Thursday, January 20, 2005

Have the Neocons Saved Us from Ourselves?

Andrew Sullivan is relieved that Bush will not use the White House to push for a Marriage amendment:

The Post: Do you plan to expend any political capital to aggressively lobby senators for a gay marriage amendment?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I think that the situation in the last session -- well, first of all, I do believe it's necessary; many in the Senate didn't, because they believe DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act] will -- is in place, but -- they know DOMA is in place, and they're waiting to see whether or not DOMA will withstand a constitutional challenge.

The Post: Do you plan on trying to -- using the White House, using the bully pulpit, and trying to --

THE PRESIDENT: The point is, is that senators have made it clear that so long as DOMA is deemed constitutional, nothing will happen. I'd take their admonition seriously.
I'm extremely relieved. The FMA has gone unmentioned by Bush since the election - and it appears more and more like a pre-election ploy rather than a principled stand. (Of course, that's a relief but it's also an indication of how bald-faced a political maneuver this was in the first place). But this piece of sanity from the President deserves praise and reciprocation from those of us who support equality in marriage. [...]
I never really thought that Bush was all that keen on supporting the amendment. I don't think the FMA was a political maneuver as such -- it was more an ill-considered response to judicial activism in Massachusetts -- but I do think the president's support for it sprang more from an attempt to placate the social conservatives than from any deep conviction. In the quote above he is still trying to cover that base ("well, first of all, I do believe it's necessary") but he is clearly positioning himself for a passive role on this issue.

I don't particularly like that sort of political calculation, which looks weak and unprincipled from any point of view. The proper thing for Bush to have done last February was explain to Mr. Dobson and anyone else who tried to pressure him for an endorsement that the office of the president does not have a direct role in constitutional amendments and that the argument would have to be made on its own merits, not as a test of party loyalty. But if we have to put up with triangulation, I am at least glad that it seems to have produced a viable result. I haven't quite given up on hoping for heroes and geniuses in politics, but I can live with muddling through.

An interesting question is whether the left will allow Bush to let the matter be. Matthew Yglesias is already sneering at "Bush's sudden betrayal of the gay-bashing movement":
This is what social conservatives deserve to get sneered at for. They're the great suckers of American politics, whipped into a frenzy every two or four years and ordered to vote Republican in order to hold back the tide of libertinism, and then the Republicans don't lift a finger to do so. For one thing, their financers don't support the social conservative agenda. For another thing, if social conservatives ever had anything done for them, they might not be so mad all the time. But last and by no means least, social conservatives get screwed every time because their willingness to get screwed and then come crawling back begging for more next time there's an election on is well-established.
I am chagrined to admit that Yglesias has a point, but fortunately -- and typically -- he misses the true significance of the data he is processing. It is true that social conservatives are often subject to manipulation, but not by their Republican masters. It is our reactive stance toward the left that gets us into trouble. A case in point would be fellow Reformed blogger Upward Paradigm, who takes Yglesias at face value:
While I would not go so far as to say that social conservatives are the “great suckers” of American politics, I have believed that Christians in general, were used by the administration and the campaign in order to gather the votes needed to win a tight election. The folks that Bush surrounds himself with are not exactly social conservatives; ala Karl Rove and Dick Cheney.

I think the fact that Bush's early 2nd term agenda seems to be devoid of any concern for the issues that social conservatives voted on is a testament to the point made by Yglesias. Politics is no savior -- and as Christians, we need to learn to engage the world at all levels with better ideas, abundant hope, and stronger conviction. Christians need to be able to see through the obfuscating murk put forth as reality. To date, we seem unable to do so, blinded by what sadly seems as a more tangible and immediate victory than that promised by Scripture: legislation which governs and enforces "Christian" morals. Perhaps in thinking that we have heeded Christ's call to be "salt and light" we have actually become of the world and not just in the world.
In fairness, I think that the theological point is a valid one and consistent with Upward Paradigm's general philosophy. I particularly like his (her?) point about "better ideas, abundant hope, and stronger conviction". But in conceding that we have been betrayed by Bush (or at least "used" by him) I think the author is falling into the trap of allowing the left to set the terms of the debate. No, politics is not salvific, but we Christians have a responsibility to use our gifts to benefit our fellow men and this applies to political spheres as well as any other.

But the excellence of politics consists in establishing justice and peace by exercising wisdom. This is not achieved by merely reacting to issues and applying the first solution that presents itself, but by a careful, thoughtful and prayerful attempt to get at the root of the problem. I promised in August that I would present some alternatives to the FMA that would better promote the cause of conservatism. I dropped the issue because the FMA didn't seem to be playing as big a role in the campaign as I had feared it would, but I think it is time to dust off that argument. Now that the FMA looks, God willing, to be permanently moribund, we should start considering things we should do to improve the moral and political health of our nation.

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