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Media's Take on the News: 9-30-03 to 10-9-03

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Bob Graham Now Has to Face His Senate Colleagues (posted 10-9-03)

Carl Hulse, writing in the NYT (Oct. 9, 2003):

Senator Bob Graham and the other presidential candidates who follow him back to Capitol Hill after their campaigns founder should brace for re-entry. By past accounts, it can be scorching.

"Psychologically, it is a little bit of an adjustment because, after all, you tried to break out of there to be president and now you are back again," said Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, who won primary caucuses in three states in 1992 before he ran out of money and quit the race. "A period of depression sets in."

On Monday, Mr. Graham became the first casualty of the current Democratic field. But he has plenty of company. Over the years, the Senate has welcomed back would-be presidents like Edmund S. Muskie of Maine, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Phil Gramm of Texas and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana. All tried to use the Senate as a springboard to the White House.

It has proved to be a flimsy platform. Barry C. Burden, a Harvard professor who studied the phenomenon of senators running for president, counted 139 serious presidential contenders from 1960 to 1996. Of them, Mr. Burden said, 51 held a Senate seat as their most recent office. But only John F. Kennedy rose directly from the ranks. Others who became party nominees, like George McGovern, suffered some of the most crushing defeats.

So Mr. Graham will follow in the grand tradition of presidential aspirants who rejoin the Senate and soldier on, rebuilding their relationships with colleagues and undoing any damage they may have suffered in pursuing a lost cause.

It is not always smooth.

"It really depends on how the campaign goes whether they can reintegrate themselves back into the Senate," said Ross K. Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers who was a speechwriter for Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana during his 1976 bid.

Mr. Baker remembers waiting for an elevator with the senator on Mr. Bayh's first day back in the Capitol after halting his campaign.

"The door opened up and from the back of this group, someone said to him, `Good morning, Mr. President,' in an extremely sardonic tone," Mr. Baker said. "They really turned the knife."

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Americans Are Growing Tolerant of the Idea of Gay Marriage (posted 10-8-03)

Jim Norman, writing in USA Today (Oct. 7 2003):

The nation essentially is split in half over whether to accept gay and lesbian marriage, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll finds.

While 48% of those surveyed say allowing gay unions "will change our society for the worse," 50% say they would be an improvement or have no effect....

"Marriage has changed more in roles and function in the last 30 years than in the last 3,000," says historian Stephanie Coontz of the Evergreen State College-Olympia, Wash. She is writing a book on the history of marriage.

Driving the changes in marriage are changes in views on sex and spirituality.

American couples increasingly are choosing civil wedding ceremonies over clergy-performed ones, according to a USA TODAY analysis of marriage licenses, and that may affect the debate over gay marriage.

The trend reflects the loosening hold that traditional religion has on the most personal choices in people's lives, experts say. A society that increasingly sees God's blessing on marriage as optional may be more likely to accept same-sex unions.

Sex and spirituality are becoming a private matter to many people, "not something you have to announce to the world or require God's approval," Coontz says. "But there remains a significant minority who say, 'By God, we are going to defend against this relativism of personal choice.' "

Coontz says efforts to focus on traditional religious views of marriage are a "last-ditch attempt to say this is as far a