Unhelpful Rhetoric

Politicians across the political spectrum live in a delusional world. In this world, facts are of little importance, and politically expedient sound bytes provide the answer of the hour. If the truth be told, the award for the most unhelpful rhetoric is not an easy one to bestow.

Some liberal politicians seem to believe that a four percent income tax hike on the nation’s highest earners will produce miraculous results: the federal government’s yearly deficit will disappear, cash-strapped social programs will receive additional funding, and the federal debt will gradually be paid down. If only life were so easy! Social conservatives, on the other hand, have a long-standing affinity for constitutional amendments – particularly when the topic is abortion or gay marriage. Passionate proclamations not withstanding, social amendments are unrealistic at best.

Recently, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted on a measure that would have banned some abortions in Washington DC. Its support crested at less than 59% of the 374 House members who voted. That isn’t close to the levels of support necessary for a constitutional amendment: 66% of House members, 67% of Senators, and approval from 38 states. Consequently, there will never be a constitutional amendment banning most abortions. Yet the unhelpful rhetoric continues.

In a similar manner, dispassionate consideration of the constitutional amendment process suggests that social conservatives who support a federal marriage amendment have embraced a comforting fantasy. Even if 66% of Representatives supported a marriage amendment (a doubtful prospect), the amendment would be unable to clear the remaining hurdles. Its been 100 years since Republicans held the seats necessary to successfully guide a controversial amendment through the US Senate, and the prospects aren’t much brighter at the state level.

Six states presently recognize gay marriage (MA, CT, IA, VT, NH, NY), while another five states recognize same-gender unions (DE, HI, IL, NJ, RI). Hence the aforementioned 11 states would likely oppose a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Unfortunately for marriage-amendment conservatives, opposition from only two additional states would doom their amendment. Given the political inclinations of Maryland, Maine, New Mexico, Washington, Oregon, and California, it’s difficult to see pro-amendment forces succeeding in in five out of the six states. In other words, a marriage amendment is practically impossible.

For decades, support for legalized abortion has consistently made the issue amendment proof; more recently support for same-sex unions has made a federal marriage amendment moot also. Conservative activists and lawmakers need to firmly embrace reality: occasional forays into the federal court system will always be helpful, but absent drastic societal changes, amendment rhetoric is useless.

Nevertheless, timid and uncreative Republican politicians continue to burnish their conservative credentials with pointless pro-amendment rhetoric. Socially conservative voters need to stop rewarding such foolishness; political utopianism should be jettisoned for realistic steps in the right direction. For instance, conservatives could reduce the number of abortions by not only encouraging abstinence, but also promoting contraception. Likewise, conservative state leaders could quell the debate over same-sex unions by ending the practice of recognizing and licensing private marital relationships. While conservatives are unlikely to change their course, the possible long term consequences of rejecting new strategies are substantial.

Politicians who largely reject the use of contraception as a means of lowering the number of abortions, do so with minimal political risk. Yet the human toll is troubling. Contrarily, leaders who refuse to support the government’s exit from the arena of marriage, can count on the political support of their socially conservative allies. Yet the damage could be extraordinary.

At present, state-level bans on same-sex unions could disappear with a single judicial pronouncement. Thereafter, opposition to government paternalism may well fracture. Marriage traditionalists will continue win party primaries, but their repeal-the-decision rhetoric will precipitate the flight of socially moderate voters from their coalition. Electoral losses will ensue. As a result, short-handed fiscal conservatives in congress may be unable to steer the country away from a lengthy debt-induced economic slough.

Admittedly it is hard to ignore the Democratic party’s apparent belief in fiscal magic, and their recent rhetorical fixation on their opponent’s supposed war on women. However, neither of these notions have the potential to create political fissures that could effect the United State’s economic health for years to come. Thus the award for the most unhelpful rhetoric goes to pro-amendment social conservatives.


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