Portrait of an American voter


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.

Comments:

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Don't quite know if this link:

http://danieljmitchell.wordpress.com/2012/03/18/the-tax-system-explained-in-beer/

is appropriate here... Hark? Do I hear the YOD?
But "The Tax System Explained in Beer" was a good explanation for me and interjects a bit of humor.
I think we as Christians must, even in the face of political defeat, stand for the principals of Christ. We live in a fallen world, and we must be the light of the world.
The general trend over the past few years has been toward incumbent victories anyway.
Carol, I'm so glad that this community has helped you gain a bit of perspective.

I've heard that Billy Graham reads through the Psalms and Proverbs every month by reading 5 Psalms and one chapter of Proverbs every day. Yesterday morning I began (again.... never seem ={ to stick with it) to do the same. I am finding great comfort in God's Word and promises.
My gut reaction is that rather than being taken captive by a foreign nation, think Assyrians & Babylonians conquering Old Testament Israel, we've been electing ourselves into exile.
Most of the liberals I know are in their early 20s, and I think the "politics of nice" describes their attitude well. I don't think they're bad people; they see support for Obama and his causes as the morally right thing. But most of what they want is superficial niceness rather than the community and accountability that people really need. I was especially disturbed by the number of people who said they were more excited about the states that passed gay marriage than about Obama's reelection. Ultimately, my biggest concern isn't Obama. It's the prevailing mindset that drove so many people to vote for him.
Thank you
Thank you, Gina, for writing this particular article on this particular day! And thank you to EVERYONE who has responded! You have no idea how much you've helped me gain a little perspective on this horrible circumstance. I shouldn't have been, but I WAS totally stunned by the outcome of the election. I'm so depressed, I slept for 13 hours last night! Can't cry because I'm too bloddy angry! And all I can think about is buying a couple of guns this week end. I'm having a MUCH harder time with this than I expected. Your comments helped a lot. Thank you again.
One thing I can't pretend to offer any explanations for is how we snap millions of Americans out of this hypnotic spell Obama has them under.

Have you ever stopped and thought about how creepy this whole phenomenon is? The vast majority of us had never even heard of the guy before his speech at the 2004 convention. Incredibly, the next four-plus years saw him become a U.S. senator and then president. How on earth can something like that even happen?

How did he even get the 2008 nomination? He was an unaccomplished lightweight going up against vastly superior public servants like Bill Richardson and Hillary Clinton. It's crazy.

This year, there's no way he should have been reelected. Yet, look at what happened.

It's bizarre, and it goes beyond just the help that the Republicans have given him.
Gina, I know that some people on the right think they have a monopoly on being scrutinized, but I see it happen both ways. The left and the right both have websites and organizations that criticize anything they perceive as unfair reporting by some journalist somewhere. Some of the claims are fair, some are nonsense.

Republicans didn't enjoy what Romney went through after the secretly recorded 47% comments went public, but how many of them remember Barack Obama going through a similar ordeal when his ridicule of guns and religion became public? That got a lot of play, but some folks conveniently forget that.

You mention Bill Clinton, a man I certainly have no time for. The media were all over the Lewinsky affair in every way possible. I was anti-Clinton, and even I got tired of how much fun the media were having with it.

Should Obama's comments have killed his support in middle America the same way Romney's comments hurt him? Most definitely. Should Clinton's scandal have left him a disgraced pariah? Certainly. The media can beat a story to death and still not always bring about results that satisfy us. In fact, one could argue that it isn't the media's job to produce results, and that they should just tell us what's happening and leave the rest to us.

The fact that Clinton and Obama have survived things that we wish had done them in isn't the fault of the media. That's on us.

Why do people seem to punish Republicans for their indiscretions and too often let Democrats off the hook? The theme I've heard from many people generally involves some form of the word "hypocrisy." They hear the GOP constantly claiming the moral and ethical high ground, and then see them act no better than anyone else. Folks don't hold the Democrats to the same standard because that party doesn't come across as "preachy" or "high and mighty," at least not in the same ways as the Republicans. Obviously, that feedback I get from people I know is anecdotal and not scientific, but it's a theme I've encountered too often to ignore.

The Republicans can't control what the media say or how the public reacts. What the party can do is address the things that ARE in its control. That lackluster field of presidential candidates; the tone of said candidates; the harsh attitudes on immigration; the projection of a lack of compassion toward the unfortunate; nominating terrible candidates such as Akin and Mourdock; these are things Republicans can and must deal with.

I understand your frustration, Gina. There are definitely some double standards at work. The Republicans have to do what we Christians also need to do: advocate for higher standards, then try to actually live up to them.
Kevin, I don't deny that Republicans have to present themselves better. But one factor has to be taken into account: They're up against a massive double standard before they even start.

Todd Akin's political career is likely finished because of one dumb remark about rape; Ted Kennedy sexually assaulted a woman in front of witnesses, and he was re-elected multiple times and is remembered as a beloved icon. (To say nothing of the woman he killed.)

Herman Cain was knocked out of the primaries by rumors of extramarital affairs; Bill Clinton's affairs were confirmed, and he had a two-term presidency and today can still fill auditoriums with cheering crowds.

I could give you dozens more examples to show that Republicans are scrutinized to death and Democrats get to say and do whatever they want. Wherever it came from, how is the Republican party supposed to overcome a built-in disadvantage like that? I have no idea.
@ Ellen
I have encountered it mainly in personal interactions, either online or sometimes even in real life.
This moderate independent is willing to offer his prescription to the Republicans. First of all, it does not involve the party dumping its core beliefs, as I heard even some Republicans suggesting last night. For example, I heard several Republican analysts express their dismay at the gender gap and suggest changing on issues such as abortion. That would be not only repugnant but unnecessary.

One change the GOP does need to make is to either devise or get on board with a reasonable immigration reform policy. Right now, the party is seen as stubbornly opposing anything other than rounding up the illegals and kicking them out. That image is costing the Republicans a lot of support from a key demographic that is not only growing but that should, in some ways, be a natural ally. For instance, many Latinos are serious about their Catholicism, including opposition to abortion. Many would like to vote GOP if they didn't see the party as the enemy. Simply changing that one dynamic would swing millions of votes.

The other thing I would suggest is to not be so ugly. The Republican debates last winter were terrible for the party's image. The audiences were heard booing a gay soldier and cheering at the mention of executions and uninsured people dying.

The candidates themselves were even worse. Anytime one of them showed a shred of decency, the others would tear him to pieces. Rick Perry spoke up for some compassion on immigration, and the others made him pay. Rick Santorum said that convicts who have done their time should be allowed to move on with their lives, including having their civil rights restored. Mitt Romney dishonestly claimed that Santorum wanted to give prisoners the right to vote.

That whole primary process seemed like a contest to see who could sound the most angry and bigoted. Don't think for a minute that people didn't notice. Whoever emerged from that mess was going to be hobbled by it and disadvantaged. How different it could have been if the party had remembered that Christians should try to act like Christians, and also remembered the old Reagan commandment against Republicans harshly attacking each other.

Again, none of the above requires abandoning fundamental party principles. It also doesn't call for changing what is beyond the party's control, i.e., the hard cores on the other side. What I'm talking about are ways to appeal to--or at least not turn off--the moderates and independents who decide close elections.
Robert P. George Shared This
.
“Bible verse for the day, compliments of my friend Dr. Matthew Franck: 1 Samuel 8:18”:

“Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

Sobering words. The carotid of the body politic has been nicked.
Some excellent points there, Kelvin.
Democracy: Three wolves and a sheep voting on what's for dinner.

Gina, it's not quite correct to say that the politics of greed preaches that no one will have to pay. It preaches that "they" will have to pay--somebody other than me, someone who can afford to pay when I need every dollar I get. And it's fair that they pay, because as the President said, they got what they got not because of their own hard work and intelligence, but because they were making use of the help of everyone else. (That's a totally honest restatement of his infamous "you didn't build that" speech--while those four words were, in context, discussing infrastructure, the full context was also a very explicit repudiation of the idea that those who are successful can claim credit for working hard and being smart.)

Though I think we also need to admit that Republicans often cater to greed as well. I don't think the answer to every problem is tax cuts. I have a relatively comfortable middle-class income, and my federal income tax last year was about 6% of income AFTER subtracting charitable contributions. My tax BRACKET is a lot higher, but child tax credits and the like knock a lot off. And frankly that's not a terribly huge amount; I actually pay more in school tax than in federal income tax (and since we plan to homeschool, I'm not going to get much direct benefit from the school tax).

The problem with tax policy is that we've accepted the notion that the people should be allowed to decide that someone else should pay more than they do, and perhaps even more dangerously, that some of that money should be redirected to those making the decisions (either directly or by voting for representatives). And then, of course, there is little to discourage the majority from demanding ever more from the minority.

Also, on the politics of nice, I think we need to recognize that one reason "nice" is alluring is that people have actually taken Christian teaching to heart, then reapplied it. Christianity teaches that how we respond to the poor and the stranger is a reflection of our love for God. Yet changing the transaction from direct care impelled by moral obligation to mandatory taxation has profound implications that our progressive friends tend to ignore. On the other hand, if we had more Andrew Carnegies ("He who dies rich dies disgraced") and fewer people saying "The one who dies with the most toys wins," there might be less clamor for forcible redistribution.
Well stated, Mike. Well stated.

Mo, thanks for your comments. I am obviously too much in my cave as I did not know of the phenomenon of the Christians you and Gina have written about. I'd like some more information on it. Do you have some links you could share with me?
I started to watch President Obama's acceptance speech, but couldn't get past, "the task of perfecting our Union is before us."

The last four years have been perfecting our union?

I promised my kids we would watch his acceptance speech - and Mitt Romney's gracious concession speech - after school, so I will watch it. Much as I wish it weren't so, I do agree with your assessment, Gina. We are living in The Age of Entitlement.

Through the Perspectives Course my husband and I have been taking at our church, http://www.perspectives.org, I'm gaining a better sense of God's purposes and regaining my desire to be on His team, rather than asking Him to fix my "problems". I have been fervently praying this morning for revival in God's American Church. That we would focus on Him, His Word, His purposes, regain the desire to be on His team, and cast away from ourselves all that is not of Him. I myself have much to purge out of my house and heart and also need to continue show up for His training each and every day.
It does not surprise me that he won. Not at all. Why? Because I've seen people exhibiting all the qualities and attitudes you have listed here. Everything you have said here is exactly right.

What has horrified me the most is not only that Christians are thinking and behaving in exactly the same manner. It's not just that they are (mis)using the Bible to do so.

What's most horrifying is that now followers of Christ consider it a virtue to criticize those of us who say what you have said here, and who stand up for righteousness in any way.

So now we get flack not only from the world. We expect that. Now we are getting it from fellow Christians.

This is the part that caught me off-guard. And I honestly do not know what to do about it.
To conservatives it does seem inconceivable that Americans buy into the Democrat/Obama narrative, but is it really that much of a surprise? The power of the culture is the simple and obvious explanation. Think about it. Over 50 million children every day go to schools whose curriculum, most teachers and administrators are secularist modern liberals. Those who don’t have strong counter-culture (yep, we’re the counter-culture now) parents are indoctrinated to become little Democrat lemmings. Over 20 million young people attend American colleges and universities totally dominated by professors and administrators that are more or less hostile to traditional especially religious values and America’s Founding values. We wonder why under 30s voted overwhelmingly for Obama? I don’t.

A large majority of apolitical Americans get their news and information from the increasingly corrupt mainstream media. They never listen to talk radio, watch Fox news or visit conservative websites or blogs. As we all know, this media is dominated by left-wing, progressive, liberals, all the very same thing! And we wonder why these people buy into Obama’s class warfare, or as Gina puts it greed, envy and nice. I don’t.

These same Americans are entertained and informed by industries (Hollywood, publishing, Madison Ave., etc.) that is as hostile as academia is to traditional American values. We are surprised these people give a failing president four more years? We shouldn’t be.

If we don’t fight for the culture within these professions in some way, politics alone will always come up against the secular welfare state worldview that underlies the cultural air we all breathe; and that eventually determines the direction and health of our society.
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