Tom Daschle and John Kerry were herded on a fast train to defeat by one of the cleverest ploys ever created by any political party. It was the "gay marriage" railroad to disaster.
Tacked on the election ballots of many of the states that eventually went "red" was an initiative against gay marriage. The initiative turned into a tsunami that pushed aside everything in its path.
President Bush had said earlier in the election that he favored a Constitutional Amendment against gay marriage knowing full well that he was only lending political lip service to an amendment that would never pass through Congress. But he got the message out and his name became synonymous with opposition to gay marriage.
It is not hard to imagine that when a voter stepped behind the magic curtain to peruse the ballot the words "Vote NO on gay marriage" and the name of President Bush became joined. In the minds of many voters their opposition to gay marriage was the centerpiece of how they cast their votes.
One of the cornerstones of the John Thune campaign in South Dakota was his opposition to gay marriage and his determination to make it an amendment to the U.S. Constitution if he was elected to the Senate. Like his mentor, George W., Thune knew in his heart of hearts that no such amendment would ever succeed, but he latched on to the swelling tide opposing gay marriage and rode it to victory.
Daschle was liberal in the sense that he never came out openly or strongly against gay marriage, but instead said it should be left in the hands of each individual state, and, sorrowfully, that is exactly what happened when the initiative found its way on to so many election ballots. It appears that no one in the Democratic Party made the connection.
So what the Republicans later claimed as a "morals values" issue for so many of their eventual political victories across America really was constructed on the foundation of anti-gay marriages. The Republicans found a moral issue they could attack vigorously without much fear of retaliation by a small minority. Even the openly gay Congressman Barney Frank saw the rising danger in this Republican tactic and was roundly criticized by members of the gay community for "not having more backbone."
Frank saw the issue of gay marriage as a political quagmire for the Democrats and although he may not have been personally opposed to it, he saw the pitfalls the Democrats faced by virtue of being caught between a rock and a hard place. The fact of the matter is that gay marriage is not embraced by the majority of Americans. It is an issue that stirs heightened feelings among all Americans, those for and those against.
South Dakota has always been one of those red states that keep electing Democrats to serve in Congress. South Dakota's lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Stephanie Herseth, is a Democrat and the other U.S. senator, Tim Johnson, is a Democrat. Johnson won his Senate seat against the same John Thune before gay marriage found its way on so many state ballots. It was not on the ballot in South Dakota this past election because it had already won the approval of the State's voters several years before.
But it didn't really matter if gay marriage was on South Dakota's ballot or not because it was the idea of gay marriage and of Thune's outspoken opposition to it that swayed many voters. The out-of-state political hacks were very successful in convincing the voters of South Dakota two things; Daschle's supposed support of gay marriage by not speaking out strongly against it and his supposed obstruction of the appointment of judges named by President Bush.
Daschle went into the election with these two pieces of baggage and Thune and his supporters knew exactly how to exploit it. Daschle said he would not support an amendment to the Constitution against gay marriage because he believed that each state should make that decision individually. Thune and his supporters made duck soup out of Daschle on this one issue.
But by challenging many of the appointments of so many judges made by President Bush, Daschle left himself wide open to be labeled as an obstructionist by the Republican Party.
X Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is president of the Native American Journalists Foundation Inc. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.