I’ve had a nagging thought since the election about why many people vote for Republicans when they “should” vote for Democrats. In the midst of all of the pieces discussing why people whose economic interests would predispose them to vote for Democrats vote for their “values,” I almost never see violence mentioned. Many Republicans simply view violence more favorably than Democrats. This truth is so deeply embedded in the images (and self images) of both parties that it is scarely discussed.
Take, for example, the fact that John Kerry does not support the death penalty. (At some point, he backed off on that and said he would support capital punishment for some terrorists.) I thought this would be a huge political issue when Kerry was initially nominated. It turned out not to be, because the Republicans never needed to trot it out. It was obvious to everyone from Kerry’s activities post-Vietnam that he was not enthusiastic about the application of violence, so they didn’t need to tar him on the death penalty.
Just speaking for myself, I’m incredibly uncomfortable with actual violence. I play violent video games, I watch violent movies, I enjoy a good murder ballad. At the same time, war, terrorism, and the death penalty make me sick. I find the idea of beating one’s kids to be utterly repugnant. I’m an enthusiastic student of military history, and I realize that violence is sometimes the only sane response to a threat, but I still hate it. I get no pleasure from the idea of anyone dying, not even people who are completely monstrous. Even people whose deaths would undoubtedly be a good thing for everyone else in the world. It may be necessary, but I never find it pleasant.
And that puts me out of step with a big portion of the country. The truth is that some large number of people think that beating (err, spanking) your kids is completely appropriate. The news of an upcoming execution actually makes them happy. The idea of going to war gets them downright excited. These are the people who dismiss the stories of Abu Ghraib or a Marine murdering a wounded Iraqi prisoner or of a family fleeing a battlefield being gunned down at a roadblock as our soldiers just doing their best to get the job done. Think back on Ron Silver’s speech at the Republican convention. This guy, a liberal on any social issue you can name, supports President Bush simply because he thinks the answer to America’s problems is killing a lot more people.
I can remember John Kerry and John Edwards talking on the campaign trail about hunting down and destroying terrorists, as if they were going to do it themselves. I found it to be absurd, and it was obvious that it was their attempt to close the violence gap. Couldn’t be done. People know. I favored John Kerry because I knew he’d be more reticent about using violence than President Bush. It doesn’t surprise me that the people I’m talking about opposed him for exactly that reason. And I think that when you look at the number of Democrats who voted against Kerry, you’d find that they did so because he wasn’t comfortable enough with the application of violence. Bush may be incompetent, but he’s not going to err on the side of caution when it comes to killing people.