Voting Without the Facts

By BOB HERBERT

New York Times

November 8, 2004

The so-called values issue, at least as it's being popularly tossed around, is overrated.

Last week's election was extremely close and a modest shift in any number of factors might have changed the outcome. If the weather had been better in Ohio. ...If the wait to get into the voting booth hadn't been so ungodly long in certain Democratic precincts. ... Or maybe if those younger voters had actually voted. ...

I think a case could be made that ignorance played at least as big a role in the election's outcome as values. A recent survey by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland found that nearly 70 percent of President Bush's supporters believe the U.S. has come up with "clear evidence" that Saddam Hussein was working closely with Al Qaeda. A third of the president's supporters believe weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. And more than a third believe that a substantial majority of world opinion supported the U.S.-led invasion.

This is scary. How do you make a rational political pitch to people who have put that part of their brain on hold? No wonder Bush won.

The survey, and an accompanying report, showed that there's a fair amount of cluelessness in the ranks of the values crowd. The report said, "It is clear that supporters of the president are more likely to have misperceptions than those who oppose him."

I haven't heard any of the postelection commentators talk about ignorance and its effect on the outcome. It's all values, all the time. Traumatized Democrats are wringing their hands and trying to figure out how to appeal to voters who have arrogantly claimed the moral high ground and can't stop babbling about their self-proclaimed superiority. Potential candidates are boning up on new prayers and purchasing time-shares in front-row-center pews.

A more practical approach might be for Democrats to add teach-ins to their outreach efforts. Anything that shrinks the ranks of the clueless would be helpful.

If you don't think this values thing has gotten out of control, consider the lead paragraph of an op-ed article that ran in The LA. Times on Friday. It was written by Frank Pastore, a former major league pitcher who is now a host on the Christian talk-radio station KKLA.

"Christians, in politics as in evangelism," said Mr. Pastore, "are not against people or the world. But we are against false ideas that hold good people captive. On Tuesday, this nation rejected liberalism, primarily because liberalism has been taken captive by the left. Since 1968, the left has taken millions captive, and we must help those Democrats who truly want to be free to actually break free of this evil ideology."

Mr. Pastore goes on to exhort Christian conservatives to reject any and all voices that might urge them "to compromise with the vanquished." How's that for values?

In The New York Times on Thursday, Richard Viguerie, the dean of conservative direct mail, declared, "Now comes the revolution." He said, "Liberals, many in the media and inside the Republican Party, are urging the president to 'unite' the country by discarding the allies that earned him another four years."

Mr. Viguerie, it is clear, will stand four-square against any such dangerous moves toward reconciliation.

You have to be careful when you toss the word values around. All values are not created equal. Some Democrats are casting covetous eyes on voters whose values, in many cases, are frankly repellent. Does it make sense for the progressive elements in our society to undermine their own deeply held beliefs in tolerance, fairness and justice in an effort to embrace those who deliberately seek to divide?

What the Democratic Party needs above all is a clear message and a bold and compelling candidate. The message has to convince Americans that they would be better off following a progressive Democratic vision of the future. The candidate has to be a person of integrity capable of earning the respect and the affection of the American people.

This is doable. Al Gore and John Kerry were less than sparkling candidates, and both came within a hair of defeating Mr. Bush.

What the Democrats don't need is a candidate who is willing to shape his or her values to fit the pundits' probably incorrect analysis of the last election. Values that pivot on a dime were not really values to begin with.