April 17, 2004


Below the Campaign Radar, a Values War (ROBIN TONER, 4/17/04, NY Times)

There are stark differences between the candidates on these issues. Mr. Bush, for example, supports a constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage, and recently asserted in a speech that an amendment is the only way to protect the institution of marriage from "activist courts and local officials" who want to redefine it. Mr. Kerry says such an amendment is wrong; he opposes gay marriage but supports civil unions, and he has accused Mr. Bush of practicing divisive politics on the issue.

Mr. Bush is on record as a longtime opponent of legalized abortion, except in cases of rape and incest and to save a woman's life. Last fall he signed into law the first federal ban on a specific abortion procedure, the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, and he has appointed some prominent opponents of a constitutional right to abortion to federal appeals courts. He has said the country is not ready for an outright ban on abortion, although his party's platform calls for one, and he often speaks of working to "build a culture of life."

Mr. Kerry has a 100 percent rating from Naral Pro-Choice America and has promised to block any nominee to the Supreme Court who does not support Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that recognized a right to abortion. He was one of 34 senators who voted against the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, on the ground that that it had no exception for the use of the procedure to protect the health of the pregnant woman.

Another sharp distinction is on the issue of capital punishment. Mr. Kerry, a former prosecutor, has long opposed the death penalty, although he now supports its use against terrorists and has said he would respect state laws that call for it. Mr. Bush was governor of a state that led the nation in executions.

The campaigns themselves, so far, are not hammering those differences as hard as they might, at least with general audiences. This is not surprising, some analysts say. "When you're running nationwide with so many different constituencies, it's hard to take on these issues without wondering whether you're going to drive away as many as you attract," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center.
History suggests both the effectiveness and the risks. The 1988 campaign of the first President George Bush devastated the Democratic nominee, Michael S. Dukakis, by defining him as soft on crime and excessively devoted to civil liberties. Four years later, though, Republican appeals to "family values" and the declaration of a cultural war at the party's convention were widely thought to have backfired.

Actually, George H. W. Bush made a terrible mistake by not running on cuultural issues, one of the reasons conservatives didn't turn out for him. The only exciting moment of his whole campaign was Pat Buchanan's Culture War speech:

The presidency is also America's bully pulpit, what Mr Truman called, "preeminently a place of moral leadership." George Bush is a defender of right-to-life, and lifelong champion of the Judeo-Christian values and beliefs upon which this nation was built.

Mr Clinton, however, has a different agenda.

At its top is unrestricted abortion on demand. When the Irish-Catholic governor of Pennsylvania, Robert Casey, asked to say a few words on behalf of the 25 million unborn children destroyed since Roe v Wade, he was told there was no place for him at the podium of Bill Clinton's convention, no room at the inn.

Yet a militant leader of the homosexual rights movement could rise at that convention and exult: "Bill Clinton and Al Gore represent the most pro-lesbian and pro-gay ticket in history." And so they do.

Bill Clinton supports school choice--but only for state-run schools. Parents who send their children to Christian schools, or Catholic schools, need not apply.

Elect me, and you get two for the price of one, Mr Clinton says of his lawyer-spouse. And what does Hillary believe? Well, Hillary believes that 12-year-olds should have a right to sue their parents, and she has compared marriage as an institution to slavery--and life on an Indian reservation.

Well, speak for yourself, Hillary.

Friends, this is radical feminism. The agenda Clinton & Clinton would impose on America--abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat--that's change, all right. But it is not the kind of change America wants. It is not the kind of change America needs. And it is not the kind of change we can tolerate in a nation that we still call God's country. [...]
[T]onight I want to talk to the 3 million Americans who voted for me. I will never forget you, nor the great honor you have done me. But I do believe, deep in my heart, that the right place for us to be now--in this presidential campaign--is right beside George Bush. The party is our home; this party is where we belong. And don't let anyone tell you any different.

Yes, we disagreed with President Bush, but we stand with him for freedom to choice religious schools, and we stand with him against the amoral idea that gay and lesbian couples should have the same standing in law as married men and women.

We stand with President Bush for right-to-life, and for voluntary prayer in the public schools, and against putting American women in combat. And we stand with President Bush in favor of the right of small towns and communities to control the raw sewage of pornography that pollutes our popular culture.

We stand with President Bush in favor of federal judges who interpret the law as written, and against Supreme Court justices who think they have a mandate to rewrite our Constitution.

My friends, this election is about much more than who gets what. It is about who we are. It is about what we believe. It is about what we stand for as Americans. There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself. And in that struggle for the soul of America, Clinton & Clinton are on the other side, and George Bush is on our side. And so, we have to come home, and stand beside him.

The speech provided a sharp spike upwards in tracking polls. Unfortunately, Mr. Bush wasn't home when they got there.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 17, 2004 8:03 AM

Still resonates.

Posted by: genecis at April 17, 2004 11:16 AM

Too bad it pushed Ronald Reagan out of prime time, although one suspects nothing could have helped the hapless Prez at that point.

Posted by: kevin whited at April 17, 2004 4:13 PM