A couple weeks ago I wrote a column on the role racism plays in the election strategy of John McCain. I argued that McCain, like any Republican candidate, has a political coalition largely based on subtle but very present racial and cultural prejudices that have long prevented Americans from supporting the type of progressive policy that should be inherent in an industrialized society.
McCains supporters, led in large part by his pathetically backward running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, have repeatedly tried to paint Obama and his supporters as anti-American and even foreign, harping on Obamas vague associations with radical figures like Bill Ayers and suggesting that Obamas plan for America is socialist revolution. In a rambling column published on this page last week, the head of Wisconsin Students for McCain, Katie Kix, challenged Obamas claims of being a Christian and accused him of adopting the deceitful tactics of another community organizer who worked with church leaders even though he was an atheist.
Yes, this was printed in a college newspaper.
Nevertheless, despite the negativity and demagoguery that has come to rule the McCain campaign, historians may very well look kindly upon this candidates repudiation of much of the cultural war nonsense that defined the Bush victories in 2000 and 2004.
The almost complete neglect of social issues by the McCain campaign signals an acknowledgment that the religious right does not deserve a place of prominence in the national political dialogue. While religious conservatives still constitute an important segment of the Republican Party base, McCain has appealed to them most visibly by picking one of their loyal foot soldiers as his vice-presidential candidate but not by speaking to the issues they care about most: abortion, same-sex marriage, stem cell research and the separation of church and state.
Perhaps the most obvious reason McCain has had to forsake the Bible Belt base is that hes simply not right on with most of their issues. Although the senator has consistently opposed abortion rights during his three-decade career on Capitol Hill, hes been considerably more reasonable on the issue than most Republicans, supporting federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and rarely discussing the issue on the campaign trail.
On the issue of gay marriage, McCain actually showed extraordinary political courage: McCain was one of five Republicans in the Senate to stand up against Bushs transparent attempt to motivate social conservatives by demonizing homosexuals through a constitutional amendment to restrict their rights. Although McCain unfortunately still opposes same-sex marriage, his position is essentially no more reactionary than Barack Obamas and therefore has not presented an opportunity for the type of overt homophobia Republican politicians have used to their advantage in past elections.
McCain has furthermore strayed from emphasizing his religion in the manner Bush as well as many Republican political candidates did in the past two elections. In Palin, the campaign has found an enthusiastic faith spokesperson, but McCain himself rarely references his religious beliefs in his discussion of policy, in stark contrast to many of his opponents, such as Mike Huckabee, whose use of religious rhetoric had Thomas Jefferson doing summersaults in his grave.
McCain even went as far as to express belief in gasp! evolution. Such an acknowledgement of scientific fact is tantamount to waving the white flag of surrender to the secular progressives, who, as Papa Bear OReilly will tell you, will stop at nothing to force your children into pre-marital sexual relationships and will knock on your door Christmas Eve to make sure you call that tree in your living room a holiday tre.
All these concessions to reason may simply display McCains inability to run away from a relatively moderate social record, but what it hopefully demonstrates is that America has recognized the utter backwardness of the GOPs social policy, which exploits the fears of our parents and grandparents and ignores the tolerance and intellectual influence of the younger generation.
Matthew Dowd, Bushs chief campaign strategist in 2004, declared to Bill Maher last week that the American people believe the issue of abortion is settled and dont want to hear about it any more in the political arena.
Yes, the pocketbook concerns have obviously pushed social issues to the side in the wake of the financial crisis, but voters may also be in the process of understanding that culture warriors dont accomplish much in the way of policy in office. A president who shares your views on prayer in school will hardly be able to change the way the school nearest you is actually run.
The expected Obama victory next Tuesday will in some ways be a triumph of liberal ideals of patriotism and unity over reactionary appeals to tribalism and even sectionalism. (Will North Carolina be pro- or anti-America?) However, the absence of true debate on what have long been considered the major social issues indicates there may soon be a Republican Party many on this campus can learn to stomach and possibly even support with votes.
John McCain, I am not voting for you, but I appreciate your contribution to the creation of a country worth calling developed.