Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Whither The Base?

"Paging Dr. Dobson! Dr. Dobson, please report to emergency!"

As the president's Social Security initiative falters with each passing day, what on earth is his base up to? I am talking about the shepherds of the religious right who provide Bush with rhetorical cover anytime the truth leaves him with nowhere to hide.

By now, we should have seen Brutha Falwell on Fox News arguing the president's case on the grounds that the phrase "Social Security" appears nowhere in scripture. Certainly, Tony Perkins should have made it by now onto Sean Hannity's show to rally the millions of evangelicals who surged to their polling places to bestow upon President Bush another four years in the White House.

What could explain the conspicuous silence of these bombastic Bush supporters? Where could they be, these true believers?

They are busy trying to get their own agenda back on course, having had the wind sucked right out of their sails by the Social Security leg of Bush's "Ask the President" tour.

Evangelical political activists have discovered, quelle surprise, that Bush's domestic agenda and theirs are not necessarily the same thing. Imagine their confusion to hear Bush, after election day, announce that Social Security reform is his Number 1 Domestic Priority. They must be forgiven their surprise. During the campaign, Bush spoke barely a word about Social Security, but had quite a lot to say about the sanctity of marriage and the urgent need to defend it as the union of "one man and one woman."

One can certainly understand values-voters' disappointment when the president punted on the issue of a Federal Marriage Amendment, saying the idea simply doesn't enjoy enough support in the senate just now.

As a matter of fact, the withdrawal from the Social Security debate of the president's most devoted supporters is easily explained: it is what they promised to do.

"WASHINGTON A coalition of major conservative Christian groups is threatening to withhold support for President George W. Bush's plans to remake Social Security unless Bush vigorously champions a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage (January 26, 2005)."

The anger of Christian conservatives over this issue will continue to simmer. Will they ever let it boil? If Bush lets their agenda remain on his back burner, will evangelicals punish him and the GOP at the polls in 2006? If not, his dismissive attitude toward them (outside of campaign season) is unlikely ever to change.