Shame Enough to Go Around

Shame Enough to Go Around

In 1988, George H.W. Bush, the first President Bush, introduced Willie Horton’s name into the American political lexicon. Four years earlier, after a vice presidential debate in which her husband claimed to have “kicked a little ass,” Barbara Bush, asked her impression of Geraldine Ferraro, responded, “It rhymes with witch.”

So it’s not like we haven’t known for a long time that the Bushes—Georges and saccharine-sweet spouses alike—are shameless.

Still, this week has recorded a new low for the family. After trotting out Laura some weeks ago to smoothly offer up the opinion that gay marriage should not be an issue for political advantage, George W. Bush, the second and presumably final President Bush, used the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the first federal government report on the then-mysterious illness afflicting “homosexual men” to reopen a book he had left closed for the 19 months since his reelection.

On June 5, 2006, exactly a quarter century after that ominous CDC report, the president had a party with some of his closest extremist friends to return to the field of battle against the scourge of gay marriage. Bush, mindful of intensifying Christian right complaints that two Supreme Court seats are not sufficient booty, is obviously pandering in the hopes of avoiding electoral Armageddon come November 7… never mind that the Republicans most at risk—moderates like Connecticut’s Christopher Shays and Nancy Johnson—can’t really be terrible happy that nonsense like the Marriage Protection Amendment returned center stage in the GOP platform.

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…

Two years ago, when the Senate first dispatched the marriage amendment, New York’s two Democratic senators, while reliable in voting against the president’s gay-baiting effort, were altogether uninspiring in their words about the need to protect the Constitution from efforts to scapegoat gay and lesbian families.

Hillary Rodham Clinton affirmed for anyone who might doubt it that she is a defender of marriage who believes it to be a “sacred bond between a man and a woman.” After discussing at length the evils of divorce, she reminded everyone that the Defense of Marriage Act, which she supports, is in perfectly fine form, never having been challenged in federal court. Schumer said even less. After agreeing that the whole matter was a distraction, he scurried on to extended comments about the need for tougher gun control.

In two meetings this year, one called by Clinton in Washington, another hosted by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, where both senators were represented, our community’s leaders worked to impress on Democrats the need to supplement charges of cynical divisiveness fairly aimed at the president with some kind words about the dignity of gay and lesbian Americans. Quinn and other LGBT big names could have spent their time last month talking about a marriage strategy here in New York, but instead devoted scarce energies to educating our senators about “messaging” appropriate to this federal debate.

On the eve of the debate, comments by Delaware Democrat Joe Biden on CNN offered little encouragement that the lessons had taken. After a litany of altogether fair charges against Bush’s misplaced priorities, Biden was asked if the amendment would “enshrine discrimination in the Constitution.” Looking genuinely perplexed, he repeated the question, then said, “I don’t know,” and went back to his prepared spiel.

When the Senate took to the floor to debate the amendment this week, Clinton and Schumer offered no message. They did not speak.

That is shameful.