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June 6, 2006
When He's Right ...

Unfortunately, E.J. Dionne paints a fairly accurate picture in his column today regarding the sudden reappearance of the Marriage Protection Act. While Bush has always supported the traditional definition of marriage, he has not pursued the Constitutional option with much vigor until his polling numbers showed significant erosion among his base. Suddenly, the MPA has received front-burner status:

This month's offensive by President Bush and his allies in Congress against gay marriage and flag burning proves one thing: The Republican Party thinks its base of social conservatives is a nest of dummies who have no memories and respond like bulls whenever red flags are waved in their faces.

The people who should be angry this week are not liberals or gays or lesbians, but the president's most loyal supporters. After using the gay-marriage issue shamelessly in the 2004 campaign, Bush and Republican leaders left opponents of gay marriage out in the cold as they concentrated on the party's real priorities: privatizing Social Security and cutting taxes on rich people.

When Bush was at his position of maximum strength after the 2004 election, did he use his political energy on behalf of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage? Not at all. In an interview with The Post on Jan. 14, 2005, he dismissed the question, arguing that since many senators felt that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was already an effective bar to the spread of gay marital unions, there was no point in fighting for a constitutional change.

"Senators have made it clear that so long as DOMA is deemed constitutional, nothing will happen," Bush said then. "I'd take their admonition seriously."

Dionne accurately notes that gay marriage disappeared off the radar screen after the 2004 elections. That omission also got noted here at CQ contemporaneously, although I found another omission much more problematic: illegal immigration. At the time, I wondered what the Senate GOP caucus was thinking when they drew up that list of priorities. Rick Santorum attempted to explain the exclusion of illegal immigration from the focus issues by declaring that the Senate had "no consensus" on the best policy to pursue.

Obviously, the demands from conservatives and the White House (working at cross purposes) pushed immigration back onto the list, regardless of consensus. If that was the reason why the GOP put off immigration, then tackling gay marriage makes no sense at all, except as a cheap political stunt, as Dionne describes. Not only does a consensus not exist for two-thirds support of this amendment, it doesn't even exist among the GOP caucus. DOMA has not yet been fully tested in the courts, and with the new additions showing more deference to the legislature rather than themselves as policymakers, the prospects for its survival do not look particularly grim.

So why now? Because the fight on immigration has weakened the White House in the run-up to the midterms. In that sense, I give the White House full marks for courage, just as I did with Social Security reform last year. Bush has stuck to his guns on his vision for immigration reform, even when a good chunk of his party disagrees with him so fundamentally, and he has not dodged the fight at all. In fact, he probably would have been smarter to do immigration reform last year and had this well behind him, and saved Social Security reform for this year. On the whole, he would have done less damage to Republican election prospects.

This will do nothing to improve his standing among his base. Most of them gave up on any real attempt at marriage "protection" last year, when the Senate agenda was released. The lack of action over the last eighteen months also spoke volumes about the commitment to this cause from the White House. Some may get excited by the debate, but even for the supporters of such an initiative, this will be seen as an empty political gesture and nothing more.

I disagree strongly with E.J. on the death tax, a ghoulish double-dip by the government on assets already subject to taxation during the decedent's life, as well as privatizing Social Security. It's hard to disagree with him on the baldly partisan and completely superfluous effort expended on the MPA. Let's use this energy to get judges seated and border walls built instead.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 6, 2006 6:21 AM

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» Senate Rejects MPA; Debate Should Continue from Gay Patriot
WIth a 49-48 vote to close debate on the Marriage Protection Amendment in the Senate, the Senate effectively defeated this amendment. Falling 11 votes short of the 60 needed for cloture, there will not be an up-or-down vote on the issue. Republicans ... [Read More]

Tracked on June 7, 2006 12:34 PM


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