It's October. That means it's time to get ready for the "October surprise," the disinformation bombshells that political consultants roll out to attempt to turn losing campaigns into winners.
What do you do when you're frantically swimming against the tide of history? When you know that a solid majority of Americans don't share your views? You turn to the politics of fear.
Voters in the four states considering marriage for same-sex couples on the November ballot are about to get hit with a boatload of lies. Opponents of the freedom to marry know the only way they can win is to poison the waters.
For months now, voters in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington State have been talking about why marriage matters to their gay relatives, friends, and neighbors. These conversations are the antidote to the lies they're about to be told.
Here's a run-down of what voters can expect from political consultant Frank Schubert, who engineered the passage of Prop 8 in California. He struck gold there by discovering how to turn undecided voters and even soft supporters into opponents of marriage for same-sex couples: Tell them it will harm their kids.
Stimulating parental concerns about their children's safety in the context of a campaign concerning gay men and lesbians activates stereotypes and outdated notions that lurk below the kinder, gentler "we're not bigots" surface of Schubert's campaigns.
This time around, Schubert is adding pseudo-scientific ammunition to his "harms kids" bomb. His campaigns are pointing to a widely discredited, junk-science study to bolster their claim that gay people make terrible parents.
Pushing the panic button with false claims about harms to children may be the most potent weapon in Schubert's dirty tricks arsenal, but it's not the only one.
Voters can also expect to be told that if they disagree with allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, they (and their place of worship) could be sued, harassed, or even put out of business. Schubert's playbook on this one is simple. Find an isolated incident that can be magnified to resemble people's "worst-case" fears. Toss it into an ad with the ominous warning: "Think it can't happen? It's already happening!" Watch the fear-meter rise.
But don't expect to hear only scare tactics from Schubert's campaigns. He knows that with a solid majority of Americans now supporting the freedom to marry, opponents need to come across as reasonable. "We have nothing against gay and lesbian people," you'll hear the campaigns say. In fact, some will suggest that they would have no problem with other forms of relationship recognition, like civil unions or domestic partnerships -- despite the fact that Schubert's backers have fought against such protections for years.
Schubert and his ilk don't want voters to spend too much time thinking about what's at the heart of this issue. In the past several years, we've come to understand -- and respond to -- the questions and concerns of undecided voters. Freedom to Marry has worked strategically and intently with our partners in the movement to build majority support for marriage nationwide. We have reached out to Republicans as well as Democrats, older voters as well as younger, in the heartland and on the coasts.
Here's what we know: most voters, when they think about it, realize that committed gay and lesbian couples want to marry for similar reasons as anyone else: to make a lifetime promise in front of family and friends to be there for each other, through good times and bad.
In the next four weeks, Schubert will air new ads that sow the seeds of fear in four states. As fair-minded voters get hit with this year's muck-filled October surprise, our campaigns in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington will urge them to reflect on their core values of fairness, freedom, and treating others as they'd want to be treated. We're ready to help voters take a deep breath, see through the lies, and realize there's no reason to oppose marriage for committed gay and lesbian couples.
As the debate heats up, we'll continue to help the state campaigns tell the truth about why marriage matters, and we'll let you know what you can do, too.