Proposition 8 and The Political Brain

Andrew Sullivan points to this ad against Proposition 8 in California regarding the teaching of marriage in school.  The background is the following:

[John] Diaz [editor of San Fran Chronicle] pointed to another PR triumph for the Yes on 8 crowd: an outing to San Francisco’s City Hall for a class of first-graders, as a surprise for their lesbian teacher, who had just gotten married.

Right there, full stop. 1. This is counting your chickens before the eggs hatch.  But 2 (and much worse) plays into every negative association regarding liberals using the government/courts to socially engineer your children.

To go back to Drew Westen’s work, the issue is reviving the emotional associations around a concept.  Clearly this has been a huge hit for the pro-gay marriage forces, otherwise they wouldn’t have had to run the ad Sullivan links.  Westen in a speech I heard him give on his book brought up a question MLK Jr. was asked about inter-racial marriage.  King famously responded that he wanted the white man as his brother, not his brother-in-law.  Which may or may not have been true, but was a necessary response.

Because King understood there were a number of people who would hold their noses or consent or at least not dissent from Civil Rights, so long as “they” got their rights and stayed over in their corner.  And say didn’t want to date their daughters.  King knew he would lose those people (who would be crucial to passage) if it entered the murky realm of the emotional-associative arena.

So long as the argument was about not wanting to be against rights–regardless of whether you like the people involved or not–then the politics favors those for rights (Civil or gary marriage in this case).

This is why in a media age something like these children going to the school is so bad.  Or San Fran Mayor Newsom’s arrogantly stupid comment that gay marriage is here “whether you like it or not.”

Now to go back to the San Fran sentintel link for a second, watch how the charge is rebutted:

The outing was suggested by the parents of the kids and approved by the administration of the school as a “teachable moment” in civil rights history, but Yes on 8 seized the excursion as proof of their claim that unless marriage equality is struck down, children as young as Kindergarteners will be subjected to mandatory lessons on gay marriage.

Diaz pointed out that this claim is a “scare tactic.”

The claim is not rooted in the state law that Yes on 8 points to, a law that links comprehensive sex ed to classes on “respecting marriage and committed relationships.”

Moreover, the children were not forced to go; parents were offered the choice of allowing their kids to go, or keeping them in school. 18 of the class’ 20 students were given the go-ahead by their parents, and two were kept in school with another first-grade class, but the voluntary nature of the trip — and the fact that the parents had thought up and approved the trip for their children — were not the elements on which the Yes on 8 faction focused.

In other words, following Westen, liberals just don’t get it.  Politically I mean.  The response is full of facts and reason but those aren’t the issue and are not what it is the primary driver of the voting patterns. It doesn’t matter in practical terms whether the children were not forced to go.  It’s the association and implication that they were that is almost impossible to rebut.

The ad ends on a good point for selling No on the Proposition (Yes to Gay Marriage)–that is the question is simply one of rights.  Again I’m talking here purely in political terms.

But the ad begins by mentioning the other ads in question–ads that raise the prospect of your children being forced to accept gay marriage as indoctrinated by the schools whether you agree or not.  Which as ads go is always dicey because it can just as easily re-trigger them and work at cross purposes to the ad’s intention–i.e. from the pov of someone anti-Prop 8, this would reinforce the message of Prop 8.  Especially since the rights language is at the end.  And since (like the Sentinel piece), the argument is made that the law has nothing to do with teaching our children about marriage, blah blah.  And I’m not sure the “shame on you for using the children” line of attack is particularly effective either.  [Just ask Hillary Clinton about shame on you tactics].

What is needed politically–just in terms of the selling of all this–is an honest admission from the pro-gay marriage side that they understand that this is going to cause changes.  Not specifically of course in the schools or the government enforcing children’s views, but in a general sense of people’s lives.  You follow that up by saying that possible fear people are feeling does not make them bigots or evil people. That being said, the message would continue, we stand our ground.  We think it is about rights, and while there will undoubtedly be some challenges faced by people, we think this good outweighs those difficulties.  You do not want to be against rights, it would end.

Such a spot would recognize and legitimize certain aspects of fear and yet give people a reason to move past them (if they are feeling any) in a way that doesn’t have to make them (in their own minds) undercut the rationale for their fears.  Again this is targeted to the group of people who I’m hypothesizing would generally approve (or rather not disapprove of…politically/civil law) gay marriage but are not gay friendly by any stretch.  They can be persuaded but not if the emotional fears are light up by stupid arrogant liberals.   It would radically undercut the elitist charge–which is exactly what Newsom played into, he walked right into that trap.

A variation on this theme would to have a black straight married couple and have them end with the question of whether people really want to be against rights?  [or maybe if you want to really push the envelope “civil rights”].  Given there is some fear of larger A-A turnout given Obama and still  some resistance to gay marriage in that community.

iow, I want the white man as my brother not my brother-in-law.

This would be an especially effective tactic when combined with the already out there very effective ads the pro-gay marriage side has put on, showing gay couples as simply wanting to lead regular lives, have families, share love, etc.  This ad with Ellen is a good example.  [although it would have been better if you she was in her home].

But anyway, the point of this is how stupid and self-defeating can liberals continue to be?  In terms of learning how to act to make political arguments.  Whatever one’s particular agree/disagree with the Proposition, I think can agree with this analysis.  i.e. If you for Prop 8, you’ve got be diggin’ that the liberals are feeding you this absolutely golden material.

Update I:   Just to make clear, I favor civil gay marriage.  Actually where I live it’s not a civil issue–gay marriage is legal everyone in Canada.  And nobody is talking anymore about overturning it; it’s here to stay here.

In the US context,  I’m still very confused and undecided whether courts are the best way to go about this–or if votes are better.  The Civil Rights precedent is mixed in that regard.  Supreme Court obviously overturned segregation in Brown.  But it was the Congress (and the President signed) who passed The Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts.

Also separate but related question:  should it be federal or state by state?  On the one, I tend more towards the latter.

Published in: on October 23, 2008 at 1:00 pm  Comments (4)  

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  1. […] first collected Added 23 Oct 08 from Flag as inappropriate or […]

  2. […] Prop 8 Commercials Since I was a tad hard on the Vote No on Prop 8 side the other day, credit where credit is due–these two are very good ads.  Here and here via Michael D. at […]

  3. […] they haven’t touched on number three, as I’ve argued before.  And I think this is a mistake.  I don’t know if it will be a fatal mistake–the vote […]

  4. […] My view on Prop 8: here, here, and here. Scott’s many takes on the subject, accessible from here (searched under Gay Marriage at his […]

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