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Amendment XXVIII: The Phantom Menace

By James Taranto
June 1, 2006

You can't believe everything you read in the New York Times. No, we mean you literally can't. To see what we mean, here's the first paragraph of an editorial in today's paper:

Republicans are trying to rally their far-right base for the fall elections with a mean-spirited sideshow threatening to the Constitution: a ban on same-sex marriage.

The paper is referring to the Marriage Protection Amendment, which the Senate Judiciary Committee recently referred to the floor. Is this amendment "threatening to the Constitution"? Certainly not unless it has a chance of passage, which, two paragraphs later, the Times acknowledges it does not:

No one, including the G.O.P. strategists urging its fast-tracking, expects the amendment to get the two-thirds Congressional approval needed to send it to the states for consideration.

Indeed, as the Times notes, in 2004 the Senate voted 50-48 against "cloture"--that is, against even allowing the amendment, then called the Federal Marriage Amendment, to come to a vote. (Cloture requires 60 votes, whereas proposing an amendment requires a two-thirds vote, or 67 votes in the Senate).

"Plainly," the Times opines, "the real purpose of this rerun is to provide red meat to social conservatives, and fodder for commericals [sic] aimed at senators who vote to block the atrocious amendment." We're inclined to agree.

But is the Times not being equally cynical by falsely describing an amendment that has no possibility of even being proposed as "threatening to the Constitution"? Is the paper not pandering to its own liberal base?

Further, given that the amendment is certain to be defeated, why is the Times so strongly opposed to putting it up for a vote? While we're pondering that question, let's review a blog post by Dick Polman, who sunlights as a political writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Polman is commenting on a Los Angeles Times article on Democratic disagreements over political strategy (ellipses and italics in original):

Here's the most revealing quote, from an anonymous Democratic aide who hails from the shut-up camp: "If you start to [discuss] big government programs . . . you open yourself up to criticism in all directions, and there's no reason for Democrats to do that now."

You open yourself up to criticism . . . There's the Democratic syndrome in a nutshell: a fear of taking hits, a lack of confidence in their ability to advocate and persuade.

Just asking: When was the last time Republican strategists voiced any concern that standing up for what they believed would expose them to criticism?

If the Democrats who oppose the Marriage Protection Amendment had "confidence in their ability to advocate and persuade," they would welcome the opportunity to debate and vote on it. With the outcome assured, they have nothing to lose.

But maybe the problem here--and in other areas, too--isn't that the Dems lack confidence in their ability to persuade, but that they lack confidence in the persuasiveness of their ideas.

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