Something to cheer about

In what will undoubtedly be hailed in future generations as a landmark decision, The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges, overturning as unconstitutional state bans on gay marriage, effectively making gay marriage legal across the country. While I’m disappointed in the fact that the decision was so close (5-4) and that the usual suspects are making their typical inflammatory comments (e.g., presidential hopeful Bobby Jindal, take your pick of random religious leaders), this is a bit of genuinely good news in a world that too often provides none. Kudos to the SCOTUS and congratulations to the gay, lesbian, and transgendered folks out there who will finally reap the benefits of equality under the law, at least in this respect. 640px-Gay_flag.svg

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Why Romney lost and why the Republicans still don’t get it

A lot has been written and said about the spectacular electoral failure of the Republican Party in the November election, and much of it misses the point. CNN and other broadcasters pontificated on their tables and interactive maps and talked about how the GOP lost women and blacks and Hispanics and young people, and all of these things are undoubtedly true but not all that interesting in and of themselves. The more salient part of this is why the Party of No not only flopped in its efforts to unseat an admittedly-divisive sitting president (just why he is so divisive is probably worth its own article), but lost seats in both houses of Congress, including races that were considered easy victories like Todd Akin’s challenge to Claire McAskill.

Ask 10 Republicans why this happened and you may get 10 different answers. Mitt Romney, suffering from an apparent bout of Aesop’s fox syndrome, sulkily declared that Obama must have “paid off the electorate.” He didn’t mean that literally–he meant that the president had promised those constituencies that didn’t vote red money or some other form of government largesse in exchange for his reelection. Slightly smarter or less bitter observers like Louisiana’s own Bobby Jindal or Wisconsin’s Scott Walker hastened to say that Romney’s reaction to his loss was a bit stupid and suggested that the true problem with the Party lay in its failure to appeal to a broad spectrum of voters. Both of these men are, of course, playing to a national audience with these statements and it’s probably the worst-kept secret in politics that they have ambitions beyond governing a single state.

As others have pointed out, it’s worth paying attention to deeds as well as words. At home, Jindal has promoted an extreme social-conservative agenda that plays well to his base–and particularly the religious right–in this most crimson of states but which has been met with suspicion by moderates and independents. His recent push to put public funds in the hands of charter and private schools aligns perfectly with his previous efforts to dilute science education in the state with his Orwellian Louisiana Science Education Act. This is an important context in which to examine Jindal’s public proclamations, wherein he pays lip service to the idea of creating a more inclusive political party that embraces many groups–the so-called “big tent.”

The reality is that this is more empty rhetoric, because the GOP has continued to push an extremist agenda, even while giving the appearance of holding its more extreme elements at arm’s length. During the election, in a case of belated damage control, the national party stumbled over itself to distance itself from comments made by numerous Senate candidates who made abortion a central issue in the campaign by stating in various ways that their god had a hand in many terrible crimes against women; meanwhile, a similar policy statement is to be found on the official party platform and on the lips of its vice-presidential candidate (Paul Ryan is basically Sarah Palin, except that he actually did read all of the newspapers).  On the economic front, fiscal hawks like Speaker Boehner are taking a hard line against raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans and are pushing the vague and ultimately meaningless trope of “tax code reform” that Romney was promoting as his “economic plan” during the election. This self-imposed “fiscal cliff” nonsense is the last gasp of the absurd “trickle-down economics” that  Republicans have been shoving down our throats for the last 30 years, and I hope they choke on it. The only thing that trickles down on the poor and the middle class when the rich get richer is the excrement that always rolls downhill.

Intellectual luminaries within the party suggested an alternate reason for why young people didn’t vote Republican. Bill Bennett suggested that liberals have taken over the public schools and indoctrinated America’s youth with pinko propaganda. He’s actually serious about this and it gets better. The prescription is to not to get rid of onerous and intolerant policies that drive people away the party in droves; it’s to take over schools and insert their own propaganda. It’s well worth taking a look at this film to see what Bennett and his followers have in mind.

This particular piece of idiocy just got cranked up to 11 this week in the wake of the tragic school shooting in Connecticut. Congressmen Louie Gohmert of Texas and Dennis Baxley of Florida have actually suggested that the answer to mass shootings in this country is for people to have more guns. Perpetual carnival acts James Dobson and Bryan Fischer declared that their god had once again intervened to “allow judgment to fall upon us” because of abortion and gay marriage and because there is no state-sponsored prayer in schools. Sure, you can always count on fringe loonies to say things like this after children are gunned down at school, but here’s the kicker: Mike Huckabee, the guy who was almost the GOP’s candidate for president in 2012, was saying the same things. If the party leaders really want to know how they’ve gone so astray and why Americans don’t trust them anymore, nothing sums it up quite so succinctly as this.

Here’s a pro tip for Mr. Huckabee and the rest: your god doesn’t belong in public schools and your religion is not the only one in America. The amendment that goes at the top of the Constitution–# 1–declares that Congress shall make no law respecting religion. That’s the “establishment clause” and it means that government, including public institutions (like schools), are to be religiously neutral. I don’t suppose you’d be too thrilled if the kids were facing Mecca and praying to Allah on prayer mats in the public schools under the imam’s watchful eye. So go ahead and blame those of us who want to take guns off the streets, who want to protect women, who are gay, who believe you can be moral without gods; Democrats will continue to clean your clocks at the polls as we all vote against you.

And on a personal note, fuck you, you self-righteous assholes.

Obama’s declaration of support for gay marriage does not change the political calculus

I watched with considerable interest and some amusement the coverage of the president’s remarks in favor of gay marriage on the evening news yesterday. This is a president who has long courted the gay community but has largely employed half-measures in doing so. He pledged to end “don’t ask, don’t tell” during the 2008 race but it took him two years to get a law through Congress to enact a “legal process” by which the policy might be ended and another year to actually kill the policy in practice.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” was a goofy policy from its inception during the Clinton administration in 1993. Essentially the armed forces accepted gays as service members provided that no one ever knew they were gay; of necessity it meant that these men and women led double lives mandated by policy, not just the same way that a non-serving gay person may lead a double life before coming to terms with his or her sexuality. Clinton, who wanted to end discrimination against gays in the military, accepted this bizarre compromise as the best he could do in cooperation with a Republican-led Congress.

Have you observed a “homosexual act”?

The president’s stance on the issue of gay marriage has been said to be “evolving” and in his statements yesterday he seems to have made it clear that one of the things that pushed him in this direction is his recognition that so-called civil unions are not, in fact, equivalent to marriage in conferring the same rights and responsibilities. Another factor is that, despite the lather that the Moral Majority and Focus on the Family work their members into, a decreasing number of Americans actually care that much about sexual orientation or see a reason why homosexuals shouldn’t have the same rights and privileges as heterosexual citizens.

The CBS Evening News interviewed a few members of a Hispanic church who stated that they had voted for Obama in 2008 but wouldn’t in 2012 because of this issue–the point of this being that Hispanics in swing states supposedly won the election for Obama during the previous cycle and they may defect in droves now that he is “going against the Church.” I think this is nonsense. People who are sufficiently conservative that they allow social issues to determine how they vote in major elections were never going to vote for Obama, particularly in view of the right’s continuing effort to paint Obama as slightly left of Karl Marx. If you listen to the propaganda coming out of the right-wing media, you would think that the man had nationalized every formerly private industry there was, expanded social welfare programs, replaced the Stars and Stripes with the Hammer and Sickle, and dramatically raised taxes on the richest Americans. In reality, of course, he’s done none of these things. Obama the President has proven to be far more conservative than Obama the Candidate. In this way, he’s actually a lot more like his opponent than liberals like myself would prefer. So if anything this may gain him some traction with gays but won’t really lose him votes.

So does Romney profit from this? Well, his statement after being asked was something along these lines: personally I think marriage is between one man and one woman but other people have other opinions–this is what I’ve believed as long as I’ve been in politics. In other words, it was the most Romneyesque of all possible responses. One can only speculate as to what he may have thought before he entered public life; it’s a shame when a man cannot even commit to his own opinions. In any case, Romney will never support gay marriage–because lots of people would simply not show up to vote for him or would vote for some third-party buffoon with no chance of winning–but neither will he say bad things about gays. So maybe a few people will vote for him who may have otherwise stayed home, but he won’t see any real advantage from this either.

Who benefits? Two groups, the two stakeholders who have the most to gain or lose from gay marriage becoming the law of the land nationwide: gays and people who hate them. Gays don’t get anything tangible from this outcome, only the knowledge that the incumbent in the White House would support gay marriage initiatives if his opinion had any weight in state legislatures where these decisions are actually made. Anti-gay groups get another wicker man to burn and another fundraising tool.

On the whole I expect that this will turn out to be the very definition of a tempest in a teapot.