Maybe they can sign up Britney as a spokesperson!

We’ve known for a while that the Bush administration’s fiscal policy can roughly

be summed up as "throw money at anything that moves; reduce taxes on anything

with money". But this really takes the biscuit: the White House has now

managed to dream up a plan to spend $1.5

billion to promote marriage.

Most of us have daydreamed occasionally about what we’d do if we won the lottery,

and had $1 million or 10 million or $100 million to spend. At some point, the

amount of money just becomes ludicrous, and you have to start dreaming up increasingly

outlandish notions just to make a dent in it. But $1.5 billion on marriage?

What are you going to do, give 150,000 couples a $10,000 wedding each?

We’re told that "under the president’s proposal, federal money could be

used for specific activities like advertising campaigns to publicize the value

of marriage". With that kind of money, he could buy every single spot in

the Super Bowl ten times over, or alternatively buy every single ad page in

every single Condé Nast magazine for an entire year. If that’s what marriage

is worth, how much will he spend on babies next year, I wonder?

Hilariously, the Times characterises the program as being "relatively

inexpensive", without bothering to say what it’s inexpensive relative to.

The cost of invading Iraq, perhaps?

Politically, I have to say, the move makes enormous amounts of sense, killing

lots of birds with one stone.

  • It’s almost impossible for Democrats to oppose: anybody who speaks out against

    it will be "anti-family" and "anti-marriage". So Bush

    will continue to set the agenda, while the Dems struggle to keep up.

  • It appeals directly to fast-growing evangelical churches, who believe strongly

    in the sanctity and desirability of marriage.

  • And if you combine those two reasons, you get the real kicker: it’s almost

    impossible for homophobic "pro-family" types to oppose. You can’t

    oppose a pro-marriage program, especially when it’s confined to heterosexuals,

    on the grounds that it’s not an anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment.

No one ever said that Karl Rove wasn’t clever: he’s throwing the rabid Christian

right a bone to shut them up during the general election, when the last thing

he needs is a bunch of grass-roots supporters banging on about gay marriage

and constitutional amendments. That kind of rhetoric might get votes in Alabama,

but what Bush really needs is California and Florida, both of which are crawling

with gays and gay-friendly voters.

There’s nothing gay-friendly about this proposal, of course. That’s the genius

of it: in order to quash the unhelpful gay-marriage debate, Rove is trying to

quieten down the agitators on the right, rather than the pro-gay campaigners

on the left. He’s even rolling out Wade Horn, the assistant secretary of health

and human services for children and families, to say things like "If a

gay couple had a child and they were poor, they might be eligible for food stamps."

Gee, thanks, Mr Horn, I didn’t realise there was a movement afoot to deny food

stamps to otherwise-eligible homosexuals. (In contrast, of course, if a straight

couple had a child and they were poor, the government would be falling over

itself trying to use that $1.5 billion to make sure they got married and stayed

that way.)

But my favourite bit of the article is this:

This year, administration officials said, Mr. Bush will probably visit programs

trying to raise marriage rates in poor neighborhoods.

"The president loves to do that sort of thing in the inner city with

black churches, and he’s very good at it," a White House aide said.

Of course he "loves to do that sort of thing in the inner city".

Fly in, get your picture taken with a passell of grinning brown children, shake

hands with a priest, and fly out again. Does wonders for your reputation as

an elitist oligarch who only looks out for his bazillionaire friends.

The sad thing is that in its own narrow way, the thinking behind this program

might well be right. Yes, if you persuade young parents to get married and commit

to bringing up their children in a stable family environment, then those children

are likely to turn out healthier, richer, better educated, and less likely to

be in trouble with the law.

On the other hand, if you really wanted healthier and better educated

children in the inner cities, maybe you’d invest a bit more in, well, healthcare

and schools. But providing healthcare for all children is "socialistic"

and beyond the pale, while any attempt to redirect funds from richer to poorer

school districts is "class warfare". This, on the other hand,

telling everybody to marry up and settle down, this is compassionate

conservatism. Do try to keep up.

Most depressing of all, thanks to Bill Clinton, who unforgivably signed the

Defense of Marriage Act into law, we can’t even have a sensible debate about

whether the benefits of this program should be extended to gay couples as well

as straight ones. It might be desirable in theory, but unfortunately, thanks

to DoMA, it would be illegal.

So we’re left with yet more hugely expensive photo-opportunities, trying to

solve deep social problems while using only techniques with an overtly religious

bent. I’m sure that Joe Lieberman will be leading the applause when this is

announced in the State of the Union. Separation of church and state, my arse.

Remember that the first words David Frum heard when he started working at the

White House were "missed you at Bible Study".

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4 Responses to Maybe they can sign up Britney as a spokesperson!

  1. randomWalks says:

    felixsalmon.com: Maybe they can sign up Britney as a spokesperson!

    Bush is proposing 1.5 billion dollar campaign to promote marriage. We’re told that “under the president’s proposal, federal money could be used for specific activities like advertising campaigns to publicize the value of marriage”. With that kind of mo…

  2. jame says:

    Agree that it is both a colossal waste of money, and a clever political move.

    Silver lining: it may draw out the sting from Howard Dean’s signing of a gay marriage law in Vemront. I’m sure the Dems would rather not let this dominate the election.

    The only way to fight it (if one is up for a losing battle) is to attack it as government intrusion into private lives. Don’t think the church.v.state argument will work, since it’s not promoting marriages in a particular religion, and nobody listens to atheists.

    How far will $1.5 billion go? Depends how many marriages we’re aiming for. In Utah, the budget could get eaten up real quick.

    Maybe if you get paid to get married this will actually lead to more divorce: people get hitched, collect the dough, divorce, repeat.

    Sweet spot: the Massachusetts Supreme Court orders the government to use this program for gay marriages.

  3. blogger says:

    and now it’s billions to religious groups. sad when you think that we ‘can’t afford’ to reopen the Statue of Liberty.

  4. DD Sez says:

    Britney and Kevin forever

    Thank God the liberals aren\’t in power. If they had their way, only gays would be allowed to get married and Britney and her new hubby wouldn\’t have been able to express their love and eternal commitment. :-)

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