Democrat Pundits Don’t Get It

Analysts at the major papers are still struggling to understand how Bush could have won even though he’s an extreme right wing nutjob who doesn’t appeal to anyone they know. Even setting aside MoDo’s asinine comments–she’s a “humorist,” after all–it’s rather clear that too many people who write columns for a living travel in very narrow circles.

Democrats’ Losses Go Far Beyond One Defeat (Ron Brownstein, LAT)

Although Bush in Tuesday’s vote made some inroads among swing groups such as Latinos and married women, exit polls and voting results in key counties across the nation suggested he won his second term mostly by increasing the GOP strength in places where the party was already strong — especially rural, small-town and fast-growing exurban communities.


To many Democratic analysts, the clear message of these results is that even with its growing strength among upscale social moderates, the party will find it virtually impossible to reach a presidential or congressional majority without regaining at least some ground with socially conservative voters. “We’ve got to close the cultural gap,” said Al From, founder of the Democratic Leadership Council, a leading centrist party group.


“Their coalition is very stable but it’s very narrow,” said John C. Green, a University of Akron political scientist who specializes in the relationship between religion and politics. “It will be interesting to see if any Republican besides Bush can succeed without finding ways to expand it. There’s not much margin of error in this coalition.”

It’s unclear how a majority coalition can be considered “very narrow.” I’d also point out that the “key counties” where Bush’s strength is concentrated happen to cover around 90% of the country. Again.

A Victory for ‘Values,’ but Whose? (Joel Achenbach, WaPo)

To understand why America skewed red on Election Day, you might talk to Gary Bauer, the conservative activist, former Republican candidate for president and creator of an organization called Americans United to Preserve Marriage. The group spent a million dollars in Ohio, Michigan and across the country. It warned voters that a nation led by John Kerry might be one in which homosexuals could get married — and not just two at a time. “Most Americans don’t want to sit down and explain to their children why they live in a country where men can marry men, why there’s polygamy — because that would naturally follow, we would argue,” Bauer said yesterday. If two men could marry, so could three, four, or more, Bauer said. Moreover, he said, “textbooks could not talk about ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers.’ They could only talk about ‘parents.’ ”

Not long ago, this might have been considered a somewhat fringe viewpoint, a trifle alarmist — “polygamy” just isn’t something you hear people talking about in Washington political circles — but gay marriage now seems essential to any conversation about the 2004 election. The exit polls pointed to a huge boost for Republicans from voters who said their biggest concern was “moral values.”

Not long ago, even those on the far left of American culture were what we would now term “homophobic.” (Op. cit., Arlo Guthri: “And if two people, two people do it, in harmony, they may think they’re both faggots and they won’t take either of them.”) Considering that, in the “Will and Grace” era, roughly two thirds of the people in 11 states–including liberal havens like Oregon–voted against gay marriage Tuesday, one wonders how Achenbach defines “fringe.”

Two Nations Under God
[RSS] (Thomas Friedman, NYT)

[W]hat troubled me yesterday was my feeling that this election was tipped because of an outpouring of support for George Bush by people who don’t just favor different policies than I do – they favor a whole different kind of America. We don’t just disagree on what America should be doing; we disagree on what America is.

Is it a country that does not intrude into people’s sexual preferences and the marriage unions they want to make? Is it a country that allows a woman to have control over her body? Is it a country where the line between church and state bequeathed to us by our Founding Fathers should be inviolate? Is it a country where religion doesn’t trump science? And, most important, is it a country whose president mobilizes its deep moral energies to unite us – instead of dividing us from one another and from the world?

In terms of the social values Friedman prefers, the country is far more liberal now than it’s ever been. Unfortunately for him, the leadership of the Democratic Party are even further to the left. The Democratic center is probably closer to the Bush platform on abortion. But Kerry and company won’t won’t even stand up against partial birth abortion–which 90% of the country finds repugnant–out of fear of offending extreme elements of its base. This isn’t Europe. The U.S. has always been a profoundly religious country and its public policy has always reflected that. The reason that it’s become a mobilizing issue over the last thirty-odd years is because the courts and certain elements of the Democratic Party are trying to govern as if that wasn’t the case.

The Day the Enlightenment Went Out
[RSS] (Garry Wills, NYT)

Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution still be called an Enlightened nation?

America, the first real democracy in history, was a product of Enlightenment values – critical intelligence, tolerance, respect for evidence, a regard for the secular sciences. Though the founders differed on many things, they shared these values of what was then modernity. They addressed “a candid world,” as they wrote in the Declaration of Independence, out of “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.” Respect for evidence seems not to pertain any more, when a poll taken just before the elections showed that 75 percent of Mr. Bush’s supporters believe Iraq either worked closely with Al Qaeda or was directly involved in the attacks of 9/11.

The secular states of modern Europe do not understand the fundamentalism of the American electorate. It is not what they had experienced from this country in the past. In fact, we now resemble those nations less than we do our putative enemies. Where else do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity? Not in France or Britain or Germany or Italy or Spain. We find it in the Muslim world, in Al Qaeda, in Saddam Hussein’s Sunni loyalists. Americans wonder that the rest of the world thinks us so dangerous, so single-minded, so impervious to international appeals. They fear jihad, no matter whose zeal is being expressed.

It’s hard to even respond to such nonsense. Suffice it to say that this viewpoint, widely held among its leadership, is why the Democrats have such a difficult time putting together a governing coalition.

Bob Novak (Democratic Disaster, TownHall) has it right:

The devastation of Tuesday’s returns cannot be minimized. The transformation of the “Solid South” from Democrat to Republican was completed. Not only were all 11 states of the old Confederacy carried by President Bush, but the pickup of all five Senate seats left vacant by retiring Democrats means 18 of the region’s 22 senators are Republican. Domination of Congress by the GOP now enters its second decade with Democrats largely restricted to enclaves on both coasts and some Midwestern industrial areas.

Democrats confront a grim future. Bush’s 3.5-million-vote edge in the popular vote reflects a party out of touch with the country on social issues, the role of government and the war against terrorism. Democrats face the bitter reality of minority party status and what to do about it.

Facing reality is difficult because of unjustified confidence among high-level Democrats. All year long I was told by them that Kerry would win comfortably. They dismissed Republican inroads on normal Democratic voters by the same-sex marriage issue. They laughed off warnings from defecting Democratic Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia that the party had lost rural America.

Democrats who want to become more than just the party of the urban areas would do well to listen to Novak. Or, if they prefer one of their own, to David Broder (An Old-Fashioned Win, WaPo):

This was not, as some embittered Democrats had forecast, the result of voter intimidation or suppression. Democrats and their allies in labor and liberal organizations did their best job ever of mobilizing their base, only to see the Republicans match and exceed that effort.

The bottom line is that more Americans agree with the Republican platform–including its stances on the cultural issues–than with the Democratic platform. That may change over time; despite claims by many on my side, I believe we’re moving steadily toward the left culturally. Despite the recent referrenda, I believe majorities in a few states will come around on the gay marriage issue in the near future and that it will happen in most states within the next twenty years or so.

There’s no such thing as a permanent majority in American politics, as the parties and the population constantly evolve. It wasn’t long ago that California’s Electoral votes were virtually guaranteed for the GOP. The Republicans have to avoid getting too cocky with their new mandate. But the Democrats also have to stop thinking of people who live in the Red part of the map–that is to say, almost the entire country–as some sort of alien life form if they want to win again. Nominating someone other than Hillary Clinton in 2008 would be my suggestion.

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, Democracy, Media, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    “…roughly two thirds of the people in 11 states–including liberal havens like Oregon–voted against gay marriage Tuesday, one wonders how Achenbach defines “fringe.”

    And that’s the problem right now for the Democrats. THey simply cannot understand that it is THEY who are on the fringe.

    I should shut up now, because I’m working on an article to just this point, for this weekend’s BIT’S BIT.

    But I did want to say ‘right on’, James.

  2. Nice summary and I appreciate your work. However, I will nitpick one of your conclusions.

    You said: I believe majorities in a few states will come around on the gay marriage issue.

    come around – like come to our senses? Now you sound like a Democrat 😉 There are many good reasons most Americans supporting keeping traditional marriage unique and special and your phrasing implies we just oppose change out of denseness or some other negative reason.

  3. James Joyner says:

    AQ: Come around to their way of thinking. The movement is already there. We’ve gone from homosexuality to being a clinical disease and/or something for which people were shunned to it being open that a Republican Vice President’s daughter is a practicing lesbian. It’s just a matter of time. The mistake the Democrats make is thinking that, because it’s happened in the urban areas, it’s not still important in the vast majority of the country.

  4. C.J. says:

    You make very good points. The majority of the voting population believe values are more important than policies. Democrats have consistently failed to explain their positions within a moral framework. Personally, I’m a Democrat and a “leftie” because of the religious values I grew up with. If the DNC started explaining its social views the same way my childhood Conservative Jewish temple did, we’d start winning votes in poor, rural areas. At least, I think we would.

    But, I really have to object to your use of a terrible picture of Hillary to prove your point that she’s a wacko who shouldn’t be the presidential nominee. Personally, I’m excited that a woman is finally seriously being considered for the Democratic nominee and it annoys me that people use personal appearance as part of political arguments. But I wouldn’t choose her as the next standard bearer. I still believe General Clark is the best choice (at this point)…or John Edwards. I think we need someone from the South or Midwest who can credibly connect values with Democratic goals.

  5. libs4lunch says:

    “Come around” on homosexual marriage??

    First we abhor
    Then we endure
    Then we embrace

    We are already at the “endure” phase unfortunately.

  6. Kate says:

    Was it must me, or did Jon Stewart have a fleeting epiphany on the Daily Show last night, when he suggested that maybe it was the circle of people he associates with who might be outside the mainstream view?

  7. dw says:

    First off, calling 55.7M people “the fringe” is really kinda stupid. 55.7M is about twice the size of the 15 largest cities in the US. It’s also twice the size of Texas, larger than 14 Oklahomas, bigger than 12 metro Atlantas. 55.7M is smaller than the US Catholic population (67.26M), but it’s still larger than the Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists combined.

    Second, I think Jon Stewart was dead-on last night. The Democrats have been ignoring the “culture war” for 20+ years, and they paid for it on Tuesday. They don’t understand the language of religion because many of them haven’t darkened the door of a church or opened a Bible ever. The Democrats have to respond: Listen to the red states, understand their language, frame your arguments to them in ways that make sense to them, and stop pretending it’s a “big tent” when the religious intolerance in the Democratic party is so great that you drive the pro-life Dems out. If the Dems don’t respond, I believe they really will be a fringe party in two presidential cycles, because the coming schism in the GOP will create a socially liberal, fiscally conservative faction that will usurp the Dems’ position.

    And third… if not Hillary, who? And don’t say Zell Miller. The Dems’ bullpen is looking mighty empty right now.

  8. 42nd SSD says:

    The anti-gay & anti-abortion issues are difficult for the pro-gay and pro-abortion advocates to deal with because they adamantly refuse to understand where the “antis” are coming from, or accept that their views are sincere. The antis are continually dismissed as “right-wing nutjobs” with little or no further thought. Worse, there’s a huge amount of “if you believe [X] you *must* be a right-wing nut” going on.

    This is somewhat understandable, since much (if not most) of the “anti” opinions are due to religious bias. How does one argue against the Will of God (whether God actually wills it or not)? (Answer: you don’t. Faith is faith.)

    I think patience, acceptance, education, and, most importantly, *respect* are the correct long-term answers. Change happens, but it doesn’t always happen when we want it and it doesn’t happen because of legal changes. Despite Roe v. Wade there’s still a huge backlash against abortion.

    In most cases it seems there’s little respect given from either side, though from my perspective it seems the “pros” are both loudest and nastiest.

    I’m honestly not sure why gay people want to get married–seems to me the heteros have made a pretty big mess of it already 🙂 I think there are some pretty decent compromises that could be reached in terms of legal recognition. Despite my fundamental belief of “whatever floats your boat is OK with me”, I can easily understand why people might want to reserve the term “marriage” for a union between a man and a woman.

  9. libslunch – you may be right, but I don’t see Americans outside the beltway and the blue coasts embracing it anytime soon. And judging by Oregon’s new amendment, I wouldn’t write off the blue states yet.

    JJ – Just because some homosexuals pressured the APA to remove homesexuality from their list of psychological problems doesn’t make it so. Any self-destructive lifestyle is still a mental disease whether Americans recognize it as one or not.

    From reading your site, I don’t think you would agree that people should have voted for Kerry just because the liberal elites supported Kerry, correct? Why then should our opinion be swayed because the homosexual lobby persuaded the APA to change their mind. This is especially true since there was no scientific or scholarly reason for the decision, just a few leaders of the APA changed it. The person who was most key in making this change, Dr. Charles Silverstein, later came out of the closet and admitted he was gay. Can anyone say conflict of interest?

    Despite that, I would agree we are more tolerant of this lifestyle than we were a generation ago. However, despite media propaganda and public school indoctrination, the overwhelming majority of Americans, even in blue states, will not support the homosexual lifestyle. There is a distinct difference between tolerance and support.

    Whew! And my comments started by thanking you for your work 😉 Which I still mean 🙂

  10. I would largely agree with you, James. But I think Kathryn Politt put it more tellingly in The Nation:

    “Maybe this time the voters chose what they actually want: Nationalism, pre-emptive war, order not justice, “safety” through torture, backlash against women and gays, a gulf between haves and have-nots, government largesse for their churches and a my-way-or-the-highway President.”

    Not my “values”, thank you. But clearly the values that are dominant in this country, outside of New England and its urban enclaves. But those of us on the “liberal” or “progressive” side DO have values of our own and the important thing about values is that a value is not a value if you abandon it because a majority of your neighbors disagree with you. If you do so, it is merely a mood.

    There are those in the Democratic Party who have only moods, but they are generally the so-called “pragmatists” and “centrists”. Of whom Hillary Clinton is actually now the most prominent. Perhaps they will persuade the rest of us to pretend we don’t have values, but I sincerely hope not. One of MY values is that I would rather lose power by telling the truth than win power by living a lie.

    In 2004 the “Confederacy” has won a major battle in the American Civil War which has never really ended. A majority of the American voting public has chosen the dish they really want. They can no longer make any excuses about what they put on their plate. We will see if, in four years, they still like the flavor.

  11. Mike Perry says:

    Despite the recent referrenda, I believe majorities in a few states will come around on the gay marriage issue in the near future and that it will happen in most states within the next twenty years or so.

    Not very likely. Currently the debate is over an abstraction, a piece of paper. But if gay marriage gets established in a few “blue” states, the reality will begin to intrude. All the costly benefits society bestows on man/woman marriage because parents create the children that are our future will go to often transient relationships incapable of creating children.

    One example is health insurance. Society benefits enormously because employers provide health care for their employees’ families. With gay marriage, struggling small businesses, who can barely afford to cover the health care costs of a healthy spouse and children, will have to cover the AIDS-related costs of a gay “spouse” or, if the law goes as some suspect, multiple gay ‘spouses.’ Unable to afford that and not permitted by courts from making a distinction, these companies will simply drop such coverage. Children will suffer in ways even the Old Media will not be able to conceal.

    Joyce Joyner seems to share the belief of “progressives” that they own the future, that eventually “reactionaries” will come around to their point of view. But one of the foremost progressive causes of a century ago, eugenics, did not triumph despite the labors of elite universities and the NY Times, Nation and New Republic, as well a 1927 Supreme Court decision in its favor (Buck v. Bell). By 1920, some 15 (mostly ‘blue’) states had legalized forced sterilization of the “unfit,” a major item in the eugenic agenda. Today it is legal nowhere and its only enduring organizational legacy is Planned Parenthood. True, eugenics still exists as a progressive cause (it underlies the liberal zeal to bring abortion to the poor and racial minorities), but no liberal dares to openly advocate a cause they once consider an example of just how “enlightened” they were.

    And in its heyday, the only open foes of eugenics were devout Catholics and fundamentalists. Virtually the only book critical of it, Eugenics and Other Evils, was penned by a “reactionary” Catholic, G. K. Chesterton. As this election demonstrated, today’s supporters of “traditional” moral values are far better organized than the foes of eugenics ever were.

    If “progressive” thought can lose a cause like eugenics so badly that the liberal-to-left spectrum now denies that they ever supported it, they can also lose on abortion and gay marriage. If you’d like to know more about eugenics, see the blog linked to my name below.

    –Mike Perry, Seattle, a blue city in an otherwise red state.

  12. Mike,
    Well said. Drop me an email if you have a minute. quixote — at —