APS News

Inside The Beltway: A Washington Analysis

Time for Building Bridges

By Michael S. Lubell, APS Director of Public Affairs

Michael S. Lubell
Michael S. Lubell
In a few weeks George W. Bush will be sworn in as president of the United States for another term. To many on the left that is nothing short of a supernatural disaster. But if liberals are in a funk, the heartland of America is celebrating.

Whether W chooses to govern from the center or the right during his second term will become evident to every American in a matter of months. To Beltway denizens, the signs are already becoming clear. My advice to any of you poker players out in the hinterland, go all in on the right.

As W said in his first post-victory press conference, he gained a lot of political capital, and he intends to spend it. Translation: conservatives put him into the White House, and he won't forget them. My prognosis: Democrats will be wandering in the desert for at least the next four years. Unfortunately, so too will scientists unless they learn to speak the language.

Among pollsters there is little argument that regular church goers, in general, and evangelicals, in particular, played a major role in electing George W. Bush to a second term. Karl Rove, who is a saint to his admirers and evil incarnate to his detractors, laid out the President's campaign strategy early on: turn out the Christian right base and the president wins reelection. Present a secular centrist image the way Bush Senior did, and W joins his daddy as a one-termer.

John Kerry, saddled with an image as a gay marriage advocate, which he wasn't, a supporter of a woman's right to choose, which he was, and the choice of the "Hollywood amoralists" (except for Ahnold) was dead meat. On election night Democrats asked how it was possible for an incumbent president to be reelected with a 3.5 million vote margin when he was mired with approval ratings that barely broke 45%, a public that had become disillusioned with a $100 billion a year war in Iraq, an economy that couldn't produce enough employment to keep pace with population growth, health care and energy costs that were skyrocketing and job-outsourcing overseas that his former economic advisor said was good for America.

Some Kerry apologists argued the case that the public didn't want to change its commander-in-chief in the midst of a war. But then, how to explain the Republican pickup of four seats in the Senate and five in the House.

The exit polls conducted on Election Day provided the answer—"moral values". More than one voter in five said that was the key issue, and most of them voted for George W. Bush. On all other major issues— the economy and jobs, health care, terrorism and the war in Iraq—the public split its vote between the two candidates, giving Kerry the nod on healthcare and Bush the advantage on terrorism. But on "moral values", the Christian right, in particular, weighed in dramatically, as Karl Rove had predicted it would if W played up his faith-based beliefs.

The voters to whom the President was appealing on the basis of religion firmly believe that one of theirs is in the White House for four more years.

The election results should cause scientists to consider their own image. In many ways, it mirrors Kerry's: elitist, arrogant, hopelessly liberal and Democratic, seemingly dismissive of religiosity and out of touch with middle America.

For a White House that is tilting right and that owes its electoral success to religious conservatives, scientists may well be viewed as the political enemy. That's bad for science and bad for the nation.

It was the right thing for scientists to get political, as the late Representative George Brown argued they should, but science, itself, should not be a partisan enterprise, as he reminded his colleagues in the House. Senators Domenici (R-NM), Alexander(R-TN), Reid (D-NV) and Bingaman (D-NM) and Representatives Hobson (R-OH), Biggert (R-IL)and Visclosky (D-IN) proved that with their unswerving support for Department of Energy's Office of Science, which against all odds posted a four percent gain in the FY 2005 appropriation.

The election is over, and it's time for building bridges: to the White House and to middle America. Too much is at stake nationally for the scientists who supported Kerry to remain in a political funk. And the President must accept the reality that science knows no partisan province.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette