OK, let’s make gay rights an issue in the presidential election—why not?!

I mean, it’s not like there’s already a bunch of issues in this year’s election on which the candidates (and presumptive candidates) have staked out well-reasoned and philosophically-consistent positions as they make a rational case to the people of America asking for the responsibility of managing one of the major branches of our national government, right?  So I’d like to see if anybody is ready to really show some leadership, and gay rights and gay marriage are perfect issues: all that’s required is the courage to publicly do the right thing.

The latest engagement was in North Carolina where the voters took to the polls Tuesday to say no to gay marriage, in great big, red letters.  In Slate William Saletan summarized the vote-no-’cause-God-says-so arguments, and other scare tactics, those people heard in the campaign: Gay marriage will destroy religious freedom, and weaken the economy, and be treason against God, and we’ll lose God’s protection from racial disasters, and it will lead to man-on-dog marriage.  (Seriously.)

(Interesting perspective, though, from the speaker of the North Carolina state house, who is convinced that any ban on gay marriage in his state will only be temporary.  “State House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Republican from a Charlotte suburb, said even if the amendment is passed, it will be reversed as today’s young adults age.  ‘It’s a generational issue,’ Mr. Tillis told a student group at North Carolina State University in March about the amendment he supports.  ‘If it passes, I think it will be repealed within 20 years.’”)

This comes just a week after a Mitt Romney campaign foreign policy spokesman resigned after anti-gay conservatives “made an issue” out of his support for gay marriage.  Yes, it was Richard Grenell’s “unhinged” support for gay marriage that upset these folks, surely; the religious extremists wouldn’t have used that to cover their opposition to Grenell because the man himself is gay…no no, surely not.  Romney didn’t cover himself in glory, caving to the intolerance from the religious rightand sacrificing Grenell on the altar of getting elected.

Joe Biden’s got something to say here—what a surprise!  But I’m inclined to agree with those who think that putting the loose-lipped vice president on “Meet the Press” and having him say he is comfortable with gay marriage as a civil right is part of a political plan by the Obama campaign, which wants to reassure gay and lesbian voters, and other voters who support gay rights, that the president really is on their side but doesn’t want to take the chance of reigniting this culture wars issue and inflaming anti-gay voters into supporting Romney.  Adding the secretary of education to the mix was a nice touch.  From the standpoint of election politics, I understand that reasoning.  (There are Democratic spin doctors who insist there’s no subterfuge involved, that the campaign wishes this issue had stayed down in the weeds.)

But I also agree with J. Bryan Lowder in Slate, and probably many others in other places, when they argue that there has to come a time when the political calculations take a back seat to doing the right thing.

However, at some point this kind of political prevarication is going to have to give way to principle. Though the cultural mood in this country regarding homosexuality has been morphing in the right direction for a number of years now, waiting for the zeitgeist or generational turn-over to solve everything isn’t going to help those citizens affected in the meantime by dangerously reactionary legislation.

(They’re talking about you, Mr. President, if you’re up to it.)

Lowder goes on to explain, and links to a FiveThirtyEight blog post in the New York Times that further explains, that the North Carolina constitutional amendment doesn’t just prohibit same sex marriage, it outlaws all civil unions and domestic partnerships in the state regardless of gender.  Now, God’s position on heterosexual civil unions is not entirely clear, but there is a new Gallup poll showing half of Americans today believe same-sex marriages should be recognized as valid by lawwith the same rights as heterosexual marriages.  That’s a dramatic change from 15 years ago when it was only 27% favoring and 68% opposing.

The tide is turning: last week Funky Winkerbean started a new series, and I have a feeling the good people of Westview, Ohio will end up on the side of the angels.

gay prom at westview

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The Extent of Pandering-ization in the American Political Community

What’s causing me a good bit of non-specific discomfort about Rep. Peter King’s hearing today ("The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response") is the premise that we should investigate if Muslims are cooperating with law enforcement in the fight against terrorism.  Why isn’t he investigating the cooperation of Baptists, or Buddhists?  Or the Unitarians or the Wiccans or the Scientologists?

Because they didn’t attack America on September 11?  No, they didn’t; a few adherents to a twisted interpretation of Islam did.  But “Muslims” as a group did not, and certainly Muslim Americans didn’t.

First, King has only a handful of anecdotal examples of Muslims not cooperating with the FBI or other law enforcement agencies in investigating homegrown terrorism; certainly nothing to justify this hearing, which could actually have been something constructive if it had been used as an opportunity for Muslims in America to talk about what they really believe.

Second, he’s wrong: research shows that law enforcement’s biggest source of help in fighting domestic terrorism comes from Muslim Americans and Muslim organizations (page 6).

Third, it shows the rest of the world just how stupid we can be at times, and might help Al Qaeda convince a few feeble-minded individuals that America really does hate Muslims.

That’s not to say that no Muslim Americans hate America or sympathize with Al Qaeda; crazy people belong to every religion—religions don’t test for crazy when they you sign up.  But this hearing targets people for suspicion because of their religion, and that’s just not right.

People are not the groups they belong to.  As Harry Reasoner put it, labels only lump me in among people with whom I have one thing in common.  Granted, it’s much easier to stereotype…once you understand that all Irish are drunks, all Mexicans are lazy, all Hindus worship cows, and all Muslims want to kill Americans, then no hard thinking is required.

The more things change, the more they stay eerily the same

First of all, don’t believe most of what’s coming out of the mouths of the political pros today, either the candidates or the party officials and consultants, including the ones disguised as Fox News commentators.  The winners of yesterday’s elections are saying every result is due to people rejecting President Obama and big government, while the losers are trying to convince us that they’re not to blame; nothing is that simple.  But make no mistake: the Democrats were beaten up yesterday.  Why?

For starters, the party in power always loses seats in the midterm elections.  Plus, Americans are (generally) not ideological, they’re practical—they want the economy strong and unemployment down, and they are impatient so they voted for someone new.  They didn’t, by and large, vote for mouthy extremists with no realistic plan for solving problems.  It was the independent voters, who supported Democrats in 2008, who drove the results of this election.  And if this election showed the biggest party swing in some 70 years, maybe it was because we’re trying to recover from the worst economic crisis in some 70 years.

The irony?  Unemployment is unacceptably high, but the naysayers aren’t giving the administration any credit for what it did do that, arguably, saved the economy.  But those things didn’t bring back jobs fast enough, and that was all the excuse many needed.

Don’t put too much stock in this big change being permanent.  Just two years ago there was supreme confidence that the Republican Party had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, and that was less than a decade after the Democrats were routed and ostracized following the Clinton presidency, which came after a generation of Republican ascendancy while Democrats wandered in the desert.

Republicans now control the House and should be expected to make an effort to lead, rather than just get in the way as they’ve done the past two years.  Some wise Republicans have said as much today, that the people have given them a “second” chance (this presumes the world began with the election of Ronald Reagan).  Well, the thing Speaker of the House-presumptive John Boehner has touted is the Pledge to America, and I’ve read estimates that achieving that vague set of goals will add $700 billion to the debt.

So don’t be surprised if there’s not much change in Washington.  Promises to lower taxes are vacuous: government can’t afford to take a pay cut any more than you or me, not if it plans to keep programs people want, like Social Security, Medicare, and national defense.  Cutting anything else won’t have the kind of impact on long-term debt that will make a serious difference.  Besides, when it comes to a plan to help the economy recover and generate jobs, what’s your level of confidence that the party largely responsible for the circumstances that led to the economic crisis is the party that can make it all better?

Look for real changes at the state or local level, where enough small changes can add up to real power for Republicans.

One more thing: enough with all the balloon juice about “taking back” the government, unless you’re talking about taking it back from the deep-pocketed interests who’ve been controlling the people in office for years and years now.  On paper, the government is still and always has been in the hands of the people we citizens chose to look out for our interests, just as the Constitution envisioned.  On the ground…well, we all have to understand that the longer those people stay in government—like Boehner, just elected to his 11th two-year term?—the more they depend on the money that greases Washington’s wheels; it’s true for Democrats and Republicans, and they know it, too.

The older I’ve gotten the easier it’s become to keep these things in perspective: if you don’t like the results of this election, remember that there’ll be another one along soon enough.

Political opportunists exploit Ground Zero, and not in a good way

September 11 is right around the corner, and this year it is likely to spike the hysteria over the planned construction of a community center two and a half blocks from the World Trade Center site.

Doesn’t that sound a lot less creepy and threatening than “a mosque at ground zero”?  That’s the gist of the problem.

A Muslim group in New York City wants to build a community center, including space for religious observance, at 45-51 Park Place in lower Manhattan, a site near the hole in the ground where the Twin Towers stood.  Google the address to see the distance between it and the pit.  There have been complaints from people who find the idea of a mosque at ground zero appalling and insensitive, and in some cases a symbolic victory for the people who carried out the September 11 attacks (and who are, it is true, still at war with the United States and plotting our destruction).  It’s not been made clear (to me) if there are objections to the swimming pool and meeting rooms in the plan, or just that there would be areas for Muslim religious activity.

I don’t follow how building a community center shows insensitivity to the victims of a terrorist or criminal act, unless you blame the builders of the center for the attack.  The man behind the Cordoba House has some questionable beliefs, but no associations with Osama bin Laden or Al Qaeda.  If the people behind this proposal aren’t directly connected to the 9/11 hijackers, is the objection some sort of guilt by association?  I’d like to believe that association with Islam is not the cause of the opposition, since Islam didn’t attack us—that was done by some people with a perverted interpretation of Islam.  They’re no more representative of Islam than the (insert name of your favorite religious fringe group here) are of Christianity.

People who commandeer passenger jets and use them as missiles deserve our attention.  The last president let his administration turn that attention into fear, and enough of the fear became irrational enough to be exploited as a wedge to grab power and start a war that had nothing to do with finding the people who attacked us, merrily ignoring civil liberties along the way.  It’s not too big a leap to say that irrational fear, and political opportunism, are pumping up the volume in this case.

Charles Krauthammer makes a compelling point about preserving sacred ground, although he doesn’t say how far away would be far enough, and Ross Douthat has an interesting column about how the constitutional America and the cultural America are in conflict on this issue, and I see his point.  But I’m no culture warrior: no one’s made an argument that the proposed construction is illegal, the necessary governmental authorities have approved the plan, neighborhood and business groups approve, we’re not religious bigots…and it’s two blocks down and around the corner, for crying out loud.  Let’s move on.

Want more?  William Saletan does a skillful job taking down the anti-mosque arguments on their face, and their proponents with them.

How about a joke?  This is ridiculously close to a real news item:

The Statue of Liberty was briefly evacuated today after a faulty sensor in an elevator shaft falsely indicated smoke. While there were no immediate reports of injuries, the very idea that someone might build a Muslim community center just across the water from the site of that undamaged sacred ground was compared to a stab in the heart by a bunch of racist yahoos.