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“Actual Responsibilities” vs. Actual Responsibilities

January 13th, 2011 No comments

I spent most of yesterday seething over Sarah Palin’s incredible, “turn defense to offense” speech. The woman whose violent rhetoric has poisoned the political discourse by positing the President as enemy rather than opposition spoke from her secure bubble, denying responsibility on any level and positing a false equivalence between her actions and those of the Democrats.1

I’d pored through her text, marking of all kinds logical inconsistencies, and had planned a long post built around the snarky statement she’d made when accepting the VP nomination in 2008: As Mayor of Wasilla, she — unlike community organizer Barack Obama — had “actual responsibilities.” Of course, she has no patience with responsibilities: resigning as governor to line her pockets and enrich the public discourse with Tweets; and now this wholly uncharitable excoriation of those whose search for explanation for the Arizona tragedy dared to point out some inconvenient facts. (That isn’t to say that Palin’s to blame for what happened last week, just that it was proper to consider context — especially the statement that Rep. Giffords had made at the very time the gun sight map was issued. This is the most nuanced discussion of the complexity of the responsibility issue I’ve seen, and it’s from a conservative.)

But no more. After hearing Obama’s speech, I’m going to back away and say nothing further about Palin. (I already wrote more than I’d planned. It’s hard to help it.) Let’s focus on the memorial instead.

Although I thought there was something off-putting and almost creepy about the pep-rally response to this memorial speech — can you imagine a similar response to, say, the Gettysburg Address? — the speech itself was Obama at his finest. (I encourage those who haven’t heard the speech to read the transcript instead, or at least first. Then you get the beauty of the speech without the cheerleading. It’s here.) For me, this complex call to healing through expanding our vision was the highlight:

As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together. After all, that’s what most of us do when we lose someone in our family – especially if the loss is unexpected.

Note the brilliant connection between the political and the deeply personal. And then he moved back to the victims, focusing on the only child killed, Christina Taylor Green. As a parent of twin girls not much younger than Christina, I was especially affected by his comments about her:

And in Christina…in Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic. So deserving of our love. And so deserving of our good example. If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost.

Mostly, this just made me want to be a better parent. But maybe that impulse will carry over into my dealings with others. Let’s hope so.

  1. Here I refer to the infamous gun sights that populated her Congressional map; it’s true, as a Daily Dish reader noted, that some years before a map generated by Dems contained targets — but they weren’t gun sights. And even if they were, is that a good defense? Actually, maybe the gun sights aren’t worse than targets in a nation that allows assault weapons but outlaws lawn darts.

The First Legally Married, Gay Dad in the U.S. Congress?

March 24th, 2010 No comments

Read Melanie Nathan’s short profile of Palm Springs Mayor and Democratic candidate for the US House of Representatives, Steve Pougnet. He’s running against Sonny Bono’s widow, Mary Bono Mack (now married to Florida Congressman Connie Mack). Bono Mack, of course, is the stepmother of the one and only Chaz (formerly Chastity) Bono, the offspring of the inexplicably famous Sonny and Cher. But I digress. Read Nathan’s account for a good sense of what having a legally married (before Prop 8 passed) father could do to the climate in the House. In sum: It would put another human face on the arguments for true equality, and the first of an otherwise mainstream, married parent. It’s going to be even harder for DOMA defenders to stand up and argue their position in front of this dad of three-year-old twins. As you might guess, I see a kindred spirit in Pougnet. (h/t Lee Dorsey)

BTW, my 365gay.com column tomorrow is on the legal treatment of gender complexity, especially in the context of marriage. I’ll expand on it here after it runs.

OK, I can’t resist doing this. Please, forgive me for bringing down the house (now you’re curious, admit it):

Paul Starr on Health Care Reform

November 20th, 2009 3 comments

I don’t often use this space to direct readers to something my law school is doing, but in this case I feel compelled to do just that. Yesterday, Paul Starr of Princeton delivered our annual Raynes McCarty Lecture on Health Law, and reminded us of something easy to forget: There are actually important issues of substance at stake in the current debate  over health care reform. Happily, our tech geniuses Webcast the lecture;  you can find it here.

As this brief summary of Starr’s accomplishments demonstrates, he has the credentials and the experience to place today’s debate into historical context.  His path-breaking book, The Social Transformation of American Medicine, won the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction, and he was a senior advisor to the Clintons during their effort to pass health care reform. Like many of us, he thinks that if the current push for reform doesn’t work, it will be a long, long time before anyone will ever touch it again.

His presentation is terrific; I’m going to resist the temptation to summarize it here, because I won’t do it justice AND because you should listen to the whole thing. Engage and enjoy!

Changing the Terms of Debate

November 9th, 2009 1 comment

An opinion piece in today’s Asbury Park Press, a New Jersey paper, argues that that there’s no need to “rush” gay marriage through a lame-duck session of the  legislature. (Outgoing Governor Corzine will sign it if it reaches him before his term expires in January; Governor-elect Christie would veto such a measure.)

Whatever the merits of the argument about enacting laws during a lame-duck session, something else about the piece was noteworthy. The editors, after noting that marriage equality has been consistently voted down when put up as a referendum, said:

[Gay marriage] is legal in five states, but only through acts of legislatures or by court mandates.

Only” through acts of legislatures? This is called “representative democracy,” by the way. It’s not perfect, which is why courts are standing by to pass on the constitutionality of measures enacted. But matters are far worse when rights are put up for popular vote. Then there’s no filter between the most visceral impulses of the “mob” and the protection of minorities. As Jesse Ventura (remember him?) aptly stated in the wake of the Maine marriage equality vote:

“You can’t put a civil rights issue on the ballot and let the people decide. You have to have elected officials to who have courage to make the right decision. If you left it up to the people, we’d have slavery, depending on how you worded it.” (h/t Joe.My.God)

It’s bad enough that many states allow just this sort of popularity contest on basic rights. Journalists shouldn’t be making it worse by suggesting that the legislature is somehow subordinate to the plebiscite.

Teaching Marriage (and Respect) in Maine Schools

October 29th, 2009 No comments

This Letter to the Editor in the Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel caught my eye:

I’ve been a member of the Waterville Board of Education and its curriculum committee for almost 13 years. I am also an attorney.

I am disturbed by false assertions that the marriage equality law would lead to homosexual marriage being taught in our schools. There is no state-mandated marriage curriculum, and the new law has nothing to do with what schools will teach.

The Department of Education, the Attorney General, and the No on 1 campaign itself have made that clear.

Nevertheless, opponents of marriage equality charge that gay marriage will be taught in schools, over parents’ objections, if the law isn’t repealed. This is simply untrue. Not only is curriculum a matter of local control, Maine law (20-A M.R.S.A sec. 6209) provides for accommodation in instances where course content conflicts with the sincerely held religious beliefs and practices of a student’s parent or guardian.

Beyond curriculum, the reality is that some children in our schools are being raised by same-sex parents now. Their friends learn about their families just as they learn that some children have stepparents, one parent, adoptive parents, grandparents, or others who serve as guardians. Families have many different faces.

The children of same-sex couples deserve the same legal protections as others. Maine schools need to be places where every student is safe and respected. Denying same-sex families the protections of civil marriage would only undermine that goal.

Voting “no” on Question 1 will uphold a law that protects Maine families and kids by extending fundamental civil rights to same-sex couples. At the same time, it protects the rights of parents and churches, which have the right to their own beliefs and restrictions regarding marriage.

Joan Phillips-Sandy

Waterville

Can we please put this issue to rest, already? But even if we do, will it make a difference? Not according to this gloomy forecast cum assessment of the general political situation.

On and On and On….

October 12th, 2009 No comments

Here’s a story you likely know, at least in broad outline:

During his campaign, Obama promises progress on gay rights. Once in office, his rhetoric cools and — to be charitable — he doesn’t seem to be moving very fast. Then he makes things much worse with a dreadful brief his Justice Department files in defending the Defense of Marriage Act. Critics (including this one) erupt.

Chastened, Obama signs a memorandum extending a few lousy benefits to partners of federal employees. Then the lifting of the ban on HIV-positive travelers moves closer to reality. Hate crimes law should be a reality any day now, but other promises, like the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT)” and (especially) the Defense of Marriage Act remain just…promises.

Then, this past Saturday night, Obama headlines the gay dinner-to-end-all-dinners — the HRC soiree in DC — where he “opens” for the ubiquitous Lady Gaga.1 His speech makes more concrete (but with no timeline) his goal of repealing DADT and of passing ENDA (the federal non-discrimination law).

Some bloggers continue continue to howl. “When”? “Give us concrete times and dates!” In this vein, Andrew Sullivan titles his post on the speech “Much Worse Than I Expected.”2   Others read it differently. Nan Hunter, for example, thinks that the focus on DADT has occluded Obama’s subtle but important move towards the language of moral equality. (Her post is really worth your time; so is her blog, in general.) Sullivan would say (and has, in almost these words): “We know the man can give a great speech. Now he needs to shut up and do something.”

There’s the story. Now the question: Where to stand?

I’m trying to find some way of accommodating these two truths: First, Obama is an advocate (except on marriage). Second, so far and perhaps for good, he isn’t willing to expend much political capital on LGBT rights; so he moves slowly or (perhaps in the case of DOMA), not at all. This is advocacy in name (and soaring rhetoric) only.

Here are a few suggestions to help maintain your sanity. So far, they are working for me:

  1. Focus on the states, where marriage equality will continue to play out. Right now, Maine is hugely important. If Question 1, asking the voters to repeal the recently enacted marriage equality law, is voted down, then the right can’t argue about courts — or, weirdly, even legislatures — subverting the will of the people. Of course, some leadership from Obama wouldn’t hurt in this regard, either. (So far, silence).
  2. Be practical — not ridiculous, as in waiting for 2017 to render judgment, but realistic. If we get hate crimes and ENDA this year, as well as the regulatory repeal of the HIV travel ban, and the end of DADT next year, I’d swallow my disappointment over DOMA (not for long) and congratulate Obama on some actual accomplishments. (As I wrote here in summarizing the remarks of Chai Feldblum and others, getting legislation through Congress is tough because of the difficulty of getting their time and attention.)
  3. Continue agitating, and criticizing the Administration. Consider supporting organizations other than the HRC, at least until they can show something, anything, for their decades of black-tie fund-raising efforts.

Maybe this is too timid, maybe I’m too critical, maybe…I should go to bed.

  1. Who sang a freshly kitted-out version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” that stands with the Elton John/Bernie Taupin retread of “Candle in the Wind” (to fit Princess Diana’s memorial) in the “lazy songcraft” pantheon. I’m sure the guests would rather have heard “Pokerface.”
  2. Some context is useful here. Earlier, Sullivan had leveled HRC Pres Joe Solomonese for a letter he’d sent out supporting Obama, and suggesting that we wait until 2017(!) to evaluate his Presidency. Although some of the post is needlessly incendiary (esp. the title), Sullivan was right in the essentials, and it’s hard not to read Obama’s speech in light of the HRC’s bland acceptance of almost anything he says or promises to do.

Indoctrinations

September 25th, 2009 3 comments

I’m against this (and not just because the song is just plain awful):

But there’s a strong, and apparently unself-conscious overlap, between many of the loudest protesters and those who see no problem with prayer in the public school. At least the video can be (weakly) defended as an expression of civics in a secular, public classroom; not so with prayer.

And speaking of civics, this Obama song is nothing like the earlier education speech that had the Michelle Malkins of the world in a froth. As even some conservatives have grudgingly acknowledged, a similar sort of speech by Reagan in 1988  went unchallenged by the lot of them. As well it should; there’s a world’s difference between a speech on education that the President, as our national leader, delivers in the hope of inspiring others to follow  his example, and the brainless tribute delivered in this video. But don’t expect that distinction to be explored by the Malkins of the world.

It would make their heads hurt.

The Credibility Sports Confers

July 10th, 2009 No comments

This morning I found out that former major league pitcher David Cone is to testify as a character witness at the trial of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. I learned this during a panel discussion on MSNBC that included Stephen A. Smith, former Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter and ESPN talking head. I’m sure former ESPN star Keith Olbermann will have something to say about the list of character witnesses, as well.

I’m somewhere between CNN’s Anderson Cooper and the majority of my fellow, sports-obsessed Americans. Cooper, if you didn’t know, dissected a Palin spokeswoman’s defense of the daft governor’s decision to step down, and refused to be drawn into some inane sports analogy comparing Palin to a point guard: “I don’t know anything about sports,” he said. Whether he does or not, this was exactly the right response. He might as well have said: “Stop blathering and answer the question.”

But even for those of us who know or care about sports (I like exactly three of them), there’s something off-putting about the instant cred that sports stardom — whether as player or as pundit — confers. It’s not that the sports world doesn’t cough up bright, even brilliant, people. Among those who still concentrate on sports, Frank DeFord, Jon Wertheim (read his “Strokes of Genius”), and Diana Nyad come to mind as great journalists, writers, and observers. And those who have made the transition to other areas of interest are often pretty good, too. I think Olbermann, while a fellow traveler politically, sometimes lets his bluster and sarcasm get in the way of his message; but he’s bright and can be very effective. Stephen A. Smith I’ve not heard enough of to reach an opinion, but his constant talking over the other panelists this morning was irritating. David Cone is one of the most intelligent and thoughtful professional athletes you’ll ever hear. Read Roger Angell’s excellent but overlooked book, A Pitcher’s Story: Innings with David Cone for evidence.

By why do these folks find their access to more mainstream topics so easy? Because sports is so central that they’re widely seen, and heard, and respected for their views on, say, basketball or baseball; and then it’s assumed that viewers will follow them, and continue to respect them, when they talk about Iran or the Supreme Court. Often, this works. But it reminds me that SportsCenter and its ilk could only have succeeded in a sports-mad culture, and that they, in turn, constantly increase their own market share by convincing the audience of their importance.

Strategy, Responsibility, and…Governance?

July 7th, 2009 No comments

Sarah Palin is an obvious dunderhead whose sell-by date has way passed. (For lots of detail, go to Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish.) So first, an apology for devoting this short post to her. So she resigned as governor of Alaska, apparently a state. Really, who cares about her future? She’ll make scads of money preaching to the increasingly isolated far right wing of the Republican party, and provide both useful air minutes to Fox NEWS, and ink to the still-smitten Bill Kristol. Her “political future” is an oxymoron; she has none.

Speaking of her defenders, and of the right-wing true believers more generally….This surreal resignation has laid bare (not for the first time) that responsible governance isn’t their concern. Karl Rove described the decision as “a risky strategy.” Strategy? What about the sheer irresponsibility of resigning your office when the heat is turned up? That’s not Rove’s concern, and never has been. The guy who wanted to create a permanent Republican majority still doesn’t understand that voters can see through “strategy” to something called “substance.” The alter ego of the “boy genius” —  “turd blossom” — long ago became the more accurate sobriquet.

Ann Coulter, whom I’d vowed never to mention because doing so is like publicizing a whoopee cushion, defended Palin on the grounds that she shouldn’t have to continue defending herself against these pesky ethics investigations. In true defense-to-offense fashion, she suggested an ethics investigation against…anyone initiating an ethics investigation against Palin. Coulter decried the sheer number of investigations launched against Palin, confident that her analytically challenged audience wouldn’t stop to think that all of these investigations might indicate serious problems with the subject of the investigation rather than with the investigators, who are mostly of her own party. Here she is, in a mutual gush-fest with Sean Hannity. (You can stop after the first couple of minutes. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

Here’s a question that we might ask: What if everyone did that? “Well, I’m not going to run for reelection, so I’ll just quit midway through my term.”

Sarah Palin has no future in politics — or, I vow, on this blogsite — but there’s always a warm home for her among the true believers. Now, it’s time to cash in.

“The Paparazzi Clapped”

May 12th, 2009 No comments

My best efforts to retain a level of smug detachment from the whole Miss California/Carrie Prejean issue have been swamped by the Donald.

As  you probably know by now, Mr. Hair Sculpture co-owns the Miss Universe Organization. So the decision whether to allow Prejean to retain her shimmering tiara was left to him. Here’s what he had to say at the press conference:

There’s a lot to marvel at here. Note the logo, with Trump’s name repeated endlessly under that of the pageant corporation. Given his relentless self-promotion — not to mention his unsteady financial position these days — did we really expect him to strip her (of her crown)? After all, as he kept reminding us, “this is the 21st century.”1 Keep this in the news, with more and racier photos emerging every day, and the pageant (“a monster” hit, as he says in the video) stays in the public eye. Cashier her, and some nameless replacement steps in, relegating the pageant to the obscurity it richly deserves.

Consider this revealing statement, given by Trump in response to questions from the avuncular Larry King, on what he thought about the all-out-war on “Celebrity Apprentice” between Annie “Poker Face” Duke and Joan “Impossible Face” Rivers: “Well, I liked it very much…. Especially…when the ratings came in, because it was a ratings bonanza last night for NBC.”

If you have interest in the integrity of your enterprise, don’t let Bud Selig or Donald Trump run it. You’ll end up with steroids, or subsidized breast enhancements and the paparazzi will clap, to  Trump’s approval, demanding more redeemable fodder. (They’d clap themselves bloody for a case of steroids and breast enhancements.)

Note that the Donald defended Prejean’s right to her opinion on marriage equality (so do I), but didn’t mention whether her current advocacy for the evil National Organization for Marriage violates her contract. It does seem an unusually controversial ‘platform’ for a pageant winner. Most choose The Scourge of...[fill-in-the-blank], ensuring wide support but little real traction or interest. (Have you ever met one of these young women? Me neither.) Unless it clearly violates some contractual provision, though, I  say: Let her keep the silly crown. Did you listen to her answer to the question?  If we can’t deal with Miss California’s stream-of-babble against marriage equality, the movement is in big trouble.

Just don’t let her carry a concealed weapon in a national park.

  1. Where idiocy and vapidity rule, apparently.