The “Moral Values” Chronicles

This week on the “moral values” beat, Newsweek has Debra Rosenberg and Rebecca Sinderbrand writing about the religious right’s bid to become something more than a GOTV (get out the vote) wing of the Republican party. To start, the duo reports, the movement’s leaders are conference-calling and meeting daily to come up with tactics to pressure President Bush into installing their agenda. At the top of that agenda, says Rosenberg and Sinderbrand, is a bold move to reshape the nation’s courts.

Among the conservatives quoted is Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation, who doesn’t exactly seem like he’s prepared to fight to the death to cash in on the political capitol awarded to him on Election Day. The first time we hear from Weyerich, he’s all bluster and threat: “We’re not going to be trotted out every four years and then get kicked in the teeth afterwards.” But only a few paragraphs later Weyerich doesn’t seem so tough: “We’d better be very careful not to think that the president owes us anything and it’s payback time.” If Weyerich makes a 180-degree turn, so also do Rosenberg and Sinderbrand, by all but writing off the religious right at the end of the piece, even suggesting that it won’t be much heard from until the 2006 congressional elections appear on the horizon.

U.S. News & World Report’s Terence Samuel touches on the same subject, via Arlen Specter’s battle to claim the helm of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Samuel notes that “tradition” is on Specter’s side but that “he finds himself in the cross hairs of Christian conservatives who have received substantial credit for the president’s re-election.” He then concludes that all signs — including word from the White House and Specter’s past voting history on judicial confirmations — point to a Specter victory and a Christian conservative loss.

Michael Duffy of Time offers up the 411 on John Ashcroft’s replacement-to-be Alberto Gonzales. Duffy fits in most of the beltway conventional wisdom about the first changeover in Bush’s cabinet: Ashcroft’s departure was long overdue; Republicans and Dems agree that the Justice Department is just a stop on the way to a Supreme Court nomination; Gonzales’ appointment will help solidify support amongst the 44 percent of Hispanics who voted for Bush; and he dredges up the insider’s tale that Gonzales kept Bush off a jury in 1996 that might have exposed his DUI, years before it became public knowledge.

Back to moral values, The New Republic lends space to Rep. Brad Carson (D-Okla.) who lost an uphill battle for one of the state’s U.S. Senate seats. Carson admits that he recognized his campaign was doomed from the moment he heard the echoes of “Vote Righteously” — code for “Vote pro-life, vote Republican” — from pastor after pastor in the churches he visited throughout the state. Carson argues that the Democratic party failed to realize that social conservatives care more about what they perceive as values issues than they do about traditional policy questions. He writes, “For the vast majority of Oklahomans — and, I would suspect, voters in other red states — these transcendent cultural concerns are more important than universal health care or raising the minimum wage or preserving farm subsidies … [T]he truth is quite simple: Most voters in a state like Oklahoma — and I venture to say most other Southern and Midwestern states — reject the general direction of American culture and celebrate the political party that promises to reform or revise it. “

Finally, The Weekly Standard calls on University of Virginia political science professor Gerard Alexander to put to rest (subscription required) the long-held CW that high turnout favors Democrats. Alexander asserts, “Many Democrats shared this belief, which is why they joined progressives in passing the ‘motor voter’ registration law in 1993,” and he continues to emphasize a point that Campaign Desk (or its spawn) should be wary of in the future: “Many journalists were believers, too, regularly reporting that high turnout naturally favors Democrats.” Tucked away within Alexander’s observations are some other nice little nuggets about voter turnout (i.e. there are still 75 million non-voters hiding out there), and it’s worth a read if you’re still trying to get a handle on exactly what happened on Nov. 2.

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.