Archive | April, 2010

Marriage: A History of Change

25 Apr

Social conservatives are known for their tireless efforts to prevent same-sex marriage.  Recently, Mike Huckabee told reporters that gay marriage was opening the doors to “legalizing drugs, polygamy and incest”.

Huckabee also noted that legalizing gay marriage would be difficult because “They have to prove that two men can have an equally definable relationship called marriage, and somehow that that can mean the same thing.”

Those who preach religious doctrine and the sanctity of marriage are in need of a serious history lesson.  Contrary to popular belief, marriage is not a stagnant religious tradition. Marriage has been constantly changing and evolving – and that is the only way in which it survives.

Today’s society implements a social freedom that was rare in previous eras. Up until the 19th century, love was not a reason to get married.  People married for power, money and status. Arranged marriages were the norm, as well as adultery. This idea of romantic love is a fairly new factor in choosing who to marry.

The first recorded marriages in ancient Mesopotamia began as a way for males to ensure the paternity of their children.  Regarding marriage in early Western Civilization,  Sociologist Edvard Westermarck proposed that  “the institution of marriage has probably developed out of a primeval habit”.  Women lacked rights and most marriages were seen as business transactions between family.

A little known fact: the only reason the church got involved with marriage was due to the barbaric treatment of women.  During the medieval era, in the newly Christianized countries of Northern Europe, women were treated like domestic slaves.  The church set out to improve the treatment of women by using religious doctrine.  It was only then that theologians included marriage as a sacrament.

Once the church became involved it began to impose regulations on marriage, required special  ceremonies and banned divorce. It wasn’t until the 13th century that priests actually officiated at weddings.

During the Protestant Reformation, marriage would undergo more changes. The English Puritans passed an Act of Parliament declaring marriage a secular act.  Though this act was overturned during the Restoration, these same Puritans brought this concept with them to America.

Since then, marriage law has repeatedly evolved in the U.S. In 1769, married law stated, “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in the law. The very being and legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated into that of her husband under whose wing and protection she performs everything”.  Men were given complete control over property owned jointly with their wives until 1981.

The marriage reform that most parallels the current same-sex marriage debate was the U.S. Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia, which overturned all state bans on interracial marriage, declaring that the “freedom to marry” belongs to all Americans.  It’s important to note that polls showed that 70% of Americans opposed interracial marriage at the time of this ruling.  According to a poll taken in 2009, 42% of Americans support same-sex marriage and 25% support civil unions, with only 28% supporting no legal recognition at all.  The country is less split on gay marriage than it was on interracial marriage at the time legislation was passed in favor of it.

In 1996, former Missouri congressman James Talent said “It is an act of hubris to believe that marriage can be infinitely malleable, that it can be pushed and pulled around like silly putty without destroying its essential stability and what it means to our society”.

So, according to the logic of Talent, Huckabee and other conservatives who argue that marriage should not adjust to new social standards, women should never have been awarded rights, marital rape should have remained unrecognized and interracial marriage should still be illegal.

Despite the religious label conservatives have placed on the act of marriage, this legally binding contract is in place as a method of organizing social responsibilities through law. The moral, spiritual and religious characteristics of marriage are up to each individual, but the legality of marriage is reliant upon secular paperwork and the courts.

The 2010 census counted same-sex couples as married because it is a far more accurate way to determine the demographics of the nation. Why? Because people of the same-sex are already living just as heterosexual couples do.  In order to maintain social order, we have to recognize these couples as living in a state of matrimony.

The backlash from conservatives is hindering the social stability and economic prosperity that will come from legalizing same-sex marriage.  The institution of marriage must be recognized not as a religious sacrament, but a social structure that is generally beneficial to all those involved.

The fear that gay marriage will open the doors to things like incest and polygamy is laughable – pandora’s box was not opened when interracial marriage was made legal.   Judging from history, the evolution of marriage is slow but inevitable.

The Anti-Samson

14 Apr

photocredit: rayphua

Even the most jaded political observer can take one thing from Obama’s term thus far: he knows harmony. This shouldn’t be a shock, since his campaign platform was as much about “hope” and idealism as it was about bipartisanship and finding mutual interests. But, then again, idealists are often closet ideologues, and bipartisanship can be cast off as an empty promise or annoying kumbaya. The one reason Obama has been able to fly over either criticism is his success at achieving tangible results.

There is a discipline in Democrats today that has been missing for years, even decades. Their ambitious agenda, while inciting sparks with those hoping for a timid government, is achieving results. Campaign promises and wishful thinking are materializing at an unprecedented pace. Healthcare reform, a Keynesian economy, a nuclear-free world, and a nuclear-less (or is it de-nuclearized) Iran are either reality or look like they will soon be.

The Democrats tend to rock their own ship from clashes that are bound to occur under a big tent. But this time, they are not allowing themselves to fall off of it. Much of the credit for that discipline goes to Pelosi, but the true commander is President Obama.

In yesterday’s nuclear summit, he produced another victory: a 47-nation pact, where each will take steps to rid the world of loose nuclear materials. This, like the recent US-Russia nuclear arms reduction treaty, is not pie in the sky. They are public agreements that will play into the politics at home for each of those nations. Heads of state do not sign such pacts freely; the political impact of a signature is carefully calculated before the ink reaches paper. If that were the case, Iran and North Korea would have long ago signed such a treaty and gone back to working under the radar. Obama earned that victory the same way he has managed to herd the pack of cats known as the Democratic party. He is best when surrounded by chaos. And, put simply, that is why he is most comfortable with his party and with foreign policy.

The anarchic nature of foreign policy is so because all states fend for themselves. In the days when mercantilism was favored and countries were expected to sabotage each other’s commercial routes, or destroy their neighbor’s fleet to have an advantage in regional commerce, the anarchy was unmanageable. It was true chaos. Today, however, as so many countries have many trading partners, both for goods and finances, there is a gentleman’s agreement to be civil. Henry Kissinger knew that one way to avoid nuclear war with the USSR was to become their economic partner. Co-dependency would keep the world afloat.

There is equilibrium as long as no one makes up their own rules. That is why rogue nations have the spotlight right now. Their volatility is dangerous not only for the region, but for the entire international system.

Obama is much more effective in this chaos than many of his predecessors, because of his natural cool and appreciation for harmony. As was evident at the nuclear summit yesterday, and at the healthcare summit in February, the president knows how to mediate. He can take the good and bad of various opinions and find enough common ground to make all parties feel they are getting some of the pie, thereby fostering an honest and productive dialogue. In foreign policy, this is the core of diplomacy.

President Obama has shown time and again that he is no idealist. If anything, he is a pragmatic reformer that has studied Niebuhr enough to know progress is slow and frustrating. The best an ambitious man can do is keep pressure on the issue and keep the columns from breaking. Unlike his predecessor, George W., Obama does not believe in going for the knockout. Even the push to pass healthcare was not a swoop from above; after nearly a year of debate and delirious politickin’, the bill was modest and tactical. While W. tore down the columns, Obama is applying consistent pressure on each, moving them where he wants. Obama prevented the hull of his ship from breaking through careful calculation, and that is something the typically energetic (i.e. neurotic) Democratic party hasn’t seen since LBJ.

The recent string of foreign policy victories will help him with the two behemoths in front of him: Iran and Israel. Many before him have failed in finding a peaceful medium when it comes to these two. He must use his calm if he wants to achieve harmony in such places that have long ago discarded civility toward neighbors.

Ain't No Party Like a Tea Party

8 Apr

While the tea party rally in Milwaukee was much milder than those making headlines, it did offer an interesting perspective of this social movement that is, according to Chairman Mark Williams, “sweeping” the nation.

Prior to 2010, the tea party protests had a narrow focus.  In 2009 they protested the TARP Bailout Bill and mainly focused on taxation like that of the original Boston Tea Party.  With the Obama Administration making broad changes, especially to health care, the rallies have become a place to vent about anything and everything that the Democrats are doing.

The main argument of the tea party movement is that our government is not strictly adhering to the Constitution (specifically by forcing the purchase of health insurance and ignoring legislative process to pass HCR in the “cover of darkness”).  Several people interviewed after the rally in Milwaukee reiterated the same message that the Constitution, as the founding fathers wrote it, should be enforced.

Ironically, while most people who support the tea party agree with this ideal, they act as though Obama has no right his presidency. It seems as though the constitution is only worth following if Republicans are in office.  How easily they forget that 53% of Americans voted for Obama using their constitutional rights to vote. The fact that his approval ratings have dipped does not cancel out that the majority of Americans chose him over McCain.  (Do they not remember Bush’s approval ratings?)

As a group, tea partiers are angry about the way the country is being run, however they don’t offer any fixes.  The speakers rile up the crowds with complaints about health care reform, taxes, abortion and government spending, but even Republicans in office know that if they don’t agree with the current fixes they must come up with alternative solutions.

This is why the tea party remains a fringe movement – the majority of these followers are not politically savvy, they are just tired of the economy and unhappy with the direction the government is taking.  These protests give them a place to express their anxieties, while feeling as though they are taking proactive steps toward putting candidates with more conservative values back into office.

That being said, it is great to see people actively take a role in politics.  The people at these protests honestly believe that they can change the government by using their voting power. The level of enthusiasm of the crowd rivals that of Obama’s campaign days.

So how seriously should we take the Tea Party?  Is this nothing more than a social-protest movement or will these rowdy rallys have a substantial effect on November elections?   At first glance, the movement seems far too extreme to gain and maintain a significant following.  Throwing around words like “socialism” and using highly-divisive speakers like Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin will prevent them from gaining support from Independents.  The real effectiveness of the tea party will be reflected in its influence on the Republican Party, whether positive or negative.

The tea party will play a substantial role in determining the direction of the GOP.  Though many Republicans have distanced themselves from the movement Sarah Palin has advocated “absorbing” the tea party, a move that many are leery about.

The tea party demands ultra-conservative candidates, a far cry from the fairly moderate John McCain.  A strong push to the right could make or break elections for Republicans in November, depending on the direction the country takes in the next few months.  Recently, Republican candidates have been edging towards the right out of fear that they may not be seen as “conservative enough.”

On the other hand, if the Republicans choose to keep the tea party separate, it could end up splitting the conservative vote.  Even chairman Mark Williams acknowledged that creating a new conservative party would be “political suicide.”

Though far from being considered a third political party, the tea party doesn’t seem to be backing down anytime soon.  The creation of the National Tea Party Federation was announced on Thursday, a sign that the movement is becoming more and more organized.  Recent Rasmussen polls have also suggested that tea party is going mainstream, with more Americans indentifying with the movement’s values than Obama’s views.

November elections may determine the future of the tea party.  If Republicans retake the majority, the movement may fade quickly.  If not, expect them to stick around until 2012, possibly with their own candidate.

Tiger Woods, American Celebrity

6 Apr

photocredit: babble.com

Halfway down the first fairway, a spectator called out, “Welcome back, Tiger.” And Woods did something he rarely did in the last few years — he turned, made eye contact, smiled and waved. –NYT

Tiger Woods didn’t have to make a comeback so soon. No one would question his prowess at the game he has dominated for over a decade if he waited another few months, another year. His image, marriage, and probably his self-confidence, are all severely damaged. Many of the people criticizing his move to return to the game say he should spend this time working on the latter three. He should work on his life, not his work. But Tiger knows the undisputed fact that he is an American celebrity. He needs to play by the rules that come with the role.

Tiger’s fall, like most other celebrities’, was self-inflicted. The gamut of poisons many in the spotlight succumb to ranges from sex, to gambling, to drinking, to violence, to all of the above and then some. In a moment of weakness or passion they indulge in the power their fame affords them and become pure animal instinct. They do what they want. What’s worse is that this act of indulgence is broadcasted to the entire world in HD. Their private follies are open to public ridicule, making even an honest act of contrition a tightrope walk: cry too much and you are just being phony or having a breakdown; don’t cry and you are a soulless robot. Even when repenting their sins, celebrities have to choreograph everything down to the shade of their makeup.

Our fascination with celebrities, either from Hollywood or Washington, is truly American. We sometimes follow celebrities more than our very own family members, and in doing so become so familiar with them that we want to know as many details as possible about their famed lives. We care when they break-up,  breakdown, and when they take a break. The juiciest celebrities news, however, is when they fall. We get to witness a giant in our eyes become a human once more. We also get a chance to see them rise again.

And that is the core characteristic of our fascination with celebrity, shared with hundreds of inspiring movies, sports Cinderella stories, and tales of “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps”: the climb out of the abyss. We judge ourselves and our icons by how much is endured, and how much is conquered after we hit our nadir. While the destruction itself is fascinating to watch (like a car crash or a firework display), the resurrection of a career or respect is what makes it an American story.

During his first day of practice at The Masters, Tiger looked stiff and meek. He was no longer a demigod amongst mortals; he was now feeling like a rookie, trying hard to earn the affection of fans and critics. He was vulnerable in a way few of us could imagine: he was vulnerable in public, by people who know a lot about him, and he nothing about them. His private sins ruined his public image, which in turn cut further into his private self.

He is in the rebuilding stages, and what he does now is more important to his future than what he did for many years in hotel rooms and golf courses. Tiger has to re-earn his place among golf’s, and America’s, greats. His story will be measured by his success at being great, the second time around.

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