Columns » Max Brantley

Running on empty hate

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The former Texas governor's decision to support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage is the best indication yet of George W. Bush's troubles. His credibility is plummeting. His work, foreign and domestic, is inept when it is not downright dangerous to American lives and damaging to the economy. So now comes the so-called doomsday strategy. It's simple. When all else fails, whip up on gay and lesbian people. Whip up, in other words, on human beings - co-workers, friends and family. Whip up on people who differ from the majority on account of chemistry they cannot deny. (It is not catching, by the way.) Whip up on them, because thugs forever have loved to prey on fears. Family values? These Republican bullies spit on human values. They appoint a judge - William Pryor of Alabama - who declines to visit Disneyland when gay people might be present in big numbers. Is he afraid a gay person might breathe on him? They happily demonize their own --Vice President Cheney's daughter, for example -- for votes. You knew a coward like Bush would do no better. He knew a majority of Americans are uneasy with homosexuality because it is alien to them. Why struggle to lead people out of fear if you can spook them into an election stampede? The good news is that people are changing. A country that also once thought interracial marriage would be our ruination, is solidly opposed to "marriage" between gay people. But it is not so fixed against "civil unions" in which gay people enjoy all the legal rights of marriage. The more gay people step into sunlight- and it is still no easy thing - the more straight people will know them and the less they will feel threatened. Some Republicans aren't happy with Bush about all this. The rare principled ones believe the matter is properly left to the states. Others aren't happy because Bush talks as if he'd leave the door open to civil unions. This is second-class citizenship, by the way. But, still, many gay Democrats are willing to accept it as an improvement over no rights at all. But watch Bush's lips. If they're moving, he's likely lying. Earlier, though not in his major announcement, he expressed kind words for a proposed amendment that was routinely - and erroneously -- described in news accounts as banning marriage but allowing states to permit civil unions. Many legal scholars say the plain language of the proposal actually prohibits states or courts from giving gay couples any of the rights attendant to marriage. It would be classic Bush to express support for civil unions while campaigning for their outlaw. He's the man who extols clean air while fouling it. Who proclaims unity while dividing to conquer. He's the compassionate conservative who wants to make gay people more reviled, more of a political impediment, than Willie Horton. Their crime? Aspiring to love. Evil is not a word to throw around lightly. But mark this: if George Bush himself is not evil, his craven political strategy will feed evil in others.

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