On Native Ground
THE POLITICS OF DIVISION CAN BE OVERCOME
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The hysteria over same-sex marriage has been credited by some pundits as the key issue that gave President Bush a second term.
There's a definite divide between those who are more upset over the gay couples who flocked to San Francisco and Boston to get hitched than over, say, the Bush administration lying its collective butts off to con us into invading Iraq, and those of us who wonder what all the fuss is about.
The Republican Party's cynical exploitation of same-sex marriage is just another reminder of how the culture war in America still isn't over. It isn't over because fighting the culture war is how the Republicans stay in power.
But it doesn't have to work that way.
Here in Vermont, we went through the whole debate of same-sex marriage back in 2000. The compromise solution eventually enacted by the Vermont Legislature, civil unions (basically, same-sex marriage in everything but name) was not popular. Same-sex marriage advocates said it didn't go far enough. Opponents thought it went too far.
A whole opposition movement called "Take Back Vermont," was formed with the goal of removing the lawmakers that voted for civil unions, and it ended up costing the Democrats control of the House in the 2000 elections.
But something else happened. Time went by and the political passions cooled. Most Vermonters came to the conclusion that civil unions didn't cause any harm and there were more important issues, such as health care, to worry about. In the 2002 election, Democrats regained some of the seats that they had lost in the House. In the 2004 election, Democrats took back control of the House and increased their majority in the Senate. Some of the lawmakers that opposed civil unions in 2000 were swept out of office four years later.
An exit poll conducted for The Associated Press during this year's balloting found that Vermonters are still evenly split over civil unions, but civil unions ceased to be a political issue. The Vermont compromise was even held up as a model for other states to consider.
Our state may be an anomaly. There are few evangelical Christians in Vermont and they don't have any political influence. We also have a strong ethic of tolerance. People here believe in minding their own business and letting people do as they wish, as long as it doesn't adversely affect others. At the same time, when people need help, they are quick to provide it. The wild weather and isolation of our winters means we all have to stick together. When your car skids off a dirt road in the middle of winter, nobody cares if the guy who stops to help pull you out might be wearing sequins.
This is the ethic that needs to be cultivated elsewhere in our nation. We know that the GOP's loves to keep flogging the hot-button issues like gay marriage, abortion, church-state separation and morality in media. We know the GOP had managed to blur the truth about how the "NASCAR dads" and "security moms" have been systematically screwed by the Bush administration while playing up the so-called pro-family themes that win elections for the GOP - strength, responsibility and morality.
These folks voted for the President even though many of them have gotten hosed by the Bush economy, even though their sons and daughters are fighting and dying in a fraudulent war in Iraq, even though virtually every policy decision made by the Bush administration has gone against their best interests. Their anger gets channeled toward women, minorities, gays, immigrants and anyone else that falls in the category of "the other," while the real sources of their social and economic misery are left unscathed.
There are plenty of reasons why people shouldn't have voted for President Bush, but the fear that godless liberals are corrupting the culture motivated a lot more people to support the President than the fear of losing their jobs. Too many people slurped down the wonderful brew of anger, insecurity and resentment that the Republican Party served up. As long as the GOP keeps people focused on "the other," they figure you won't notice how they're ripping you off.
It seems almost impossible to reframe the argument, but it has to be done. When Republicans start talking about being the party of responsibility and morality, the rebuttal is almost too easy. As Josh Marshall recently pointed out on his Talking Points Memo blog: "The oddity of this Red State moralism argument emerges most clearly when you look at statistics for virtually every form of quantifiable social dysfunction. Divorce, out-of-wedlock birth, poverty, murder, incidence of preventable disease - go down the list and you'll see they are highest in the reddest of states and lowest in the bluest."
You can look it up. Which states have some of the highest homicide rates? Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Which have the lowest? Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and South Dakota. Which states have the highest divorce rate? Nevada, Arkansas and Wyoming. Which state has the lowest? Massachusetts.
Is it possible to remind our fellow citizens to stay focused on the real enemies and reject the divisive crap that the GOP has been feeding us for the last three decades? It could be if we find ways to get beyond these false arguments about morality and focus on issues where we all have a stake in a positive outcome.< Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.