The election didn't go the way that many of us thought it would, last night. Which leads me to wonder, what exactly led to Barack Obama's second victory? What was the mentality of a typical Obama voter? Though no one can know for sure what's in someone else's mind or heart, we can at least look at some of the trends and ideas we saw during the campaign, and identify a few key factors.
The politics of me. I saw a tweet last night (I forget who it was from -- it was a long night) saying that to many voters, the most important quality they saw in President Obama was that he seemed to care about people like them. Never, ever underestimate a person's ability to see in his idol just what he wants to see. But what precisely about Obama would lead people to think that he cared about them personally? This leads me to . . . The politics of greed. "Here, have some free stuff" seems to have been a dominant message this time around, and unfortunately, too many people went for it hook, line, and sinker. From birth control to Big Bird, we want what we want, and we want to pretend that no one -- certainly not posterity! -- will ever have to pay for it. After all, we're so important and special (see "The politics of me") that we should have whatever we want, right? "Ask not what your country can do for you" seems to have lived only as long as John F. Kennedy did. We've become a nation of "Ask your country to do everything for you."
The politics of envy. I've been driven to the reluctant conclusion that we've become a nation where the media can simply point at someone and say, "Look, evil rich dude!" and whip up a mob, figuratively speaking, to take that person down. The Occupy movement and the prevailing meme about the "1%" that's soaked into our culture helped make sure of that. If "give me my free stuff" dominated the voter mindset, the idea that went with it seemed to be "Hey, he has more stuff than me! No fair!"
The politics of nice. This might just be the most powerful factor of all. Because while people may have been influenced by the three factors I've named above, they certainly don't want to see themselves as selfish or greedy or envious. So modern liberalism throws a veil of niceness over it all: You want to give same-sex marriage to homosexuals, and free resources to illegal immigrants, and free health care to everyone? Why, what a nice person you must be!
And this is the factor that draws in Christians most of all, I think. Ted Olsen at CT has a blog post showing that evangelical support for Obama was slightly up in key states like Ohio and Colorado, and from all I see in the evangelical world today -- anecdotal though my evidence may be -- I believe this "It's nice to give people things!" mentality is at the core of the trend. I'm not deliberately mocking these Christians: They recognize a problem like illegal immigration, they see the human face of it, and they genuinely care about the people involved (see this link from Sherrie Irvin for an example). But in too many cases, their approach is dangerously shallow and simplistic. (How ironic is it that many of the same Christians who will vote their conscience on immigration won't vote their conscience on abortion, because they believe the law has the capacity to deal with one but not the other?) Conservative Christians desperately need to find a way to grapple with this problem that involves mercy and justice in equal measure, and we need to do it before we're crowded out of the national discourse altogether.
It's not a flattering picture I've painted of this typical American voter, and I can't help wishing I were wrong, but it's what I see. I'm just one person, though. I'd love to get your feedback and your critiques of this portrait, and your suggestions on what needs to change in our political and cultural landscape.