A POINT OF VIEW
By Tim Egan
'Much of Bush's swagger is gone'
The mid-term elections have swept the Democrats to power in both houses of Congress. But the vote is a protest against the Republicans.
They're calling it a Blue Wave, a sweeping rejection for President Bush. A re-alignment of the political makeup of the United States. In handing power over from one party to the other, just what did American voters really say on Tuesday?
The War in Iraq - change course. The people who run the country in Washington - throw the bums out. The direction of the country - terrible.
As headlines go, all of the above are accurate. Yes the Republicans were routed from one coast to the other, losing control of the House of Representatives and the Senate as well.
But there was something consistent that rang out throughout the land, something oddly in alignment with what happened in the last presidential election.
Two years ago, when President Bush narrowly won re-election, people were astonished to see the reason behind the victory. At the time, Republicans managed to get just a deciding margin of mostly conservative, church-going people who don't usually vote to show up and show their support for Mr Bush.
Polls of voters found that the number one issue was: moral values. How could this be, the pundits wondered? Moral values? What was that all about? What were people saying in 2004?
Now, fast forward to this November. In a huge turnout, voters threw Republicans out of office in the most unlikely of states. In Kansas, and Indiana. And even parts of the South, even Texas.
The exit polls showed people were overwhelming upset with the direction of the country, disgusted with President Bush and angry at the course of the war, which has now lasted longer than American involvement in World War II.
A majority that had given Mr. Bush the benefit of the doubt two years ago could only see warts and hubris and disaster this time. They wanted change. And they wanted it now.
Looking deeper at the results, the polls showed the number one issue, slightly ahead of Iraq and the general referendum on the President was corruption.
Again, many pundits are left scratching their heads. Corruption? Did that issue cut deep enough to cause this revolution of sorts?
The finger has pointed at Abramoff
To be sure, there had been a persistent drumbeat of stories about members of congress taking bribes or other favours in return for passing some federal appropriation on behalf of a client.
The worst was the congressman who bought himself a private yacht on the Potomac River with its own gilded toilet seat. He is now in jail. At least a half-dozen other members of Congress were connected to a lobbyist named Jack Abramoff who spread wealth around the highest levels of power and got nearly everything he asked for in return.
But I think there is something larger in that voter sentiment about corruption.
If you win by moral values, you can also die by moral values. By courting conservative Christians with a family values agenda, Republicans set themselves up as the party of superior morality. And when their glass house started to crumble, the very voters they had worked so hard to become active participants in the democracy turned on them.
Perhaps, I can explain this better by sketching two anecdotes. One takes us to the mega-church in Colorado Springs, run by the Reverend Ted Haggard. The New Life Church is a veritable mall set up against the Rocky Mountains in the suburban sprawl well south of Denver.
People there live in big houses and drive big cars and attend big churches. This particular church has 14,000 members, and includes a food court and other shopping outlets, just like a real mall.
The man at the centre is a person known by his congregants as Reverend Ted. He has a big toothy smile, and until a week ago, he exuded an eerie sense of relentless optimism.
During the last presidential election, Reverend Ted was in regular contact with the White House. He confidently told me that Bush was going to win, and the evangelical vote was going to make the difference.
On election day back then, they bussed people from churches across America into the voting booths.
Reverend Ted delivered. "If the evangelicals vote," he said, "they determine the election."
Rev Ted has been hit by scandal
As it turned out, that was the president's secret weapon. But this time, I believe it was their downfall.
Now a week ago, a large, burly male prostitute came forth and said he had been having paid sex with Reverend Ted for a number of years, and that they took the drug methamphetamine on a number of occasions to enhance it.
At first he denied it, smiling at a reporter while paused in his sports utility vehicle with his wife and two of their five children. He said he had just had a massage and bought the meth, but didn't use it.
Later, he admitted most of what the male prostitute said was true, and then he resigned as head of the national evangelical association.
Now as scandals go, this one could not have come at a worse time for Republicans.
The party had already been hit by the huge wave that came from Florida, revealing that conservative Republican Congressman Mark Foley, the head of the missing and exploited children's caucus, was using his position to pursue young men.
He resigned in disgrace and went into alcoholic rehab - a favoured retreat for moralists in trouble.
I heard people in Indiana and Ohio and North Carolina - all parts of the American Bible Belt - talk about how disgusted they were with Foley and the Republicans.
Many of them said they simply would not vote. Others said they were going to vote, but they were gong to send a message.
Reverend Ted had assailed homosexuality from the pulpit. "We don't have to debate what we should think about homosexuals," he once said in church. "It's written in the Bible."
On Sunday, two days before the election, a letter was read from Reverend Ted to his flock.
"I am a deceiver and a liar," he wrote. "There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life."
People in church wept - both men and women. Children looked at each other confused. What you saw in that mega-church on Sunday was how voters felt on Tuesday - at least those voters who had given their souls to the Republican party.
What's interesting is that all along, despite polls showing the coming Democratic wave, the President had predicted his side would hold.
Worshippers wept after his letter confession
"You have your numbers," said Karl Rove, looking confident, a few days before the election. "And I have mine."
But his numbers turned on him. I was in Montana during the closing days of the election, a state with less than six people per square mile, a state that Bush had won by 20 percentage-points two years ago.
I talked to people who said they were lifetime Republicans, churchgoers, conservative.
People in blue jeans and cowboy hats. They were Karl Rove's "numbers". And they said they were angry and they felt betrayed. They got their revenge by throwing out a long-serving Republican senator in Montana, and electing an organic grain farmer with a crew cut.
A friend of mine says this election was the revenge of Ned Flanders. You may know Flanders is a cheerful cartoon character in The Simpsons. His life revolves around the Bible and home-schooling his children, and he has a cheerful "hidey-ho, neighbour" response to anything Homer Simpson says.
A deeply religious streak has always run through the American electorate. And so has the literary archetype of the hypocrite. Everyone in this country knows about Elmer Gantry, from the 1927 novel by Sinclair Lewis.
He's a charmer, charismatic. But he is also as phoney as a wooden nickel, as the saying goes. Reverend Ted Haggard, leader of 30 million evangelicals, went almost overnight from preacher without a fault to Elmer Gantry for the mega-church age.
People in the bible belt are often stereotyped as being monolithic - just blindly following their leaders. But I think the stereotype is wrong. They voted Democratic in several presidential elections - helping both Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter to become President.
Bush in check
What this dramatic shake-up will mean for the country is much harder to predict. Certainly, Mr. Bush has lost his base of power, and Congress will hold him in check for his remaining two years. The new speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi, has called Mr. Bush a liar, an incompetent and an emperor without clothes. She can hold hearings on the war, or on what happened after Hurricane Katrina. And she controls the federal budget.
Clearly, it's a changed America. You could see it on President Bush's face in his news conference after the election, when announced the resignation of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He looked like a beaten man - contrite, much of the swagger now gone.
W.C. Fields once said, "I never vote for anyone. I always vote against."
In its simplest terms, that's what this election was all about - it was a vote against.
Very good article. To go even farther--These are some of the reasons we voted against everything connected with the Bush "regime" We reject the role he has played in depriving us of Constitutional rights we hold most dear and of destroying our image of America and the principles of honesty and fairness. We have problems at home: healthcare, education, homelessness, etc. that need immediate attention. Our own freedoms are being eradicated while trying to achieve "freedom" & "democracy" for those who may not be ready for it.
Merry, Springfield, VA USA
The problem of the religious vote in the US and the world is their effort to define and legislate morality from immoral positions. In the US the idea that people vote on the non-issues of abortion and homosexuality is absurd and the drug war has been going on for much longer than Iraq with the same disastrous results. These issues are personal. Only those immediately involved in these problems know the true agony of the situation and they should be left to make their own decisions. Homosexuality? I already have the choice to join a homophobic church that condemns it and their marriage. And I have the freedom to associate with homophobic friends if it so offends and scares me. There are no laws that require me to get in bed someone I don't choose to, so no need to legislate here. Abortion has the greatest impact on the individuals involved and should be left to those individuals to resolve. It is not a social issue to be legislated such as the death penalty and political corruption and humans are not an endangered species that we need legislative protection to survive. Drugs are here. By criminalizing them we create artificial value way beyond their actual value. With such a huge profit margin they won't be stopped. Legalizing drugs will allow society to treat the addict and take the profit from the criminal. The proof is in the Liquor prohibition. Since it's legalization the gun battles have stopped and there are several support groups formed to treat the addition. Not to mention, the government makes enough off taxing it to support several lobbyists and their pork projects.
Riley Dunn, Delta USA
Your analysis is right on the mark!
Jan, Roslyn, WA USA
Tim Egan, well said, and bravo.
C.Hall, Orange, CA USA
George and his cronies finally got what they deserved. The hypocrisy of this lot was and has been jaw dropping for a long time. The American people seem to have finally had the epiphany that has eluded them for the past few years -- largely due to sleaze and corruption. And Iraq will make sure that George Bush goes down in history as the most catastrophic president in American history.
Laura, Houston, Texas, USA
I had goosbums reading this story. Finally, the country is MY country again. Not perfect--it is impossible; but it is a life, thinking and being responsible. There is nothing wrong in morality, if it is REAL and not a show. Just like the morality of the person, who exposed Rev.Ted--he have saved us all. Also, as soviet rased person, used to hating my country, I am trilled to live in US now and love it again. Maria Storm, violin graduate student, democrat.
Maria Storm, Bloomington, IN, USA
If there were better third party options, we Americans would have voted that way too. Most people are tired and worn out by the corruption, the war, and the abuse of our environment. But where are the politicians that are willing to fight for these things? The world seems to hate America right now...and I hope they realize that the citizens here don't like what is happening either! We have the land, but they have the power.
Jason, Dallas, Texas, USA
Religion should not have any place in politics, leaders should be voted to power based upon what will be best for the people, the country and the rest of the world. So if abortion is best for the country then voting for someone who will protect your right to abortion is important and its the same for any issue you believe in.
Dave, Leeds, UK
Absolutely. I feel like singing: Ding, dong the Bushies are dead! Now, let's just hope the Democrats can act like responsible adults and keep their pants up, their hands out of the wrong pockets and especially stop having the US act like the world's schoolyard bully.
Bree, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma USA
It was only a matter of time before the conservative bible belt population voted against the corruption, lying and deceit.
I think this article is absolutely correct. Also, I think Americans need to eat humble pie for a while - internaionally and domestically!
Vincente Tang, Poway, Calif, USA
This article is so true, I voted for a few local candidates I respected and knew of, but the rest of my votes were against all republicans. The corruption, 8.5 trillion debt, tripling the size of federal government, all in just 6 years has shown the supposed "morals" Bush and his evil staff truly have, have come to turn about now. Its a shame such a poor decision maker and ignorant man was choosen by 51% of the USA to drive this country into the worse state its been in 200 years. I hope this awful lesson of "stay the course" and the selfish replublican dominated agenda is coming to an end in the USA and we can return to "taking care of the USA" first again.
curt, atlanta, ga
Your story hit the nail on the head. Being a fiscal conservative and social liberal, I find any group "holding the high ground on morality" hard to stomach and, frankly, disbelieve them. In my long life, I have observed most homophobes are closeted homosexuals (Haggard) and most pedophiles do desire close contact with children and work to achieve those ends (Foley). Wife beaters are those who seem the most loving and attentive when outsiders are around. The stingiest and most selfish are those that grandly proclaim their generosity.
Life is full of contradictions but egregeous proclamations of "nanny, nanny nanny, better than you" are always suspect...always. Yes, we voted the jerks out and, given half a chance, and given similar circumstances, we'll do it again.
g e mugliston, Glen Campbell, PA
It should be remembered that half of United States voters mostly don't vote. In the primary elections the percentage is smaller. Before and after elections participation in politics falls to nearly nothing. Swings from left to right are easy enough to produce. All it takes is a small percentage of non-voters coming in to push the pendulum. Protest is not competent policy. There is no telling which way things will break next election. What remains to be seen is positive action on debt, Iraq, education and the rest of the list of issues going unresolved under Republicans and Democrats alike.
tom j, jacksonville USA
David Hildebrand, Seymour USA
A president should not be both arrogant AND incompetent; it's an ugly, dangerous mix. I think Americans did what they could to correct that situation by voting on November 7. My great concern is the extent of damage that Bush has done to the invaluable bond between the USA and our dear European friends and allies.
Tom Pautler, Providence, Rhode Island, USA
The real tragedy is that homophobia is still so pervasive in American society that public figures would rather indulge in hypocrisy and deceit than live normal, happy lives in homosexual relationships. It is also worth noting that the same book of the Bible that contains the prohibition about homosexuality prohibits, e.g., the wearing garments made of two materials (cotton-poly blend, anyone?). Perhaps these people should be focusing a little harder on the "not bearing false witness" part instead.
Joanna , Amherst MA
Now I know why I liked WCFields!
Robert Colasacco, New York, USA
The premise of this articule - that envagelicals who voted for the GOP in 2004 stayed home or voted Democrat in 2006 - is utterly wrong and not supported by any poll I know of. It was in fact moderates and independents who deserted the Republicans. The example is my nighbor state of Ohio where the GOP governor candidate Blackwell ran a hard right social conservative campaign and got 250,000 fewer votes than the Senate candidate DeWine, who was perceived as more moderate. Both candidates lost badly though, but the main thrust was that the social conservatives DID come out for the GOP but the moderates and independents increasingly cannot stomach them and will not vote for GOP candidates that have only Christian social conservative platitudes to offer.
Andy, Kentucky USA
Excellent commentary, looks like the "God followers" might have a brain after all.
Odalys Hicks, Ft Lauderdale, Florida
The people who make the most noise about any thing are often the ones who are in the closet. I have to veiw these antics with amusement to not become enraged by them.
Les Mallory, aslo B.C. Canada
Your analysis are right on. Excellant. Keep up the good work.
John Morris, Florida, USA
Mr. Egan's analysis of the mid-term elections is brilliant and shows a deep understanding of the American national character. One might like to think that foreign policy was the decisive issue, but that is wishful thinking. Violations of the Geneva convention and crimes against humanity might upset people in Old Europe, but in America it is always sex - not to mention gay sex - that riles the electorate.
Ted Folke, Pattaya, Thailand
Most people in American are not beholden to either party. The evangelicals have been let down time and again - first by the leftward drift of the Dems., whom they supported during the Civil Rights era, again by the left drift of Al Gore's campaign, and now by the foibles of Foley, Haggard et al.
By temperament, being conservative means not changing for the sake of change. Obviously the evangelicals gave GWB a pass in '04 but saw it come to naught.
Nancy Pelosi has a virtue that the evangelicals can respect - WYSIWYG - what you see is what you get. She's been virulently against Bush since day one and that's the antagonism the voters want the President to be checked with. Give Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emmanuel credit for crafting an agenda that appealed to enough independents and evangelicals.
Ben, St. Louis MO
Tell Tom Egan he got Rove's quote wrong: He did not say "You have your numbers and I have mine." He arrogantly said, "You have your numbers, and I have THE numbers."
dean pappas, salt lake city, utah
I often mistrust news and information in my country about candidates and government activities as being incomplete, biased, politically motivated or selective. With the examples mentioned in the article you can see how one's belief in a political (or religious) figure can be betrayed very easily. What you may believe to be true one day is exposed as false the next. But I still exercise my democratic right to vote. This makes for the kind of situation when you find yourself voting for the least of evils, loosely making decisions informed by both concrete facts and a hefty dose of instinct and emotional reaction.
Emily, Washington, DC
Well, if I were the Reverend Ted I would just have to call myself Father Ted . . .
The elections revealed voters to be against Bush. But it's also a vote for America. To his eternal shame, Bush has divided the country more than it's been since the Civil War. He's channeled the country's resources into his agendas for war and corporate welfare. He's neglected the environment, education and the well being of the middle and lower classes. Bush and his cohorts have watched with glee while their plans to pillage the country have taken shape at the cost of America's reputation and at the terrible cost of human lives in Iraq. The pseudo-fascism of the Bush administration may be coming to an end.
Bob, Philadelphia, PA
The American election demonstrated what a wonderful democratic country the United Staes really is. Citizens could go quietly to a polling booth and change the course of governance of the most powerful country on earth. The USA is still a great symbol of hope and of inspiration for so many of us. I hope and pray that the power brokers in Washington will not become too inward looking but will work together for a world which reflects more of these democratic principles and take the lead in addressing so many of the solvable problems affecting the many millions of this world's populations.
Len Williams, st. john's, nfld, canada
It seems to me quite ironic, how the people of the USA protested against taxation without representation in 1773 and today the rest of the world seems to have found itself in a similar position. The USA is such an important country in terms of shaping World Politics, with the decisions its government makes so directly effecting many other nations (eg Iraq, environmental damage etc). Yet the only people who's views are represented in its choice of government are those of the USA itself. While the USA's policy of policing extends well beyond its own borders, it is unfortunate that its democracy doesn't.
TS, Croydon, England
Let the impeachment of George W. Bush begin.
David S., Tallahassee, Florida, USA
Interestingly, exit poll data shows that evangelical Christians turned out in much the same numbers and voted much the same way as they did in 2004. Seems they just weren't enough this time to hold on to that "permanent Republican majority" Karl Rove was so confident of keeping.
Adam, London, UK
It is simplistic to say the election was a rejection of Republicans and not an acceptance of Democrats. If, instead of Democrats, the only alternative party in America was, say, a Nazi party, the electorate would not have chosen the alternative party. There must be an acceptable alternative to the Republicans. The election was both a rejection of Republicans and an acceptance of Democrats.
I am mystified by the media's focus on evangelical Christians. That wasn't the religious story of this election. It was the Catholics. Catholics numbers are similar to those of evangelical Christians. Catholics do not vote as a block, are rarely urged from the pulpit how to vote, and usually are the swing vote in any given election. They tend to vote the way the country as a whole votes, but with a little more emphasis on social justice issues, such as minimum wage. When the Catholic vote is discussed, it is misrepresented as concerned only with issues such as abortion and stem cell research. The evangelical vote does appear to be very focused on these so-called wedge issues, but the Catholics usually are not. If you are looking for a religious angle on the vote, study the Catholics. They gave power in this election to the Democrats, just as they gave it to Bush in prior years.
Steven G. Klesner, Iowa City, Iowa, USA
Corruption indeed was the reason for the recent 'check' in President George W. Bush's power. Whether he was directly responsible for half of it, I doubt, but nevertheless his party deserves to reap the consequences of political hubris.
What bothers me more about this article is your broad, and for that matter, rather sloppy portrait of Evangelical Christians. What happened to Reverend Haggard was disgraceful, yes, but it was also understandable. It shows that no one is perfect, and that no one should be held to such a standard. By no means am I excusing the man's actions, but I am saying that what he did is not anything new. To paint Evangelical Christians as stereotypically anti-homosexual is irresponsible. Your quote by Haggard is misleading-implying that his message, and therefore the message of the Bible is that Christians are supposed to hate gay people because they are gay. This is probably the most un-Christ like statement that could be made, and I find it irresponsible on the part of the BBC to paint Evangelical Christians as, quite literally, gay haters. Some people may very well be, as a result of a sheltered upbringing, a misunderstanding of Christ's message (which one should remember was!
to prostitutes, beggars, and the terminally ill--not exactly society's 'in crowd'), and a result of sin within their own lives. c Don't be part of the problem in the media by broadly describing Christians as homosexual haters. I think you would find if you did some more research that is only a SMALL minority of people's beliefs.
A concerned evangelical Christian,
Jay, Burlington, Vermont
Moral value is important to be have by a leader..but bush not have...i never know, american's people very strick with this value..it's great
The Bush's Administration experienced what is called "Power Drunkeness" because He thought he bought America and he could do whatever he thought was right. Thanks to the Democrats and my advise to them is to redirect the path of the country since Bush has led the country to far astraY. God bless America and God bless the Democrats. My regards to My main man Bill Cliton.
Fofo David, Ghana, Eastern Region
As Julien of Norwich said, "All things come to the good"...
Isobel Platings, London
Excellent program, more like this please!
Dave F, Bristol, UK
Nonsense--Bush is playing a familiar game and I don't know why people continue to fall for it.
He'll pay pious lip service to "bipartisanship" and earnestly plead for cooperation--as long as the cameras are on. Then look at the laundry list of what he's demanding of his lame duck, rubber stamp Congress before they leave. HE won't be running again, so considering that the Republicans who will remain are going to have to come to terms with the new leadership and that this won't go over very well is nothing that HE need consider.
It's all about getting his way, no matter what. If the Republicans in Congress go along, once again they will only have themselves to blame for the inevitable consequences.
A.M. Solomon, Los Angeles, CA