Wednesday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
February 25, 2004 7:34PM (UTC)

Bush fires up the base
The morning after President Bush declared war on gay rights, the San Francisco Chronicle says Bush's push for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage "aims to shift the election-year agenda away from the economy and his handling of the Iraq war to what he views as a far friendlier topic -- the cultural wars at home." With their $150 million-plus war chest, the Chronicle writes, Bush-Cheney-Rove and company have the ammunition to make gay marriage their No. 1 campaign issue.

"[Bush's] goal: to change the campaign debate, define his Democratic opponents as out of touch with American values and fire up his conservative base. 'The economy looked like a strength, and now it's not. The (Iraq) war looked like a strength, and now it's not,'' said UC Berkeley political science professor Bruce Cain. 'This is an issue that gives them a backup, when the other two don't work.'"

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"They're trying to define the agenda, not just the positions,'' said Cain. "If you can define the agenda'' -- which is what Gov. Pete Wilson did in 1994 in California with immigration -- "then you win.''

Radical rights rollback
Those who drafted the Federal Marriage Amendment want their effort to seem less discriminatory by arguing that the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage would allow for civil unions and other "quasi-marital" relationships for gays. But the New York Times looks at the language of the FMA, which denies not just marriage between gays, but also its "legal incidents." The amendment could radically roll back gay rights, experts tell the Times. "Some conservative scholars who oppose gay unions and some gay scholars who oppose the amendment are arguing that it might effectively block any marital benefits for same-sex couples, no matter what name is used. A handful of conservatives argue that the sentence defining marriage as heterosexual should preclude any provision of marital benefits to same-sex couples, no matter what the name. A few gay legal advocates contend that future courts might interpret the amendment to block enforcement of any laws conferring benefits on same-sex couples."

"Constitutions are interpreted over time," said Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, a group opposed to the amendment. "You don't write a gamble like that into the Constitution."

No super-majority for gay marriage ban
The polling mavens over at Gallup reveal a massive, eight-month poll of Americans on the gay marriage issue, and find that Bush has no "super-majority" behind a constitutional ban. "As Bush recognized in his announcement, 'An amendment to the Constitution is never to be undertaken lightly,' and indeed the Founding Fathers of the United States required that any amendment must be approved by a two-thirds majority in each the House of Representatives and the Senate, and then approved by three-fourths of the states. Although there were no polls in the late 1700s, it is reasonable to assume that the Founders envisioned amendments to the Constitution taking place in situations in which these same types of large majorities of the public were in support, and that such high levels of support would be reflected in the votes of their representatives," Gallup's analysis says.

"That clearly is not the situation in this case ... such an amendment is supported by a very slim majority of Americans, 51 percent, with 45 percent opposed." More Americans, 63 percent, generally oppose gay marriage, however.

Risky ticket
Robert Kuttner, writing in the Boston Globe assesses Dick Cheney's unprecedented power as vice president, but also his increasing political drag on Bush. Given recent bad press about Cheney's dubious history with the sketchy Halliburton company and the secret proceedings of Cheney's energy task force, Kuttner says he wouldn't be surprised at all if the shadowy veep, an increasing liability for the White House, would be dropped from the ticket.

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"There are more attractive alternatives," Kuttner says. "There is already talk among Republican strategists of replacing Cheney with a tactical choice such as homeland security secretary and former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge or former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. Why Ridge or Giuliani? Both are Northeastern and Catholic, and Ridge's Pennsylvania will be a crucial swing state this year. Even more important, both are intimately associated with Sept. 11, 2001. As Bush declines in the polls, he will wrap himself ever more tightly in that legacy. The Republican National Convention will be in New York City, almost on the eve of the third anniversary of 9/11, and that event will be invoked ad nauseam."

Ohio fertile for Edwards?
Will John Edwards' trade-and-jobs message make him the tortoise that sneaks past that front-running hare John Kerry in Ohio? The Cleveland Plain Dealer looks at Edwards' chances of catching up in the uber-battleground state. "Kerry's task in Ohio has grown tougher in the wake of John Edwards' strong second-place finish in Wisconsin's primary last week. Edwards, the lone Democrat still capable of blocking Kerry's path to the nomination, is now aggressively challenging Kerry in Ohio and several other states on the same economic issues that Kerry has been using against Bush Some political observers agree that, at least on the jobs issue, Edwards could have an edge.

"'I think Ohio's going to be fertile ground for Edwards,' says Alexander Lamis, associate professor of political science at Case Western Reserve University. 'Edwards is nicely positioned to make it very interesting.' John Green, director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, says Edwards could give Kerry a run for his money in Ohio -- provided he can muster enough money to get out his message. 'If he does, I think there's a very good possibility that he could win here,' says Green. 'I wouldn't necessarily predict that, but I think it's possible.'"

Heinz Kerry in Chavez country
The Los Angeles Times follows John Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, on the campaign trail and finds the millionaire ketchup heiress off the beaten path, hitting it off with farm workers.

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"Heinz Kerry's visit to the dusty San Joaquin Valley farming community had some historical significance for people here, from where Cesar Chavez led the fight for field laborers' rights in the late 1960s and 1970s. Though she is a millionaire by background -- heiress to the Heinz food company fortune -- and the wife of a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, Heinz Kerry stressed her upbringing as the daughter of Portuguese parents in Mozambique."

"Heinz Kerry recounted meeting Chavez with her first husband, then Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.) at a 1990 meeting on environmental safety, and described the farmworkers' leader as 'a giant in the field of rights, human rights.' Wearing a lapel pin of the Chavez commemorative postage stamp, Heinz Kerry told reporters the significance of traveling to Delano, where two Democratic presidential candidates Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 and the Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1988 had come. 'It's a proud history here, a proud people. It's a pretty tolerant country, but we have a lot of work to do,' she told reporters."

"Many here said they were heartened by Heinz Kerry's visit to this community of 39,000 where a substantial number of people live in poverty. 'There's a silent voice that's not being heard,' said Marcos Camacho, 45, a lawyer from Bakersfield who represents farmworkers. 'I think President Bush does not really see the suffering that workers, farmworkers have.'"

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Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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