Daily Kos
Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Tuesday | April 29, 2003

Santorum's legacy

The Santorum story is gradually fading from the newswires and (I presume) the airwaves. He was never going to suffer Lott's fate -- the religious GOPer wingnuts would never allow his ouster. Bush and the rest of the party needs them more than they need the KKK.

Late last year, when Lott was getting roasted by the shark-attack media, I suggested Dems lay off Lott. He was doing a good job of tainting his party and exposing the GOP's "southern strategy". I actually preferred Lott stay on as Majority Leader and continue to taint the party by association. Morally, I was wrong, but tactically, it would've been for the best.

Same now. I don't want Santorum going anywhere. I want him nice and visible, in his #3 slot -- a vivid reminder to all social moderates and social libertarians about where the GOP stands on personal freedoms. There's no doubt who owns the soul of the GOP.

Stanley Kurtz, over at the National Review, laughs off this "CW". He's betting on the apocalypse:

In just a few months, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts is likely to legalize gay marriage, thus setting off a titanic national struggle [...]

Once Massachusetts legalizes gay marriage, it will be a domestic culture-war story like no other. Gay couples will flood into Massachusetts from around the country to get married. Returning to their homes, these gay couples will initiate a series of lawsuits attempting to force recognition of their marriages onto their respective states. The suits will rest on constitutional grounds of equal protection, full faith and credit and any other grounds the plaintiffs can think of. Yet neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have any inkling of what is about to hit them [...]

For months perhaps years every public official in the country will be forced to take a stand on gay marriage. Democrats and Republicans alike will have to pronounce on this ultimate hot-button issue, at the almost certain cost of alienating large numbers of their constituents. And public officials who have absolutely no interest in, or facility for, discussions about sexuality will be making gaffs right and left. If you thought Sen. Santorum's remarks were clumsy or confusing, just wait. And remember, this is probably all going to start only three or four months from now. The Santorum flap is only part of a precursor to the to the mother of all cultural battles.

As he sees it, this "mother of all cultural battles" will push those social moderates (the ones horrified by Santorum's bigotry) back into the GOP fold. So as he sees it, there's nothing to worry about. Indeed, Santorum has simply been the first to open fire in this coming war.

But, even Kurtz has to admit the GOP is temporarily wounded:

So the Santorum flap has created a short-term problem for the Republicans. And the Santorum controversy will make it easier for the mainstream media to caricature opponents of gay marriage when the issue breaks into the open.
So in other words, Kurtz is depending on this coming culture war to heal the damage Santorum has caused his party.

But what if this coming war doesn't happen? Despite dire predictions of similar horrors, the nation survived Vermont's Civil Union bill just fine. I admit, I have little clue how Vermont's CU bill and the pending litigation in Massachusetts stack up, but is there really any difference between "civil union" and "marriage" other than linguistic semantics?

And if this culture war does happen, who's to say it will benefit Republicans? For better or for worse, Democrats (outside of the South, perhaps) are wedded to their notions of tolerance. That's not a losing message, especially with social liberals, social moderates, and social libertarians.

It is the GOP that will be in a bind -- if Republicans sound too much like Santorum, they risk the wrath of the moderates. If their anti-gay rhetoric is insufficiently strident, they risk the wrath of their wingnut base.

Like Kurtz, I'm not about to predict how the nation will move on the issue. But if we indeed do face a culture war in 2004 over gay marriage, I like our chances. Anything that gets people to minimize or forget about national security is a good thing for Democrats.

Posted April 29, 2003 12:08 AM | Comments (74)


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