Revenge of the map: It's hard to avoid the obvious

Maybe there was something to that red America and blue America thing after all. No, the map to the right of this post is not from last night.

This is the infamous 2000 map showing the red George Bush counties vs. the blue Al Gore counties. But does anyone doubt that, in a day or two, we are going to be digitally handed a 2004 map that looks almost exactly like this one?

And perhaps there was something to that "pew gap" research, as well. At least, lots of Democrats in the analysis chairs last night on cable television seemed to think so. And, lo and behold, the Catholic version of that gap even makes an appearance at the very top of the mainbar in the Bible of the blue elites, the New York Times. Take it away, R.W. Apple Jr. and Janet Elder:

For the second time in four years, the American people showed themselves deeply split yesterday about who should lead their country.

Interviews with voters as they left the polls indicated that women, members of minority groups, young people, political independents, moderates and baby boomers voted for Senator John Kerry. As anticipated, Mr. Kerry ran powerfully among blacks, attracting 9 African-American votes in 10; perhaps more surprisingly, the senator also won a solid majority of Hispanics.

President Bush did best among whites, men, voters with high incomes and evangelical Christians. Mr. Bush divided the Roman Catholic vote with Mr. Kerry, who is Catholic but whose positions on abortion, same-sex marriage and embryonic stem cell research are at odds with his church's positions. The interviews showed that Catholics who attend Mass weekly preferred Mr. Bush, while those who are less observant supported Mr. Kerry.

Four years ago, I spent a very tense night watching the White House returns for a simple journalistic reason -- I had committed myself to writing a column, based on a speech by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, that required me to know the outcome of the election. Fat chance. I ended up writing a column, fingers crossed, that assumed the outcome of the election would still be up in the air the coming weekend.

Here is the strange thing: I could have written precisely the same column this morning. Here is a look at how it opened.

One thing is certain amid the chaos and nail biting of the White House race -- the religious left now knows that Mount Sinai has not been erased from the political map.

"The tablets that Moses brought down from the top of Mount Sinai were not the Ten Suggestions. ... (They) were the Ten Commandments. But more and more people feel free to pick and choose from them," said Sen. Joe Lieberman at Notre Dame University, in a key speech during the home stretch.

"Without the connection to a higher law, we have made it more and more difficult for people to answer the question why it is wrong to lie, cheat or steal; to settle conflicts with violence, to be unfaithful to one's spouse, or to exploit children; to despoil the environment, to defraud a customer or to demean any employee."

But wait. This week's soap opera also demonstrated that America remains divided right down the middle on issues rooted in morality and religion. There is a chasm that separates the heartland and the elite coasts, small towns and big cities, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, those who commune in sanctuary pews and those who flock to cappuccino joints.

Has four years made no difference at all?

Please note the emphasis that I placed in that old lead on the role of the religious left. Some people have assumed that the "pew gap" phenomenon means that there are conservatives who go to church and liberals who do not. That is too simplistic. There are moral and cultural liberals who are devout, as well. But their numbers are much smaller. The "pew gap" division is between traditional pews and a coalition of liberal believers and people who are openly and aggressively secular. This is the coalition that some have called the "anti-evangelical voters." This coalition is growing and its role in the modern Democratic Party is pivotal.

Many have noted that Republicans face the crucial question of how to please the Religious Right without driving away the mushy middle of the American "values" spectrum. After last night, many more will be asking: How does the Democratic Party retain the lifestyle left, the "anti-evangelical voters" without killing itself in red-county America? Or does everyone just hang on to the cards they have right now and do this whole routine over in 2008? Anyone for Jeb vs. Hillary? Or what does the Religious Right do if its Rudy Guliani vs. John Edwards?

We are going to be writing about these trends for days to come, I am sure. For now, let's end with this poignant anecdote from reporter John M. Foster, <a href="blogging for The New Republic (tip of the hat to Roberto Rivera y Carlo).

ESPANOLA, NEW MEXICO, 12:34 a.m.: I just came from the Rio Arriba County clerk's office and saw the vote totals with about a third of the precincts reporting. It was stunning. In a county that's more than 80 percent Democratic, the count was 5,000 votes for Kerry but 3,000 (or 37.5 percent of the total) for Bush. That margin will probably stay the same or even draw a bit closer for Bush. I asked the clerk why.

His answer was simple: religion. This area is heavily Catholic and also has plenty of evangelical churches. For the past month, people attending those churches have been hearing about stem-cell research, abortion, gay marriage, and a host of other social issues. Those issues have swung many northern New Mexico Democrats away from their usual voting patterns toward retaining Bush.

On the ground, the people were talking about faith, family and morality. The Democrats didn't notice, or could not afford to notice. Apparently, there is a red America out there and, by the way, journalists will have to cover all those people and even sell them newspapers.

Please respect our Commenting Policy