This past week the United States Senate voted down the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, which is designed to place in the Constitution that marriage is between a man and a woman. Liberals in both parties voted against consideration of the issue. That is not surprising. Senate leaders knew they didn't have the votes. Some people claim that the exercise was foolish and a waste of time. But pro-family movement leaders wanted the vote because they believe that some Senators up for re-election who have defied the will of the voters might be more vulnerable because of that vote.
The President discussed the issue on his Saturday radio show. Early in the week, he had made a strong statement to a group of movement leaders and following defeat in the Senate he issued a statement indicating that the fight will continue.
There is no anecdotal evidence that the President or the Majority Whip twisted arms on this issue. Therein lays the problem with social issues. Almost all Democrats want nothing to do with social issues. When they were in control of the Congress most such issues never saw the light of day. Republicans, with a few notable exceptions, are not enthusiastic about them either. Majority Leader William H. Frist, M.D., commonly known as Senator Bill Frist, was mercilessly dumped on by some of his colleagues when he announced he was bringing up the Marriage Amendment. So he must be given credit for that. And to his credit, he never, ever wavered on the issues, even when doing major Sunday news shows. The Conservative movement has too often been satisfied with rhetoric and too few times has the movement demanded action.
I mentioned this to Dr. Richard Land at the White House. Land represents the Southern Baptists at such events. "My standard is the prescription drug benefit," Land quipped. In that expansion of big government, the President and Congressional leaders twisted arms until the bill was passed. The leadership in the House, in which the measure had considerable opposition, kept the vote open for over three hours until the leadership had enough votes. The President was on the telephone with Members of the House until he got sufficient commitments to pass the drug benefit bill. I know this to be true because I have spoken with several Members who talked with President Bush on the night of the vote.
Did the Majority Whip in the Senate twist arms until it hurts on the Marriage Amendment? No. Did the President talk with Senators, trading things as he did with the drug benefit? No. Was the Right angry about this? No. I asked one of the most visible and important leaders of the pro-family movement if he had conscience problems attending the event at the White House, since he and the rest of us were props in a non-effort to pass this Amendment. Without hesitation this major leader said, "Not at all. I felt we had to enforce what little this President did."
Think of a Democratic President, such as William J. Clinton. The partial-birth abortion bill comes to his desk. Clinton makes statements supporting abortion but then signs the bill. The supporters of radical life styles would be out on the streets. Clinton may have betrayed other interest groups, but he never, ever betrayed the pro-aborts. Clinton knew that the pro-abortion crowd would not accept rhetoric. They demanded action within the Clinton Administration. Twice Congress passed partial-birth abortion bills by overwhelming numbers. Twice Clinton vetoed the bill.
When the Reagan Administration first came into office, James A. Baker III, Chief of Staff to the President, and Howard H. Baker, Jr., the Senate Majority Leader, met and declared that social issues would be on the back burner.
I was on a conference call immediately thereafter with sixteen of the top leaders of what at that time was called the Religious Right. I said if a Democratic Administration had been elected and the Administration and Senate leaders said that civil rights had to be on the back burner Jesse Jackson and other civil rights leaders would be on the street within 24 hours. I was told by my friend Dr. Jerry Falwell to calm down. They totally accepted what the Reagan Administration, represented by the two (unrelated) Bakers, had declared. President Ronald W. Reagan accomplished a number of things in eight years in office. He started an economic boom, which has continued to this day. He contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union. He appointed good federal judges as well. His legacy will revolve around those issues. But did he do anything on abortion? Did he really tackle social issues? He did advocate a school-prayer amendment but again did nothing to twist arms on the issue. The Right was satisfied with that.
Until the Right learns really to fight its agenda never will be enacted. In 2004, the pro-family forces, led by Dr. James Dobson, helped to take out Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle, of South Dakota, the first time the Majority Leader had been defeated in half a century. They also contributed to the election of several other pro-family Senators. Yet when it came to the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment the pro-family forces gained only one vote. Politicians do not fear the pro-family movement. Until they do pro-family forces will not achieve their objectives. Members of Congress operate on the pain/pleasure principle. If you inflict pain they want it to stop. They will beg for the pain to stop. At that point you can get a commitment on the Marriage Amendment or any other social issue. That has not happened. The only incumbent defeated was Daschle.
So they see only one scalp hanging in the Capitol. They are not impressed. The other Republican victories came in open seats. That does not impress the liberals.
If the pro-family movement is serious it must get into the States and defeat a whole number of incumbents. Also those Senators who voted no should never be nominated by their party for the Presidency of the United States.
The pro-family movement has real troops. If it wants to get serious it must get tough. It is not clear that the pro-family movement has the stomach for that. Time will tell.