Cultural Divisions in the United States
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GWEN IFILL: Both President Bush and Senator Kerry appealed across party lines today for unity in the wake of another election that left the nation split in shades of blue and red. But in a year when gay marriage bans passed in 11 states, to what degree is the debate over values contributing to that split?
For more on that, we turn to: Rick Warren, founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, and author of the best-selling book, “The Purpose Driven Life”; author and essayist Barbara Ehrenreich– her most recent book is “Nickel and Dimed: Surviving in Low-Wage America”; Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, a Christian ministry that advocates for social justice; and Morris Fiorina, a political science professor at Stanford’s Hoover Institute and the author of “Culture War: The Myth of a Polarized America.”
Rick Warren, we heard what the Kerry aides were saying to Margaret Warner last night about these people, we don’t know who they are, and we heard what Andy Kohut just said to Ray about whether that’s an overstated case. Do you believe that the country is split along values lines?
RICK WARREN: Well, Gwen, I think that in the first place, I am not at all surprised at these election results. There has been a conversation going on among churches and homes now for almost two years that the media is completely overlooking. And they missed it, and they’re going to miss it again. In fact, they’re going to explain it away, just like Andy just tried to do.
The signs have all been there for at least two years that there is a cultural shift going on, and because the media is not in the churches, they don’t see it. The three biggest surprises of this last year were the Passion, which was passed word of mouth through church networks, the Purpose Driven Life book, which was passed word of mouth through church network, and this election. And this was not a political election in my view. It was a cultural election.
GWEN IFILL: What do you think about that, Jim Wallis? Was it a cultural election in the way he defines it?
JIM WALLIS: I think there is a real debate and a good debate now happening in the churches about what the religious issues are, what the moral values issues really are. Is it just gay marriage and abortion? Can we shrink all of our Christian ethics and values down to one or two hot-button social issues or is poverty a moral issue, too? Is the war in Iraq, is the environment? And I think in churches, this campaign there was a broad, deeper, richer conversation.
The religious right wants to say there is only one or two issues that reflect our values, but as Rick would say, I’m sure, poverty, if there is 2000 verses in the Bible about the poor, that becomes a religious issue, as well. So I found this time a very good debate happening across the country about what the religious issues and values really are. And that will go well beyond the election.
GWEN IFILL: Barbara Ehrenreich, is this a debate which is properly being conducted on religion… along religious lines, this idea about whether there are values which drive the outcomes that we saw last night?
BARBARA EHRENREICH: Yes, that is part of it. I agree with what Jim just said, that we shouldn’t frame this as moral values versus lack of moral values. I think most people who voted for Kerry were very much driven by a moral evaluation of the war, a moral evaluation of Bush’s economic policies. There is nothing in the Bible that supports tax cuts for the wealthy along with social service cuts for the poor. That’s an inversion of all those scriptural statements on poverty that Jim Wallis was just referring to.
And, yes, we do have a polarization here between a kind of religion, evangelical often fundamentalist Christianity and the notion of a more secular or at least ecumenical and tolerant society. But this kind of religious polarization is happening globally right now. Only in most places the so-called religious end of it is Islamic fundamentalists; here it is Christian fundamentalists.
GWEN IFILL: Morris Fiorina, is there polarization that exists? We looked at these numbers last night. We crunched through them. We saw that one in five people cited moral values as a major issue for their votes, and that eight out of ten of those people voted for President Bush, and then we look at that map with all those red states in the middle and the blue states on the end, does that mean that we’re a hopelessly polarized nation?
MORRIS P. FIORINA: No. Not at all; I agree with Andy Kohut. There has been a lot of exaggeration here it is also true that people in the academy and the media are really missing the importance of religion and have for a long time in American politics.
But the point I want to make is it’s not as if tens of millions of Americans woke up in the last two elections and decided economics doesn’t matter anymore, it’s all about values. Rather what’s happened is the parties have become closer in economics.
They now argue about how big the tax cuts – how big the budget deficit, how big a prescription drug plan, and have gotten farther apart on values. The Republican Party has barely embraced the religious right. The Democratic Party has gotten quite secular.
But if you can imagine an alternative world in which John McCain was the Republican nominee and you recall he called various members of the religious right evil back in 2000 and a world in which Joe Lieberman was the Democratic nominee, a traditional values kind of guy, then I doubt we’d be having this discussion now. We have to pay attention to what elites are doing to make issues salient and to divide the population, not simply in what voters are doing.
GWEN IFILL: What do you mean when you say elites?
MORRIS P. FIORINA: By elites I mean the candidates, the activists, the parties basically, the corporate parties out there, and right now the Republicans in particular have found it politically advantageous to fight on values issues. This is one of the ways in which they undermine the old New Deal economic coalition for the Democrats.
GWEN IFILL: Rick Warren, I want to ask you about that. Is that what’s happening here? Is this something that’s been percolating all along but now the Republican Party has found a way to take advantage of it for political gain?
RICK WARREN: Well, Gwen, as Jim pointed out, the Bible talks about lots of values, and there are social values, which have to do with justice and poverty and equality and things like that, and then there are personal values, which have to do with personal morality. And, historically, liberals have championed the social values, and conservatives have championed the personal morality values.
Well, the truth is the Bible talks about both of them, and if ever there was a candidate that really espoused both he’d probably get 80 – 90 percent of the vote because what people don’t understand is there are a lot of people in America who really do believe the Bible, and they’re not just “religious right” or “evangelical.” There are Catholics and there are main line Protestants and there are many who voted in this election.
I think the issue really was… one of the things that happened was when Judge Rehnquist got ill, it brought up the fact that presidents are only elected for four or eight years, but Supreme Court Justices serve for life, and this next president will now have between maybe two to four appointees, which will issue the future of the next 40 years.
I think a lot of people were concerned not about Iraq and the current issues. I think they were worried about where is the direction of the culture going in the next 40 years, plus I think character will always trump policy.
GWEN IFILL: But, Rick Warren, in your ministry toolbox that you send out to churches every week I imagine, you said there are five questions which every right-thinking Christian should be thinking about as they went into the voting booth.
The first one you said was: What does each candidate believe about abortion and protecting the lives of unborn children. That was your number one issue. Rick Warren says that shouldn’t be the issue that necessarily exclusively that Christians should be voting on or people of conservative values.
RICK WARREN: Yeah, well, as you know, I don’t endorse candidates. As I pointed out in my toolbox, which goes out to about 136,000 pastors, I said, you know, well-meaning believers, good believers can disagree on a lot of issues like Social Security, the war in Iraq, how terrorism is dealt with and things like that, but if you hold to the Bible as saying we do believe this Bible is actually God’s word, there are some issues that for me are non-negotiable, like euthanasia and like abortion and some things like that.
Now, as it’s pointed out, those aren’t the only values that are out there, but they’re important values, and they tend to be values that are being pressed on us right now. For instance, the issue of gay marriage, churches didn’t bring up that issue. That was brought up by gays. And it was really more of a reaction than it was I think an initiation.
GWEN IFILL: Jim Wallis, a friend of mine told me that at her church last Sunday the minister got to the pulpit and without endorsing a candidate said go out and vote your values. What message does that send to the members of that congregation? Does that contribute to the church going versus non-church going divide that we saw in the exit polls, the churchgoers and regular churchgoers voting for George W. Bush and the non-churchgoers generally voting for John Kerry?
JIM WALLIS: What we said was vote all your values, not just one or two of them, particularly if they’re made into partisan wedge issues. For example, what politics and the media don’t often get is that religion doesn’t just line up left and right.
The bishops on the Catholic side talk about a consistent ethic of life. Abortion is part of that, but the Pope opposed George Bush on Iraq. So the president of the United States defied the Holy Father on Iraq; 100,000 casualties last week were reported. That for many of us is a religious issue, too.
So what could happen here, I think Rick’s right, if there was a candidate running with a strong set of personal values and then was very pro-poor, questioned, like many evangelical theologians did this time, a theology of war, they said, emanating from the highest circles of power in the country, these are evangelicals who said this, there could be a whole different kind of response to a vision that had personal ethics, very strong, but then a social justice and a commitment to peace, as well. So this doesn’t go left or right. It begins to build bridges between two constituencies.
Whatever happened this time, we knew that half the population would feel crushed by the result. So maybe there is – it becomes a kind of finding common ground. How do you do political healing around what the moral values are, not just one or two, but all of our values.
GWEN IFILL: Barbara Ehrenreich, this wasn’t only a religious split; we also saw in these polls a split between the married and the unmarried. What did you make of that?
BARBARA EHRENREICH: That’s still something of a mystery. I think unfortunately one thing it speaks to, in the case of women, is that women continue to have less authority or influence within a marriage tend to be economically worn down person and accept the views of the male. I do want to add though to the question of the subject of religion. We’re not just wondering, look at this politically, we’re not just talking about beliefs and spirituality and faith and things like that.
We’re also talking about the growth of a bureaucratic organization, a very highly organized system of churches that are not denominational, that are evangelical, which provide services to people that government used to provide. I think people… a lot of people have lost their faith that government could actually change their economic situation. It’s in church today where they’re likely to get childcare or help when they’re unemployed.
And, of course, the Bush policy of faith-based services fits right into that. So we’re seeing something that is not just in the mystical realm of beliefs but a real infrastructure, what has become an infrastructure of the political right. And I don’t think we’re going to get out of this polarization very quickly. 48 percent of the population is very angry. A larger number of people than ever in history have voted against a sitting president is one way to look at it.
GWEN IFILL: Morris Fiorina, what about that? How do you begin to… if you think it’s this, and you don’t have to necessarily agree with Barbara Ehrenreich, but if you think it exists, how do you begin to bridge this gap that she sees?
MORRIS P. FIORINA: I think the gap is greatly exaggerated. Most of the people I talked to today who were on the losing side just said, oh well, and went on about their business. I think there is a lot of room for a president to have a healing message to strike for a broader coalition. I’m not at all sure from what we’ve seen in the first four years of the Bush administration that this administration plans to do any such thing. So we’ll just have to wait and see.
GWEN IFILL: We heard them today, both candidates say we want to reach across the lines; we want to speak to each other, please come with me. You didn’t believe that?
MORRIS P. FIORINA: No, look, talk’s cheap. We heard in 2000 that I’m a unifier, not a divider. I’m a compassionate conservative. We didn’t see four years of governing that way. I hope that there is a difference this time and we do see more of that side of President Bush. But I think we just have to wait and see, and I’m not really that optimistic.
GWEN IFILL: Jim Wallis, quickly.
JIM WALLIS: You know, some of those faith-based organizations who are providing services are the very ones who are now saying we can’t keep pulling bodies out of the river and not send somebody upstream to see what or who is throwing them in. So they’re talking about policy questions. So this is where the old left-right thing breaks down.
I think values are a good conversation for politics. It may be the future of our discussion. But it can’t just be partisan values wedged in to divide people. But I think a broader sense of values, personal and social — personal responsibility and social responsibility together are at the heart of religion. The two together will provide a powerful political vision for the future.
GWEN IFILL: Okay. Well, that was the beginning of a fascinating discussion. Thank you all very much.