It Ain't the Morals, Stupid!
Reflections on the 2004 presidential election
Octavio Romano PhD
In the aftermath of the 2004 presidential elections, the declared victory of George W. Bush to a second term elicited an almost endless stream of interpretations about "the" cause of the victory. Prominent among the interpretations were "religious morals." This, however, is a simplistic single cause view of history. It is usually embedded in an equally simplistic bipolar unilinear scheme. This approach to history is dear to the hearts of popular and professional writers in America, and politicians. A single cause was indicated by Bush's comments about "his relationship to God," the Supreme single cause of all. So strong is this tendency that it forced his opponent John Kerry, who lost the election, into a "me too" stance (I can be tougher than you!) when he declared that, "God is testing me,." He, too, was commenting about his future political life and the Supreme single cause.
Published on LatinoLA: December 27, 2004
All this has made for "good copy," and popular reading. Born of the Euroculture traditions in the United State, single-source causality is popular in the social and political rhetoric of the United States even though it conceals the reality of multi-causality as principal among the forces leading to the results of the American elections of 2004. In this case, the election results were a product of parallel American values which involve religion, the military, and economic values, and they reflect the expansionist American power politics of today.
Though these three value sets are unique in their own context, they are parallel in that each exhibits a similar motivating paradigm. "There is something wrong with you," each declares, "and we have the means to fix it." This is not new. The ink was hardly dry on the Declaration of Independence when, in 1790, the first American Protestant missionaries, students from Williams College, ventured abroad as evangelists. It is with these Eurocultural beginnings that the United States evolved into todays's nation which is populated by secular as well as religious missionaries. The missionary zeal has seeped into every major and minor facet in the everyday life of the citizens, and hardly anyone escapes it, be it in religion, in the military, and/or in economics. Concurrently, American citizens tend to hold similar views regarding the peoples in foreign lands. There is something wrong with you/them and we can fix it, whether it is your bodyweight, eyeshadow, your national government or your leader. I doubt if any other people in the world are as compulsive as Americans in their drive to constantly engage in the remaking of others in their own self-perceived image.
Since the first presidential term for George W. Bush, numerous claims have been advanced that, because of his "born again" declaration and his seeking the favor of fundamentalist Protestant evangelicals, there exists the threat to the constitutional separation of church and state. This is not a unique political experience for, as Laura Secor has observed, religious representatives have always faced "...questions about the relationship between preaching and social reform, and between doing good works and furthering colonialism."
With the Bush administration, this view has gone well beyond the level of questions and become a reality beginning with the allocation of government funds for religious works with the public. Many Evangelicals themselves have in turn declared their allegiance and alliance with the reduced separation of powers, increasingly identifying more openly with the preemptive American invasion of Iraq. Well-known Protestant leaders have declared the Iraq war a joint venture between religion, the state and its military incursions. Such an alliance has been exemplified principally with attacks against Islam by Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. These attacks have been joined by no less a person than Franklin Graham, the son of Rev. Billy Graham, who referred to Islam as "a very evil and wicked religion." As reported by Deborah Caldwell, he added that he had "... relief workers poised and ready" to roll into Iraq to provide for the population's post-war physical and spiritual needs. In fact, the relief agency he runs, Samaritan's Purse, is in daily contact with U.S. Government agencies in Amman, Jordan.
About the Iraqi people, Graham said, "We are there to reach out to love them and to save them."
Graham's comment was a modern echo of the 16th century words of Hernan Cort?®s prior to the Spanish empire's bloody and merciless destruction of the Aztec capitol and its Mexica culture. Cort?®s, accompanied by Catholic missionaries, said to Moctezuma, King of the Aztecs, "Tell Moctezuma," said Cort?®s to his translator, "we are his friends, there is nothing to fear....Tell him we love him well....We have come to your house...as friends, there is nothing to fear."
Following the Spanish Conquest of the indigenous Americas, of course, there arrived a swarm of missionaries to save the souls of the surviving natives.
As a missionary-type instrument of the present Republican administration, the American military has been charged with the toppling of the government of Iraq, ostensibly to clear the way for the conversion of Iraq into a democracy. In this sense, they are the first wave of other missionaries to come. Though there is no solid information about the total it will cost, nor the number of lives it will take, the military is committed to bring about the political goals of the present American administration. "There is something wrong with you, and we can fix it," Should the military succeed, it will have cleared the way for the subsequent invasion of the religious and secular missionaries. Already, like a military field general, Franklin Graham has declared his relief workers are "poised and ready to roll into Iraq" just as recently the U.S. armed forces were poised and ready to roll into Fallujah.
Reports have it that over 150 billion dollars or more will have been spent in the Iraq war and subsequent recovery, whatever form this may take. So-called "defense" industries will surely benefit from a steady stream of purchase orders for the military, from shoe laces to sewing repair kits to cluster bombs to 1,000 lb shock and awe bombs and drone aircraft. The oil industry will surely profit more under a war footing than during peace. And then there are the carpetbagging individuals and major corporations who smell oodles of dollars in the repair and re-building of the Iraqi nation. Each and every one will be operating under the dictum, "there is something wrong with you and we are here to fix it." Little mention will be made of who made things so wrong in the first place. Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do and get paid, like $9,000 per month for mercenaries compared to $1500 per month for the soldier grunts.
The pervasive secular and religious missionary spirit which characterizes contemporary American culture, from religion to military to economics, appears to be a key to the present administration, as personified by Bush (religion), Rumsfeld (military) Cheney (economics), and its appeal to a broad sweep of the American public. Although each of the three categories are distinct, they share between them the missionary pupose, the American desire to make over others in their own image. In this context, morals are not a cause, but rather an "explanation" and "justification" after the fact.
In the rhetoric of the recent campaigns leading up to the 2004 elections and their aftermath, the multi-causes which propelled citizens to vote were reduced to isolated, separable and supposdedly unique elements such as torture, expenditures, morals, religion, economics, persons, right-wing, liberals, and the like.
Perhaps the time has come to look elsewhere and take stock in the antecedents of the American historical experience. Surely Americans should take stock of British history as outlined in the Infopedia.U.K. "Pirates, traders, soldiers, explorers, financial speculators, missionaries, convicts, and refugees all played a part in creating the British Empire." The same can be said of the multiple influences in play during the American presidential elections of 2004, influences which reflect the American secular and religious missionary culture and its expansionist world thrust.
In other words, it ain't the morals, stupid!
Octavio Romano PhD:
Octavio I. Romano-V., Ph.D., is an anthropologist and emeritus professor at the UC Berkeley and TQS Review, a Chicano bi-monthly publication. This appears in the 11/12.05 Vol. 21, No. 6, 2004 of the TQS Review. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org