What the Democrats learned from Election 2004: The South and Midwest are Republican strongholds that must be penetrated in order to win the White House.
What the Democrats probably missed, or refuse to acknowledge: This swarm of red states—comprising conservative Christians, gun owners, libertarians and values-based voters—is a helluva lot smarter than IQ tests would admit.
Leadership requires more than just intellect; decision-making in uncertain times requires an enormous amount of faith—in your advisers, in your friends and in your God. Die-hard Republicans know this, just as die-hard Democrats know the importance of a strong social welfare system. But the Democrats are visibly uncomfortable discussing matters of faith.
Southerners and Midwesterners picked up on this a long time ago. Sen. John Kerry’s contrived attempts to feign religiosity during the presidential debates mirror the Democrats’ frenzied post-election consultations with evangelical groups to improve their chances in 2008. Even if the Democrats now believe in the power of faith, they don’t yet understand why it works.
Ron Suskind has written much on the topic of faith and the George W. Bush presidency. After writing an article perceived unfavorably by the White House, Suskind met with a senior adviser to Bush, who said that guys like Suskind lived “in what we call the reality-based community,” which the aide defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.”
He continued: “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
Not only is this Bush adviser smart, he’s damn near Foucaultian. And that’s really scary, because deep down we all know he’s right. Election 2004 proved his point marvelously: No WMDs? No problem! Saddam was a bad man. Osama still on the loose? No use changing leadership now, that’s crazy talk! A flip-flop nation led by The Flip-Flopper himself couldn’t possibly hunt down the terrorists.
Ah, the sweet logic of simplicity. As much as we may like to delude ourselves to the contrary, we crave its warm embrace.
Left in the wake of moral crisis from the Clinton years, Americans—now more than ever—are searching for certainty in a world that hates our president as much as our policy. Perhaps America’s situation is poetic justice: fundamentalists hating the fundamentalist.
But the big, wide expanse of Middle America—what longtime senior media adviser Mark McKinnon characterizes as “busy working people who don’t read The New York Times or Washington Post or The L.A. Times”—they love Dubya. And they have faith in him.
As President Bush himself said frequently on the campaign trail, “By remaining resolute and firm and strong, this world will be peaceful.” Thus we have the Bush formula for success—clear vision, no backtracking, always confident in moral rectitude—how we lesser human beings often aspire to be. Is it so stupid, then, to desire these qualities in our leader?
Either we must shift to a more hesitant, more discursive brand of leadership, or admit that Middle America is better at picking strong chief executives. Faith-based values are the clincher in this dispute, but faith can cut in a number of ways. It can help us achieve something greater and it can move us beyond politics as usual—in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Desmond Tutu.
But as Jim Wallis, an evangelical pastor who for 30 years has run the Sojourners—a progressive organization of advocates for social justice—admonishes: “When faith is designed to certify our righteousness, that can be a dangerous thing. Then it pushes self-criticism aside. There’s no reflection. Where people often get lost is on this very point. Real faith, you see, leads us to deeper reflection and not—not ever—to the thing we as humans so very much want: easy certainty.”
President Bush would do well to heed this advice now that he’s begun his second term, if he cares at all about his legacy. But with re-election secured on the tide of straight talk and simple answers, why should he lose faith now?
Philip Kurian is a Trinity senior.
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