Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Damien, Demons and Dubya

by Maureen Dowd

As I write this on 6-6-06, with a new Damien demonically wheeling through movie theaters trying to kill his mom in a remake of "The Omen," let us now speak of famous bogeymen.

The Bushes have always been good at using bogeymen to their political advantage.

Lee Atwater, the devilish strategist for Bush Senior, turned an obscure criminal named Willie Horton into the Candyman in 1988, whipping up the fear that if Michael Dukakis were elected, hordes of swarthy skels would be freed on weekend parole and swarm into your neighborhood.

W.'s supporters beat back the McCain threat in the 2000 South Carolina primary by spreading gossip that the Arizona senator had fathered a black baby — a creepy distortion of the fact that he and his wife had adopted a little girl from Bangladesh.

Karl Rove, an Atwater acolyte, had a closetful of bogeymen whisking W. past the finish line in 2004: terrorists who might strike again, gays who wanted to get hitched, stem cell research, Darwin, Dan Rather, and a Swift-boated John Kerry.

W. prefers tactical bĂȘtes noires to real ones. (Hillary followed his lead by joining conservatives to support a constitutional ban on flag burning.)

The president had a truly terrifying bogeyman in Osama but instead conjured up a fake nuclear villain in Saddam. He has played down bin Laden, first diverting the resources needed to capture him and now diverting the money needed to protect against his likely targets, letting homeland security funds be moved from New York and Washington. (Jon Stewart has said that Omaha got a lot of homeland security money because it was under threat by the "renowned Midwestern terrorist Omaha bin Laden.")

As Mike Crowley of The New Republic notes, the F.B.I. does not even mention 9/11 in its "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives" profile of Osama. The poster, updated in November 2001, says bin Laden is wanted in the bombings of the United States Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed 200 in 1998, and "is a suspect in other terrorist attacks." No word of the nearly 3,000 killed on Sept. 11.

Fearing that their monopoly on Washington power could be coming to an end, with voters grumpy at Republicans over Iraq, gas prices, Medicare, Social Security, corruption, wild spending and general incompetence, Bush strategists have revived the gay marriage Frankenstein to scare the base into turning out for midterms. (That bride of Frankenstein had better be female.)

Same-sex marriage is far less spooky than the 17 severed heads recently found in a village northeast of Baghdad, or the terror suspect accused of conspiring to behead the Canadian prime minister.

W. ignored the gay marriage issue in the 19 months after he used it to help him stay in the White House. To reprise it now, knowing it has no chance of passing, is so transparent that surely even the most blinkered "values" voters see through it.

When pollsters ask Americans their top priorities, gay marriage does not leap onto the list. In a new ABC News poll, only four in 10 surveyed were in favor of rewriting the Constitution. Even as W. gave a speech here promoting a constitutional amendment designed to demonize and discriminate against a group of Americans who have done nothing wrong, his heart did not seem in it. A Democratic strategist noted on CNN that the president looked as cowed as "a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs."

Wrestling with Iraq and Iran have worn down W., and he knows, as we do, that a couple of middle-aged guys who want to tie the knot in Provincetown is not the worst threat America faces. With our marines needing refresher courses in "core values" and with Dick Cheney promoting values like torture, government snooping and pre-emptive war, it rings hollow to opportunistically proselytize on family values. (Mary Cheney, the gay daughter of the vice president, told interviewers recently that her father opposed the marriage amendment.)

As a Times reader who sometimes e-mails me put it: "The 'values' voters turn out to be opinion voters. They believe that God hates homosexuals, that superstition trumps science every time, that all those foreigners ought to be sent back where they came from, and that all government programs are wasteful and immoral, except, of course, for the government programs which benefit them. Those are opinions, not values, and willfully ignorant opinions at that."

I know Republicans are desperate. But does it make sense to use gay love to hatemonger here when we have so much real hate coming at us from abroad?