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Hullabaloo


Sunday, May 11, 2003

 
Santorum Whistling Dixie

I took a leisurely stroll around downtown Blogovia this morning and came across a number of interesting discussions. David Niewert, as always, has tons of good stuff on Orcinus, but I was very intrigued by his post on the Santorum flap and a succeeding one in which he responds to Richard Einhorn’s comments about how the gay rights issue is going to play in the election.

Calpundit, who has previously asserted his belief that this is a good social/cultural issue for the Dems, cites a Harris poll that shows a vast majority of Americans are supportive of gay rights in general. Niewert also demonstrates this in his examination of the voting patterns on various gay rights issues over the past decade. Using my personal rule of thumb, the free market of popular culture, it seems clear that gayness is no longer marginalized, particularly among the young, but also among middle class women and upper middle class people of both sexes. (You get this by observing television commercials on programs that treat gay issues positively or feature gay characters– marketers do a lot of research on demographics.) So, it’s obvious that there has been a sea change in attitudes.

Niewert posits the idea that the Trent Lott affair and the hesitancy in supporting Santorum’s actual beliefs, means Rove has made the calculation that he has to appear to have deep-sixed his bigot base in favor of more socially liberal suburban moms in order to win. (Einhorn agrees, also suggesting that this “wink-wink” strategy with respect to both black and gays is pretense, but may also be designed to appeal to Hispanic voters.)

This leads me to a very interesting post on the subject by the prolific J/Mac Diva on Silver Rights in which she challenges this conventional wisdom by examining various comments by those you would expect to agree but instead are sure that because of their stands on race and gay rights, the Democrats are the likely losers.

So, what’s really going on?

Back when Atrios was all over Trent Lott I did a bunch of research on the neo-confederates. Here we have a movement that claims it is all about their "southern heritage” and denies any accusation of racism. Their web-sites don’t use the “n” word and they try (and fail) to contain their hatred of African-Americans by bleating unconvincingly about history and ancestors and birthright, blah,blah,blah.

They hammer about affirmative action and highlight crime statistics and discuss the horror of a breakdown of American values and all the other unsubtle appeals to racism that we see throughout the Southern wing of the mainstream GOP. But, what you don’t see (and I’m not talking about full-on white supremacy neo-Nazi garbage) in the neo-confederate movement is no holds barred racist language. They have learned to use code words because even stone racists realize that it is no longer ok to spew their unadorned hatred in public. So, they go on and on about the illustrious history of the antebellum south and how special it all is.

But, strangely, I found that they also spend a vast amount of time spewing the most vile commentary about gays and lesbians. Who knew this was such a huge part of America’s Southern heritage? These confederate historical associations are so obsessed with the “gay rights” agenda that you can only conclude that the “threat” of homosexuality was the most hotly debated issue in the pre-1860 south. Why else would these benign heritage societies spend such an inordinate amount of time and energy detailing the dangers of the “gay lifestyle?”

Unless, of course, discussing gays and lesbians as if they are less than human is a convenient way of signaling your bigot credentials in all things. Then, it makes sense for these historical organizations to take a bizarre stand against gays, while proclaiming their mission is a simple desire to celebrate their heritage. Trent Lott broke the rules. Santorum didn't.

None of this negates Niewert’s central argument, which is that Rove is trying to woo two constituencies with completely opposing values, but it exposes Rove’s dilemma. Certainly, the anti-gay agenda is popular with the Christian right (many of whom are also neo-confederates.) But, he knows he cannot win without also placating all of his bigoted base and appealing to a fair number of suburban swing women. Therefore, the Democrats must hammer that wedge by associating the heinous racism of the neo-confederates with hatred of gays and lesbians – something that shouldn’t be too hard, because it is absolutely true. In fact, it is a conscious, Atwateresque tactic, but one which has outlived its usefulness in a closely divided electorate.

Democrats simply have to stop talking about “programs” all the time and speak in bigger terms. In this case, they must reach those suburban women who are their natural constituency on these social issues by using language of family, psychology and community. They need to say that "traditional American values" means the freedom to be who you are (a huge majority of Americans do NOT believe that they have the right to pass judgments on other people’s personal lives.) They need to say "Lott/Santorum" like it’s one word, over and over again. They need to remind audiences that every gay person has a mom and a dad and siblings and friends and co-workers, just like they do.

This is Oprah’s audience and they need to make an explicit appeal to them based upon their values and they need to speak in that Oprah language.

Karl Rove knows that his biggest problem is that his party’s philosophy is completely incoherent. If he can keep people focused on Bush’s codpiece and fear (or fear of Bush’s codpiece), he can eke out a victory. The Democrats have to attack along all of his fault lines. This is one of them.