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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 November, 2004, 15:06 GMT
Viewpoints: Bush's moral mandate?
There has been much discussion about the voters who cited "moral values" when they cast their vote in the US presidential elections, and debate about the role of the religious right in returning George W Bush to the White House.

The suggestion that Mr Bush will seek to repay these voters for delivering him a second term is seen as particularly consequential given that he may have the opportunity to nominate up to four new judges to the powerful Supreme Court.

It was this court, for instance, which made abortion legal in its 1973 Roe v Wade decision. With suitably different members, it could overturn that landmark ruling.

We asked six commentators for their views on the extent to which President Bush is indebted to America's religious conservatives, and how they might be rewarded for their support.

Richard Land,
Southern Baptist Convention

Jennifer Marshall,
The Heritage Foundation

Alan Wolfe, Center for Religion and American Public Life

Jennifer Stockman, Republican Majority for Choice

John Green
University of Akron

Roy Speckhardt, American Humanist Association

Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

America is becoming a more religious country and the expression of that religion tends to be more and more conservative and traditional. Election results are the consequence of social change, not the cause of social change, and what has been happening in America over the last 15 to 20 years is a broad rejection in the heartland of the sixties counter culture which has become the elite establishment culture on the two coasts.

In the 2004 election, a "fifties kinda guy" beat a "sixties kinda guy". Most of America between the California border and the beltway in Washington has rejected sixties counter culture morality and sixties social mores. They want a return to a more traditional morality. This is a long term historical shift. George W Bush is not a solitary figure. He is the product of long term social and historical forces and the next Republican candidate for president will look a lot like him.

There is no danger of George Bush not delivering on issues such as abortion and gay marriage. Like Reagan, he is a conviction politician. He wanted to be president for a reason, not just for the sake of being president. We are going to see conservative judicial nominees - I am very confident that, should a vacancy arise at the Supreme Court it will be filled with an appointment prepared to overturn Roe v Wade and return the issue to the states to decide. We are going to see presidential support for a marriage protection amendment to stop state judiciaries from forcing on the American people something they have now made profoundly clear they do not want - same sex marriage.

The sixties counter culture in its ascendancy has tried to get the courts to force upon the people something they do not want, and resistance to that has now reached the stage of revolt. And now we are determined that we are going to have government of the people by the people for the people.

Jennifer Stockman is the national co-chair of the pro-choice Republican Majority for Choice.

Religious conservatives may have played a role in President Bush's re-election, but they are not representative of the Republican Party as a whole. They are a minority. In fact, most exit polls have indicated that 23% of the president's votes were from a social fundamentalist base. The other 77% of Bush voters, the middle majority, secured the president's re-election and did so based on support for issues like security, the economy and taxes, not a far right social agenda. The social fundamentalists nonetheless seem to be expecting a reward for their support, and indeed, many bones have already been thrown to them, particularly on the abortion front.

There has been a steady chipping away at abortion rights during the president's first term, notably with the ban on partial birth abortion and the so-called Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which challenges the legal basis of abortion. I assume that the right-wing will continue with these efforts by promoting further legislation to restrict the right to choose. There is also the prospect of a vacancy at the Supreme Court looming, which carries many implications for Roe versus Wade.

A president cannot be beholden to a special interest group - this one or any other. I feel that if President Bush becomes nothing but a prisoner of his religious base, the Republican Party will self-destruct. Moderate-leaning Republicans will become Democrats; the Republican Party will become the Social Fundamentalist Party and an independent party could even be established.

We have our work cut out for us, we have to start playing religious conservatives at their own game. We are fully able and willing, if necessary, to start running our people against anti-choice candidates in primaries and general elections. President Bush can stop the party descending into civil war by making clear that he will pursue a moderate, pragmatic course that is supported by a majority of Republicans and a majority of Americans.

We want our party back, a party that is based on the principles of privacy, responsibility and individual liberty.

Jennifer Marshall is a political analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation think-tank.

Mr Bush won the election by taking a strong stand on national security, presenting a clear economic package and taking the values of Middle America seriously. It harks back to the Reagan era - and why that president was so popular.

The issue of moral values crosses party lines and religious lines - many Catholics voted for Mr Bush for the first time. The election result was a reflection of a wide slice of America concerned with moral issues. This is the way Americans have been for a long time but this time they probably shouted it a bit louder.

Americans have seen how Bush's moral clarity influences his policy decision-making, and they like what they see. In the final stages of the campaign, you also saw Kerry talking more about his faith, but it lacked the coherence that Bush demonstrated. In fact, some of Kerry's policies actually put him at odds with his church.

Mr Bush now has a mandate to keep a clear, moral outlook and to determine policy on that basis, such as national security, faith-based initiatives and global aid policies. I don't think there are going to be any jerks of the steering wheel in any direction. The message from the people has been: "Stay the course Mr President". There will be more of the same, although it might be easier for the president to push certain things through because of gains made in the House and Senate.

Alan Wolfe is the director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College.

Moral issues were cited as being one of the main reasons that people voted for the Republicans. But the idea of people voting for such issues is ambiguous.

Most people who cited moral reasons do not know that much about politics. They did not really have a policy checklist. They voted for Mr Bush because they believed he held a general set of attitudes. It was gut instinct. They felt Mr Bush held firm convictions and is a man of character.

At the moment, Americans on the left and in the centre are feeling powerless. But this should only be a short-term sensation. In the long term, I do not believe Bush has the mandate to turn the country hard to the right. People will not like it if they feel that conservative policy is impinging too much on their rights.

Americans on the whole are pretty moderate and centrist. Voters may have appeared to have voted conservative but they do not really want a conservative, right-wing government.

John Green, director of the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron, specialises in the relationship between religion and politics.

The religious right was not the only group that put President Bush back in office, but they certainly played a role. Their self-appointed leaders believe that something is now owed to them, and they will be very disappointed if President Bush does not move forward on issues they care about like gay marriage and abortion.

For one, I would certainly expect the president to pursue the federal marriage amendment to outlaw gay marriage. He said he would do this, and Bush prides himself on keeping to his word. Secondly, there is at least the expectation among religious conservatives that, should a vacancy on the Supreme Court arise, Bush would opt for a conservative appointment hostile to Roe V Wade. This would be a very difficult situation for the president and put him in a tight spot. We should also bear in mind that he has not promised action on this front. But in general, I would be very surprised if Bush ignored religious conservatives entirely - not least because he also needs the support of religious conservatives in Congress to push through other legislation - on issues like taxes for example.

This is not a temporary phenomenon. There will be an ongoing effort among Republicans to appeal to the religious conservative vote. Religious conservatives are now a significant group within the Republican party which no presidential candidate can afford to ignore.

Roy Speckhardt is the programme director at the American Humanist Association.

President Bush may be a lame duck [in his second term], but he is not immune from the political reality of what the Republican party wants and needs in the coming years. There is going to be an effort to try to pay back the religious right for what they have done in this election. There are already rumblings that they are going to try to bring the Federal Marriage Amendment up again in the spring, but even with 4-5 more votes in the Senate they are not going to have the votes they need. There is nonetheless going to be a battle, and the left cannot roll over and play dead.

The Republicans are also trying to push a political speech bill which enables individual churches to speak out on electoral politics without violating their non-profit status, but people do not seem to be responding positively to it. Polls suggest that they feel it is stepping over the line. Americans tend to be religious in nature but they don't like the idea of religion getting involved in their politics. Politics is a dirty word and they get upset when their ministers get involved with it.

The electorate is much more moderate than the current majority in Congress and the White House and even the courts. The pendulum has been shifting to the right steadily for years now and this election pushes it even further, but the election itself was close.

If the Republicans use their power to push a far-right agenda, the pendulum will swing back.

To what extent do you think religious conservatism will be reflected in the policy of the Bush administration in its second term?

By forging an alliance with the Religous Right, the GOP has painted itself into a ideological corner. If they appease the far right they will lose the support of moderates and fiscal conservatives, allowing the Democrats to "pick off" large numbers of these voters. If they look to move more towards the center, all the enthusiasm of their Evangelical supporters will erode. This would possibly lead to a right wing version of Ralph Nader as someone who drains support from the GOP in close elections. Either way Bush 2004's victory may actually mean long term problems for the GOP.
Jason Neal, Mercerville, NJ

It is clear to me that issues were more important to the voters than a person. The issues that made the difference were grass roots expressions of the American people. The extreme ideas that change social norms are never middle attitudes and are usually allowed to influence only because of complacency. This election was different and I believe set a pattern for future elections. In my lifetime this is the first time for my own pastor who has, and I have had several, always been silent on elections to express the desire for activism from the people. That was as I believe because of the importance of the moral nature of the issues.
Randall Woodlee, Fayetteville, Arkansas, United Stated

I find it shocking that because I voted for Bush for 'moral issues' I keep being labelled as the 'religious right'. One doesn't have to be religious (I'm not) to be concerned with moral issues. Abortion is not a religious issue - it is a human rights issue. All humans have a right to life, and I have not yet been convinced that we can define humanity based on location (inside or outside the womb). Bush has been more outspoken against abortion than any other national figure in recent memory, and I admire him for that.
Allison, Chicago, USA

Since Bush is a religious conservative I think his choices will be guided by those ideals. I'm mystified as to why these people choose to tout the morals of the 50's and reject the advances of the 60's. 50's society in the US was a very sick one indeed. The African American population was being horribly repressed, McCarthyism was at its peek, and Sexism was rampant. In the 60's these problems began to be remedied. I guess the religious right doesn't remember that middle class white people weren't the only ones around in the 50's. Leave it To Beaver was a fictional show, not a documentary.

Furthermore, gay marriage is the biggest non-issue I have ever encountered. A sickening red herring to distract the public from the real issues.
Isaac Joslin, Vancouver, USA

I believe that there is no question on the matter of whether or not Bush will repay the religious right for delivering him the election. The only questions should be: When? Too what extent? And what affect will it have on the midterm elections and the 2008 presidential election (backlash or true cultural shift). I voted for Kerry, but I'm ready to move on and ask this president to prove all of us (49% of the nation) wrong about him. That he's not a religious zealot, that he won't roll back civil liberties, that he can make us safer by settling old scores instead of attacking "real" terrorist, and that he'll use reason and logic instead of "gut" and God to make decisions for my family. The next four years will be very interesting...
Teddy Curry, Cincinnati Ohio

Crediting or blaming the religious right for Bush's victory is a cop-out. Bush won because Kerry was such a bad candidate, not because of some religious conspiracy.
Jim, Minneapolis, MN

Odd how the religious right wants the choice on abortion to be given to individual states, yet wants the choice on gay marriage taken away from the individual states.
Warren, South Africa

It has been a refreshing four years following the Liberalism and scarcely hidden government corruption of the Clinton era, which considered a similarly small majority to be a mandate.
Paul F, Houston, Texas

While it's true that a minority of Bush supporters come from the extreme religious right, it's also evident that this administration does not govern according to the will of the majority of the people. The president has made clear that he considers the views of the masses mere "opinion polls" and that he largely ignores reality as when he admits that he does not read newspapers. He has deliberately chosen to surround himself with advisers who will offer him advice and evidence consistent with positions and conclusions he has already taken from the cultural leadership of the religious right, such as James Dobson and Ralph Reed. Gaining credibility with the world at large or even with most of his electorate is not a priority for him. Progressives on the left are wasting their time if they believe that attempting to reason with this administration will advance their issues: he has as much as admitted that he is impervious to reason. Rather, they must develop their own leaders w! ho can garner more and more active supporters to counter this reactionary trend.
Spencer Willbanks, Chicago, USA

I find the polarisation of views in the USA very strange. Those who claim to be pro-life also in large number support the war in Iraq, oppose gun control and support capital punishment. Hardly pro-life stances! Yes, Christians should support those yet to be born but they must also promote the sanctity of life in all areas. On the other hand, those leaning towards the left so often go on about the importance of choice rather supporting the weakest in society - those yet to be born. What's going on here?
Paul McCrone, London, UK

I would like to hope that President Bush will take a moderate stance in his second term. While he does have the potential to reverse many policies, and has the backing of half the country, I don't think it would be good policy to ignore the rest of us, especially after such a close election. One of the things that makes America great is the fact that we have personal freedoms, and the freedom to choose what we do with our personal lives. The last thing that I would want to see is a lost of the rights that so many people fought for just because someone else doesn't like the idea of what another person does in their private life.
Alex S., Oakton, VA, USA

America has become a nation with two personalities. On the one hand it presents a gentle, warm persona where personal freedoms are defended. On the other it exhibits a ruthless, vicious disposition that in the name of righteousness will crush any person, organisation or county that opposes it. George Bush will condemn counties like North Korea and Iran for their treatment of they citizens and at the same time he will imprison foreign nationals without charge and torture others in Iraq. America military forces are filmed praying for God's protection before going into battle and then they are seen shooting an unarmed man lying on the floor. The last world super power is positioning itself to dictate to the globe its new world order.
Paul, London

I believe that Bush Administration's agenda on moral issues will be pursued just as normal. All the 'extra-talk' about it was a campaigning tool which has already offered its result i.e. Bush's re-election!
Uzair Aziz Dawood, Dubai, UAE

"I hope so. The Christian faith is what has made America great. As in Great Britain, Christians have been the backbone of our politics and leadership and made us superior and different from other nations and their ways. God Bless English Speaking Peoples All Over the Globe.
robert bennett , tucson, arizona, usa

In Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution gave everyone a right to abortion. There are serious question marks over whether that was based on a correct reading of the Constitution. Overturning that decision would mean that each state could make up it's own mind. There are many who support abortion rights, but believe that the Supreme Court got the law wrong in this case. The religious right are not expecting that abortion would ever be made illegal across the U.S. - just that each state should be able to make it's own decision.
Aaron McDaid, Belfast, Northern Ireland

I think it will be strongly recognisable in direction, but not oppressive in specifics. I think previous decisions will be reversed by a Christian majority, which is reflective of that nation rather than some underhand divisive scheming as some would allude to.
Raymond Harrison, Craigavon, Northern Ireland

Bush' new appointments do not point to any relaxing of his policies. Appearances and appointments on the contrary suggest his policies may become even more stern and biased towards rightwing religious Republican preferences than ever before.
Einar Björn Bjarnason, Reykjavík - Iceland

I think Bush has made some very strange bedfellows, a relationship of political convenience with the Christian right could be the single factor that implodes his administration and the fragments the republican party. If the supreme court does question the legality of abortion and outlaw gay marriage, and states decide to act upon it then the reverse moral backlash could seriously effect the midterms, as Clinton's infidelity did in 1998.
Joel Turner, Leicester, England

I think it is clearly understood that religious conservatism is a defining aspect of the Bush administration. Having it as policy is no real danger - having the policies manifest to legislation is a serious concern. I am British and moved to the Unites States three years ago. I regard the 'freedom' of America and its citizens as being the single most important vision of its founding fathers. My views are one of a secular basis, but i respect and encourage the practice of all religions. What i see at the moment in Atlanta is a polarisation of society into those who believe all should do as i do; and those who believe all should do as they please - providing its legal and constitutional. The former is a mindset of fascism which is dangerous and needs to be kept in check as often as possible. The democrats and liberal republicans (of which there are few) of the US congress need to stand tall and strong over the next four years. As for Georgia, well lets hope evolution doesn't get! t banished from the science text book just yet!
Dominic Weatherill, Atlanta, Georgia

It would be a mistake for the Bush Administration and its religious conservative supporters to assume that the voters that opposed them lack moral values. Mr. Bush won this election with 51% of the popular vote; can the other half of the country be pigeon-holed into a single category like the "liberal elite of the 60's counter-culture"? This is not the reality of our diverse electorate. For example, most supporters of abortion rights do not believe that abortion itself is a good thing. Rather it is one of the most difficult, painful decisions that a woman might make in her life. While many of the President's supporters are uncomfortable with idea of gay marriage, many of them, like Vice President Cheney, have relatives who are gay, and on a personal level, do not want to see members of their own family treated like second class citizens. Regardless of the President's intentions, these complex social issues will resist simple, black and white legislative prescriptions born out of a narrowly defined "morality."
Christopher Stipp, Iowa City, Iowa USA

It seems that Bush has the opportunity to stack the Supreme Court, a move that would have the potential to block gay marriage and to roll back abortion laws. But just look at the last Republican reign of 1980 to 1992. Bush 1 and Reagan also had ample opportunity to do the same thing. They were also in debt to the Religious Right in the form of the Moral Majority. But nothing happened. Abortions (the single most poignant moral issue for most Christian voters) went up under Reagan and actually reached their all time peak under Bush 1. I think the sad thing is that many Christian voters have failed to recognize this and have allowed themselves to ignore their consciences on other issues in the misplaced hope that a vote for Bush 2 will actually see their agenda realized.
Stephen Munday, Okazaki, Japan

I had always believed that literacy, education and exposure combined with economic elevation will turn any and every fundamentalist muslim into a moderate. I find it discouraging to read comments from Paul Bennett from Tuscon, Arizona. Americans who are educated and economically sound have a duty to be rational. His equating American 'superiority'(?) with practice of Christianity reflects the same kind of ignorance I expect from a Pakistani mullah who says "70 virgins waiting in heaven". Religion is a good thing if taken in moderation. I myself am conservative in my views but do not have the slightest illusion that Islam is superior or inferior to any other religion. Every religion teaches more or less the same human values and is more or less equally vulnerable to exploitation for one and a hundred causes.
jan-e-man, Lahore Pakistan


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