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Monday, November 03, 2008

The Right's Stealth Campaign

The final USA Today/Gallup poll is out today and Barack Obama holds a national lead of 11 points. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll puts it closer, with an 8-point lead for the Democrat, 51% to 43%. Gallup also gives it to Obama by a pretty wide margin, 55% to 44%. We can pretty safely say that the consensus is that Obama's walking away with this thing tomorrow. In fact, networks will probably call it for Obama before the Mountain Time zone polls close. But, just between you and me, you can write McCain off if he loses Virginia. If that happens, the race is over early for most of the nation -- 8 p.m. Eastern at the latest. And it's looking like that's the way it's going to go.

For Republicans and rightwingers in general, looking for good news will mean looking elsewhere -- the national race is all but officially over. Where might they find these little rays of sunshine? In statewide victories for Republican Jesus. Down ticket races seem to be trending Democrat, so they're prepared for big congressional losses as well as the big one in the electoral college. They can't lose every race, but the wins will be nearly meaningless, given the lopsided nature of the next Congress.

No, the wins for the right will come in ballot initiatives. The stealth campaign for control of the nation comes in the form of control of the states through direct democracy. If they can't rule by elected office, they can rule by referendum. The highest profile referendum is Proposition 8 in California, which would amend the state's Constitution to ban same sex marriage. The good news there is that the proposition looks to be headed for a loss. The bad news is that it exists at all and that the loss looks to be a narrow one.

Los Angeles Times:

The Field Poll of 966 likely voters, conducted between Oct. 18 and 28, shows 49% opposed to the measure, 44% in favor and 7% undecided. The race is narrowing. A September Field poll showed the measure trailing by 14 points, 52% to 38%.

The new poll also found that "significant proportions" of voters on both sides are conflicted about the issue.

Women are more likely to oppose Proposition 8 than men, the poll reports; 51% of women and 47% of men surveyed oppose the measure. It also found that respondents who said they personally knew a gay person were more likely to be opposed than respondents who said they did not.

The problem here is that this ballot initiative, like similar discriminatory referenda, isn't only designed to change California's Constitution -- it's also an organizational tool. All those petitions become mailing lists, all those volunteer canvassers and phone bankers don't go away after they lose. They'll be told they'll keep up the fight and that Jesus will eventually prevail in California's battle with the Homosexual Menace. If they win -- which is still a very real possibility -- then they'll use that energy to move forward with other "pro-family" issues.

But the fact is that a loss is almost better than a win -- at least in terms of organizing. When the battle's over, people on the winning side tend to go home. When the culture war continues, the culture warriors fight on. This is where the Republican base will rebuild -- not around failed candidates, but around wedge issue ballot measures.

Arizona and Florida will both be voting on referenda similar to California's Prop. 8. In Florida, it seems close. Although polling shows the voters approving the ban 56% to 37%, Florida requires a super-majority of voters -- 60% -- to pass such a measure. This one's a nailbiter, but leaning the right way. Organizing after losing this one will be a pretty simple matter, since they can use that majority to claim "mainstream" status and because Florida conservatives tend to be pretty insane anyway (see Katherine Harris).

To give you an idea of how powerful these referenda become as organizing tools, we can look at Arizona. In 2006, Arizona became the first state to defeat an anti-marriage equality measure. The groups opposing marriage kept working, turned their petitions into mailing lists, and now a second attempt looks likely to pass -- 49% to 42%.

In Arkansas, voters will be asked to bar gays from adoption or foster parenthood. Thankfully, this looks like a big loser -- 55% oppose the measure, while 38% support it.

Don't get the idea that the right's stealth campaign is all about hating on the gays. It's just mostly that way. In South Dakota, it's about hating on the women. An initiative there asks voters to make abortion illegal in almost every circumstance. A similar ban lost last time around, but these people aren't taking no for an answer. Where the original ban had almost no exceptions, the current measure would include "limited exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the pregnant woman." That brought it much closer to winning. In fact, it's a tie -- 44% to 44%.

The S. Dakota measure is certainly unconstitutional and is meant only to challenge Roe v. Wade. There's absolutely no guarantee that it'll ever make it all the way to the Supreme Court, but it's all about the PR anyway. They're building the groundwork for a propaganda campaign to energize the crazies.

Want a reason to vote? There you go. And it's important to remember that these don't represent the right going away next year -- so neither should you. That's the danger of a successful presidential campaign, people go away. In a democracy, the fight is never over, by design. Wins must be defended.

No matter what's on your ballot, vote. But remember, democracy doesn't end on November 5. The religious right isn't going away on that day, so neither should you. We've got to win the big one and keep fighting the other ones. Democracy means that the fight never, ever ends.