What has weighed on the minds of our soi-disant "family-values" politicians? What national ills kept them up at night? What evils lurked, capturing their valuable time and professional attention?
Was it that millions of American families live daily on the ruinous financial precipice of no health care coverage? Or that a swelling number of parents can't afford to college-educate their children, or even send them off every day to something other than a dilapidated public school?
Or, please tell us, that it's the decline of the middle class -- that great American midsection that once provided at least the means for health care, quality education and other essentials of a decent, productive life -- that keeps them up in search of solutions.
Well, no. In fact, what has occupied the time and attention of social conservatives' latest war chief -- Republican senator and presidential candidate Sam Brownback -- is the national scourge of neighborliness.
In 2002, you see, Michigan judge Janet Neff "attended a same-sex commitment ceremony for the daughter of her long-time neighbors," an egregious display of communitarian tolerance that caused Brownback to block her subsequent nomination to the federal bench. And until just recently, he'd been hanging on to his obstructionism as the sexiest cause celebre he could find to dangle before the adoring right of family-values notoriety.
Lord knows some threats to the family unit cannot be overlooked. Declining family wages can. Child ignorance can. And certainly the specter of family bankruptcy from a mere gallstone attack can. But a 61-year-old woman's attendance at a "same-sex commitment ceremony" -- a ceremony that had no legal effect, by the way -- cannot. It threatened the very societal foundation on which our world leadership has stood.
Brownback once said -- admitted? -- that "this is a big hot-button issue," meaning his only shot at the White House rested solely on the worst sort of mindless pandering to evangelical, Republican primary voters. He further explained that "Judge Neff had not made it clear that her presence at the ceremony did not mean she could not rule without bias in deciding cases involving same-sex unions," meaning he knew not if the judge would rule with his bias.
"I’d like to know more factually about what took place," he said of this grave and deteriorating matter of tolerating same-sex love and togetherness. After all, what's next? Unchecked world peace?
What's more, the family-values politician's cause has been a transparent electoral scam from the start. As long ago as "Oct. 12, Judge Neff answered a long list of written questions from Mr. Brownback. In her letter, she said she would decide any cases that came before her according to the law and the Constitution and would not be guided by her personal views. That is the same pledge that several conservative Republican judicial nominees made when asked whether their blunt personal statements opposing abortion rights ... would affect their performance on the bench."
In addition, even though Brownback has now unblocked the block, it was a Republican's continued obstructionism that kept alive the Republican derision that only the nasty Democrats were preventing critical judicial appointments. "Judge Neff’s nomination was included in a package of more than a dozen nominees whose confirmation had been agreed upon by both Democrats and Republicans. Mr. Brownback’s objections held up the whole roster of nominees."
Yet Brownback's release, his freeing of Judge Neff, may portend a more intelligent, more relevantly focused political environment. It may mean that even the hidebound Brownbacks of the silliness arena realize that times and the public's attention are changing.
His present dancing around this once sure-fire opportunism, his blocking and unblocking, his and other Republican presidential hopefuls' careful threading of the general election needle, which sustained a prodigious blunting last month, may indicate a conservative awareness that the electorate has had it with wedging non-issues of distraction.
It may mean that the silly era is over -- and that more than a few Republican pols have toasted their careers by huckstering social silliness and will be burned even more in 2008.
It may mean that we can finally get back to real values of importance to families in real hurt.