Sunday, December 28, 2008

Prelude To 2009 by Anthony McCarthy

Some people who have read my posts here might come to the conclusion that I’m what’s called a “centrist” due to my insistence that we should work for what’s possible in the near future instead of insisting on having what we really want right now. I reject that analysis. Making progress in real life, changing life for the better has to be the acid test of all parts of leftist politics. Placing an abstract ideal over the fact of what really happens is often an impediment to making that change. Those “leftist” positions are empty and futile.

The facts of our politics mean that the change we can manage and secure will be incremental, not whole hog. Living in a rural, blue-collar milieu, it’s clear to me that those increments can make an enormous difference in peoples’ lives and in the environment we all depend on. And the less money you’ve got, the bigger that change will seem. From here it is also clear that some of the most insistent “all or nothing” purists are economically or geographically comfortable enough so any resultant stagnation and retrenchment in reaction to their loud instance on doing what’s not presently impossible, isn’t going to inconvenience them in any basic way. I’ve written tens of thousands of words on that theme.

But at the bottom of it all is what would be taken as a pretty radical program. I’m a socialist, a leveler - probably the most radical of all political positions, an absolutist on issues of equality and justice. I favor a national, single payer, health system, universal free education including college and post graduate education and an absolute separation between church and state. I have noticed that my ultimate goal is often far too radical for many of those who have accused me of wishy-washy centrism. Those are all aspects of public life which the government could make happen on the basis of laws and policies. Those changes through the law are the most possible to achieve.

It’s a radical program in personal relations, those parts of life outside of the reach of government and the law, which will be the hardest to achieve. You have to change peoples minds and hearts to do that, you can’t achieve that by legislation or even court rulings.

This being a feminist blog, me being a radical, gay man writing for it, many of the issues we deal with are at the intersection of private and public life, the intersection of the law and how we govern our daily lives. That meeting of the two makes the problems we deal with far more difficult to understand and to develop programs for getting change. You can’t legislate much of what is at the heart of the oppression of women and gay people, some of it you can. I often have found that my thinking on these topics needed to pass through the filter of what can be the subject of the law and what can’t be. There’s nothing you can do about someone who is determined to hate you because of your gender or sexual orientation, you can, however, outlaw their discrimination in public accommodations on that basis.

You can go only so far in pressing even those legislated rights, especially for those of us who lack federal protections of our legal equality. In many states in the country, gay people can be legally discriminated against in a whole range of areas exactly BECAUSE they are gay. We do not have equal rights to straight people in any state simply because what rights we have in some places are not portable through out the country. The courts have been unwilling to assert our federal equality and until some of the five bigots sitting on the Supreme Court are replaced with Justices, that is not going to happen. That is simply the way it is. And, as seen in California, the finality of Supreme Court rulings is far from a sure thing. In the end it will be changing the majority of peoples votes that firmly secure our equality. That is something I’ve also pointed out continually.

Frank Rich’s column yesterday is one of the best I’ve read on Barack Obama’s Rick Warren invitation. I agree with a lot of it, including his points about Obama’s personal flaw of hubris. But I have a lot of faith in his ability to learn from mistakes and to admit when he is wrong. I frimly believe that Barack Obama will produce some positive change forward in areas where the government has been going backwards for most of our lives. I believe he will overturn “Don’t Ask”, he will overturn many of the policies that have harmed the lives of women and gay people and others. He will try to change laws that restrict our rights and impede our progress. But don’t expect him to try to do what is not possible. He certainly noticed what happened in California with prop 8, that it was able to pass in CALIFORNIA! is strong evidence that equally available gay marriage is not a possibility now. How fast it becomes possible is not a matter that can be predicted. If California isn’t ready to make the leap, the country isn’t. Does anyone really believe that it is realistic to insist on having it now? Why should anyone who denies the evidence in front of us be taken seriously? Wanting it isn’t going to make it happen, making gay marriage the make or break issue for the Obama administration will result in whatever vehemently anti-gay, anti-feminist figures the Republicans put up in 2010 and 2012 gaining office and driving the country into reverse again.

Getting what we can get AND CAN KEEP is the really radical stand on the issue of gay rights. Building on progress is the real way to get closer to the presently unattainable goal. That progress improves lives now and gains us support to make even more progress. Any progress is more radical than regression. I’m not willing to exchange what can be in the next four years for what isn’t going to be in the same period of time. I’m not willing to defer equal public accommodations, employment rights, housing rights, for all gay people and in a futile attempt to insist on the immediate provision of a right that, even in Massachusetts, isn’t exercised by most of those who can marry there now. That position, which would improve the rights of millions of gay people now, is the more genuinely leftist position. I do favor marriage rights and civil unions for consenting adults of all gender orientation where they can be obtained now. Civil union should also be available to adults who wish to form a household but who have no intention of having a sexual relationship. Those people who choose or reject civil unions are the best judge on whether or not they consider it beneath their dignity to enter into. They should feel under no obligation to defer whatever rights they can exercise on the say so of someone unconnnected with them.

I don’t like Rick Warren, I don’t find his religiosity authentic or sincere. It looks like materialism in a robe to me. There are a lot of people who disagree with me, which is their right. I’m willing to lodge my objection and wait for the executive orders and legislation. I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes apparent that Barack Obama has a reason for inviting Warren that might, might, further progressive legislation. The invitation was clearly going to provoke a strong reaction from many of us who supported Obama and whose support he and the Democrats will need. I’ve heard stories about Obama being a great poker player. My guess, this is something we won’t fully understand till the cards are on the table.