- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

It stunned the Democrats and many in the media, but it shouldn’t have. Voters who care about moral values delivered the election to President Bush. Even with an uncertain economy and problems in Iraq, Mr. Bush rode social conservatism to victory. In a Wednesday-morning chin-pulling session, CNN anchor Bill Hemmer turned to his ex-politico colleague Carlos Watson and asked earnestly, “Why has the country gone so far in the conservative direction?” The truth is that the country was already there. It’s just that the liberal media elites never realized it.

The exit polls couldn’t have been clearer. They showed that more voters think moral values — that is, the vaunted “God, guns and gays” questions — are the most important question facing the nation than think the same about the state of the economy, the terrorist threat or the Iraq war. Regaining competitiveness with this group will be the Democrats’ great generational challenge in the years to come. But it’s far from clear that the Democrats even understand their problem, much less how to fix it.

They can start with the exit polls, which showed that when it comes to moral values, the Democrats find themselves in terra incognita. Given values as a choice in polling prompts — the exit polls listed taxes, education, Iraq, terrorism, the economy/jobs, moral values and health care as the options — a full 22 percent chose moral values. The economy and terrorism came close, but moral values were supreme. Mr. Bush took 79 percent of such voters, John Kerry only 18 percent.

That spelled disaster for Mr. Kerry, whose campaign hammered Mr. Bush on the Iraq war and the economy, but barely touched the moral issues. The postmortem here won’t ignore the glaring Democratic blind spot on the issue. It will tick off John Edwards rallying at the last minute in Pompano Beach, Fla., with Jimmy Buffett. It will note that Mr. Kerry stumped in vain with Bruce Springsteen to get the youth vote out. Mr. Kerry all but abandoned the moral questions in the hope that the material ones could energize swing voters and deliver him the election. It didn’t work.

The problem doesn’t belong exclusively to the Democrats, of course; the media owns it, too. It’s telling that in the weeks before the election, pollsters didn’t even include “moral values” as an option when questioning likely voters. The ABC News/Washington Post poll listed the economy, terrorism, Iraq, health care, education, and “other” as the options. Under that formula, 10 percent chose “other.” A plurality of the “other” contingent listed abortion, stem cell research, gay “marriage,” religion or moral issues as the supreme concern.

The question now becomes whether the Democrats can re-assimilate into the mainstream. A party can reinvent positions on health care and defense, but can it reverse course on moral issues?

This is a difficult time for Democrats. Soul-searching is in order. We hope they succeed, because it’s better for America when both major parties compete to gain the moral respect of the electorate.

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