"We the people" voted Tuesday in a way that may redefine for decades who "we the people" are and what authority we have.
President Bush won because "moral issues" were more important than any others for one-fifth of the voters, and the president won that fifth by at least a 4-to-1 majority. To put it another way, Sen. Kerry probably received about 56 percent of the vote from people most concerned with foreign policy or economic issues, the traditional subjects for presidential campaigns.
Chief among the moral issues is the matter of life and death called abortion. Although that horror did not by name play a large part in the campaign, when it did come up it seems to have worked once again to the advantage of pro-life candidates and the detriment of those who are ready to exclude the weakest among us, unborn children, from being part of "we the people."
Marriage is another moral issue: In 11 of 11 states, including liberal Oregon, voters by generally huge majorities declared their belief that it should be between a man and a woman. "We the people" clearly are unwilling to bow before the preferences of "we the judges" -- and if some judges don't back off from arrogantly trying to write their beliefs into law, their authority is likely to be circumscribed one way or another.
In fact, with the Senate strengthened by the addition of Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint, Mel Martinez and John Thune, next year would be a good time to push for a constitutional amendment that would restrain judicial authority on the sanctity of life and marriage. We're much better off trusting "we the people" than our overreaching judicial overseers.
Another moral issue for many Christians, as it should be for all, is the plight of the poor and the way they should be helped by the affluent. The welfare state failed because it excludes poor individuals from "we the people" by asserting that they are like pets: Put food in their bowls, but don't expect them to act as responsible adults capable of giving as well as taking.
The Bush faith-based initiative became controversial because it asserted that the poor are full human beings with spiritual, as well as material, needs. It stated that those who want to help the poor are also part of "we the people" and should not be forced to act like mere materialists when offering aid and hope. With this moral ratification of President Bush's goals by a crucial segment of voters, the initiative should gain new life.
This election also showed the success of the American experiment in having "we the people" encompass a variety of religious groups. John Kerry's Catholicism was a campaign issue only in that it was nominal and seemed to represent packaging rather than personal belief. Evangelicals generally expressed concern not that he was too Catholic, but that he wasn't Catholic enough.
Democrats now are pondering their next steps. They're already saying about John Kerry and John Edwards, "Off with their heads" (or at least their hair). But the Democratic problem is not personnel or tactics, it's mission drift. Democrats have become the autocratic party, arguing that moral issues should be decided by judges, officials or panels of bioethicists. Now it's up to George W. Bush to push hard for decentralizing measures -- school vouchers, poverty-fighting tax credits -- that will give more authority to "we the people."
To help in this process, Christian conservatives need to push hard on educational, judicial and poverty-fighting issues. In 2001, for example, the first eight months of the faith-based initiative were largely wasted because the White House tried to placate the left rather than move forward vigorously. School vouchers also lost out as Ted Kennedy had his way. Those mistakes should not be repeated.