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Bush's victory: The triumph of the simplistic evangelical agenda

November 21, 2004 1:11 am

YOU DIDN'T THINK I could just let it go, did you? It's nearly three weeks after the election, and along with tens of millions of other Americans, I'm still trying to sort it all out.

Those who voted for the president, including those who were casting ballots against Sen. Kerry, don't seem to understand. For them, it's simply: "We won. You lost. Get over it." At least that's what I'm getting from my e-mail.

But getting over it will take awhile, because those of us who voted the other way think the nation and the world stand to suffer as a result of the outcome.

George W. Bush took office four years ago after a tainted victory, and we viewed it as a fluke that the voters could and would choose to undo four years later--especially when he turned out to be the lame leader we expected him to be.

Then came Sept. 11, 2001, and over the ensuing three years the president did all he needed to do, in the eyes of many Americans, to assure himself a one-term presidency. Americans, however, are reluctant to change leadership in the middle of a war, so it's a good thing for him he started one.

Today, Americans are dying in Iraq (the current month is the second deadliest for U.S. troops since the invasion) either because George Bush lied, or because he was horribly misinformed. Period.

So why, after failing miserably at his job, was he re-elected by a majority of Americans? Has America been brainwashed?

In a way, yes. For one thing, the nation's conservative extremists, the evangelicals, have managed to blur the distinction between church and state to the point that many Americans favor the candidate they believe God would endorse. As columnist Leonard Pitts put it, these are Christians "whose Bibles are so long on judgment yet so short on compassion.

"They give God a bad name," he adds.

It is difficult for those of us better defined as progressive than liberal to understand an agenda that puts homosexuality and abortion above the basic needs of families and the well-being of children who have already been born.

Let's hope this massive Christian movement realizes that the administration it elected pursues some very un-Christian values, such as worsening the lives of the poorest among us while deepening the pockets of America's wealthiest. We should always make charitable giving a priority, but it's never been more important than during this Republican regime.

In the aftermath of the election, many people pointed to the political pendulum that has swung back and forth throughout U.S. history. If you don't care for where it is now, it'll swing back sooner or later.

That may be true, but it doesn't keep people from tugging on it one way or another in the meantime. When one side becomes complacent, it loses ground to the other.

Our goals on many key issues--national security, crime, education--aren't that different. What seems to divide us is how we live our private lives.

A nation founded on diversity and religious freedom should keep those principles in place. We pursue our own happiness, but we shouldn't try to prescribe happiness, or morality, for anyone else. The majority rules in elections, but it must not usurp a minority's rights. The majority rules the government, but not the bedroom.

The reason we don't have organized prayer in public schools is because of the minority who might not subscribe, but whose rights must be honored and protected. If one side wasn't attempting to impose its religious beliefs on others, such as by erecting a Ten Commandments monument in a county courthouse, then maybe the other side wouldn't push to have the words "under God" removed from the Pledge of Allegiance.

It is far too simplistic to expect that we could all just get along, as Rodney King pleaded. Reason, however, is a necessity.

To lead successfully, America's ruling majority, many of whom are probably reasonable people, need to recognize the danger of absolutes. For example, outlawing abortion doesn't stop abortion, just like outlawing guns doesn't eradicate guns. But you can strive to reduce abortion.

We should focus on sex education, on preventing unplanned pregnancies, and on encouraging the adoption of unwanted children. Preach abstinence if you want to, but if you really want to reduce the number of abortions, don't deny access to contraceptives. Abortion is on the decline, and everyone agrees that's the right direction. No one is pro-abortion.

Looking at that sea of red states on the electoral map, the Bible Belt appears to be holding up its Bible trousers, and the country looks to be wearing a Bible vest.

But don't be deceived. The popular vote ended up 59.5 million to 56 million. The map is merely a lesson in population density. It's the number of people per square mile that matters, not the square miles.

The president got off on the wrong foot by promising to bridge the divisiveness in America, then claiming a mandate to pursue his agenda of moral ideals. How do you promise unity by deliberately ignoring the convictions of 56 million Americans? This is a recipe to turn our simmering melting pot up to a full boil.

Then he refers to his second term as a "season of hope." Is he referring to the hope that America isn't sold to the highest bidder? Hope that we're able to breathe the air and drink the water? Hope that we won't be subjected to illegal searches and surveillance under the so-called Patriot Act? Hope that America's poverty rolls don't explode over the next four years?

With the departure of so many Cabinet members, especially Secretary of State Colin Powell, the president is tailoring for himself a very like-minded inner circle. The opportunity for moderation is lost, and any remnant of "compassionate conservatism"--remember that?--is out the window.

Let's have a season of hope in which reason is alive and well.

RICHARD AMRHINE is a writer and editor with The Free Lance-Star.





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