The Magazine

Why Bush Is Losing

And how he can turn it around.

Jul 19, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 42 • By FRANK CANNON and JEFFREY BELL
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But the character issue is a pale derivative of the values issues, and a paramount values issue looms: the advent of gay marriage, presently in Massachusetts and inevitably everywhere else if federal and state judges have their way. The Senate's first big vote on a constitutional amendment to preserve marriage will come this week. It will get nowhere near the two-thirds majority needed, but most Republicans will be on one side, most Democrats on the other.

That is far from true of the rank-and-file followers of the parties. In Ohio, for example, at least two reputable polls suggest that more than half of Ohio Democrats are hostile to gay marriage. Such Democrats now plan to vote for Kerry. They may know that Bush is more in favor of traditional marriage, but they have (at this writing) no reason to think this is one of the issues likely to be decided by the presidential vote.

It is not in the interest of Democrats for them to think differently, and Republicans have shied away from the issue, as they have on most such values issues since the elections of the 1980s. No matter how much a prospective issue favors a given side, there remains an understandable reluctance to incur elite condemnation as a purveyor of hate. But then again, how much lower on the moral scale could one fall after inventing tales of nonexistent Iraqi weapons in order to start a war that kills women and children on behalf of Halliburton?

Recent press analyses of Kerry and other Democratic speakers note a sharp increase in the incidence of the word "values." Strategists for both sides sense that beneath the messy surface of wartime politics, a politics of values is operating more deeply than ever. If the version of this that surfaces in 2004 is the character issue, advantage Kerry-Edwards. If the debate deepens into the realm of religion, life, and the preservation of marriage, advantage Bush-Cheney.

Jeffrey Bell and Frank Cannon are principals of Capital City Partners, a Washington consulting firm.