Recent polls suggest that American's antipathy to same-sex marriage is fading
, continuing a historic trend toward acceptance of the idea that gays and lesbians should enjoy the same rights and responsibilities of citizenship as straights.
Not that this has made much impression on President Bush or the Republican leadership, nationally or in Wisconsin.
The answer lies in the cold political calculus of this fall's midterm elections.
The Republican Party is in deep trouble, and everyone knows it. The President's approval rating has plummeted to historic lows, but the drop has been particularly acute among "the base" -- conservative, white, Christians. Among that subgroup of the electorate, the President's approval ratings have dropped 22%, and the Republicans know that without "the base", the party cannot and will not prevail in close contests.
So it is no surprise that the Republicans trotted out the "Protect Marriage Amendment" in the Senate earlier this month, and that the President went on the hustings, endorsing an amendment that had no chance of passing in order to shore up his flagging support among evangelicals.
The President may have said "You are here because you strongly support a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as a union of a man and a woman, and I am proud to stand with you.
", but what he meant was "You are here because I need your votes to win in the midterm elections, and I'll say and do anything to appease you.
Lest there be any doubt about the President's cynicism, Newsweek reported that a friend of the family said that the President's latest version of "Mission Accomplished" was "purely political. I don't think he gives a shit about it.
And that's no surprise, either. I suspect that there are
a few Republican politicians who do
give a shit about it, but most don't. Even Rick Santorum cheerfully volunteers that his gay communications director is "a trusted friend confidente [sic] to me and my family
..." while spouting the ugly anti-gay rhetoric of social conservatism.
All of this is transparent, and all of this is part of a historic pattern among Republicans. In fact, the last time the country fought a battle over "traditional marriage" -- racists attempting to uphold state bans on interracial marriage during the civil rights era -- the political landscape was strikingly similar to the political landscape today.
At that time, sixteen states had laws on the books outlawing interracial marriage and 70& of Americans opposed interracial marriage.
As the President unwittingly observed, it is deja vu, all over again: "Nineteen states have held referendums to amend their state constitutions to protect the traditional definition of marriage, In every case, the amendments were approved by decisive majorities, with an average of seventy-one percent.
Sound familiar? If you are old enough, it will.
And here's something else that will sound familiar if you are old enough to remember the civil rights era: "Unfortunately, this consensus is being undermined by activist judges and local officials who have made an aggressive attempt to redefine marriage.
Been there and done that. The President ought to be ashamed of himself, assuming that he has the capacity to be ashamed of himself.
The Republican "Southern Strategy" was born of race-baiting and turned to gay-baiting when "nigger, nigger" no longer got white, conservative Christian blood flowing enough to ensure a high turnout.
The Republican shift from race-baiting to gay-baiting came in 1984 -- appropriately -- when Senator Jesse Helms, discovering that "nigger, nigger" no longer had much traction, even in North Carolina, characterized his campaign as a struggle between "the patriotic" and "the homosexuals".
Helms won big, and the die was cast. Gay-baiting has been the centerpiece of Republican politics ever since.
So it should come as no surprise that the President cynically uses irrational antipathy toward gays and lesbians for a few political percentage points.
The President may not "give a shit", but that hasn't stopped him from gay-baiting for political advantage. The President and his operatives have been gay-baiting throughout his political career.
In his 1994 race to unseat Ann Richards, the President was aided by a Karl Rove whisper campaign implying that Richards was a bit too close with gay and lesbian staffer. In the 2000 Presidential primary in South Carolina, John McCain was knocked out of the running by a fithly combination of race-baiting -- rumors that his daughter was black -- and gay-baiting -- plastering the state with a cover of a GLBT magazine that endorsed McCain. Senator McCain -- a war hero -- was a real threat to the President's primary chances in South Carolina, and the political operatives pulled out all the stops to remove the threat, then and there. And we all know about the election of 2004, when Karl Rove developed a strategy to boost white, conservative Christian turnout by engineering ballot amendments to ban same-sex marriage in battleground states.
And so it will be this year, in Wisconsin and in a number of other states where Republicans are in tight races.
In the long run, of course, "faggot, faggot" will prove as unsuccessful as "nigger, nigger", if for no other reason than that the raw bigotry of the effort has brought gays and lesbians out of the closet in droves, and reasonable, sensible straight folk are having to confront the fact that it is their neighbors
that the Republicans are talking about.
The only question is whether it will work this election cycle.