Never in the history of the United States has more pressure been brought to bear on the American electorate to dump a leader whose values the world so loathed. But in the end, not the glamour of Hollywood, nor the threats of terrorists, nor the alienation of Europe, nor the condescension of the UN, could break the American people's commitment to a moral presidency. With all the pressure in the world to become like the rest of the world--overlooking genocide and making deals with tyrants--the American people voted to retain a faith-based presidency, even if it meant going it alone. Exit polls on Tuesday showed that morality, even more than security, was the single biggest issue animating American voters in the 2004 Presidential contest.
The rise of the moral voter is an earthquake that has forever changed the American political landscape. Gone are the days when politicians can seek office merely by pandering to voters by promising them jobs, health care, and pork. Now, politicians who want to connect with the electorate will be forced to articulate a powerful moral vision of something worth fighting for. Bush did this with his constant focus on the fight for human freedom and his pledge to protect the family.
And because morality, rather than a single man, was the big winner on Tuesday night, it is crucial for Bush supporters to exhibit graciousness in victory. To act otherwise would be to spoil the victory by undermining what it represents. It was not Bush, but the values he embodies, that was the real victor on Tuesday. The moral man is someone who never pursues power for power's sake, but rather uses power solely to bring justice.
When American soldiers liberated Iraq, they were ordered not to raise any American flags lest the message go out that the United States, rather than the cause of freedom, was the real victor. The same is true of Bush's re-election. Many Bush haters have accused the President and his supporters of being religious phonies, using moral language as a foil to steal from the poor and give to the rich. The only solid refutation of such scurrilous charges is an authentic humility in victory, proving that Bush and his followers sought the presidency not to gloat but to serve.
To be sure, there is an understandable feeling on the part of many of the President's supporters that they have a right to revel in a candidacy that ended up garnering more votes than any other in American history. Bush supporters were treated by many as backward, stupid, and fanatical. I personally can attest to the loss of some friendships, many lecture invitations, and a host of television and media opportunities because of my steadfast support for the president. So why shouldn't we express triumph? Indeed, many are. More than a few of my radio colleagues used their time since Tuesday for payback, offering rants of the oh-look-who-is-the-big-loser-now variety and attacking the Democrats for being in utter disarray.
But while understandable, those who indulge in revenge attacks and condescending rhetoric to political opponents make the mistake of personalizing the initial attacks against them and the subsequent vindication and victory. The hatred shown Bush was not for a man but for a moral cause. It was the same hatred that those who speak openly of G-d have experienced in modern times from others who are convinced that such talk betrays ignorance, superstition, and a lack of sophistication.
This election was never really about Bush, Kerry, or even Iraq. Nor was it a referendum on conservative verses liberal. Rather, it was a challenge to the very notion of whether faith-as-policy had any place in a modern, technologically-advanced republic. And the victory was not for a man and his followers but for a belief in right and wrong and how religious conviction must be first translated into protecting human life through a fight against tyranny and state-sponsored murder.
Those who gloat over the blow inflicted on Bush's opponents betray an arrogance which in turn betrays a lack of commitment to moral principles, thereby eroding the cause for which the victory was sought. Michael Moore and Al Gore can rant all they like that Bush is a religious fraud, that he went into Iraq for oil and power rather than security and humanitarian concerns. Why vindicate their mean-spiritedness with a mean-spiritedness of our own? Why trivialize a moral victory by making it a personal victory? Right and wrong do not belong to President Bush or any of the people who voted for him, but is rather the eternal inheritance of all of G-d's children, and in that sense, even those who voted against Bush share in his victory.