The “Wisdom” of the American People

Just when the election of Obama has made you think the American populace has come to their senses, we have this:

Sales of handguns, rifles and ammunition have surged in the last week, according to gun store owners around the nation who describe a wave of buyers concerned that an Obama administration will curtail their right to bear arms.

How incredibly stupid *are* these people? To my way of thinking, pretty damned dumb.

There is no evidence whatsoever that Obama’s position on gun ownership constitutes any alteration of the status quo. Secondly, most gun laws are local and not Federal. Maybe Obama will push for the assault weapons ban to be revived (which would be very good), but none of the reports I’ve read or heard on TV have suggested that people are buying anything but semi-automatic rifles and handguns, neither of which there is even the merest suggestion whatsoever that Democrats/Obama would try to ban.

Surely this whole thing has been stoked by some right-wing moron like Limbaugh? Please?

Too Dumb to Vote

From the LA Times article on Prop. 8 (as of 2:08am Wednesday morning):

Amy Mora, a 26-year-old teacher, came with her mother to a polling place in Lynwood on Tuesday morning. She said she believes gay people have the right to marry one another. But she said she voted in favor of Proposition 8 because she does not believe students should be taught that gay marriage is acceptable.

In a rational world, the only correct response to such a belief would be:

Congratulations, Amy Mora! You have forfeited your right to vote. Ever.

Those Wacky Catholics

NOTE: I found this post in draft stage today. It’s apparently been sitting there since early 2004. It is just as relevant today as it was then.

Those Wacky Catholics: Bishop Raymond Burke of the diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin has issued an order that prohibits priests in his diocese from administering communion to Catholic representatives who have voted for legislation that allows individual choice on the subject of abortion (see article here).

It has often been said that Catholics in general do not know their Bible, and it seems to me that such a decree as this ignores the lesson of one of Jesus Christ’s parables, the lesson of which is “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.” This parable, and this lesson, is included in 3 of the 4 Gospels (the exact verse in each case being Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17 and Luke 20:25.

Now, it seems to me that the general principle established here by Jesus is that there are secular realms in which one has secular duties that do not in any way conflict with one’s sacred duties. Indeed, that principle is enshrined in the US Constitution, and is at the very heart of all the civic and governmental structures of our nation.

Officeholders, like Roman taxpayers, have duties to their constituents that are independent of their religious duties.

This despicable Wisconsin bishop has undone, in a stroke, all the progress that was made in the last half of the 20th Century in debunking the lie that Catholic lawmakers would be beholden to the Pope, rather than to those who elect them. John F. Kennedy was the first Roman Catholic president, and this was a major stumbling block for many voters. But his words and actions demonstrated that in his duties as civic officeholder, there was no conflict, as demonstrated by the words of Jesus himself.

Now, it seems that this is no longer the case. Roman Catholic officeholders must now shirk their civic duties and let their Church’s decrees rule their voting decisions, or face separation from the central sacrament of their church, and, thus, can never be fully in a state of grace.

The Pope has taken the same position on the issue of gay marriage, ignoring that the question being considered by officeholders worldwide is not a religious one, but a civic one, the question of the definition of civil marriage (which is distinct from religious marriage).

Roman Catholics always seem to want it both ways. When the Act-Up protesters disrupted mass at St. Patrick’s in New York City in 1989, this was seen as a dreadful intrusion into the religious space. Indeed, it was exactly that, but it came as a response to the Church’s intrusion into the civic realm. If the Church insists on trying to shape lawmaking, which has an impact on all citizens, Catholic or not, they open themselves to interference and disruption from outside, in just the same fashion as their own actions interfere with and disrupt the lives of those who are not under the authority of the Church.

Roman Catholics in the US need to learn that they cannot interfere in civic affairs without there being a corresponding reaction from non-Roman Catholic citizens. The result of the bishop of La Crosse’s decree and the Pope’s recommendations on gay marriage is that Roman Catholics are now disqualified from public office, as they are now under the kind of pressure from their Church that we as non-Catholic citizens can simply not expect them to endure. They now are required to have duel allegiance, and as voters, we cannot vote for any candidates whose allegiance is to anything but the consituency that elected them.

Wasilla High School

One of the most interesting tidbits I picked up from ABC’s Charlie Gibson interview with Sarah Palin was the chance to see the interior of Wasilla’s high school.

My first thought was “Wow! What a cushy high school! Looks like something you’d expect in a rich Chicago suburb, what with that fancy indoor track and all!”

Then a few mitigating factors did occur to me:

  1. The weather is pretty bad up there in the winter, so if you want to have your kids running, an indoor track is the thing you need.
  2. It was obviously implemented as a multi-purpose facility, since it served as plain old hallway as well as being the indoor track.
  3. Wasilla has experienced lots of growth over the last decade or so, so it’s not really surprising that they’d have needed a new high school building.

Nonetheless, the optics were that this was not your typical small town (as I recall it, having grown up on a farm 3 miles from a village of 300, and bussed to high school 15 miles away in a town of 6,500 — almost precisely the size of Wasilla), but a small town in a state that has literally millions of dollars in money that can be spent on building lavish public facilities. Alaska is simply not a normal state, and this means that the citizens of Alaska are accustomed to a much higher level of public services and investment in fancy infrastructure (like high schools with indoor tracks) than most of the people in small towns around the country.

However justifiable and understandable that indoor track may be, it still serves as a visible symbol of just how enormously different from the rest of the country of Palin’s hometown actually is.

Addendum: Matthew Yglesias makes an observation on another aspect of Palin’s past that shows how odd Alaska really is.

Travel to Europe

Roger Ebert tells this little story in his article taking down Sarah Palin:

And how can a politician her age have never have gone to Europe? My dad had died, my mom was working as a book-keeper and I had a job at the local newspaper when, at 19, I scraped together $240 for a charter flight to Europe. I had Arthur Frommer’s $5 a Day under my arm, started in London, even rented a Vespa and drove in the traffic of Rome. A few years later, I was able to send my mom, along with the $15 a Day book.

This looks to me like a generational thing — Ebert is old enough to have benefited from the years in the early 70s when the dollar was still increbibly strong against European currencies. I have a friend who travelled to the South of France several summers in a row, at a time when he was making about $5,000 gross income per hear. I have always really envied that, because by the time I was that age (just out of college), the era of the strong dollar and cheap travel to Europe was simply over. Palin is two years younger than I, and she wouldn’t have had that opportunity, either.

Chris Matthews

I’ve never been a fan of Chris Matthews, who has always struck me as a blithering idiot, so I hardly ever see him. But tonight Rachel Maddow’s new show on MSNBC was pre-empted by coverage of the Public Service forum featuring McCain and Obama. In the coverage afterwards, I observed two things:

  1. Chris Matthews intensely dislikes Rachel Maddow. This seemed blatantly clear in the interaction between them (despite his false-sounding praise of her investigative skills). I don’t know if it is just jealousy over the new kid on the block, or garden-variety sexist resentment, but it certainly came through loud and clear to me.
  2. Chris Matthews is completely ignorant of the context of the modern movement to throw ROTC programs off campus. Back in the early 70s, yes, it was anti-war fervor that caused ROTC protests. But that ended in the Reagan era, with ROTC programs invited back to a lot of campuses that had thrown them out during the Vietnam War era. The present-day anti-ROTC protests have a completely different justification: the conflict between universities’ anti-discrimination policies and the military’s prohibition of gay soldiers. A university that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is going to look awfully inconsistent if it permits and supports a program that tacitly discriminates on that basis. But Chris Matthews doesn’t appear to know any of that.

Why is Chris Matthews still on TV?

Republicans Double Down on Rovian Strategy

Reflecting on the RNC festivities so far, it seems clear that the Republicans really don’t care about trying to attract the moderate voters and the undecided. Virtually none of what we’ve seen in their convention so far has had any appeal for those who are not already wholly committed to the Republican agenda.

The left, including me, marvelled at the Republicans’ motivate-the-base strategy back in 2004, thinking it couldn’t possibly work (since the red meat that fires up the Republican base is going to alienate many of the middleground voters, as well as angering the opposition and enhancing the opposition’s motivation), but it did work. I can’t see how it can work in 2008 given the huge shifts in party ID since 2004 — the Republicans’ base is substantially smaller than it was in 2004, and thus they need the “moderate” voters more than ever.

I have never understood the way the Republicans use 2nd-order symbols at their convention to mock the opposition — those symbols always seemed to me to be confusing to those not in on the stories behind them, and infuriating to those who knew what they represented. The chief example of this in 2004 was the purple band aids (which for the party faithful was a reference to the scurrilous Swift Boat charges that John Kerry had not actually earned his purple hearts). The new example is the chant of “Zero! Zero! Zero!” How can that do anything but alienate those who don’t live in the weird universe in which 11 years of legislative experience in a large state and the US Senate count for nothing against 8 years running a small town and 19 months running the 47th largest state in the Union?

I really thought that the Palin choice was designed not just to energize the base, but also to attract the moderates (especially women) — a gender-based choice (as this obviously was) makes no sense otherwise when the nominee is so manifestly green on the national stage. But they aren’t following through on the appeal to the middle at all — they seem completely uninterested in seriously courting anyone but the already-converted.

I can’t see how they can gain any bounce out of this convention at all. And I can’t see how it will do anything other than make for a really nasty campaign season.

I See Dark People

The minority count at the RNC last night, from ABC’s primetime hour of coverage:

African-American 6
Asian American 2
Latino 1
Asian Indian-American 1
Total 10

This contrasts with Tuesday night, where a grand total of 1 Latino was seen (the same guy as seen on Wednesday night).

Republicans Aren’t Americans?

John McCain said yesterday in comments that were widely excerpted in news reports that I saw:

It’s time for us to take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats.

(or something to that effect)

This seems to me to imply that while Republicans are being Republicans, they don’t have the interests of the country as a whole foremost in their minds. This would be an admission on McCain’s part that would confirm what I’ve believed about the Republican party at least since the impeachment debacle.

Gay Marriage and the History of Legalized Abortion

I was reading today about the state of Ohio’s newly passed law prohibiting gay marriage and partnership benefits and it suddenly occurred to me that in regard to the subject of gay marriage we may be in a period that corresponds to the time from 1965 to 1973 on the road to legalized abortion. In 1965, there was no legalized abortion in the US (though many European companies had already liberalized their laws), but by 1970, 16 states allowed it. That’s a big change in a very short period of time

In May, Massachussetts will have gay marriage, and several other states already have some form of civil unions (though Vermont’s is the strongest and most similar to full marriage rights). Over time, I forecast that more and more of the socially liberal states (probably the same ones that legalized abortion first) will gradually offer civil recognition of gay partnerships (either civil unions or full-fledged marriage), until there is a divide between states that have strong public policy against it and states that allow it, just as there was in 1973 when the Supreme Court took up the issue. When there are 16 or more states with gay marriage, there will start to be a problem, as we will be as a nation, once again, a house divided, with the rights of some people being significantly limited in some parts of the country, and equal in others. At some point, the issue will have to come before the courts and the US Congress. And, eventually, maybe by 2030, the issue will be settled in favor of gay marriage.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that the issues are identical, for there are significant differences. For one, illegal abortions were quite widespread before the laws began to be liberalized. Marriage is not something that can be entered into “illegally,” as it is in essence a legal construct in the first place, not an act. So, there’s no flouting of existing laws for pragmatists to point to as the basis for making legal what people are going to do anyway. Second, the constituency for liberalized abortion laws was very large, for unwanted pregnancy was something that affected a large majority of the population. Gay marriage has no such built-in majority constituency.

Nonetheless, I still think there’s an important parallel: attitudes on the subject are widely divided in the country, and the states are beginning to institutionalize that difference in law, in both directions, just as happened in the decade before Roe vs. Wade, when the Supreme Court stepped in and completely revamped the whole issue by finding a right to privacy in the Constitution that severe restrictions and prohibitions on abortion impinged.

I honestly do not wish for the Supreme Court’s interference, at least not until several decades in the future when it’s become clear from experience that gay marriage does not in any way endanger any thread of the fabric of society (this should be clear already, but some people are slow on the uptake). But I do think the swing has already begun, and might very well occur very quickly (though surely not as quickly as happened with abortion). I would expect 10 years from now that gay marriage will be common in the socially liberal states and that in 20 years, it will seem perfectly ordinary in all but the most conservative parts of the country (say, Utah), and 30 years from now, will be legal nationwide. And I also expect that, along with that, full equal rights will by that time have been accorded gay citizens since I can’t imagine gay marriage being sanctioned without it.

And then we will finally be able to say “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we’re free at last!”