Monday, the President threw his support behind a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage, an amendment that even supporters acknowledged was doomed to fail. Sure enough, today the amendment failed to garner passage in the Senate, failing 49-48, 3 votes shy of what had been predicted. It needed 67 votes to pass. Four Republicans – including John McCain – voted against the amendment, while 2 Democrats voted for it.
What was the point then? Obviously, the ‘gay marriage card’ worked in the 2004 election, as Bush won several states – including Ohio – where such a ban was on the ballot. So Bush’s support is an attempt to recapture the magic of 2004, in a year in which Bush has seen his popularity drop to below 40 percent.
What’s lost in that perception – that the religious right carried the 2004 election, so appealing to them again is a good move – is that Bush would have lost the election handily had John Kerry found a way to differentiate himself from Bush. Kerry had no clear message – other than ‘I’m not Bush’ – and the Democratic Party chose to push issues it thought important instead of listening to voters and addressing their concerns (case in point: a meetup in the summer of 2004, in which I hosted a ‘breakout group’. I was given a list of talking points, from which attendees quickly deviated. Instead, they wanted to know about Kerry’s position on health care, and how he was going to help them get jobs. When I attempted to relate that back to the organizers, I was told that ‘wasn’t in our message. Let them read the policy statements’.)
So the gay marriage amendment is a transparent attempt by the Bush camp to focus attention away from other issues – jobs, the economy, Iraq – by drawing attention to a polarizing issue. When the Bush position was announced on Monday, the talking heads of TV were quick to pull out video of Pat Robertson’s speech at the 1992 RNC, where he declared, “President Bush (I) is on [the side of morality], and Bill Clinton is not.”
The first Bush attempted to capture the Religious Right, and ride its coattails to re-election, but it was not to be. After saying, “Read my lips – no new taxes,” and then raising taxes, Bush’s re-election bid was tied to the economy, not to religion or morals. His religious move was a failure, and he lost in November. By throwing his support behind an admittedly superfluous amendment – while more compelling problems such as identity theft, gas prices, slow economic growth and immigration – Bush runs the risk of alienating the moderates, the ones who will decide elections come November.
Clinton famously claimed ‘it’s the economy, stupid,’ while riding high to victory in 1992. Fourteen years later, and history looks ready to repeat itself. Proponents of the gay marriage ban claim that ‘marriage is under attack in this country’. But the fact is, few people care about another’s marriage, and don’t see any impact on their lives whether or not gays marry. But when gas prices rise, companies outsource, and inflation makes goods more expensive, consumers can clearly see an impact on their lives. And come November, the Republicans may very well see an impact on their hold in the House.