BY JAMES TARANTO
Friday, January 17, 2003 1:47 p.m. EST
and the GOP
Just after the 2000 election, Pete
du Pont wrote his debut column for this Web site, "Gore Carries the
Porn Belt," in which he noted the striking correlation between adult-movie
consumption and Democratic voting. Along with inspiring a great new Best of
the Web feature, "Dispatch From the Porn Belt," du Pont made an important
point about what divides America at the start of the 21st century: "There
are indeed two Americas, one bicoastal, urban, industrial, and politically very
liberal; the other rural, with smaller cities and towns, traditional beliefs
about family and morality, and a moderate-to-conservative political outlook."
Now Thomas Byrne Edsall, writing in The Atlantic Monthly, has picked up on
du Pont's theme. What defines American politics, Edsall argues, is mostly sex:
Early in the 1996 election campaign Dick Morris and Mark Penn, two of Bill
Clinton's advisers, discovered a polling technique that proved to be one of
the best ways of determining whether a voter was more likely to choose Clinton
or Bob Dole for President. Respondents were asked five questions, four of
which tested attitudes toward sex: Do you believe homosexuality is morally
wrong? Do you ever personally look at pornography? Would you look down on
someone who had an affair while married? Do you believe sex before marriage
is morally wrong? The fifth question was whether religion was very important
in the voter's life.
Respondents who took the "liberal" stand on three of the five questions supported
Clinton over Dole by a two-to-one ratio; those who took a liberal stand on
four or five questions were, not surprisingly, even more likely to support
Clinton. The same was true in reverse for those who took a "conservative"
stand on three or more of the questions. . . . According to Morris
and Penn, these questions were better vote predictors--and better indicators
of partisan inclination--than anything else except party affiliation or the
race of the voter (black voters are overwhelmingly Democratic).
Edsall argues that this is good news for the Democrats. American sexual attitudes
are becoming more liberal--hardly anyone waits for marriage before having sex,
for one thing--and Americans are becoming less religious, too:
From 1972 to 2000 the proportion of voters who said they attended services
every week dropped from 38 to 25 percent. . . . The one group that
has grown dramatically consists of those who never go to church or synagogue.
This group, which has become a mainstay of liberal politics, made up just
11 percent of the population in 1972 but 33 percent in 2000.
Edsall has a plausible explanation for how, despite these trends, the GOP won
a big victory in 2002: "The elections were dominated not by sexual or moral
values but, rather, by the one thing that trumps sex: war." Once the war
is over, or at least less pressing, sex will reassert its importance, and the
Democrats will start winning again.
Or will they? There are two problems with Edsall's analysis. First, he elides
the question of race. By most accounts, blacks and Hispanics tend to be more
conservative about sex than whites, and yet they vote Democratic--overwhelmingly
in the case of blacks, by a fairly large majority in the case of Hispanics.
Nonetheless, by winning the support of sexually conservative white voters, plus
a minority of Hispanics and a tiny minority of blacks, the GOP (based on the
2000 results) is able to win the support of nearly half the country.
If black and Hispanic voting patterns matched those of whites vis-à-vis
attitudes toward sex, Republicans would probably get something approaching 60%
of the vote. No wonder Republicans are making such an effort at minority outreach.
This means the picture Edsall paints is misleading. It isn't that America is
liberal, or even evenly divided, on questions of sexual morality. It's actually
fairly conservative, and Democrats are able to remain competitive with a liberal
message only because there are enough voters for whom race or ethnicity trumps
sex. If Republicans can win more black and Hispanic votes--a big if, admittedly--their
sexual conservatism could prove a significant long-term advantage.
The second problem is Edsall's failure to acknowledge that changes in attitudes
and laws concerning sex have a long-term effect on the electorate. If a pregnant
woman chooses tomorrow to have an abortion, the result in 2021 will be one fewer
eligible voter--and that's a statement of fact, not a moral judgment. If tens
of millions of women have abortions over decades, as they have, it will eventually
have a significant effect on the voting-age population.
Not all women, after all, are equally likely to have abortions. It's almost
a truism that women who have abortions are more pro-choice than those who carry
their pregnancies to term, and it stands to reason that they generally have
more-liberal attitudes about sex and religion. It also seems reasonable to assume
that parents have some influence on their children, so that if liberal women
are having abortions, the next generation will be more conservative than it
otherwise would be.
The Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide with Roe v. Wade in
1973. The first year in which this affected the national electorate was 1992,
when the eldest of the post-Roe babies were 19. But few 19-year-olds
vote. The political effect of whatever demographic changes Roe v. Wade
wrought will be seen more clearly in the next two decades, as voters born after
1973 approach middle age.
All this is cause for concern for Democrats, but it's no reason for sexual
liberals to panic. There's no question that American culture and law both treat
sex far more permissively than in the past, and that trend is probably irreversible.
The important political question is the relative prevalence of
"liberal" vs. "conservative" attitudes. But the actual content
of those views is subject to change. Thirty years ago, for instance, both abortion
and homosexual sex were illegal in most of America. Today abortion is universally
legal, and all but 13 states have repealed their sodomy laws or seen them overturned
in court. Many people who have moral qualms about abortion and homosexuality
accept or at least tolerate this state of affairs, and it's entirely possible
that in the decades ahead Americans will become both more conservative and more
The World's Smallest Violin
you're a brutal murderer, it seems, you just can't win. The New
York Times and Washington
Post both have weepy accounts of the difficulties facing Illinois's erstwhile
death-row inmates as they move to regular prisons after ex-Gov. George Ryan's
blanket commutation. Here's the Times:
It is not that Danny Edwards wants to die, per se, it is just that he does
not want to leave death row.
The guards here know about his heart condition and make sure Mr. Edwards
exercises daily, regardless of weather. His 8-by-13-foot cell with the metal
bed frame is not much, but at least it is his alone. The condemned share a
bond, "like one big family," Mr. Edwards said--a family about to be broken
up. And without a looming execution, he could lose his free appellate lawyer,
who he still hopes will win him a new trial.
"I'm not thrilled about spending the rest of my life in prison--who would
be?" Mr. Edwards, 46, said this morning in an interview at Pontiac Correctional
Center, where officials have begun dismantling death row.
And that's just the beginning of Danny Edwards's problems. As he tells the
Times' Jodi Wilgoren: "I'm not looking forward to group showers."
Wow, that's rough. What did poor Danny do to deserve this?
Lest we forget, that's not a rhetorical question. In 1987 he kidnapped Stephen
Small, a 40-year-old newspaper publisher. The plan was to demand ransom, but
instead Edwards decided to murder Small by burying him alive. Now he tells us
he's "not thrilled" about spending the rest of his life in prison.
The heart bleeds.
'Discriminatory and Counterproductive'
"A national Islamic advocacy group said today that new Justice Department
guidelines requiring Muslim and Middle Eastern visa holders to register with
the government and be fingerprinted are discriminatory and counterproductive."--press
on American-Islamic Relations, June 5, 2002
"Two al Qaeda suspects were taken into custody as they tried to enter
the United States after their fingerprints were matched with ones lifted by
U.S. military officials from documents found in caves in Afghanistan, law-enforcement
authorities said yesterday."--Washington Times, Jan. 17, 2003
Are Northern Californians less patriotic than other Americans? You'd certainly
think so from reading about various "antiwar" activities in places
like San Francisco and Berkeley. Yet a report in today's San Francisco Chronicle
flies in the face of this stereotype:
To the surprise of many military experts, long inured to the notion that
Northern California is anti-military, recruiters for the Marine Corps, the
Army and the Navy all say the numbers of new recruits from the region have
In fact, Northern California ranked second to Nashville in the Marine Corps'
national recruiting last year, according to Maj. Mark Johnson, commanding
officer of Marine Recruiting Station San Francisco.
Some folks do live up to the common preconception, though--including Frisco
school officials and copy editors. The Chronicle notes that San Francisco bans
military recruiters from high school campuses, and the paper puts a derisive
headline on its story: "Sucker for a Uniform."
See if you can follow this:
CNN reports the Chicago City Council passed a resolution "against a unilateral
military attack on Iraq."
But the resolution also calls Saddam Hussein "a tyrant who should be removed
But it also says: "It not at all clear that a unilateral U.S. military action
would result in the installation of a free and democratic Iraqi government."
But it also gives, in CNN's words, "unconditional support to U.S. military
No wonder the council passed the resolution 46-1. Everybody can agree with
some part of it.
An Associated Press dispatch on a Saddam Hussein speech notes this lovely bit
of bluster: "He said America failed to conquer Iraq in the Gulf conflict
and 'proved itself to be incapable' of learning from its past mistakes."
"U.N.'s Blix Not Certain All Iraq Weapons Gone"--headline, Reuters,
"Mohammed . . . served as a tank driver for the Iraqi army in
Kuwait during the Gulf War. He said he does not want to relive the experience."--Gulf
News (Dubai), reporting from Damascus, Syria, Jan. 16
The national media may have soft-pedaled Sen. Patty Murray's recent comments
about Osama bin Laden, but they do seem to be having political consequences.
WorldNetDaily reports a Phoenix fund-raiser for the Washington state Democrat
"was canceled at the last minute amid protests from local Republicans,
veterans and college students angered by the senator's recent praise of Osama
bin Laden's nation-building tactics."
The anti-Murray campaign got ugly. Frances Barwood, a former Phoenix vice mayor,
sent out an e-mailing asking if the would-be host of the fund-raiser, Mayor
Skip Rimsza, might be hosting the event because he is of "Lebanese descent and
believes the way she does."
Credentials Like These, Who Can Argue?
"As a former schoolteacher and a mother, I know that Iraqi children are going
to die. . . .They are going to be crushed by American bombs."--"antiwar"
protester Patrice Cuddy-Lamoree, quoted in yesterday's Kansas City Star
Here are the opening paragraphs of an op-ed piece by one Robert Atkinson, "a
professor and diversity scholar," that appeared in yesterday's Portland
(Maine) Press Herald:
Racism is a disease that affects everyone. Diversity is a statement of fact;
multiculturalism is a representation of the value of inclusiveness. The whole
Earth is my home. I am part of, and have a loyalty to, all of humanity.
These are just a few of the realizations that have become most important
to me. Personal experiences--childhood friends of many ethnicities, and young
adult travels to Africa, the Azores and Norway, where I was welcomed by strangers
and invited into their homes--have allowed me to know what it feels like to
be a world citizen, and still serve as a firm foundation for a growing commitment
to diversity and multicultural efforts.
Zzzzzzzzzz . . .
Oh sorry, we nodded off there. Anyway, Atkinson goes on in this vein for more
than 700 words. "We, as Mainers, as Americans, owe our ultimate allegiance
to humanity," he informs us. And: "Even though I was born with certain
unearned 'white privileges,' anything I have access to that [nonwhites] don't,
I feel uncomfortable with."
It makes us think the most difficult achievement in journalism must be to have
an op-ed rejected by the Portland Press Herald.
Oughta Be a Law
"The mother-in-law of an airport baggage handler has confessed to trying
to help frame him by arranging for weapons and explosives to be placed in the
trunk of his car," the New York Times reports (second item). "Fatia
Bechiri blamed her son-in-law, Abderazak Besseghir, for her daughter's death
in a household fire and intended to seek vengeance by having him jailed as an
Should legislators pass new laws to prevent this kind of thing from happening
in the future? Probably not. After all, if in-laws were outlawed, only outlaws
would have in-laws.
"Airliners Are Vulnerable, Report Finds"--headline, New York Times,
Sept. 11 Victims Sue Airplane, Box Cutter Makers
"Relatives of two Washington area sniper victims plan to file suit . . .
against the gun manufacturer and the gun shop linked to the Bushmaster XM15
assault rifle used in the shootings that terrorized the region last fall,"
the Washington Post reports.
And He Prides
Himself on His Humility
"No one has inspired more blacks for hope in America than I have."--Jesse
Jackson on "Donahue," MSNBC, Jan. 15
Can You Put Stock in Slate?
"Why cash-rich companies like Dell and Microsoft don't (and won't) pay
(owned by Microsoft), Jan. 14
"Microsoft to Pay a Dividend"--headline, CBS
MarketWatch, Jan. 16
"Stock dividends play a much smaller role in the economy than they used
to."--Slate founder Michael
Kinsley, Washington Post, Jan. 17
A press release from California's Sen. Barbara Boxer attacks President Bush's
plan to stop taxing dividends with an unusual formulation. She accuses Bush
of being "anti-state." She promises: "I will work towards a pro-state,
pro-growth alternative." There's a great rallying cry. Vote for Boxer:
She's Pro-State! And how long will it be before someone thinks of spelling it
without the hyphen and calls Boxer "prostate"?
Drudge reports Boxer's Massachusetts colleague John Kerry actually is antistate,
or to be more precise anti-Hawkeye State:
On the eve of a fundraising trip to Dubuque, Iowa--quotes surface which detail
Kerry's feelings about trips to Dubuque.
"I hate it. I detest it," Kerry told a Boston reporter in 1996.
But a Kerry "insider" tells Drudge the senator is "actually
very excited" to be visiting Iowa's eighth-largest city.
"Drinking Plus Pot Smoking May Equal More Injuries"--headline, Reuters,
"Prosecutors Say Classmates Intended to Hurt Girl in Attempted Poisoning
Case"--headline, KUSA-TV Web site (Denver), Jan. 17
"Time, Money Wasted on False Alarms"--headline, Morning News (Springdale,
Ark.), Jan. 17
"Mixed Messages Leave Women Confused"--headline, Toronto Star, Jan. 16
"A 'deadly' weapons cache was uncovered in an Arizona storage facility
Thursday by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms," CNN.com
reports from Queen Creek, a Phoenix exurb:
"There is a large cache of military firearms, including explosives, machine
guns, a bazooka, a flame thrower," said a spokesman for the ATF in Phoenix.
A Russian rocket-propelled grenade launcher also was seized.
Is there really any dispute whether explosives, machine guns, a bazooka, a
flame thrower and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher are deadly?
"A 36-year-old-man has killed himself with a home-made guillotine,"
Reuters reports. An unnamed source tells the wire service that "Boyd Taylor
had built a timer to activate the device in the early hours of Monday morning."
Ron Unz When You Need Him?
The Union of Arab Student Associations is holding its convention at George
Washington University in the nation's capital. We quote verbatim the description
of the first item on the itinerary, scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today:
Meeting with Department of State to discuss new immigratin laws and how
that effect immigrate students and other issues of such Meeting with White
House to follow up from last years meeting
and to see if they obtained thier goals.
Follow at Ken Lay Hall
Sherron Watkins, the Enron "whistleblower" who was part of Time magazine's
trio of the year, is to deliver "the fifth annual Peterson Business Ethics
Lecture, sponsored by the Socially Responsible Business Leadership Initiative,"
at UC Berkeley's business school. The venue? Arthur Andersen Auditorium.
(Elizabeth Crowley helps compile Best of the Web Today. Thanks to Larry Weinstein,
Patrick Swan, Ned Schoenfeld, S.E. Brenner, Barak Moore, Brandt Zembsch, Daniel
Goldstein, Evan Graham, Mark Schulze, Michael Segal, Ed Graff, Gary Fedinets,
Dave Bell, C.E. Dobkin, Robert Lewis, Richard Morrison, Marie Bourgeois, Adam
White, Jarrod Musser, Brian O'Rourke, Yaron Koren, Rick Black, Brian Otey, Manuel
Delgado, Gregory Herbert, Matt Jordan, Tyler Messa, Dan Owens, Aviva Ross, Andrei
Muresianu, T. Norton, Edward Morrissey, Emily Cochran and Steve Sexton. If you
have a tip, write us at email@example.com,
and please include the URL.)
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