Perhaps the most galling thing about last night’s catastrophe was the news that higher turnout ultimately benefited the right, and what drove the turnout, the top issue for a majority of Bush voters polled, was “moral values.”

In this context, “moral values” is code for “being freaked out about gay people getting married,” though most in the media don’t have the balls to say it.  Nearly a dozen states had initiatives banning gay marriage on the ballot, and the social conservatives turned out in force.

In our current political world, “moral values” has come to mean homosexuality, abortion, and professions of religious faith.  In other words, when we talk about morality we talk almost exclusively about private behavior.  How did this happen?It cannot be overstated how much this state of affairs benefits the right. They receive the most votes from precisely those areas of the country that are most hurt by their policies, and they get them by exploiting these moral wedge issues. (Tom Frank is all over this.) Of course, no powerful monied interests are threatened by largely symbolic government gestures on this front (except, perhaps, big entertainment companies fined by the FCC for showing boobs), so the big industry flaks who run the Republican party are more than happy to talk a great game about them. It’s no skin off their backs.

But are policies that lead to more expensive healthcare, fewer and worse jobs, deaths in foreign wars, and — ahem — polluted air and water not moral issues? Are our collective decisions, as expressed in economic and environmental policy, not measured by moral standards?  I understand why the powerful interests who benefit from these policies don’t want them discussed this way, but why do so many voters fall for it?

What is more a threat to our health and welfare — mercury in our fish or married gay neighbors down the block?

I just don’t get it.