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DADT and Nudge Leadership

22 Dec

After 17 years, the archaic Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law was repealed today. One of the surprising victories for the Democrats in this lame duck session (waiting on START, as this is written), DADT fell under the pressures from various sides: Independent lawmakers (the ever unpredictable and formidable, Senator Lieberman), moderate Republicans, and active/retired military. This dynamic combination against a law enacted under President Clinton, after he, fearing his own political capital was at stake during the tumultous first 48 months of his presidency, buckled, was enough to push it to the president’s desk for final approval. To say that this is a victory for any party or position is only half true. This, like many other instances in our national history, is another example of pragmatic reform, and interconnected politics.


The future of the law was uncertain as of a few weeks ago. Opponents of this inherently discriminating law were afraid Obama lacked the backbone, and Democrats lacked the organization, to make their campaign promise a reality. Once more, Obama’s liberal credentials were being questioned–and during the last couple weeks, after the tax cut compromise, this alarm was beaming red.


A general sense of frustration permeated the DADT-repeal crowd, after study after study, and hearing after hearing confirmed what they already knew: the military can still function well with openly gay servicemen and women. The top military brass said this, the Pentagon said this, Secretary Gates said this…but nothing was being done. Obama looked on, and Democrats scrambled, as a seemingly momentous opportunity was drifting past us.


The tipping point might have come not from DADT opponents, but from gay marriage proponents. With the issue of legalizing same-sex couple marriages continuously bubbling up to the surface, through court battles/appeals/and the fallout of both, there is no doubt it will reach the Supreme Court within a couple of years. From this, there were two ways President Obama could’ve seen this eventual turn of events: as an opportunity or as an obstacle.


A gay marriage battle in the Supreme Court, specially during an election year, would no doubt be distracting. It would be the Brown v. Board of Education of our lifetime. This would not only substantially frame the election conversation, but it would build “camps.” The pro-gay marriage camp and the anti-gay marriage camp. Passions and forces would coalesce, and heroes would be picked and followed. If the Tea Party wave continues, it’s very probable a Tea Party favorite will be a contender for the GOP nomination and might actually become the Republican presidential candidate. At that time, the anti-gay marriage camp will have found it’s hero.


Where would this leave Obama?


If he decided to forgo a DADT repeal battle, in favor of other pressing issues (which no one can doubt he has a bevy of), he would essentially lose an opportunity to secure the vast majority of the pro-gay marriage camp’s support. He’d lose a key element of any successful campaign: a passionate core base. But he didn’t, he kept it on his desk and as a part of his priority list. Being deliberate to the bone once more, he waited until he felt it was the right time to nudge it through. He managed the process throughout, put the final wrapping, and finished the job.


Viewing it as an obstacle, Obama would’ve skipped a DADT discussion, pushed it for next year, and run the risk of having it never reach the floor ever again. His list of priorities are long and pressing enough to justify this sort of move. If he had done that, though, he’d run the risk of trailing a debate. He would be dealing with DADT, when the national conversation was on gay marriage. He would be trying to fix a crooked frame, when the entire house was being remodeled.


He would, in essence, be pulling a John McCain: in the way of historic momentum. This would not only bode ill on him, as a leader and visionary, but as a politician. “How could he not see this coming?” Fortunately, he did.


The president can now claim three uncommon and impressive achievements.


First, he presided over a very productive lame duck session of Congress, and gave bipartisanship a new jolt of vigor.


He also added another victory to his mantle that President Clinton was not able to do in his 8 years.


The third, however, might be the sweetest and most significant for America’s course through history: he nudged this generation’s civil rights movement further in the right direction. Knowing that while opening presents has to give everyone a pretty good feeling this holiday season.



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.

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.

Old Posts, Renewed

21 Jan

Here are some most posts, taken from the Archives, that are worth reading for the first time or revisiting for all the good times you had the first time. Enjoy.

SCOTUS pick reflects Obama’s politics

Afghanistan’s no. 1 domestic enemy

500 words on: Iran and Mexico, and Democracy’s growing pains

Has gay marriage hit a tipping point?

Obama's Nobel Prize speech and the necessity of Just War

14 Dec
photocredit: White House Blog

photocredit: White House Blog

There was hardly any single way President Obama could accept the Nobel Peace prize successfully. His harshest critics are his compatriots, people who should be proud that their president is being honored on the world stage, but instead are ridiculing the prize and process. So when Obama accepted his prize on Wednesday in Oslo there was little he could say to convince the bitter many. His speech spent few words on explaining why he deserved it. In fact, he downplayed it enough to potentially insult the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

What he did do was explain his intentions as president, in particular why he believes fighting in Afghanistan is justified and necessary. He went on to give a speech about the principles of ‘just war’ theory, America’s role in global affairs, and his pragmatic optimism of the future.

Just war theory has developed over many centuries by various philosophers, many attributing St. Thomas Aquinas, in the 13th century, as the father of the belief system. It regained prominence in American political discussions during the Vietnam war, arguing what is the just way to fight and end a war. One of the main proponents of including just war theory into the Vietnam debate was Michael Walzer, with his comprehensive and compelling book on morality and war, Just and Unjust Wars. Ever since the 70’s concepts like jus ad bellum (just reason to start a war), jus in bello (just way of fighting a war), and jus post bellum (ending a war justly), have been a staple of all discussions about America’s wars.

On Wednesday, President Obama gave what has to be one of his most revealing speeches on foreign affairs thus far.

Obama laid out, in what at times seemed like a professor’s lecture, the argument that the war in Afghanistan fit the just war model and was a sort of necessary evil.

The president is on record for naming Reinhold Niebuhr as one of the most influential political philosophers in his life. Niebuhr was a towering intellectual figure in the first half of the 20th century that was known for his insights into the complex relationship between morality and politics. Niebuhr was a pragmatic optimist, calling America’s pride a double-edged sword, and a man confident humanity could make progress, but in small, measured steps.

On Wednesday Obama made statements that are fairly common sense, but are hardly ever uttered by a politician, much less a president. After offering a fair share of humility, claiming his accomplishments compared to past prize-winners are “slight,” he went on to explain his war strategy. His decision to expand America’s presence in Afghanistan came after many hoped he would adopt a much more pacifist strategy, one past Nobel Prize winners, like MLK Jr., would have probably preferred.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their [Mandela, MLK, Gandhi] examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

This reinforces the so-called Obama ideology: sober, carefully optimistic realpolitik. “Evil does exist in the world,” could never be said by a doe-eyed idealist; it is a true, but loaded statement only said by someone preparing to tackle that ‘evil.’

He went on to make a very Neihburian statement about human progress:

So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly inreconcilable truths — that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly. Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. “Let us focus,” he said, “on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions.”

Gradual evolution in human institutions implies both pragmatism and optimism: pragmatic hopes for human progress, and optimistic that human institutions (government, alliances, grassroots organizations) will lead that effort.

Niebuhr and Walzer believed that war can not only be justifiable, but at times the best (and last) of options. Niebuhr said it was our “self-interest” to accept our responsibilities as world leader. Walzer saw virtue in military interventions during ethnic and regional conflicts, such as genocide and unjust invasions. Obama made subtle mentions of this responsibility and its benefit:

Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest — because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.

Obama furthered the point that America is, as Madame Secretary Albright used to call her, the “indispensable nation.” Global stability is at risk in Afghanistan, Obama said. A loss there is a loss felt in every other country.

[…] In many countries, there is a disconnect between the efforts of those who serve and the ambivalence of the broader public. I understand why war is not popular, but I also know this: The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it. Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice.

Niebuhr thought that politics could indeed be an agent of change, but it was still politics, full of compromise and tit-for-tat. He was a firm believer that a saint could remain saintly even in hell, but very few people could pull off that feat. Anyone hoping to change the world could do so in politics, but they often fall victim to its corrupting vices. An advocate of change needs both vision and a strong stomach. Obama echoed that belief when he explained his diplomatic outreach efforts:

Let me also say this: The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach — condemnation without discussion — can carry forward only a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door.

The speech overall was very well-written, at times lofty and at times unfiltered and realistic. Obama was able to communicate what many felt he needed to, which was painstaking humility and an explanation of the Committee’s decision. But it also went far beyond that. It let anyone willing to listen to it in its entirety know what is fueling Obama’s foreign policy.

After the speech, I am sure the Committee was slightly disappointed, hoping he would have accepted the prize with much more panache. I am also sure, however, that many liberals and conservatives were scratching their head by the end of it: why is it so hard to pigeonhole this president into an ideology?

It’s because he doesn’t have just one, and it’s a fluid process.

Biggest Tuesday since the last Biggest Tuesday

4 Nov
photocredit: j_bary (flickr)

photocredit: j_bary (flickr)

People shouldn’t care about voting in off-years, right? Tell that to Maine voters who gay marriage shouldn’t be allowed; or upper New York Republicans voting with a Democrat that was more in line with their values; or recently blue Virginia wondering how blue they wanted to be. Yesterday’s results may not have wide ramifications for 2010 or 2012, but it will certainly affect the attitude both parties enter with the new year.

It was a bad night for the Democrats. No matter which way the yarn is spun, Democrats lost two governorships, saw a cause they tacitly embrace (considering Democrats champions of  gay marriage is a tad foolish) suffer resounding defeat, and leave doubts in the air as to how much clout Obama has in local politics.

Republicans won, but dancing a victory shuffle misses the point. Polling shows that those who voted for Republican governors in Virginia and New Jersey did not do so in protest of President Obama’s job thus far. In New Jersey, 57% of all voters approved of the president; in Virginia, he still garnered a 51% rating. In fact, 27% of New Jersey voters that liked the job the president was doing voted for someone other than the Democratic incumbent, Gov. Corzine.  Same thing happened in Virginia: 20% of Obama supporters voted for the Republican, Bob McDonnell. Obama’s clout in the national scene is not being questioned, but his influence in local races has yet to be proven.

Local politics ruled the day. In NJ, people who voted to keep Corzine cited national issues (healthcare, the environment) as their top priority; those voting for the Republican challenger, Chris Christie, cited local issues (taxation, corruption) as what mattered most to them. In NY’s 23rd District, a Democrat won for the first time in 100 years because the Conservative, Doug Hoffman, was too right-wing and too out of touch with local politics to keep this district in Red.

The interesting thing in Maine was the turnout. Pro-gay marriage activists thought a high turnout would play in their favor, but this was not the case. A high turnout turned out to be a resounding defeat for the equal-rights cause, not just because of the final split (52%/48%), but because it was in blue-state Maine. This defeat was also important because of the promise it represented for the gay marriage movement. This could’ve been the first time gay marriage was approved by popular vote, not a court’s ruling.

While many pundits will call this a referendum on Obama, it’s more of a referendum on the Democrats and conservative politics.

Weak Democratic candidates were still weak even after Obama campaigned for them. All of the candidates Obama campaigned for were defeated. Even the Democrat Obama kinda sorta maybe supported, and probably only because he had to, Bill Thompson for NY Mayor, lost (although by a much smaller margin than many predicted). This bodes very poorly for Obama. If his popularity (which he still has) cannot be transferred to candidates he endorses, how can he assure Senators and Congresspeople voting on his ambitious agenda that he will be there to give them a boost when they are up for re-election? He is asking them to jump off a cliff, unable to assure them his net will hold.

As for conservatives, Tuesday was not a cause for celebration. Branded conservatives lost in all races. Hoffman, the conservative Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh vigorously campaigned for, lost in NY. Republican Chris Christie in NJ was a moderate running on his anti-corruption record as a federal prosecutor. Republican Bob McDonnell in VA is a conservative that ran on a moderate platform, knowing the c-word was not in style anymore.

The people that won Tuesday were not brandishing their right-of center credentials, but hiding them. Obama’s power was tested, and, due to underperforming candidates and the inability to make the national local, had it swatted down. He came out hurt, but Democrats, and their progressive agenda, came out hobbling.

Credit the townhall crazies to LaRouche

25 Aug

Lyndon Larouche is louder than the average bear.

This 86 year old political figure has a legion of followers, one crazier than the next. Like Barney Frank recently told a Larouchite at a townhall, “What planet do you spend most of your time on?”

Among some of his theories:

  • The Queen of England is a drug smuggler.
  • Obama’s healthcare reform is exactly the same as Hitler’s programs in 1939.
  • The UK wanted Obama to turn the US into a fascist state.
  • Miley Cyrus is Hannah Montana.

(The last one is actually my theory–still working on it).

More about him at the NYT.

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