A baseless attack

E.J. Dionne is irate that President Bush is pushing for a constitutional ban on gay marriage in an election year, and Dionne thinks Bush’s “base” should be irate as well. It’s hard to see why, though. Bush campaigned in favor of the amendment, but it was hardly the center-piece of his campaign, and no reasonable voter could have concluded that the amendment was among his highest priority agenda-items. Thus, it makes sense that he did not push for the amendment until the second year of his new term.

Nor, on balance, can Bush be accused of stacking his second year initiatives in favor of issues that appeal to social conservatives. Bush is putting a huge amount of political capital behind an immigration reform package that most social conservatives I know hate. Although I disagree with Bush on the issue, it’s clear that he is being far more principled than, say, Bill Clinton was. By the way, I don’t recall Dionne scrutinizing Clinton’s legislative timing for hints of opportunism.

It’s understandable that a rank Democratic partisan like Dionne is unhappy (a) that Bush’s legislative agenda contains some elements that his base favors and (b) that Democrats may be forced to vote on the issue of same-sex marriage. But there’s no reason why this should displease the conservative base.

UPDATE: This lead by Shailagh Murray and Charles Babington captures the essence of Dionne’s argument:

Republican voters, are you paying attention? Because this week’s Senate agenda is all about you, with debates scheduled on same-sex marriage and a permanent repeal of the estate tax.

What an outrage! A Republican president and a Republican Congress are conspiring to pass legislations that Republican voters like.

Meanwhile, however, Captain Ed finds merit in Dionne’s rant.

JOHN adds: I’ve been struck by how many news stories on the marriage amendment (not just opinion columns like Dionne’s) have nakedly asserted, usually within the first paragraph or two, that the amendment is being offered to placate the Republicans’ base and shore up the party’s sagging poll numbers. Can you remember the last time a Democratic legislative initiative was greeted so cynically? I can’t. Just once, I’d like to see a news lead like this:

This afternoon, Senate Democrats led by Ted Kennedy (D-Mass) offered, as they do every election year, a proposal to increase the minimum wage. The Democrats sought to boost their declining approval ratings, and to curry favor with low-wage workers and union members who are irate that the Democrats have abandoned their issues to concentrate, instead, on pacifism and social liberalism, and have sold them down the river by advocating open borders.

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