If polling on the reason people voted as they did yesterday is accurate and this election was about moral values, I'm a little curious why active deception and hostile, aggressive behavior were not considered as horrifying an affront to moral values to the red states as, for example, being pro-choice. Bush's morality is far from unassailable, and yet somehow he was given a free pass to own moral values as an issue.
I was not a particularly enthusiastic a supporter of John Kerry, since he never truly articulated a vision for the future. I think this was his undoing, and not any question about his morality. He never successfully articulated a position on the Iraq war rooted in a discussion of values. When he was talking about jobs, he appealed to individual self-interest rather than to humanity and compassion.
The religious left once owned the issue of morality in American politics, the influence apparent from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Martin Luther King, Jr. Even Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, for all their weaknesses, always spoke from a foundation of values. The ability for a caricature of morality to dominate the discussion of values points to a failure of the left to speak to people at a human level.
We are not a people unable to see the morality in compassion, truth, and humanity. But in the absence of an articulation of a message built on these, the best of American values, a fetishized morality assembled from token kneejerk issues like abortion, gay marriage, and ambiguous references to "traditional values" will do. I think that it is reasonable for people to expect their politicians to speak to values, although I certainly don't want a religious group to wield all the power over the moral compass of the nation.
The future of progressive thought will be closely tied to the ability of reformers to speak to the values that are our strengths. Threats of hellfire are frightening and effective tools of the religious right. But they are no match for the strength of a positive vision articulated by someone with a unironic approach to the imperative to love thy neighbor.
John Edwards had some potential to accomplish this, but he was overshadowed by the muddled message of the Kerry campaign. The Kerry campaign offered the promise "hope" but did little to build it; all of the hope was assumed, based on the momentum that came from frustration with the situation in Iraq, the casualty of truth, the Bush antipathy to reality. The promise of hope came mostly from faded memory of the election primaries, the voices of Howard Dean and John Edwards.
Hope is precious, but needs to be nurtured. The Kerry campaign was never successful at that. The volunteers were hopeful, but it was a hope that something better than Bush would emerge.
A few articles I've seen have suggested that the re-election of Bush will force the administration to clean up its own mess. It will be at a very painful cost, for now and for a few generations, and I doubt the cleanup will happen in the blissful unawareness the Bush administration seems to have of its disasters. Four years from now, if we have made a clean transition from Iraq and haven't created new disasters, I'll be very surprised.
I am not a religious person, and perhaps this makes me part of the progressive vision problem. But I hope progressives will be able to communicate a vision that shows a positive, coherent alternative to radically isolationist Christianity.
Then again, some people throw themselves to the lions.