Hoping for a cumulative effect

HOPING FOR A CUMULATIVE EFFECT…. The New York Times notes today that there were plenty of “shrugs” in response to Ken Mehlman’s announcement that he’s gay. That Mehlman, the Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign manager and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, relied on anti-gay bigotry as an election strategy makes the news at least somewhat noteworthy, but the NYT report argues that the muted GOP response is the result of a party that cares more about fiscal issues right now.

I’m not at all sure that’s true. For one thing, I’ve seen very little evidence that Republicans’ alleged commitment to fiscal issues is in any way sincere. (Indeed, just the opposite is true — they’ve repeatedly opposed measures that reduce the deficit, and keep pushing tax breaks for millionaires that would increase the deficit.) For another, the religious right elements of the GOP base was well aware of the Mehlman news, and they weren’t happy about it.

That said, what’s driving the generally muted response to the news? I suspect it’s the result of a changing electorate. If Republicans thought there would be a political upside to bashing Mehlman, they’d bash Mehlman. But Americans — as evidenced by recent polling on marriage equality and DADT repeal — aren’t responding to these appeals the way they used to.

When the blade of a wedge issue gets dull, it’s no longer used.

The angle to this story that I care about is the increasing mainstreaming of the push for equality. William Saletan had this item yesterday.

This is a big deal. Mehlman managed President Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004 and chaired the Republican National Committee from 2005 to 2007. Many influential Republicans have worked with him and respect him. He makes it harder for them to think of homosexuality as a behavior. They now know somebody who is gay. Or, as Donald Rumsfeld might have put it, they now know that they know somebody who is gay. […]

Ed Gillespie, the RNC chairman who preceded Mehlman, tells Ambinder that “it is significant that a former chairman of the Republican National Committee is openly gay and that he is supportive of gay marriage.” Gillespie acknowledges “big generational differences in perception when it comes to gay marriage and gay rights as an agenda, and I think that is true on the Republican side.” Discomfort with abortion isn’t going away, but discomfort with same-sex marriage is fading. Homosexuality is becoming normalized.

I think that’s true, and it’s about damn time. To be sure, it’s hard to believe we’ll find Republicans responding to the news by saying, “Oh, Ken’s gay? In that case, I’m prepared to rethink my position on the issue.”

What I’m hoping for, however, is a cumulative effect. Dick Cheney supports marriage equality. So does the man who managed the 2004 Republican presidential campaign and the man who managed the 2008 Republican presidential campaign. George W. Bush isn’t on board, but his wife is. The same goes for John McCain.

The point is, this is no longer some kind of radical, scandalous position. When Democrats announce their support for marriage equality — and here’s hoping more of them do — they have far less to fear in terms of a political backlash. They can characterize their perspective as being entirely mainstream, because it is.