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A “Moral Values” Election?

The Culture War, the Supreme Court, and a Divided America
  • Kevin J. McMahon

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Affirmative Action Presidential Election Civil Union Exit Poll Republican President 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    For a discussion of the recent politics of values generally, see, James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (New York: Basic Books, 1991);Google Scholar
  2. and John Kenneth White, The Values Divide: American Politics and Culture in Transition (New York: Chatham House, 2003).Google Scholar
  3. See also, Gertrude Himmelfarb, One Nation, Two Cultures: A Searching Examination of American Society in the Aftermath of Our Cultural Revolution (New York: Vintage, 2001 );Google Scholar
  4. and John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America ( New York: Penguin Press, 2004 ).Google Scholar
  5. 13.
    See, however, Morris Fiorina, Samuel J. Abrams, and Jeremy C. Pope, Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America (New York: Pearson Longman, 2005); and Philip A. Klinkner, “Red and Blue Scare: The Continuing Diversity of the American Electoral Landscape,” The Forum 2 (2004), no. 2, article 2, 1–10.Google Scholar
  6. 17.
    Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992). For more on the Rehnquist Court, see Thomas M. Keck, The Most Activist Supreme Court in History: The Road to Modern Judicial Conservatism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. and Mark Tushnet, A Court Divided: The Rehnquist Court and the Future of Constitutional Law (New York: W.W. Norton, 2005).Google Scholar
  8. 18.
    For some women, however, access is quite limited. For a discussion of the recent politics of abortion, see William Saletan, Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003 ).Google Scholar
  9. 19.
    Kennedy quoted in Ethan Bronner, Battle for Justice: How the Bork Nomination Shook America ( New York: W.W. Norton, 1989 ), 98.Google Scholar
  10. 20.
    To be sure, Republicans held a majority in the Senate when Reagan nominated O’Connor in 1981, and therefore, Democratic support was not necessary to secure confirmation. For reaction to the O’Connor nomination, see Elder Witt, A Different Justice: Reagan and the Supreme Court ( Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1986 ), 37–43.Google Scholar
  11. 21.
    Robert H. Bork, “Adversary Jurisprudence,” in The Survival of Culture: Permanent Values in a Virtual Age, Hilton Kramer and Roger Kimball, eds. (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, Publisher, 2002), 196, 217, and 221.Google Scholar
  12. 22.
    See, however, Christopher Lasch, The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics ( New York: Norton, 1991 ).Google Scholar
  13. 23.
    Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), 836. Justice Souter was apparently responsible for this section of the opinion; see David J. Garrow, “Justice Souter Emerges,” New York Times Magazine, September 25, 1994. On Justice Souter, see also, Thomas M. Keck, “David H. Souter: Liberal Constitutionalism and the Brennan Seat,” in Rehnquist Justice: Understanding the Court Dynamic, Earl M. Maltz ed. (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2003).Google Scholar
  14. 30.
    On the importance of the male vote in electoral politics today, see, for example, Ruy Teixeira and Joel Rogers, America’s Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters ( New York: Basic Books, 2000 ).Google Scholar
  15. 57.
    Alan Johnson, “Issue I is Bad Idea for Ohio, Taft Says,” Columbus Dispatch, October 14, 2004. On Voinovich and abortion, see Michael Barone and Richard E. Cohen, The Almanac of American Politics ( Washington, DC: National Journal, 2004 ), 1252.Google Scholar
  16. 60.
    Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., American Constitutional Soul ( Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991 ), 65.Google Scholar
  17. 62.
    See, for example, David M. O’Brien, “Ironies and Disappointments: Bush and Federal Judgeships” in The George W. Bush Presidency: Appraisals and Prospects, Colin Campbell and Bert A. Rockman, eds. (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2004).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kevin J. McMahon, David M. Rankin, Donald W. Beachler, and John Kenneth White 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kevin J. McMahon

There are no affiliations available

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