Thursday, November 10, 2005

Gay Marriage Is All About Values

Cross-Posted on the Moderate Republican:

One thing I've been thinking about was a letter to the editor that showed up in today's Minneapolis Star Tribune. It's an argument that I hear all the time concerning gay marriage. I used to agree with it, but I don't anymore. The impetus of this is a column written by the Strib's token conservative columnist, Katherine Kersten (being center-right in my politics, I like to see conservative writers, but I perfer ones with brains. Ms. Kersten doesn't have one. Or a heart for that matter) that talks about how Canada is sliding towards Gommorah because of it's support for gay marriage. Whenever people start talking about gay marriage, you will hear an argument from our side. Here's an example:

Katherine Kersten states that the proposal to preserve same-sex marriage will be one of the biggest issues of the next legislative session. If so, shame on us.

We have children without health care, traffic congestion, working parents unable to afford housing, and underfunded schools. If we allow ourselves to be diverted and avoid the real moral issues before our state, how can we kneel in prayer before the God who calls us to lives of justice and compassion?

Now, there was a time in my life that I would have agreed with this writer. But I don't anymore. Why? Because what this person is saying basically is that gay marriage doesn't matter. It isn't a moral issue. We have more important things do deal with than two guys getting hitched. The message this line of thinking sends is that gay marriage isn't important. If we are saying that to the general public, you know what happens? The general public will listen.

The fact is gay marriage does matter. It matters to millions of gay Americans who have or are intending to have a life partner, someone to share their lives with. It matters when one person in gay couple gets sick and the other person can't visit because he's not a legal relative in the eyes of the state. It happens when one partner can't get the other's social security benefits when the other one dies. It matters.

A few weeks back, Log Cabin President Pat Guerriero was in town. My friend and fellow Republican, Mark, was able to get him on a local radio station that has a lot of conservative programming. He shared a story of two gay men in Vermont who have been partnered for 50 years. One served his country in war. The other was a teacher. They are both in their 80s. One is very ill and will die soon and as it stands now, the surviving spouse won't get the dying man's social security benefits.

That is a moral issue. These two men have given of themselves to help others and this is how society treats them.

The anti-gay crowd have one thing right about this issue. They know it matters and will do what it takes to stop gays from marrying and hopefully put us back in the closet. Why are we and our allies so scared to deal with this honestly and say this is about values and morals? How can one be moral and deny people things like seeing a sick partner?

Maybe it's easier for me because I'm somewhat more conservative, but values do matter. Not the one that the religious right spouts, but the values my parents taught me about being kind to people and tolerant of others.

I think we need to start talking about values. Getting married is a value. It matters and it's important. We need to start acting like it is.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

And Costco Democrats?

The positive thinking continues apace. Here is the companion piece to the Weekly Standard article on "Sam's Club Republicans." It's a Washington Monthly collection called The New Progressivism.

Again, I highlight this partly because there are some worthy ideas - I particularly like Kevin Drum's proposal to shift the burden of identity theft from consumers to banks. But I also want to point out that the smart folks in both parties are coming up with some very similar suggestions.

The partisan age we're in is going to crumble. It's just a matter of time.

Yet another tax proposal... guest blogger Micah over at Seth Chalmer's place. This one is labeled "The Progressive Consumption Tax," and it is intriguing. Basically, it's a tax on bank withdrawals, with the tax rate going up based on the amount of withdrawal per year. So it's not a sales tax per se, but rather a tax on cash spent.

There are complications, some of which Micah accounts for - most notably, how to incorporate the (good) deductions we currently have, such as health care and business expenses. Read it, and give 'em some feedback.

More talking points...not

The Daily Kos gets more attention, but the best big Democratic blog by far is the Talking Points Memo Cafe. The range of views expressed there, especially by the featured bloggers, is far more diverse than what gets featured at Kos. And the best part of tpmcafe is their Book Club, which actually features intelligent people engaging in passionate, well-supported arguments over policies, ideas, and visions for the future.

Right now, they're debating Gene Sperling's book The Pro-Growth Progressive, and oh boy has this one lit up the place. For anyone interested in discussing economic policies at a level beyond "Higher taxes! Lower taxes!", this is a must-read.

Bad Laws from the Blue and the Red (a post-election rant)

Technically, I’m retired from blogging, but yesterday’s election results have managed to irritate me enough to prompt a brief return to this forum. Two jurisdictions, one “red” the other “blue”, passed laws that are just plain foolish and demonstrate the narrowing of thought that can occur no matter where people fall on the ideological spectrum.

The first case comes from San Francisco where the city’s residents passed a law banning the possession of handguns and ammunition within the city. Residents will not even be allowed to have a gun in their own homes.

I am continuously amazed with liberals who will scream bloody murder anytime they see the First Amendment being infringed but pretend like the Second Amendment doesn’t exist. We can’t pick and choose which amendments we like best. And while I know guns are pretty dangerous things and that the Second Amendment is oddly worded, any serious study of that amendment will reveal that our Founders wanted to ensure we could own a gun. Free speech is dangerous too. So is giving violent criminals fair trials where they can get off on a technicality. Our Founders knew that freedom comes with risk and enshrined that balance in the Constitution. The people of San Francisco have no authority to override the Second Amendment anymore than early twentieth century Mississippi had the authority to override the 14th and 15th.

I could go on about the ineffectiveness of such laws (see: Washington, DC) but there’s more irritating election results to discuss, so let’s move on.

Good ole’ San Francisco also passed a measure encouraging high school and universities to ban military recruiters. I have no problem with people who protest the war. But this kind of action (and this is hardly the first case of it) is abhorrent. First, it assumes that young men and women are too stupid to make up their own minds and have to be “protected” from the big bad military. Secondly, it is a clear violation of freedom of speech and association to ban one employer but allow all others access. What would San Franciscans say if a conservative city banned Disney from recruiting because of that company’s gay-friendly attitudes? They’d be outraged. Just as those of us not trapped in liberal groupthink should be outraged that San Francisco would approve of such a measure.

Finally, let’s move on to my home state of Texas where my friends and neighbors just passed an amendment to the state constitution banning homosexual marriage. This was clearly a very pressing issue that had to solved before the state addressed our crumbling public health system and piss-poor schools.

I know I’m in a minority here, but how in the world is gay marriage a threat? Really? And don’t give me that b.s. about “slippery slopes” and how gay marriage would lead to polygamy and bestiality and god-knows-what. All those other examples involve exploitative relationships where one person is exercising depraved power over another. That’s not the case with homosexual relationships which are formed through mutual love.

Do we as a nation not support mutual, loving relationships? Is commitment between two people that abhorrent that we have to run out and ban the act? Our culture is not threatened by accepting loving, committed relationships. Our culture is threatened when we pretend such relationships are evil—when we exploit religion and inflame prejudice and pretend we are saving ourselves. We are saving nothing.

And don’t tell me the Bible condemns homosexuality. The bible condemns loaning money too and we aren’t rushing to the polls to ban banks. In fact, the Bible barely mentions homosexuality and, when it does, many Biblical scholars will tell you that the references were directed to the Greek and Roman practice of older men coercing adolescent boys into sexual relationships. That clearly is immoral. But consensual love between two men or two women is not a sin and is not condemned in the Bible.

Outside of scripture itself, why would anyone want to believe that God would let two people fall in love and then condemn that love as sin? Where does Jesus or any of his disciples ever claim love to be a sin? They don’t. And that’s the moral guidance I choose to follow.

I may be wrong. Who knows. But if I’m going to err in this world, I’d rather err on the side of mercy and grace. I wish the people of my state felt the same. Apparently, there’s still a lot of convincing to do.

Thank you for reading this rant.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Paris (and Normandy, and Toulouse) is Burning

Cross-posted on the Moderate Republican:

As the Paris suburbs, heck as most of France, is awash in violence, I've been doing some thinking and listening. I believe that there are lessons for both liberals and conservatives in the wake of the recent fighting.

First, the liberals. Those on the Left tend to look to Europe as some kind of heavenly realm where the government takes care of everything and there is no poverty or racism as there is in the United States. Some (not all) Europeans were quick to criticize the US after the chaos that erupted in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Both the leftists here and Europeans have looked at the United States as a nation with a broken social model that is dog-eat-dog.

I'm not here to say the US has a better system. We clearly have problems, as Katrina showed, but the fires in the French Republic show that, at least in France, there is still much work to do on social issues. The riots have revealed what was in our faces and especially white French faces all along: an underclass of persons of color who face very little opportunity for economic freedom.

It also revealed something conservatives have known for a long time: that government alone can't solve all the problems. This is from an editorial in today's Washington Post:

It's also too facile to say that French authorities have ignored the problems. Billions have been spent on urban renewal: High-rise projects have been torn down and enterprise zones created, much as in some American inner cities. As in the United States, interlinked problems of jobs, schools, crime and discrimination have not easily yielded to government solutions. Yet until now, many in France assumed that what they regard as a superior "social model" protected them from the eruptions of lawlessness that in recent years have touched Los Angeles, Miami and New Orleans.

This isn't to say that government has no role in alleviating poverty. But thinking that having "Big Government" as the French clearly do will solve it the problem is foolish. The size of government matters less than the effectiveness of it, and it seems that the French government hasn't done as well in that effect.

Now to Conservatives. When it comes to matters of race, conservatives want to believe in the concept of "colorblindness," meaning government should not consider race in government programs. Being a Republican, I resonate with that ideal. However, in reality, what works in theory doesn't work in practice. France has followed that model, basically saying everyone is French not regarding one's ethnic background. The results have not been pleasant. From the Post editorial:

[French Interior Minister] Mr. Sarkozy recently suggested that France abandon the pretense that all of its citizens -- including an estimated 5 million Muslims -- are treated equally, and adopt affirmative-action policies.

Conservatives here have wanted to role back Affirmative Action policies. I can understand that. As an African American, I've benefitted from these policies, but also resent that they exist since they put race right up front. But I think it is a pipe dream to think that Americans can just be, well Americans. For African Americans, we have had a history of racial discrimination that has presented itself in many ways, including employment and education. If we abandoned affirmative action tomorrow, I doubt that schools and workplaces would continue to be diverse and try to help disadvantaged populations. A fellow conservative friend of mine who is Asian American said it best: you have to correct a bias with a bias. American society can't just say to African Americans as well as other ethnic groups, "You're free," and the walk away. There is still the problem of inequality that has to be addressed. This is what has happened in France and we can see what happened.

Listen, I don't like affirmative action, but at least for now, we still need it. (I would mend it though to be more sensitive to help raise poor blacks and whites out of poverty, since now it seems to benefit minorities with means more.) Conservatives who think that everything will be rosy if affirmative action were to dissappear are kidding themselves.

It will be interesting to see how France works all this out. Let's hope for the best.

Monday, November 07, 2005

More Ideablogging

Meanwhile, from the other side of the aisle, the Service Employees International Union is hosting a competition for new ideas to benefit working families. Called Since Sliced Bread, the contest is easy to enter - just submit some basic demographic information and your one idea, maximum of 175 words. Winners will be determined through an elimination process - first by a panel of judges, then by internet vote, "Survivor" style, then by judges again. The winner will receive $100,000, plus the SEIU's pledge to make the idea a priority item. Two runners up receive $50,000.

Thus far, 7639 ideas have been submitted. Each idea remains posted on the website for discussion by participants. Plenty of the submissions are larks, posted just to create controversy; many others are things that have been tried before or are currently under consideration in think tank circles. But there are some genuinely fresh ideas here, and the discussion boards are humming. For the most part, anyway - my own submission, alas, languishes without commentary. To those who know me, it's entirely predictable.

I’ve written about the SEIU before – they are quickly becoming the world’s foremost radical-centrist union. In the midst of a union movement that often seems to be in tatters, the SEIU continues to run ahead of the pack, at least when it comes to marketing. And marketing may very well be the one thing that can save unions at this point.

Sam's Club Republicans, Unite!

In the current issue of The Weekly Standard, a beautiful collection of very centrist policy proposals from Reihan Salaam and Ross Douthat. If you don't read them already at The American Scene, you should (although Reihan's on some kind of love-induced sabbatical).

The piece is long, and as I've developed a reputation for handing out Proustian reading assignments, let me endeavor to summarize:

The GOP is currently tanking, in large part because the Bush Administration's policy efforts have been friendlier to the plutocratic elite than to their hardworking, Sam's-Club-shopping base:
In May, the Pew Research Center released the 2005 edition of its Political Typology, a survey that slices the American electorate into nine discrete groups. Unsurprisingly, the core of the GOP's support turns out to be drawn from "Enterprisers," affluent, optimistic, and staunchly conservative on economic and social issues alike. But the so-called Enterprisers represent just 11 percent of registered voters--and apart from them, the most reliable GOP voters are Social Conservatives (13 percent of registered voters) and Pro-Government Conservatives (10 percent of voters). Both groups are predominantly female (Enterprisers are overwhelmingly male); both are critical of big business; and both advocate more government involvement to alleviate the economic risks faced by a growing number of families. They tend to be hostile to expanding free trade, Social Security reform, and guest-worker proposals--which is to say the Bush second term agenda.
This rift, combined with the pressures of the Iraq adventure, have tanked the GOP's ratings. The tonic that Douthat and Salaam offer is remarkably radical-centrist in its orientation:

1) Recognizing that the GOP's true "base" is married couples with children, they suggest some remarkable subsidies for childraising. Quebec's Allowance for Newborn Children (ANC) would be a model - it provides parents with a tax rebate of $500 for a first child, $1000 for their second, and 20 quarterly payments of $400 for every child beyond that. They also recommend policies that would give mothers or potentially fathers subsidies, pension credits, or tuition credits for staying at home to raise the kids. (Side note: although Douthat and Salaam phrase this in a culturally conservative manner, it strikes me as remarkably progressive and even feminist. After all, the core criticism Betty Friedan and others laid out of "women's work" is that it is uncompensated!)

2) Salaam and Douthat also have a health care proposal: requiring all adult citizens to purchase their own coverage if they cannot get employer-based coverage. But they also recommend that the government take action to reduce the price of coverage - first by attacking the anticompetitive practices in the healthcare industry, then by subsidizing people who truly cannot afford it.

3) They also recommend replacing the current minimum wage laws with wage subsidies. This would be a very expensive program - at least $85 billion - but would ensure that every employed person could receive a living wage. Their other recommendation to improve the situation of low-wage earners is to sharply cut back on illegal immigration through tightening the border, while adopting President Bush's friendlier proposals for converting illegal immigrants into legal citizens.

4) Finally, they suggest tax reform: Dump the regular income tax, change the AMT to 25% for all wage earners receiving $50,000 (single)/$100,000 (joint) or more, and add a national consumption tax of 14%. This "back to the future" plan, created by Michael J Graetz of Yale Law School, would reduce the number of tax returns processed by the IRS to a mere 30 million per year. Douthat and Salaam go beyond Graetz' proposal by suggestion another series of deductions and subsidies directed towards working families: for mortgages, state and local taxes, employer health care, and charitable contributions.

I'm guessing at this point that Yellow Line readers will be pretty familiar with proposals of this sort - you may have encountered here or there, for instance. Which is, I think, the most interesting aspect of Salaam and Douthat's article. Despite taking several easy potshots at Democrats and liberals, they recommend policies that have been previously endorsed by moderates and centrists of both major parties. And this in the cover article of the very conservative Weekly Standard! Politicians and opinion leaders of the radical center may not be in the foreground yet, but our ideas are rapidly moving front . . . and center.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias identifies the missing link in Douthat and Salaam's plan. It's spelled m-o-n-e-y.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Shameful Delay in the House

[Cross-posted at Charging RINO]

No, not that DeLay (although he's also shameful and in the House). I'm talking this time about a ridiculous decision taken by the Republican leadership to push back a key vote. Democrats and many centrist Republicans are pushing for a House resolution that would instruct those House members sitting on the conference committee for the Defense Appropriations bill to accept the language in the Senate version that bans "cruel, inhuman, and degrading" treatment of any detainees held in American custody around the world. If you recall, that provision, sponsored by Senator McCain, was added in the Senate by a resounding vote of 90-9.

As the Times reports this morning, the resolution in the House, while non-binding, would be an important symbolic step highlighting the broad bipartisan support that the language has in both chambers of Congress.

So of course, Speaker Dennis Hastert has simply not named the conferees yet - and without conferees, no motion to instruct them can be made. On the Defense Appropriations bill. It's not like we're talking about the XYZ Post Office-Naming Act! Seems like the leadership would be making this their top priority, not shrugging it off until the end of the session (some aides are suggesting that the leadership will hold the bill until just before Congress is scheduled to leave town). I don't care why they're delaying this bill, it could be because Hastert's got a hangnail this week for all I know. But it needs to stop.

Importantly, the Times report notes the Republican support for acceptance of the McCain language: last week, fifteen Republicans (Castle, Shays, Johnson (CT), Simmons, Walsh, Boehlert, Kuhl, Schwartz, Ehlers, Dent, Gilchrest, Petri, Paul, Leach, and Bradley) wrote to the chairman of the Appropriations Committee expressing their strong support. "We believe the antitorture provisions are vital to protecting American service members in the field both now and in the future," they wrote.

It is time for the Republican leadership in the House to stop stalling and appoint conferees so that this important legislation can continue moving forward. With American troops in the field, this is no time for holding up military funding measures to protect the fragile ego of a floundering Vice President.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Reid the Omens

[Cross-posted on AmbivaBlog]

Senate minority leader Harry Reid's brazen calling of a closed session of the Senate today -- a sudden move that the blindsided majority leader, Bill Frist, called a "hijacking" -- has to be seen, I think, as the unveiling of the Democrats' 2006 campaign strategy.

Smelling blood in the water as the Administration flounders, the Dems have obviously decided to mimick successful Rovian ruthlessness and move in for the kill. They're going to put up a big and (in my view) inappropriate ideological brawl over Samuel Alito. But much worse, they're obviously betting on the public's growing alienation from the Iraq war as their meal ticket -- and to bet on it is to fan it, to exacerbate it.

The ultimate judgment of the invasion of Iraq will not be its origin but its outcome -- its success or failure in establishing a viable democratic state, a tremulous enterprise that is now struggling to be born in the teeth of a vicious and unrelenting effort to destroy it. The entire drama of whether we, the (classically) liberal West, and our values will or will not survive and prevail is being acted out in miniature in Iraq right now, as a prefiguring. It's kind of like the play within the play in Hamlet. The origins of the war -- yes! it was sold on false pretenses, I think because the Cheney crew made the judgment that the real reasons were too complex to rouse public support for such a risk -- are almost irrelevant now. If the war fails on its own merits because it was an impossible undertaking AND badly executed, there will be plenty of time for heads to roll and historic judgments to be passed. But the core Democrats, consciously or not, are trying to force that outcome prematurely, because they think it will be good for them.

That's criminally insane.