Ever since the invasion of Iraq, Karl Rove has been traveling the country mobilizing the evangelical vote for the 2004 elections. In city after city, he is meeting with evangelical leaders. He begs: "in 2000, only 16 million of you voted. We need the other four million."
Rove has coupled these overtures to evangelicals with similar meetings with the Jewish community (in Cincinatti, he left the evangelical meeting to join the representatives of Jewish organizations one floor up in the same hotel). In both meetings, Rove stresses the importance of President Bush’s invasion of Iraq and his support of Israel. But only with the evangelicals does he stress the president’s unwavering support for the moral issues that are their priorities — abortion, pornography, judges, and (most important) the Marriage Amendment.
Howard Baker used to say, "That door swings both ways." But this one is going to be slammed in the face of the evangelicals. And they should see it coming.
During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the administration worked hard to firm up the alliance of Jews and Christian evangelicals supporting the war. A full year before the Iraq invasion, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman was already complaining about "… the feckless American Jewish leaders, fundamentalist Christians and neoconservatives who together have helped make it impossible for anyone in the U.S. administration to talk seriously about halting Israeli settlement-building without being accused of being anti-Israel."
In late 2002, the alliance which Friedman describes was deployed in support of the invasion of Iraq. Without the unswerving support of the evangelicals, it simply would never have happened. Evangelical leaders strongly supported the war in theological terms that were nearly apocalyptic. In the interest of full disclosure, however, I have yet to see any of the pro-war commentators on Fox News — Cal Thomas, Newt Gingrich, Fred Barnes, or William "Billy the Kid" Kristol — disclose the fees that they receive for serving as "contributors" to the most pro-war network.
Elmer Gantry, please call you office.
Well, the neocons got their war, with the fervent support of the evangelicals. Now the evangelicals want the country to address their priorities. What about the filibustered federal judges? What about the Marriage Amendment? Will the neocons, in gratitude for the indispensable support of the evangelicals for the war, return the favor and support the conservative moral agenda?
Don’t hold your breath.
Quite the contrary, in fact. The last fortnight has witnessed the emergence of a long-planned neocon assault on any and all efforts to put legal protections of traditional marriage on the books. Day after day, neocons have mounted a concerted barrage across Bush’s bow. Safire, Brooks, Sullivan, and virtually everyone at National Review and the Wall Street Journal have sent Bush and Rove a counter-intuitive message: the Marriage Amendment will divide not the Democrats, but the "Republicans" (in other words, the neocons would jump ship).
And what is President Bush, the firm-jawed, resolute leader in crisis, going to do?
He’s going to cave.
He is aghast. Virtually every neocon supporter of the war just happens to be discovering, quite suddenly, that traditional marriage, so central to Bush’s core evangelical constituency, is a threat to Republican victory in 2004.
And oh, did I mention that they also aren’t happy with the way that Bush is fighting the war lately? In recent weeks Kristol, Perle, Gaffney, Gingrich, and company have had a heyday attacking the administration. They grouse that they have lost control of "their" war. Kristol carps that Dean might win because Bush hasn’t invaded enough countries; Gaffney warns that Grover Norquist has infiltrated the White House with Moslem supporters of terrorism. Last month, Richer Perle startled the policy community when he publicly admitted that the invasion of Iraq was a violation of international law (but we invaded anyway, because his private agenda was more important). To top it off, Newt Gingrich now announces that Iraq policy has gone “off a cliff.”
They flame away, disavowing any responsibility for the mess that Iraq has become under Bush’s guiding hand. Now, like the Mexican truck driver who delivers to Chi Chi’s in Pittsburgh, they wail, "Hey, amigo, them ain’t my onions!" They will be satisfied only with a full, imperial upheaval, and then occupation, of the entire Middle East. Short of that, nothing is their fault.
The neocon treachery has left Bush in a quandary. How will he shore up support for the war from other quarters? Here he confronts two distressing realities: first, with increasing desperation, he is trying to extricate U.S. government forces from Iraq, within six months, under the cover of a quick-start Iraqi "democracy," when in fact everybody admits that American occupying forces will be there for years. Second, the Democrats now have a front-runner who is implacably opposed to the Iraq war, from start to finish. This Democrat position seems ever more credible, even to the likes of William Kristol, with the avalanche of revelations about the disinformation and subterfuge employed by the neocons to stoke American war fever before the invasion.
That fever, plus the lingering bipartisan unity flowing from 9-11, produced a modicum of Democrat support for Bush’s invasion of Iraq. But Newt Gingrich is right: not only has U.S. policy in Iraq gone "off a cliff," but the support for Bush’s war from moderate Democrats, which was tepid and surly to begin with, threatens to do so as well. And Bush simply can’t survive without that support. The neocons,on the other hand, only needed it to get the war started. They don’t need it any more.
But Bush does. Hence, those indispensable Democrats, unanimously opposed both to the Marriage Amendment and to Bush’s judges, are going to demand their pound of flesh. And they are going to get it.
When they do, evangelicals will raise the roof (if not more). And poor W, reeling, will ask Karl Rove, "how did this happen?"
The answer is not difficult to surmise. The neocons have always appreciated the duplicitous Maoist dialectic. Working both sides of the fence, and speaking out of both sides of their mouths, comes as second nature to them. So, sometime after 9-11, and before the Iraq invasion, we can assume that they went to their fellow Democrats and laid out their case along these lines:
"We’re surprised at the sudden prominence we have acquired in this administration, but we’re going to use it for all it’s worth. We would like to have your support on our key issues, and, in return, you will have ours, because, after all, we agree on them — we always have.
"But you need to understand something. You will begin to see us in an alliance with evangelical Christians, the "Religious Right," the bane of your existence. Do not fear. We are using them, on a single-issue basis, for one goal only — to achieve our designs for the Middle East. We know their theology is laughable, but it is also useful. Don’t worry, we will not reciprocate when they begin asking us for our support on "moral" issues. We promise you that. In fact, we will make sure they fail on those issues.
"Remember: for us, President Bush is a means, not an end. You and we agree on the same ends. And we will make sure that the evangelicals don’t frustrate those ends. And neither will Bush."
That was the deal. So, when the recent decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court, coupled with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Texas sodomy case, thrust into the realm of reality the prospect that all states might be called on to recognize homosexual civil unions, the neocons had their scripts rehearsed and ready. Scarcely a day has since gone by that one or another of them has not resonated to the drumbeat of doom for the Republicans, should Bush support any measure that might impede the glorious diversity of homosexual fidelity.
Sure, Bush will finally realize that the neocons have betrayed him — as true conservatives for two years have warned him they would. About that time, Jim Baker, the Texas street-fighter and the Florida Fixer, will come back with the first draft of a fix in Iraq and tell him, "what the hell did you expect? Broom’em all!"
But Karl Rove, duplicitous to the end, will tell him, "You can’t win without these guys. And they are smart enough to know when they’re being betrayed."
"Smart enough" — unlike the hapless evangelicals, who (Rove will assure Bush) are just as "poor, undereducated, and easily led" as the Washington Post said they were so many years ago.
Bush is afraid of the neocons. They can turn on him, and ruin him, in a New York Minute. But he does not fear the evangelicals. They have nowhere else to go. So Bush will betray them, even as he has been betrayed by the neocons — as planned by the neocons.
This coming year Bush will mouth repeated pieties about the sacred character of marriage, and do … nothing. No midnight phone calls, no arm-twisting, no bribes, no threats like those leveled at Republicans who dared vote against Medicare, no all-night roll-calls. "You’re on your own," Rove will tell evangelicals, "we’ve done all we can." The judges will lose. The Marriage Amendment will lose. The neocons will have nothing to fear.
I wonder, what will those four million evangelicals tell Karl Rove next November, when he says, once more, how much Bush needs them in 2004?
Will it be, "You’re on your own, Karl. We’ve done all we can"?
Now is the time to ask.