Skip to comments.Mapping the future over a great divide
Posted on 11/07/2004 7:18:43 AM PST by Graybeard58
The map showed a sea of red with islands and shoals of blue. Election Day 2004 revealed two Americas -- deep differences dividing the 55 million citizens who cast their votes for John Kerry, and the 59 million who just as passionately selected George W. Bush.
The gulf is much greater than questions of what to do in Iraq or how to improve the economy. So great that a wife who voted for Kerry slept at her office rather than home with a husband who celebrated Bush's win. So great that friends canceled a postelection coffee klatch because they couldn't sit at the same table and hear each others' opinions.
So great that Richard Unger was outright mocked when he told a longtime chum that he voted for Kerry.
"She looked at me like I was an idiot," the software designer says. "And then she started making fun of me. Now, she's a very nice lady. But in my head I was thinking, 'Why are you treating me this way simply because I chose a candidate?' "
This, as the two sat at a school basketball game in the suburbs of Pittsburgh -- rooting for the same team.
Blues don't simply disagree with reds, and vice versa. Increasingly, it seems, each side sees the other as just plain wrong. Not like us. Impossible to be around. They use words like "scary" to describe one another's vision of tomorrow -- and one another.
The candidates each talk of healing now, of the need to bridge the divides that separate Americans. But how, if compromise would mean moral surrender? Where do we begin, if we can hardly stand to look at each other?
"This has been way too hard-fought a campaign for us immediately to begin hugging," says the Rev. Welton Gaddy, a Baptist minister and president of the left-leaning Interfaith Alliance. "There are huge rifts. It's raw emotions, anger, disappointment.
"It's far more than red and blue states."
"How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?" screamed the day-after headline of one liberal British newspaper.
At a bar in Cleveland, the election said and done, tax clerk Bob O'Malley ponders the same question. A Kerry-Edwards button still clipped to his shirt, he bemoans what he sees as the takeover of America by "far right-wing evangelists."
"I think we're a country of morons," he grumbles. "We're more worried about two guys getting it on together than we are about losing our jobs. We've lost more jobs here in Ohio than any other state in the nation. And yet Ohio voted for Bush!
"It bothers me," he says, "a whole lot."
What O'Malley decries Jack Miller lauds as "a step in the right direction for America."
"I'm trying to think of the guy who said it; he was on Fox News. He said that America has chosen morals over economics, and I thought, 'Wow, what a great statement,"' says Miller, the children's pastor at Rolston Road Church of God in Irving, Texas. "The Democrats seem to be more economic-minded, putting all morals aside. ... It's time to just stand for what we believe."
But "what we believe" as Americans has perhaps never been so difficult to define.
While the presidential race was close, the reasons voters chose one candidate over another were widely divergent. Kerry voters cited the economy as their biggest concern; Bush voters were more concerned about "moral values." Kerry voters opposed the war in Iraq; Bush voters thought it was the right thing to do. Kerry voters were seeking a candidate who "cares about people like me"; Bush voters wanted a man with "strong religious faith."
And despite all the pre-election talk about war, terrorism and the economy -- moral values edged out all of those matters as the issue that mattered most among voters.
What separates Americans today goes far beyond ethnic or economic differences -- and may sometimes even make those differences moot. It goes beyond region or locality -- the reddest state has significant numbers of blue voters, and the other way around.
It's about deciding whose philosophical perception of the country's future is the right one.
What one person considers a matter of principle, another sees as religious extremism.
What one person considers immoral, another sees as inclusive.
"What this election makes clear, more than ever before, is two profoundly different visions of America and her place in the world," says Richard Wood, a University of New Mexico sociologist. "There are folks who literally can't imagine voting for anybody who supports 'killing babies.' For others, the question of supporting a 'woman's right to choose' is a deeply moral issue.
"Those differing visions both have very deep roots, and neither has fully captured the American imagination."
They also incite deep passions that color issues in black and white -- and leave very little room for any gray.
Consider the view of the election through the eyes of these voters:
Cristi Gerecke, 25, of Irving, Texas, a Southern Baptist who voted for Bush, said of the candidates: "To me, it just seemed like one was a good person and one wasn't as good."
Browsing in the children's book section of the Family Christian Store, she elaborated: "I guess I'm just more conservative and I'm just scared of what Kerry would do to our country. ... Things like gay marriage. I'm just afraid of what he would let fly by."
Carol Smith, 60, of Mission Hills, Kan., a Presbyterian minister who voted for Kerry, said of the election: "It's like a death, except that it's the death of a country."
Smith, an advocate for homosexuals whose son is gay, slept for days at her office away from her husband, who was happy Bush won, to "work through my grief." She wrote a poem that concluded: "I still think God hears a Liberal's prayers. It's as if the towers have come down again, but this time we have nobody else to blame. Who do we bomb now?"
No matter what side Americans are on, each "arrogantly assumes that they're smart and they're right and they're logical -- and the people on the other side are just irrational and mean," says Michael Horton, author of "Beyond Culture Wars: Is America A Mission Field or a Battlefield?"
"Both sides," he says, "treat each other not just as if their ideas are unfounded or wrong, but as if they're evil people."
Horton is an evangelical Christian who is surprised so many Americans are surprised at the widespread importance placed on "moral values." As one Kerry voter put it: "I just didn't think there were so many conservative Republicans in this country."
"The message I'm getting across the board is: How did this possibly happen? That evangelical Christianity is sort of a weird, fringe, cultlike, right-wing phenomenon, and they couldn't possibly represent mainstream America," says Horton, a Bush supporter.
He calls that a caricature that leads to alienation. "The 'cultural elite' become one bloc and those 'right-wingers' become another bloc, and at that point we don't talk. We demonize."
At a coffee shop in Henderson, Nev., there was plenty of eye-rolling as Bush and Kerry partisans analyzed the election. But heads on both sides nodded when retired schoolteacher Hugh Hawkins said, "We've got problems and I just can't see a solution. We are becoming balkanized."
Undoubtedly this election was more "passion-producing," says sociologist John Evans at the University of California, San Diego. But the country, he argues, is no more divided than it was four years ago or four years before that.
Americans' differences simply rose to the surface with a vengeance this year -- fueled by acrimony over the outcome of the 2000 presidential race, concerns over war and terror and the very vocal debate over the new social issue of the day: gay marriage.
The candidates' own dissimilarities further stoked dissension.
On the one hand was Bush, a conservative Republican from Texas who speaks openly of morality and of having "recommitted my life to Jesus Christ." On the other was Kerry, a left-leaning Democrat from Massachusetts, a Roman Catholic whose social views are contrary to some of the church's.
"The public isn't any more polarized, the candidates are more polarizing," says Evans. "The people who want to represent us represent more extreme perspectives."
He and others who study social trends say, if anything, Americans have grown more consensual rather than divergent about matters such as their belief in God, patriotism and the importance of family. While those areas of agreement don't always translate over to social and political values, Americans, fundamentally, are more alike than not.
And even when they do differ, it's not always a bad thing, right?
"Division is better than apathy," says Eliza Keller, a high school senior in New Hampshire. In the same breath the teen admits the election skewed her view of the grown-up world she'll soon enter.
"It's a little scary to me, knowing that both sides are so passionate about their views," she says, "and so closed-minded."
Can the differences be bridged, as Bush and Kerry now suggest? This might be one area of agreement among those on all sides.
Not likely, they say.
Views so deeply rooted in moral doctrine -- however a person chooses to interpret "moral" -- aren't likely to change. But Americans suggest they and the nation's leaders could do more to forge, if not compromise or agreement, at least some understanding -- a way to live together in a society of opposing convictions.
"Learn to accept people the way they are, not how you would like them to be," says Santa McKenna, a Cuban-American hairdresser in Florida.
"Be more substantive in what we say ... rather than attacking people personally," says Jerry Folk, a Lutheran minister in Wisconsin.
"The president could do something magnanimous, like naming a Democrat to his cabinet," suggests Larry Gore, a Bush supporter in Pennsylvania.
"Find a sense of community that goes beyond my needs, my wants ... that draws the lines of community very broadly, so ultimately there is no 'them,"' says V. Gene Robinson, the nation's first openly gay Episcopal bishop whose election itself caused great division among churchgoers.
Sociologist Evans' advice? "Burn all the red and blue maps."
Signs of times
On those maps, Arizona was painted scarlet. But in one neighborhood, on one street, no one would ever have guessed it.
The Kerry signs sprung up first on Edgemont Avenue. Then, the signs reading "Viva Bush."
Within hours of Kerry's concession speech, almost all of them were gone -- except for two on either side of the flagstone walkway leading to a rose-painted brick house, the home of Kerry-supporter Linda MacConnell and Bush-supporter Paul Mudd.
Shortly before the election, MacConnell came home to find a "Bush-Cheney" placard stuck in her neatly manicured lawn. She quickly plucked it up, stormed inside and told her husband: "If that sign stays up in MY front yard, I'll be sleeping in a hotel tonight."
A short while later, the sign was back -- along with one for Kerry. MacConnell put both up, telling her husband: I was wrong. You have every right to voice your opinion.
They watched some of the election returns together Tuesday night -- mostly in silence -- and they haven't discussed the outcome much ever since. She still opposes the war, while he supports it. She still believes Bush fights for the rich and not the poor, while he thinks the president stands for all Americans.
And no matter how many times their man urges unity, this couple knows they aren't going to magically see eye-to-eye.
So how will they bridge the divide? "You know what it comes down to? Liberal or conservative or whatever -- we're all Americans," MacConnell says. "We're a country based on diversity. ... It would be boring if we all wanted the same thing."
Mudd puts it another way: "Agree to disagree."
Can the rest of America do the same?
I'd yank my kid out of that church so fast that "children's pastor's" head would spin."Putting all morals aside" indeed!
Think about this. If the Black constituency ever wakes up and see that all the Rats are doing for them is giving them enough to keep them in their place instead of giving them the tools to succeed, you'd never see another Rat with a chance at winning. Ask blacks if things have improved much since the mid-60s and the Civil Rights Act. The blacks that are in the Republican party appear to be those who realize that hard work will allow them to succeed.
I am not going to sacrifice my moral principles for someone else's wallet. "Live and Let Live" is afterall, borderline anarchy and absolute moral depravity.
That's right, and the folks in the red states have determined that the radical ideas of the liberal Democrats were not in the best interest of themselves or their republic.
This election will tend to isolate the blue-water liberals, and strengthen their intolerance toward the rest of the country by becoming even more extreme in their home states.
55 million people still don't get it, even when they're faced with the truth. "Dumb and dumber" dosn't even begin to cover it.
Well said. I have several prosperous black customers who wonder to me the same thing, everytime they shop at my nursery.
My union wanted us to overlook the social issues and sell out to a promise of more work if Kerry was elected.
I can always find a job in my trade, Union or otherwise.
So the job issue was a moot moint. The social issues like my 1st Amendment and 2nd Amendment were key in my decisions to support Bush.
And a Democracy can only work well when people recognize that decisions benefitting the clear majority have to be recognized. Allowing the majority to cave in to the agendas of 5 or 10% of the population reduces the representitive will of the people.
Not that issues like gay marriage are that important to most people, but when activist judges impose mandates and people openly violate laws the means arriving at those kind of decisions are clearly by imposition rather than elective. And if those issues are allowed to be imposed it would be a matter of time before some judge imposes restrictions on other rights.
Striking down the movements behind those kind of actions was what this election was about. Not to mention rebuking the michael moorons and george soreass's of the country who think they have clout only because they have access to a willing media.
America, we did good!! Let's take full advantage of this victory and begin the elimination of 30 years of "progressive" corruption of our Constitutional Republic!
Let the libs cry. They will cry regardless. WE have to ignore their agenda and allow no compromise. We have to show them we are in charge and they have to compromise with us rather than the way they believe.
Good points! When we compromise our principles, what is left? If you do not uphold your principles no matter what, then what kind of core do we have? None! Sometimes compromise has to be thrown to the wind and we must fight. That time has now arrived IMO. We have seen a degradation of our moral center in this nation for too long and we must reverse course and return America to a time where we affirm "GOD, COUNTRY & FAMILY". These three are what made this country great.
So, have you published your web page yet?
It's sick and we aren't afraid to call it sick anymore.
Can you say "Screw You" to the Liberals? Welcome to our Civil War.
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