The day after SJR 7 failed to emerge from a House committee, effectively killing it for this session, the Indianapolis Star carried a number of vitriolic quotes from far-right activists--led, as has become usual, by former Speaker of the House Brian Bosma. The individuals they interviewed wouldn't win any medals for moderation at any time, but the tenor of these responses was considerably more shrill than usual.
Some were also (unintentionally) amusing. Bosma accused those who voted against SJR 7 of "politics"--as if he and his fellow gay-bashers in the legislature hadn't been cynically using the "threat" of same-sex marriage as a political wedge issue for years.
Eric Miller, for years the "point man" for extremism on the right, blamed the Big Bad (Pat) Bauer, the current Speaker, dismissing any suggestion that the committee members who voted against the Resolution might have actually listened to the testimony offered at the hearing, considered the experience of states that have passed similarly worded measures, and heeded the concerns of several of Indiana's largest employers.
In fact, I think the stunned reaction of those who have previously found "culture war" issues to be a reliable tool for maintaining power may be attributable to a dawning realization that their game is up.
For years, Miller and his ilk have exerted disproportionate influence at the General Assembly, in large part because they were perceived to be powerful. And for a while, they actually were able to get their constituencies--particularly from more rural districts--to the polls. Even then, however, the perception that they controlled large numbers of voters was greater than the reality.
Lately, however, the tide has been turning. Candidates who refused to be bullied into supporting an extremist agenda nevertheless won re-election. (In Indianapolis, David Orentleicher is a recent example.) Miller himself lost to far more moderate Mitch Daniels in a Republican primary that draws out the state's most conservative voters. Miller can still gets lots of people to the statehouse in his buses, but observers have noticed that increasing numbers of those are children not yet able to cast a ballot.
Republicans and Democrats alike have displayed impatience with a legislature that spends more time trying to punish gays and prohibit abortion that it does addressing the issues of crime, economic development and fiscal prudence that really matter to Hoosiers. It is telling that every Indiana newspaper that editorialized about SJR 7 -even those from rural areas--was against it, just as every business that testified about SJR 7 opposed it.
For the past twenty or more years, the political center has been shifting ever more to the right, with the result that what was "mainstream Republican" when I was young is now considered so far left as to be practically Communist. But recently the tide has begun to turn the other way.
A telling indicator that ought to comfort those legislators who acted responsibly last week can be seen in the results of a Diageo/Hotline poll (PDF) released a few days ago. That national poll found that, for 30% of voters, opposition to the Iraq war is the single most important issue facing Americans. Fear of war and fear in general came in at second with 9%, and healthcare and the economy were tied for third at 7% each. By contrast, gun control is way down at 1%, and opposition to abortion and gay marriage are below 1% each.
Maybe our long national nightmare is finally coming to an end.
Bye bye, Eric and Brian. Don't let the door slam behind you.
(Cross-posted at American Values Alliance)