Well, it gave US President George W. Bush the presidency once before, so why not use it again? Our old friend gay marriage is back, evoked anew by the man in the White House to scare "values voters," most of them Christian conservatives, into voting Republican one more time.
It did the business in 2004, when Bush's efforts to turn the election into a referendum on same-sex unions may well have tipped the pivotal state of Ohio, chiefly by persuading social conservatives to get out and vote. So it's no surprise to see a tired Bush, facing second-term poll numbers in the Nixon depths, reaching for the same stick now.
Bush wants to amend the Constitution so that that precious charter of rights and liberties will include a new sentence defining marriage exclusively as an arrangement between a man and a woman.
Such an exclusion clause would demean the document, like graffiti scrawled across a sacred text. The Constitution has been altered before -- but usually to expand rights, not to restrict them.
The president and his allies wrap this up in the usual preachy language, of course -- stand by for the radio pastors intoning that "It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" -- but there is nothing holy about this mission. It's brazen politics, an obvious lob of red meat to the hungry of the Christian right. If they gobble it up they will show just how easily they are bought.
Abroad it will confirm an impression many have had of the US for a while: that the country is on its way to becoming a theocracy, with the evangelical right organizing methodically, and over decades, to take over the commanding heights of the country. Europeans and others shudder at the polls which show that 40 percent of people in the US would support a ban on the teaching of evolution in schools, while two-thirds believe creationism should be taught alongside Darwin in the schools.
With a leader who shares those sentiments ruling over White House, it's been easy to see this as the faith-based presidency. In this view, the salient feature of the Bush era has been its religiously rooted, Manichean vision of the world, seeing the US as locked in a holy struggle of good against evil.
Such a view is certainly appealing: it's simple and it would explain a lot. But it would be woefully incomplete. For there has been another force at work during the Bush years, one that can claim a much larger, if less publicized, role in shaping the policy of the present era.
Take this very week in Washington. While the talk shows and blogs are humming with gay marriage, the Senate will debate the permanent abolition of the inheritance tax. Republicans are already rebranding this the death tax, as if the wicked government insists on squeezing even the corpse on the undertaker's slab. But the truth is that only three estates in every thousand are eligible for tax under the current law: everyone else pays nothing. But those three matter, because they're the estates worth more than US$4 million -- and it's those families Bush wants to help.
No change there. In his very first months as president, Bush passed a tax cut that overwhelmingly benefited the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, a redistribution of money from poor to rich that will leave the most affluent a staggering US$477 billion better off over a 10-year period.
That, rather than any religious crusade, has been the true hallmark of the Bush era. In every sphere it has been the wealthy, and particularly big business, who have been the true beneficiaries -- and often architects -- of Bush policy.
Energy is a case in point. Just 10 days after his arrival in the White House, Vice President Dick Cheney, fresh from running the oil services and construction company Halliburton, convened a secret "energy task force," an unelected group that set about making the oil and gas companies' dreams come true. Whether they wanted more drilling, mining or deregulation, they got it. One telling document was a wish-list memo from Enron: a later congressional analysis showed that 17 policies sought by Enron, or which directly benefited the company, were included in the task force's final report. Again, no big surprise: Enron had been a generous giver to the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2000.
Cheney managed to keep the task force away from democratic scrutiny, but occasionally the curtain was tugged back. A rare and choice example is the case of Philip Cooney, who served until last year as chief of staff for the White House council on environmental quality.
It turned out that Cooney had been quietly editing reports by government scientists on global warming, wielding his pencil to cast doubt on climate change. One sentence asserting that the world "is" getting hotter was rewritten to say that it "may be."
Yet Cooney had no scientific training. His sole qualification for the job was that he had previously worked for the American Petroleum Institute, the chief lobby group of the oil industry. He was forced out of the White House, but that was no problem. He got a new job -- as a spokesman for ExxonMobil.
There are countless other examples, from the gutting of the Clean Air Act to Bush's attempt to dismantle the US pensions system known as social security -- a Roosevelt-era institution valued by Americans on middle and low incomes, but irrelevant to the rich and powerful.
The symbol of this closeness between the White House and the boardroom remains Halliburton itself, which was awarded three massively lucrative reconstruction contracts in Iraq without even suffering the inconvenience of having to bid for them. We're told that Cheney played no part in allocating those contracts. But he wouldn't have to, would he?
Those who want to take on the Bush administration should keep all this in the forefront of their mind. The Christian right may be the juicier, more telegenic target, but they are not the sole, or even central, driving force of US policy.
Where does that leave Democrats? It suggests they must keep their sights on the real enemy. It does not pay to get into a fight with "values voters." More important is to make a moral case against poverty, environmental despoliation and a greed culture.
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