THINGS I’VE BEEN WONDERING (NON-SNARKY, EARNEST EDITION)

Points for answers. Extra credit if you can identify the podcasts I’ve been driving with recently.

Do GOPers make their global warming messaging about attacking Al Gore because they think he’s unpopular and they want to discredit science? Because they think he’s popular and they want to discredit him? Or just because they want to change the topic?

If Barack Obama combined a blue ribbon panel with a moratorium on firings of service members for being gay, how many Democrats in Congress would back him up?

Does having Democrats running the federal government make people who don’t like abortion but want it to stay legal feel more (not 8%, but maybe 1%) comfy identifying themselves “pro-life” without worrying about an abortion ban?

How do thousands of already-and-now-permanently married same-sex couples affect the fight for equal marriage rights for everyone else in California?

When will America have its first Supreme Court nominee who’s open about having had an abortion?

Is Obama serious about using our leverage to push Bibi?

Is Bruce Springsteen the only liberal immune from being tarred with the “elitist celebrity” brush? If so why?

REACTIONARIES RETRENCH: HOMOSEXUALITY SHOULDN’T DISQUALIFY YOU FROM JUDGING, JUST FROM MARRYING

Jeff Sessions – who couldn’t get his own judicial nomination through a GOP Judiciary Committee even after flip-flopping to the correct position on whether the NAACP or the KKK poses a greater threat to the Republic – is now tying himself in knots over whether he would have a problem with a gay Supreme Court nominee per se, or just with one who believed gay people should have the same rights as everyone else. I’m sure when Strom Thurmond voted against Thurgood Marshall’s nomination to the Court, it had nothing to do with him being Black – just with him being a Black man who believed Black people should have their equal protection rights protected.

But while it’s funny/ sad/ ridiculous to watch Sessions and Co. squirm in saying first that “identity politics” are bad and then that we should be concerned that a gay nominee would make people “uneasy,” or hear the Family Research Council signal openness to a gay nominee without “pro-gay ideology,” there’s a reason these guys are struggling to say something coherent: Open gay-bashing is becoming less popular in America, but it’s hard to explain why LGBT people shouldn’t have equal rights if we’re not inferior Americans.

It’s not by accident that the right-wing opposition to gay equality is a moving target. Anti-gay bigotry is still prevalent in America, and will be no doubt for a long time. But as Americans, including many who are uncomfortable with gay people, become less sympathetic to politicians saying that there are no gay people, that gay people need psychiatric help, that gay people are sinners, etc., Jeff Sessions has to come up with different ways to explain why he opposes the “gay agenda” – just like he had to come up with new ways to explain his animus towards the NAACP a generation ago.

So the issue is: elitist judges trying to tell regular people what to do (this one gets more tenuous now that more people support same-sex marriage than the Republican party); schoolteachers depriving parents of control over how (and whether) their kids learn about sexual orientation; priests getting locked up for not officiating at marriages they don’t believe in; now Miss California’s Miss America candidacy was judged not just on her body but on (gasp) how she answered a question! Perusing The Corner suggests that National Organization for Marriage President Maggie Gallagher’s latest argument for why LGBT people shouldn’t be allowed to get married is that opponents of gay rights will face social stigma as soon as gay people escape enshrined legal stigma. In the 90’s Mike Huckabee was decrying our culture’s decline “from Barney Fife to Barney Frank” – now he’s decrying a gay blogger’s intolerance towards Miss California.

So as more states and more Americans come out for legal equality, expect conservatives to get that much more creative in explaining their opposition as a defense of the little guy (the teacher, the priest, the voter, the beauty pageant contestant, the law professor), that much more eager to declare themselves tolerant of people with “gay tendencies,” and that much more fulsome in their outrage when intolerant liberals suggest they have a problem with gay people.

DEVOLVE TO ME!

As our friends at The Corner debate whom conservatives should blame for losing the reigns of government, Jim Manzi argues that on social issues like abortion and gay marriage

many people who share the same country disagree in good faith, and are unlikely to be persuaded within our lifetimes. As I have argued at length, I think that the only workable compromise is not to try to force the creation of uniform national law when no national consensus on the morality of these issues exists. Instead, I believe that we should have an agenda of devolving as many of these social issues, as a matter of law, to as local a level as possible.

If we really want to devolve these questions – is abortion permissible? What about same-sex marriage? – to as local a level as possible, how about the individual? I can have my abortion, and my neighbor can opt for adoption (maybe by the gay married couple down the street).

Of course conservatives have all kinds of arguments about why my liberal choices will hurt my neighbor. And liberals have our own arguments about how our economic choices affect each other in a different way than our social choices (making it a good idea to ban $1/ hour labor but not condoms). But it’s just not true that a state is the most local level to which we can devolve decision making on charged issues.

Part of what gets lost amidst right-wing rhetoric about courts reaching down to take away Americans’ freedom is that in taking decisions away from state governments, actors that are bigger than particular states can uphold the autonomy of actors smaller than those states: individual Americans, who shouldn’t reasonably be expected to move from California to Massachusetts to get married because 52% of their neighbors don’t want them to.

IF BY “CAREFREE” YOU MEAN HETEROSEXUAL

At a time when November 4 seems to be shaping up to be a very very good night, it’s sad to see California’s Equal Marriage Ban (Prop 8) leading against the opposition in our nation’s biggest state. After months behind by double digits, the marriage ban brigades have pulled ahead on a raft of plentiful money and false advertising. They’ve moved votes by claiming that if civil marriage equality remains in place, churches will be forced to perform religious marriages they oppose and schools will become training grounds for homosexuality. That’s false. So is the slippery idea, promulgated by self-appointed hall monitors of heterosexual marriage, that letting the rest of us get married to the people we love will somehow force them to “not just be tolerant of gay lifestyles, but face mandatory compliance regardless of their personal beliefs.”

Maybe it’s a sign of progress that the “Protect Marriage” crowd can’t scare up a majority just by saying same-sex couples don’t deserve to get married, and instead they have to pretend that your right not to like them getting married is somehow under attack. Indeed, as Paul Waldman argues in Being Right Is Not Enough, what’s really striking about public opinion on same-sex marriage is how far left it’s moved in just a decade. When I was in middle school and domestic partnership seemed like a noble but politically unpalatable concept, it would have been hard to imagine that by 2004 our Republican president would have to say nice things about civil unions days before the election and dispatch his running mate to endorse full marriage equality as a sop to some swing voters.

The arc of history is bending towards progress here, and faster than we might have thought possible. California voters won’t stop it in two weeks, but they will make it go faster or slower.

Honestly, watching Marriage Protection Poster Couple Robb and Robin Wirthlin make their case for why discrimination belongs in California’s constitution, what disturbs me most as one of the people they want their marriage protected from isn’t the dishonesty about what’s actually at stake. It’s their honesty about what they want and what they’re afraid of. As much as they bend over backwards to borrow the language of the left (see, it’s their “rights that are being infringed upon,” and now “it’s no longer OK to disagree”), what’s brought this couple across the country to campaign for Prop 8 is dismay at the idea that their children would be exposed to “human sexuality,” by which they mean gay people (King and King is not a children’s book about gay sex, it’s a children’s book about gay people). They want their kids to “not have them face adult issues while they’re children…we just want them to have a carefree and protected childhood.” No word on whether Robb and Robin’s poor son has yet had his innocence spoiled with talk of America’s struggle against racial apartheid, or god forbid coming into contact with people of a different race from his own. And if their son or one of his classmates should be wrestling with “adult issues” of his own, one gets the sense that Robb and Robin would have little to offer other than cries that the child is oppressing them.

A SORT OF CONVENTIONAL CAMPAIGN BOOK FROM A LESS CONVENTIONAL SENATOR

Just finished Paul Wellstone’s memoir The Conscience of a Liberal. It reads like a campaign book, which is what it is. Too much of it is taken up with descriptions of how much he respects colleagues who disagree with him, and how impressed they are with his courage. And Wellstone raises and then retires too quickly some questions that could have been the core of a better book – how effectively can electoral politics complement local issues-based organizing; did he vote for DOMA for the sake of re-election; how could Bill Clinton have pushed through more progressive policy. That said, Wellstone offers some telling reminders of the difference between merely opposing a bill and moving heaven and earth to stop it, and between paying lip service to a different kind of campaign and actually running one. And it needn’t cost you your job or your usefulness at it.

FAMILY MATTERS

This article, one of the last by the recently-deceased Ellen Willis, is one of the more articulate, accurate, and biting critiques I’ve come across of Thomas Frank and What’s the Matter With Kansas?, a book many pundits make reference to and few do justice.

Willis takes on what I think is the most glaring weakness of Frank’s latest book, one which goes totally unaddressed in the full-length reviews and tangential digs bashing him for his supposed elitism: Frank argues that Republicans elected on the basis of their social conservatism don’t actually deliver socially conservative policy. As we say in Yiddish, “Halvai” – if only. As Willis notes, conservatives have successfully used the powers of their offices all too successfully to reshape the country’s “social policy” more faithful to their dogma – including making it prohibitively difficult for women in large swathes of the country to exercise freedom of choice. Frank is of course right to recognize the Federal Marriage Act as a stunt and a sop, but the unfortunate truth is that many of the right’s sops to social conservative activists pack a real punch in diminishing the freedom of the rest of us to access contraception, access knowledge, and access partnership rights.

Rejecting Frank’s insistence that the social conservative legislative agenda is a chimera doesn’t much damage the rest of his argument though. Frank is right to argue that conservatives build a base for right-wing policy based on classed appeals to stick it to elites by fighting social liberalsim, and that that base make possible policies that make elites that much more decadent. And he’s right that a progressive politics that speaks to class and is willling to condemn George Bush’s congratulating a woman working three jobs as a mark of elitism would do something to sap the power that right-wing aesthetic class warfare has in the absence of the materialist class warfare Lee Attwater rightly rued could bring the left back into electoral power.

Willis is right to suggest that that won’t be enough, and that progressives need to speak with strength and candor in the culture war rather than simply feinting or punting (and she speaks perceptively to the way we project our owjn ambivalences onto the electorate, which then reflects them). But she’s wrong to lump Frank in with Michaels (say, Lind and Tomasky) who are set on shutting feminists up.

And of all the charges to level at Thomas Frank, excessive loyalty to the Democratic Party is one of the more inane ones Willis could have chosen. That said, it’s a compelling read.

Zichronah livrachah.

RUSS WON’T RUN

Not a shocker, given that the past year and a half has seen the rise of John Edwards as Un-Hillary lightning rod and intensifying inklings of a run by Barack Obama, who like Feingold vocally opposed the war – and worst of all for Feingold’s chances, his second divorce and lack of a third marriage by the midterms (despite the efforts of the erstwhile Committee to Find Russ Feingold a Date).

That said, Feingold’s popularity in the country’s most representative state, which drew him votes from a quarter of Bush voters two years ago and has stayed strong as he talked about running for president and came out for phased withdrawl from Iraq, equal marriage rights, and censuring Bush, should be a lesson for the field of Democratic presidential contenders, and for the primary voters who’ll choose among them. You remember them: the ones who cleverly voted for John Kerry because he was the most electable.

LOOK WHO’S UNREPRESENTATIVE NOW

The great thing about legislative civil rights victories like the civil unions bill passed last spring here in Connecticut and the even more historic equal marriage rights legislation passed yesterday by California’s legislature is that it deprives the opponents of civil equality under the law of their judicial tyranny arguments and leaves them stuck opposing equal rights for all couples on the merits. One of the most squeamish about having to take sides on the substantive issue here is Governor Schwarzenegger, who in the LA Times today is grasping desperately for any “unrepresentative elites” argument he can get his hands on. Schwarzenegger’s gambit to have his centrist image and eat it too? Pinning the “unrepresentative elite” argument on the legislature. I expect we’ll see more of this in the future: Republicans rising to disparage the republican system of government in favor of direct democracy through ballot initiatives on the grounds the marriage issue strikes so deep that legislatures, like courts, can’t be trusted with it. That means deliciously ironic statements like this one from Schwarzenegger’s spokeswoman:

The people spoke when they passed Proposition 22. The issue subsequently went to the courts. The governor believes the courts are the correct venue for this decision to be made. He will uphold whatever decision the court renders.

FREEDOM MEANS FREEDOM FOR EVERYBODY

Yesterday the General Synod of the United Church of Christ (you may remember them from their too-controversial-for-TV ads last year celebrating non-discrimination in church) made history by passing the first resolution by a Mainline Protestant denomination endorsing equal marriage rights for all couples:

It was both a theological statement and a protest against discrimination, said the Rev. John H. Thomas, the president and general minister of the denomination, which has 6,000 congregations and 1.3 million members. “On this July 4, the United Church of Christ has courageously acted to declare freedom, affirming marriage equality, affirming the civil rights of gay – of same-gender – couples to have their relationships recognized as marriages by the state, and encouraging our local churches to celebrate those marriages,” Mr. Thomas said at a news conference after the vote by the General Synod.Hector Lopez, a minister from a small Latino church in Southern California, said he was not at first enthusiastic about same-sex marriage. But after officiating at about a dozen such ceremonies in Oregon and seeing the respect and commitment of the couples, he said, “I experienced a passionate conversion.”…His hope, [Thomas] said, is that “we will not run from one another, because if we run from one another we run from Christ.”

Check out the General Synod’s blog here. You can hear the Rev. Chuck Corrie’s sermon on Matthew 11 and the challenge of “discerning God’s will on difficult issues” here.

The UCC’s statement of conscience echoes the one celebrated in this obituary for Rabbi Louis J. Sigel, a driving force behind Teaneck, New Jersey’s voluntary school integration, the first such decision by a township in this country. As the author, paraphrasing Reginald Damerell’s book, writes:

Rabbi Sigel – a Torah and Talmud scholar who primarily considered himself a teacher – calmed a fractious community meeting. A law professor who was a member of Temple Emeth stood and asked why the whole community had to be “disturbed” by a problem that he said black residents had created themselves by moving into one end of town. “The temple’s rabbi, Louis J. Sigel, rose,” Mr. Damerell wrote. “His rich voice carried throughout the auditorium” as he narrated a story from the Talmud about a man who sees a fire in another part of town and asks, “What have I to do with the needs of the community?” “Sigel’s voice rose in emphasis, ‘Such a man destroys the world!'” Mr. Damerell wrote. “Applause exploded through the auditorium.” That set the stage for a resolution from the floor commending the Board of Education “for studying possible ways to prevent de-facto segregation,” the author said. It passed, thus providing the integration side with a victory in its first skirmish. Because of his pro-integration stand, some temple members wanted to oust him, his family later acknowledged, but a large majority supported him.

Recognizing that the bush is burning without being consumed, our tradition teaches, gives us the hope to pursue liberation. But it isn’t realized until we recognize that our liberation is tied up with that of our neighbors – that our homes are not secure as long as theirs are on fire.

US News and World Report joins the scattered speculation about Presidential prospects for Russ Feingold:

He’s on a nationwide mission to test out his progressive message that’s liberal on some issues, like universal healthcare, and conservative on others, like the deficit. Fans think he can bridge the blue-state-red-state divide, making him not just a voice for a changing Democratic Party but a possible ’08 presidential candidate.

Feingold, re-elected in November to US Senate – from Wisconsin no less – by a wide margin, was also just named Deputy Democratic Whip. Feingold’s success should be not only inspirational but instructive for the party. Voters gave him six more years by a 12% margin while breaking only narrowly for John Kerry. It wasn’t that they thought Feingold was more moderate (even Karl Rove, when asked by a Wisconsin reporter weeks before whether the so-called “most liberal Senator” was really to the left of Feingold, declined to answer). Looks like it was Russ Feingold who was more compellingly able to speak to the issues facing Wisconsin voters and to their better angels and greater hopes. Looks like Wisconsin voters recognize what Feingold does, and what the pundits don’t: that being an independent is a very different task from being a moderate. That political courage isn’t a matter of sometimes reading from the other party’s talking points but of privileging allegiance to a set of values over capitulation to consensus, whether partisan or (as is too often the case) shared by powerbrokers in both parties. That meant standing for fair trade even as the Democratic party embraced NAFTA’s global race to the bottom. That meant successfully building a majority for real steps, however tentative (and in a few cases, counterproductive), towards limiting the suffocation of democracy by money. And that meant standing in the shadow of September 11 for that which is strongest in the American tradition by breaking with all 99 of his colleagues and voting against the PATRIOT Act. Russ Feingold didn’t run away from these votes when Tim Michels campaigned against them. He ran on them. And he won counties that John Kerry lost.

It’s not the first election in which Feingold defied political prognostication. He won in 1992 against well-financed better-recognized opposition with ads patterned more on Michael Moore movies than conventional TV spots. He showed up at his opponents’ mansions with a camera crew to ring their doorbells and ask for a debate (no response). He took viewers on a tour of his own home (“Here’s the closet: Look, no skeletons”), including the garage door on which he’d painted his three campaign commitments: No out-of-state funding. Town meetings in every county of Wisconsin every year. And no pay raises while in the Senate (a twelve-year legacy recently celebrated by a conservative stalwart). Go watch those ads. And the latest batch as well. They’re not just clever – they’re courageous.

So is Russ Feingold. He publically criticized Kerry and Edwards both for voting for the Iraq War and for voting against the $87 billion. He’s introduced or co-sponsored legislation to bar state and federal executions, use of permanent replacements during strikes, and drilling anywhere in the Great Lakes. He’s voted against NAFTA, the Defense of Marriage Act, and the No Child Left Behind Act. He’s cast a few bad votes. One was to confirm John Ashcroft as Attorney General; another was against scuttling impeachment proceedings against Clinton. He justified confirming Ashcroft, whose nomination he condemned, on the grounds that Presidents deserve the counsel of a cabinet of their own choosing. He justified his vote against halting impeachment on the grounds that the charges merited a full debate. Feingold voted against impeachment on both counts, though his comments were strongly – I would say unjustly – critical of Clinton’s conduct. They do demonstrate a hearteningly high set of ethics standards for elected officials, even if unfortunately misapplied in the Clinton case. And as the Madison Capital Times observed when Gore announced his running mate, Feingold’s criticism of Clinton’s use of political power in the Lewinsky investigation was far more credible than Lieberman’s self-serving reminders to America that sex outside of marriage is immoral.

Peter Beinart argued after the Ashcroft vote that Feingold was guilty of “the proceduralist delusion, that if you get the process right–figure out how much deference presidential nominations deserve or how much money candidates should spend–you can avoid taking sides politically.” But while Beinart is certainly right that “good government” reforms alone won’t overthrow entrenched noxious power or achieve social justice, only willful blindness could lead one to argue that Feingold has avoided taking sides on the divisive moral questions of the day. Beinart’s likely rightly to argue that Feingold’s 1998 campaign could have focused more on what he was doing in Congress and less on how he was campaigning (positively, and with in-state contributions). But in an era in which everyone expresses a desire to clean up American politics but most politicians bristle at regulations which could mean changing the way they themselves do business, Feingold deserves a great deal of credit for leading by example, holding himself to the standards of what would become McCain-Feingold three years before it became law. And Beinart is himself falling prey to delusion if he believes that the means by which politics is conducted has no impact on the relative power of the good guys and the bad guys to achieve their ends (all that said, McCain-Feingold of course still needs a great deal of work).

Feingold’s commitment to progressive means and progressive ends has struck a cord with voters we might expect and voters we might not. His capacities both to take courageous stands on principle and to cooperate constructively with unlikely allies have yielded a string of victories – some immediate, some partial or deferred. Russ Feingold serves as a telling reminder for the rest of the Democratic party that the road to victory in the next Presidential match doesn’t run away from the values of liberalism. And I’d say he has a better claim than most at serving as the party’s standard bearer in that fight. Looks like he’s beginning to think so as well:

Now, some may think that Alabama and Wisconsin are the polar opposites of American politics. But in both states I’ve found that — along with sharing a sincere appreciation of a good turkey dinner — too many hardworking people are losing their battles for decent paying jobs and adequate healthcare. I’m tired of seeing the power-hungry persuade the hardworking people of this country that the only way to preserve important values is to vote against their own families’ basic interests. I believe that the working people of both states have sacrificed for other people’s agendas for too long. And I believe that any political party or political movement or political candidate who would consistently say this would be heard throughout America.

Sometimes a headline says it all:

In Kerik, Bush Saw Values Crucial to Post-9/11 World

If this doesn’t problematize a narrow conception of what values mean (opposing abortion, gay marriage, and adultery) in politics, I don’t know what will. Apparently, in Bernard Kerik’s case, two affairs (not that I think that should disqualify anybody, but a fair number of Republicans seem to think those are important), tax fraud, use of police for personal gratification (as in sending homocide cops to interrogate journalists about your girlfriend’s cellphone), a screw-up in Iraq (too bad he got passed over for the Medal of Freedom), and ties to the mob are all forgivable if you fit one Republican’s description of the archetypal cop:

They’re not pretentious, they do a hard job, they don’t get paid a lot of money, they’re real people and they live in a world that is fairly black and white, with good guys and bad guys. And that’s the way President Bush looks at the world.

Never mind how many of those descriptions actually apply to either Kerik or Bush. We know at least that the last one – seeing the world with the moral complexity of a Saturday morning cartoon show – is a value which, in this White House, trumps all others. Wonder what James Dobson has to say about that.

Meanwhile, some are wondering whether there was ever an undocumented nanny at all…

Frequent readers (thanks, Dad) know that I’m an advocate of broad-based progressive moments as the only effective instrument of progressive change. In particular, I’ve used this space to argue that in support of moves within the labor movement towards a broader conception of what it means to sdvocate for the interests of workers, be it native and immigrant workers standing together in the Immigrant Worker Freedom Rides, partnership between healthcare workers and patients calling for universal coverage, or SEIU’s strong stance against the Federal Marriage Ammendment as an assault on the rights of its members. As was declared at the first union event I ever attended in New Haven, in response to President Levin’s intimations that Yale’s unions have a broader agenda, “You bet we have a broader agenda.” I’ve also criticized those movements locally and nationally when the broader agenda has proved not as broad as one would hope.

This is a debate that must take place in every progressive movement committed to winning over the next years. The environmentalist movement, as Randy Shaw argued compellingly in his Activist Handbook, is a prime example as well. Looks like former Sierra Club President Adam Werbach agrees:

For example, I’ve been trying to tell my friends at the Sierra Club that the most important battle for the Sierra Club and the next two years might be over public education. That is the battle line over collective activity, interdependence, the values we care about — much more so than the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. That’s a skirmish along the way that’s not strategic. It’s way off to the side.

Via Ralph Taylor at Nathan’s site, who also points back to Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger’s “The Death of Environmentalism”:

The truth is that for the vast majority of Americans, the environment never makes it into their top ten list of things to worry about. Protecting the environment is indeed supported by a large majority — it’s just not supported very strongly. Once you understand this, it’s much easier to understand why it’s been so easy for anti-environmental interests to gut 30 years of environmental protections…Whereas neocons make proposals using their core values as a strategy for building a political majority, liberals, especially environmentalists, try to win on one issue at a time….The serial losses on Rio, Kyoto, CAFE, and McCain-Lieberman were not framed in ways that increase the environmental community’s power through each successive defeat. That’s because, when those proposals were crafted, environmentalists weren’t thinking about what we get out of each defeat. We were only thinking about what we get out of them if they succeed. It’s this mentality that must be overthrown if we are to craft proposals that generate the power we need to succeed at a legislative level.

…There is no better example of how environmental categories sabotage environmental politics than CAFE. When it was crafted in 1975, it was done so as a way to save the American auto industry, not to save the environment. That was the right framing then and has been the right framing ever since. Yet the environmental movement, in all of its literal-sclerosis, not only felt the need to brand CAFE as an “environmental” proposal, it failed to find a solution that also worked for industry and labor. By thinking only of their own narrowly defined interests, environmental groups don’t concern themselves with the needs of either unions or the industry. As a consequence, we miss major opportunities for alliance building. Consider the fact that the biggest threat to the American auto industry appears to have nothing to do with “the environment.” The high cost of health care for its retired employees is a big part of what hurts the competitiveness of American companies…Because Japan has national health care, its auto companies aren’t stuck with the bill for its retirees. And yet if you were to propose that environmental groups should have a strategy for lowering the costs of health care for the auto industry, perhaps in exchange for higher mileage standards, you’d likely be laughed out of the room, or scolded by your colleagues because, “Health care is not an environmental issue.”…Let’s go for the massive expansion of wind in the Midwest — make it part of the farm bill and not the energy bill. Let’s highlight the jobs and farmers behind it. But bring about this sea-change in the way the environmental movement thinks and operates isn’t going to be easy. For nearly every environmental leader we spoke to, the job creation benefits of things like retrofitting every home and building in America were, at best, afterthoughts.

We all have a lot of work to do.