Bush, Babies, and Bigotry
Below is a copy of an opinion piece by New York Times columnist, Frank Rich. Frank makes some excellent points. Could the tide be turning?
The New York Times:
COLUMN: Mary Cheney's Bundle of Joy
By Frank Rich
IT'S not the least of John McCain's political talents that he comes across as a paragon of straight talk even when he isn't talking straight. So it was a surprise to see him reduced to near-stammering on ABC's `'This Week'' two Sundays after the election. The subject that brought him low was the elephant in the elephants' room, or perhaps we should say in their closet: homosexuality.
Senator McCain is no bigot, and his only goal was to change the subject as quickly as possible. He kept repeating two safe talking points for dear life: he opposes same-sex marriage (as does every major presidential aspirant in both parties) and he is opposed to discrimination. But because he had endorsed a broadly written Arizona ballot initiative that could have been used to discriminate against unmarried domestic partners, George Stephanopoulos wouldn't let him off the hook.
`'Are you against civil unions for gay couples?'' he asked the senator, who replied, `'No, I'm not.'' When Mr. Stephanopoulos reiterated the question seconds later—`'So you're for civil unions?''—Mr. McCain answered, `'No.'' In other words, he was not against civil unions before he was against them. His gaffe was reminiscent of a similar appearance on Mr. Stephanopoulos's show in 2004 by Bill Frist, a Harvard-trained doctor who refused to criticize a federal abstinence program that catered to the religious right by spreading the canard that sweat and tears could transmit AIDS.
Senator Frist is now a lame duck, and his brand of pandering, typified by his errant upbeat diagnosis of the brain-dead Terri Schiavo's condition, is following him to political Valhalla. The 2006 midterms left Karl Rove's supposedly foolproof playbook in tatters. It was hard for the Republicans to deal the gay card one more time after the Mark Foley and Ted Haggard scandals revealed that today's conservative hierarchy is much like Roy Cohn's milieu in `'Angels in America,'' minus the wit and pathos.
This time around, ballot initiatives banning same-sex marriage drew markedly less support than in 2004; the draconian one endorsed by Mr. McCain in Arizona was voted down altogether. Two national politicians who had kowtowed egregiously to their party's fringe, Rick Santorum and George Allen, were defeated, joining their ideological fellow travelers Tom DeLay and Ralph Reed in the political junkyard. To further confirm the inexorable march of social history, the only Christmas season miracle to lift the beleaguered Bush administration this year has been the announcement that Mary Cheney, the vice president's gay daughter, is pregnant. Her growing family is the living rejoinder to those in her father's party who would relegate gay American couples and their children to second-class legal or human status.
Yet not even these political realities have entirely broken the knee-jerk habit of some 2008 Republican presidential hopefuls to woo homophobes. Mitt Romney, the Republican Massachusetts governor, was caught in yet another embarrassing example of his party's hypocrisy last week. In a newly unearthed letter courting the gay Log Cabin Republicans during his unsuccessful 1994 Senate race, he promised to `'do better'' than even Ted Kennedy in making `'equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern.'' Given that Mr. Romney has been making opposition to same-sex marriage his political calling card this year, his ideological bisexuality looks as foolish in its G-rated way as that of Mr. Haggard, the evangelical leader who was caught keeping time with a male prostitute.
There's no evidence that Mr. Romney's rightward move on gay civil rights and abortion (about which he acknowledges his flip-flop) has helped him politically. Or that Mr. McCain has benefited from a similar sea change that has taken him from accurately labeling Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson `'agents of intolerance'' in 2000 to appearing at Mr. Falwell's Liberty University this year. A Washington Post-ABC News poll last week found that among Republican voters, Rudy Giuliani, an unabashed liberal on gay civil rights and abortion, leads Mr. McCain 34 percent to 26 percent. Mr. Romney brought up the rear, at 5 percent. That does, however, put him nominally ahead of another presidential wannabe, the religious-right favorite Sam Brownback, who has held up a federal judicial nomination in the Senate because the nominee had attended a lesbian neighbor's commitment ceremony.
For those who are cheered by seeing the Rovian politics of wedge issues start to fade, the good news does not end with the growing evidence that gay-baiting may do candidates who traffic in it more harm than good. It's not only centrist American voters of both parties who reject divisive demagoguery but also conservative evangelicals themselves. Some of them are at last standing up to the extremists in their own camp.
No one more dramatically so, perhaps, than Rick Warren, the Orange County, Calif., megachurch leader and best-selling author of `'The Purpose Driven Life.'' He has adopted AIDS in Africa as a signature crusade, and invited Barack Obama to join the usual suspects, including Senator Brownback, to address his World AIDS Day conference on the issue. This prompted predictable outrage from the right because of Mr. Obama's liberal politics, especially on abortion. One radio host, Kevin McCullough, demonized the Democrat for pursuing `'inhumane, sick and sinister evil'' as a legislator. An open letter sponsored by 18 `'pro-life'' groups protested the invitation, also citing Mr. Obama's `'evil.'' But Mr. Warren didn't blink.
Among those defending the invitation was David Kuo, the former deputy director of the Bush White House's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. In a book, `'Tempting Faith,'' as well as in interviews and on his blog, the heretical Mr. Kuo has become a tough conservative critic of the corruption of religion by politicians and religious-right leaders who are guilty of `'taking Jesus and reducing him to some precinct captain, to some get-out-the-vote guy.'' Of those `'family'' groups who criticized Mr. Obama's appearance at the AIDS conference, Mr. Kuo wrote, `'Are they so blind and possessed with such a narrow definition of life that they can think of life only in utero?'' The answer, of course, is yes. The Christian Coalition parted ways with its new president-elect, a Florida megachurch pastor, Joel Hunter, after he announced that he would take on bigger issues like poverty and global warming.
But it is leaders like Mr. Hunter and Mr. Warren who are in ascendance. Even the Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs at Mr. Haggard's former perch, the National Association of Evangelicals, has joined a number of his peers in taking up the cause of the environment, putting him at odds with the Bush administration. Such religious leaders may not have given up their opposition to abortion or gay marriage, but they have more pressing priorities. They seem to have figured out, as Mr. Kuo has said, that `'politicians use Christian voters for their money and for their votes'' and give them little in return except a reputation for bigotry and heartless opposition to the lifesaving potential of stem-cell research.
The axis of family jihadis—Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the American Family Association—is feeling the heat; its positions get more extreme by the day. A Concerned Women for America mouthpiece called Mary Cheney's pregnancy `'unconscionable,'' condemning her for having `'injured her child'' and `'acted in a way that denies everything that the Bush administration has worked for.'' (That last statement, thankfully, is true.) This overkill reeks of desperation. So does these zealots' recent assault on the supposedly feminizing `'medical'' properties of soy baby formula (which deserves the `'blame for today's rise in homosexuality,'' according to the chairman of Megashift Ministries), and penguins.
Yes, penguins. These fine birds have now joined the Teletubbies and SpongeBob SquarePants in the pantheon of cuddly secret agents for `'the gay agenda.'' Schools are being forced to defend `'And Tango Makes Three,'' an acclaimed children's picture book based on the true story of two Central Park Zoo male penguins who adopted a chick from a fertilized egg. The hit penguin movie `'Happy Feet'' has been outed for an `'anti-religious bias'' and its `'endorsement of gay identity'' by Michael Medved, the commentator who sets the tone for the religious right's strictly enforced code of cultural political correctness.
Such censoriousness is increasingly the stuff of comedy. So are politicians of all stripes who advertise their faith. A liberal like Howard Dean is no more credible talking about the Bible (during the 2004 campaign he said his favorite book in the New Testament was Job) than twice-married candidates like Mr. McCain are persuasive at pledging allegiance to `'the sanctity of marriage.''
For all the skeptical theories about the Obama boomlet—or real boom, we don't know yet—no one doubts that his language about faith is his own, not a crib sheet provided by a conservative evangelical preacher or a liberal political consultant on `'values.'' That's why a Democrat from Chicago whose voting record is to the left of Hillary Clinton's received the same standing ovation from the thousands at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church that he did from his own party's throngs in New Hampshire. After a quarter-century of watching politicians from both parties exploit religion for partisan and often mean-spirited political gain, voters on all sides of this country's culture wars are finally in the market for something new.