White House Politics-First Strategy: Be a Divider, Not a Uniter

For months, leaders of right-wing organizations have been clamoring for President Bush to move more aggressively to promote a constitutional amendment that would prevent states like Massachusetts from ending discrimination against same-sex couples seeking to get married. Religious Right groups have vowed to make opposition to marriage equality the top social issue in the 2004 elections and have suggested that if Bush’s political strategists want an energized right-wing voter base, the White House must campaign hard for a constitutional amendment.

They also hope it will prove divisive among moderate and progressive Americans. In October, a Newhouse News story reported that Republican pollster Richard Wirthlin had written a memo calling a federal marriage amendment “an ideal wedge issue” that “if handled properly can work very much to the advantage of Republican candidates, if it gains some visibility prior to the 2004 election.” Wirthlin said the amendment could be used to move some African American voters away from support for Democratic candidates.

Cynthia Tucker, editorial page editor for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, recently wrote a Baltimore Sun column on the Massachusetts high court’s Goodridge decision:

    That ruling allowed Mr. Rove, President Bush’s political handler, to change the subject. He didn’t want to go into the presidential campaign talking about the issues that matter most in the life of the republic: the failure to find WMD in Iraq, the gargantuan (and growing) budget deficit, millions of lost jobs. Mr. Rove didn’t want Mr. Bush to have to defend his decisions on the environment, his pandering to big business, his knee-jerk allegiance to the wealthy. On those issues, he is vulnerable.

    So Mr. Rove badly needed a distraction – a surefire appeal to voters’ baser instincts. And he found it with the Massachusetts ruling....Gay marriage doesn’t affect the household income of the average voter or his children’s chances for getting into good colleges. It doesn’t outsource jobs to India. And it doesn’t contribute to the decline of heterosexual marriage. (We haven’t needed any help with that.)

    But it does stir the blood and cloud the judgment of many Americans, persuading them to vote for the candidate who pledges to protect them from it.

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