Contradictory Americans

The heat of the election has cooled, and the talking heads on television are eager as always to tell us what it all means. Many of them read a vote for Clinton as a vote for liberalism. But the real interpretation of the election returns is much more complex. Let's unravel what the election really tells us about the way Americans think. The two major areas of debate in the campaign were the economy and social issues, or values. On the economy, Clinton's election was in no way an endorsement of liberalism-because he didn't run as a liberal. He ran as a moderate. He spoke about balancing the budget, replacing welfare with workfare, and easing the tax burden on the middle class. Voters who accepted Clinton's self-definition didn't feel they were voting for a liberal. The exit polls bear this out: More than half of those who voted Democrat said they don't want higher taxes or bigger government. No, the vote wasn't so much for Clinton as it was against Bush, whose economic record. The real message that came out of the election for the economy was stay the conservative course. On social issues, however, the country turned back on itself and voted largely liberal. Many voters rejected the family values theme of the Republicans and voted into office a man whose personal life has raised controversy, who promises to advance abortion rights and gay rights, and whose wife has published fairly radical views on the family. In addition, pro-choice candidates came out ahead in several states. And in all states that held referenda on abortion, the pro-choice position won resoundingly. This appears to be a blatant contradiction: The American people voted at the same time economically conservative but socially liberal. But it's not really as contradictory as it may seem. Underlying both sides of the contradiction is a single theme: Get government off our backs. Economically, get government out of our pockets. Socially, get government out of our bedrooms. The same anti-government messages came through in the vote on term limits-which won in every state where it was on the ballot. Where does this anti-government sentiment come from? The answer is that the bulk of the voters today are Baby Boomers. They're earning a paycheck now, and are tired of seeing government take such a big bite out of it-hence the economic conservatism. But they're still infected with the 1960s ideal of sexual freedom-hence the social liberalism. The basic stance is: Don't tell me how to live or how to spend my money. Or, as the old 60s slogan put it, Let me do my own thing. This is the real interpretation of the election results, whatever the talking heads of televisionland may tell us. We've seen the emergence of a radical individualism that just wants to turn inward and be left alone. For you and me, this poses a real challenge. The body of Christ is by definition a community. We have to break through the "me-first" mentality that revealed itself during this past election. We must articulate a message of community that embraces the duties of citizenship, and our responsibility for the common good.


Chuck Colson


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