As the weeks after the election begin to mount, political activists demote yard signs to basements and bumper stickers go unnoticed. The anticipation is over. Local campaign volunteers get an extended vacation.
Republican Gloria Hay and Democrat Margot Lubensky have found time to rest, recuperate and reflect on an election that some predicted would be close enough to break records. Although many pundits said the outcome reflected deep political divisions across the country, Hay and Lubensky said today’s political climate is nothing compared to the heated rifts that severed the nation in the past.
The two women combined have nearly a century of political volunteer experience. They recalled that the nation was truly severed along political lines in times surrounding Nixon’s resignation amid the Watergate scandal, Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan and America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
“It was tearing the country apart,” Lubensky said. “There were protests. There were burnings of buildings and rioting in the streets. Now people are finding other ways to deal with their frustrations. People are finding more peaceful ways to settle differences now. There’s more of a quiet protesting these days. Back then it was very noisy.”
Hay didn’t think this year’s election was close enough to provoke true political polarization.
“Although it was a bigger win than I thought it would be, President Bush did win by almost 4 million votes,” Hay said. “If you look at a map of the United States that shows the counties, you will see how much was Republican red and how little was Democrat blue. That doesn’t really show a deep divide. That shows unity.”
When Lubensky heard the news that Kerry conceded, she was “naturally disappointed.”
“My main concern isn’t the outcome of the election but what will happen next,” Lubensky said. “We are the loyal opposition. I think of the Democrats that way. We are loyal to the United States, but we oppose what’s being done. For instance, the way the war is being handled. We have to give too much time, concern and money in that direction. We can’t tend to the things that make the nation great. A great nation is when all of our people are taken care of, where there are jobs available and the economy is stable.”
Marvin Overby, an MU political science professor, said that he would have been surprised if a war-time president had not been re-elected.
“This is the first time since 1988 we’ve had a majority winner as president,” Overby said. “If you look at some of those maps that are floating around, it doesn’t look so close. On the other hand, considering the context and the fact this was a war-time election, I’m surprised Bush didn’t win more votes.”
Lubensky said one reason more Missouri counties voted Republican was because Democratic politicians spent less time campaigning in small towns. She and her late husband, H.F. “Pat” Patterson, in the 1960s served separate stints in the Missouri House of Representatives. She said they campaigned in every township, often stopping in for rallies and ham-and-grits dinners.
“We need to pay more attention to our rural friends,” Lubensky said. “They didn’t all leave the Democrats. In the last poll I saw, the Democrats in our major state races were only behind a few votes.”
Overby said there is a widespread perception that rural areas tend to vote Republican.
“Even though a lot of Democratic policies tend to be more favorable to family farmers, it is believed that Democrats have embraced this bicoastal Hollywood-based cultural agenda,”
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Overby said, “whereas people in rural areas tend to be more culturally traditional.”
Hay, a business professor who retired from the University of Wisconsin, said that although there are no major political divisions in the nation, smaller cracks exist below the surface.
“First of all, in a diverse country we shouldn’t all think alike,” Hay said. “But I suppose there are political divisions. There is an education division. Americans who don’t have a high school diploma largely vote Democrat. Americans who have Ph.D.s also tend to vote Democrat. There’s a large population in between those two extremes who, by and large, tend to vote Republican.”
“There’s a great divide between the high-priced entertainers and their liberal beliefs with the rest of us,” she said. “Academics are overwhelmingly leftist, and their influence is dwindling if you can tell by the way the vote went. I think it’s just as ridiculous to get your views on the war on terrorism from the Dixie Chicks as it is to get your opinion on the deficit from a professor who spent his entire life teaching Shakespeare. Today’s students know better. They don’t all get their opinions from P. Diddy.”
Overby agreed with Hay that major universities tend to be primarily Democratic, but for more economic reasons.
“The conception that universities are havens for Marxists is an exaggeration,” Overby said. “But people at universities tend to be more liberal on some dimensions because we get funding from the state.”
“It is a complicated scenario to try and psychoanalyze the voting behavior of 100 million people,” he said. “Many of the same people who call Hollywood and the media liberal go out and see their movies. People who oppose gay marriage may still watch ‘Will and Grace.’ People who say there is a moral decline in the U.S. might tune in to watch ‘Desperate Housewives.’ So their political behaviors tend to conflict with their social behaviors.”