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Are Debates on Important Social Issues Always as Lame as that on Gay Marriage?

Posted by GayPatriotWest at 9:33 pm - May 21, 2007.
Filed under: Civil Discourse,Gay Marriage

While I wouldn’t call myself an advocate of gay marriage,* at least not at the present time, I believe the debate on gay marriage is one of the most important of our time. And not merely for gay people. Scholars increasingly recognize the importance of marriage in promoting emotional and financial** well-being.

If traditional marriage promotes good qualities among straight people, then it should also foster similar qualities in gay people. Too few advocates of gay marriage discuss the non-governmental benefits of this ancient and honorable institution.

Indeed, it seems that most of the advocates of gay marriage (with the prominent exception of Jonathan Rauch–though I’m sure he’s not the only one) are those least likely to discuss its social (as opposed to its political) benefits. In many cases, these people hold worldviews similar to those who, in the and 1960s and 1970s, questioned the value of marriage as a social institution.

Despite the importance of this issue, it seems that whenever I read a piece of gay marriage, on either side of the debate, the advocates and adversaries merely repeat talking points, misrepresenting the other side’s points and relying on cliches (and/or slogans) rather than arguments. To be sure, there have been a number of thoughtful pieces on both sides of the debate — and (at least) one really, really, really long post about gay marriage that does not, in the end, support one side or the other.

But, on the whole the debate has been particularly lame. Just take a gander at some of the comments to my posts on gay marriage. I’ll suggest how (I believe) advocates of marriage should talk about the issue and people will respond by attacking Bush, talking about “rights” or suggesting that those who opposed gay marriage are merely standing in the path of a foreordained outcome. That history will judge them all as narrow-minded troglodytes.

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The Firing of the US Attorneys & Administration’s PR Problem

Posted by GayPatriotWest at 11:21 am - May 21, 2007.
Filed under: National Politics

I haven’t said much about the kerfuffle (to us a word that James Taranto often uses)* over the Justice Department’s handling of the firing of eight US attorneys. In my post last Friday on communication skills and leadership, I said that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should resign not because I believe he did anything illegal or unethical, but because he has so far been unable to explain why it was the attorneys were fired.

So far no evidence has emerged showing that Gonzales did anything wrong (besides his failure to explain what was going on). The firing of the attorneys did not serve to prevent any cases against leading Republicans or advisors to the president (or this top aides) from going forward. Indeed, investigations against several Republican lawmakers continue apace.

Some Democrats have descended into high dudgeon as evidence emerges about cooordination between the White House and Justice Department on the firing of the federal prosecutors. But, given that these officials serve at the pleasure of the president, there is nothing wrong with such coordination. Once again, the problem has been the Administration’s ability (particularly that of the Attorney General) to explain its (perfectly legal) actions.

I’m not the first conservative blogger (or writer) to suggest that Gonzales should step down. Nearly two months ago the National Review editorialized that he should resign because he failed “defend the administration and its policies even when they deserve defense” (Via Powerline).**

This whole hullabaloo once again shows two of the key failures of the President — that he is excessively loyal to his appointees (often, it seems, putting that loyalty ahead of his policy goals) and his seeming indifference to public relations.

The job of the head of a federal agency (particularly a Cabinet Department) requires more than administrative skill (and it doesn’t seem Gonzales had shown such skill), it also involves communication. A cabinet member needs be able to explain controversial actions. And Gonzales has failed to do that.

It’s unfortunate that neither he nor his advisors anticipated that firestorm that would follow the firing of these federal prosecutors. They should have known better, given that they had been considering the actions for some time and only dismissed most of the attorneys after the Democrats had taken control of Congress. I would dare say the president would enjoy higher approval for his policies today if his advisors spent as much time as did those of his predecessor in developing an effective “public relations” shop.

Simply put, the president hasn’t learned to spin things as well as Clinton. Nor even, in the case of the firing of the US attorneys, to offer a satisfactory explanation for a perfectly legal action.

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*Perhaps hullabaloo might be a better word to describe the fuss over the goings-on there.

**Conservatives bloggers have faulted him for delegating decision-making and not being a “hands on” Attorney General while noting that he has not pursued pushing particularly conservative policies at the Justice Department.