Tuesday, May 15, 2012


After President Obama declared that he favors the legalization of gay marriage, National Review's Rich Lowry wrote this:

The president's willingness finally to say what he believes increased the sense among gay-marriage supporters that final victory is inevitable....

History is littered with the wreckage of causes pronounced inevitable by all right-thinking people. The failed Equal Rights Amendment looked inevitable when it passed Congress in 1972 and immediately 30 states ratified it. Opposition to abortion that was supposed to inevitably wither away is as robust as ever. The forces favoring gun control seemed unstoppably on the march when Congress passed the Brady Bill and the assault-weapons ban in the 1990s, but there are more protections for gun rights now than two decades ago.

Interesting he should mention those. One reason passage of the ERA may have seemed inevitable is that it was supported not merely by "right-thinking people," but by a broad cross-section of Americans: in 1974, the public favored the ERA by a 3-to-1 ratio, and even in 1982, near the beginning of the Reagan right-wing backlash, it had 2-to-1 support. But you know the story: Phyllis Schlafly and her allies dug in their heels, stood athwart history yelling "Stop!," and we could never get the sand out of the gears.

As for guns, let's talk about public opinion back when the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban became law -- in fact, let's talk about public opinion on guns throughout the 1990s. Go to Polling Report and scroll down to the Gallup numbers: you'll see that throughout that decade between 60% and 78% of the country thought that "laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict." At most 10% of the country thought those laws should be made less strict.

Guess which way we've gone since 1999 -- the year of the Columbine massacre?

Obviously, you just can't stop the gun lobby. It will punish any legislator who crosses it, because the gun cause has never needed anything resembling majority support -- all it's ever needed is much more intensity than the other side. And now no liberal or moderate politician, apart from a handful of big-city mayors and blue-state governors and members of Congress, even talks about gun control. So the public, hearing only one side's arguments, is now trending in that side's direction.

Could this happen with gay marriage? It's possible. Check out the new ABC/Washington Post poll numbers on gay marriage, and note the difference between overall opinion (mixed but warming to gay marriage) and the opinions of those who are worked up:

All told, 46 percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll express a favorable impression of Obama's statement in an interview with ABC's Robin Roberts last week that he personally has come to support gay marriage, while 47 percent respond unfavorably. That includes a 10-point tilt toward "strongly" negative rather than strongly positive views, 38 percent vs. 28 percent.

... Notably, at 52 percent, strongly positive views of Obama’s position among Democrats are 13 points lower than strongly negative views among Republicans.

The recent Gallup poll had similar results: Approval of Obama's statement topped disapproval 51%-45%, but twice as many people said they'd be less likely to vote for Obama as a result than said they'd be more likely.

(And a whopping 52% of Republicans said gay-marriage support made them less likely to vote for Obama. How is it even possible for a typical Republican to be less likely to vote for Obama than he or she was a couple of weeks ago?)

The fact that the gay-rights movement survived, and even thrived, in the 1980s, when Reagan bestrode the land and there was talk of tattooing and quarantining of gays, tells me that it's going to be hard to stop progress on this. But I wouldn't put it past the right, which seems to be able to get anything it wants when it throws a sufficiently sustained tantrum.


Victor said...

They don't just want to "stop," to thwart history.

They want a successful retreat.

Somewhere before the Magna Carta was signed in 1215 would be best - but they'll take 1860.
If that's not possible, before the 20th Century is fine.

Steve M. said...

1860 in politics, Gilded Age in economics.

Ten Bears said...

As I recall, this whole exercise in "democracy" is all about protecting the majority from the tyrannies of the minority. Bill of Rights, Constitution, Separation of Church and State. Even, elegant simplicity as it were, the Magna Carta. Protecting the majority from the tyrannies of the minority. Reich-wingers don't like that.

BH said...

Agreed, TB, except that the scheme also includes, or included, means for protecting minorities from the tyrannies of majorities - e.g., an appointed judiciary, and (back when) indirect election of Senators. The lumpenright is no doubt in the minority when compared to the electorate as a whole, but as a segment of the engaged, dependably-voting part of the electorate, it seems to me a much closer call.