Bush Pushed From The Right

American television personality and evangelical Christian leader Pat Robertson, backed by an Israeli flag, delivers a speech to a crowd of mostly evangelical Christians from various nations on a pilgrimage to Israel, during an event of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2004.
By David Paul Kuhn,
CBSNews.com chief political writer

Social conservatives expect President Bush to utilize his "moral mandate" to push landmark legislation through Congress. Religious leaders close to the Republicans have high hopes that the White House will press for the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, enact a constitutional ban on gay marriage and, if the opportunity arises, make conservative appointments to the Supreme Court.

"I absolutely trust him in terms of his appointment of judges," Pat Robertson said in an interview. The founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, Robertson added, "The emphasis that [President Bush] is making just suits me to a 't.'"

Robertson said his first priority is for Congress to disable the ability of "obnoxious filibustering" Democrats who stand in the way of conservative judicial appointments.

"What I want to see is the filibuster rule changed at the beginning of this new Congress," Robertson insisted.

Social conservatives believe their efforts were instrumental in Mr. Bush's reelection. They believe the president's priorities are theirs. And they expect Mr. Bush to repay their loyalty.

"If social conservatives see nothing and they don't get any action then they are going to say 'What did we turnout for?'" said Paul Weyrich, founder of the Heritage Foundation and chairman of the Free Congress Foundation.

"It is going to have to be in the 109th [session of Congress]," he continued. "I say that because values voters were one of the factors that led to the presidents stunning upset victory and if they get nothing, how are going to argue for them to come out in the 2006 election."

But President Bush has broadly outlined his agenda. Reintroducing an amendment abolishing same-sex marriage wasn't on it. Neither were stricter regulations on human cloning and stem cell research. Nor was the great evangelical aspiration of abolishing abortion.

"Social Security and tax reform, moving the economy forward, education, fighting and wining the war on terror," President Bush said last week following his reelection.

"It's what Bush said he would push for as opposed to what [social conservatives] hope he would push for," said Mickey Edwards, a Republican member of Congress for 16 years and a current legislative scholar at Princeton University.

"He won the election," Edwards continued. "He's going to serve out his term. Eight years is all you're allowed. So if he wanted to pursue a social agenda he could have said that. What was to stop him from saying that? He's not playing to an electorate. I think you have to take him at his word."

Social conservatives are taking Mr. Bush's key political strategist at his word, instead. Karl Rove has insisted Mr. Bush will take renewed action to push for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

"Marriage and life," said Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kansas, in an interview. A leading social conservative senator, Brownback won his third term last week.

At the core of the effort, social conservatives believe that secular liberals are forcing their values on America. "We have watched an erosion of our basic religious freedoms," Robertson said.

To Brownback, Weyrich and Robertson, the priority is to legally redefine the federal government's role on issues at the moral heart of U.S. culture.

"Defining life as beginning at conception" Brownback said was atop the list, along with a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The Senate put down the first legislation proposing just such an amendment in July.

Brownback, and like-minded legislators, are also pushing for laws forbidding "human cloning and animal human hybrids." In addition, they want a federal law mandating that women be offered anesthesia for fetuses 20 weeks or older, prior to abortions.

It remains to be seen whether "moral values" was the linchpin of Mr. Bush's victory. But political analysts agree that the positions of the Bush-Cheney campaign on conservative social issues were, at minimum, contributing factors.

"I definitely think moral values are a huge, huge important factor in Bush's reelection," said Laura Olson, who studies religion and politics at Clemson University.

Rousing religious voters, eleven states had constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. All passed, most importantly, in Ohio.

Exit polling showed one-fifth of U.S. voters viewed "moral issues" as the predominant factor when considering which candidate to support. While analysts like Olson believe the term is overly general, they said it served as a "good nexus" to capture a group of Americans who vote with traditional values in mind.

Turnout among evangelicals increased only slightly compared to 2000. But with more than a fifth of the electorate describing themselves as evangelical, Olson said the group's exceedingly high turnout rate dramatically favored Republicans.

To reach evangelicals, the influential social conservative group Focus on the Family claims to have sent out a "values kit" to nearly every pastor in the United States.

But it is not with Protestants that Mr. Bush made his more significant inroads. The Methodist president won a majority of Catholics. It was a striking outcome to social scientists because his Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry, is a Catholic. The key factors, to Olson, were gay marriage and abortion. She said that "most social conservatives are pragmatic about" abortion. "They are hoping for it to be a states rights issue," she added.

"The repeal for Roe makes this a states issue," Brownback agreed. "We are going to try to push for that."

Exit polling suggests Mr. Bush's moral stances were part of the reason the Republican made inroads with Latinos, gaining 12 percent compared to 2000. In Florida, he won the majority of Hispanic voters.

"Many Hispanics are quite religious, and many are traditional Catholics," Olson said. "And as many traditional Catholics go to the Republican Party, so will Hispanics."

Legislative analysts emphasize that a second term president's power is quick to wane. "It won't be so long before we hear George Bush's name next to lame duck," said Paul Light, professor of public service at New York University.

By Light's estimate, President Bush has a year left to utilize the White House bully pulpit. And to be sure, social conservatives want Mr. Bush bully hard.

"In the last election, the gun issue beat [Democrats] and they laid off it," Brownback said. "I think they may read this election and say we have to connect more with Middle American voters and we have to stand up for them on values."

By David Paul Kuhn