“It’s the economy, stupid.” So was the strategy of the 1992 Clinton campaign (and was also used in the 1996 campaign). And it worked. Clinton ran on the basis of fixing a bad Bush economy and found himself with a victory. In many ways, this is the strategy that guided the 2012 Romney campaign. Given the lackluster economy, the looming fiscal disaster, and outrageous levels of national debt, Romney made the economy the central focus of his campaign. He figured that the American people would not re-elect a man who had done such a poor job managing the nation’s economy. Surely this was the most important issue. People vote with their wallets.
But, it didn’t work. Despite Obama’s awful economic performance, he was re-elected. How did that happen? No doubt, there are many answers to that complex question. But, I might suggest one answer: people did not vote on the basis of their wallets but on the basis of their morals. In the 1980’s it was the political right that was driven largely by morals—the “moral majority” led by Falwell, Robertson, and others. But now, ironically, it is the political left in this country that is energized by a moral cause. They are driven by a vigorous, unwavering commitment to abortion rights, homosexual marriage, extreme environmentalism, etc. This borne out by the (unprecedented) fact that many of the pro-homosexual ballot initiatives prevailed in last night’s election (see article here).
With such a strong commitment to these moral causes, the state of the economy was not the decisive factor for many Americans. Sure, they cared about the economy, and no doubt some switched to Romney on this basis, but the economy was not bad enough to override the stronger concerns for these moral causes. Or put another way, the issue of the economy was not enough to make them vote for a pro-life, pro-marriage candidate. For many people, Obama is the prophet who is bringing in a new America. They would have voted for him no matter what.
The reality is that America has changed drastically since the 1990’s. It’s hard to believe that the Defense of Marriage act was signed by Clinton in 1996 and supported by the vast majority of Congress. Such a thing is unthinkable today. There is a new moral majority. And it is decidedly on the left.
Now, this does not mean Romney should have done things differently. There was little else he could do. I am not suggesting he should have made his campaign about morals—he probably would’ve just lost even worse. His morals simply don’t match the new moral majority. He ran on the economy and that was the best option he had. And it almost worked.
The reality of this new moral majority, and their commitment to voting on this basis, does not bode well for the future of our country. How can this be turned around? Well, it certainly cannot be turned around by winning a future election. For one (and this is a scary thought) it might be unlikely that many future presidential elections can be won given the moral state of our nation. In addition, even if we elected a future president with biblical morals, that alone is not able to change the hearts of the American people. This does not mean we shouldn’t work hard on the next election, nor does it mean that politics are unimportant; it simply means politics are not sufficient.
What is needed is something that can change the hearts of people. What is needed is the gospel message. It is the message of Christ alone that can turn around the worldview of individuals, and thereby turn around the way they vote. So, if nothing else, the discouraging results of this election remind us of the importance of the work of the church. The political campaigns are over. But the gospel campaign continues. That is the way this nation, and the world, will be changed.