Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Hopeful and Decent

Karl Rove told Fox News Sunday, “If we want to have a hopeful and decent society, we ought to aim for the ideal, and the ideal is that marriage ought to be, and should be, a union of a man and a woman.”

Consider this the first shot in what will be the second attempt to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage. In spite of the fact that eleven states voted last week to ban same-sex unions in some form or another, Mr. Rove plans to make a federal case out of it.

I am willing to hazard a guess that Karl Rove really doesn’t care all that much about whether or not gays and lesbians have the right to get married, but he works for people who do and he knows what he wants in terms of getting power and holding on to it. Nothing in his history indicates that he has any more of a grasp on so-called “moral values” than your average street thug, but he does know what sells, he knows how to literally scare the bejesus into people, and he will never miss an opportunity to exploit a weakness. So let us give him his due for the job he pulled off last week and let us learn from it.

Matthew Yglesias in TAPPED says that the Democrats now have an advantage as a marginalized opposition party. He was writing about the Republicans and the economic issues such as letting them bear the burden of reforming the tax code, fixing Social Security, reducing the deficit, and so on. Well, the same is true on issues such as abortion rights and gay marriage. The Republicans have sided with the evangelicals on those issues, and so they must now ride that donkey into town. They will push for judges to overturn Roe v. Wade. They will push the Federal Marriage Amendment. They will push for school prayer and creationism. The Democrats, if they have any sense, will let them shriek and wail about the decay of the nation’s moral fiber and have their hissy-fits over Janet Jackson. But when it comes time to actually vote on their Taliban 2.0 ideas, the GOP will find they cannot get any further than they have in the last thirty years. Yes, the voters last week considered “moral values” to be very important, but no one has really said what those values are, and the majority of voters – 60% by some polling – are in favor of allowing equal rights for gay couples and some form of civil unions. And one of those was President Bush…if what he said in the closing days of the campaign can be believed.

And let’s not be cowed into believing that all of the Republicans fall under the thrall of the Religious Reich. James Dobson may have it in for Arlen Specter, but he doesn’t speak for the likes of Lincoln Chaffee or other moderate Republicans, and the more Dr. Dobson speaks in thunderous tones, the more likely there will be additions to the James Jeffords caucus.

The Democrats can’t sit by and hope the Republicans will self-destruct. Not with Karl Rove on hand. But with their position secure as the opposition (as opposed to the obstructers), they can put forward plans that are reasoned and well-crafted. The likelihood of them passing, as Mr. Yglesias notes, is nil, but that is not the point – the Democrats will have presented themselves not as the Party of No but the Party of Sanity. They can put forward candidates in every race to counter the wild-eyed and enraptured. For every Tom Coburn, the newly-minted whack-job senator from Oklahoma, they can put forward a Barack Obama. For every lazy incumbent pork-laden congressman like Phil Crane from Illinois they can run a Melissa Bean, and they can continue to find people like that out there who are willing to do it. For the first time in a very long time, the losing party in the presidential race is solvent. George Bush may think he has political capital, but the Democrats have the real stuff – money – and they can make their voices heard. They can speak out against this push to the Right by showing that these attempts to legislate the morals of the country are little more than codifications of bigotry, ignorance and medievalism, and that a “hopeful and decent society” does not survive under theocratic or one-party rule.