Dutifully Taking the Bait

The Times falls for Bush effort to use spending on families to buy off the right

The run up to the State of the Union address saw one of the more peculiar press items on the gay marriage debate.

In a January 18 story, Tom Zeller at The New York Times took up the proposal by President George W. Bush to spend $1.5 billion over five years to promote marriage. This program was supposed to be announced in the State of the Union.

The history here is that social conservatives have been pressing Bush to back the Federal Marriage Amendment in the January 20 address to Congress. Conservatives want to amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

Sensing that weighing in on a controversial social issue could cost him votes in November, Bush has been reluctant to unequivocally support the FMA and has said publicly that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act has already banned same-sex unions.

The White House offered the $1.5 billion initiative as an alternative to having the president endorse the FMA and, to be blunt, the right wingers pissed all over it. They are looking for red meat and Bush served them tofu dogs. Zeller’s article opened by admitting the political nature of the initiative.

“No sooner had the Bush administration heralded its initiative last week to spend $1.5 billion to promote marriage, particularly among low-income couples, than some social and religious conservatives began to worry,” Zeller wrote. “The gesture, they said, was a weak substitute for their larger goal: support from the White House for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.”

Having noted the politics, the article then goes on to treat the initiative seriously. We hear from sociologists, the head of the National Organization for Woman, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the right wing Cato Institute.

Zeller treats us to a discussion of the benefits of raising children in a two-parent home. We even get a quote from Judith Wallerstein whose research on the impact of divorce on children is best described as of questionable value.

Let’s get serious.

This proposal was made to buy off the right, not to help families.

There are an estimated 13 million households in this country that are headed by a single parent, with the great majority of them headed by women. Twenty-five percent of American children live with one parent. So $300 million a year works out to be roughly 23 bucks per household each year. What is that going to do for these families?

Zeller tells us that the $300 million will be spent on “counseling services, public awareness campaigns and marriage enrichment courses intended to foster ‘healthy marriages’ among the poor.”

Get real! By the time that money has been divided between the various components of the initiative and then shipped out to the states or groups that will implement this program, we are not talking about serious cash. Why is The Times treating this like something other than a blatant political gambit?

Of course, queer groups don’t even get mentioned in this story. The word “gay” appeared just once in the lead quoted above. I’m almost tempted to conclude that Zeller constructed this story so he wouldn’t have to talk to any icky homosexuals, but it is more likely that The Times’ tendency to be overly solicitous of powerful people and institutions is the culprit here.

Bush betrayed the Times and himself in the State of the Union. He never mentioned this $1.5 billion initiative. Not one word. That’s because it didn’t achieve its political goal of appeasing the right wing and also because Bush doesn’t actually give a damn about these families. The Times should stop pretending that he does.

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