A “Moral Values” Election?
In the immediate wake of the 2004 presidential election, exit poll results propelled commentators to focus on “moral values” as the deciding factor in President George W. Bush’s popular and electoral vote victories over Democratic challenger John F. Kerry.1 But what do we mean by “moral values”? And why did more voters—22 percent in all—choose “moral values” from a list of seven issues as the most important of the election? In searching for an explanation to so much voter concern about the nation’s values, conservative New York Times columnist William Safire thought of Janet Jackson, whose bare right breast was exposed—allegedly due to a “wardrobe malfunction”—to millions of Americans watching the Super Bowl halftime show in early 2004. Others might have pointed to another provocative television event, the kiss between Britney Spears and Madonna at the MTV Video Music Awards a few months earlier. Before a nation considering the moral legitimacy of same-sex marriage, the once prim and proper Spears—donned in a risqué wedding gown— locked lips with the legendary envelope-pushing Madonna, who—dressed in groom’s black and a top hat—entered the stage from a wedding cake singing “Hollywood.” Still others would have set their sights on shock jock Howard Stern, who waged an open war against the Michael Powell–run Federal Communications Commission and the Bush administration, urging his listeners throughout the election season to vote for John Kerry.
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