Blogs > Liberty and Power > Don't Blame the Victim

Nov 6, 2004 7:10 pm

Don't Blame the Victim

Some prominent Democrats are making me very, very sorry that I was reluctantly driven to vote for Kerry. For example:

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Gay and lesbian advocates have been doing some soul-searching since President Bush's election victory, wondering if same-sex wedding marches through San Francisco and Massachusetts tipped the scales to Republicans promising to restore traditional values.

Exit polling showed"moral values'' were at the top of voters' concerns, especially in the 11 states where voters banned same-sex marriage - ballot amendments inspired by the parade of weddings.

"I think it hurt,'' said Rep. Barney Frank, an openly gay Democrat from Massachusetts, the state that set off the firestorm last November when its high court ruled that gay couples have the right to wed.

Frank is among many political observers who credit the anti-gay marriage amendments with giving the president's conservative base a reason to go to the polls in crucial battleground states like Ohio.

"It gives them a position to rally around,'' said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who once served as San Francisco's mayor. "That whole issue has been too much, too fast, too soon. People aren't ready for it.'' ...

Frank believes San Francisco's 4,000 same-sex weddings, which were later found to violate state law, were more damaging than Massachusetts' court-sanctioned nuptials.

"Obviously, we paid some price for what we did in Massachusetts,'' Frank said."I'm willing to pay a price for a real gain. I wasn't willing to pay a price for a lot of hoopla that didn't accomplish anything.''

Gee, thanks, Senator Feinstein. I look forward to Feinstein wondering, when the next celebrity rape case comes along:"Well, of course she said no and even fought back. But you still have to ask: What was she doing in his apartment after 11 P.M.? Her going there after a first date was just too much, too fast, too soon. She really should have known better." And shame on you, Barney Frank.

Bah. Fortunately, some people have the right response:

Crunching the numbers, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force denies that gay marriage alone boosted turnout among evangelical Christians in Oregon, Ohio and Michigan, the three swing states where constitutional amendments were on the ballot. Bush voters also were motivated by the president's stands on abstinence-only sex education and a ban on late term abortions, said Matthew Foreman, the group's executive director.

"It's sickening and fascinating that when one in five voters said 'moral values'' was the most important issue for them, pundits immediately equated that with gay marriage alone,'' Foreman said."To pin all of this on 'the gays' is wrong.''

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, the nation's largest gay and lesbian political action committee, noted that voters in several states Bush won, including Idaho and North Carolina, elected the first openly gay candidates to their state Legislatures. In Oregon, where an amendment banning gay marriage was passed, voters sent an openly gay judge to the Oregon Supreme Court.

To scapegoat people for having the audacity to ask for equality is outrageous,'' said Geoffrey Kors, executive director of Equality California, the state's largest gay rights lobbying group.

Kors' comment is precisely to the point. After noting (again) that I think government should get out of the marriage business altogether and that marriage should be privatized, I said (again) just a few days ago:
[F]or the foreseeable future, the state will continue to be involved in marriage. And the basic legal issue is one of simple equality: if heterosexuals can get married (and thus acquire all the state-conferred privileges and benefits that accompany marriage), there is no legitimate, rational reason to deny gays and lesbians the same right. The only objections are ones rooted in ignorance,"tradition," religious belief, and the like.

However, the battle has now been engaged -- and it has been engaged in terms of the issue of basic equality for gays before the law. In such a setting, I obviously can only come down on the side of full equality for gays, much as I still wish that the state would forbear involving itself in this area altogether. And the worst development is the great likelihood that, any day now, the President himself will come out explicitly in favor of the Federal Marriage Amendment, thus writing discrimination against an entire class of citizens into the Constitution itself. This is monstrousness of a particularly hideous order -- and it is for this reason that I have offered Bush my harshest condemnation for his pandering on this issue. ...

Since the battle has been thus engaged -- and because these are the terms on which it will be fought -- I will fight in any way I can against any Constitutional amendment of the kind so desired by these religious zealots, who would write bigotry into our founding document itself. And for me, this issue is quite apart from that of privatizing marriage.

So, with regard to the man who will undoubtedly aid the efforts of the Religious Right in this matter in any way he can -- providing he can simultaneously try to appear" compassionate," thus revealing a level of hypocrisy which is truly stunning -- I will use his own words:

Bring it on.

Let's be very clear about this. Certainly there is going to be a backlash when conflicting groups are vying for government favors; certainly there will be a backlash when gays and lesbians ask for full equality before the law. I've noted the great danger of such a backlash a number of times: here, here, and here, for example.

That is why I advocate eliminating the government's role in this realm completely (and in most other realms, as well). When the government dispenses benefits and privileges to one group but not others, of course there are going to be battles. That's why I maintain the government shouldn't be dispensing benefits and privileges in this manner in the first place.

But that is most definitely not the argument being advanced by people like Frank and Feinstein. They are big government Democrats of the first degree. And in that context, their attempts to blame the election outcome on those"uppity gays" is appalling. What are gays supposed to do? Just ask for a"little" equality, but not too much because it might upset the"normal" people? Imagine what Frank and Feinstein might have said to people who tried that argument with blacks 40 years ago. And equality is like being pregnant in a crucial respect: you either have it, or you don't. There is no such thing as a"little" equality.

A couple of recent entries from other bloggers make the Democrats' problem even clearer. Juan Cole understands the importance of"privatizing" marriage completely:"The Baptist southern presidential candidate should start a campaign to get the goddamn Federal and state governments out of the marriage business. It has to be framed that way. Marriage should be a faith-based institution and we should turn it over to the churches.". Cole goes on to advocate civil contracts: "If you succeeded in getting the government out of the marriage business, then the whole issue would collapse on the Republicans." But Garance Franke-Ruta at TAPPED goes bonkers over this. In an entry titled,"No, No, No, No, No" (okay, okay, okay, we get the point) about Cole's proposal, Franke-Ruta says:"This strikes me as one of the worst ideas I've heard in a long time and a totally counterproductive approach to the question of the hyper-politicization of the idea of gay marriage. Basically, Cole is proposing to destroy marriage as we know it in order to accommodate gay people's desire to marry. It is incomprehensible to me that such an idea would tame passions on this topic; it can only inflame them."

And there's more from Franke-Ruta:"This is exactly the kind of thing that religious conservatives have long warned gay marriage would lead to and why they are so agitated about stopping any effort to allow it. Proposing to do exactly what conservatives fear most -- abolish marriage as we know it -- in order to accommodate gay people can only make the anti–gay marriage blowback that much stronger." Appealing to"marriage as we know it" is precisely the kind of reactionary argument one might expect from a conservative Republican, which only goes to show how"traditional" many Democrats and liberals are themselves, when you hit a little too close to home. It's also a view that reveals an apparent ignorance about the history of government involvement in marriage, which is a relatively modern development. David Boaz went over all of this in a valuable article, which it appears many people haven't read even though it was published in 1997. Among other facts, Boaz notes:"In the 20th century, however, government has intruded upon the marriage contract, among many others.""Marriage as we know it" does not in fact have that long a history.

I think Kors is correct about this, as well:

Kors, of Equality California, blames Democrats for failing to campaign with its own definition of moral values.

"There was never any attempt to counter the minority, right-wing religious morality that Bush was preaching with morality about equality and being in a country that welcomes and embraces diversity and is based on freedom of religion and freedom of beliefs,'' Kors said.

In many ways, this is the same issue I raised many months ago about Kerry's hopeless position on gay marriage. Kerry concedes all the major premises of his opponents by opposing"gay marriage" but not" civil unions," and thus all his arguments are undercut from the outset. It's no way to make a moral argument -- and it's no way to win an election. (When I wrote that post, I said I wouldn't vote for Kerry because of his stance on this issue. Subsequently, my revised downward judgment of the perilous dangers represented by a second Bush administration made me conclude that I had no choice but to support Kerry, as I explained here and here.)

There is a broader point involved, too. As some of the remarks quoted above indicate, Bush's support among Religious Right voters arises from a constellation of issues, and not from demands for gay equality alone. Indeed, Bush's hardcore religious supporters proceed from an entire worldview, one that I have referred to as the apocalyptic-crusader mentality. Just yesterday, I wrote about a representative sample of this mindset, one which is profoundly disturbing in terms of its End of Times view of the Ultimate Battle Between Good and Evil. Unfortunately, this is also the approach that seems to inform much of Bush's own"thinking," with his description of the"war on terror" as a Crusade, his talk of"evildoers," and the like (all of which I discuss in that entry).

As I also pointed out, this particular religious mindset requires and demands an endless list of enemies. Right now, they focus on gays, abortion proponents, etc. (and those terrorists, of course). But if those enemies weren't available, they would find others. They have to have them, to maintain their view of themselves as victims besieged by evil on all sides -- a view which they maintain even while they control all branches of power. The fact that they cling to this view even while they increase their power's reach demonstrates how detached from reality, and from reason and facts, this perspective is. It also underscores the futility of waiting until people get"more used" to the idea of gay equality and gay marriage. If we wait for evangelical Christians to get"used to it," we'll all be dead -- and we'll have moved not one inch further along.

One final comment, to clarify certain of my remarks yesterday and to follow up on Chris Sciabarra's comments today about the role of the Religious Right in Bush's victory. I agree completely with Chris when he says:"So, in the end, I do agree with Garry Wills's suggestion that this specific cultural tendency is pre-Enlightenment, nay, anti-Enlightenment. I have argued, however, that Wills 'overstates his case,' but that does not impugn the fact that this evangelical movement is a threat to American liberty. And while it may not have guaranteed a Bush victory, Bush could never have won without the support of this constituency." Exactly.

I have documented at length the extent to which the evangelical mindset derides facts, logic and evidence. Indeed, in the already famous Ron Suskind article, one of Bush's senior advisors scornfully refers to the"reality-based community." The point I want to add is this: just as the True Believer finds enemies everywhere, among gays and lesbians who threaten him in no genuine way at all, among pro-choice advocates, and the like, so, too, the True Believer believes that Bush is the indispensable leader in the"war on terror" -- that Bush truly"understands" the nature of the enemy (which may well be true, although not in the sense they mean -- it may be true in the way only one True Believer can understand another), and that he is a"strong,"" consistent" fighter against evil.

Those of Bush's supporters who continue to believe this have to dispense with what is now a huge collection of facts contradicting the belief they cling to so desperately: they disregard the fact that Bush's methods have made"the United States ... bin Laden's only indispensable ally"; they ignore the fact that our continued occupation of Iraq creates more and more terrorists every single day and has made Iraq"the World Series of terrorism" (which consequence is about to be made exponentially worse by the complete destruction of Fallujah which is in the immediate offing); they refuse to address the fact that the Bush administration appears to have intentionally decided not to take out al-Zarqawi before the invasion of Iraq began, explicitly for the reason that it might have"undercut its case for war against Saddam"; and the list goes on and on. (I discussed many of these issues in more detail here.)

The point is that the manner of thinking in all these realms is identical: it is one fundamentally based on faith rather than on facts and evidence, and it is one driven by the underlying apocalyptic-crusader psychology, with its insatiable desire for revenge. I have discussed the ultimate sources of this psychology in my series on"The Roots of Horror."

Given the identical nature of the mindset involved, it is not a surprise that those who side with Bush on the"moral values" questions would also regard Bush as the strong, indispensable leader in the"war on terror." Such a combination is the inevitable result, and the inescapable final amalgamation. Of course, there are some people who view Bush as an admirable"leader" in the"war on terror" without subscribing to the rest of these pernicious beliefs. But there are many, many people who embody the apocalyptic-crusader mentality across the board -- and without those people, Bush would not have achieved the victory he did.

The consequences in Bush's second term, both domestically and abroad, could be truly horrific. We can only hope that countervailing forces serve to rein Bush in, at least to some extent. If they don't, we and much of the rest of the world may be in for a very frightening time. And a lot more people might be dead before it is over.

And to return to the point with which I began: people truly should not be so anxious to lay the"blame" for Bush's victory on gays, and their demand for equality before the law. The demands that gays are now making are long overdue; it's not our fault that large numbers of Americans are still the victims of prejudice and ignorance, and seek to enshrine that prejudice and ignorance in the powers of the state (and even in our Constitution). The"gay problem" didn't get Bush reelected: the Crusaders in our midst did, together with a number of other people. But without those Crusaders, Bush would be headed back to Texas -- and we would all probably be much, much safer.

(Cross-posted at The Light of Reason.)

UPDATE: Still more about these issues here, concerning" civil unions" versus"gay marriage," and why separate is not equal. And a nod to one of Roderick Long's points, as well.

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John Arthur Shaffer - 11/7/2004

It is clear that there is an enormous "faith-based" constituency that supports Bush. Whether on fighting terrorism or protecting the "sanctity" of marriage, it derives from the same core belief set - mainly fundamentalism. They identify with Bush being born again and believe me - they view Bush as being President as a direct intervention from God.

How else can you explain how nearly half the population still thinks Saddam was involved with 9/11 or that there were/are WMD in Iraq (or maybe in Syria with the help of the Russians)?

Thus, Bush didn't win the election because of the gay marriage issue alone, but because of terrorism as well. Chris is 100% right that there is a growing block of fundamentalist Christians who are much more engaged in politics than before. They don't believe in compromise and are eager to turn back the calendar to the 1950's.