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“Abortion is an ObamaNation.com”

August 28th, 2009 2 comments

The quote that forms the title for this post was plastered on a truck driven by a member of Operation Rescue. The vehicle also sports a poster of a fetal hand on a coin. They’re not going for subtlety.

The vitriolic protests against abortion providers continue, this time with Dr. LeRoy Carhart filling the late Dr. George Tiller‘s role as the focal point for the anger. Carhart, you may recall, led an unsuccessful challenge to the so-called “partial birth abortion law; the sharply divided Supreme Court ruled that Congress could constitutionally rule out one form of late-term abortion as long as it permitted another means of accomplishing the same task. Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the majority misunderstands both medical practice and public health principles, and, as Justice Ginsburg noted in dissent, won’t actually save the life of a single fetus. (At most it will put doctors at risk of liability for making on-the-spot decisions on how best to perform the procedure.)

Carhart’s public stance, courage, and notoriety explain may why he’s now been targeted. And yes, he does some (but very few)  late-term abortions; as evidenced by the back-and-forth I had with Andrew Sullivan a couple of months ago (see here, here, here, and here), as well as the many testimonials he published on the issue, these abortions are the ones that get people the most worked up. (Maybe they shouldn’t, though, because most of these abortions are to terminate the life of the most seriously deformed fetuses, many of whom wouldn’t even be born alive. But this post isn’t going to revisit the issue.) Given what happened to Tiller, and the willingness of Operation Rescue to refortify the ramparts so soon after his murder, Carhart understandably fears for his life. If anything does happen to him, the principals of that group will express ritual disapproval, but not remorse.

Also of interest here is the use of the now-familiar “ObamaNation” (read: abomination) slogan and its purported connection to everything that’s thought to be wrong: taxes; health care reform; now, abortion. But what has Obama to do with abortion? The practice has been legal continuously since 1973, yet the anti-abortion forces feel,  with some justification, that they have a kindred spirit in office during Republican administrations. Democrats allow this, well, abomination to continue, and don’t even have the decency to mount a rhetorical struggle against it. So violence and the threats of it escalate, dramatically, during Democratic presidencies.

I still haven’t accounted for the “.com” at the end of the slogan.  Now we’ve got something concrete: Obamanation.com is the url for a group that is dedicated to stopping what it sees as an Obama-led black genocide; black fetuses are aborted in disproportionately high numbers. (Here’s the organization’s page with data supporting that point; I haven’t checked out the underlying reports.) But in a larger sense it “Obamanation” stands for everything that’s wrong, and for the poor sap who happens to be at the epicenter of it all.

Joe’s Journey

May 8th, 2009 No comments

I’d hardly intended to begin a journey-themed series of posts, but I welcomed this title with “open arms” when I received my door prize yesterday: a coffee table book, “Joe’s Journey,” about the 47th Vice-President of the United States. This lovely parting gift, to use the parlance of game shows gone by, was bestowed on the 500 or so of us who’d attended Joe Biden’s return to Delaware yesterday. As Delaware’s first vice-president — a long time coming, considering that it holds the distinction as “the first state” — the six-plus-term Senator was given the “History Makers Award” by the Delaware Historical Society.1

My attendance at yesterday’s gala luncheon (albeit in a room illuminated to invoke a nightclub’s ambience) was one of the l’il benefits of having been a colleague of the veep’s; to use the term “colleague” very broadly. (Biden and a full-time faculty member co-taught a course in constitutional law at Widener on Saturdays for many years.) Another benefit  is that I can prove I was there:

biden award group

(See? I’m third from the left. Biden’s the one with his hands on the shoulders of the Dean, Linda Ammons. Note the inky black background; I was serious about the nightclub comment.)

The event started out with a cocktail hour — at 10:30 am! This is early, even for me, and it was a real cocktail party– no coffee, just drinks. So I had a bloody Mary, then another, then another, then another.2 By now it was 10:35 and I was wondering what I was going to do until lunch. At about 11:30, a cry went up as the VP entered the enormous room and was quickly surrounded by throngs of adoring admirers. Biden really is loved in Delaware, but he must have been taken aback (he never seems ill-at-ease, though) by the uptick in adoration since changing jobs. He could barely move.

The lunch finally began. Valerie Biden Owens, sister to The Man a Heartbeat from the Presidency, showed that eloquence and public grace were distributed abundantly to the Biden family. Without announcing what she was doing, she began mentioning a series of little moments — quickly it became apparent they were from her brother’s life as a public servant — actions, she said, that “were gathered up and stacked on top of each other over many years” to describe and (in so doing) honor her brother. One that stuck was the image of Biden racing for the train to Washington, but looking back in parting to his family. “Am I here, or there?” cries the perplexed protagonist in a Hawthorne short story. The thirty-six years of Amtrak commuting must at times have made him ask that question. And the importance of that train ride resurfaced, as you’ll see.

Then Biden fairly raced up the stairs, to a standing-ovation homecoming.3 Roughly, his speech divided  into two parts. The second part, while eloquent and inspiring for the political speech genre, wasn’t as moving or heartfelt as the first. That’s where Biden spoke to his homies in a voice from deep within. Whatever role speechwriters may have played, the personal message and feeling broke though. He began with a brother’s loving but playful tribute to his sister, saying that, while he’d heard her speak many times before, he’d “never heard her so loving.”

He then told a story that visibly moved him, and furthered deepened his connection to the audience. When asked to consider the most significant moment in his many years of political life, he had no hesitation. “Without a doubt,” he said, it had been the train ride from his native Wilmington to D.C., on the Saturday before the inauguration. In sight of the Third Street Bridge, he’d thought back to many years ago, when, as a young man, he’d been the only white employee at the pool located on the other side of that bridge. This, in turn, reminded him of the segregated society in which he’d grown up. And now, here he was, just about forty years later, boarding train to Washington with our nation’s first African-American President, with whom he was lucky enough to work. Reciting this story  was almost more than he could emotionally bear.

Biden’s reputation as a “gaffe machine” is probably deserved (and came out of hibernation recently with his impolitic and biologically inaccurate remarks about the flu), but anyone who hears Biden in full flight understands that  “gaffes” are the inevitable flip side to a kind of authenticity and honesty rarely approached by our political figures. It’s “small wonder” Delawarans have loved this guy for so long.

  1. Of course you’re wondering: But has Delaware ever sent a President to Washington? I didn’t know whether the fact that the question didn’t come up yesterday meant anything (if Delaware had sent, say, FDR and three other guys to the White House, it might have made the historical first celebrated yesterday accurate but…odd). But no, there have been no Presidents from this three-county state that touts itself, variously, as “The First State” (good), “The Diamond State” (inexplicable), “Small Wonder” (cloying), and… “The Home of Tax-Free Shopping” (practical, anyway). When it added this last nickname, Delaware surely claimed an additional distinction as the only state with more sobriquets than counties. But you don’t necessarily want a President from your state in any case: Just ask Iowans, who still look at the ground and absently kick pebbles when anyone mentions native son Herbert Hoover.
  2. Not really.
  3. I’m omitting extended discussion of the gauzy biopic that preceded Biden. Perhaps the book and a DVD can be packaged and wrapped together for future events.

Equality Forum Day 5: What Now?

May 1st, 2009 2 comments

After a political eternity, several bills directly relevant to LGBT equality are queued up before Congress. In order of both expected ease of passage and anticipated timeline, these are: hate crimes, which has already passed the U.S. House, and is expected to navigate the more treacherous waters of the Senate and be signed, possibly within a couple of months; the bewhiskered Employment Non-Discrimination Act (“ENDA”), which could go through by the end of 2009; repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which seems to enjoy broad support but is trickier because it involves the military; and repeal of all or part of the Defense of Marriage Act (date and prospects less clear).

Friday’s National Legal Panel seemed in remarkable agreement on these issues, and more cheered by these seemingly modest anticipated developments than might have been expected. After all, Obama’s in office and the Democrats hold power in both houses of Congress (even a looming filibuster-proof majority in the Senate now seems very likely, given Arlen Specter’s party flip). As the ACLU’s Chris Anders asked rhetorically: “What’s the problem?” Why shouldn’t all of these agenda items so long sought, and for which so much laborious lobbying has been done, sail right through?

Welcome to the sausage factory! All of these bills have to be introduced, go through committees, survive amendments, and then go to the floor for  passage. Then there’s reconciliation of possibly differing versions of the legislation between the two chambers. According to Georgetown law professor and legislative expert Chai Feldblum, the complexity of the process and the list of backed-up agenda items from various constituencies means that we’ve been “given” two slots for this legislative session: one for hate crime and one for ENDA. Time is the most precious resource on Capitol Hill; getting the “face time” you need is vital to move things forward.

The hate crimes law (“The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act“) isn’t strictly a “gay rights bill,” because it also covers criminal acts motivated by a victim’s race, religion, disability, national origin, or gender. It thus has a broad coalition working toward its passage. ENDA is trickier; whether the version that’s passed will offer “gender identity” discrimination is unclear. That’s the goal, but the TG community could be thrown overboard to get the bill enacted. I wouldn’t be in favor of  such a bill, because no one needs workplace protection as much as those who are gender nonconforming, and if they’re not included now — forget it. They’ll never get a bill through on their own.

Penn law professor Tobias Wolff, who advised the Obama campaign on issues of interest to the LGBT community, offered a rich and complex account of Obama’s support. Wolff said he “lost count” of the number of times Obama mentioned issues of gay equality on the campaign trail, even when his audience (say, a conservative black church) might have been less than fully receptive to it. Yet Obama never did a presentation before any of the national LGBT advocacy groups; which was also unprecedented (this time not in a good way) for a Democratic candidate. This might be looked at as less than supportive, but Wolff’s interpretation was that Obama preferred to construct coalitions that were more broad-based, and not especially associated with any particular interest group. He also related that Obama isn’t going to independently decide to do things for us; he expects advocacy and persuasive arguments, and can be moved by them. So in an odd yet paradoxically exhilarating way, there’s more work to do with a sympathetic President and Congress, not less.

According to Hayley Gorenberg, Deputy Legal Director for Lambda Legal, much less promising are the prospects for any kind of substantial help from the U.S. Supreme Court on marriage equality or the military policy. Here the situation is markedly different from that of the state level, where courts have often been strong allies, especially in recent marriage equality cases and on family law questions, such as second-parent adoptions. Although the Court has some good precedent cases (Romer v. Evans, which declared anti-gay animus an unconstitutional basis for legislation; and Lawrence v. Texas, striking down statutes that criminalize intimate sexual conduct between consenting adults), they’re very deferential to the military and not likely to require marriage equality any time soon. The Court might be receptive to the carefully crafted challenge to the part of DOMA that denies federal benefits to legally married couples; that case, though, has just been filed and would take years to reach the Court. By then, perhaps DOMA would have been repealed.

At least as far as “don’t ask, don’t tell” is concerned, though, the Obama Administration could adopt some internal policies and rules that would greatly lessen its arbitrariness and devastating impact on dedicated military personnel. And that interplay between decisional law, legislation, and regulatory law was consistently emphasized by the panelists, especially Feldblum. Moderator Nan Hunter, a Georgetown law professor, did a nice job in getting the participants to explain these relationships, and the law itself, in a way that the “lay” audience could understand.

What we’d have trouble understanding is a lack of movement. If these initiatives fail, the panelists agreed that we’d be forced to take responsibility for that failure. This prospect, though, wasn’t enough for anyone to seek the return of the Bush era.