Right Beneath the Surface

by Ed Kilgore | August 12, 2009

What opponents of gay marriage and health care reform have in common.

The conservative attacks on health care reform and Barack Obama's economic plan seem to have reached a fever pitch this week. Their obsession with the topics has been matched only by the inanity of most of their critiques. Why are the conservative talking points on these issues grounded in such weak arguments? Is there something else at play here?

This reaction seemed strangely familiar as I read Matthew Yglesias's recent post about the Christian Right's obsession with gay marriage. As a matter of course, your average Christian Right crusader against gay marriage acts as though the issue vitally affects non-gay people: It cheapens "real" marriage and threatens the "traditional family," they argue. Others claim that it enshrines relativistic morals and violates the religious rights of Christians. What unites most of these arguments is that they claim not to be about denying gay people their rights, but protecting non-gay people.

None of these arguments are particularly strong. And not coincidentally, if you spend much time around regular conservative folk (rather than pundits or spokesmen) who oppose gay marriage, they won't be making them. Rather, you hear various forms of personal and Biblical condemnation of homosexuality, usually combined with outrage that these people demand legal protection for their unsavory behavior. You don't hear this in public in part because dehumanizing gay people isn't as generally acceptable as it used to be. But it's still there, under the surface, and may be one of the reasons why critics of gay marriage keep fighting against gay marriage despite the ludicrous nature of their public arguments.

This may actually help explain many of the absurd conservative attacks on Obama's economic and health care agenda. We're painfully accustomed to hearing that Obama is herding Americans into socialism, is destroying the private-sector economy, and is determined to create a health care system that combines the bureaucracy of Great Britain with the ethics of Nazi Germany. Do the people repeating and encouraging this sort of talk really believe it?

 

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