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
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".