DATE: 1/17/2005 08:15:00 AM
Using Capital Wisely - President Bush has just made a wise decision. In an interview with the Washington Post, the president says he doesn't plan to spend political capital fighting for the Federal Marriage Amendment. I've never been a fan of the FMA, as I believe it violates the rights of states to make decisions regarding gay marriage. Personally, I don't think gay marriage is a particularly good idea, but I'm open to the idea of civil unions as a compromise measure between the two extremes.
Pro-family groups like the Family Research Council are going to be upset about this decision and will likely make a lot of noise in the coming days about feeling betrayed, etc. Politically, though, the president had no choice. Sixty-seven votes are needed to pass the amendment in the Senate. The votes are simply not there and no amount of political pressure would move those against the FMA to vote for it. Either that, or the amount of watering-down needed to make the amendment palatable to moderate Democrats and liberal Republicans would defeat the purpose of passing the FMA at all.
Then there's the bigger political picture. This term, the president has already planned to fight for tort reform, social security reform and a restructuring of the tax code. Not to mention the small matter of a war against an enemy that wants us all dead. These are all important issues that deserve presidential and congressional attention. Fighting for a lost cause like the FMA to appease one-issue social conservatives is politically short-sighted, especially since the battle is already being won overwhelmingly on the state level. In eleven states, gay marriage was on the ballot. Voters in all eleven states rejected the idea of gay marriage, in many cases overwhelmingly. Why refight a politically costly battle on the federal level when it makes no practical political sense?
Advocates of gay marriage have no one but themselves and their allies to blame for this defeat. From the Massachusetts Supreme Court to Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, supporters of gay marriage overreached and set their own cause back by years. They tried to force acceptance of gay marriage onto the American people through judicial fiat, and have been defeated in their attempts. Some will want to keep trying, but for the most part I think this is an issue that most people will want to ignore for awhile.
Social conservatives have to get serious about their support for federalism. On the one hand, they advocate the overturning of Roe v. Wade, saying decisions on abortion laws need to be made on the state level. On the other, they're calling for overreaching federal regulations to 'protect' a social institution. The principles that define conservatism cannot be selectively applied if conservatives wish to retain political viability. The Democratic party is suffering a loss of power because for years, they put political expediency (pleasing interest groups) before principles that once held the party together. With their support of the FMA, Republicans are in danger of falling into the same trap. The president's decision has helped prevent a crisis in the party. I hope social conservatives who feel tempted to criticize President Bush realize this and hold off on their condemnation.
There are a lot of important battles ahead. It would be extremely petty of social conservatives to handicap the president before the first skirmishes even begin.