April 27, 2005

I THINK THAT ANDREW SULLIVAN IS GUILTY OF OVERREADING my earlier comments on the religious right. Unlike Sullivan, I don’t think we’re in the grip of a theocracy — unless “theocracy” is defined as “a population that doesn’t support gay marriage,” in which case the point is true, but trivial.

I do think that the Republican Party is making the very mistake that I warned against immediately after the election, in Reason:

“Great election, kid. Don’t get cocky.” That could be Han Solo’s advice to President Bush. But it’s not the advice he’s getting from either the left or the right. Eager to explain away Kerry’s defeat in a way that lets them feel morally superior, many on the left are saying that it was all about “moral values,” particularly gay rights and abortion. Eager to expand their power in the second term, advocates for the Christian Right have been swift to agree.

Listening to them would be a big mistake for Bush. There’s no question that incidents like the Janet Jackson breast episode have angered a lot of Americans who feel that the entertainment industry doesn’t respect their values. And gay marriage polls badly even in the bluest of blue states. But there’s little reason to believe Americans eagerly cast their votes in November in the hope that busybodies would finally start telling them what to do.

In their book The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge explain how the Republican coalition could go wrong: “Too Southern, too greedy, and too contradictory.” Taking the advice of advocacy groups left and right is likely to send the Bush administration in that direction. Is Karl Rove smart enough to realize that?

The answer would seem to be “no.” I do think, though, that Andrew’s constant complaints about theocracy aren’t helping and indeed make even his valid points less persuasive. Andrew did a wonderful job of convincing undecideds — and even some decided-againsts — to think positively of gay rights and gay marriage, but lately his tone has been such that I doubt it’s winning many converts. I support gay marriage, though no doubt with less intensity than Andrew, but it’s clearly a minority position in the country, and last year’s courtroom “victories” seem to have done more harm than good. You go from being a minority position, to a majority position, by convincing people that you’re right. It’s not clear to me that playing the theocracy card will do that. Because either the American people agree with the “theocrats'” program, in which case there’s not much difference between theocracy and democracy, and you’d really better start changing some minds, or they don’t agree with it, in which case they’ll discipline the Republicans at the next election — assuming that the opposition doesn’t discredit itself to an even greater degree first. Trust me — you don’t want to sound like Al Gore.

UPDATE: Related thoughts, here, from Daniel Drezner, and here, from Chris Lawrence.

[LATER: Sorry — Chris Lawrence link was wrong before. Fixed now.]

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