Social Issues Polarization and Politics

There is a similarity in the way that Obama has approached immigration and the Hispanic voting bloc, and his approach to gay issues—including “don’t ask don’t tell” repeal, the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and marriage equality—and the gay voting bloc. It boils down to this: Obama and the congressional Democratic leadership (Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi) will often not act when they can in order to maintain a campaign issue and mobilize the relevant bloc for the next election. But when Obama feels he is forced to act, he does so in a way that’s ensured to inflame polarization and partisanship, which he then attempts to use to his advantage.

On immigration reform, in 2007 Sen. Obama scuttled a comprehensive legislative deal worked out with John McCain and other immigration centrists in both parties, allowing him to use the issue in his 2008 presidential campaign. Then, having won the presidency and with his party in control of both houses of Congress, Obama, Reid and Pelosi did nothing for the next two years on immigration. Then they ran on the issue (albeit unsuccessfully) in the 2010 midterms. At which point the Republicans took over the House and blocked a somewhat bipartisan deal that had passed the Democratic Senate, as part of their own bloc pandering (for the anti-immigration vote).

Similarly, as I’ve blogged before, Obama and congressional Democrats did nothing to move ENDA out of committee during 2009-10, when in control of Congress. Nor did they attempt to put an end to “don’t ask, don’t tell” up until the very end of 2010, when LGBT activists (excluding the lapdogs at the Human Rights Campaign) and several LGBT progressive bloggers went ballistic, since it seemed likely the GOP would win the midterms.

The Democrats’ endgame strategy was to attach “don’t ask” repeal to a Defense Authorization bill they knew Republicans would be compelled to vote against, even if they supported ending the ban. Gays serving or hoping to serve their country would lose out, but the issue could be used to mobilize gay voters in the midterms. And if the GOP took the House, Republicans could then be blamed for keeping the ban in place (which the GOP leadership, alas, would do, placating their party’s social conservatives base).

At which point, thanks mainly to Senators Susan Collins, a Republican, and Joe Lieberman, by then an independent, a “clean” motion to end the military ban was pushed and passed, with a surprising amount of GOP support, but annoying the Democratic leadership that had wanted to stymie it.

As Collins aide Mathew Gagnon wrote:

The White House and Reid had decided that hammering home the “party of no” narrative and painting the Republicans as obstinate obstructionists was, to them, good politics. Since that wasn’t actually happening, they tried to make it appear that it was.

But Reid got outflanked. Collins, together with Lieberman, unexpectedly introduced a standalone bill to repeal don’t ask, don’t tell, intended to go around Reid’s roadblocks. After a great deal of lobbying to rally a number of other Republicans to support the bill — a necessary step to prevent a filibuster — the Collins bill eventually passed 65-31.

And that, of course, is just one example of the Obama way.

NOM’s Time Is Passed

I think that Salon may be jumping the gun in declaring that the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage has “collapsed into debt“—it doesn’t take much money to fund a group that basically issues press releases and talks to the media, so I suspect it will be around to make mischief and get quoted. But NOM’s fortunes are clearly in decline as the freedom to marry advances without popular backlash, outside the diminishing fever swamps of the anti-gay right. Also, alienating bedrock Republicans by backing liberal Democrats over gay GOPers was just plain stupid.

Marriage and the State

R. R. Reno, who edits First Things, a journal for very serious religious conservatives, proposes separating religious marriages from government-sanctioned civil marriage, as a protest against state recognition of same-sex marriage. The government would do its thing, and ordained ministers would do their thing, but ministers would no longer operate as agents of the state when it comes to performing marriages.

Some libertarians have long supported “privatizing” marriage, which would remove government from the marriage-sanctioning business altogether, making civil marriage a contract agreed to between the parties (the enforcement of which, if disputed, would fall to government to adjudicate, as with other contracts)—a somewhat different and more radical idea.

Although Reno’s First Things argument is based on animus toward equality for gay people under the law, I don’t know that it’s a terrible notion in and of itself. Religion is always stronger when it is freest from government’s command.

Changing Times

David Lampo writes in an op-ed in The Hill:

In short, there is not a shred of evidence that the Republican sweep was motivated in any significant way by the recent court decisions that have made same-sex marriage legal in 33 states and the District of Columbia. The response to these developments on the part of most voters, including Republicans, has been a collective yawn.

And in those blue states where Republican candidates won unexpectedly, it was their support for gay rights that made them acceptable to enough Democrat voters to win their races.

Another political sign: Republican Congressman replacing Michele Bachmann names gay marriage supporter his chief-of-staff . (The post is from a conservative, anti-gay-marriage website, which obviously disapproves.)

Young Voters: Socially Liberal, Less Democratic

“The GOP gained young voters, but only because it lost the culture war,” is the call-out quote (print edition) summing up this New York Times op-ed by Mark Bauerlein, senior editor of the conservative religious journal First Things. He writes:

Exit poll data show that young voters backed House Democrats 54 percent to 43 percent, half the advantage of 2006 and two percentage points lower than in 2010. …

It’s not that [young voters] have become less socially liberal; it’s that social conservatism is a paper tiger. Liberalism has won so handily in the culture and courts that it no longer serves as a rallying cry. …

When it comes to young voters, liberal politicians are victims of their culture-war success. They have pressed a laissez-faire posture in moral and private matters, and have won. But millennials have adopted not the posture of their liberal elders that fostered group identity (be it “union member,” “disenfranchised minority” or “F.D.R. Democrat”), but a soft libertarianism that makes individual preference king. …Once social conservatism was defeated, the set allegiance to Democratic campaigns was bound to erode.

I’ve said before that the victory (or, at least, clearly approaching victory) for the freedom to marry would save Republicans from themselves. And that appears to be playing out.

More. From The Atlantic: Republicans Are Driving the Momentum for Gay Marriage.

Furthermore. It’s not inconsequential that the favorability of the Democratic Party is at a 20-year low, having sunk below Republican Party numbers. “The GOP currently has an image advantage over the Democratic Party,” according to Gallup, although “neither party is held in particularly high regard.”

More again. Another reason for the shifting political tides: Democrat Voters Confused: “I Didn’t Realize I Would Be The One Who Was Going to Pay For It Personally”

The Once and Future Clintons

This New York Post op-ed on gays and the Clintons is a few weeks old, but it’s solid:

As author and academic Nathaniel Frank explains, “Clinton will go down in history as the only president who signed … federal laws mandating discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans.” Yet this Saturday in Washington, DC, the same Bill Clinton will be welcomed as keynote speaker at the 18th annual national dinner of the Human Rights Campaign—America’s largest LGBT rights group.

Calling him a “transformational leader for our nation and the world,” HRC president Chad Griffin has said he’s “thrilled” Clinton will once again appear at the sold-out black-tie event.

Griffin and HRC take hackery to new levels. And please, spare us all the “yeah, well Republicans are worse” meme that some commenters think is just oh so clever, as if that were an all-purpose redemption card for vile Democrats.

The Sixth Circuit

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati ruled 2 to 1 against the freedom to marry (full decision here).

The decision overturns lower court rulings favoring marriage equality in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky, and makes the 6th Circuit the first appeals court to uphold state bans since the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

With a split among the circuits, a practical question is whether the cert petitions/responses will be filed quickly enough for the Supreme Court to consider the matter this term, or whether it’s pushed to next fall (meaning ruling June 2016, which would be right in time for the presidential election). Many expect the latter, which could be unfortunate. The slow spread of marriage equality through the circuits has proceeded without any real backlash to speak of, with even conservative GOP governors accepting the verdicts. In fact, many took note of a significant GOP shift during the midterm election campaigns.

Another possibility: for marriage-equality proponents is to seek en banc review by the entire circuit. If that were successful, the move through the circuits could continue without risking a bad Supreme Court ruling, or even the backlash engendered by a good one.

More. Dale Carpenter analyzes what’s wrong with the Sixth Circuit decision (with links to earlier posts in his series of critiques).

Midterm Election Reflection

As I suggested in my last post, below, the Republicans win big when Democrats are seen as incompetent at managing baseline federal responsibilities and favoring intrusive (and, yes, bullying) big government that, among other things, puts a regulatory stranglehold on business and stymies robust economic growth. Democrats win big when Republicans are seen as incompetent at managing baseline federal responsibilities and favoring intrusive (and, yes, bullying) big government that, among other things, violates individual rights to personal autonomy and equality before the law.

That is, of course, too simple. But voters, too, simplify very complex matters in such a way. In this round of midterms, the Democrats were blamed (rightly in my view) for government overreach and its consequences.

A big disappointment of the night was the defeat of openly gay GOP congressional candidate Richard Tisei in Massachusetts, but that was going to be an uphill battle after the scandal-mired Democratic incumbent was defeated in the primary by an Iraq War veteran. However, as of early Wednesday morning, in San Diego openly gay congressional candidate Carl DeMaio is leading by a thread, with 50.3% vs his opponent’s 49.7%. This one will probably go to a recount. Neither Tisei nor DeMaio were endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest and most influential LGBT political lobby.

DeMaio’s race was one of the ugliest, owing to the hatred unleashed against him by government union activists and the local LGBT establishment left. Whether the late-in-the-election charges of sexual harassment by volunteer staffers prove to have any substance or not (in a campaign where DeMaio’s opponents have resorted often to the ugliest of political tricks), we’ll have to see.

But the longer the LGBT establishment holds to its one-party strategy, the longer it will be until we have a country where gay equality before the law is firmly enshrined and safeguarded.

More. The openly gay Republican the left loves to hate.

Update. Dirty tricks, you say? NBC San Diego reports, “The man who accused Carl DeMaio of sexual harassment is the same person who provided confidential campaign documents to DeMaio’s opponent Scott Peters, according to newly unsealed court documents.”

Sadly, it’s being reported that Peters has won by a slim edge, having pulled ahead with absentee ballots. LGBT “progressives” and their new allies on the anti-gay right can have a joint celebration and share dirty trick secrets. Shame on them, and their enablers (but then, these folks have no shame. None whatsoever.)

When the Democrats Lose the Libertarian-Leaners, They Lose Elections

New numbers from Gallup show libertarian-leaning voters remain more than 20 percent of the electorate, David Boaz blogs:

The Gallup Poll has a new estimate of the number of libertarians in the American electorate. In their 2014 Gallup Governance Survey they find that 24 percent of respondents can be characterized as libertarians (as compared to 27 percent conservative, 21 percent liberal, and 18 percent populist).

Independent voters, a large swatch of whom are socially tolerant, fiscally conservative (that is, “libertarian,” whether they know the term or not) sway elections. If the GOP wins big next Tuesday, it will be in large measure because libertarian-leaners find the Democrats’ economically stifling regulatory overreach, reckless expansion of entitlements and general mismanagement of baseline federal responsibilities (at home and abroad) more threatening than the GOP’s social intolerance and perceived indifference to those who legitimately need assistance.

And I think the advancement of freedom to marry via the courts, despite GOP political opposition, has neutered this issue among independents/libertarians who support both marriage equality and economic growth that’s driven by the private sector (a view anathema to the Obama, Hillary and Warren Democrats).

Note: I am leaving aside here the relatively small group of self-identified libertarian faithful who vote for Libertarian Party candidates. They, too, can sway very close elections but pale in number compared to independent voters whose political loyalty isn’t tied to either major party and who, in a general sense, favor social and fiscal freedom from an overly intrusive government.

Populists, by the way, favor a bigger government footprint on the economy and are socially conservative—think Mike Huckabee. They’re the worst of all political possibilities.