The culture-war president

With Iraq still a mess, Team Bush is switching battlefields to start screaming about Sodom and Gomorrah.

Published February 18, 2004 7:08PM (EST)

"I'm a war president," George Bush told us.

But as the body count in Iraq continues to rise, the president's approval rating plummets, and the furor over phantom WMD, sexed-up intel, and Bush's spotty Air National Guard service refuses to go away, it appears Karl Rove is planning a small rewrite for his candidate: "I'm a culture war president."

Remember that divisive pre-9/11 campaign staple? Well, it's flared up again -- with a vengeance and a rash of new administration actions clearly aimed at shoring up the president's Christian conservative base.

In the last month, the president has traded in his too-tight flight suit for a revival tent, backing a new anti-obscenity crusade, anti-condom sex-ed programs, a renewed commitment to fighting the drug war, and his attorney general's efforts to poke around the private medical records of women who've had abortions. He even hinted in his State of the Union that he'd be willing to endorse a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

With Silver Starred John Kerry threatening the president's hold on the high ground of national defense, Team Bush has decided it's time to switch battlefields and start screaming about Sodom and Gomorrah.

And who has time to talk about the 3 million jobs lost on Bush's watch when gay couples are trying to make their lifetime commitment legal? Heaven forbid.

You would think the Christian right has more pressing matters to worry about. America now has 35 million people living in poverty, many of them working poor. And Christian conservatives are up in arms about gay marriage?

Maybe they should take another look at the Bible and its admonition that we shall be judged by what we do for the least among us. Indeed, if you removed every reference to poverty in the New Testament, the Good Book would be reduced to little more than a Not Bad Pamphlet. In the words of Rev. Jim Wallis, "The Prophets would be decimated, the Psalms destroyed, and the Gospels ripped to shreds." On the other hand, there is not a single mention of gay marriage or the need to ban it.

Regrettably, this perversion of presidential priorities is not limited to campaign rhetoric -- it extends to how our increasingly limited tax dollars are being spent. Take the administration's new anti-obscenity push -- a blast from our blue-nosed past. Bush's 2005 budget calls for a boost in funding for government efforts to crack down on the adult entertainment industry -- one of the precious few non-terror-related programs to garner a spending increase.

I kid you not: While the White House is cutting back on its housing budget, veterans' benefits, and the National Institutes of Health, it's opening up the coffers to make sure you have a harder time downloading the Paris Hilton sexcapade on the Net.

But that's not even the worst of it. The Justice Department has recently assigned a team of FBI agents to focus exclusively on adult obscenity cases. That's right, with the war on terror in full swing, our war president is going to have a group of G-men doing nothing but working the porn beat when they could be tracking down -- oh, I don't know -- terrorist sleeper cells. Talk about your misguided allocation of manpower. I don't know about you, but I certainly feel safer knowing the feds are going to be keeping close tabs on Jenna Jameson.

We see the same loopy sense of right and wrong being played out in the Janet Jackson firestorm. Less than two weeks after the shock and bra of the Super Bowl, Bush's congressional cronies were already holding hearings on the matter. Compare that to the foot dragging that followed 9/11. It took 14 months -- and a candlelight vigil outside the White House by the victims' family members -- before the president finally relented and the 9/11 commission was created. Now that's indecent.

For the moral relativists in the Bush administration, the definition of sin seems to depend on whether the sinner can further their political purposes.

So Justin exposing Janet's boob is a sin, but White House staffers exposing Valerie Plame is a win. Profiting from porno is a sin, but Halliburton's wartime profiteering is a win. Two men getting hitched is a sin, but Cheney and Scalia shacking up in a duck blind is a win. Telling students condoms can prevent STDs is a sin, but lying about WMD is a win. And so, apparently, is GOP staffers hacking into Senate computers and Tom DeLay illegally funneling corporate money to Texas politicians.

The president's culture war is little more than breasts and circuses. Election-year weapons of mass distraction. Hail to the panderer in chief.

By Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington is a nationally syndicated columnist, the co-host of the National Public Radio program "Left, Right, and Center," and the author of 10 books. Her latest is "Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America."

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2004 Elections Gay Marriage John F. Kerry