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Wedge Issues

Hans Johnson

  1. Declaring open season on anti-bias laws. In July 2001, the Bush administration announced a plan to undermine municipal and state nondiscrimination laws through its Faith Based Initiative (FBI). The plan came to light when a reporter noticed that the White House was luring the Salvation Army to join in its push to breech the wall between church and state by pledging to trump such local ordinances in the policy it was crafting. Bush’s “other FBI” has continued to draw sour reviews, except as a get-out-the-vote tool to woo church leaders with the promise of taxpayers’ cash after reelection.
  2. Abetting bigotry via backroom deals. In fall 2001, the administration was poised to nominate J. Robert Brame, an antiunion organizer, to head the National Labor Relations Board. But Brame’s record of defending voter purging, denouncing affirmative action, and disparaging gays through involvement on the board of two far-right antigay religious groups drew criticism in the press and on Capitol Hill. Facing a fight with the Senate, then narrowly in Democratic hands, the White House backed down and Brame withdrew.
  3. Waging holy war against freedom. Bush has sought to stack the courts with ideologues whose unstinting attacks on human rights leave no liberty behind. Bush’s favorite justice, Antonin Scalia, excoriated the ruling by his more enlightened Supreme Court colleagues in Lawrence v. Texas. The narrow 5-4 decision in June 2003 nixed draconian state sodomy laws. Prodded by his Senate ally, Rick Santorum, Bush later installed antigay and antiabortion extremist William Pryor on the 11th Circuit bench. In July 2004 Pryor cast a tie-breaking vote supporting a Florida ban on gay adoptive parents. If fortunate enough to be re(s)elected, Bush could appoint as many as four Supremes and tilt the 800-seat federal judiciary even further to the right.
  4. Prying into private records. After cheering Bush’s November 2003 signature on an anti-abortion bill that could cost pregnant women their lives, John Ashcroft sought to squash a lawsuit against the bill by going after the medical records of patients at Planned Parenthood facilities. A judge had to intercede to halt Ashcroft’s fishing expedition. And three judges ruled against the law, saying it violated women’s right to privacy.
  5. Putting prejudice in the Constitution. Against the counsel of some of Congress’ leading conservatives, Bush backed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to bar same-sex marriage. In pushing the proposal, he sought guidance from Jerry Falwell and Lou Sheldon, the sorts of extremists he denounced for blaming America for 9/11. This gambit wasn’t a flip-flop. It was a flop: The Senate bounced the bid in a 48-to-50 cloture vote in July. Bush vote-counters had hoped the drive might reach the needed 67 votes to advance to the states.

Hans Johnson, a contributing editor of In These Times, is president of Progressive Victory, based in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. He is a columnist and commentator on labor, religion and trends in state and national politics.
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