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Byron Kennard

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Name Your Poison: Gay Marriage or Global Warming?

Posted: 10/09/11 03:00 PM ET

Maybe I'm a big sissy, but the use of "wedge issues" in politics scares the living you-know-what out of me. This is not just because wedge issues are so damnably effective, and it's not just because they are so injurious to causes I hold dear -- which they sure as hell are.

I'm a gay man who has watched in dejection as same-sex marriage -- wielded as a wedge -- drove the passage of anti-gay constitutional amendments or initiatives in 37 states. I'm an environmentalist who has watched in disbelief as calls for action on climate -- wielded as a wedge -- drove the conquest of the Republican Party by climate deniers.

Case in point: when GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney recently declared that "humans contribute" to climate change, conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh gleefully went for the kill. "Bye-bye, nomination. Another one down," Limbaugh chortled, figuratively waving Romney's scalp.

Wedge issues unleash powerful raw emotions that violate the social rules society has imposed to repress humanity's proclivity for violence. The force of these emotions sweeps away things like common decency and civil discourse. Indeed, wedge issues are cynically conceived to destroy these social rules, to bring out the worst in people. And this is what scares me.

Gay people, like other persecuted minorities, possess a special antenna for sensing the instinctive violence that lies barely suppressed beneath the thin veneer of civilization. So if crazy, angry mobs are out hunting for scalps, I figure it's mine they're after -- and I don't mean just figuratively.

That's the bad news. Here's the good news: there's a terrific way of combating the crazies, and I think gays have found it. Consider the growing acceptance of gay marriage.

"The wedge has lost its edge," says Republican strategist Mark McKinnon. McKinnon knows what he is talking about. He was media adviser to George W. Bush's 2004 campaign, when same-sex marriage ballot measures helped turn out conservative voters in a dozen states.

McKinnon's view is reinforced by new polling data released in July by Dr. Jan van Lohuizen, who served as Bush's pollster in 2000 and 2004. This new analysis, based on data over a 13-year period, shows a dramatic growth in support for same-sex marriage. Moreover, this support has increased across the board. Since 2004, for example, support has increased 15 percent among seniors, 13 percent among Independents and 8 percent even among Republicans.

This trend has led some Republican strategists to worry that the GOP is on the wrong side of the same-sex marriage issue. In a New York Times article, Steve Schmidt, who ran John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, complained that "[t]he Republican Party is shrinking ... [T]here are large demographics in this country that view the party as intolerant" (italics added).

What caused this wedge to lose its edge? I answered this question in a post here just days ago. I described how gays "stole the march" on intolerance by using mass media and pop culture to build public support for gay marriage. Shows like Modern Family and Glee -- huge hits -- subversively undermine homophobia with comedy, and millions of viewers join in the fun.

Greens have been handed an opportunity equally large and appealing. They can succeed by ridiculing anti-science. Most Tea Party activists and most of the Republican presidential candidates have made themselves vulnerable to this charge. I say, go to it!

Politically, this will benefit gays and greens alike, who, after all, share a common enemy. People who are anti-science are likely to be homophobic. People who don't believe in evolution don't believe in gay marriage.

Ridicule is especially effective. Remember how the Wicked Witch of the West melted away after the Scarecrow threw a pail of water on her? Ridicule works like that. I've taken a stab at this by producing a series of 90-second videos I'm posting on YouTube that poke fun at climate deniers. Take a look:

We aim to get the world to laugh in derision at climate deniers. Maybe, if we succeed, they'll be as dead as the Wicked Witch of the East after Dorothy dropped a house on her. As the Munchkins described the late departed, "she's not merely dead, but really most sincerely dead."

 

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