Right Hook

Sullivan declares war on Bush over same-sex marriage; Steyn says John Kerry would flounder if terrorists blew up the Empire State Building. Plus: Osama under U.S. surveillance?

By Mark Follman
Published February 26, 2004 5:34AM (UTC)
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President Bush's announcement on Tuesday that he'll back a constitutional ban of same-sex marriage was a bombshell, but not a surprise; in his State of the Union address in January, Bush signaled explicitly to hard-line conservatives that he'd move to "defend the sanctity of marriage" at the federal level if necessary. Gay-rights activists are mobilizing, while conservatives, angered by a wave of same-sex marriages in San Francisco and a Massachusetts court ruling permitting the practice, are applauding the president. The question now on everyone's mind: To what degree will the incendiary issue erupt into the center of the presidential race?

Bush's latest move could crack open big fissures in the GOP: Plenty of prominent Republicans have gay or lesbian family members, including Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich. For gay Republicans themselves, it may obliterate any remaining allegiances. Columnist and blogger Andrew Sullivan, once a staunch Bush supporter, vowed an all-out battle against the president Tuesday, after Bush revealed where his deepest loyalties lie regarding the issue.


"The president launched a war today against the civil rights of gay citizens and their families ... He is proposing to remove civil rights from one group of American citizens -- and do so in the Constitution itself. The message could not be plainer: these citizens do not fully belong in America ...

"Those of us who supported this president in 2000, who have backed him whole-heartedly during the war, who have endured scorn from our peers as a result, who trusted that this president was indeed a uniter rather than a divider, now know the truth."

Sullivan says that Bush's actions have destroyed any support from gay people for the Republican Party well into the future.


"This president has now made the Republican party an emblem of exclusion and division and intolerance. Gay people will now regard it as their enemy for generations -- and rightly so ... We must oppose this extremism with everything we can muster. We must appeal to the fair-minded center of the country that balks at the hatred and fear that much of the religious right feeds on. We must prevent this graffiti from being written on a document every person in this country should be able to regard as their own. This struggle is hard but it is also easy. The president has made it easy. He's a simple man and he divides the world into friends and foes. He has now made a whole group of Americans -- and their families and their friends -- his enemy. We have no alternative but to defend ourselves and our families from this attack. And we will."

The Log Cabin Republicans, the nation's largest gay and lesbian Republican organization, had yet to respond directly to Bush's announcement on its Web site Tuesday afternoon. But in a Feb. 11 press release, the group stated that "No matter what happens in the coming months, Log Cabin will stay in the GOP and fight." Still, its vitriol for Bush appeared to be as potent as Sullivan's.

"History will not look back kindly on this assault of our Constitution. This amendment is the product of the radical right. They have mastered the art of gay-bashing after decades of practice ... Log Cabin considers support for this amendment a declaration of war on gay and lesbian families ...


"'Writing discrimination into the Constitution is wrong. It is not conservative, it is not Republican, and it will not strengthen America,' said Log Cabin Executive Director Patrick Guerriero. 'As conservative Republicans, we are outraged that any Republican -- particularly the leader of our party and this nation -- would support any effort to use our sacred United States Constitution as a way of scoring political points in an election year.' ...

"'Log Cabin will fight the Federal Marriage Amendment all across this county, state by state, if we must,' said Log Cabin Political Director Mark Mead. 'We will use our political resources to stop anyone from writing discrimination into our Constitution.'"


Sullivan also published several reader responses to his Tuesday post (without the readers' names), one of which assailed Sullivan's arguments and forecast the expected nasty battle to come.

"President Bush didn't 'declare war' on the civil rights of homosexuals; left-wing activist judges, mayors, city bureaucrats and the gay movement have declared war on the rule of law and the institution of marriage. President Bush has merely responded to what others have started. The battle is now joined and I believe that the overwhelming majority of the country will be in the President's army, as you'll soon find out."

For now, radio talk-show host and religious conservative Hugh Hewitt is taking the legal high road on the issue -- though he still managed a swipe at San Francisco mayor and gay-marriage promoter Gavin Newsom.


"Now as to domestic partnership benefits, I am a moderate. Whatever legislatures pass is fine by me. I believe in the small 'd' democratic process. I do so because I believe in freedom -- and when legislatures decide policies, the people have the maximum freedom.

"When courts dictate law, as has happened in Massachusetts, or when low-ranking, publicity-grabbing officials make up the law, as is happening in San Francisco and may soon happen elsewhere, then freedom is diminished because the rule of a few is substituted for the rule of elected legislatures."

Hewitt is confident that a majority of Americans will prevail in rejecting same-sex marriage.


"There is no covering up this most basic of issues: Who runs America? Shall it be the people or shall it be the courts and a host of petty officials from micro-climates on the political map? The debate over the marriage amendment is a hugely important debate over how America will be governed for decades to come. I am with the president on this one, as should be every freedom-loving citizen, even proponents of gay marriage who ought to realize that winning by diktat isn't winning at all. Arbitrary power, unchecked and absolute, is no friend to political minorities, even when it arrives robed or smiling."

"There's this whole other war going on"
Meanwhile, as President Bush focuses his attention on the culture wars at home, hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops remain embroiled in conflict around the globe. For his part, conservative columnist Mark Steyn, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, says Bush's war policy in the Middle East is succeeding -- via a new-and-improved "domino" effect. That should supplant all the misguided debate, he says, over Bush's National Guard record.

"It's been said that America is divided into Sept. 11 people and Sept. 10 people. The former category are those for whom Sept. 11, 2001, changed everything. The latter are those for whom Sept. 10, 1972, changed everything. That's when Bush didn't show up at the Air National Guard base because he was dancing naked on a bar in Acapulco with Conchita the surly waitress. Or whatever. If you think this is the most important issue facing America, feel free to vote for John Kerry, who back in 1972 was proudly serving his country by accusing its armed services of committing war crimes. Or whatever ...

"Meanwhile, there's this whole other war going on, the one Bush has to attend to while everyone else is on cable TV talking about the early '70s. This war has an ambitious aim: the transformation of the most dysfunctional region of the world. You can't do it overnight. But, 10 months after the liberation, it should be possible to discern a trend, and right now all the Middle Eastern dominoes are beginning to teeter in the same direction."


Steyn further declares that presidential hopeful John Kerry, notwithstanding any Vietnam War heroics, is no match for Bush -- because Kerry might waffle after another terror attack:

"This is how [Kerry] characterized the war on terror to Tom Brokaw: 'I think there has been an exaggeration,' he said. 'They are really misleading all of America, Tom, in a profound way. It's primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation.'

"That's all I need to know. Bush wants to take the war to the enemies, fight it on their turf. Kerry wants to do it through 'law enforcement': If the Empire State Building gets blown up, he'll launch an investigation immediately. It's not enough. Even if Bush was AWOL 30 years ago, on everything that matters John Kerry is AWOL now."

Other conservatives are more troubled by Bush's war policies. Vox Day, a self-described "Christian libertarian" and syndicated columnist, declares on right-wing Web tabloid World Net Daily: "Our matchless soldiers have won the war" in Iraq, but "cannot win the peace." Day makes clear he's a fervent supporter of the military, but argues that the Bush administration's exercise of U.S. military power in Iraq and elsewhere is irresponsible and dangerous:


"The policy of Pax Americana enforced by our troops stationed around the world is not only a failure, it is leading to the corruption of the American military ...

"A military machine is a delicate creature, designed to do one thing very well -- destroy the opposition. It is a well-known fact of military history that fighting troops and garrison troops are two very different things, and attempting to turn the former into the latter significantly impedes their ability to perform their primary mission.

"Consider that the U.S. military accomplished its mission in Iraq -- taking Baghdad and destroying the Hussein regime -- with the loss of 106 soldiers in battle and accidents. Since then, the occupation has cost another 437 American lives lost to combat, accidents and suicide. Consider also that the wars for Kuwait and Afghanistan cost 247 and 76 combat deaths, respectively."

But in the Middle East, says Day, the U.S. has in fact failed to complete the mission:


"The beheading of the Hussein regime sent a powerful message to America's enemies. The subsequent elimination of the Saudi and Iranian regimes would have cost fewer American lives and been an even more powerful demonstration of American might, perhaps strong enough to bring a generation of peace. But instead, America has chosen to play Israel's futile game of one step forward, one step back, allowing its enemies to regroup in safe havens, then come back and attack troops who are pinned down like sitting ducks. This is an old game, dating back to the Korean police action, and it has never played out well, demonstrated most clearly by the continuing threat posed by North Korea ...

"Stationing troops in 144 of the 191 U.N. member states around the world has not brought peace. History proves that no utopian vision, however sweeping, will ever bring a permanent peace. Let us then abandon visions of a global Pax Americana, bring our soldiers home, and only send them forth when war is necessary and declared. And when the war is won and the enemy is destroyed, bring the troops home again immediately. They deserve no less."

Defending the Guard
In the New York Post, Alan Meese, a professor of law at William and Mary, takes issue with the uproar over Bush's National Guard service, denouncing the notion that Guardsmen are any less valuable to the U.S. military, or that they might look to avoid the risks of battle. Even so, Meese skips over the fact that the Guard was widely viewed as a safe haven during Vietnam, with some young Guard hopefuls indeed fighting -- for a slot at the top of the list to get in. Meese also appears unconcerned with lingering questions about gaps in the president's service record.

"John Kerry, who served four months on a Navy patrol boat in Vietnam, seemed to compare Guard service with 'going to Canada' or illegally resisting the draft and 'going to jail,' saying he 'had never made any judgments' about 'these choices people make.' Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of Kerry's party, claimed the president 'never served in the military or [served] our country.'

"Those who disparage service in the Guard are dead wrong. Like the [Guard] pilots who scrambled on 9/11, Guard pilots have played a major role in America's defense since the Air Guard's birth in 1947.

"During the Korean War, 66 Guard squadrons were mobilized. Six, including the 111th, saw combat. Guard warplanes flew 39,530 sorties and dropped 44,000 bombs; 101 Guardsmen were lost -- killed or MIA ... In 1961, President Kennedy activated 18 squadrons of Guard combat aircraft and deployed 11 to Europe, countering the Soviets in Berlin. At the Cold War's height, hundreds of Soviet bombers carrying hydrogen bombs threatened the United States. More than 1,000 fighters, many on five-minute alert, were ready to meet them, including planes from 25 Guard squadrons.

"Thus, Bush volunteered on May 27, 1968, for a Guard that had seen combat in the nation's last war and still played an important role in its defense."

Osama is being "monitored by satellite"
So says the Sunday Express, a London tabloid owned by Brit publishing magnate Richard Desmond, whose other titles include "Horny Houswives," "Mega Boobs," and "Worldwide Golf." Though some Bush opponents worry that the administration could spring an "October surprise" by capturing Osama just in time to parade back into the White House in November, few mainstream media have picked up the Express story. Australia's Sunday Telegraph ventured a cautious report on Monday:

"Bin Laden 'surrounded'

"February 22, 2004

"A British Sunday newspaper is claiming Osama bin Laden has been found and is surrounded by US special forces in an area of land bordering north-west Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Sunday Express, known for its sometimes colourful scoops, claims the al-Qaeda leader has been 'sighted' for the first time since 2001 and is being monitored by satellite ...

"The claim is attributed to 'a well-placed intelligence source' in Washington, who is quoted as saying: 'He (bin Laden) is boxed in.'

"The paper says the hostile terrain makes an all-out conventional military assault impossible. The plan to capture him would depend on a 'grab-him-and-go' style operation. 'US helicopters already sited on the Afghanistan border will swoop in to extricate him,' the newspaper says ... The special forces are 'absolutely confident' there is no escape for bin Laden, and are awaiting the order to go in and get him.

"'The timing of that order will ultimately depend on President Bush,' the paper says. 'Capturing bin Laden will certainly be a huge help for him as he gets ready for the election.'"

Pundits vs. polls
While President Bush's approval ratings have recently been sinking, right-wing radio star Rush Limbaugh declares he's fed up with political polling altogether -- it's no substitute, he says, for old-school, hit-the-pavement reporting. On his Web site last Thursday, he featured the following "Maha Rushie" quote of the day:

"This whole business of polling has become an instrument of making news. It's a lazy journalist's way of doing his job. They do a poll and report it rather than going out there, look at what's happening and tell us what's going on."

Two items down the page, Limbaugh offered an apparently unconnected bit of breaking news about his recent legal troubles with illicit drugs:

"Official Results of Court TV Poll:
"Is Rush Limbaugh's prosecution motivated by politics?
"Yes: 11,202 (64%) No: 6,341 (36%)"

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Read more of "Right Hook," Salon's weekly roundup of conservative commentary and analysis here.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2004 Elections Gay Marriage George W. Bush Iraq Middle East Osama Bin Laden Rush Limbaugh