban passed by a margin of 6 to 1 – the largest margin of all those eleven states – yet Bush only won the state by a 3 to 2 margin. The ban could not have passed by such a margin unless Kerry voters also supported the ban.

For those of us who voted to end the Bush administration, there are two choices for the next four years. We can either throw up our hands in frustration at the apparent idiocy of 59 million American voters and continue to alienate ourselves from them, or we can learn how to win over the majority of those 59 million voters for 2006 and 2008.

Personally, I don’t see how anyone could be so dumb as to choose the first option – but the creators of the Jesusland map certainly seem bent on that course. Let’s make this plain and simple. Choosing to ignore, dismiss, deride, or insult those 59 million Americans is counter-productive. It ensures that those 59 million people will continue to side with a candidate that they feel empathizes with them and understands them. It will not, repeat NOT, convince them that they are the morons you think they are and coerce them to see things your way.

The reality is that the conservative, fundamentalist Christian vote still comprises a small but very vocal minority within the country, and within the Republican Party specifically. But because they are one of the most vocal factions in the party, they end up defining the arena in which political battles are fought. They get to choose the issues that shape an election, they get to define which side is “good” and which side is “bad,” or which side is “patriotic and pro-family” and which side is “anti-American and anti-family.” They are the ones that get to define the consequences of choosing one person or side versus another – for example, they define voting against gay marriage as “supporting traditional American family values and defeating the gay agenda of making your children adopt a gay lifestyle.” They may be a minority, but we are fighting the battles that they have chosen to fight and on the terms they have set to give themselves an advantage.

Case in point: Arlen Specter. The good senator from Pennsylvania was nearly ousted by Christian conservatives in the Republican primaries because of his frequent thwarting of the president’s agenda, particularly in the abortion rights arena. Specter is now the top pick for heading the Senate Judiciary committee, and the Christian conservatives are battling to keep him out of that spot because of his support of abortion rights. Specter’s appointment to this position will come down to a battle over that one issue. Never mind his outstanding service in the Senate, never mind his experience or his positions on other important issues. The conservative Christian wing is defining this battle, and that ultimately will decide Specter’s fate. If Specter does win the position, and it is likely that he will, the fundamentalists will use that as ammunition for further battle against those who supported Specter’s nomination – especially fellow Republicans.

This then is the first lesson that we must learn – We must be the ones that define the issues and the battles. Allowing one particular extremist group to define the battleground is a sure way to continue losing ground.

Gay marriage is a prime example of how extremists defined the election battleground this year. We all know that there are crucial problems facing our country – Iraq, health care, foreign relations, job losses to other countries, immigration, and terrorism. But in the days following the elections, exit polls indicated that many people (upwards of 20%) cited “moral issues” as their most pressing concern in the election. What could moral issues mean? Certainly not the war or unemployment or health care issues – those were all separate options. “Moral issues” was likely just a euphemism for “gay marriage.”

And the fundamentalists lost no time in crowing about it. There have been interviews with conservative Christian pundits who have openly stated that they believe putting the gay marriage issue out in the open was what drove so many people to the polls to not only vote to ban gay marriage, but to support the president who tried so hard to get the FMA passed.

Gay marriage should have been a non-issue in this election. Many people that supported Kerry honestly believed it was a non-issue – with such pressing problems as Iraq and health care, how could anyone rationally decide to make gay marriage their top concern? But Karl Rove understood what Democrats and many independents and moderates still fail to grasp. People vote with their emotions and gut feelings, especially when it comes to selecting the President. People tend not to carefully consider what each candidate has to offer on each pressing concern (largely due to each candidate’s failure to offer anything specific and concrete), and tend not to make choices based on rational, logical debate. More so than with any other government office, people seem to feel that the President should be chosen based on character, morals, and personality, rather than whether specific policies will be of benefit to them and the country as a whole. Gay marriage was one wedge issue that clearly drew a distinction between Kerry and Bush, and Kerry ended up fighting that battle on Karl Rove’s terms. The plain and unfortunate fact is that many Americans, whether Christian or not, and no matter their personal views of homosexuality, just feel that gay marriage isn’t right. Putting gay marriage out as an election year issue produced the knee-jerk response that Rove hoped for – choose the guy that’s 100% against it, not the guy that is against it but won’t do anything about it.

That will sound to many people like the very definition of idiocy – voting for someone based on a single emotional issue, rather than the vast array of more rational issues out there. But that’s how many people make their decisions. That’s basic human nature – any psychologist or sociologist could tell you that. Appealing to logic and reason is not a mistake, but it is a mistake to assume that people will set aside their emotions and gut reactions in favor of pure rationality.

This same lesson applies to all the attempts by Dick Cheney to convince voters that choosing Kerry would set the country back to a pre-9/11 mindset and virtually guarantee another terrorist attack. Were his arguments logical and rational? No. Were they based on solid facts and hard evidence? Hardly. Did they appeal to the basic fears of many Americans? You bet they did. And consequently, the same lesson applies to many of the people who voted for Kerry. Just as many people voted for Bush out of a fear of Kerry, many people voted for Kerry out of sheer hatred for Bush.

None of this is to say that the path to victory is through lying and outright manipulation of fear and hatred. But it is crucial to clearly see that many people vote primarily with their hearts. If all one side can do is promote fear while the other side promotes hatred, then those are the emotions that will influence how people vote. When that happens, you get the divisiveness of the past two elections. Compare that with the elections of Reagan and Clinton, especially their re-elections. Both men gave people something positive and optimistic to vote for, rather than something dark and fearful to vote against. Clinton and Reagan both won re-election by wide, decisive margins. Bush, on the other hand, won re-election by a thin margin that could very easily have been contested. Optimism defeats pessimism in American politics – almost always decisively. But when both sides turn to negative attacks, the nation ends up split nearly in half.

There then are three lessons for all of us to learn and apply over the next four years. Take the initiative in defining the battleground issues – don’t let your opposition do that for you. Understand that no matter what your rational arguments are, you must be able to appeal to the underlying emotions of the average voter. And in general, people want to be able to choose the positive, upbeat emotions over the fearful, negative emotions.

Now for one last lesson, and this applies to all of us – Democrat, Independent, Conservative, Moderate, whatever. That Jesusland map reveals one other strong desire – for people to separate themselves from other people who don’t think and vote the way they do. That is one of the worst mistakes we could make. The conservative, fundamentalist Christians have it right on this, and we ought to learn from them.

Conservative Christians often liken themselves to the “salt of the earth.” They believe firmly in the principle that isolating themselves, spending time and talking amongst themselves only, will do nothing to further their mission. They know they are outnumbered nearly everywhere they go and everywhere they promote their goals, whether in town councils or school boards or the workplace. But just as it takes only a small pinch of salt to change the flavor of a meal, so they believe that it takes the presence of only a few true believers to change and shape the community and country they inhabit. They do not wall themselves off from the non-Christian world – they actively engage it. And they are willing to suffer being in the minority and suffer defeat many times – because eventually they believe they will win, no matter the defeats.

This must be how the rest of us work and talk from now on. We cannot comfortably chat with like-minded people over cups of cappuccino. We cannot choose to consort only with people who share our beliefs and opinions, shunning those that do not fit into our groups. We cannot continue to avoid talking politics and religion with people that may not share our views. We have to mix, we have to be engaged, we have to make it our mission to be a strong and decisive influence in the midst of opposition. We have to actively seek out the people and groups that we are most uncomfortable with. We have to reach out to people that we want to avoid and bring them into our fold, get them to work with us rather than against us. And we have to be willing to suffer being in the minority and suffering defeat in order to win the long fight.

That sounds like a tall order, especially to those of us who believe that it’s impossible to even talk to the “other side,” much less get them to cooperate. It’s much easier to look for quick fixes or solutions that don’t involve such hard work. But if you want to win, that’s what you’ll have to commit to. If you’re not willing to put in such work, don’t fret over the next few elections – their results are already called.

Mark Kittel is a regular contributor to the Moderate Republican.

And A Democrat Can’t Lead Them

By Dennis Sanders


Moderate Republicans had a strategy this year. Tired of the far right
who has moved the party so far away from its first principles that it
is no longer the party of Lincoln, they decided they could take no more
and decided to fight back. They wrote letters to major newspapers
about how the GOP had walked away from beliefs like civil rights,
internationalism and the environment to become a party that is anti-gay and
hidebound. They said that the President was not a true conservative and
worked for change...


...by supporting John Kerry.

In the days following the defeat of the Massachusetts Senator, we see
how short sided that strategy was. Many Rockefeller-type Republicans put
their hopes on the Senator, believing that a Kerry win and a Bush loss
would usher in a new dawn of moderation. Sites like Republicans for
Kerry talked about getting Kerry in the White House and then working on
getting the party back to the center. Of course, this all pinned on
Kerry winning, which he did not.

No doubt many of those former Republican politicians and everyday folk
are as dejected as their Democratic brethren. Many are probably now
thinking about just packing it all in and becoming Independents. In
their view, the party is broken and can never come back to the days of
Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower.

I would have to include myself in that bunch that secretly hoped Bush
would lose and that would give moderates and opening. Heck, I even was
involved in Howard Dean's campaign when I still thought he was a
moderate.

But I think in the end, we all relied on a fruitless strategy. It was
foolish to long for some kind of Democratic messiah who would sweep in
and wipe away the Grover Norquists and Pat Robertson's of the world.

It was a nice fantasy. And so damn easy. We could work on the
campaign of this guy and he would do everything we needed to be done.

In reality, moderates took the easy path of hoping for Kerry because
they were afraid of trying or just weren't interested to change the GOP
from within.

The GOP was not going to change in to a center-right party because of a
Bush defeat. Anyone who thinks that the powerholders in the party, who
answer to the far right were just going to stop listening to them is definitely smoking something . The
NeoCons and Theocons don't give up that easy. After the elder Bush
lost in 1992, the far right did not go away. No, they just laid in wait
until their partial return in 1994 and the triumphal return in 2000.

Moderates forget that the conservative movement took 40 years to get
where it is, and they aren't about to give up power easily. One defeat
means nothing to them.

No, what moderates should have been doing this year is party-building,
meaning trying to rebuild the moderate wing of the party.

In the past, it was not unusual for those frustrated with the direction
of either major party to mount a challenge. Ted Kennedy did that in
the Democratic Party in 1980 and Pat Buchanan did it in the GOP in 1992.
Both thought the leader (Carter in Kennedy's case and Bush the elder in
Buchanan's case) were not living up to party principles. They mounted a
challenge not necessarily with the intent of winning, but of sending a
message to those in charge to pay attention to them.

This year, there was no shortage of frustrated moderates. However, you
didn't see anyone pursuing a challenge to the President. None of the
former governors or Senators tried to mount something to take on Bush.

Why was that? I mean, Buchanan at least had the balls to take on a sitting President. Why did moderates either a) support a President they did not believe in; or b) quite publicly support a Democrat?

I think part of it is that moderates are afraid of taking on the far right and with some good reason. When John McCain was left standing to challenge Bush in 2000, the Bush campaign used dirty tricks to bring McCain down. They said he was crazy, attacked his wife who had past addiction to prescription drugs and worst of all, said he had adopted a black child as if this were some kind of mortal sin. The far right has not flinched in calling out their dogs to attack moderates whom they regard as
”Republicans in Name Only.”

Therefore, moderates feel that they can’t reform the party, at least directly. And this is why they back Democrats instead.

There is an old saying that goes, if you are going to attack Vienna attack Vienna. Saying you are going to attack Vienna and then doing a side trip to Paris is not what I call a working strategy.

If moderates are so concerned at the state of their party, then the only way to change it is to reform it from within. That means taking the radical right head on instead of hiding behind a Democrat to do the dirty work.

So, here’s the framework for an agenda that moderates need to adhere to for the next four years.

Get involved in the Party. A friend once said that conservatives go to caucus, while moderates go to the theatre. Moderates have not had much interest in getting their hands dirty in politics. Conservatives have been willing to go to party conventions at all levels in which then allows them to get on platform committees. If moderates are tired of all the anti-gay bile that ends up in platforms, then it’s time to get involved in your local GOP party. This is how the far right did it and moderates need to take a page from their notebook.

Run for office. Religious conservatives got where they are by running for office. I’m talking just about running for federal office, but also for local and state offices. They ran for school board or the local conservation board. Moderates should look to this route and forget for a time looking for a great white hope at the presidential level. You gain influence by holding elected positions.

Seek out other moderates. Too often, moderates feel alone and powerless. In this case, we should take a page from the left and learn to organize. The Internet is a great way to find other moderates. I would also try Meetup.com. Find ways to get together and then start planning for world domination.

Join moderate Republican organizations. There are a host of organizations that could use your help. If you are interested in the environment, try Republicans for Environmental Protection. Gay Rights? Try Log Cabin Republicans. Abortion rights? Try Republican Majority for Choice. Contact them and see how you can get involved.

Be patient. Conservative took decades to get where they are. It started with the Goldwater campaign back in 1964. They reached ascendance with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. So, don’t expect that moderates will take over in two or three years. We have to be in this for the long haul.

Expect to Lose. Conservatives are willing to lose a campaign for the sake of the movement. For them, it’s about getting ideas out there, not simply about winning. Moderates should run for office not simply to win, but to get their ideas out there. That means we will lose. Again, take the Longview. Our losing campaigns might well be the seeds of winning successes down the road.

Moderates are not dead in the party. However, we need to find our voice again and learn that this is a movement for change and change doesn’t come easily.

Let’s stop the quick fixes and let’s attack Vienna. I’m in the mood for some sauerkraut.
Dennis Sanders is editor and publisher of the Moderate Republican.

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