The question

I’m thinking ahead to the general election.

Both parties will try to set the agenda, of course. (They’re supposed to do that.) The Republicans will talk about three things, I think:

1. Which candidate will continue to take the war on terror to where the terrorists live?

2. Which candidate will keep the IRS from grabbing all your hard-earned money?

3. Which candidate will prevent homosexuals from destroying marriage as we know it?

That’s three things, national security, economy, and values.

Lots of people have suggested that this general election will be about one of the first two, national security or the economy.

But I have a feeling that it may be about values. It will be about civil unions.

I’m remembering Dukakis. During a debate he was asked about his stand on the death penalty—but he was asked in a very personal way. He was asked what he would do were his wife murdered.

His answer should have reflected some emotion that people could relate to. Instead he gave a dry, dispassionate answer about why he’s against the death penalty. It made him seem not exactly human, and it played right into the stereotype of clinical liberals from the northeast.

I imagine Bush or a moderator asking a similar question of the Democratic nominee, but this time it’s “What would you do if your son married another man?”

How could you possibly answer this question? You support civil unions. But this is about you and your family, and people want an answer they can relate to.

It’s not as black-and-white as the question Dukakis answered. You can’t express elation or disgust, anger or joy, but you have to express something.

Looking months into the future, I can imagine where in a close election the whole thing may turn on the answer to this question.

26 Jan 2004

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