NELSON: Was Kerry just premature in choosing a North Carolinian as his running mate; John Edwards, in 2004?
ROZELL: It didn’t work. Yeah, I mean the mere identity of being a southerner is not enough. If the policy positions, if the ticket is perceived politically, socially, culturally, as out of step with the values of the southern voters, it doesn’t matter that there’s a southern man on the ticket. That was a miscalculation.
NELSON: What made it a miscalculation?
ROZELL: I think the assumption that you put a southerner on the ticket, you’re going to win southern states, and it just doesn’t work that way.
NELSON: One last question, and this ties back into the [01:09:00] religion in politics area. In the ten-plus years now, since 2004, how has the Christian right’s agenda, influence, evolved? You hear a lot of talk now, about the secular voters as a growth sector, especially among younger voters, who really don’t want religion in politics. If you can just talk about how things have evolved in the subject you’ve studied.
ROZELL: Yeah, yeah, so before we went on camera, we were talking, and I had mentioned how it’s only just over a decade ago, and yet it feels so long ago, to be talking about the 2004 elections. For someone such as myself, who studies the role of the religious right and moral values in American politics, so here we are today, talking about an election campaign not that long ago, when there were ballot initiatives in 13 states, against gay marriage, [01:10:00] and these ballot initiatives passed by overwhelming majorities in every single state. So, the vast majority of Americans back then, 2004, again not that long ago, against gay marriage, right? And even going into 2008, right? Barack Obama could not come out in favor of gay marriage, and he talks about how his position is evolving. The change in American public opinion on that issue has just been so profound, so deep, and has happened so rapidly in the past several years, that we’re talking about a very different political environment in many ways, on the social and cultural issues.
I’m a father of two, a young adult, 20 years of age, and teenagers as well, they are deeply puzzled that these issues were so prominent ten years ago. If I talk about the research I did back in the ’04 [01:11:00] campaign. What’s it matter? I’ve got friends who are gay, they’re in relationships, they’re good people. You look at the generational differences on these issues and they’re profound. The younger generation, so what, these shouldn’t even be issues any more in American politics. That’s the direction we’re heading, and with generational replacement, I think there is a profound shifting going on in the electorate. So, it’s fascinating to me that merely ten years ago, our mindset in writing this book was how strong the Christian right remains as an influencer in American national politics and at the grassroots in many parts of the country, because of their ability to mobilize over the gay marriage issue, and how they were able [01:12:00] strategically, very effectively, to use that issue as a ballot measure to drive up Republican voting, and help Republican candidates across the ticket at that time. It’s not going to work that way any more, so I think the religious right movement is at a crossroads now, as an influencer in American politics. They are still deeply powerful and important within the Republican Party, and so you see Republican Party aspirants for the presidency who are saying they don’t believe in or they’re not sure about the theory of evolution. And they’re taking as strongly, or almost as stridently anti-gay marriage positions in many cases, as was the case ten years ago, because they know that white evangelical core of the Republican Party is still actively mobilized within the party and is going to make a big difference in the primaries. [01:13:00]
But ultimately, I think this is a big, big problem for the Republicans, going into general elections, the kind of positions that the candidates take in order to appeal to these constituencies who are so key to the primaries and caucuses, that will reverberate in the general election campaigns. So, are we going to go back to a period where the Republicans start signaling to the religious conservative leaders once again, back off. You know where we are on the issues you care about, but we can’t be too open about these and we have to speak a different language now, so as not to offend secular voters. I think you’re going to see Republican candidates more and more talking about, as some have already, I’ve attended a friend’s gay marriage and I have a relative who’s gay and I support that person. I still believe in the traditional family as the bedrock of American society, but [01:14:00] what some of us have called gay-bashing and opportunistic use of a hot-button issue in American politics ten years ago, to ratchet up support and fire up the base, I don’t think that’s going to be viable any more going forward. I think the rhetoric that surrounds these issues and the public presentation by candidates now has to change to reflect the profound changes that have taken place in the American electorate on these issues.
NELSON: I guess as an interesting footnote. In 2004, Vice President Cheney’s daughter openly in a same sex relationship. Both Edwards and Kerry found ways to refer to her in the debate.
ROZELL: That was terrible, yes. That was terrible on their part, yeah.
NELSON: Was that just ham-handedness on their part?
ROZELL: I think it was. I would say [01:15:00] it’s even worse if they had thought about it ahead of time and had done that, having thought about it, that it might be a good political tactic. I remember very well, Dick Cheney saying, “I am one mad father.” That resonated with people, you know you don’t touch my family.
NELSON: Even though on the face of it, Kerry and Edwards were saying oh, this shows, you know, why being tolerant of these relationships is a good thing.
ROZELL: That’s right.
NELSON: Look, even Vice President Cheney has one.
ROZELL: Yes, that’s right.
NELSON: So one issue, I think, on which he publicly disagreed with President Bush, freedom is freedom for everyone was his shorthanded way of saying same sex marriage ought to be okay.
ROZELL: That’s right.
NELSON: Nobody thinks of Cheney as being kind of the man of the future, but in 2004, on that issue, I guess he was.
ROZELL: Well, family is a powerful influencer on people’s beliefs and [01:16:00] yeah, and if it’s personal, I think that makes a big difference. In Dick Cheney’s case, as is the case with so many Americans, what changes people? That they know someone that’s a good person. You know, my next door neighbor for many years, two women in a relationship, and there was one family across the street, the father was an absentee and these ladies were taking care of the kids. These are the people who did the Easter egg roll in the neighborhood every year, the kids all got together and everybody adored these people. You know, so how can you say anything against people when you know them and they’re with your kids and they’re helping your kids, or they’re part of your family. That’s what changes people. I think over time, as I’ve been talking about the profound change in American public opinion, [01:17:00] as it becomes more clear to gay and lesbian Americans, that they can be out in the open unashamedly and feel that they have communities of support and they’re accepted, more people are having those kinds of interactions; finding out that this person I’ve known for years is gay. Again, that changes more people over time.
NELSON: So if you were to do a book now called The Values Campaign, it might have an entirely different content.
ROZELL: I think, yeah, yeah, the word values would have an entirely different meaning now, from what it did just ten years ago. Again, just remarkable to me, what a profound change we’ve gone through in just a little over a decade.
NELSON: Well, thank you so much for your gift of insight, Mark Rozell.
ROZELL: Thank you, Michael, yes, appreciate it.
Mark Rozell Interview, Center for Presidential History, Southern Methodist University, The Election of 2004 Collective Memory Project, 22 April 2015, accessed at http://cphcmp.smu.edu/2004election/mark-rozell/
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