Blue in a Red America

Dan Kennedy in the Boston Phoenix:

The problem with Finder’s criticism, though, is that it’s so pre-11/2, so — well, reality-based. I’m not sure that any external issues mattered in Bush’s election Tuesday night. That’s because we have entered a new era, one described in chilling detail several weeks ago by Ron Suskind in the New York Times Magazine. Suskind described a chewing-out he once received from a "senior adviser to Bush" after he’d written something for Esquire that the White House didn’t like. Suskind wrote: "The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.’"

Now, Suskind’s piece wasn’t so much about empire as it was about Bush’s embrace of messianic Christianity, a sort of created reality that informs much of his decision-making, one that leads him to separate the world into simplistic categories of good and evil and to believe, always, that he is on the side of good, and of God. It’s a nice thought — but if you’re George W. Bush, how do you know whether you’re really on God’s side? Trouble is, he acts as though his religion leads him to believe he’s always right. And there’s little doubt that his most ardent supporters feel the same way. Consider the war in Iraq, which was — or least should have been — the overarching issue in this campaign. It is as clear as any politically charged fact can be that Bush exaggerated, relied on dubious intelligence, and lied in order to come up with a pretext for the war — that is, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and had provided a base of operations for Al Qaeda. None of this, as we have known for many months, was even remotely true. More than 1100 American soldiers, and perhaps as many as 100,000 Iraqi civilians, have paid for this tragic folly with their lives, and there is no hope that we can be extricated from the Iraq quagmire anytime soon. Yet even though this may prove to be an even more grotesque foreign-policy blunder than Vietnam, Bush’s most enthusiastic followers seem not to care. Polls show that a majority of Bush supporters actually believe that we have found WMD in Iraq, and that Saddam even had some nebulous involvement in 9/11. Thus we have Bush creating his own reality — a faith-based war for which tens of thousands of human beings have paid in actual blood. And those of us in the reality-based community are left to look on in horror.

After what happened on Tuesday, I’m reluctant to cite exit polls, but cite them I must, since I have no other, uh, reality-based standard on which to rely. So: according to exit polls conducted by NBC News, 21 percent of voters on Tuesday said "moral values" were the most important issue to them. (Why aren’t they ever asked if "hate and the opportunity to discriminate" were what brought them to the polls?) Believe it or not, that was higher than the percentage of voters who cited either the economy or terrorism as the most important issue. Of those who identified "moral values" as their key issue, 78 percent said they had voted for Bush. Fully one in five voters was a self-described evangelical Christian.

If Boston — along with New York, Washington, Chicago, and Los Angeles — is one of the capitals of Blue America, the NBC exit polls describe the very definition of Red America: bigoted, intolerant, fearful of the unknown, ever ready to impose its own version of morality on everyone else. Let me admit right here that I’m struggling — much of what I’ve written about Red Americans this morning strikes me as intolerant of them. As a devoted secularist with a number of religious friends, I certainly don’t want to come off as though I’m denigrating religion itself. But the essence of liberalism is that religion must exist in its own sphere, and though it needn’t be private, it has no business poking its nose under other people’s tents. If you’re opposed to abortion, then don’t have one. If you think homosexuality is a sin, then don’t have sex with someone of the same gender. Now, this all makes perfect sense to me. The trouble is, tolerance is perhaps the most vital component of a liberal value system, and it’s at the heart of what makes Blue America what it is. And Red America values neither tolerance nor liberalism. Not to sound too arrogant, but I don’t think we would have any trouble living with them — it’s they who have trouble living with us.

And now they’ve won.

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