I was recently stuck in a traffic jam in Sterling Heights, MI, one of the original enclaves of the famous Reagan Democrats. As you may recall, the Reagan Democrats were those traditional, usually working-class Democratic voters who crossed party lines to elect Reagan twice as president. This time the traffic jam was caused by Bush supporters heading to an outdoor rally at which George W. Bush would speak. It is likely that more than a few Reagan Democrats were headed to the rally. All of which raised for me the different personal styles of Reagan and Bush on one hand and John Kerry on the other.
If the pollsters are correct, a "gender gap" persists in this presidential election with more women preferring Kerry, while more men prefer Bush. Whether that gap will last until November 2nd is unclear. My own hypothesis is that the gender gap may have to do with our differing cultural reactions to assertive politicians with a penchant for morally unambiguous statements. Back in the eighties, when Reagan stated the abundantly obvious—that the Soviet Union was an "evil empire"—he was roundly criticized as a warmonger by the liberals and the liberal media. Reagan had committed the sin of making a clear-cut distinction between good and evil. Reagan had played the role of the assertive male. At the same time, Margaret Thatcher, the "Iron Lady," was playing the role of the assertive female who did not shrink from calling a spade a spade and was also the target of venomous criticism.
The assertive proclamation of good and evil is viewed in today's culture as insensitive and unintelligent. We can see that in the current paralysis by many Catholic bishops on the question of denying the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians. Some—including most recently Bishop Mengeling of the Diocese of Lansing, MI—take cover in the obvious fact that they can't read the minds of every Catholic seeking to receive communion. Of course, this excuse is transparently baseless. No one is talking about denying the Eucharist to anonymous parishioners. We are talking about prominent political celebrities who go out of their way to publicly reaffirm again and again that they are leaders in the pro-abortion movement. There is no need to read their minds or consciences. They have spilled forth the contents of their minds for all, but the most timorous, to see. But there is a strong cultural affinity for the "nice" approach that shrinks from unambiguous confrontation with evil.
In a way, an inaccurate view and caricature of Christ has been partly responsible for this cultural preference for moral ambiguity. The false image of Christ that is the darling of liberal Protestants and liberal Catholics is that of Christ as the sensitive male who never confronts evil. The Gospel picture is radically different. Christ was brutally executed because he would not desist from confrontation. Christ had a spine of steel, while the caricature is that of a biblically fictitious person who would have offended no one and would have never been executed.
But back to political preferences. Today, George W. Bush is the favorite political target of those, both male and female, who favor the morally ambiguous male. Bush is mocked and derided as unintelligent, as a warmonger, and even as a killer of civilians because he dared to overthrow a genocidal tyrant who terrorized thousands of his subjects for years while the U.N. engaged in endless debate. Bush routinely refers to the terrorists as evildoers, while the culturally sensitive seek to focus exclusively on the excuses and frustrations that lead to terrorism.
Kerry, on the other hand, with his trademark pink salmon-colored tie, is the quintessential tortured Hamlet who is incapable of making a clear judgment call. He is for and against everything, and breathes ambiguity. The ambiguity even enveloped for years his own ethnic background. As reported by the Boston Globe, Kerry was happy to leave Massachusetts voters for years with the useful impression that he was of Irish Catholic background. To the surprise of many who had been his constituents for years, Kerry lacks any Irish Catholic background. Kerry's ambiguity extends to more significant matters: rejecting Catholic teaching on abortion but refusing to get out of the communion line, supporting and then attacking the Iraq War, crowing against gas guzzling vehicles but owning an SUV, basing his whole campaign on his Vietnam war record but refusing to release all of his military records, and making populist attacks on tax cuts for the rich while at the same time being an extremely wealthy man with a conspicuously opulent lifestyle who supports his heiress wife's refusal to release her own tax returns. In sum, Kerry is the incarnation of the cultural affinity for the Hamlet-like, sensitive, "intelligent" male paralyzed by distinctions.
Experience teaches many of us that, at some point, excessive introspection is not a sign of intelligence but of moral escapism. Life is by nature dramatic and requires dramatic choices. That is how we form our character. Yet, we see a strong cultural affinity for ambiguity that is a mark of our preference for seeking escape, whether in the pursuit of power, alcohol or other drugs, pornography, or materialism. In the real world, escape is sometimes not an option. Sometimes you must make a clear choice and take up the cross.
Ongoing commentary by the editors of CatholicKerryWatch
Sen. John Kerry stands with Kate Michelman (right) President of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Since 1995, Michelman's group has given Kerry a 100% rating for his voting record to defend abortion.