“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.
Dr. Kruger, just as a small point of fact, the phrase “It’s the Economy Stupid” was used by James Carville on Clinton’s behalf prior to the 1992 election. I think it was still circulating in 1996, but the economy was in much better shape that year and was less of an issue.
I do think Romney, as a candidate running a campaign, was making the most of his opportunity by focusing on the economic problems. But you are right, the left has its own moral agenda, and that agenda is trumpeted as if with one voice throughout the media.
But I agree with you wholeheartedly that only the gospel can change people’s hearts, and that the gospel campaign continues, the only thing that can change a worldview like the one we are facing today.
Michael Kruger says
Thanks, John. You are correct, and I’ve changed that line. I was thinking mainly how that phrase kept being used in the 1996 campaign (where Clinton ran again on the economy, but this time on his own record).
Kevin Newman says
“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. ”
Great point Michael. I visited one of my favorite conservative bulletin boards after the election last night, and it was replete with expressions of despair concerning the future of this country, mostly from folks who name the name of Christ. It is so easy to get caught up in the minutiae of this life, politics being one of them, that it is possible to lose sight of the cross and all it means. I pray that revival will occur in this country, it is only then that we will see real change. It has to begin in our hearts.
PS. Looking forward to your talk this Friday night.
Jeremy Goodwyne says
MK, really excellent post. Thanks for putting a fine point on it.
Here’s where I disagree: People, for the most part, still blamed *Bush* for our economic woes. So, while the economy was bad, it was not viewed as *Obama’s* economy. People bought the counter-argument that “we already tried [Romney’s] economic plan, and it’s what got us here.” Also, Gallup did a poll in May *2012* and found that the number of those who identified themselves as “pro choice” was at an all time *low*, roughly around 40%. So, I think the economic argument works, the problem is that it worked in the *other direction* this time, and the evidence for a major moral shift in the thought of the majority does not seem to be as strong as it needs to be to make the claim.
Totally agree. And I would argue they did vote with their wallets, it’s just that their wallets are no longer dependent upon a traditional productive economy. They want checks and handouts and government jobs, all of which are insulated from the market.
Sheila James says
“It is the message of Christ alone that can turn around the worldview of individuals, and thereby turn around the way they vote.”
My confusion lies in the number of acquaintances I have who believe the “message of Christ” and yet still passionately support Obama. The gay marriage issue and things like “helping the poor” seem to be huge for them. In fact, I think they would say that it’s precisely because of their identity as Christians that they support Obama and those moral issues. I just can’t make those pieces fit.
And it is not just the gospel campaign that has to proceed, it is the way that we proceed with that message. If the secular worldview keeps seeing Christians spout off one thing and then act completely different, that will not change hearts towards the gospel. If the secular worldview is so prone towards tolerance, and the typical Christian does not speak the gospel message in love, then it will fall on deaf ears.
The gospel campaign must proceed, and I agree, it certainly has the power to change hearts (Romans 1:16). But, we as Christians need to show the gospel through our actions as well and we need to speak the gospel truth with love.