President Bush's campaign team is sending via email the text of the speech he gave last night to Republican governors, the one that launched the "aggressive" phase of his bid for another term. George W. Bush is the "clear choice," he tells us, for those looking for a president who "trusts the people, not government." "I trust the people, not Washington politicians, to make the best decisions for their own money, their own health, their own retirement, and their own lives," he said in the speech and again in a message just now to Bush-Cheney '04 email subscribers. Sounds conservative, maybe even compassionate.
But that was before Bush announced today that he trusts Washington politicians to define marriage as being between a man and a woman, neither a truly conservative nor a compassionate ploy. The president advocates gumming up the agenda of Congress and every state legislature in the country with the burdensome procedures of altering the U.S. Constitution, just to earn himself political points with the religious right, which threatened to stay home in November unless he took this detour into the culture war over marriage. (Not exactly the vision of "small" government.) Forget job losses and stagnating wages, never mind the ballooning deficit, or that we went to war with Iraq over weapons that weren't there. Nailing down "the meaning of marriage," the president says, is of national urgency.
Or maybe the president is in urgent need of a highly-charged issue to deflect attention from his dismal record in office. That's how John Kerry sees it. "This president can't talk about jobs. He can't talk about health care. He can't talk about a foreign policy which has driven away allies and weakened the United States, so he is looking for a wedge issue to divide the American people," Kerry said in a statement after Bush's announcement to push the constitutional ban. (For the record, Kerry supports civil unions, not gay marriage, and opposes a constitutional ban. John Edwards opposes gay marriage, thinks states should decide on civil unions, and opposes a constitutional ban on gay marriage.)
Gay and civil rights groups are expressing outrage, rightly, that the president's historic constitutional venture will codify discrimination, not eradicate it. "Not since the days of Jim Crow segregation has our nation faced the prospect of discrimination written into law in such a shameful way," David Tseng, executive director of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, told the Times. "Millions of Americans are disappointed that their president, George W. Bush, has bowed to political pressure to support the codification of hatred into our beloved Constitution."
Conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan echoes Tseng, saying the president "launched a war today against the civil rights of gay citizens and their families. And just as importantly, he launched a war to defile the most sacred document in the land. Rather than allow the contentious and difficult issue of equal marriage rights to be fought over in the states, rather than let politics and the law take their course, rather than keep the Constitution out of the culture wars, this president wants to drag the very founding document into his re-election campaign."
Indeed, with his relection bid in full force, President Bush the candidate is revealing himself. He's not above waging a culture war and playing politics with the Constitution.