was the day after the election and travel felt like a good
My plan was to go to Canada. Just for a day or so. Just to
hear some French, sleep late. Just to amble away for a bit.
So I drove north slowly through the bowls of late afternoon
light in Keene Valley. A few peaks were dusted with snow.
The Au Sable River ran bright and fast. The chilly air felt
honest. There was room to brood here—if that was what I wanted
to do. But the bracing sense of being away from national and
existential miseries, large and small, made brooding seem
like a waste of time.
At least for a while, anyway.
I didn’t even make it as far as Plattsburgh before deciding
it was getting too late in the day to press on toward Montreal.
Duty beckoned. Besides, I didn’t really feel OK leaving my
daughters home alone while I escaped, however briefly, however
symbolically. After all, it’s their lives and their friends’
lives who will be most affected by whatever mayhem that could
I turned back for home. I got back to the Northway only to
find myself in a long line of southbound traffic. Cars moved
slowly past—or were stopped by—United States border police
who had set up some kind of a check point.
I don’t know what they were checking for. Most cars cruised
through; mine was stopped. The officer made some comment about
how he always checked out a car with a pretty girl in it.
Then he leaned in and asked heartily, “You folk United States
I guess that was all he wanted to know. Because yes
was all it took for him to sweep open his arm in a gesture
I couldn’t help wondering why there was a check point the
day after the election an hour south of the Canadian border.
It gave me weird shiver, as if I had expected him to ask me
more—what kind of United States citizen was I? Was
I God-fearing, straight, anti-choice—in short, a proponent
of “moral values?”
Those of us who supported John Kerry thought we supported
Now we’re told that the coattail George Bush rode to victory
was “moral values.”
I’m confused. I thought it was a moral stand to believe that
two people willing enough and responsible enough to commit
their lives to each other ought to have broad civil rights—to
say nothing of social support.
I thought it was a moral stand to believe in individual jurisdiction
over one’s entire body rather than ceding parts of it—one’s
womb, for instance—to governmental regulation.
I thought it was a moral stand to oppose the estimated loss
of Iraqi lives and American lives (estimated by the National
Priorities Project to be 100,000 and 1,100 respectively—before
Monday’s Fallujah offensive onslaught began) in a war most
of our citizens claim not to understand or wholeheartedly
I thought it was a moral stand to believe that investing in
a war that has already cost over $143,785,479,679 is a high
price to pay when at least some of the funds could be used
to fund Head Start, insure health care for children, make
higher education available to more Americans, fund research
that provides the hope of a cure for a host of diseases.
I thought it was a moral stand to believe that a government
so fervently committed to “faith-based values and morals”
would also want to address some global concerns—but the cost
of our war is certainly not going to help us also find money
for global anti-hunger efforts, or AIDS programs in Africa
or the immunization of children.
I thought these were moral stands, but now I’m told they were
simply partisan stands. And they are wrong.
is no reconciliation between good and evil,” says Mary Ann
Kreitzer of Les Femmes, an organization of conservative Roman
Catholic women. “Voters rejected the party of gay activists,
radical feminists, the Hollywood elite, pornographers, death-peddlers,
anti-Christian bigots and apostate Catholics.”
That’s some pretty diverse company I find myself in.
Somehow, within the span of this post-election analysis, “moral
values” have been telescoped down into only one area: sex.
What’s moral—what is apparently also faithful—is to make sure
that the right people are having sex in the right
way and that, should pregnancy follow, the right response
to that is governed by writ of law, even if the law doesn’t
then extend health care and education to that child or economic
justice to the mother.
Then these same “moral values”—opposition to homosexuality
and abortions—have become synonymous with what defines religious
faith. And religious faith is de rigueur for good citizenship.
And good citizenship espouses a certain kind of religious
faith—ideally Christian and evangelical.
Other voices need not apply.
The religious left in the country seeks to change that, chastising
the Democrats for failing to talk about religion as a motivating
force in social justice issues.
The Rev. Robert Edgar, general secretary of the National Council
of Churches—a group I’m surprised is not included in Ms. Kreitzer’s
list of troublemakers—puts it this way: “The religious right
has successfully gotten out there shaping personal piety issues—civil
unions, abortions—as almost the total content of ‘moral values.’
And yet you can’t read the Old Testament without knowing God
was concerned about the environment, war and peace, poverty.
God doesn’t want 45 million Americans without health care.”
The Rev. Edgar may be right about God. And by and large I
agree that the Democrats lost a great opportunity to make
hay with faith, as the Republicans did. But I find that, liberal
Protestant that I am, once somebody starts making claims for
what God does or does not want, I get nervous. I can’t get
Gary Wills’ words out of my mind:
else do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity,
religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity? Not
in France or Britain or Germany or Italy or Spain. We find
it in the Muslim world, in Al Qaeda, in Saddam Hussein’s Sunni
loyalists. Americans wonder that the rest of the world thinks
us so dangerous, so single-minded, so impervious to international
appeals. They fear jihad, no matter whose zeal is being expressed.”
And yet, listening to the troops prepare for the attack on
Fallujah, looking at the magnetic ribbons on every second
car, it has apparently already been decided that God is blessing
America and America’s troops and American’s efforts and America’s
But even as I was driving down the highway, ushered in by
the United States border police, I couldn’t help thinking,
God help America.