Soon after the US Supreme Court final decision on marriage equality reports began to emerge from (mostly Southern) county clerks who claimed they can refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, despite the highest court’s order to do so. A handful were reported to have resigned their jobs, which I can respect if not particularly admire. I would equate it to a public school teacher from Alabama who quit in light of Brown vs Board of Education because she didn’t believe in integrated education. She too would deserve some credit for resigning and not engaging in narcissistic grandstanding on the job, unlike these state employees following the Obergefell decision in June, 2015.
The above photograph from this past weekend features another public employee. One who understands that freedom of speech and assembly are constitutional rights protecting all Americans, even for those views we find most odious. An African-American public employee who didn’t refuse to report to duty the day the Ku Klux Klan was to protest at the South Carolina capitol building. A public employee whose motto is likely “to protect and to serve”. In other words, someone who can put their job and the Constitution above personal beliefs–much less mere pique and pettiness.
As many of you have noticed, it has been pretty quiet around here since summer. I hate making New Years resolutions, but I do plan on being more active again in 2015. As some of you know I’ve spent most of my non-working, non-playing time the past 6 months researching the 1840s, 1850s, 15th POTUS James Buchanan (yup, he was gay) and Senator William Rufus King (him too). It’s been an honor to assist on this project. I am incredibly proud and excited for my very talented friend. Hopefully I’ll have a few spin-off posts that are related to the time period and people researched. In the meantime, thanks so much for your messages and tweets over the last year (and the shirt Kressenda! It was a pleasure to help you out on your paper–I wear it all the time!).
A funny thing happened on the way to Equality. Several states rapidly construed modern-day Jim Crow laws cleverly framed in the name of preserving religious freedom, Arizona receiving the most attention. This is an angle I think could have had some legs had the legislators been less rushed, less careless, and less confident that their own bigotry was the majority opinion in their state. Instead they overreached, mistakenly thinking not being a card-carrying GLBT ally inferred sympathy for extreme backlash legislation.
Arizona governor Jan Brewer, hardly known as a liberal and on the record as opposing same-sex marriage, wisely vetoed the law. This led to some of the most hilarious parody pieces ever. These are awesome, but I have also observed a strange need to diminish or explain away the Governor’s rightful use of the power of the veto: “it was because the NFL threatened to leave” “it was because she had a change of heart” “it was because she wants to run for reelection” “it was because she was terrified of tourist boycotts” or, most commonly, “it’s because she realized it’s become bad for business to be a bigot“.
Truthfully, it was probably a combination of all the above. But how much does it matter? What is it with this idea of constantly obsessing over “how heartfelt was it?” on political maneuvers? Haven’t they always been complicated? I can’t help but feel that with each gay political victory Sally Field’s (misquoted) 1984 Oscar acceptance speech “you LIKE me you really LIKE me!” is the knee-jerk reaction. Or, more dangerously, a smirk of inevitability. But suddenly the figure of Jan Brewer makes that a bit more complicated. A certain amount of this is expected. If reduced to same-sex marriage you can see the movement is quite literally still in adolescence. In 2000 Netherlands became the first nation to do full-blown marriage equality, Canada in 2005 nationwide, the first US State (MA) only in 2004 (and still not nationwide). A little self-involved adolescent narcissism can be overlooked, maturity mellows feelings. And that’s okay.
Many people might still harbor vague ethnic stereotypes toward Jewish Americans (“they control Hollywood“, “they care too much about Israel and not enough about the USA“) but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who held those feelings who actually would support a no-Jews-allowed policy at a hotel or restaurant. Of course there will never be a complete absence of gay prejudice or negative preconceptions, but what’s arrived is an overwhelming majority consensus that any sort of legislation that prescribes it is shameful and retrograde. As with all civil rights struggles this has been achieved through legitimate and sincere changing of hearts and minds, some mild social shaming, and a little economic blackmail. And that’s okay.
There will always be a certain segment of the population (for argument let’s say 25%) who feels homosexuality in unequivocally wrong for religious reasons. There is also another section of the population (I’ll guess another 25%) who will range from clumsily practical (“those gays are good for business“), to completely ambivalent, to annoyed and begrudged (“I’m sick of hearing about gay people all the time, where’s my fucking Pride Parade?!”). What the anti-gay Republican legislators misjudged in Arizona is assuming that the latter group would always be in passive agreement with the former group when it came to actual NEW law and not merely preserving tradition. The unlikely figure of Governor Jan Brewer represents that break. And that’s okay.
“I never give them Hell. I just tell the truth and they think it’s Hell”
— Harry Truman
For the last few months it feels as if everyone is wanting to play Devil’s Advocate about a 2016 presidential run by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Andrew Sullivan asked his reader’s to submit what they viewed as her solid accomplishments to run on. Not the positions held in and of themselves (senator, etc) but actual treaties signed, bills passed, movements prioritized to the top. One reader responded with this:
Her signature issue, what she will run on, is her tenacity and defense of the Democratic principles. She will fight for her agenda, and it will be a classic Democratic agenda, but she will do so with the tenacity and will to win the President has not shown. The President is simply too willing to compromise and his default position is to be bipartisan. Clinton will be clearly and unabashedly partisan. She will be the Democratic’s Democrat. Honestly, if she needs to pull the still beating heart out of Chelsea’s chest on national television to pass a stimulus or extend unemployment insurance, I know she will do it. Essentially, her issue is she will kick Republican butt and not take prisoners.
I too have been hearing this from many people, and it certainly has no basis in her history as Secretary of State, Senator from New York, or tenure as FLOTUS. In fact, this is the person who in 2005 used the terms “sad” and “tragic” in what was widely viewed at the time as a move to the center. This is a person who sat on the Board of Directors of Wal-Mart when she was First Lady of Arkansas, hardly the makings of a progressive firebrand. This is the candidate whose internal campaign materials from the 2008 primary explicitly said not to embrace multiculturalism as a talking point. Where are people getting this impression of HRC as partisan fighter extraordinaire?
The thing is, I do think the partisan fighter as a platform described above is exactly how she will run. A cynical part of me views Hillary as Madonna: constantly reinventing herself as needed in order to stay relevant. What she actually thinks or means long go rendered immaterial. As the Democratic Party has shifted slightly to the Left in how it talks about class, inequality, and poverty so will Clinton.
I think we can definitely expect Clinton to compensate for list-making accomplishments with aggressive Give ‘Em Hell Harry Truman-style fight. This is how she will win over the left-wing of her party who have always been lukewarm on the Clintonian “Third Way” song and dance. The reader above isn’t basing his/her views on anything from Hillary’s resume itself, but rather by the tone he is accurately picking up within the party faithful about President Obama. As the Republican Party has become more obstructionist, Democrats feel their fighting blood boiling. Wise or not, they want the red meat thrown to them.
I was solidly on Team Obama from the beginning but there were two brief flashes that struck me during the 2008 primary debates. At the time I remember thinking if Sen. Clinton had kept going down that path (as opposed to the foolish, in my view, path that she was somehow the “experience candidate”) I would have just maybe started a little conversion. I hope I am remembering these moments correctly. At one point Clinton said something along the lines of “the Republicans have been rummaging through my baggage for years” implying she knows how to take them on and Obama was naïve to expect a new leaf turned. Another was when she seemed particularly annoyed at a long Obamanian lecture on the healthcare crisis and its nuances (Romneycare might have come up?). Hillary quickly snapped “single-payer has been a goal of the Democratic Party since Harry Truman proposed it!”. There was a flash of “we’re Democrats, let’s act like it” aggressiveness and impatience. I think if she runs in 2016 we will be seeing significantly more of that Clinton.
Obama’s desire for post-Boomer bipartisanship was what initially appealed to me, but watching the GOP spit in his face at every turn has made me want him to punch back even though he can’t (“angry black man”) or won’t (“professor-in-chief”). Clinton will be a willing vessel to channel all those frustrations.
In 2007-2008 Hillary’s long-but-nonspecific resume was unexpectedly bolstered by tapping the frustrations of Boomer women passed over for the top spot by younger, more dynamic junior (male) employees. In 2016 Hillary’s long-but-nonspecific resume will be bolstered by loyal-but-antsy Obama supporters and a Democratic Party base who are itching for an LBJ style head-cracker.