It is a truth universally acknowledged that the economy is the single most important issue in this year's election. The polls show it, the pundits repeat it, and people believe it.
And they are spectacularly wrong.
While most voters will say that the economy was their primary consideration after they've chosen their candidate on Nov. 6, they will be lying to themselves and to us all. If we define the economic issue strictly in terms of the candidate whose policies are most likely to benefit the contents of a given voter's wallet, then the choices of a striking number of Americans won't make any sense.
When we start with the assumption that Republican policies benefit high-income earners by lowering their tax rates, then George Clooney, Warren Buffet, and Oprah should vote for Governor Romney. But they won't be. Furthermore, if we presume that the social safety net programs espoused by Democrats provide greater protections to lower income individuals, then it's utterly befuddling that nine of the ten poorest states in the union also happen to be nine of the ten reddest states in the union. I'm looking at you Oklahoma, South Carolina, Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Mississippi. On the flip side, nine of the ten richest states and the District of the Columbia went for President Obama in 2008. Thank you, Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Delaware, and California. New Hampshire and Virginia, I'm hoping you might the right call again this year.
I'm not prepared to call James Carville stupid, but it's pretty clear to me that when it comes to America's political preferences, it's not the economy.
It's the social issues, fool. Think about it: If you ask any American what his or her absolute disqualifiers are for a candidate (i.e., what positions would make them never, ever consider voting for someone), what are the most likely words to leave their mouths? I'm pro-choice or pro-life, I'm for or against gay marriage, I'm in favor of women's rights or I believe that rape is a part of God's plan. Even in the midst of our ever-sputtering economy, these arguments are omnipresent and omnipotent, raised by both sides because of their animating power over the electorate.
It is these social issues that have contributed most to the calcification of our political factions. The reason: They don't lend themselves particularly well to compromise (after all, one of the first times Americans made a deal on social policy, black people ended up being counted as three-fifths of a person). Furthermore, as it happens so often with these debates, when the Bible enters the conversation it's even tougher to split Solomon's baby.
But as much as I would enjoy using the rest of this piece to chastise today's social conservatives for being on the wrong side of history -- just like their segregationist and Confederate predecessors -- I have a different purpose in mind for the remaining time that I have your attention.
The fact of the matter is that I'm glad that we continue to ask these essential questions about human dignity. And I wish that we would dispense with the artifice that it is the state of the economy that most stirs our collective soul. That notion belittles us. Because if that were the case, if we had stopped looking at our moral compass because we reached a rough patch in our economic waters, then we would truly be lost. Economies are fundamentally cyclical, but the long arc of America's moral universe continues to bend towards justice. That's what really matters, stupid.