Sunday, November 07, 2004

postal scrotum: the "values" question

Scott writes (and I respond point-by-point this time):

Hi Kevin,

Re: "who owns the 'values' question"

That's not the relevant question. Or more precisely, that's a "straw-man" question. The election was so close - EVERY group became a deciding factor. Hispanics-for-Bush voting in large numbers? Check. Youngsters-for-Kerry *not* voting in unusual numbers? Check. Every group was key, and by proxy - every issue (vis-a-vis "values") was key.

My point was actually simpler and less philosophical, and my question of "ownership" was rhetorical. Bill Bennett-- for the GOP-- was among the very first to put this "values" spin on the election results, and this was largely based on an interpretation of exit poll data-- data neither side had reason to trust, as it turned out.

But the "values" issue was immediately picked up and respun by the Dems as something negative. While agreeing with Bill Bennett that GOP voters were concerned about "moral values" (far too vague a phrase to elicit meaningful poll results), the Dems were arguing that the GOP version of moral values implicitly included homophobia and other forms of bigotry. This is part and parcel with a tendency among many lib/Dems to denigrate so-called Middle America, which, for them, is essentially a bunch of dumb hicks.

So we had this "values" issue, but it was being spun differently by both sides. I disagree that the issue was/is irrelevant to the election; Bill Bennett's essay, even though I find it disingenuous, has helped make the issue relevant in the election's aftermath. Like it or not, we're discussing "values" as a nation now. True, this is, in reality, a ongoing discussion, but the question has received intense scrutiny in the past week, which is why I wanted to probe it a bit.

Scott continues:

Since the television news people (92% admitted Democrat voters) are latching onto the notion that "values" was the key, what's their goal? My guess is that they are playing sour grapes. And hoping that "values" will scare folks into voting against the GOP next time around. Or simply getting off their lazy asses and voting at all.

I think that's part of what's happening, yes. Certainly a lot of sour grapes on the Dem side of the aisle, with plenty of cyberspace moaning, theatrical e-displays of depression and anger, etc.-- but also plenty of gloating on the GOP side of the aisle. That's where I was going in my previous posts: the issue's being spun hard.

And it's being spun by both sides. My larger point was that all the spin is nonsense because it's based on exit poll data that proved unreliable within hours after the last polling booth had closed. I agree with your point that every aspect of this election had something to do with some group's values, but the specific claim made by Bennett in his article, and promptly echoed by some Republicans and then re-spun negatively by some Democrats, isn't founded on anything substantive.

I think Bennett's basic contention is false: he says this election was primarily about moral values (or "virtues," as he puts it), but I say this election was primarily a referendum about the war on terror, because that's what both sides spent the most time discussing and fighting over. Other wedge issues, such as gay marriage and abortion, had their time in the spotlight, to be sure, but their significance paled in comparison to that of the war.

Which is why Bennett's claim struck me as bizarre. It was revisionist at the very least. He based his claim largely on the exit poll data. Key paragraph from his article:

The national exit polling conducted by the Los Angeles Times confirms all these findings, showing that "[M]ore than half of Bush's voters cited moral issues as a principal reason for their support — more than any other issue, including even terrorism." In fact, morals trumped terrorism by seven percentage points in the Los Angeles Times poll.

To view this poll data so uncritically, Bennett had to ignore almost four years of intense (often bitter) debate about the war on terror.

I can't put it plainly enough: the war on terror is what has occupied American consciousness all this time. Dems who are still in shock about Bush's win have been engaging in wishful thinking. They were disappointingly out of touch with the predominant mood. The Republicans didn't exactly get a sweeping mandate from the people, but Dems have to face up to the fact that, on a red/blue map of the US, there's a shitload of red out there.**

To the Republicans' credit, not all of them agree with Bennett, and this is obvious from the subsidiary debate that's blossomed in the rightie end of the blogosphere. Glenn Reynolds disagrees with Bennett; Andrew Sullivan has rediscovered some of his conservatism and, after some hemming and hawing, also agrees contra Bennett that the "values" issue has been overblown by media pundits.

Scott says further:

The Dems have nowhere to go but down right now. The push to "get out the vote" was beyond paranoid or insane this year. The jobless rate must be up because street-corners on my way to work were at triple-the-normal-capacity for folks holding up signs this year. I seriously considered a voting strategy that would piss off all the sign-holders - they were everywhere and they deserved to get a smack in the face with the admonition, "GO HOME!"

I've noticed that, among the big-ass bloggers, there's a good deal of debate as to whether the youth showed up in large numbers. Youth or no youth, everyone seems to agree that overall turnout was up this year. The bitter irony, if you're a Democrat, is that yet again the margin of victory wasn't very large. In other words, all that effort was met and bested by a just-barely greater effort from the other side. Oooooh, that's gotta hurt.

Given how unreliable the poll data* were, I also wonder whether they accurately reflected whom the swing voters were voting for. The graphs were showing something like a 60/40 (or 55/45) skew in Kerry's favor. Whether this was in fact the case is probably something we'll never know.

Scott continues:

I had multiple folks PER DAY ring my doorbell the week before election in order to ensure that I voted. And even with the full-court-press of "please vote", the Dems lost. They didn't "lose big", but they lost consistently.

I'm not sure how nice I would have been to those "rock the vote" people, because I hate it when any goddamn solicitor comes knocking on my door. I remember deriving cruel enjoyment from getting into a theological argument with a Jehovah's Witness one winter day, some years ago. The JWs are slick: they case your neighborhood, figure out the demographics, then send the appropriate bruvva or sista of your ethnicity to come talk to you. That day, they sent us a Korean man. I refused to let the guy in the house and instead made him stand shivering on our doorstep while we hashed over his facile claim that "God is a God of order."

I get the impression you were much more civil to your solicitors.

And finally:

The question of "values" isn't a question. It's the Dems playing a small violin for themselves.


I don't disagree with your main point, but I think the question of spin-- especially spin based on shaky data-- was worth a couple posts to explore. My feeling is that "values" arguments based on the November 2 polls are all chimera (which isn't so different from your claim at the beginning of your letter), but I'm curious as to whether the spinmeisters will let the issue go. They started it, after all. Bill Bennett was off his rocker when he made his claim; so are the Dems who are trying to twist the argument into something different.

*Grammar note: technically speaking, words like "media" and "data" are grammatically plural. The singular forms are "medium" and "datum." Ideally, one should say, "The media are..." and, "The data don't support...", but these days, thanks to common usage, most folks seem content to treat "media" and "data" as grammatically singular. There's some justification for this. For example, one would say, "We've compiled a lot of data," not "We've compiled many data." This construction assumes that the word "data" is an uncountable noun, like "sugar" (e.g., "a lot of sugar," not "many sugars"-- unless you're talking about lumps of sugar, of course: "Two sugars, please," or kinds of sugar, as in "the various sugars in my body."), and is therefore grammatically singular.

As you see in my post, I skew curmudgeon/conservative and treat "data" as grammatically plural, but I accept that many people don't.

**Captain Kirk also has a great post on Bush versus North Korea, Round 2.


No comments: