Passing the Torch: 2

Gregory Piccionelli
In part one, we began our look at the midterm elections and the resulting shift in Congressional power to the Democrats. In this conclusion, we'll look at the dilemma over enforcement and election year politics.

Enforcement Dilemma?
Consequently, because there are both political benefits and risks associated with a policy of aggressive prosecution of adult entertainment companies, the issue of vigorous enforcement of obscenity laws and the 2257 regulations has likely presented the president and his party advisors with the following dilemma: How does the administration address demands by religious conservatives that government get tough on porn without alienating a large number of other Republicans?


1. Introduce and enact numerous laws and promulgate complicated regulations aimed at producers and distributors of pornography that will subject the "evil pornographers" to long jail terms and total forfeiture of their "dirty" money and other assets;

2. Generate as much publicity and fanfare about the new legislation in the religious right community;

3. Enlist the assistance of prominent leaders of the religious right and enhance their status amongst religious conservatives by generously sharing credit with the leaders for the passage of "new legislation that will protect our children from the filth peddlers";

4. Then make damn sure that you don't enforce these terrible, and probably unconstitutional, new laws lest you unnecessarily risk a backlash from other parts of the party or Independent or Democratic swing voters.

Problem solved. The religious right is tossed a bone and average Joe gets to keep his.

In fact, the scenario pretty much describes the actions of the Bush administration so far.

Some prominent political analysts within the Republican Party have begun to warn their colleagues that election data indicates that the reasons for the Republicans' midterm election defeat are more complicated than a simplistic explanation of voter dissatisfaction with the president's incompetence in Iraq or public disgust with the large number of Republican political scandals.

A small but significant and growing group of these analysts say the data suggest that a record number of Independents and other swing voters identify the Republican Party with politically extreme views, most particularly those held by far-right evangelical Christians.

If true, this is very bad news for the Republican Party as Independents and swing voters are an even more critical requirement for Republican political success than the religious right. This is because swing voters, if dissatisfied with one party, will not only fail to vote for that party, they will then tend to vote for the opposing party. Thus, the loss of swing votes can be twice as damaging to Republican candidates as the loss of religious conservatives' votes, because the latter, when dissatisfied with a Republican candidate do not tend to vote for the candidate's Democratic opponent.

The Right's Push to Polls
So, rightly or wrongly, it appears that the powers that be in the Republican Party believe, at least for now, that come 2008, they will need every last porn-hating Bible thumper at the polls like never before. Given the fact that the Republicans do not control Congress anymore, it is likely that evangelical Christians and other religious right Republicans will look to the White House for continued progress in their quest to return America to its "traditional" values.

But the president is now a lame duck. In fact, by the end of his term, he will probably qualify as one of the lamest lame ducks in U.S. history because of his low and still sinking approval ratings and the deep-seated animosity he and his party's arrogant, heavy-handed, and exclusionary methods of control of Congress cultivated among congressional Democrats. Consequently, it is unlikely that there will be any more legislative bones to throw in the direction of the religious right.

So deprived of legislative control, what can the Republicans do to court the vote of the moral traditionalists of the religious right? Well, their guy still holds the office of the presidency, and that means their guy is in control of the federal government's massive law enforcement apparatus. That in turn means that for the next two years President "Bring it on" Bush will retain the option to commence politically useful prosecutions where and when he is so motivated.

Suppose, for example, that a year from now the Republican Party is as dependent upon the religious right as it is today. The war in Iraq still rages on as the president stubbornly clings to his failed policy and his determination that "the U.S. will not leave Iraq before victory is achieved." Suppose the political fortunes of Republican Party candidates across the country are worsening because voters have tarred Republicans generally with what has become a very widespread and very deep dislike of the president and his policies. Adding to the party's problems is the fact that because the Republican Party has not moved to the center, it will be likely that Independents and swing voters will vote for Democratic candidates in 2008.

Now suppose further that by the end of 2007 the religious conservative wing of the Republican Party is demoralized because of its greatly diminished ability to effect policy or legislation because its hero is a lame duck confronting a Democratic Congress that is only slightly less hostile to the religious right than it is to the president. As a result of its demoralization, polls indicate that voter apathy among the religious right might result in low voter turnout in the 2008 election. Given the loss of the Independents and other swing voters, party strategists soon realize that the failure of the religious right wing Republicans to show up at the polls will almost certainly result in a crushing landslide defeat of Republican candidates across the country. Party leaders recognize that it might take a decade to recover from such a disaster.

At this point, party consultants advise the president that they must motivate religious conservative voters to support Republican candidates by any and all means available. One likely method of firing up the religious conservative base is, of course, a round of rounding up pornographers. Of course, the government publicizes the number of indictments and the trophy name defendants to the maximum extent possible.

The scenario above may ultimately have no basis in reality. But, unfortunately, I believe we cannot rule out the possibility that the political forces currently in motion could very well produce the situation described above or something uncomfortably similar.

Regardless of how the next year unfolds, it seems clear that the midterm election was an important political and historic event in the history of our country. Just how important, only time will tell. But hopefully, time will also reveal that the midterm elections of 2006 marked a turning point for the adult entertainment industry and our country, a point after which neither was again subjected to a Congress controlled by lawmakers who indulge their desire to legislate morality in disregard of their obligation to protect our cherished freedoms.

Gregory A. Piccionelli is an Internet and adult entertainment attorney. He can be reached at Piccionelli & Sarno at (310) 553-3375 or www.piccionellisarno.com.

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