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Thursday, Sep 9, 2004, 10:49 am

It’s His Religion, Stupid

By Jim Rinnert
As we get closer to the election, the pundits are saying that the race will be decided on two issues: the U.S. economy and the war in Iraq. Maybe. The division among the electorate has its real roots, however, in key issues of the "culture wars," reduced and packaged for our convenience this election season as "abortion" and "gay marriage." I see this election as, astonishingly, a cultural civil war about sexual mores. Those who earned battle-ribbons in the sexual revolution are right to feel under attack. The other Americans???those who were sickened and appalled when Ken Starr forced them to imagine Bill Clinton soiling Monica's little black dress in the Oval Office???celebrated the victory of the "righteous" when a reformed alcoholic and self-professed born-again Christian moved into the White House.

Many of us who have already made up our minds in this election have done so based on a judgment of the incumbent's "righteousness": Is George W. Bush a strong and moral leader doing what's best for America in a time of war or is he a moral fraud, dressing up his mean-spirited and greed-feeding policies in ideological rhetoric calculated to appeal to the religious right? (Though, to give him full credit, as Maureen Dowd said on a recent Charlie Rose program: "Bush doesn't represent the religious right???he IS the religious right."

The "moral" element at work in this election dictates that in the next few weeks we'll see Congress table important issues of governance in order to give pre-election consideration to legislation that appeals to the moral enforcers of our own Taliban, the Christian right: Recent federal court decisions striking down last December's Congressional legislation outlawing so-called "partial-birth" abortion has put Congress to the task of retooling that bit of work, and Senate Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist has stated that this is at the top of his agenda (along with legislation dealing with flag-burners and other legislation to keep the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance). Remember, Bush's first act in office in January 2000 was to send an envoy to an anti-abortion convocation in D.C. to assure the faithful that overturning Roe vs. Wade was top priority for the new administration.

The attack, since then, has been piecemeal: In addition to the partial-birth abortion ban in December, the Senate passed the "Unborn Victims" bill in March, making it a separate crime to harm a fetus during commission of a violent federal crime. Giving a fetus, from the point of conception, the same legal rights as its mother has set a precedent that will certainly be used in future legal challenges to abortion rights.

Also, Attorney General John Ashcroft (not one to let privacy issues stand in the way of his mission of moral authority) tried earlier this year to obtain thousands of confidential medical records of women who obtained abortions. Among the records subpoenaed were those from Planned Parenthood health centers nationwide, but the organization brought suit and successfully blocked the effort. Ashcroft's calculated fishing expedition was in response to the courts' attack on the federal abortion ban.

The administration's repeated attacks against "advocate judges" speaks to this issue as well as to the gay marriage debate. Bush's response to this "attack on the family" is to support a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, another burning issue that must be dealt with before Congress breaks for electioneering back home.

These and other so-called "cultural" issues are the ones that truly divide Americans in this election. When Bob Woodward asked Bush if he had consulted his father before going to war in Iraq, the president replied that he had "consulted a
"higher father." You could say he got bad advice. Nevertheless, it's his declarations of faith in a "higher father" and his acting on that faith that make W a crusading hero to a large part of Christian America--and their decision to vote for him was made on a visceral???not rational???basis. No amount of reasoning about the justifications for war in Iraq or about the U.S. economy is going to change their minds.

Jim Rinnert is the art director at In These Times.

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