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Jewish Journal

A Question of Morality

by H. David Nahai

November 18, 2004 | 7:00 pm

We have been bombarded with the phrase "moral values" ever since it was announced that 22 percent of voters cited it as the single

most important consideration in the 2004 election. Not Iraq, not terrorism, not the economy.

Moral values. It is also reported that 23 percent of voters described themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians, and that a whopping 80 percent of these "values" voters cast their ballots for President Bush. This "moral values" theme has become so dominant that the 2004 election has been called the "God, guns and gays" election.

Bush administration officials have stated explicitly that far-right evangelicals turned out in record numbers to support the president and played a decisive role in his re-election.

It is interesting to note that while the religious far-right uniformly supported Bush, the Jewish community overwhelmingly voted for Kerry. Nationwide, Jews voted for Kerry over Bush by a 74-25 margin.

But just what are these "moral values" that so motivated the evangelicals, but apparently proved less than persuasive to the Jewish community? Put simply -- and we like our moral values simple in America these days -- they would include the following proscriptions:

1. No right of choice for women.

2. No civil unions for gays.

3. No gun control.

4. No embryonic stem cell research.

5. No separation of church and state.

And already the bellicose demands of the far right are dominating the national discourse. "We delivered the election to Bush" they seem to be crying "now Bush must deliver the country to us." The brouhaha over the remarks of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) about anti-choice judges is just the beginning. We can expect a great deal more muscle-flexing from the far right and, I fear, significant implementation of its social agenda. Jerry Falwell is already announcing an "evangelical revolution" and I believe we will see an all-out assault on the judiciary, the one branch of government the far right believes it does not control.

While the Jewish community's rejection of Bush cannot be attributed to a single issue, implicit in our vote is the understanding that the dogmatic dictates of the far right are not moral values at all, but rather a set of regressive social directives, hung on the hook of theology.

We must ask: Where is the morality in dooming innocent women to back-alley abortions, or in denying gays the basic dignity of civil unions? Where is the morality in flooding our streets with assault weapons, or depriving the sick of the bright hope afforded by stem cell research? Where is the morality in imposing a "Christian nation" on the rest of us, or in eviscerating the bedrock principle of the separation of church and state, which guarantees our freedom of worship?

Moderate and progressive Christians are raising their voices to agree that to dignify such policies of intolerance and ignorance as "moral values" is abhorrent.

Additionally, for the Bush administration to don the mantle of morality is repugnant. Poverty, health care, fair taxation, environmental protection, public education and fiscal prudence are all issues of morality. Yet Bush's record in these areas is one of abject failure. Throughout the presidential campaign, it was Kerry, not Bush, who stood for decency, equality, tolerance and compassion. Someone should remind the evangelicals that these are the true moral values taught by Jesus -- not lifting the ban on assault weapons.

But if there is one universal moral value, it is respect for the truth. And here, the Bush administration's penchant for spin and distortion comes into sharp focus. Here are some examples: In the face of the debacle in Iraq, the administration boasts "a remarkable success story"; in the face of this country's first net job loss in 70 years, the administration proclaims "the strongest economy in 20 years"; in the face of an abysmal environmental record, Bush claims to be "a good steward of the land." This is not so much an administration, as it is a spin factory -- a perpetual myth-making machine.

Of particular interest are the claims made by Bush surrogates on Israel. Bush's true record on Israel has been one of omission and abdication, rather than leadership and engagement (we'll see if Arafat's departure will change things). Yet during the campaign, Bush's emissaries hailed Bush as the best president for Israel since Harry S. Truman, and shamelessly denigrated Kerry's solid 20-year pro-Israel record. Fortunately, the Jewish community did not buy these fabrications.

Clearly, the Bush administration failed, despite enormous efforts, to make meaningful gains in the Jewish community. But I am sure that they will try to spin even this demoralizing defeat into a glorious triumph.

In a recent article in this paper, Paul Kujawsky stated that the Jewish community could take cold comfort in having voted "correctly" given Kerry's ultimate loss. Perhaps. But it means something to me that we voted correctly, that we voted for real moral values. And I, for one, am proud that we did so.

H. David Nahai is a real estate attorney and former chair of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board.

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