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The Nation

Ned Lamont Refocuses on the War

Ned Lamont has had a rough fall.

After beating incumbent Senator Joe Lieberman in the August 8 Connecticut Democratic primary, Lamont's campaign lost both its focus and its momentum.

With the tacit support of the Bush White House and the Republican National Committee, as well as a "who's who" of special-interest groups and their Washington lobbyists, Lieberman pieced together a sophisticated reelection campaign on his own "Connecticut for Lieberman" independent line. With relative ease, the senior senator and consummate Washington insider successfully repositioned himself as a reformer who wanted to put an end to partisanship.

The Lamont camp should have been able to expose the absurdity of Lieberman's claims and put the incumbent on the defensive in the fall campaign – just as the challenger and his supporters did so ably in the primary race. Instead, the challenger's campaign fumbled. Lamont's campaign manager, Tom Swan, admitted in mid-October that, "We had a slow start after the primary. It was a short-term mistake…"

Precious time was lost in late August and early September, as the Lamont camp tried to frame new themes for the fall campaign. Instead of driving home the message that Connecticut can and must send a message to George W. Bush and those members of Congress – like Lieberman – who have steered the country into a disastrous war, the Lamont campaign seemed to edge away from the smart and effective anti-war message the took its candidate from obscurity to the Democratic nomination.

Perhaps most unfortunately, the Lamont campaign started to sound petty. The daily attacks on Lieberman wore thin. There was too much picayune pondering of whether the incumbent had broken a term-limits promise, and too little emphasis on "Bring the Troops Home" fundamentals.

The Connecticut Senate race was becoming less and less a referendum on the war and more and more a referendum on Lieberman – a candidate who, despite his flaws, had a long history with Connecticut voters. As the crucial month of October slipped away, the Hartford Courant reported that Lieberman and his aides were "confident they [had] made the race about more than an unpopular war."

Polls have reflected that assessment. Lieberman has opened up a wide lead – 52 percent for the incumbent, 37 percent for Lamont, 6 percent for orphaned Republican Alan Schlesinger, in a Quinnipiac University survey conducted two weeks ago. Yet, the same poll found that 67 percent of Connecticut voters disapprove of George Bush's handling of the war – and, by extension, the senator's pro-war position.

Aware that they are in very real danger of losing a race they should be winning, Lamont and his advisors are focusing anew on the anti-war message that proved so powerful in the primary. "There are other issues, but everything else pales in comparison to the war," Tom D'Amore, a Lamont adviser, explained on Sunday. "It is the issue of our time."

To deliver the message that Lieberman is on the wrong side of the issue, the Lamont campaign is banking on retired General Wesley Clark, who served as NATO's Supreme Allied Commander before leaving the military and emerging as one of the most outspoken critics of the Bush administration's military misadventures.

In a new television ad for the Lamont campaign, Clark declares, "I'm retired General Wes Clark. Joe Lieberman introduced the resolution authorizing the War in Iraq. That was a mistake. Joe Lieberman voted for that resolution without asking the tough questions. That was also a mistake. And now, three and a half years into a failing mission in Iraq, Joe Lieberman can't seem to say we should change the course. And that's a REAL mistake."

Clark concludes: "Re-elect Joe Lieberman? Well, there's a word for it. ‘Mistake.'"

The ad delivers the right message, and it is being echoed with appropriate urgency by Lamont. Recalling how he began thinking about challenging Lieberman in November 2005, after the senator penned a Wall Street Journal opinion piece about his support for Bush's war, the Democratic nominee is telling Connecticut voters that "Joe Lieberman and George Bush are as wrong on [the war] today as they were a year ago, when I got into this race."

The question now is whether the right message is coming in time to renew Ned Lamont's prospects in an election that is barely a week away.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Limbaugh's Savage Crusade

Rush Limbaugh is not just making an issue of Michael J. Fox's campaign ads for Democratic candidates who support stem-cell research. The conservative talk-radio personality is making it the issue of a fall campaign that gets stranger by the day.

While it may be hard to figure out why anyone with Limbaugh's political pull and national prominence would declare war on the guy who played Alex P. Keaton -- one of television's most outspoken, if eccentric, conservatives -- in the series "Family Ties," there is no denying the intensity of the assault.

For the better part of three hours each day this week, the radio ranter has been "Swift Boating the television and film star for daring to do what Limbaugh -- who freely admits that he is an entertainer -- does every day.

In Limbaugh's warped assessment of the political process, it's fine for him to try and influence the votes of Americans. But woe be it to anyone else who attempts to do so.

Since Fox began speaking up in favor of candidates who support science over superstition, the television and film star who suffers from Parkinson's disease has been accused by Limbaugh of "exaggerating the effects of the disease" in campaign commercials in which he points out that Democratic candidates for the Congress and governorships in the battleground states of Missouri, Maryland, Illinois, Wisconsin and now Iowa favor a serious approach to stem-cell research while their Republican opponents do not. Limbaugh was relentless in his assault on Fox. "He's moving all around and shaking and it's purely an act," the conservative commentator says. "This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting."After it was pointed out to Limbaugh everyone, literally everyone, who knows anything about Parkinson's disease, Limbaugh declared, "Now people are telling me they have seen Michael J. Fox in interviews and he does appear the same way in the interviews as he does in this commercial. All right then, I stand corrected. . . . So I will bigly, hugely admit that I was wrong, and I will apologize to Michael J. Fox, if I am wrong in characterizing his behavior on this commercial as an act."

That should have been the end of it.

But Limbaugh wasn't backing off. His new theme became: "Michael J. Fox is allowing his illness to be exploited and in the process is shilling for a Democratic politician."

One problem with that line of attack is that Fox was the one who volunteered to cut the ads, with the express purpose of helping voters see beyond the spin and recognize the stark choices that they will be making on November 7. Another problem is that, two years ago, Fox cut an ad supporting a top Republican, Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, who supports embryonic stem-cell research. But the biggest problem is with Limbaugh's emphasis on the Fox's physical appearance, as opposed to what the actor is saying in the ads? Why blather on and on about whether Fox, an actor, might be acting?

Because it is easier to criticize the way that Michael J. Fox looks than it is to criticize the content of his message.

Fox's ads are fact-based. They reference the voting records, public statements and policy initiatives of the Democratic and Republican candidates he is talking about.

That being the case, beating up on the "Back to the Future" kid would not seem like a smart political strategy. And it certainly is not going to help Limbaugh soften his image as a partisan hitman who knows a little too much about what it means to be on or off particular medications.

So why are Limbaugh and other readers of Republican talking points continuing to accuse Fox of "acting" sick, and of lying his own disease and about the role that stem-cell research may play in the search for treatments and a cure? Why devote so much time and energy to attacking one ailing actor and one set of commercials?It has a lot to do with the powerful lobby that is opposing serious stem-cell research.

Unspoken in much of the debate over this issue is the real reason why candidates such as U.S. Senator Jim Talent, the embattled Republican incumbent who is the target of Fox's criticism in Missouri, and U.S. Representative Mark Green, the Republican gubernatorial candidate who is mentioned in Fox's ads in Wisconsin, so vehemently oppose embryonic stem-cell research.

It is not because they think the research is unnecessary -- no one who has heard from top scientists and groups advocating on behalf of the sick and suffering, as both Talent and Green have, would take such a stand. Rather, it is because Talent, Green and other politicians who are campaigning not just against their Democratic opponents but against scientific inquiry want to maintain the support of the groups that oppose serious stem-cell research: the powerful and influential anti-choice political action committees that in each election cycle spend millions of dollars in questionable cash to support candidates who are willing to echo their faith-based opposition to research that could identify treatments and perhaps even cures for for life-threatening illnesses such as Parkinson's disease, Lou Gehrig's disease, Type I or Juvenile Diabetes, Duchenne' Dystrophy, and spinal chord injuries.

Groups that oppose reproductive rights are central players in our politics because they have established networks that serve as some of the most effective hidden conduits for special-interest money that is used to pay for crude attack campaigns against mainstream candidates.

They also mobilize voters on behalf of contenders who cynically embrace the ugliest forms of anti-scientific dogma to make the rounds since the evolution deniers ginned up the Scopes trial.For this reason, the antiabortion machine gets what it wants when it wants it.

Politicians who align themselves with antichoice groups are willing to attack anyone who challenges them -- and for good reason. In states across the country, so-called "Right-to-Life" and "Pro-Life" groups spend freely on behalf of the candidates they back. And much of that spending goes essentially undetected, as the groups often do not give money directly to candidates but instead run "issue ads" and mount independent-expenditure campaigns.

Republican politicians like Talent and Green fully understand that, without the behind-the-scenes work of antiabortion groups -- most of which flies under the radar of the media and campaign-finance regulators -- they could not possibly win. And Limbaugh, whose stated goal is to maintain Republican hegemony, is perhaps even more aware of the fact than the candidates he is working so feverishly to elect.That's why the radio personality is on a personal crusade against Fox. That's also why Limbaugh has been willing to stick to his outlandish claims about the actor, even while acknowledging that he's gotten the facts wrong.

Like the Republican politicians who are scrambling to smear Fox, Limbaugh is doing the bidding of one of the most powerful behind-the-scenes political forces in America -- a force that is essential to Republican prospects. And he is not going to let a little thing like the truth make him back off.

Politics is a cynical game. But, sometimes, the cynicism becomes so extreme that the word "unconscionable" doesn't quite seem to capture the ugliness of it all.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Grasping at Straws

The press has certainly had a field day speculating on whether or not the NJ Supreme Court decision will boost values votes for the GOP. For the most part, the reporting and analysis have been incredibly slim. Start with the assumption that "values voters" are dispirited this year. Quote Bush on the stump reiterating his belief that marriage is "a union between a man and a woman." Run some fear-mongering blurbs from Dobson, Tony Perkins, Matt Daniels and the lot. Get some over-exposed wonk like Larry Sabato to spout off the top of his head. Find some operatives like Charles Black and Chuck Schumer to tow the party line. Phone the whole thing in and hit the martini bar.

Only ABC's Gary Langer has presented a genuine analysis of the alleged gay marriage fallout of '06. His conclusion: gay marriage will not be a factor in '06 and was not one in '04, not nationwide, not in Ohio and not to the benefit of Bush. Of white, evangelical voters (which have remained constant at 20% of likely voters) Langer writes, "since 11 gay-marriage initiatives didn't boost their turnout in 2006 [sic: he means 2004], it's hard to see why eight would this year. But in an election year dominated thus far by the dark shadow of the war in Iraq, gay marriage meets the basic qualification for political prognostication: It's something new to talk about."

I'm more of an agnostic on "values voters;" I'm not sure they exist but don't think their divinity, or lack thereof, can be demonstrated. That said, perception matters, and the danger of a "gay marriage energizes GOP values voters" line is that it licenses more gay-baiting from the GOP and encourages already skittish Democrats to marginalize gay issues. More than anything the "values vote" is a brand, one that right-wing leaders will promote and inflate at every opportunity and one that the mainstream press seems willing to buy at any price. But onto the races...

Virginia and Tennessee are the two most closely watched states. Webb v. Allen and Ford v. Corker share the ballot with state defense of marriage amendments. I talked to Randy Tarkington, the campaign manager of No on Amendment 1, today from their headquarters in Nashville. They've done a brave job of rallying progressive clergy and others to defeat Tennessee's anti-gay marriage amendment, but with little support from state leaders, it's an uphill battle and all signs point to an Amendment 1 victory. As for any fallout from NJ's decision, Tarkington says that not a single local reporter has called him about the case and that the issue "will not have a lot of punch here; it's just not being talked about."

Of course, it helps that Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford does the God-talk (see Bob Moser's A New Model Ford) and includes opposition to gay marriage (as well as votes for the Patriot Act and against amnesty for immigrants) in his resume. According to Tarkington, since the NJ decision, Ford has publicly reiterated his support for Amendment 1 and highlighted his two votes in Congress for the Federal Marriage Amendment. But with control of the Senate in the balance, I say hold your nose and vote Ford.

Last but not least, I want to give a shout out to fellow Beyond Marriage collaborator Nancy Polikoff, who's come up with a witty, fair and subversive solution to the NJ situation. Instead of folding gays into marriage or creating a separate civil union category for them, why not get rid of marriage entirely and have civil unions for all -- hetero and homo. The NJ legislature could do it. See her op-ed in the Philly Inquirer.

Scandal, Scandal Everywhere

According to Roll Call, the respected Capitol Hill newspaper, seventeen members of the 109th Congress are or have been under federal investigation. Add Rep. Katherine Harris to the list and you've got 18. No wonder only 16 percent of Americans approve of Congress!

The latest addition to the scandal-club is Rep. Rick Renzi of Arizona. "US prosecutors in Arizona have opened a preliminary investigation into whether Renzi twice pressured landowners to buy a 480-acre parcel owned by his former business partner, a major backer of Renzi's political campaign," the Washington Post reported on Wednesday. Renzi's also been accused of introducing legislation that would directly benefit a company that employs his father. One Arizona blogger reported he'll be indicted after the election.

Renzi twice has been named one of the most corrupt members of Congress by Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington. He's in a tight re-election race against Democrat Ellen Simon, a former lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Renzi and national Republicans have run TV ads falsely attacking Simon as "the President of the ACLU"--a post she never held. It's proof of how desperate Renzi is, and how, thanks to yet another scandal, one more safe GOP seat is now in play.

Return of the Body Count?

It's been clear since the Afghan War began in 2001 that no one had the Vietnam analogy more programmatically on their brains than the Bush team in the White House and the Pentagon. It was visibly clear that they went into Iraq in 2003 playing an opposites game with the "mistakes" of Vietnam (as they saw them)--while excoriating any critics who cared to make comparisons to the Vietnam experience. Part of administration planning was clearly aimed at avoiding all enemy "body counts," since (as the Vietnam War dragged on) the body count of kills, announced in Saigon each day, came to discredit the whole effort. All blood, no results. So, starting in Afghanistan, this administration was clearly going to produce only results and no enemy body counts.

Tommy Franks, the US commander of that operation, famously said so. "We don't do body counts" was his statement. But--until this week--we had no other insider confirmation that, right down to the body count, Vietnam remained the anti-template for the war in Iraq.

Tuesday, however, was Radio Day, a gathering of rabid, right-wing radio shock jocks in a heated tent on the North Lawn of the White House, where the top honchos of this administration right up to Karl Rove and Dick Cheney sat for interviews with Sean Hannity & Co. to rally the faithful two weeks before a shaky midterm election. It was an event, as Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post found out, closed to "the press" (except for ten minutes of "pool" coverage). On Wednesday, the President himself made amends, opening up the inner sanctum, the Oval Office, to the press -- well, 8 "conservative journalists" anyway.

Byron York of the National Review was there and wrote a revealing piece Wednesday about the President's growing frustration over Iraq. It seems that the man who, in December 2005, finally offered a cumulative (unbelievably low-ball) body count of 30,000 for all Iraqi deaths by violence since 2003 and then "stood by" that same number almost 11 bloody months later, was most frustrated that he couldn't offer the American people a real, notch-on-the-gun, continuous measure of "progress" in Iraq -- just how many enemies we were knocking off there regularly. "We don't get to say," said Bush, in what was evidently an outburst of irritation, "that -- a thousand of the enemy killed, or whatever the number was. It's happening. You just don't know it."

And why exactly can't the President reveal that proud -- and obviously high -- figure to us when, as he said, comparing Iraq to World War II (where progress was so much easier to measure), there are so few other indices of success? He was willing to reveal just why for the first time in this passage from the York piece:

"'We have made a conscious effort not to be a body-count team,' Bush said, in a clear reference to the tabulations of enemy killed that became a hallmark of the Vietnam War. And that, in turn, "gives you the impression that [U.S. troops] are just there -- kind of moving around, directing traffic, and somebody takes a shot at them and they're down."

So now we know. This can officially be declared the anti-Vietnam, anti-body count war. The President has told us so. And it's darn frustrating for a man who, according to the Washington Post's Bob Woodward, once kept in his Oval Office desk drawer "his own personal scorecard for the war" in the form of photographs with brief biographies and personality sketches of those judged to be the world's most dangerous terrorists--each ready to be crossed out by the President as his forces took them down. And a man who is truly frustrated, well, he just has to vent sometime, doesn't he? Perhaps, since so much else from the Vietnam era has returned to haunt us, it's time for the official return of the body count or, as Donald Rumsfeld likes to call all the measuring the administration does behind the scenes, the "metrics" of "success."

Oversight? Nah, Don't Need It

Yet another reason why Americans who believe in accountability and oversight should be pulling for Democrats to win this November…

While the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction doesn't have the teeth of an independent war profiteering commission, the office has provided some measure of oversight. But the Defense Authorization Act signed by George Bush last week "states that the inspector general's office will halt its examination of those expenditures by October of next year," James Glanz reported in The New York Times yesterday.

Oversight would then be redistributed to the Departments of State, Defense, and USAID--and that doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

"This termination plan means that billions of dollars will go without proper oversight and auditing," said Sen. Russ Feingold.

Here are some of the more troubling facts revealed by the Inspector General's latest report: overhead costs have consumed from 20 percent to 55 percent of many reconstruction project budgets. Though GOP leaders and contractors often cite security as the cause of cost overruns, the IG report said that wasn't the main reason at all. In fact, "the United States ordered the contractors and their equipment to Iraq and then let them sit idle for months at a time. The delay…was as long as nine months." And, as Jim Mitchell, spokesman for the Inspector General's office, said, "… the meter ran."

According to Mitchell, "…even the high of 55 percent could be an underestimate…because the government often did not begin tracking overhead costs for months after the companies mobilized." Further, the government tracking of expenses was "haphazard…The report's conclusions were drawn from $1.3 billion in contracts for which United States government overseers actually made an effort to track overhead costs, of the total of $18.4 billion set aside for reconstruction in specific supplemental funding bills for the 2006 fiscal year."

If you are outraged by this approach to "spreading democracy" you should be. These monies were intended to improve the lives of Iraqis, not fatten corporate coffers while squandering needed resources and burdening future generations with debt.

There is a good way to end this rampant incompetence and corruption: with a Democratic House providing oversight that can't be squelched with a stroke of the pen.

Slice the Vote

Voters in three key areas of Virginia won't see Senate challenger Jim Webb's name on the summary page of their electronic ballots. Instead, thanks to a computer glitch, Webb's name will read "James H. 'Jim.' Moreover, voters won't know that his opponent, George Allen, is a Republican.

Election officials attribute the errors to an increase in type size, which likely can't be remedied before the November 7 election. According to the Washington Post, the secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections, Jean Jensen, "pledged to have it fixed by the 2007 statewide elections."

How reassuring. Despite the shrinkage on the summary page, Webb's full name will appear in the section where votes are actually cast. Election officials plan to post signs in voting booths explaining the discrepancy. If recent history is any indication, confusion will ensue.

Two local GOP legislators are calling for mandatory paper records to backup the erroneous electronic ballots. Good idea. It's only control of the US Senate that's potentially at stake.

PS: The Post also has a must-read story today further exposing Allen's sordid racial past.

The South Changes Course

The South is known for its strong support of the military. Perhaps it's that very support that has led to something one might not expect – growing opposition to the war in Iraq. Not only opposition matching national levels, but in some southern states even exceeding it.

An important new national survey by the Institute for Southern Studies and the School of Public and International Affairs at North Carolina State University shows that, "Southerners, after disproportionate support for the war early on, now doubt US policy in Iraq just as strongly as people in other regions of the country, and in some cases more so."

Fifty-seven percent of Southerners believe the US "should have stayed out of Iraq," compared to fifty-eight percent nationally. Thirty percent said the US should "withdraw completely," compared to twenty-six in non-Southern states. Fifty-six percent of Southerners support a decrease or total withdrawal of US troops, compared to fifty-nine percent in other regions. (The 13 southern states for purposes of this poll include: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.)

According to the Institute for Southern Studies, "The results signal a shift in Southern attitudes towards Iraq. As recently as July 2005, a Pew Center poll found fifty-three percent of Southerners believed using military force against Iraq was ‘the right decision,' the highest level of support in the country."

This survey comes on the heels of an Associated Press-Ipsos poll that reveals a similar shift among southern women: only thirty-two percent approve of President Bush's handling of the war, compared to twenty-eight percent nationally. Further, three out of five southern women plan to vote Democratic in the midterm elections – an encouraging change from the fifty-four percent support George Bush received in 2004.

"The current Washington leadership has counted on Southern states as a bastion of support on Iraq," said Chris Kromm, director of the non-partisan Institute based in Durham, NC., "but clearly that support is deteriorating."

The significance of this southern shift was noted in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution op-ed by the astute Jay Bookman: "When you've lost even the South, it's over. Pretending that we can sustain our effort in Iraq for several more years with such meager support here at home is sheer fantasy."

Of course, operating under sheer fantasy is nothing new for the Bush administration. The only way to burst its bubble and end this war is to voice opposition, vote opposition, and hold our representatives accountable on November 7.





Working Families Party--Continued
This past Monday, I posted an Editor's Cut about the great Pete Seeger's letter urging New Yorkers to vote this election season on the Working Families Party ballot line. I also suggested that those--like me--who believe the WFP should have either abstained from endorsing, or refused to cross-endorse, Hillary Clinton for Senate because of her position on the war should just go for Spitzer and the down ballot races. My colleague Katha Pollitt, the finest columnist working in these times, wrote me and asked:

Hi Katrina,
What do you make of this, from the listserv Portside:

"In another race in Rockland County where I live, we have a Democratic candidate, Nancy Low-Hogan, challenging the long entrenched Republican/Conservative endorsed Thomas P. Morahan for the State Senate in the 38th Senate District. The Working Families Party also has given Morahan their line instead of the Democratic candidate."

Do you really want people to "vote the WFP ticket in down ticket races" as you say in Editor's Cut-- when the WFP candidate is a Republican?"

Katha,
Thanks for pointing out this race. I'd still strongly urge people to vote for Eliot Spitzer for Governor on the WFP line. Then, voters should choose their candidates, down ballot, as they see fit. Follow your conscience--and in these days, that may well mean a vote against the GOP. However, it's worth pointing out that in some of these cases, what we should really focus on is redistricting (which we need a pro-democracy movement to bust up) because those Republican candidates on the WFP line are pretty much invulnerable. But the bottom line remains: The WFP operates as a fusion party, trying to provide strategic support and then using the leverage it builds for policy gains that actually improves people's lives. It's fair to say that in terms of real-world impact in New York, in terms of building a multi-class, multi-racial political organization, the WFP's strategy has been effective.

NJ Supreme Court Backs Same-Sex Unions (updated)

So here are some more thoughts on today's same-sex union decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court. First, while the decision is more expansive and pro-gay than New York's and Washington's, it's hardly the ringing victory the gay marriage movement wanted. It's also, despite eloquent portions, fundamentally flawed in the same way that those previous decisions were. By ruling that there is no "fundamental right to same-sex marriage" in the NJ constitution, the majority framed the liberty/due process issue in a narrow, circular way. Of course there's no "fundamental right to same-sex marriage" in the NJ or US constitution.

But that's not the point. As Judge Poritz points out in her dissent (citing Judge Judith Kaye's dissent in the NY decision), when courts ask "whether there is a fundamental right to marriage rooted in the traditions, history and conscience of our people, there is universal agreement that the answer is 'yes.'" In other words, the issue is not the right to same-sex marriage, but the right to marry period.

Second, in terms of the November elections, while conservatives like James Dobson of Focus on the Family (FoF) have railed against the decision as "a travesty," it's also clear that they can barely hide their disappointment at not getting the base-galvanizing, pro-marriage decision that they were dreading/anticipating.

An FoF article says that "today's ruling in favor of same-sex unions must motivate values voters to get to the polls." Dobson warns that "nothing less than the future of the American family hangs in the balance," and attempts to drum up support for the eight state anti-gay marriage amendments on the ballot on Nov. 7. Bruce Hausknecht, FoF's judicial analyst, speculates that "New Jersey could now become the gay-marriage capital of the United States," and cautions that the decision could become "electric." Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) rails against activist judges and says that the New Jersey decision "warrants swift, decisive action by Congress in the form of passage of the Marriage Protection Amendment."

Try as they might, these right-wing attempts to ratchet up the gay marriage fear factor come off as rather lame. By leaving it up to the legislature to decide between gay marriage or civil union, the court dodged a bullet. And all signs indicate that the Democrat-controlled legislature and Gov. Corzine will take the easy way out and pass a civil union bill (like Vermont's or Connecticut's). It's hard to see how even the right-wing machine could turn the incredibly slim chance that the NJ legislature would pass a gay marriage bill into a viable election issue. It's a local issue now, not national. As I pointed out earlier, only same-sex marriage outright would create the possibility for gay couples to sue in federal courts for broader marriage benefits.

Finally, the die-hards in the gay marriage movement are set on getting marriage in NJ and in the country at large. A creepy and policing statement from Freedom to Marry (led by marriage guru Evan Wolfson) reads, "This is not about civil unions, and we should insure that we do not allow that sort of confusion to creep into the conversation. It is our responsibility to be VERY CAREFUL not to even address the civil unions issue...We're not fighting for civil unions, so let's not even let it enter the argument."

If this sounds anxious, it's because gay marriage advocates have every cause to be alarmed. When the court granted all the rights and benefits (and also all the "burdens and obligations") of marriage to same-sex couples and allowed that civil unions could fulfill those rights and benefits, it set up a political situation in which gay marriage advocates will have to convince the legislature and the public that the symbolic title of marriage matters. It does, of course, in the sense that only marriage opens up the federal courts to gay marriage claims -- but stripped of the compelling testimonials of gay couples denied material rights and benefits, the case became much harder.

For those located in DC and up at the ungodly hour of 6AM, I'm on Washington Post Radio (107.7 FM and 1500 AM) tomorrow (Thursday) to discuss the NJ decision. I'm also on OUT-FM/WBAI on Monday at 11:30. Tune in.

*****

In a 4-3 decision the New Jersey Supreme Court held that "although we cannot find that a fundamental right to same-sex marriage exists in this State, the unequal dispensation of rights and benefits to committed same-sex partners can no longer be tolerated under our State Constitution."

Translation? In short, the Court said that gay couples should receive all the rights and benefits of marriage that the state of NJ can provide. But it's up to the legislature to decide whether or not that union is called "marriage" or "civil union" or some other term. Essentially, the NJ decision echoes Vermont's. It mandates that the legislature resolve these inequalities within six months. Given that Corzine and other leading NJ Dems haven't supported "gay marriage" outright, expect civil unions, and not gay marriage, to be the solution.

The distinction won't matter within NJ per se-- since the Court said that whatever the union is called, it must provide all the rights and benefits of marriage -- but it could have implications nationwide. A gay marriage bill from the legislature would open up the possibility that the federal government and other states would have to recognize same-sex marriages from NJ under the full faith and credit clause of the US Constitution. A civil union bill would not have such ramifications. Massachusetts has a law barring out of state couples from marrying within state if their home state would not recognize the union; New Jersey does not. Hence, gay marriage advocates were eager for a definitive pro-marriage decision and, despite what they say to the press, surely a bit dissappointed at this ruling.

Chief Justice Deborah Poritz, joined by Justices Long and Zazzali, filed a concurring and dissenting opinion. Their opinion called for full marriage rights (thus the concurring part) including the right to the title "marriage" (the dissenting part).

I'll file more later once I digest the entire decision.