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A Victory for 'Values,' but Whose?

By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 4, 2004; Page C01

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.

President Bush speaks at a victory rally in the Ronald Reagan Building with his family and the Cheneys. (Ron Edmonds -- AP)

"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."

The term wasn't defined, and Democrats spent much of yesterday protesting that they have morals and values, too. The term is basically a code phrase for abortion and gays. For some people, particularly religious evangelicals, these issues are even more important than Iraq, terrorism, the economy, health care, the environment and education. Moral issues gnaw at the guts of people who think they know right from wrong and normal from sick. The reelection of George W. Bush as the 43rd president of the United States appears to be at least in part because of a fear that liberals favor marital unions among sodomites.

Ohio may have lost a couple hundred thousand jobs during the tenure of President Bush, but Kerry, despite all his trips to the state, couldn't turn it from red to blue. Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, another conservative group that spent many hundreds of thousands of dollars on the gay marriage issue, said yesterday that Ohio and Pennsylvania have similar demographics. Bush won Ohio, and Kerry won Pennsylvania. The difference, he argues, was that Ohio's ballot included an amendment to ban gay marriage.

"It was these values voters who ushered the president down the aisle to a second term," Perkins said. Even the Republicans didn't see it coming, he said. "People are shocked that it wasn't the war, it wasn't the economy; it was the values issues that generated so much activity in this election."

The culture of official Washington doesn't speak the language of Heartland values very fluently, in the same way that a salesman at a John Deere dealership in southern Ohio might not fare so well at the bar of Cafe Milano. So perhaps the Washington culture overestimates the political traction of, say, economic issues, and doesn't fully grasp how angry some people get when the mayor of San Francisco starts passing out marriage licenses to gay couples.

To say that we live in an age of Red America would be going too far. Bush won 51 percent of the vote, hardly a landslide, unless you compare it with the last election, where his margin over Al Gore in the popular vote had a negative sign in front of it. There are still blue patches on the coasts and in the big cities and along the crusty shores of the Great Lakes and in scattered college towns across the continent. Some suburbs are purple.

But 11 states offered voters a chance to ban gay marriage, and in every state they did so. Gay rights groups spent nearly $3 million to defeat the anti-gay amendment in Oregon and lost by a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent. In Mississippi, 86 percent of voters nixed gay unions.

The Republicans gained strength in the House and Senate. South Dakota decided it would rather be represented by a Republican than by the most powerful Democrat in Washington. Kentucky returned Republican Jim Bunning to the Senate despite speculation that he has gone crazy. Alaska reelected a Republican senator who was appointed to the job by her dad. Louisiana elected the first Republican senator since Reconstruction.

Bauer said yesterday, "I think even on the Democratic side there's a growing awareness that they're losing millions of voters that they might be able to get on economic issues, but just can't stomach that party's association with Hollywood and cultural radicalism."

Bush won 61 percent of the white male vote in a nation that, despite everything you hear in the progressive media, is still swarming with white guys. Bush won among white women, too (54 percent to 46 percent), and the elderly and the very middle of the middle-class.

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