My ultra-brief visit with the man

Moveon140_1The doorbell rang Sunday afternoon and it turned out to be a bleached-blond Gen X man from the organization. He said he was there to get out the vote for the Democratic Party. He asked me if I had voted or decided for whom I would vote. Was I registered?

Yes, I said, I’m a lifelong Democrat.

He smiled.

I have decided that I will not be voting for John Kerry, I said.

He turned to leave without saying a word.

I asked if he wanted to know why.

Apparently not, because he kept walking. Then I turned around and realized that he might have assumed he knew why I was not going to vote for his candidate. Directly behind me was a bronze cross, some Orthodox icons and some prayer candles in a small niche in the wall. The man would have been looking right at them.

Truth is, a lot of pro-life Democrats and other cultural and religious conservatives have struggled this year, knowing their party’s candidate has a perfect pro-abortion-rights record on all recent proposals to limit abortion in any way. Meanwhile, the GOP has courted the anti-abortion vote in some ways, while offending many people who prefer to refer to themselves as “consistently pro-life.” A vote for President Bush is, in some way, a vote for the party that embraces the lifestyle Libertarians symbolized by the Terminator.

People caught in this dilemma have received some press attention this year. But not much. Here is a sample of the non-mainstream coverage.

At the same time, there has been an interesting debate about the validity of the whole red state-blue state phenomenon or even, as this blog prefers to say, the red county-blue county reality. Jeff Sharlet of keeps saying that talk of a “pew gap” is too simplistic and he has some battlefield anecdotes to make his case. Here is a recent sample from the Dallas Morning News.

Take the “blue,” Democratic state of New York, believed by many self-declared culture warriors to be a bulwark on the godless side of the gap. Venture upstate to Schenectady, a small industrial city with a liberal arts college at its core.

Schenectady is an immigrant town. One Catholic church has been, successively, German, Polish, and Italian. Now the building houses a Guyanese Hindu congregation ­ and it’s Republican. The city’s former mayor, a Republican, lobbied hard for Guyanese immigrants to move to Schenectady, since he guessed, correctly, that their Hindu values would mesh well with his Republican vision of how his down-on-its-luck factory town can revive its fortunes.

How about red-as-a-rose Kansas, in the heart of Bush country? In rural Kansas, I watched as 1,000 nearly naked Pagans -­ Isis worshippers and Wiccans and devotees of Thor -­ danced around a bonfire. Don’t misunderstand: this was a strictly family-values affair. Many participants were proud soldiers, sailors and Marines.

One senior witch, retired from active duty in the Air Force, recently announced a series of Pagan days of prayer running from Halloween to the election. While the Kansas pagans endorsed neither candidate, it’s not difficult to guess that, military or no, most won’t be voting for the current commander-in-chief.

Interesting anecdotes. I’m sure Dallas is a wild religion town, too. But I imagine more Baptists will cast ballots there (and buy newspapers) than druids.

As the politicos keep noting, “data” is not the plural form of of the word “anecdote.” Meanwhile, the veteran Los Angeles Times writer Ronald Brownstein wrote this rather down-to-earth summary of the state of the nation heading into today’s election. The headline: “Why ‘This is About Bush.’ His narrowly focused ‘hedgehog presidency’ cements the allegiance of conservatives and galvanizes his foes. The result is bitter division. ” Whew.

… (The) basic boundaries that divided red (Republican) from blue (Democratic) America in 2000 remain largely in place.

The latest polls still show Kerry and Bush commanding mirror-image demographic and ideological coalitions defined more by cultural values than economic interests, just as in 2000. Bush dominates among rural voters and middle-income whites, especially those who are married and attend church regularly or own guns.

Kerry holds strong leads among urban voters, minorities, singles and those who don’t attend church regularly or own guns. He also runs competitively among lower-income whites open to his economic message and affluent white voters responsive to his views on social and foreign policy issues.

And, as Walter Cronkite used to say, “That’s the way it is.”

Casey1So each of us will have our anecdotes to share from the drama of this week (or even the month ahead) and, if the statistics are correct, many of these stories will be rooted in conflicts rooted in fundamentally different ways of viewing faith, morality and, to paraphrase the U.S. Supreme Court, how we view the mystery of the universe. We will try to bring you the best and the worst of some of this “pew gap” or even “no pew gap” coverage in the days ahead.

Hang in there. And, because I know that blogs are a blend of personal and public information, here is a link to a piece that I wrote in 2000 about my own political pilgrimage. It was written as a right-of-center piece for, but they rejected it. Thus, it ended up running as a left-of-center piece in, of all places, World magazine. Here is a sample:

So why did I break down and vote for George W. Bush?

Here’s why: I am convinced that the biggest issue of the next generation of American life will be free speech, free speech for people who even want to have the right to stand up in public and take conservative stands on issues linked to culture, education, morality, and faith. Free speech for people who want to protest what they cannot embrace. …

Free speech is painful, but it beats all the alternatives. Let open debates and free speech continue. Perhaps even in the Democratic Party.

That was 2000. I will not vote for the candidate of my party again today. But I have not decided whether to vote for President Bush. Let’s face it, some of us old-coalition Democrats really miss the late, great Gov. Robert Casey (photo). Is there anyone in either party with his blend of moral conservatism and progressive politics?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Brian Lewis

    I’m starting to get pretty cynical about abortion and politics.

    The House and Senate have been Republican controlled for the Bush presidency and a partisan 5-4 Supreme Court decision helped get him into office.

    Why hasn’t there been any common sense abortion reforms passed during the Bush presidency that can withstand judicial review.

    It almost seems to me that Republicans don’t want to make progress in combating abortion because if they did, then they would lose a powerful weapon with which to rally the base.

    At the same time, this is one issue, where I have trouble understanding many of the arguments from the other side.

    Technology has come so far since the 1970s and the Roe v. Wade case that people ought to be able to agree that abortion stops a beating heart and does end a viable life.

  • Brad

    I can respect not voting for Kerry, but are you really suggesting that voting for GWB in 2000 for the sake of free speech was a good idea? The same candidate who routinely limits free speech from his own events is your candidate? The same one who appointed John Ashcroft and has made every effort to muzzle the media is a free speech warrior?

  • dlw

    I think key to depoliticizing and preventing abortions is for us to reframe the politics of abortion debate as about when legally we define the beginning of human personhood and for us to find a way to compromise on when it begins.

    I post my own innovative idea for this at my blog as can be found by clicking on dlw.

  • Jeff

    Folks (dare i say even friends!), i am getting pretty steamed at the way “evangelicals,” “religious conservatives,” and “people focused on moral values,” not to mention “frequent churchgoers” are being used, semantically, as the excuse for why the candidate who got the most popular votes lost the electoral . . . what, Kerry lost the popular vote, too? By 4 million? Those prolific religious conservatives!!!

    Within the last year, i was still arguing with my more conservative friends that media bias was overstated. But the TV news tone and talk is mournful, rueful, and suddenly adopting words like “we were warned about the influence of the angry” (insert religous/values term of the moment here). The semantic loading around explaining why Kerry lost is amazing!

  • kristen

    Rep. Mike McIntyre (NC) is a blue dog with a 0% rating by NARAL who has progressive economic and social views. And he’s a really nice guy to boot. I wish he were my congressman!

  • Dale Price

    I can only think of a few people, around the margins–maybe.

    Bart Stupak, the Democratic Congressman from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, also has a 0 rating from NARAL. He also tends to be somewhat more liberal on economic issues because his district is relatively poor.

    Ben Nelson, the Democratic Senator from Nebraska, also has a steady pro-life reputation and a moderate record on economic issues, IIRC.

  • Josh Narins

    OK. I’m listening. I’ve been alive for a while now, and always thought, like commenter #1, that the Republicans were just using the Christians for votes.

    Show me why abortion is a bad thing.

    You say it is the ending of a life? Identical to murder? The counter-argument to that is trivial. How can you consider something alive that can not live? It can not live. The best science can do is take a fetus, at about 5.5 months, and even then there is a massive expense (you planning on paying?) and a great risk of permanent lifelong brain damage (again, are you planning to pay for the social services required?)

    It can not live. So it is not alive.

    It certainly is not the same as someone on life support, since that person can, with the aid of life support, live.

    Explain to me, please, why abortion is so wrong, that you would throw away decency in Making War, Setting Taxes, Free Speech, and Political Rights.

    I mean, Slavery was something that bad, and Bush mentioned Dred Scott to remind you all of the link.

    Please, help me understand. Perhaps I could change my mind.