On May 10th, the New York Times published a telling poll, which reveals the real story behind the dynamics of the electorate that put George Bush into office. (I hasten to say even as a Republican that I have never been part of that electorate.) That poll has not received enough attention here.
Religious political extremists have argued that it was George Bush's emphasis of their values that earned him an electoral majority. Obviously not. First of all, in 2000 NOTHING earned Bush a popular majority, for whatever one thinks of the outcome in Florida and its influence on the electoral college, none dispute that Al Gore won the popular vote. But second, it was not a majority agreeing with Bush's conservative values that got him over the top in 2004; it was 9/11 and a bare majority agreeing with his policies in Iraq and holding their noses at his values that put him over the top. Whatever polls may show on the topic of gay civil rights (overwhelming approval) and gay marriage (disapproval), those polls also showed that few Americans thought the topic of gay marriage ranked anywhere near the top of issues facing America.
Now that Bush's defense policy and his Iraq policy are in shambles, those who DISagreed with his values but supported the Iraqi invasion as a necessity are abandoning him, disgusted with the misapplication and misrepresentation of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction and the incompetence of Rumsfeld's occupation policies.
So it was always only a minority of the population that idenitified with Bush's core values enough to vote for him on that basis alone. Now that the rest of the electorate has been disaffected by administration incompetence in defense, or his Keynesian economic policy, everyone but the values folks have abandoned him in the polls. As the tide has gone out, only the values voters are left exposed for the minority they have always been.
And what do the numbers show? A scant 37% (THIRTY SEVEN PERCENT!) of the population believe the Republican Party comes closer to sharing their moral values. A scant 22% (TWENTY TWO PERCENT!) believe the Republican Party is more likely to protect their civil liberties. Since we hear incessant bloviating from Republican conservatives about how Democrats and the Supreme Court are out of touch with the mainstream and threaten religious freedom, it should be clear as day that it is Republican Religious Political Conservatives who Americans view as the moral minority and a serious threat to American liberty.
It should also be clear that Democrats and moderate Republicans alike who give lip service respect to religious extremist attempts to dominate the values debate should stop cowering, and speak loudly and clearly. The population has come to rely on the Democratic party to check the aggression of Republican conservative extremists; I believe Democrats who speak up in open opposition to religious political extremists will find their support grow, not fade. And unless moderate Republicans are content to see the Party's once noble instincts (embodied best by Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt) lost to history, and the Republican Party lost forever as a force for American core values of freedom and tolerance, they must abandon their silence, and hit conservative extremism head on.
There is no time like the present.