White: Progress marches

Last Friday must have been an easy day for people who get paid to rail against gay marriage on the Internet.

The unanimous Iowa Supreme Court decision voiding a law prohibiting same-sex marriage hit the Web before midmorning. No more than an hour later, the tired buzzwords appeared, like clockwork, on conservative blogs: “lawless,” “dictatorship,” “tyranny,” “judicial activism,” “gobbledygook,” By noon, apparently lacking anything new to say, the right-wing pundit class might as well have taken off for a nice long weekend, doubtless secure in their confidence that they were the last bulwark against the tide of “pink fascism” sweeping America.

(I’d like to take this moment to thank radio host and columnist Michael Savage for using, with apparent seriousness, the phrase “pink fascism” in a published article. Nothing elevates the level of discourse like combining a gender stereotype and a Hitler reference into a pithy two-word phrase.)

In all fairness to commentators on the right, what happened in Iowa might have seemed like nothing special at first blush. Gay marriage came to the Midwest — like it came to Massachusetts, Connecticut and (temporarily) California — not through the legislative process but via judicial fiat.

That the decision was unanimous doesn’t materially change the fact that, as of last Friday, advocates for same-sex marriage were batting .000 in the Democratic arena. And while Iowa’s constitution is quite a bit more difficult to amend than California’s, the anti-same-sex marriage crowd was still in position to talk a big game about rolling back this latest instance of “judicial activism” with a Proposition 8-like referendum in 2011.

And then came Vermont.

Earlier this week, each house of the Vermont legislature mustered the requisite two-thirds majority to override Governor Jim Douglas’ veto and become the first state to pass a law granting full marriage rights to same-sex couples. Suddenly, gay marriage wasn’t something that judges in black robes forced on an unwitting populace. It became something that representatives in business suits enabled on behalf of a seemingly acquiescent or even eager populace. And that could be bad news indeed for the Republican Party come 2012.

Only five years ago, a rash of anti-gay ballot measures all over the country boosted voter turnout among social conservatives and, according to some accounts, provided George W. Bush ’68 with his margin of victory in the 2004 presidential elections. In 2012, gay marriage might hurt the Republican Party’s hopes of retaking the White House, even if the economy continues to suffer.

Assuming that Iowa Republicans attempt to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling, 2011 is the soonest a referendum can appear on the ballot. That year, incidentally, also happens to be the year the fight for the Republican presidential nomination kicks off with the Iowa caucuses. Those two events will, almost inevitably, become tightly intertwined.

What Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin might call “real Americans” — socially conservative rural evangelicals who tend to actively oppose gay marriage — are overrepresented in the Iowa Republican caucuses. In 2007, when gay marriage was far from an immediate issue, Mike Huckabee took 34 percent of the votes in the caucuses. He went on to lose badly in nearly every state where social conservatives aren’t overrepresented.

In 2012, with John McCain and his patented New Hampshire magic unlikely to be in the race, the Iowa caucuses assume greater importance as the sort of event that could create enough momentum to carry even a marginal candidate all the way to the nomination. And how will a marginal Republican win the Iowa caucuses? By being more virulently anti-gay-marriage than anyone else in the field.

The problem for the Republican Party lies in the fact that extreme social conservatism doesn’t win national elections anymore. As Republican candidates kowtow to the most culture war-obsessed part of their coalition, they lose the votes of the significant majorities of Americans who are sick of the culture wars and who now believe that the Democrats have better ideas on health care, the economy and education.

So keep babbling about “judicial tyranny,” Republicans. And if you get beaten in 2012 more roundly than you did in 2008, you can blame the judges for that, too. Because the Iowa Supreme Court just forced your hand, and they’re going to make you decide just how committed you are to preventing gay marriage. If the recycled jingoisms of your chattering class offer any suggestion, it sounds like you’re willing to lose an election over your opposition to granting legal recognition to two committed adults in a loving relationship.

Xan White is a senior in Pierson College.


  • bob

    Xan, very well written article!

  • Meredith W.

    "the significant majorities of Americans who are sick of the culture wars and who now believe that the Democrats have better ideas on health care, the economy and education" - Actually, I think significant majorities of Americans, whether socially conservative or liberal, see the Democratic push for nationalized health care (which has worked so wonderfully in the UK - just ask Daniel Hannan), stimulus out of thin air (or, more accurately, out of our future earnings), protectionism under the guise of environmental protection, and cowing to teacher's unions as bad ideas. The one area I think the Democrats are doing something right is in funding more elementary education, but again, where is all this money coming from? Today's liberalism speaks to the ideals at the heart of America, but ignores realities. Hence from "everyone should have better healthcare!" - a lovely sentiment - you get policies that, in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, actually translate into more bureaucracy, worse health care for all, and a broke government whose only plan B is to throw more of our tax dollars, along with nice-sounding rhetoric, at the problems it created. Instead, I propose that real health care reform (educational reform, economic recovery) will come from the government backing of to allow Americans to step up as leaders and take responsibility for their lives.

  • roflcopter

    Xan - I enjoyed your article. Although none is apparent here, I am sure that I will see evidence of original thought in future writings of yours.

  • Hey Meredith

    Health care in America is already incredibly bureaucratic, which is one reason we spend much more than other industrialized countries on health care while getting comparatively little in return. Privately-run health care isn't less bureaucratic, we just have private-sector bureaucrats instead of public-sector bureaucrats. Which means that the bureaucrats are paid more, have no public oversight, and have profit-driven incentives to deny care.

    Health care is going to entail bureaucracy whether it's privately run or publicly run. But as long as we're going to have bureaucrats, I'd rather have them be answerable to the public and not looking for reasons to deny claims so that they can enhance profit margins.

    Oh and by the way, while my arguments would support a single-payer (i.e. "nationalized," egad!) health care system, that's not what Obama is proposing. He's proposing reforms to the private health care system. So there is no "Democratic push for nationalized health care" a la the UK.

  • to #2

    European healthcare consistently ranks higher than American healthcare, and their governments are not in the massive debt hole that we are.

  • to #5

    Europeans live under incredibly burdened taxation structures, draconian free speech restrictions, are engulfed in bitter ancient culture wars, and have historically lagged behind the USA in economic growth.

    I will take our health care system if the choice is mirroring Europe (not that they are mutually exclusive, our own gov't is far too large)

    The solution to health care is fairly simple, but being simple doesn't win you a Nobel Prize:

    1- Tax Advantaged Health Savings Accounts for regular, minor expenses

    2- Catastrophic health care insurance, like any other Property/Casualty Insurance product for cancer, AIDS, accidents, etc.

    3- Private Charity for the poor

    4- State level insurance "markets of last resort" for those with existing conditions/old age, much in the same way the non-standard auto insurance pools work.

    5- An end to employer tax breaks for providing coverage, which will spark greater price/coverage competition among insurers/health care providers. Competition ALWAYS benefits consumers in the long run- in quality and price.

  • D Hansen

    I don't agree that the Iowa Court's ruling will force the Republicans' hands into a losing situation on gay marriage. Yes, gay marriage was finally passed by a representative body rather than a court, but Proposition 8 still won in California, a state that leans more to the left than the rest of the U.S. On the issue of gay marriage, the Republicans win. Even President Obama as a candidate had to be careful in framing his words as to not appear to support gay marriage but rather, civil unions. Making gay marriage an issue at the polls is a winning situation for Republicans in the current political environment. 10 to 20 years from now, when current high school and college students begin voting regularly and when current senior citizens have passed away, Republicans will be on the losing side of the issue if current trends continue. (I just realized I used the word "current" three times in one sentence. Oh well)

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