AT TIMES distractions can be dangerous. When things aren't going well on the home front or abroad, for that matter, those presiding over the mess don't like to talk about it. They know how to get into trouble but not out of it. Best to change the subject when pressed.
In the quagmire-by-any-other name in Iraq, the polls suggested the President couldn't keep brushing off the spreading slaughter by insisting progress is being made. So, with a made-for-TV backdrop of American troops, the commander in chief exhorted his nation to stay the course with its mission to import democracy where none has ever gone before. That wasn't the primary reason the nation was given for going to war, but when the truth won't set you free, why dwell on it?
In Ohio, where the state leadership is a joke and ethics an elective for any prominent officeholder, a ballooning scandal of hubris, greed, and conflicts of interest threatens to crack Republican control throughout state government. Honestly, you need a score card to keep track of who was/is greasing the skids for whom, and what was/is given in appreciation of such partisan generosity. The unfolding scenario of statewide politicians - all coveting the governor's office - scurrying for political absolution would be funny if it weren't so pathetic.
Looming behind both national and state political diversionary tactics is, of course, the 2006 election. You can bet the farm that manufactured distractions will appear on the national level if things continue to go poorly in Iraq, or Social Security reform is dead on arrival, or energy policy remains as elusive as a break at the pumps, or spending on everything but the Pentagon and Medicare prescriptions dries up.
Something will come up along the lines of another Terri Schiavo-like case that will draw attention away from what really matters to what matters to the self-appointed moral minders and those who carry their water.
It's a mutually beneficial arrangement. Religious conservatives rely on Republicans to champion their agenda and the obliging partisans depend on conservative Christian groups to vote for them. The symbiotic relationship clicked remarkably well in the 2004 presidential election in critical battleground states like Ohio.
It was no coincidence that Issue I was on the ballot here, as were other measures banning gay marriage around the country. The subject mobilized a whole voting bloc in Ohio that might have passed on the election but for the constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman.
Never mind that a couple of marriage statutes already on the books said the same thing. Bible-thumping fervor triumphed over reason and economic sense only subtly promoted by leading state Republicans. But, by golly, President Bush was on the right side of the sanctity of heterosexual marriage and pointedly gave his backing to a constitutional amendment declaring what needs no declaration.
No doubt a good many of the 62 percent of Ohioans voting for Issue I also voted for the candidates unashamed to support intolerance in exchange for victory on election night. People who are ambivalent about current affairs but ready to take to the streets over the Ten Commandments make great target audiences for some political operators fashioning distractions out of fear and falsehoods.
President Bush and Co. use fear effectively to manipulate the vulnerable. Mr. Bush purposely blurs the unsubstantiated invasion of a sovereign nation unrelated to 9/11 with "the lessons of 9/11." He does so to distract the public from the stark distinctions between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. Doesn't matter that never the two would conspire.
Those who went on a crusade against gay marriage in Ohio catered to fears about gay activism to drive home their bigotry. Their propaganda was filled with falsehoods but it didn't matter. Their next planned distraction is a legislative proposal to bar homosexuals from adopting children or serving as foster parents.
With scandals leaving no GOP state leader untouched in the state, a moral issue that again attempts to marginalize a group of people because they're different, could be just the thing to make people forget how corrupt the state has grown under Republican control.
Pushing any minority to the periphery of society with legislated prejudice sets them up to be scapegoats for all sorts of contemporary ills. And what begins as dangerous distraction can easily end with an ugly part of history repeating itself.