Saturday, November 08, 2008
Voters embrace economic change, support traditional values
Tuesday's election returns send a clear message from the American people to the political parties and also to the single issue pressure groups. The voters want economic change but sent a mixed message on the divisive social issues. Most Americans have rejected "trickle down economics" and are very concerned about their jobs, health care and the housing market.
For the first time since 1976, a Democratic nominee for President has captured a majority of the popular vote. The question is can President-elect Obama and the Democratic Congress deliver for our nation's working families ? Will we have a newer New Deal that realigns American politics or just a re-hash of the Clinton era ?
The voters embraced a message of economic change - not an agenda of political correctness. In critical swing states, the electorate voted overwhelmingly on the basis of pocketbook issues like jobs and health care.
Voters in states like California and Florida favored Obama but also supported traditional family values by passing initiatives to ban same sex marriage. Two critical groups within the Democratic Coalition - African Americans and Hispanics soundly rejected legalization of same sex marriage at the polls. This sends a clear a message to President-elect Obama and the Democratic Congress. Leave the Defense of Marriage of Act alone and think twice about changes in the present "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" military policy.
Colorado voters chose Obama but also enacted a law ending racial and gender preferences in education, employment and public contracting. The repeal of affirmative action in Colorado provides the perfect opportunity for an Obama Administration to save preferences for the truly deserving. Obama should advocate mending instead of ending affirmative action by shifting the focus from race and gender to class. http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2008/05/12/kahlenberg
As voters rejected some portions to the liberal social agenda, lessons were also taught to the right. Voters clearly repudiated the economic policies of the past 27 years and want a more activist role by government. The era of "small government" is over and Republicans will have to accept this reality if they wish to remain a viable party. Republicans lost ground even among social conservatives. In key states, church-going Catholic voters favored Obama (along with a substantial number of evangelical Protestants) on the basis of pocketbook issues despite differences over the issue of abortion.
The election also provided a reality check to the pro-life movement which has been long focused on a reversal of the Roe vs. Wade decision. Voters in the socially traditionalist state of South Dakota (favoring the McCain-Palin ticket by 8 percentage points) rejected a ban on abortion which contained exceptions for saving the life of the mother, rape and incest by a 55 to 45 margin. Pro-life activists had hoped that the proposed South Dakota law might serve as a test case to challenge Roe vs. Wade. Instead, the rejection of an abortion ban by the voters in a conservative rural state like South Dakota suggests that few states are likely to pass substantial restrictions on the procedure even if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Pro-lifers are going to need a new stategy focused on changing hearts more than laws and advocating social and economic supports to reduce the number of abortions.
At the same time, President-elect Obama and the Democratic Congress must recognize that the pro-choice movement hard-liners do not speak for most Americans either. Polls have shown strong public support for prohibiting late term or partial birth abortion. A CNN/Public Opinion Research poll last year found that 66 to 28 percent of the public supported banning late term abortion. Any attempt to repeal the Hyde Amendment(passed by a Democratic Congress and signed into law by President Carter in 1977) and provide public funding for abortion would prove to be not only politically unpopular but also an outrage to the conscience of tens of millions of Americans. Congress needs to approve the Pregnant Women Support Act sponsored by Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania which deserves the support of the pro-life and pro-choice citizens.
For too long, our political process has been paralyzed by a culture war. We need to move beyond the culture war. I am not saying that the social issues are not important or suggesting that everyone must agree on divisive cultural matters like abortion, gun control or gay marriage. We will continue to disagree on some issues but it is also critical that Americans have the ability to unite and deal with the urgent economic problems that our nation faces today.
NOTE: Since writing this post, a reader has called an error to my attention. The final count in Colorado showed a narrow defeat for the measure repealing affirmative action in that state. The closeness of the vote in Colorado and the passage of similar measures in other states suggests that affirmative action policies are still politically vulnerable. Revising such programs to address socio-economic status rather than race and gender seems like the fair thing to do as well.