Monday, April 13, 2009

Economy Remains Issue No. 1, But Right-Wingers Paranoid Over Guns, Gays and Kids

With the GOP Cast Out Into the Political Wilderness, the Right-Wing 'Culture Warriors' Launch New Scare Campaigns Over Gun Control, Same-Gender Marriage and the Rights of Children -- But This Time, They're Being Dismissed as Being Out of Touch With Most Americans More Concerned About the Economy and Health Care

The sorry state of the nation's -- and the world's -- economy remains the number-one topic of concern among the vast majority of Americans. But you wouldn't know it if you paid attention only to the rumblings coming from the far right end of the political spectrum. While most Americans are concerned about keeping their jobs, making ends meet and maintaining health care they can afford, those on the Far Right are sounding increasingly loud alarms about an alleged loss of freedom to own firearms and about a so-called "redefinition" of marriage to include same-gender couples. Now the Right is targeting a new bogeyman: An international treaty on the rights of children. They're pushing to counter the treaty with a constitutional amendment "asserting the rights of parents." (Image courtesy

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Monday, April 13, 2009)


President Obama's job-approval ratings remain steady at 62 percent, according to the latest Gallup Poll. His just-concluded first trip abroad was a hit, both abroad and at home. Americans, while still concerned over the state of the economy, are starting to show a greater optimism about it.

Meanwhile, Republicans -- who strongly object to the president's policies -- are finding themselves increasingly isolated politically, as they've failed so far to come up with any serious alternative proposals beyond the tried-and-true (and resoundingly discredited) nostrums of the Reagan Revolution.

But rather than focus attention on the number-one issue on the minds of most Americans, the Republicans, urged on by their hard-line social-conservative base, are pushing for a constitutional amendment that would negate an international treaty on the rights of children -- a treaty that the Senate has yet to ratify.

And that's not all. Social conservatives are again raising hell about gun control, abortion and same-gender marriage -- in essence, attempting to re-ignite the culture wars.

The problem for the social conservatives this time, however, is that 1) the economy is trumping everything, and 2) their staunchest allies in the Republican Party are not only out of power, but many are out of office altogether.


“I think most people want relief from the divisive debates of the culture wars,” said Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign and a Republican consultant told “Given the economic hardships most are facing, they probably view these arguments as old, irrelevant and a distraction. That said, I’m sure the cultural warriors are putting on their war paint and banging the tom-toms.”

Indeed, social conservatives, with their insistence on focusing on hot-button issues such as same-gender marriage, gun control, abortion and illegal immigration, are running a serious risk of being branded irrelevant and out of touch at a time when most Americans are more concerned about keeping their jobs, paying their mortgages, being able to afford to retire and having health insurance.

That the economy remains the number-one issue for most Americans is underscored by the latest Gallup Poll, which shows that while optimism about the economy remains scarce -- only 27 percent of Americans say the economy is getting better and 67 percent say it is getting worse -- that optimism is has begun to grow after 15 months of steady decline.

Americans' overall satisfaction with the way things are going in the country remains decidedly negative, but has slowly and steadily improved in recent weeks, Gallup reported last week. Twenty-six percent of Americans polled between March 30 and April 5 said they were satisfied, up from 15 percent in mid-February.

The rebound in satisfaction has mainly been the result of greater optimism among Democrats, according to Gallup. Now, 40 percent of Democrats are satisfied, up from 21 percent in mid-February. There has been a smaller increase among independents over this time, from 14 percent to 23 percent. Even Republicans' reported satisfaction has improved somewhat, though it is still quite low at 13 percent, after bottoming out at seven percent in mid-February.


But while most Americans are focused on the economy, social conservatives are zeroing in on a United Nations treaty on the rights of the child that they see as a threat to parental authority and are pushing for a constitutional amendment to block it.

Representative Pete Hoekstra (R-Michigan) last week introduced in the House a constitutional amendment to permanently “enshrine” in American society an "inviolable" set of parents’ rights. The proposed "Parental Rights Amendment" has 70 co-sponsors -- all of them Republicans -- but has little chance of winning the necessary two-thirds majority for passage.

The 1989 treaty, officially known as the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, has never been taken up by the Senate for ratification, even though it was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1995. It sets international standards for government obligations to children in areas that range from protection from physical, mental or sexual abuse and exploitation to ensuring a child’s right to freedom of expression.

The treaty gained attention following horror stories out of Somalia of children as young as nine being forced to fight for the Lord's Resistance Army in that war-torn country. The United States is the only U.N.-member country other than Somalia that has not ratified the treaty.

Yet it has drawn fierce opposition from Michael Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association. Farris says that the treaty would usurp parental authority. “Parents would no longer be able to administer reasonable spankings to their children," he told “A child’s ‘right to be heard’ would allow him [or her] to seek governmental review of every parental decision with which the child disagreed."

But Farris, a self-declared Christian conservative, may have revealed the real reason for his opposition to the treaty: Religion -- more specifically, the religious upbringing of children. In a posting to his Web site,, Farris wrote of the treaty: “Children would have the legal right to choose their own religion while parents would only have the authority to give their children advice about religion.”

Farris apparently wants the Parental Rights Amendment passed to enable parents to force their children to adhere to the parents' religious beliefs. Never mind the fact that children already have the freedom to choose their religion -- or to choose no religion at all -- under the First Amendment.


Meanwhile, another social conservative group found itself the target of ridicule in Vermont after it launched a campaign-style ad blitz in a failed effort to derail a bill in the state legislature to legalize same-gender marriage.

The National Organization for Marriage bombarded Vermonters with a last-minute radio ad that claimed that opponents of same-gender marriage are now being victimized for their beliefs.

"There's a storm gathering," one woman says as the spot opens. Says another woman: "I am afraid." Later in the spot, a man says same-sex marriage advocates "want to bring the issue into my life." He is followed by a woman who says "my freedom will be taken away."

Another woman says same-sex marriage advocates "want to change the way I live." A teenage girl intones, "I will have no choice."

The ad was immediately ridiculed, even by Vermonters opposed to the same-gender marriage bill before the legislature. NOM, based in California, had made a serious tactical blunder: It did not count on Vermonters' prickly reputation for resenting outside interference in local and state affairs.

In the end, the group's strategy backfired: Governor Jim Douglas' veto of the measure was overridden within 24 hours, with several lawmakers who initially voted against the measure reversing themselves and voting in favor of the override.

“Obviously they [NOM] understand that appealing to people’s fears is a way to gin up money and rally the base,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group. “When we get to a tipping point, that’s when our opposition is most vociferous.”

The social conservatives' ire isn't limited to same-gender marriage itself. Representative Mike Pence (R-Indiana), chairman of the House Republican Conference, lobbied against the appointment by President Obama of Harry Knox, an executive of the Human Rights Campaign, to the president’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Pence claimed that the appointment of Knox, who is gay, to a presidential commission “makes a mockery out of the religious beliefs of countless Americans.” Pence's lobbying, however, went nowhere.


About the only hot-button social issue where Democrats appear unwilling to make any bold moves is gun control, in part due to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that struck down Washington D.C.'s handgun ban and in part because many moderate Democrats in Congress represent districts where gun ownership rights are a major issue.

The mass shootings in Binghamton, New York and Carthage, North Carolina, combined with the fatal shootings of police officers in Pittsburgh have sparked new debate on gun control, but Democrats appear unwilling to take on the National Rifle Association.

When pressed on the issue during an interview broadcast last Wednesday on "The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric," Attorney General Eric Holder appeared uncomfortable discussing it. Holder, who had been a strong supporter of gun control legislation for years, denied that he had been told not to speak about it. “No one's told me to back off,” Holder told Couric. “I understand the Second Amendment. I respect the Second Amendment.”

But sooner or later, the administration will have to take a stand, one way or the other -- especially if the number of deadly shootings increases later this spring and into the hot summer months.

# # #
Volume IV, Number 29
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Jan said...

On the Rights of the Child, you are spot on! From what these guys post you'd think this is the main issue for the US and the World! The analysis about what children believe is just one of the things they appear to fear. Another may be that their kids may learn e.g. about evolution from a scientific perspective and have e.g. creationism and 'intelligent design' treated for the modern myths they are (none of them have yet reached the problem their views have when one considers the issues posed by quantum physics in the debate about religion). Oh, and they want to spank .... I'm from the UK, my dad's in the US, I keep an eye on you guys. Fascinating.... Try my ideas at: