Why the Amendment Banning Gay Marriages Is Bad Politics for Bush

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Mr. Carpenter is a historian and syndicated columnist.

George W Bush had barely finished endorsing a constitutional ban on gay marriage before pundits, left and right, began hailing the gambit as brilliant. Not only would W's handiwork shore up his slipping base, it would attract socially conservative Democrats, woo likeminded independents, and regenerate a stumbling and besieged reelection campaign. At long last, Mr. Bush's Machiavellian machine was up, running, and firing on all cylinders.

That's what the pundits said. But the pundits are wrong. Rather than a brilliant political ploy, the White House's constitutional gimmickry served only to deepen its political troubles and spotlight its variously self-imposed predicaments.

For starters, W's show of moral strength was, in actuality, a sign of weakness. In response to widespread and gut-wrenching worries about vanishing American jobs – the electorate's number one concern, as shown in poll after poll – Bush-Cheney's opening volley was to shout “Boo!” to the already culturally frantic. Other than its tired mantra and failed panacea of more and more tax cuts, the White House hasn't a clue on what to say about joblessness. Its amendment advocacy merely emphasized that.

The White House is, of course, content to let jobs sail overseas, but it can't really say that (though it did, ever so briefly). So the best it can do is lecture Americans in classic Hoover-speak to be patient and hope things improve. That, and give His Rotund Pomposity, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, a pat on the butt as a political distraction.

It won't work. Democratic candidates have grabbed the jobs initiative, and with it, the voters' attention, which is properly fixed as well on the unalleviated crises of shrinking health care coverage, underfunded education, daily carnage in Iraq and unconscionable deficits. Oh, and then there is Alan Greenspan's suggestion that the indigent elderly should start doing more for the boys down at the yacht basin.

Demagoguing the same-sex-marriage bugaboo to the Falwell crowd – a surly bunch whose real frustration in life, one suspects, stems from lame-sex marriage – won't distract working Americans from their real problems for long.

What's more, 43's cultural kriegspiel is little more than warmed-over-41-redux-déjà vu all over again. In 1992 Papa Bush tried to placate the right and distract other social conservatives from noticing a sickly economy by playing a similar cultural-values game. The light emanating from the bomb that it was only illuminated Republican intolerance, not valid social concerns. Most Americans voted their pocketbook then, and there's little political-demographic data showing they'll do any other now. In fact, one pollster told the New York Times that research “suggests that voters are extremely cynical about the president's motives [regarding same-sex marriage].” It's the economy. The economy, ok?

Other voters – heretofore Bush supporters – are more than just cynical. They're history. Influential (and gay) columnist Andrew Sullivan, for one, has expressed outrage at Bush's tactical wedge and now vehemently opposes the president's reelection. And Log Cabin Republicans, who claim one million gays voted Bush's way in 2000, say their 2004 votes are at risk. What the White House gains from one group, it loses in others.

Last, most Americans simply dislike social engineering and especially dislike using the U.S. Constitution as a tool to accomplish it. The Constitution may be a living document, but it's not a day-by-day work in progress for cynical politicians to abuse as an opportunistic prop. (Well, Republicans don't mind. A National Annenberg Election Survey shows them favoring an amendment by 57 to 35 percent, while Democrats and Independents are opposed 57 to 34 and 52 to 37 percent, respectively.)

Despite what pundits have trumpeted with near unanimity, Bush's call for constitutionally banning gay marriage was anything but brilliant. Quite the contrary. Post-election analysis will show it to have been a shortsighted, desperate, futile and – above all – self-defeating act.

That's my prediction. Then again, I also predicted Dick Gephardt would win the Iowa caucuses.

© Copyright 2004 P. M. Carpenter

Mr. Carpenter's column is published weekly by History News Network and buzzflash.com.

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Marie Antonia Gianelli - 6/27/2007

The author's use of the term Machiavellian is an incorrect usage. Machiavelli, author of The Prince", uses the Ends Justifies the Means view only where the Good of the Nation or the Health of the State. Bush's Machine is far more self-serving than that, and certainly NOT in the Best Interest of the People of America...

Josh S Narins - 4/5/2004

"born gay": wrong. Proof: athens+sparta of old => treat women like dirt and you get dirty women and men who prefer something else

"gay marriage": You don't like gays? Get rid of your democracy[1]. source: athens+sparta of old. Personally, I'd dump "true believers in the literal word of the Bible" before homosexuals, since the Bible[2] treats women like dirt.

"crypto-statism" : I (and conservatives) say the government can't walk into Your Church and tell the Preacher who, if any, before them, can marry.

"bio-messiness": XXY, hermaphrodites, those who change of their own volition: I (and conservatives) say the government can't walk into Your Body and tell you what gender You Are, and therefore, whom you can marry.[3]

"polygamy": I think legislation distinguishing gay marriage and polygamy/polyandry is trivial, and can be summarized as "two, max", and through the tax code, they already do.

"bestiality & children": this is pure canard. neither has legal will, so can't enter a contract in any event

[1] Alan Turing, perhaps the single greatest hero of WWII
Alexander the Great

[2] Specifically the forged Pauline epistles Titus and II Timothy.

[3] I am saying it is both impossible for the government to determine whether or not someone is definitively male or female AND that it is against the conservative philosophy to make this a decision of the governments.

Josh S Narins - 4/5/2004

And stop lying about the Founders being christians.

They were deists. Jefferson wrote his own version of the Bible that edited out all that mystic crap like Angels and 1,000 year old people and stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid stuff like that.

Washington went to Church because, and for no other reason than, Church was _the_ place to meet people to get ahead.

They didn't have community centers, duh, or the Internet.

Nothing in historical revisionism disgusts me more than efforts to paint the early Americans as pious people.

MAYFLOWER = 1,000 gallons of water
MAYFLOWER = 20,000 gallons of beer

Can you blame me for being filled with hate for these people who say "Science is wrong, believe this ancient book so filled with holes, and so mistranslated, that even I don't know what it says?"

Josh S Narins - 4/5/2004

I don't hate them, but they are frustrating and evil.

Josh S Narins - 4/5/2004

My sentiments exactly. It's only a lucky break that Mormons and Muslims aren't our officil enemies at the same time.

In that case, the evils of Polygamy would vibrate through the media on a regular basis.

Vibrate, not echo. :)

Josh S Narins - 4/5/2004

I should have put the above comment below the next comment.

I'm agreeing that Mormons sure have been hassled.

Name Removed at Poster's Request - 3/8/2004

"Oh -- and another thing. You'd be hardpressed to find systematic bigotry aimed at polygamists as a class."

Again, Derek, some folks in southern Utah may disagree with you here, as well as polygamists scattered elsewhere.

"One certainly can not say the same about gays. Ours is a society that protects beleaguered and opressed minorities."

Inconsistently, and often only if they can fight back and make a lot of noise.

"No serious person can deny homophobia or vicious anti-gay bias in the history of the US. The polygamists don't have a Matthew Sheppard or a Stonewall Rebellion."

There are still people who almost completely downplay historic homophobia.

I think the Utah polygamists have had run ins with the federal government from the 1800s to the present day. I knew a young Utah man who spoke abusively to a polygamist woman who merely said hello him, so I know there is bigotry against polygamists. We don't hear much about it because there are relatively few polygamists, they are mostly scattered, and their one U.S. area of concentration is rural and far away from most people.

It's funny you mentioned Stonewall and Matthew Sheppard, Derek. The only reason anyone knows about the Stonewall bar riots was because the gay movement made a big deal about them until everyone know about them. The riots certainly didn't gain much notoriety at the time. I didn't hear about them until years after they happened. I think the best analogy to Stonewall is the Ruby Ridge siege and killings, which people mostly didn't hear about at the time, but did later due to the publicizing efforts of that part of the American Right that sees gun ownership as a right and a very important one.

Gay people have Matthew Sheppard as an issue because our national news media for its own reasons chose to give a lot of attention to his murder. He certainly wasn't the first gay person to be queer-bashed to death. Anyway, Stonewall and Matthew Sheppard would not be rallying points if they hadn't been publicized, by decades of mass movement action in one case and corporate news media muscle on the other. A small aggrieved group may not have the mass presence or the media sympathy to get the abuses to its people in front of the public.

These are quibbles, Derek, and not disagreements with your general direction. While I think the rights of polygamists perhaps need to be considered and some laws revised, their issues are different due to the complexities of divvying up taxes and insurance benefits among more than two adults. Of course we know what David is doing here, a mild alternative to analogizing gay people to bestialists and child molesters.

Name Removed at Poster's Request - 3/8/2004

"Sexuality is genetic, polygamy is behavioral."

If sexuality were solely genetic, there would be no exclusively homosexual people other than rare mutations that would snuff out in the next generation.

I prefer the more sophisticated view of sexuality one heard during the 1970s, that sexuality was "set" at around age 4, thru processes not well understood.

"Gays are a particular class of people, polygamists are not."

Some folks in southern Utah might argue with you here. Anyway, sexuality is both a state of being and behavioral. And it doesn't matter if someone is "born that way" or not: our system of government also (at least in theory) protects religious people and holders of unpopular political opinions, which are behavioral classes and not genetic or ingrained ones.

"If the goal is to protect marriage, David, are you arguing to include polygamy? I am not sure why you keep bringing this up, as it is a vacuous analogy"....

It certainly is. The best analogy would be to heterosexual couples who are unwilling or biologically unable to have children.

Derek Charles Catsam - 3/7/2004

Oh -- and another thing. You'd be hardpressed to fi9nd systematic bigotry aimed at polygamists as a class. One certainly can not say the same about gays. Ours is a society that protects beleaguered and opressed minorities. No serious person can deny homophobia or vicious anti-gay bias in the history of the US. The polygamists don't have a Matthew Sheppard or a Stonewall Rebellion.

Dan A Fox - 3/6/2004

I agree with David. Polygamists are very different than gays. Anyway the issue at hand is Same Sex Marriage. Throwing another issue into the works will confuse the issue, thus adding more muck. As I understand it (I am generalizing a bit) the nation is split based on religion, and religion should stay out of politics.

Derek Charles Catsam - 3/6/2004

David --
Sexuality is genetic, polygamy is behavioral. Gays are a particular class of people, polygamists are not. If the goal is to protect marriage, David, are you arguing to include polygamy? I am not sure why you keep bringing this up, as it is a vacuous analogy,akin to those you and I have fought against when people compare Apartheid to Israel.

David C Battle - 3/5/2004

What about polygamists. Will somebody PLEASE answer that question?

Dan A Fox - 3/5/2004

The issue of same sex marriages is not the issue. This is a smoke screen. What the conservatives are really wanting to say is that gays are wrong in their lifestyle. The gay marriage issue is something easier to target.
1) I believe Bush (this time) is speaking from his heart.
2) This issue should have nothing to do with any state or federal law. In general laws are designed to protect. I do not see a victim. The only victim appears to be one's beliefs. I cannot expect or should I expect most conservatives to come over the gay marriage issue, but I can hope we can come together to treat these people like AMERICANS instead if crinminals. Basically your religious beliefs should be removed from these issues. We have a separation of church & state.
By the way, I am not gay, but everyone should have an equal right to all American wrights - including marriage.