Wag the Fag

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The desperation days have arrived at the White House as we enter a hot and nasty political summer. Despite the one-week reprieve that Bush got thanks to Ronald Reagan's death—and the media's dangerous blackout of all other news while it fawned over the dead president for seven days straight—the Bushies are in full- force fabrication mode, and the Republican establishment has pulled out the biggest diversionary tactic in its war book. Senate Republicans have now grabbed the federal marriage amendment off the back burner, obviously afraid the Bush presidency will go down in flames if they don't draw attention from the ensuing disasters of the Iraq war. After signaling for months that there wouldn't be a vote on the amendment before November—and after saying himself that he didn't think amending the Constitution was something to rush into—Senate majority leader Bill Frist has scheduled a vote on the FMA for the week of July 12.

Months back, I wrote that gay people who are opposed to the war in Iraq had better be careful what they wish for: If the public starts snapping out of the hypnotic, 9/11-induced trance and gets wise to the war lies, the horrors of homosexuality will be the desperate diversion of the campaign. Wag the Fag is what I'd called the strategy.

Sure enough, that desperation has engulfed Washington. Frantic to hold on to some semblance of a justification for the invasion, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and the rest of the gang continue to promulgate fantasies about connections between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, even as the 9/11 Commission confirms otherwise. Splitting hairs about what they meant—"collaboration" vs. "contact"—is a farcical game on the Bushies' part, since everyone knows that in the run-up to war they strongly insinuated Saddam was responsible for 9/11.

It wasn't surprising to see Cheney whirl himself into yet another vein-popping tirade against the media, most pointedly the New York Times (whose credibility is already on the line), for allegedly misinterpreting the commission's findings. The fact that the commission later asked for whatever information Cheney himself was keeping from them—if indeed he had further evidence of a working relationship between Saddam and al Qaeda—only underscored the fact that the Bushies will continue to tell their own story, blur the facts and hope that half of the slumbering public still believes them.

While Cheney was ranting, Republicans in Congress were noticeably quiet on the subject of the 9/11 Commission's staff report. As of the end of last week, House majority leader Tom "The Hammer" DeLay was busy getting hammered himself with ethics complaints brought against his own sleazy brand of politics. Nor was there much heard from Frist or the other Senate loudmouths like Rick Santorum and Trent Lott. (House speaker Dennis Hastert complained about allowing the commission's report to land smack dab in the middle of the election campaign, but he didn't forcefully refute the commission's findings). They might all weigh in heavy this week, but few wanted to be out front in crossing the bipartisan 9/11 commission, which has enjoyed huge public support and came about solely because of the push by the families of 9/11 victims.

Republicans in the Senate were showing themselves to be loyal soldiers to Bush by pushing another issue that Karl Rove thinks will help save the presidency. From the Republicans' perspective, changing the subject is now the most important thing, and the marriage amendment has been sitting there like a get-out-of-jail-free card. But is it really going to get them past Go?

The GOP strategy is to put Democrats in the Senate on the defensive just before they head to Boston for their convention—which is taking place in a state in which same-sex marriage just became legal—and thus put John Kerry on the defensive too. This tactic has pitfalls for the Republicans, and they know it. Last week they tried to give the moderates among them (as well as conservative Democrats) some cover in voting for the amendment by passing a new measure to include sexual orientation in the federal definition of hate crimes, thereby adding gays to a law originally passed during the civil rights movement to enhance penalties for hate crimes committed on the basis of race. Who would have imagined that a gay-inclusive hate crimes bill would get to the floor for a vote in a Republican-controlled Senate during an election year, let alone get passed? But the vote on hate crimes was all about making some senators feel that they'd done something nice for those poor homosexuals, who they might be voting to make into second-class citizens a few weeks later. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Oregon), a co-sponsor of the hate crimes bill, spelled out the strategy precisely:

"Before you get to marriage, you've got to get over hate, and today the Senate did," he said last week. ''When someone is being stoned in the public square, we should all come to their rescue, and that includes the federal government."

In other words, we'll pity you when you're being bludgeoned to death, just don't ask for equal rights. But Bush's brand of compassionate conservatism doesn't seem to care much even when you are getting bludgeoned to death: He refused to support hate crimes bills that include gays as governor of Texas, and the White House has not indicated it will sign this bill, either.

Smith is one among several Republican senators who has been reticent about the marriage amendment and has said that he would not want to exempt civil unions. It's an issue that splits Republicans in the House and Senate, while Democrats have mostly been unified about not backing any amendment to the Constitution. No one expects that the Senate will get the two-thirds majority needed to pass the amendment, and it's doubtful that most voters are really going to be up for a gay marriage sideshow while the economy stalls and Iraq burns. But if the Republicans really are intent on using same-sex marriage as a weapon this fall, then, in the words of their dissembler-in-chief, I say bring it on. o

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