This year Democrats’ arguments on values were heard. This was a “values” election as strident as the ones from culture wars past in which Christians marched against subsidies for Mapplethorpe, creationists vied for seats on Kansas school boards, and William Bennett demanded to know where the outrage was. What was different about this year’s culture war is that Republicans lost it. They ran a campaign without any of the abrasive stuff Frank disapproved of. Their presidential candidate lost himself in theories about what motivates “job creators.” Certain senatorial candidates did try to raise cultural issues. Those in Missouri and Indiana showed themselves out of practice.
The values were different, but structurally the outcome was the same one that we have seen decade after decade. Where two candidates argue over values, the public may prefer one to the other. But where only one candidate has values, he wins, whatever those values happen to be.
Barack Obama has a core moral belief about abortion. It is that women should always be able to get one. Mitt Romney’s views on abortion are roughly those of the old Groucho Marx declaration: “These are my principles, and if you don’t like them . . . well, I have others.” President Obama has a core moral belief about gay marriage, too. He supports it. His May interview on ABC in which he announced his rallying to the cause was a liberation. He had stacked his Justice Department with pro-gay-marriage litigators. He had announced, along with Eric Holder, that he would not defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act. He had grown dependent on donors who cared about gay marriage a great deal. To have claimed to defend traditional marriage would have exposed him to accusations of hypocrisy. At least in theory—there was, in retrospect, little danger that the Romney campaign would bring such things up in practice.