Politics & Policy

Republicans and Gays

Social conservatives are not going to abandon Bush.

David Horowitz has written another of his occasional screeds against social-conservative leaders. This time it was their demand that Republican National Committee chairman Marc Racicot never meet with representatives of gay-rights organizations that set Horowitz off. I largely agree with Horowitz’s article — it’s quite foolish to insist that such meetings never take place, just as it would be foolish to object to Racicot’s meeting with union leaders or the NAACP — but let me make two additional observations.

First: Horowitz says that it is “intolerant” of the social conservatives to speak of a “gay agenda,” as this implies uniformity of views among gays. This terminology, he says, concedes to the Left the ability to speak for all homosexuals (and, he argues, a bit less carefully, for all blacks and women as well). Coming from Horowitz, it is a perfectly fair point. What’s odd is that the people who usually object to the phrase “gay agenda” are liberals and leftists who believe those representational claims. If the Human Rights Campaign did not believe there was a gay agenda — including equal marriage rights, hate-crimes laws, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and the like — it would have to go out of business. Indeed, even gay conservatives who constantly emphasize the diversity of views among homosexuals implicitly accept the existence of a gay agenda. They may not agree with the Human Rights Campaign about the precise content of that agenda; they may favor marriage rights but not hate-crimes laws. But they are willing to describe political figures as “anti-gay” on the basis of those figures’ objections to those items on the agenda which they themselves support.

Second: There has been some talk in recent weeks about social conservatives’ staying home during the next election. Horowitz criticizes those social conservatives who have encouraged this speculation for their political irresponsibility: “As a fellow conservative, I do not understand how in good conscience you can do this. Are you prepared to have President Howard Dean or President John Kerry preside over our nation’s security? Do you think a liberal in the White House is going to advance the agendas of social conservatives? What can you be thinking?” (emphasis in original).

I would just make the point that the threats are idle. Social-conservative leaders have the bad habits of not setting priorities and of threatening more than they can deliver. The average social conservative likes President Bush. He appreciates that Bush has been solid on human cloning, funding for pro-abortion groups, and judicial appointments. He has kept the social-conservative position on the nondiscrimination act and every other gay-rights-related legislation one can think of. Gay marriage may become a controversy later this year, depending on the decision of the Massachusetts judiciary. But I assume the White House will find a way to oppose gay marriage without appearing to pick on or to demonize gay people. If the administration continues its current course — and does not nominate a squish to the Supreme Court — are social conservatives really going to stay home because Marc Racicot met with gay groups and the president didn’t support Rick Santorum more forcefully? There is, as yet, no reason to expect that rank-and-file social conservatives are going to do anything other than run to the polls to reelect George W. Bush.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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