It's been another week with a lot going on and I haven't been able to keep up. I think underneath, although I still have a lot of concerns about various issues, my motivation to comment on every event is somewhat less because I still have the feeling that finally, we have someone in the White House who actually knows what's going on and has ideas on how to fix stuff.
Sure, there are things I am not happy about, along with plenty that I am pleased with; but at least I know the president actually uses his brain, unlike the previous inhabitant of the White House.
Today, however, there are events that are too big to ignore. I've titled this post "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" because as always, there are positives and negatives happening at the same time.
First, the "Good" - President Obama has nominated New York's Sonia Sottomayor to the Supreme Court. I heard her speech on the way to work and thought she sounded extremely impressive and yet down to earth. Her background is just what the President was looking for: someone who would have a feel for how decisions affect people in the real world - someone with empathy, but with an unimpeachable background in the law.
Raised alone by her mother after her father died when she was only 9, she was educated at Princeton University (graduating summa cum laude) and got her law degree from Yale (was editor of the Yale Law Review). Her professional experience has been diverse and should give her an excellent perspective on the various cases that would come before her as a Supreme Court Justice. And on top of that, she is Hispanic and a woman, so the President has made good on his wish to make the Supreme Court more diverse and more like the people whose lives it will affect.
So what is "the Bad"? The Republicans, of course. According to the NY Times,
"Many conservatives came out fiercely against Ms. Sotomayor as soon her name was announced, denouncing her as liberal and promising Mr. Obama a tough nomination fight.
'The G.O.P. has to make a stand,' said Scott Reed, manager of the 1996 presidential campaign of Bob Dole. 'This is what the base and social conservatives really care about, and we need to brand her a liberal with some out-of-the-mainstream positions. Forget about cosmetics and ethnic heritage, and focus on her record.'"
But, thanks to the President's political skills, he has put them into an uncomfortable position. Opposing the first Hispanic nominee to the Supreme Court would hurt them dearly with the Hispanic voters whose votes they will need to make any kind of a political comeback in the next elections.
"Matthew Dowd, another one-time adviser to Mr. Bush, said that in 2000, he calculated that Republicans needed to win 35 percent of Hispanics to beat Democrats. He said that given the steady increase in the number of Hispanic voters, he now believed Republicans needed to win a minimum of 40 percent to be competitive with Democrats.
As a result, he said, barring any revelation about Ms. Sotomayor’s background, Republicans could doom themselves to long-term minority status if they are perceived as preventing Ms. Sotomayor from becoming a judge."
Time will tell in which direction the Republicans will go. But be prepared to hear the words "liberal activist judge" a lot in the near future.
And last, "the Ugly."
As everyone already knows, today the California Supreme Court upheld the Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage that had passed last November. However, the Court did say the 18,000 same-sex couples who were married before the ruling are still officially married.
The thing to keep in mind is that this ruling was not on the constitutionality of gay marriage, but on whether the process was appropriate to amend the constitution to ban it. As the linked article states,
"While gay rights advocates accused the court of failing to protect a minority group from the will of the majority, the justices said that the state's governing framework gives voters almost unfettered ability to change the California Constitution."
And therein lies the problem. Unlike other states, California is so dysfunctional that long ago the government gave up trying to decide anything and instead gave the power to the people to make major decisions - such as whether to raise taxes (people usually vote against additional taxes, surprisingly!) and, in this case, whether to allow gay marriages.
Paul Krugman recently wrote about the "state of paralysis" that California represents, in relationship to the economy.
"The seeds of California’s current crisis were planted more than 30 years ago, when voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 13, a ballot measure that placed the state’s budget in a straitjacket. Property tax rates were capped, and homeowners were shielded from increases in their tax assessments even as the value of their homes rose.
The result was a tax system that is both inequitable and unstable. It’s inequitable because older homeowners often pay far less property tax than their younger neighbors. It’s unstable because limits on property taxation have forced California to rely more heavily than other states on income taxes, which fall steeply during recessions.
Even more important, however, Proposition 13 made it extremely hard to raise taxes, even in emergencies: no state tax rate may be increased without a two-thirds majority in both houses of the State Legislature. And this provision has interacted disastrously with state political trends."
Basically, California is leaving way too much up to the voters, who really are not qualified to decide intricate financial issues, and should also not be given the right to decide whether a group that is in the minority in the population deserves civil rights or not. If that were the case everywhere, we would probably still have slavery.
This was a constitutional matter, and the California Supreme Court had previously correctly used the state constitution to decide that gay marriage was a civil right. Unfortunately, the people of California, influenced unfairly by lots of advertising by the Mormon Church and others, decided otherwise.
William Bradley at the Huffington Post talks about the various factors that led up to the Proposition 8 debacle. In his article, he cites a previous proposition that upheld bigotry in California:
"Bringing it back to the example at hand, Californians in 1964 passed an initiative to block landmark "fair housing" legislation to end discrimination by landlords and property owners who refused to rent or sell to African Americans. The initiative, which amended the state constitution to empower discrimination, passed with a whopping 65% of the vote. But it was overturned three years later by the U.S. Supreme Court."
So there you have it - when it comes down to it, the only way we can finally ensure that the civil rights of our gay citizens are upheld is with a U.S. Supreme Court decision. A Supreme Court decision would render moot the whole question of Proposition 8, and would nullify the laws and amendments against same-sex marriage in other states.
The approval of President Obama's pick for the Supreme Court, and any subsequent choices he may make for the Court, will be extremely important in ensuring that ultimately, the civil rights of all of our citizens are protected.
Right now there is not enough of a groundswell of public pressure to bring a case to the Supreme Court for a ruling on the subject of gay marriage. But the trend is growing daily in support of gay marriage, especially as younger voters become active.
As Frank Rich wrote in the Times on Sunday, despite his campaign rhetoric, President Obama has not yet fulfilled his promises to gay Americans, including the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act. According to Rich,
"Obama has long been, as he says, a fierce advocate for gay equality. The Windy City Times has reported that he initially endorsed legalizing same-sex marriage when running for the Illinois State Senate in 1996. The most common rationale for his current passivity is that his plate is too full. But the president has so far shown an impressive inclination both to multitask and to argue passionately for bedrock American principles when he wants to. Relegating fundamental constitutional rights to the bottom of the pile until some to-be-determined future seems like a shell game.
As Wolfson reminds us in his book 'Why Marriage Matters,' Dr. King addressed such dawdling in 1963. 'For years now I have heard the word "Wait," ' King wrote. 'It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." '
The gay civil rights movement has fewer obstacles in its path than did Dr. King’s Herculean mission to overthrow the singular legacy of slavery. That makes it all the more shameful that it has fewer courageous allies in Washington than King did."
Perhaps what is needed is a march on Washington in support of gay civil rights, as Dr. King led back in 1963 for African-American rights. Maybe then the parallels would be clearer to the President and to everyone else.
We are at a crossroads in America, just as we were in the 1960s. There is political division, wars, and unrest -- and civil rights are once again an important issue.
President Obama has the opportunity to remake America and ensure that it lives up to the lofty ideals on which it was founded. Let's hope he has the courage to support what he must know should be done.