Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lieberman gets away with it 

I suppose we knew this was coming.

The Senate Democrats have voted and Joe Lieberman gets to keep his chairmanship. After announcing the vote, Harry Reid said, "This was not a time for retribution," and "If you will look at the problems that we face as a nation, is this a time we walk out of here saying 'boy did we get even?'" Reid himself, John Kerry, and Dick Durbin spoke in favor of Lieberman keeping his chair. Lieberman credited Obama's recent statement that he held "no grudges" as the argument that saved his butt. If you look at this affair as nothing more than payback for personal grudges or a quest for retribution, the Democratic Senators made the right choice. But, if you look at this affair as nothing more than payback for personal grudges or a quest for retribution, you either don't understand the issue or you are intentionally distorting it.

Lieberman's apologists like to point out that he usually votes with the Democratic caucus, but there is a lot more to being a good member of that caucus than just a voting record. His public statements have always been a problem. Lieberman is that kind of self-hating liberal who constantly feels the need to prove his even-handedness by attacking and undermining his own side. His function as a moral scold for the party has been part of his political persona since day one. He attacked Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky witch hunt and impeachment melodrama. He damaged efforts to get a fair vote count in Florida in 2000 by conceding the race, even though conceding or not conceding should be the prerogative of the guy heading the ticket, not the second banana. His actions during the recent election were nothing more than a logical continuation and culmination of his entire political career and nothing new.

During the race, Lieberman might have been forgiven if he had only supported John McCain, though there is plenty of precedent for not forgiving him. When John Bell Williams and Albert Watson supported Goldwater in 1964 they were stripped of their seniority and chaimanships in the House, as was John Rarick for supporting George Wallace's third party run in 1968. But Lieberman went beyond just supporting his friend. He attacked Obama and questioned his loyalty to the United States (a breach of Senate ethics. He attacked the Democratic Party, saying he feared for the survival of the country the if the Democrats gained a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. He campaigned for down-ticket Republicans like Norm Coleman.

Don't get me wrong, I do believe Lieberman deserved to be punished for his backstabbing, but I also believe that there were more important reasons why he should have been removed from the chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. I think it was a bad idea to let him have it after he was elected as an independent two years ago, but I understood the necessity that the Senate Democrats felt for appeasing him. Without Lieberman in the caucus, the Democrats wouldn't have had the fifty-first seat that they needed for an unambiguous majority. I understood the reasoning of the Senate Democrats, but I viewed it as caving in to blackmail on Lieberman's part. I expected them to stop appeasing him after this election, but I have been disappointed.

Lieberman was a terrible chairman of that committee during that last two years. No sooner had the last congress convened than did he announce his intention to break a promise to constituents to investigate the Bush administration's incompetent and tardy response to the Hurricane Katrina devastation. Over the next two years he completely failed in his duty to investigate gaps in our national security, war profiteering, or politicization of the civil service. In contrast, Rep. Henry Waxman, chair of the counterpart committee in the House gave us the very model of how an oversight body should perform its duties. It looked nothing like what Lieberman was doing.

Lieberman is not a Democrat and he can't be trusted. The Homeland Security Committee is one of the most important in the entire Senate. The person setting the agenda for that committee should be a member of the Democratic Party and someone who supports the priorities of the Party and who is willing to actually do the job that the committee was formed to do. Lieberman cannot be trusted on either of those cases. Reid said this is not the time for retribution, but can we trust Lieberman not to turn use his committee position to attack and undermine the Obama administration? His entire history says that's exactly what he will do with his position.

There is another place where retribution, not towards Lieberman, but on his behalf, comes into the equation. Lieberman hates the progressive rabble--the activists, the bloggers, the outside the beltway mob who are presumptuous enough to want a say in how the people who they have elected do their jobs. And we return the feelings. Over the last two weeks, a number of pundits have encouraged the Democrats to slap us down, repudiate our interests, and put put us in our place. Allowing Lieberman to keep his chairmanship has been seen as the perfect finger in the eye for the netroots community. After all, what have we done for the Party to deserve respect except raise millions of dollars for their candidates and work tirelessly to turn out the vote? The parties both have a history of disappointing their outer fringes, but only the Democrats have a history of insulting and repudiating them at every opportunity. What's particularly strange about the insider's hostility toward the the netroots is that netroots aren't especially extreme in their program. Kos is considerably to the right of me on most issues, and I don't consider myself a radical. The only real differences between the netroots and the insiders on most issues are matters of style and tactics, not of goals.

At least we got to be happy for a few days. I suppose it's better to get the inevitable disillusionment over with early.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Federal Precedent Provides Logic to Nix Prop 8 

Brian E. Gray, writing for the LA Times, sees something cool: The long history of the battle for equality for all in this country includes many court fights -- some that pro-justice forces have won. A particular early-1990s fight in Colorado, Gray says, may offer another avenue for challenging California's unjust same-sex marriage ban.
In 1992, by a 53%-47% split, Coloradans passed an amendment to their state Constitution that repealed laws in Aspen, Boulder and Denver that prohibited discrimination against gays. The amendment barred the state and its political subdivisions from adopting or enforcing any law "whereby homosexual, lesbian or bisexual orientation, conduct, practices or relationships" are the basis of a claim of discrimination. Does this sound familiar?

As the proponents of same-sex marriage rights determine the proper response to Proposition 8, it is illuminating to compare Colorado's rejection of "gay rights" with California's repudiation of "gay marriage."

The day after the Nov. 4 election, a coalition of civil rights groups asked the California Supreme Court to declare that Proposition 8 was unlawfully enacted. The essence of their claim is that a constitutional change that rescinds individual rights must first be passed by a supermajority in the Legislature before being submitted to voters. This process-based claim may well have merit, but there exists a more direct means of challenging Proposition 8 based on the U.S. Constitution.

Following the enactment of Colorado's Amendment 2, its opponents filed suit claiming that it unlawfully singled out gays and lesbians as a class to deny them rights that other citizens not only possess but take for granted. These rights include access to housing, government services, public accommodations and public and private employment opportunities without regard to an individual's race, sex, religion, age, ancestry, political belief or other characteristic that defines each of us as a unique human being. Amendment 2, the opponents argued, therefore denied gays and lesbians the equal protection of the laws, which is a guarantee of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

To the surprise of many, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed.

Writing for a 6-3 majority in Romer vs. Evans (1996), Justice Anthony M. Kennedy explained that it "is not within our constitutional tradition to enact laws of this sort. Central both to the idea of the rule of law and to our own Constitution's guarantee of equal protection is the principle that government and each of its parts remain open on impartial terms to all who seek its assistance." Laws such as Amendment 2 "raise the inevitable inference that the disadvantage imposed is born of animosity toward the class of persons affected," Kennedy wrote, adding a reference to another 1973 ruling. "If the constitutional conception of 'equal protection of the laws' means anything, it must at the very least mean that a bare ... desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot constitute a legitimate governmental interest."

What is Proposition 8 if not the product of a desire to harm a politically unpopular group? Denying legal marriage to GLBT couples diminishes them in the eyes of the law and the greater society. The stigma keeps these families -- many of whom have children -- from enjoying the same protections given to hetersoexual couples and forces them to spend untold amounts of money to try and cobble together alternative protections that aren't anywhere near as comprehensive. This is serious harm being done to certain citizens on the basis of certain other citizens' religious beliefs. Given that the matter under debate is civil marriage -- not religious rites, which are protected, allowing churches, as private groups, to discrimnate at will within their faith communities -- it is quite clear that the only notion behind measures to exclude GLBT citizens from civil marriage is bigotry. Their only goal is to keep gays and lesbians separate and stigmatized. Not only is this morally wrong, it flies in the face of American tradition. The purpose of the courts is to interpret the law and to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority. Thanks to a vocally religious majority that wishes to punish GLBT Americans, gays and lesbian couples and families are under siege and in desperate, long-overdue need of judicial protection.

Those opposing equality for all tend to be highly religious people. The same holds true for reproductive rights -- those who oppose them generally are religionists trying to imposing their moral beliefs on the rest of our pluralistic society. Yet there are many religious people who label themselves as "anti-abortion yet pro-choice." These people understand that their religious beliefs, which they hold dear, aren't always appropriate as a guide for those who aren't members of their faith. Telling an atheist that under penalty of law she must define "life" the same way that a Catholic or evangelical Christian does is simply untenable and offensive in our very diverse population. Hence, we have Rov v. Wade to defend the minority from the controlling religious majority.

When it comes to marriage laws, there are some very religious people who understand that what they believe about family, while meaningful to them and to those who think like them, may be inappropriate and unfair to impose on those with different beliefs. They see the tangible difference between religious marriage -- which God-believers have every right to protect -- and civil marriage, which should be available to all couples under secular law. They know that "holy matrimony" is a concept that applies only to religious marriages, not to civil ones. They understand that under American values, if gay and lesbians people wish to marry, they should be able to do so civilly or in churches that specifically allow same-sex ceremonies. Giving all adult citizens the right to civil marriage has and would have no effect on the religious institution of marriage or in public schools, where parents have to the right to veto family-education topics with which they disagree. A quick look at present-day life in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Canada prove the case. Why most religious folk have such difficulty with these notions escapes me...

The fact is that if the equality of pigmentational minorities and women were put up for a popular vote, in some places, equality would lose. For this reason, courts are crucial guardians that make sure the law treats all of us -- popular or not -- the same. And not with different words: The Supreme Court has already ruled that separate but equal is not equal. Every day without true equality is another day when the US is lying to its citizenry — and another day when many of its betrayed citizens suffer unjustly.

This is reason for hope: A number of cases are being presented before the courts covering a number of problems with Proposition 8 (and the logic should be applied to fighting the discriminatory federal Defense of Marriage Act as well). Meanwhile, justifiably outraged and betrayed Americans are protesting throughout the country and boycotting those who want their bigotry enshrined into law. In one way or another, marriage equality is coming -- and hopefully sooner rather than later. It's the right thing to do if America wants to be what it claims -- a land of liberty and equality for all.

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