Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

The Race to Consolidate the Moral Majority

James Skillen


August 14, 2000

The majority rules, but who and what does it represent? This is the question that begs for an answer from the Bush and Gore campaigns.

George W. Bush was both lauded and criticized for his acceptance speech in Philadelphia that supposedly blurred the lines between Republicans and Democrats. Al Gore is being lauded and criticized for choosing a running mate who looks too much like Bush. Does this validate the judgment that there is not a dime's worth of difference between the two parties?

America's founding fathers believed that there would be no need for political parties. The new nation was a single body politic whose majority could represent and govern the whole. Elections would allow voters (land-owning white males) to choose the best persons to represent everyone. Those who voted for "losing" candidates would not lose at all. A simple-majority electoral system was perfectly fit for a country whose majority stood for everyone. There was not supposed to be even a nickel's worth of difference between "parties."

Today our country is vastly different, but the electoral system remains the same. Any presidential candidate who wants to win must win a majority. What seems to surprise most of those on the right and left wings is that the Moral Majority was right: the majority—spread across the middle—shares a rather traditional view of life, which is moral and religious in a distinctively American sense.

Yet this is where our electoral system and "moral majority" run up against a reality that did not exist in the founding era. Today, everyone 18 and older has the vote, many of whom do not believe that the majority winner will represent them. Many who supported John McCain and Bill Bradley are less than satisfied with George Bush and Al Gore. That is why one half or more of the eligible voters are not expected to vote this fall. That is why lobbyists abound in Washington to represent the widely diverse and competing interest groups which do not count on elected representatives to represent them.

This is also why Bush is signaling his strong interest in ethnic minorities and Al Gore is emphasizing Lieberman's Jewishness. Those diversities can be appreciated by and attract voters in the middle.

The question is, What will happen after the election? Can either team be counted on to represent and govern in the interest of the entire public? If Bush/Cheney win, will they seek justice for all, including the 40-50 million without health insurance and the long-term viability of the environment? If Gore/Lieberman win, will they do justice to those ethnic and religious minorities who have no choice of schooling and to the aging poor who need real Social Security reform? Or will the narrow majority victory that either ticket wins (paid for by the dominant interests behind that party) lead the victors to govern chiefly in the interest of those who supported them?

Is it possible to be so optimistic as to believe that whoever wins the presidency, having consolidated the majority in a time of peace, prosperity, and American preeminence, will be able to lead Congress to tackle the big problems that affect all of us? Four or eight years from now, may we expect to see resolutions of the Social Security and medical insurance crises? Will there be genuine pluralism and religious freedom for everyone in education and welfare services? Will the American crusade for globalization include higher priorities for the world's poorest peoples? Will confidence in our system and in the government have increased to the point where voter turn out in 2004 will top 60 or 70 percent? Or will the 2000 campaign prove conclusively that a winner-takes-all majority can no longer represent, or govern in the interest of, all the public?

—James W. Skillen, Executive Director
   Center for Public Justice


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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”