Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year From DISSENTING JUSTICE: My Not-So-Humble Year-End Review

2008 has been an exciting year for legal and political analysis. I started this blog because I believed that progressives and the media were absolutely uncritical in their analysis of the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination. Although I officially launched the site in April, I did not pay sustained attention to developing it until October. Since that time, I have been pleasantly surprised by the engagement of readers. I truly appreciate your comments, emails and readership.

A Few of My Favorite Things
I have enjoyed sharing my ideas with you, but I am particularly fond of the following essays. Overall, I like this essay, which criticizes the Left for being uncritical about Obama, the most: Progressives Awaken from Obama-Vegetative State. On the same theme, are close runners-up: 2008 Is Not 1964: Why Liberal Mania and Conservative Panic Are Nothing But Melodrama, Governing In Prose: Obama's Cabinet Picks Defy Campaign Narrative That Emphasized "Hope," "Change," and "Washington-Outsider" Status and Chicken Little Politics: Moderate Obama Causes Progressive Panic.

Sexism, Racism, and Homophobia
I have analyzed a lot of civil rights issues on Dissenting Justice. My personal choice on sexism examines the treatment of Hillary Clinton by the media: On Low Roads and Hypocrisy: The Media, Sexism and Hillary Clinton. This was my very first and probably angriest blog post, and it ranks as one of the most read items on the site. At the time, I had written similar pieces under pseudonyms on various other blogs, and I received a lot of positive feedback. So, I started my own blog after friends and students suggest that I do. I would later write the following zingers on "liberal sexism": Is Liberal Sexism Against Palin OK? No! and Raining on My Party's Parade? An Election-Day Analysis of Hillary Clinton and Liberal Sexism by a Progressive Law Professor.

On race, I have written several essays that attempt to provide some realism around the euphoric analysis concerning what Obama's success means about the state of U.S. race relations. This article crunches election data and analyzes it from an honest perspective that I have yet to see in mainstream media outlets: Reality Check: Obama's Election Victory Does Not Mean That Era of Race-Based Identity Politics Has Died. I provide a historical context for understanding the relationship between race and presidential politics in: Race and Presidential Politics: Pre- and Post-Obama. I was able to have fun writing on race when Alec Baldwin proclaimed that Obama's election would slay racism and the need for a civil rights movement. Here's my response to his "interesting" claims: An Obama Presidency Would Cause the Death of Racism and the Civil Rights Movement, Says Alec Baldwin.

I have written several essays on gay rights, which, along with gender and race, is one of my areas of academic expertise. My favorite piece on the subject ends up being my most prophetic one -- predicting the racial divide around Proposition 8: Anti-Gay Group Thanks Obama, Seeks to Exploit Black Homophobia to Constitutionalize Bigotry. I also analyzed the conflict over race and sexual orientation in the following two essays, which discusses how these issues place gay and black communities in deep conflict: Would Obama Have Won If He Were Black...and Gay? and Black Californians and Proposition 8: Is White Gay Anger Justifiable?. Finally, on the question of gay rights, I have tried to capture the essence of GLBT anger over Rick Warren's participation in the inauguration, and this essay presents a comprehensive analysis: Embracing Uncle Good-But-Homophobic: Why "Reaching Across the Aisle" to Rick Warren Does Not Feel Safe to Everyone.

Republic Windows and Doors
With respect to the economic crisis, my personal favorites all emerge out of the Republic Windows and Doors sit-in. I have analyzed the shady dealings of the company that evaded liberal and media scrutiny: MADE IN IOWA: Did Company in Chicago Sit-In Illegally Discard Its Workers and Quietly Relocate While Liberals Forced BOA to Pay for the Shady Scheme? I have also examined the exploitation of the laid-off workers by politicians and the media: Laid-Off Republic Windows and Doors Workers: Pawns in Political Football. And I have offered an alternative to the way liberals responded: What (I Think) Progressives Should Have Done for Workers of Republic Windows and Doors.

Wall Street Bailout and Crisis

Media Bias
This blog has also given the issue of bias in the media a substantial amount of scrutiny. Other than the sexist bias against Clinton, which essays posted above analyze, the following essays on the media stand out to me -- and to readers: Oy Vey: Liberals Dominate Media Because They Want to "Change the World," Says WaPo Ombudsman, Poll: 55% of Voters Believe Media More Biased Than in Past Elections, and the most-read article on here (thanks to RealClearPolitics for putting this on your front page), CNN and CBS Release Highly Misleading Polls Regarding VP Debate.

Finally, because my core identity includes a healthy dose of raw cynicism, I feel obligated to point out my most cynical work. During the primaries, Obama's supporters and surrogates demonized the Clintons as divisive and as unabashed racists, but Obama campaigned with both of them before the general election, and he has picked Hillary Clinton to serve as Secretary of State.

As a scholar of race relations and civil rights, that was just too much for me to understand as anything other than naked politics! So this pair of articles express that view: Obama Allows Two "Racists" to Campaign for Him: Why? and the sequel, Will Wonders Ever Cease! Bill Clinton and Barack Obama on the Campaign Circuit. Remarkably, the mainstream media, which helped spread the Clintons-as-racists narrative, have not expressed any sense of irony in the joining of "racists" and the nation's real first black president. But if they actually engaged in critical analysis, I guess I would not have felt the need to start my own blog.

During the short time that I have made daily postings, the blog has logged the following statistics:

25,000 page views

10,000 unique visitors

15,648 visits

105 countries

48 languages.

Top Countries
Readers came from 105 countries. The top country is, unsurprisingly, the United States. The top 5 countries include: the United States, Canada, the UK, Germany and New Zealand. The bottom of the list includes countries such as East Timor, Ethopia, Lebanon, Cuba, and Iceland. That they even made the list surprises me. The country with the most engaged readers, on average, was Jamaica -- where readers read an average of five different essays per visit.

Cities and States
Within the US, every state is represented. The top states are: California, New York, Texas, Florida and Illinois. The top cities are: New York, DC, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Readers in 2,212 cities visited the blog. The most engaged readers were from Walpole, Massachusetts, who read an average of 27 essays per visit! Thanks, Walpole.

I also want to thank the many bloggers who sent readers to Dissenting Justice. While most readers came from Google searches and from links on RealClearPolitics, the following blogs (listed by descending rank) sent a huge percentage of my readership: The Confluence, Heidi Li's Potpourri, Political Wire, Taylor Marsh, Daily Puma, and Pollster.Com.

Keep Coming and Spreading the Word
Again, thanks for being such passionate and kind supporters. Have a safe holiday and new year, and I hope to see you back on Dissenting Justice soon.

Defiant Blagojevich Names Obama's Successor: Decision Raises Political and Constitutional Questions

Embattled Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has defiantly named a successor to serve the remainder of Obama's Senate position. Any candidate that the governor named would have caused conflict, because many politicians, including Obama, have called for Blagojevich to resign and to refrain from naming a successor. But Blagojevich's decision to select former State Attorney Roland Burriss for the position presents even greater political complexity.

Race Politics
Burriss, who is black, would become the only black member of the Senate if his nomination survives a likely battle in the Senate. By picking a respected black politician to replace Obama, Blagojevich forces Democrats to either deny a Senate seat to a black politician or to legitimize his defiant exercise of authority over the process despite increasing demands that he leave office or otherwise decline to name a successor.

It appears that Blagojevich intentionally introduced race politics to the selections process. He first offered the position to Danny Davis, a black member of the House of Representatives, but Davis turned down the offer.

And during the press conference at which Blagojevich made the announcement regarding Burriss, Bobby Rush, a black member of the House of Representatives, stated that: “There are no African-Americans in the Senate . . . And I don’t think that anyone, any U.S. senator who’s sitting in the Senate, right now, wants to go on record to deny one African-American from being seated in the U.S. Senate.”

Rush also urged members of Congress not to "hang or lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer." In response, Blagojevich added: "Feel free to castigate the appointer but don't lynch the appointer. I am not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing!"

Constitutional Questions
Blagojevich's decision to name a successor also complicates an already complex legal situation. Senate Democrats vowed to reject any candidate that Blagojevich names. They claim the authority to do so based on Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution, which states that "Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members . . . ." But the Supreme Court narrowly interpreted the scope of this provision in Powell v. McCormack.

In Powell, the House of Representatives refused to seat Adam Clayton Powell of New York, who faced accusations of financial impropriety. John McCormack, the Speaker of the House, claimed such authority under Article I, but the Supreme Court (in a 7-2 ruling) held that the Constitution only gives each chamber the power to judge those qualifications specifically listed in the constitution (e.g., that candidates for Congress meet certain age or residency requirements and that they were chosen under prescribed procedures). The Court's narrow interpretation of Congressional authority under Article I, Section 5 favors Blagojevich and Burriss.

Even if a candidate meets the requirements to occupy a seat in Congress, the Constitution nevertheless permits each house to "expel" a member. Expulsion, however, requires a requires a 2/3 vote and a showing that the candidate for expulsion has engaged in wrongful conduct

Given the public sentiment against Blagojevich naming a successor, at least 2/3 of the Senate probably does not want Burriss to take office. But unless these Senators can demonstrate that Burriss has engaged in improper conduct, they would not have a legitimate basis to expel him. If the Senate refuses to acknowledge the appointment, and Burriss does not withdraw his acceptance of the offer, then Burriss would have to initiate litigation seeking an injunction barring the Senate from refusing to seat him.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Right-Wing Agrees With Me Concerning Rick Warren (Sort Of)

Conservative commentator Rick Lowry takes issue with people who are "yelping in rage" over Rick Warren's participation in Obama's inauguration (yelping?). Lowry argues that Warren's critics have attempted to portray him as a "hate figure," even though his views on same-sex marriage represent the views of most Americans:

[Warren] believes what a majority of Americans do, what the vast majority of the
planet does, and what all major religions maintain about marriage: namely, it
should be defined as between a man and a woman."
Although Lowry writes to condemn progressive critics of Warren (which includes yours truly), we agree one one issue -- that Warren's opposition to same-sex marriage falls within majoritarian viewpoints. In the essay, The Fallacy of Obama's "Diversity" Defense: Rick Warren's Views Already Have a Place at the Table, I argued that Obama's attempt to portray Warren's participation in his inauguration as a respect for "diversity" bends reality because most Americans, like Warren and Obama, oppose same-sex marriage (and other gay rights issues). Warren's participation, however, has provoked anger primarily because he compared same-sex marriage with statutory rape, incest, and polygamy.

In an effort to bash progressives, however, Lowry omits any discussion of Warren's incest, statutory rape, and incest analogies. But this line of bigoted thinking does more injury to GLBT people more than mere opposition to same-sex marriage, because it rests on pernicious stereotypes of gay and lesbian people.

Because most Americans oppose same-sex marriage Obama does not risk losing too much political support over Warren. In fact, he apparently has gained some credibility among conservatives -- which is probably a leading reason why Obama asked Warren to participate.

Related Readings on Dissenting Justice:

Monday, December 29, 2008

"Scratching and Surviving" Less Newsworthy Than Politicians at Labor Protests: Scant Media Coverage of Republic Windows Workers After Sit-In

During the recent protests at Republic Windows and Doors, politicians, the media, the company, and union leaders played political football with the laid-off workers. Their advocacy led Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase to pay the wages and benefits that Republic Windows and Doors owed its workers. The company, however, escaped scrutiny by convincing the public that Bank of America unfairly prevented it from paying its employees. Meanwhile, the company's owners moved to Iowa and restarted operations in a cheaper location with nonunionized workers.

Progressives and the Media Have Now Abandoned the Workers
Although progressive advocacy in this situation failed in many respects, perhaps most critically, the Left did not demand that governmental officials strengthen the economic safety net, which the recent economy has strained. Now that the politicians, activists and the workers themselves have vacated the scene, the workers' struggle no longer generates intense political or media attention. Progressives, liberal politicians and the media have now discarded the workers -- just like the bankrupt company did.

Must Strengthen Economic Safety Net Because "Sit-In" Will Not Succeed for Most Workers
But progressive advocacy and media analysis regarding the continued struggles of the laid-off workers could offer more to them and to other distressed workers nationwide than the passionate activity surrounding the sit-in. Contrary to the most enthusiastic progressive arguments, workers across the country will not have many opportunities to replicate the success of the Chicago sit-in.

The Chicago protest succeeded due to a rare confluence of numerous forces: (1) the nation needed to vent anger regarding the bailout and the declining economy, and Bank of America became the obvious target; (2) Bank of America cares about its image and ultimately capitulated to the negative attention, including Governor Blagojevich's decision to ban the bank from doing business with Illinois; (3) the company apparently had powerful political contacts in Chicago who helped keep public criticism on the bank, not the company's illegal actions; (4) local union leaders and the workers themselves had sufficient drive and organization to lobby for justice; and (5) the media found a ratings-generating story and pounced on it.

But in the future banks will respond more swiftly and creatively if companies attempt to shift the blame for their own violations of labor laws. The media will not hold vigils at each imperiled work site; this storyline is now dull. And the involvement of political actors and the stamina of workers will vary with each scenario.

Scattered news accounts have begun to do the necessary work to publicize the broader issues facing workers in the declining economy. Several media outlets, for example, have reported on the problems states are having keeping their unemployment benefits budgets solvent. The increased unemployment filings have depleted their funds, sending them to the federal government for assistance.

Other stories have analyzed the problems that typical workers face when their companies shut down. Although the Chicago workers received unpaid wages due to a rare political opportunity, in the average case, insolvent companies move into bankruptcy, where workers usually do not collect the full amount of money owed to them (if they collect anything at all). Also, many workers do not receive their unpaid wages due to limitations of shut-down legislation.

Where Are They Now?
Some news stories are beginning to detail the struggles of the former employees of Republic Windows and Doors. Here is a snippet from one of those stories:

Workers at Republic Windows beat their bosses to win payouts required by law when their plant shut down. But now, they're facing a reality millions of other Americans share: being unemployed at Christmas.

At Dagaberto Cervantes' home, it's a bittersweet Christmas with few presents under the tree. The former Republic Windows employee received $4,000 in hard-won shutdown benefits, but he doesn't know when he might work again. . . .

After a six day sit-in, the workers won, receiving severance, vacation pay and temporary health care. Still, like so many now, they're jobless. Cervantes is already looking for work. . . .

[But] [u]nemployment in Illinois now stands at 7.3 percent, the highest in 15 years. Since January alone, Illinois has lost 72,000 jobs. . . .
As more workers lose their jobs, perhaps progressives and the media will find their stories as equally (or even more) inspiring as watching self-interested politicians make cameo appearances at a labor sit-in.

[Note: Google services the outside links attached to this post (e.g., Digg, Email this, etc.). Someone hacked Google today, so some of these links take you to spam webpages. I apologize for any inconvenience. Google is on the case!]

Related Readings Around the Web:

What Comes After Factory Workers' Victory for Labor?

WARN Act Falls Short for Job Layoffs

Related Readings on Dissenting Justice:

MADE IN IOWA: Did Company in Chicago Sit-In Illegally Discard Its Workers and Quietly Relocate While Liberals Forced BOA to Pay for the Shady Scheme?

Republic Windows and Doors Received a Bailout from Chicago Before It Bailed Out of Chicago

Laid-Off Republic Windows and Doors Workers: Pawns in Political Football

Factory Closes in Chicago; Workers Invoke Bailout During Protest

What (I Think) Progressives Should Have Done for Workers of Republic Windows and Doors

New Chapter for Republic Windows: Bankruptcy

Sunday, December 28, 2008

"Change" Has Arrived: NYT's Frank Rich Criticizes Obama For the First Time!

Will wonders ever cease (I like that phrase). New York Times columnist Frank Rich, possibly under the influence of some mind-altering drug, has actually criticized Barack Obama. I am stunned.

Rich, along with Maureen Dowd, led a chorus of anti-Clinton/pro-Obama writers at the New York Times during the Democratic primaries (see this essay for example). Rich's and Dowd's persistent anti-Clinton diatribes and a deeply scathing New York Times editorial led me to write this essay: On Low Roads and Hypocrisy: The Media, Sexism and Hillary Clinton. Together with writers such as E.J. Dionne and Eugene Robinson at the Washington Post, Rich contributed to the perception of media imbalance related to election coverage.

In his newly released column, Rich takes Obama to task over the Rick Warren invitation. Although his criticism is tepid compared with others, it is unequivocal. Congratulations, Rich, for doing the improbable. Here's a snippet:

[T]here’s a difference between including Warren among the cacophony of voices weighing in on policy and anointing him as the inaugural’s de facto pope. You can’t blame V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop and an early Obama booster, for feeling as if he’d been slapped in the face. “I’m all for Rick Warren being at the table,” he told The Times, but “we’re talking about putting someone up front and center at what will be the most-watched inauguration in history, and asking his blessing on the nation. And the God that he’s praying to is not the God that I know.”

Warren, whose ego is no less than Obama’s, likes to advertise his “commitment to model civility in America.” But as Rachel Maddow of MSNBC reminded her audience, “comparing gay relationships to child abuse” is a “strange model of civility.” Less strange but equally hard to take is Warren’s defensive insistence that some of his best friends are the gays: His boasts of having “eaten dinner in gay homes” and loving Melissa Etheridge records will not protect any gay families’ civil rights.

Equally lame is the argument mounted by an Obama spokeswoman, Linda Douglass, who talks of how Warren has fought for “people who have H.I.V./AIDS.” Shouldn’t that be the default position of any religious leader? Fighting AIDS is not a get-out-of-homophobia-free card. . . . [Editor's Note: Great line!]

Related Readings on Dissenting Justice:

Rick Warren Stories

Sorry, Adam and Steve: If You Get Married, We Must Allow the Smith Triplets to Wed Each Other As Well!

Rick Warren versus Don Imus: Obama's Inconsistent Positions

The Fallacy of Obama's "Diversity" Defense: Rick Warren's Views Already Have a Place at the Table

Embracing Uncle Good-But-Homophobic: Why "Reaching Across the Aisle" to Rick Warren Does Not Feel Safe to Everyone

New Obama Drama: GLBT Groups Upset That Rev. Rick Warren Speaking at Inauguration

Reactions to Reverend Rick Warren from My Blogger Buddies

GLBT Rights, Generally

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Hold Your Breath

Stonewalling on Don't Ask, Don't Tell? No Action Until 2010

Robert Gates as Obama's Secretary of Defense: "More of the Same" for Gay Rights?

Would Obama Have Won If He Were Black...and Gay?

Anti-Gay Group Thanks Obama, Seeks to Exploit Black Homophobia to Constitutionalize Bigotry

2008's Biggest Losers: The Media

I never thought my opinion of the news media could worsen, but 2008 proved me wrong. This has been one of the worst years for news coverage in recent history. In 2004, media outlets were literally "in the tank" with President Bush on the war. Critics of the war did not receive coverage or they were viciously shamed (think: BBC and Peter Jennings). This year, the media engaged in painfully awful "analysis." Here are some of the worst things, listed in no particular order:

Nipple-Gate: Obama goes topless in Hawaii; causes media meltdown.

Obama Girl: Why? Just why? I am stunned that this received any attention at all outside of Youtube, but I guess the corporate media are desperate for money.

Palin Baby Mama Drama: Daily Kos proves its influence by floating a rumor that spread like a virus -- with equally nauseating effects.

Palin Clothing Drama: Since the baby story did not work, let's create another "scandal." And make it sexist too! Yes, that will sell.

Hillary Clinton's alleged tear in New Hampshire: There are so many things I could say about the absolute immaturity and sexism surrounding the reporting of this issue. But I have already done enough.

Clinton Wants Obama assassinated: Poor Keith Olbermann has a stroke, having convinced himself to believe the lie.

Pro-Obama election coverage: Studies by the Pew Center, Rasmussen, the Washington Post, ABC News, and other outlets confirm that most media outlets were rooting heavily for Obama. Interestingly, a lot of Democrats do not want to admit or condemn this. Well, given the disastrous effects of an uncritical media (e.g. Bush's war), I think we need to reject this type of behavior.

Isms: The denial of sexism against Clinton was astonishing. The effort to turn every criticism of Obama into something racist or malicious was equally astonishing. I think racism and sexism explain both processes.

For more on this subject, I encourage readers to check out Glenn Greenwald's blog on Salon.Com. Warning: His sarcasm and cynicism rival my own!

Also, I have written extensively on the subject this year. Enjoy the links provided in the preceding analysis and the ones listed below.

Related Readings on Dissenting Justice:

Oy Vey: Liberals Dominate Media Because They Want to "Change the World," Says WaPo Ombudsman

2 Politico.Com Reporters Concede Media Biased, Blame McCain

ABC News Takes on Issue of Media Bias and Concludes: It Exists

Poll: 55% of Voters Believe Media More Biased Than in Past Elections

Washington Post Proclaims That "Sarah Palin Picks Ferraro as Favorite Vice President." Shocking -- Yes. Truthful -- No.

CNN and CBS Release Highly Misleading Polls Regarding VP Debate

On Low Roads and Hypocrisy: The Media, Sexism and Hillary Clinton

Another Study Proves That 1+1=2, Or That the Media Love Obama, Hate McCain/Palin, and Who's Biden?

Ombudsman Concludes that the Washington Post Was In the Tank!

12 Incredibly Lame News Stories That the Media Reported, Instead of the Impending Doom in Financial Markets

Friday, December 26, 2008

Sorry, Adam and Steve: If You Get Married, We Must Allow the Smith Triplets to Wed Each Other As Well!

Slippery slope arguments abound in same-sex marriage discourse. Opponents to same-sex marriage argue that if states legalize same-sex marriage, then nothing can stop them from legalizing a host of other relations, including incest, pedophilia, polygamy, or even bestiality. Ellen DeGeneres has a great comedy skit mocking the bestiality argument, in which she pretends to have breakfast with her mate -- a goat. When she reaches for the morning paper, she discovers, to her dismay, that her partner has eaten it. That is just about how seriously I take the slippery slope arguments myself.

The debate over the scheduled appearance of Rick Warren at Obama's inauguration has renewed debates over same-sex marriage, and slippery slope arguments have reemerged as a tool of its opponents. Warren argued that same-sex marriage was the moral equivalent of incest, polygamy, and pedophilia. Today, on Real Clear Politics, Mona Cheren of Creators Syndicate, Inc., defends Rick Warren by embracing slippery slope arguments as well. Cheren contends that:

Once you abandon the traditional definition of marriage to suit the feelings on an interest group, by what principle do you stop redefining marriage? Gays and lesbians argue that their same sex unions are loving, committed relationships. Fine. But there are, or could be, other loving, committed relationships involving more than two people. . . .

Once traditional marriage -- supported by centuries of civilization and the major Western religions -- is undermined in the name of love, there is no logical or principled reason to forbid polygamy, polyandry, or even incest. Gay activists recoil from incest. But on what grounds exactly? Suppose, after we formalize gay marriage, two 25-year-old sterile (to remove the health of offspring argument) twins wish to marry? Let's suppose they are loving and committed. What is the objection? That it offends custom and tradition? That it offends God? Isn't that just bigotry?
Cheren rejects the claim by many GLBT individuals that Warren's comments linking same-sex marriage with pedophilia are bigoted because, according to Cheren, no material distinctions between same-sex marriage and these other "undesired" relations exist. Although slippery slope arguments are wildly seductive, they fail in two important respects.

Unable to See the Difference Between Adam's Boyfriend, Mother and Pet Labrador Retriever
First, slippery slope arguments assume no logical distinction between the proposed change (here, recognizing same-sex marriage) and the parade of horribles that exist on the slope (incest, pedophilia, bestiality, etc.). But even if Cheren's mind is unable to comprehend a distinction between same-sex marriage and these other categories, this does not disprove the existence of a meaningful and workable distinction.

On many levels, the prohibition of same-sex marriage, incest, pedophilia, bestiality, and polygamy all relate to an amorphous notion of "morality." But this sweeping concept cannot serve as a logical principle for shaping legal rights, because it could validate the prohibition of virtually everything a majority of the public finds distasteful. For that reason, the Supreme Court has held that morality alone cannot sustain laws that discriminate or deny liberty.

Beyond morality, it is easy to imagine concrete reasons for banning pedophilia or bestiality, such as lack of consent. Adult consensual incest tends toward the "just morality" argument in many ways, although valid concerns about the health of offspring exist in this context. And even though morality arguments certainly shape opposition to polygamy, exploitation concerns exist in this setting as well that could provide a legitimate basis for regulation. So, while opponents to same-sex marriage operate under the assumption that gay Adam's prospective spouse Steve is indistinct from Adam's mom or his loving pet Labrador Retriever, this belief does not hold up to scrutiny -- absent some horrible prejudice about what gay people do in the bedroom.

Why Does Heterosexual Marriage Miss the Slope?
A second problem with using slippery slope arguments to challenge same-sex marriage is that the users fail to demonstrate why heterosexual marriage does not place society on a dangerous slippery slope. In other words, the opponents of same-sex marriage do not show how opposite-sex marriage differs materially from same-sex marriage such that it does not lead to the feared parade of horribles. Instead, they simply assume that the heterosexual status quo is the only "safe" place for society, presumably because marriage has existed in this form for "centuries."

Once the state validates some relationships, however, it potentially opens the door to a host of competing claims for legal recognition (or at least tolerance) of other types of relationships. But heterosexual marriage could present an even greater risk that society "slides" down the slope in some contexts than same-sex marriage. For example, the vast majority of incest, pedophilia and polygamy cases involve heterosexual men exploiting younger females. Yet, this has not caused society to ban heterosexual marriage.

I do not believe that the frequency of heterosexual incest, polygamy and pedophilia, however, warrants the prohibition of heterosexual marriage, and the opponents of same-sex marriage clearly agree. Nevertheless, because incest, polygamy and pedophilia are much more closely connected to male heterosexuality, if any type of marital relationship implicates these social problems it is traditional heterosexual marriage, not same-sex marriage.

Are the Slippery Slope Proponents Disingenuous?
Cheren and Warren argue that they are neither anti-gay nor bigots. Instead, they object to same-sex marriage purely on policy grounds. Other proponents of the slippery slope argument have made similar claims. But when these same people, like Warren, say that they embrace "civil unions" instead of marriage, this suggests that their objection to same-sex marriage arises out of a heterosexist desire to preserve marriage for heterosexuals rather than to prevent the eventual legalization of child rape and incest.

The same slippery slope arguments that Warren advances in the same-sex marriage context could apply to civil unions as well. If he and Cheren are correct, then same-sex civil unions could lead to demands for pedophilic, incestuous, and polygamous civil unions. The fact that the slippery slope claims vanish when opponents of same-sex marriage advocate the civil unions consolation prize probably means that their objections to same-sex marriage probably have very little (if anything at all) to do with principled policy. Instead, opponents of same-sex marriage merely want to preserve the status quo -- or "centuries" of tradition -- against changes engendered by decades of pro-gay and feminist advocacy. But a desire to preserve a discriminatory past cannot justify the continuation of discrimination. This argument holds whether or not we label same-sex marriage opponents as "bigots."

[Editors Note: I actually believe that the distribution of important social resources strictly around marriage needs serious questioning. If health care or death benefits, for example, are important social goods, why narrowly link them to romantic relationships? Despite my skepticism about the value of marriage as a tool to distribute social resources, I strongly believe that opposition to same-sex marriage violates equality norms; accordingly, I resist the opposition, despite my general skepticism about the value of marriage.]

Related Readings on Dissenting Justice:

Rick Warren versus Don Imus: Obama's Inconsistent Positions

The Fallacy of Obama's "Diversity" Defense: Rick Warren's Views Already Have a Place at the Table

Embracing Uncle Good-But-Homophobic: Why "Reaching Across the Aisle" to Rick Warren Does Not Feel Safe to Everyone

New Obama Drama: GLBT Groups Upset That Rev. Rick Warren Speaking at Inauguration

Reactions to Reverend Rick Warren from My Blogger Buddies

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Hold Your Breath

Stonewalling on Don't Ask, Don't Tell? No Action Until 2010

Robert Gates as Obama's Secretary of Defense: "More of the Same" for Gay Rights?

Would Obama Have Won If He Were Black...and Gay?

Anti-Gay Group Thanks Obama, Seeks to Exploit Black Homophobia to Constitutionalize Bigotry

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Looming Issue: The Fragile Safety Net

During the Republic Windows and Doors labor action, I argued in a series of articles (here's an example) that progressive activists focused on the wrong issues. Although they rightfully focused on the workers' rights under federal and state law, their advocacy missed the boat in other areas.

First, they demonized Bank of America even though the company, which relocated and dumped its workforce, was the only culpable party. Furthermore, they failed to pay any attention to the overly burdened and insufficient economic safety net. With unemployment and rates of uninsured rising, these conversations need to take place. We can use the bailout as an analogy for that discussion, but bailout money cannot solve this part of the economic crisis -- which seemed to be an assumption of much of the activism surrounding Bank of America.

Today's San Francisco Chronicle reports that two think tanks have released studies on the declining safety net. One of the studies covers the State of California exclusively, but another, prepared by the Urban League, is national in scope. Here's a snippet from the article:
The Urban Institute reports paint the recession as the worst downturn in decades, and suggest that its severity will shock workers under 40 who have become accustomed to a relatively strong job market.

Simms said the hardest hit segment will be workers at the low end of the wage scale who are more likely to get laid off and less likely to collect unemployment benefits under current rules. Federal estimates suggest only 36.3 percent of unemployed people nationwide received benefits in 2007. Eligibility rules are set by the states, some of which have made it easier for low-wage workers to claim benefits.

And recently, the New York Times reported that many states' unemployment insurance funds are becoming insolvent as the number of people seeking benefits surges:
With unemployment claims reaching their highest levels in decades, states are running out of money to pay benefits, and some are turning to the federal government for loans or increasing taxes on businesses to make the payments.

Thirty states are at risk of having the funds that pay out unemployment benefits become insolvent over the next few months, according to the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. Funds in two states, Indiana and Michigan, have already dried up, and both states are borrowing from the federal government to make payments to the unemployed.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rick Warren versus Don Imus: Obama's Inconsistent Positions

Obama has pushed back liberal critics who believe he made a mistake inviting Rick Warren to speak at his inauguration. Warren has provoked anger among liberals, especially GLBT advocates, because he has opposed gay rights measures and has likened same-sex marriage to statutory rape, incest and polygamy. Warren also compared abortion to the Holocaust.

Despite the outcry over Warren, Obama defends his decision on the grounds of diversity. He argues that including Warren is consistent with his belief in creating space for all views:

I've . . . said . . . that it is important for America to come together, even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues. . . .[W]e're not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is to be able to create an atmosphere . . . where we can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans.

During the course of the entire inaugural festivities, there are going to be a wide range of viewpoints that are presented. And that's how it should be, because that's what America's about. That's part of the magic of this country, is that we are diverse and noisy and opinionated.
As a presidential contender, however, Obama took a very different position after "shock jock" Don Imus made racist and sexist statements regarding the Rutgers women's basketball team. Liberal activism, public anger and fear among advertisors led MSNBC and CBS radio to drop Imus, who crudely described the basketball players as "nappy-headed hos."

Obama's position on Imus differs substantially from his current statements regarding Warren, which advocate the tolerance of "noisy and opinionated" voices. Rather than treating Imus as someone with whom liberals should "disagree without being disagreeable," Obama instead insisted that broadcasters give him the boot:

I understand MSNBC has suspended Mr. Imus . . . but I would also say that there's nobody on my staff who would still be working for me if they made a comment like that about anybody of any ethnic group. And I would hope that NBC ends up having that same attitude.
Ironically, Obama appeared on the Imus show twice before the controversy happened, but he vowed never to return.

Obama also had strong words condemning the content of Imus' statement. Although he expressed an appreciation for freedom of speech, Obama argued that:

[Imus] didn't just cross the line . . . . He fed into some of the worst stereotypes that my two young daughters are having to deal with today in America. The notions that as young African-American women -- who I hope will be athletes -- that that somehow makes them less beautiful or less important. It was a degrading comment. It's one that I'm not interested in supporting.
And instead of choosing to focus on commonalities rather than differences, Obama asserted that: "As a culture, we really have to do some soul-searching to think about what kind of toxic information are we feeding our kids."

My noisy and opinionated analysis: I do not think I am stretching things here by arguing that GLBT people are probably as offended by Warren's comments, which compare their relationships to pedophilia, incest and polygamy as black women were offended by the Imus "nappy-headed hoes" slur. Furthermore, the linkage of gays and lesbians with pedophilia is one of the most pernicious and degrading of all homophobic slurs and is as serious a problem for young GLBT people as racist and sexist slurs are for children of color. Nevertheless, while Obama became the first candidate to call for the firing of Imus, he has not only invited Warren to participate in his inauguration, but has defended the choice against liberal criticism as an act of nobility.

What could explain Obama's different approaches? I imagine it has a lot to do with these two statuses: "presidential candidate" versus "presidential-elect." In order to win the Democratic primaries, Obama had to appeal to a liberal base dominated by women and black voters. But as president, his audience is much broader and far more moderate-to-conservative. I have not seen any polling data on this issue, but I assume that most of the public agrees with Obama.

It also helps him that the GLBT community is a much smaller demographic than blacks and women, that the public, including most Democrats, opposes same sex marriage, and that none of the mainstream media will likely give much airplay to his inconsistent positions. In other words, he has shifted positions because he can do so without hurting himself politically (Christal Phillips said this a long time ago). If anything, he could possibly gain a few supporters by "dissing" gays.

For the record: I never cared whether Imus lost his job, but I thought that progressives should have directed their activism to structural issues rather than choosing to respond passionately to every idiotic "racist du jour" (see Beating Up Imus and Other Idiots: How “We” Construct Racism). The same arguments could apply in this context, but Warren, unlike Imus, has the ear of the president-elect. I think the stakes are somewhat different. Nonetheless, I have not advocated that Obama rescind Warren's invitation to appear at the inauguration. Instead, I have analyzed the legitimacy of GLBT anger and the broader politics at play in the controversy.

Related Readings on Dissenting Justice:

The Fallacy of Obama's "Diversity" Defense: Rick Warren's Views Already Have a Place at the Table

Embracing Uncle Good-But-Homophobic: Why "Reaching Across the Aisle" to Rick Warren Does Not Feel Safe to Everyone

New Obama Drama: GLBT Groups Upset That Rev. Rick Warren Speaking at Inauguration

Reactions to Reverend Rick Warren from My Blogger Buddies

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Hold Your Breath

Stonewalling on Don't Ask, Don't Tell? No Action Until 2010

Robert Gates as Obama's Secretary of Defense: "More of the Same" for Gay Rights?

Would Obama Have Won If He Were Black...and Gay?

Anti-Gay Group Thanks Obama, Seeks to Exploit Black Homophobia to Constitutionalize Bigotry

French Fried! New York Times Publishes "Fake" Letter by Paris Mayor Condeming Caroline Kennedy's Senate Bid

The mainstream media have really gone downhill lately. Now, they are so desperate for web traffic that they sometimes rush stories without confirming sources or waiting for factual development. Many outlets often regurgitate the same drivel that appears on other sites. Well, at least they occasionally give us comedic relief. Today's New York Times does just that.

This morning, the paper published an op-ed purportedly written by Bertrand Delanoe, the mayor of Paris. The letter expresses an unusually harsh opinion regarding Caroline Kennedy's public bid for Hillary Clinton's Senate seat:

With all the respect and admiration I have for Ms. Kennedy’s late father, I find her bid in very poor taste, and, after reading “Kennedy, Touring Upstate, Gets Less and Less Low-Key” . . . in my opinion she has no qualification whatsoever to bid for Senator Clinton’s seat.

We French have been consistently admiring of the American Constitution, but it seems that recently both Republicans and Democrats are drifting away from a truly democratic model. The Kennedy era is long gone, and I guess that New York has plenty of more qualified candidates to fill the shoes of Hillary Clinton. Can we speak of American decline?
Ouch. Unfortunately, the letter is a fake. The paper has now printed a mea culpa (in English) and says it will review its process for verifying the authenticity of op-ed submissions:
This letter, like most Letters to the Editor these days, arrived by email. It is Times procedure to verify the authenticity of every letter. In this case, our staff sent an edited version of the letter to the sender of the email and did not hear back [Editor: Major clue that it was a fake.]. At that point, we should have contacted Mr. Delanoƫ's office to verify that he had, in fact, written to us. . . . [Editor: Duh.]

We did not do that. Without that verification, the letter should never have been printed.

We are reviewing our procedures for verifying letters to avoid such an incident in the future.
Although I continue to read the New York Times daily, moments like these erode my confidence in the periodical. During the Democratic primaries, the published a story that condemned Hillary Clinton for allegedly lying about a pregnant woman whose baby died due to complications from an illness that remained untreated because she lacked health insurance. Clinton's story was actually true. Apparently, the woman visited more than one hospital, and one of them denied her treatment, which led to the tragic results. And in 2004, the paper admitted that it published many stories which took highly favorable positions on the "need" to invade Iraq without doing appropriate research concerning the factual claims made by the authors.

Source: New York Times

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Fallacy of Obama's "Diversity" Defense: Rick Warren's Views Already Have a Place at the Table

Obama's decision to invite Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration has sparked heated debate. Many GLBT activists and other liberals oppose the invitation because Warren has made negative comments concerning gay rights and abortion.

During one interview, Warren likened same-sex marriage to incest, statutory rape, and polygamy. He also compared abortion to the Holocaust. Warren's participation in the inauguration has angered liberals who find his views antithetical to the change they seek through Obama.

Warren, Proposition 8 and GLBT Vulnerability
Warren was an outspoken supporter of Proposition 8, a recently enacted amendment to the California constitution that defines marriage in heterosexual terms. The passage of Proposition 8 caused a lot of angst among GLBT activists, many of whom naively believed the measure would fail given the overwhelming support for Obama in the state.

Proposition 8 reverses a ruling of the California Supreme Court which held that prohibiting same-sex marriage violates the state constitution. Consequently, GLBT people feel particularly stung because a majority of California voters callously decided to deprive them of newly obtained and hard-fought rights.

Viewed in light of this recent history, Obama's inclusion of Warren in his inauguration has probably generated more outrage than it would have normally caused. To many GLBT people, Warren represents the painful status quo, not the progress that Obama has so frequently promised.

Obama's Thousand Points of Light
Obama and his supporters have pushed back against his critics. Obama defends the inclusion of Warren in the inauguration as part of his effort to reach across the aisle and include all voices at the table:

I've . . . said . . . that it is important for America to come together, even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues. . . .[W]e're not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is to be able to create an atmosphere . . . where we can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans.

During the course of the entire inaugural festivities, there are going to be a wide range of viewpoints that are presented. And that's how it should be, because that's what America's about. That's part of the magic of this country, is that we are diverse and noisy and opinionated.
Although Obama's explanation sounds like an amicable gesture, his public disassociation from Reverend Wright, his controversial minister of 20 years, undermines the credibility of his professed tolerance for "noisy and opinionated" viewpoints. Granted, he was a longtime member of Wright's church, but once Wright became a political liability, Obama let him go.

But even assuming the sincerity of Obama's comments, Warren's participation in the inauguration does not enhance the "diversity" of viewpoints because, stripped of their more colorful elements (e.g., comparing same-sex marriage to incest and pedophilia) Warren's comments represent mainstream perspectives on gay rights -- including those views that Obama himself embraces.

Same-Sex Marriage and Popular Opinion: Warren's Views Already at the Table
Although Obama defeated John McCain by a 20-point margin in California, a slight majority of voters in the state cast votes in favor of Proposition 8. Outside of California, however, the public strongly disagrees with same-sex marriage; a growing number, however, favor other measures such as "civil unions."

A CBS poll released in June finds that only 30 percent of Americans favor legal recognition of same-sex marriage. Another 28 percent favor "civil unions," while 36 percent oppose any legal recognition of same-sex intimate relationships. The poll shows the greatest level of support for same-sex marriage since 2004 when CBS began surveying public opinion on this issue. The paltry number of Americans who endorse same-sex marriage actually represents an improvement over the recent past.

Public opinion on this subject varies slightly with political party affiliation, but strong majorities of both major parties oppose same-sex marriage. The poll finds that only 36 percent of Democrats and 14 percent of Republicans support the legalization of same-sex marriage. Similarly, only 34 percent of independent voters support same-sex marriage. Other major polling data confirm these results

Given the results of public opinion polls, it should not surprise readers that no major presidential candidate supported same-sex marriage. Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and all of the GOP candidates stated their opposition to same-sex marriage, although the Democrats supported civil unions. Advocates of Proposition 8 made robocalls that used Obama's public statements expressing his religious opposition to same-sex marriage. Remarkably, Obama has stated that he opposes same-sex marriage and laws like Proposition 8 that ban same-sex marriage.

Obama, Warren, and the vast majority of Americans -- Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike -- all oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage. Accordingly, Warren's participation in the inauguration does not represent political diversity or a noble effort to reach across the political divide as Obama and his supporters claim. Warren represents mainstream discriminatory viewpoints, rather than outsider perspectives. With Warren and Obama united on same-sex marriage, Warren cannot represent difference. He does differ from Obama on choice, but GLBT protests prompted Obama's defense of Warren.

The True Diversity: Reverend Joseph Lowery
By all accounts Joseph Lowery is a champion of civil rights with a very long history in the struggle for justice. Lowery will deliver the benediction at Obama's inauguration. Obama has cited to Lowery as proof that he seeks a diversity of views. In other words, Lowery offers a counter balance to Warren.

Although Lowery is an antidote to Warren in many ways, his support for same-sex marriage remains unclear. Most websites have simply repeated the same description of Lowery -- portraying him as a champion of gay rights and same-sex marriage. The web descriptions validate his support for gay people becoming clergy and their entitlement to legal equality and human rights. But the popular reports on his record do not reveal definitive support for same-sex marriage. Here is the full quotation that informs most of the reporting on this issue:

And in 2004, he told ABC News he supported same sex marriage: "When you talk about the law discriminating, the law granting a privilege here, and a right here and denying it there, that's a civil rights issue. And I can't take that away from anybody."
This comment does not establish Lowery's unequivocal support for same-sex marriage. Obama himself advocates equality and human rights but disapproves of same-sex marriage, and Warren says he does not want the law to deny "rights" to people, but he refuses to support the "redefinition" of marriage. Regardless, Lowery has a longer and deeper record of progressive activism than Warren.

Does Lowery's presence neutralize Warren?
Many of Obama's supporters have argued that Lowery's presence should neutralize liberal concerns over Warren. Although I believe that Lowery's participation certainly helps to stabilize things, the assertion that the two men's participation in the inauguration will create a politically neutral result is not without complications.

Some harms are so great that ordinary mitigating gestures cannot remedy them. Because most of the country, including Obama, oppose same-sex marriage, Lowery's presence alone cannot counteract GLBT fear of majoritarian discrimination. Furthermore, Warren's comments go beyond typical opposition to same-sex marriage. Relying upon pernicious anti-gay stereotypes, Warren links gay relationships to incest, polygamy and pedophilia. The embrace of such deeply homophobic stereotypes probably injures GLBT people more than mere political or religious opposition to same-sex marriage. It is hard to imagine Lowery counteracting the negative effects of Warren's words.

Also, the recent bruising GLBT people received from the passage of Proposition 8 means that Warren's participation will stoke their sense of political vulnerability. Because Obama shares Warren's position on the subject, many gays and lesbians now fear that he will abandon them on other issues, such as Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Politically, he could probably do so without adverse political consequences, given the pervasive public opposition to or tepid support of gay rights.

From Poetry to Prose: Implementing Policy After Aretha Sings
Although it is highly likely that Warren will remain a participant in the inauguration, this situation has sparked a healthy debate among liberals about how Obama's "change" might look. Gays and lesbians were already mobilized over Proposition 8, and they are even more vigilant as a result of Obama's decision to include Warren in the inauguration. Although many liberals will ultimately accept Obama's desire to have many viewpoints at the table, actual policy decisions will require concrete choices that cannot always reflect the views of all people. If the inclusion of Warren indicates that Obama will adhere to his centrist and safe politics on gay rights and other causes, then his administration will continue to experience conflicts with liberal and progressive advocates.

A Recent Popular Post on Dissenting Justice:

Separate and Unequal Public Schools: "Liberal" Blue States Have Worse Records Than "Dixie"

Related Readings on Dissenting Justice:

Rick Warren versus Don Imus: Obama's Inconsistent Positions

Embracing Uncle Good-But-Homophobic: Why "Reaching Across the Aisle" to Rick Warren Does Not Feel Safe to Everyone

New Obama Drama: GLBT Groups Upset That Rev. Rick Warren Speaking at Inauguration

Reactions to Reverend Rick Warren from My Blogger Buddies

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Hold Your Breath

Stonewalling on Don't Ask, Don't Tell? No Action Until 2010

Robert Gates as Obama's Secretary of Defense: "More of the Same" for Gay Rights?

Progressives Awaken from Obama-Vegetative State

Would Obama Have Won If He Were Black...and Gay?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ruben Navarrette's Flip-Flop: Wrong to Criticize Obama on Warren, Fine to Criticize Obama on Clinton

I became familiar with Ruben Navarrette during the Democratic primaries. He was one of the few Latinos (among the few Latinos who are leading journalists at major papers) who clearly did not like Hillary Clinton.

Navarrette wrote several articles praising Obama and criticizing Clinton. During the general election coverage, however, he wrote about McCain with a somewhat sympathetic eye, even encouraging Latinos to consider voting for him in one article.

After the election ended and Obama began selecting members of his Cabinet, Navarrette wrote a scathing critique of Obama's decision to choose Clinton as Secretary of State. Navarrette believed that Bill Richardson should have received the position instead.

Navarrette challenged Obama's decision to appoint Clinton, arguing that she "doesn't have anywhere near Richardson's level of experience in foreign affairs . . . [and] she treated Obama reprehensibly during the primary. . . ." Navarrette also asserts that because Latino support for Obama was critical for his victory, "they deserve better" than the "parting gift" of Secretary of Commerce -- the position Richardson has accepted.

Although Navarrette passionately criticized Obama's decision to pick Clinton as Secretary of State, he has taken a noticeably different approach towards GLBT and pro-choice advocates who criticize the inclusion of Rick Warren in Obama's inauguration ceremony. Navarrette argues on CNN.Com that these groups should step back and accept Obama's wishes:

This is about a president-elect, who just came off a bruising 21-month campaign, exercising his prerogative to choose whoever he wants to deliver the blessing at his inauguration. It's about -- as President-elect Obama noted this week -- Americans learning to agree to disagree without becoming disagreeable.

It's about those on the left knowing how to win and how to savor victory without giving into the impulse to attack each other. And, finally, it's about recognizing that -- for those who feel like protesting Warren's appearance -- there is an ocean's worth of bigger fish to fry.

It's interesting. Many of those raising a fuss are talking about respect, demanding respect, insisting they're not given respect, etc. Well, that works both ways. If they want respect, they have to give it. They can start by respecting the wishes of the president-elect to plan his inauguration as he sees fit.

Interesting. Navarrette's assertion that Warren's protestors should respect Obama's wishes could have even more force regarding whom he selects for his Cabinet. Because presidents works very closely with Cabinet members, they should have a high degree of discretion to choose candidates they prefer. Also, had Latinos protested Obama's "snub" of Bill Richardson as Navarrette argues they could have legitimately done, this would have constituted the very in-fighting among the Left that Navarrette now condemns. I do not see these situations as materially distinct. Am I missing something?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Embracing Uncle Good-But-Homophobic: Why "Reaching Across the Aisle" to Rick Warren Does Not Feel Safe to Everyone

Normally, I would not care about the choice of an inauguration speaker. In fact, I rarely even watch inauguration ceremonies. I am pretty sure I watched Clinton's inauguration in 1993; I am more certain that I did not watch either of the Bushes'. But the more I listen to Rick Warren's anti-gay positions and to Obama's and his supporters responses to Warren's critics, I become increasingly troubled by his role at the inauguration.

True to form, Obama defends picking Warren on the grounds that he wants to end divisions and provide a seat for everyone at the table despite differences. In the abstract, this sounds like a great operating principle. Reduced to a simplistic maxim, the argument says: "I want to reduce strife and enmity." This goal is as unassailable (and vague) as wanting to improve the quality of schools, prevent crime, and end hunger. It is one of those ideas that people of all political perspectives can embrace, at least in the abstract.

But one's ability to feel safe extending his or her arm across the metaphorical aisle depends upon the level of vulnerability that person experiences in society. For some people, forging a particular link could feel dangerous rather than noble.

Consider, for example, the many ways Obama could have used the moment of his inauguration to reach out to people who do not share his stated viewpoints. Instead of picking Warren, Obama could have chosen one of the many otherwise benevolent ministers who believe that "a woman's place is in the home" or who subscribe to conservative views on race and racial justice. If Obama had invited an outspoken opponent of racial and gender equality to speak at his inauguration, the choice would have raised outcry from a broader share of the population. And knowing that Aretha Franklin would entertain the masses after a racist opened the ceremony would not provide sufficient cover. The two things do not cancel out each other.

I am also certain that many of the white liberal heterosexual males who have rushed to defend Warren would likely have taken a different view if the choice undermined their own comfort level. Suppose Obama had picked Minister Louis Farrakhan instead of Warren. Farrakhan, like Warren, has engaged in outreach to poor people. Nonetheless, many of Warren's defenders would probably view Farrakhan, who has made insensitive comments regarding whites and Jews (and gays), as a substantial departure from Obama's message of "change." Because Warren's ideological positions do not threaten the well being of most white heterosexuals, however, many of them view gay and lesbian criticism as mere "whining." But this is a classic response to criticism by disparaged social groups.

Ultimately, Obama's positions on gay and lesbian rights matter much more than Warren's five minutes of fame. But if Obama's election warrants celebration and attention due to its symbolism, then Warren's role at the inauguration matters (although less significantly) due to its message as well. Warren, to use the analogy Obama applied to Reverend Wright, represents the nice, caring and giving uncle who, during family meals, makes "interesting" arguments about gay rights, such as the assertion that same-sex marriage is the moral equivalent of incest, statutory rape and polygamy. Most of the family tries to downplay the comments by remaining silent or rapidly changing the subject, but the gay or lesbian person at the table cringes in discomfort. Although Uncle Good-But-Homophobic has offended the very essence of the gay family member, the rest of the table demands silence for the "greater good."

Warren's defenders are playing the role of the straight family members who enable the homophobic (or racist or sexist) uncle. They are asking GLBT people to look at the bigger picture and to accept a good guy with troubling politics because there is room at the table for everyone. Perhaps this is the best course of action. But these types of deals ultimately require that some groups make sacrifices not shared by the whole. The stakes become even greater and more volatile when the situation involves concrete policy and not mere symbolism. I cannot stop wondering whether Warren's defenders would demand the same type of sacrifices by other groups -- or whether they would make the same sacrifices themselves.

Related Readings on Dissenting Justice:

The Fallacy of Obama's "Diversity" Defense: Rick Warren's Views Already Have a Place at the Table

New Obama Drama: GLBT Groups Upset That Rev. Rick Warren Speaking at Inauguration

Reactions to Reverend Rick Warren from My Blogger Buddies

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Hold Your Breath

Stonewalling on Don't Ask, Don't Tell? No Action Until 2010

Robert Gates as Obama's Secretary of Defense: "More of the Same" for Gay Rights?

Progressives Awaken from Obama-Vegetative State

Would Obama Have Won If He Were Black...and Gay?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Reactions to Reverend Rick Warren from My Blogger Buddies

I started a link list in my post on the Reverend Rick Warren controversy, but some of the arguments are so passionate and precise that they warrant special attention. For example, check out my "pal" Professor Nan Hunter's response on her blog Hunter of Justice:

Your election is over, pal. You won't lose any votes next time over this, but do you really believe you're going to gain any?

[]I know what you're banking on - the appeal to Americans of the anti-ideologue, the leader who solves problems, who "reaches across the aisle." But when principles are important, the public also wants a leader who has a few, who stands for something, who isn't constantly trying to please and accommodate.

I am reminded of one of Barney Frank's quips from a speech I heard him give a couple of weeks ago: "Every time Obama talks about post-partisan politics, I get post-partisan depression."

[]Historians may . . . compare your moves on this issue to how FDR mollified white racists in order to get his New Deal legislation through Congress. . . but . . . at least we got the New Deal.

What will we get from you?

[Editor's note: Strong words, Professor Hunter!]

And stop by new blog buddy Christal Phillips at the blog that shares her name. Phillips, who has a highly impressive resume (B.A. from Michigan in 2005, J.D. from Michigan in 2008, currently enrolled in Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism!), does not waste any time before dissecting this issue:

This election year has proven that it is easier for Obama to stand for nothing or remain silent on controversial issues such as gay marriage and affirmative action (because the majority of gays, women, and minorities will support him anyway) while he garners support from right-wing moderates and Libertarians.

Remaining silent is bad enough. But to invite someone like Warren to this historic inauguration speaks volumes about Obama’s commitment to GLBT rights. To allow someone like Jon Favreau to keep his job speaks volumes about Obama’s commitment to women’s rights. Until Democrats hold our leaders accountable things like this will continue because they know they can get away with it and still win.
[Editors note: I disagree with calls for Favreau to resign or for Obama to fire him, because I take my cues from Clinton on this one. I agree with everything else Phillips argues.]

And Heidi Li (both Li and Hunter teach at Georgetown Law Center) of Heidi Li's Potpourri offers a response right here on Dissenting Justice:

By choosing a clergymember whose views are homophobic Mr. Obama is affiliating himself with those views. I know Mr. Obama claims that having other clergy who are not homophobic sort of cancels out the affiliation, but that isn't how it works when it comes to affiliating oneself with haters. . . . Suppose we grant that not everything Strom Thurmond ever did was bad; he was still, in my view, irredeemable, because of the virulence of his racism against blacks. In general Mr. Obama shows an alarming tendency to think that everything is ethically equal - so one can balance keeping Bob Gates in office by making some other appointments of people who opposed the war in Iraq. But that is not how good ethical judgment works.
[Editor's note: See my response to Li in the comments section.]

Related Readings on Dissenting Justice:

The Fallacy of Obama's "Diversity" Defense: Rick Warren's Views Already Have a Place at the Table

New Obama Drama: GLBT Groups Upset That Rev. Rick Warren Speaking at Inauguration

Embracing Uncle Good-But-Homophobic: Why "Reaching Across the Aisle" to Rick Warren Does Not Feel Safe to Everyone

Absolutely Shocking News Alert!

Time Magazine has named Barack Obama person of the year. How does Time Magazine keep surprising us every year? Amazing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New Obama Drama: GLBT Groups Upset That Rev. Rick Warren Speaking at Inauguration

During the brief post-election season, critics have had many opportunities to problematize Obama's leftist credentials. Progressives, seemingly awakening from an Obama-Vegetative State, have complained about his Cabinet choices, his shifting position on war, and his decision to delay raising taxes on the wealthy and upon oil companies. In the latest progressive flap, GLBT rights groups are upset with Obama's decision to have Reverend Rick Warren perform the invocation at his inauguration ceremony.

Warren's conservative views on gay rights (and other issues) should alarm progressives. For example, he is an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage, and he campaigned in favor of California Proposition 8 (a state constitutional amendment that defines marriage in heterosexual terms). When asked to explain his objection to same-sex marriage during an interview, Warren responded that he also opposes incestuous marriage, marriage between adults and children, and polygamy. He later said that he views all of these "relationships," including same-sex marriage, as moral equivalents.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest advocate for gay and lesbian rights, has sent an "open letter" to Obama, complaining about Warren speaking at the inauguration. Ironically, in 2006, many members of Warren's conservative congregation criticized his decision to invite Obama to speak at the church where he serves as a minister. Specifically, congregants disagreed with Obama's pro-choice voting record.

My Analysis

There are a few points I want to make about this issue. First, although I have condemned the unseemly desire of the public to project itself into the private religious lives of political candidates, this case is distinguishable. This situation does not represent a moment where the public has unnecessarily scrutinized Obama's private religious beliefs. Instead, Obama himself has made his religious practice public (to the extent that selecting a minister to participate in the inauguration constitutes "religious practice") and therefore subject to public scrutiny.

If you think I am "waffling," then so be it. Besides, I am analyzing the issue primarily from a political perspective. At the end of the day, I am far more interested in how Obama views GLBT rights issues, not in whom he chooses to speak at the inauguration. Unfortunately, I am already skeptical about his support for gay rights.

Second (here is the political analysis), I am not sure why Obama believes this is a good move politically. Although it is certainly consistent with his "reaching across the aisle" philosophy, many GLBT people are already suspicious of his support. The doubting started during the Democratic primaries, when he campaigned with "ex-gay" gospel singer Donnie McClurkin. Also, it has become increasingly clear that repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell will not become a priority until late in his presidency, if at all (see my analysis here, here, and here). Furthermore, because Warren played such a visible role in the defeat of same-sex marriage in California, his inclusion in the inauguration ceremony will only exacerbate the perceived vulnerability of GLBT people.

Finally, I hate to say it (not really), but "I told you so." GLBT activists remained silent while all of the leading Democratic candidates, including Obama, took moderate-to-conservative positions on sexual orientation issues, especially same-sex marriage. Obama and Warren have both stated that they oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds. It seems more than a little inconsistent for HRC to condemn Warren's presence at the inauguration when his views on the morality of same-sex marriage are materially indistinct from Obama's. In fact, Obama's opposition should bother HRC even more than Warren's because Obama occupies the highest position of political power in the country, while Warren is simply a minister who lacks the power to promulgate public policy. If the Left wanted to engage in critical inquiry concerning Obama and sexuality, it should have done so at a much earlier point. Instead, a lot of them simply gave him a pass.

Related Readings on Dissenting Justice:

Rick Warren versus Don Imus: Obama's Inconsistent Positions

The Fallacy of Obama's "Diversity" Defense: Rick Warren's Views Already Have a Place at the Table

Embracing Uncle Good-But-Homophobic: Why "Reaching Across the Aisle" to Rick Warren Does Not Feel Safe to Everyone

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Hold Your Breath

Stonewalling on Don't Ask, Don't Tell? No Action Until 2010

Robert Gates as Obama's Secretary of Defense: "More of the Same" for Gay Rights?

Progressives Awaken from Obama-Vegetative State

Would Obama Have Won If He Were Black...and Gay?
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