God, gays lose thunder among US voter concerns
US elections have long been fought, and at times won, on the culture wars battlefield where issues such as religion or gay rights outflank concerns over the economy or foreign policy.
But as Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain For McCain's grandfather and father, see John S. McCain, Sr. and John S. McCain, Jr., respectively
John Sidney McCain III (born August 29, 1936 in Panama Canal Zone) is an American politician, war veteran, and currently the Republican Senior U.S. Senator from Arizona. slug it out in the final weeks of campaigning before the November 4 vote, such hot-button topics have made little headway with an electorate focused on the global financial crisis and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Even before the economic crisis burst into flames, the culture wars were very muted," said Allan Lichtman Allan Jay Lichtman (born April 4, 1947) is an American political historian who teaches at American University in Washington, D.C.. He ran in the 2006 Maryland senate race for the seat vacated by Paul Sarbanes. , a history professor at American University American University, at Washington, D.C.; United Methodist; founded by Bishop J. F. Hurst, chartered 1893, opened in 1914. It was at first a graduate school; an undergraduate college was opened in 1925. Programs provide for student research at many government institutions. .
Neither candidate has focused much on social issues like abortion, gay rights or sex education, which stir emotions on both sides of the political spectrum.
Until, that is, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin Sarah Louise Heath Palin (born February 11 1964 in Sandpoint, Idaho) is the current Governor of Alaska. She is the youngest governor in Alaskan history (forty-two years old upon taking office), as well as the first woman to hold the office in Alaska. , a pro-life, evangelical Christian, was tapped by McCain to be his running mate running mate
1. The candidate or nominee for the lesser of two closely associated political offices.
2. A companion.
3. A horse used to set the pace in a race for another horse. , electrifying e·lec·tri·fy
tr.v. e·lec·tri·fied, e·lec·tri·fy·ing, e·lec·tri·fies
1. To produce electric charge on or in (a conductor).
a. a Republican base electorate of angry Christians.
"The Christian resentful base feel the country is not going their way," said Todd Gitlin Todd Gitlin (born 1943) is an American sociologist, political writer, novelist, and cultural commentator. He has written widely on the mass media, politics, intellectual life and the arts, for both popular and scholarly publications. , a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University Columbia University, mainly in New York City; founded 1754 as King's College by grant of King George II; first college in New York City, fifth oldest in the United States; one of the eight Ivy League institutions. in New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of .
"It's becoming less white, more educated, the white working class is shrinking, the white middle class is embattled. It's not quite looking like their world any more," he said.
The choice of Palin, who is also a self-proclaimed enemy of corruption and the cosmopolitan elite, instantly resonated with this base.
And in the days after she accepted the vice presidential nomination in September, McCain surged past Obama in the polls.
But not even Palin has made abortion an issue in the campaign and "caved in and said she favored same-sex civil unions" when the sole question on moral issues was posed during a vice presidential debate last week, Lichtman said.
Culture wars had been a fixture in US presidential elections since the 1960s, used mainly by Republicans.
Many analysts say George W. Bush was returned to the White House in 2004 thanks in part to an outpouring of support from evangelical Christians This is a list of people who are notable due to their influence on the popularity or development of evangelical Christianity or for their professed Evangelicalism.
But neither McCain and Obama is an "obvious player in the usual, discreet culture war issues in Washington," said Yuval Levin, a fellow at conservative think-tank the Ethics and Public Policy Center The Ethics and Public Policy Center is a conservative think tank located in Washington, D.C..
The Center's stated goal is to "apply the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy."  It was established in 1976 by Ernest W. Lefever. .
Side-stepping abortion and gay rights, Republicans have instead focused on patriotism and a distrust of the elite to try to unite voters behind their ticket.
"Sarah Palin ... was the one who mobilized small towns against elites, against big city slickers, against cosmopolitans," said Gitlin.
Even the US economic meltdown is now being framed as working Americans against rich speculators, with constant references to Main Street versus Wall Street, said Gitlin.
"This is a recasting of the problem in demonization de·mon·ize
tr.v. de·mon·ized, de·mon·iz·ing, de·mon·iz·es
1. To turn into or as if into a demon.
2. To possess by or as if by a demon.
3. terms," he said.
After criticizing Obama -- the first African-American presidential nominee of a major party -- as a pompous pop-star style celebrity, capable only of windy rhetoric, the Republicans have shifted tactics.
Palin launched a new attack on Obama this week, telling voters he "pals around with terrorists" in reference to an early association between the Illinois senator and Bill Ayers, a founding member of the violent 1960s anti-war group Weather Underground.
"This was a version of cruder arguments that we heard earlier: that he's a Muslim, that his middle name is Hussein and that implies foreign loyalties," Lichtman said.
The aim of the terrorist jibe on the Republican side is to bolster support from the Christian resentful base, as Gitlin describes them.
"The terrorist accusation says to them that Obama is an alien, he's not like us, he doesn't have our values, he's an outlander," said Gitlin.
"By implication, he doesn't look like us or sound like us. He's uppity and dangerous. He doesn't put country first," he said.
"But I was always expecting the McCain campaign to end this way ... the country really is disabused of Republican rule and there wasn't much for McCain to run on."
Levin predicted the Republicans would continue the full frontal attack on Obama's elitist e·lit·ism or é·lit·ism
1. The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources. image in a bid to stoke the fires of a new culture war.
"Obama is a cultural elitist," charged Levin. "He almost lost the primaries when Hillary Clinton discovered this weakness of his and transformed herself into a beer-chugging, smoking, bowling steelworker."
Playing on the elitist charge could be a powerful weapon and help Republicans sway last-minute voters, he wagered.
But Lichtman was unconvinced, saying the legacy of Republican President Bush would weigh too heavily on the McCain campaign.
"If you hired a plumber and that plumber broke your pipes and flooded your basement, you're not going to hire that company again."