Stretching the Possible

For too long our leaders have used politics as the art of the possible. And the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible, possible.

— Hillary Rodham, Wellesley commencement speech (1969)

This week’s featured post is: “The 2016 Stump Speeches: Hillary Clinton“.

This week everybody was talking about Sandra Bland

Unsurprisingly, Larry Wilmore has it right: We don’t know why Bland wound up dead — so far the evidence seems to back the original story of suicide, which raises the next question of what happened to her in jail — but we have the dashcam video of the arrest, and it’s messed up.

The video validates a lot of what the black community has believed about the recent series of high-profile black deaths at-the-hands-of or in-the-custody-of police: While Sandra isn’t as meek and mild as she might be, it is the officer who consistently escalates the situation, until he is waving a taser in the face of a woman who is doing nothing more threatening than sitting in her car, smoking a cigarette, and asking why she’s being detained. As Wilmore points out: It is the officer who is supposed to be the professional. He is the one who sees this situation every day, and whose behavior should be judged by a higher standard.

The question everyone ought to be asking is: How typical is this behavior among police in general, and particularly among police dealing with black people?

Salon‘s Brittney Cooper writes:

On three occasions I have given “attitude” to police, asked questions about unfair harassment and citations, and let the officers know that I didn’t agree with how they were doing their jobs. I have never threatened an officer or refused an order. But I have vigorously exercised my right to ask questions and to challenge improper shows of force.

I have had the police threaten to billyclub me, write unfair tickets, and otherwise make public spaces less safe, rather than more safe, for me to inhabit, all out of a clear lust for power. On the wrong day, I could have been Sandra Bland.

… Black people, of every station, live everyday just one police encounter from the grave. Looking back over my encounters with police, it’s truly a wonder that I’m still in the land of the living.

Am I supposed to be grateful for that? Are we supposed to be grateful each and every time the police don’t kill us?

There is a way that white people in particular treat Black people, as though we should be grateful to them — grateful for jobs in their institutions, grateful to live in their neighborhoods, grateful that they aren’t as racist as their parents and grandparents, grateful that they pay us any attention, grateful that they acknowledge our humanity (on the rare occasions when they do), grateful that they don’t use their formidable power to take our lives.

Everyone melted at the quick forgiveness that relatives of his victims offered to Dylan Roof. But Sandra’s mom reacted with the kind of anger I think most of us would feel: “Once I put this baby in the ground, I’m ready. This means war.”

When violence broke out in Ferguson and Baltimore, many whites were mystified. They could get a clue from the season opener of AMC’s Hell on Wheels, particularly the scene where ex-slave-owner Cullen Bohannon warns his bosses on the railroad that the abuse of the Chinese workers will lead to trouble. “Sooner or later,” he says, “a beat dog’s gonna bite.”

and Clinton’s emails

What initially looked like a smoking gun now looks gross journalistic incompetence on the part of The New York Times. This is kind of typical. For decades, opposition research has generated a continual haze of mistrust around Hillary, but when you look back at the accusations after they’ve been investigated, there’s nothing there.

a Louisiana shooting and new details in the Chattanooga shooting

These days you can’t tell the mass shootings without a scorecard. The Chattanooga shooting is confusing the media, because the shooter is a Muslim, but he fits the disturbed-young-man frame more than the ISIS-inspired-terrorist frame.

Thursday we had another theater shooting, this one in Lafayette, Louisiana. Governor Jindal said that “now is not the time” to discuss gun control, and Donald Trump assured the public that “this has nothing to do with guns”.

and Medicare

Jeb Bush has his brother’s knack for mis-turning a phrase, so he drew a lot of attention when he called for “phasing out” Medicare. He walked that back a little, but Paul Waldman pulls the context together on WaPo’s Plum Line blog.

Bush’s choice of words made headlines, but his likely position is in the Republican mainstream: Medicare’s costs are going out of control, so it will eventually be bankrupt. So it needs to be replaced with a cost-controlled voucher plan like the one Paul Ryan proposed a few years ago.

Waldman makes two important points: First, that while Republicans use cost as an argument to do away with Medicare as we know it, they oppose any attempt to control costs within Medicare.

For instance, they’re adamantly opposed to comparative effectiveness research, which involves looking at competing treatments and seeing which ones actually work better.

Also, private insurance has far higher overhead costs than Medicare, so privatization would push costs up, not down. Government could save money for itself by limiting the size of the voucher, but that would just shift the higher costs to the individual.

Kevin Drum points out that under the most recent projections, it wouldn’t really be that hard to maintain both Social Security and Medicare as they currently exist.

So this is what Jeb is saying: Right now the federal government spends about 20 percent of GDP. We can’t afford to increase that to 23 percent of GDP over the next 30 years. That would—what? I don’t even know what the story is here. Turn us into Greece? Require us to tax millionaires so highly they all give up and go Galt? Deprive Wall Street of lots of pension income they can use to blow up the world again?

Beats me. This whole thing is ridiculous. Over the next 30 years, we need to increase spending by 1 percent of GDP per decade. That’s it.

Jeb is absolutely right that liberals won’t “join the conversation” about gutting Medicare. Because it’s just not necessary.

and Planned Parenthood

You may have missed this if you restrict your attention to legitimate news sources, but it’s been echoing all over Fox News and the rest of the conservative bubble: Not just one, but two (!) highly-edited hidden-camera videos supposedly show Planned Parenthood officials haggling to sell organs from aborted fetuses. In response, Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail are calling for investigations and cutting off any federal funds that go to Planned Parenthood. (It’s already true that none of those funds pay for abortions. Vox details where the money goes.)

In short, it’s the James O’Keefe ACORN sting all over again. In those more innocent days, O’Keefe’s video steamrolled Congress into defunding the community-organizing group ACORN, effectively destroying it. Only later did anybody ask “What are we really seeing here?”, examine the unedited footage, and figure out that it was all a con. (O’Keefe wound up paying a $100K settlement to an ACORN employee he smeared.)

Observing the effectiveness of the tactic, Rachel Maddow wondered: “Who do you think is next on their list?” Well, now we know: Planned Parenthood.

Background: A woman who has an abortion can decide to donate the fetus to science, and the scientific groups that study those fetuses can reimburse the costs involved in preserving and delivering the fetuses to their labs. That’s all legal and well understood in the medical research community.

So anti-choice activists created a front group, the Center for Medical Progress, which registered with the IRS as something they aren’t: a “biomedicine charity”. In that guise, they talked to Planned Parenthood about obtaining tissue from aborted fetuses. The conversations were secretly video-taped — which also appears to be illegal — and the CMP actor manipulated the conversation into areas that could be re-edited to look like the Planned Parenthood officials were trying to make a profit by selling body parts. (One part that got edited out was the Planned Parenthood official saying, “nobody should be ‘selling’ tissue. That’s just not the goal here.”)

Meanwhile, the reason Republicans in Congress were able to jump on the video so quickly is that some of them had seen it weeks in advance. But none of them alerted the appropriate authorities or called for an investigation until the first video was made public. In other words, their behavior was consistent with people participating in a propaganda exercise, not an investigation of any actual law-breaking. When questioned, Rep. Tim Murphy responded like this:

Asked afterward why he and others waited until this week to take action, Murphy struggled for an answer before abruptly ending the interview with CQ Roll Call, saying he should not be quoted and remarking, “This interview didn’t happen.”

and Trump vs. McCain

It’s very tacky to disparage somebody’s military service, particularly when it involved physical suffering and loss. But let’s put this in context.

The NYT’s Timothy Egan has the GOP’s overall hypocrisy nailed:

Trump is a byproduct of all the toxic elements Republicans have thrown into their brew over the last decade or so — from birtherism to race-based hatred of immigrants, from nihilists who shut down government to elected officials who shout “You lie!” at their commander in chief. It was fine when all this crossing-of-the-line was directed at President Obama or other Democrats. But now that the ugliness is intramural, Trump has forced party leaders to decry something they have not only tolerated, but encouraged.

Trump is not some aberration, he represents the current moral state of the Republican Party. They have no cause for complaint.

and you also might be interested in …

You’ll never guess what’s happening as the EPA’s new rules to reduce the carbon emissions of power plants get closer to implementation: The disaster predicted by Republicans is nowhere on the horizon, not even in Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky. The WaPo reports:

But despite dire warnings and harsh political rhetoric, many states are already on track to meet their targets, even before the EPA formally announces them, interviews and independent studies show.

And Kevin Drum draws the lesson:

Whenever a new environmental regulation gets proposed, there’s one thing you can count on: the affected industry will start cranking out research showing that the cost of compliance is so astronomical that it will put them out of business. It happens every time. Then, when the new regs take effect anyway, guess what? It turns out they aren’t really all that expensive after all. The country gets cleaner and the economy keeps humming along normally. Hard to believe, no?

The point of regulation is to reduce what economists call externalities: real costs that the market economy ignores because they aren’t borne by either the buyer or the seller. Carbon emissions are a classic example: If burning coal in Kentucky causes a hurricane in New Jersey, the market doesn’t care. So the apparent “cheapness” of that coal-fired electricity doesn’t reflect reality; it’s an illusion of the market economy.

That’s why talk about the “cost” of regulation is usually off-base. When you look at the whole picture, good regulations don’t cost money, they save money.


It turns out there’s a downside to the computerization of cars. In Wired, Andy Greenberg reports on an experiment “Hackers Remotely Kill a Jeep on the Highway — With Me in It“.


John Kasich and Jeb Bush represent the “moderate” Republican view of climate change: It’s happening, but we shouldn’t do anything about it. The rhetoric softens, but the plan remains the same.

and let’s close with something I wish I’d thought of

Under the right circumstances, even a little white ball can play classical music.

The 2016 Stump Speeches: Hillary Clinton

We all know who she is. But who is she really?


[This is part of my series: The 2016 Stump Speeches.] Hillary Clinton’s candidacy presents a unique challenge. As a presidential campaign begins, the question in voters’ minds is usually “Who is this person?”, and a responsible journalist tries to answer it by presenting information. But the question I keep hearing about Clinton is “Who is she really?”

We are drowning in information about Hillary, but so much of it — positive and negative alike — is false. For decades her critics have been lying about her, and she has countered by presenting a series of images that aren’t completely consistent. So what should we believe about her? If we elect her, what kind of president can we reasonably expect her to be?

The speeches she’s been giving since she started campaigning are meatier, in terms of detailed policies, than just about any other candidate in the race. And I’ll get to those speeches and policies below. But it’s hard to know how to listen to her proposals until you come terms with that over-arching question: Who is she really? Those policies she’s putting forward — which ones come from the heart, and which are driven by expediency?

My Hillary reading project. To answer those questions, I decided to try to clear my mind of prior conceptions and read her books in order: It Takes a Village (1996, a book about policies related to children and families, which she illustrates with stories about her own childhood and her experiences with Bill and Chelsea, as well as stories from women she’s met all over the world), Living History (2003, about her two terms as First Lady), and Hard Choices (2014, covering her Secretary of State years).

Along the way, I found myself drawn to read two books by the reformed right-wing hack David Brock: The Seduction of Hillary Rodham (1996; this was originally intended to be a hit job prior to Bill’s re-election campaign, but it went oddly astray and became an interesting biography) and Blinded by the Right (2002, giving an insider’s view of the Arkansas Project, the “vast right-wing conspiracy” that billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife funded to dig up and publicize dirt about the Clintons).

What I was looking for in Hillary’s books was a consistent author’s voice. I believe writers always reveal more about themselves than they intend. (I worry about that sometimes.) It’s in their word choices, the tone of the stories they tell, the metaphors they use, and what topics they think flow naturally from other topics. If Hillary really wrote those books — and after reading them, I strongly believe she did — then her character must be in there somewhere, no matter what image she may have wanted to project.

Personal impressions. The simplest thing I can report after my reading project is that I like Hillary a lot more than I did when I started. When she appears on TV, she is so often either responding to an attack or anticipating one, so she seems guarded. But I think she feels much more secure when she is alone with a text (which already tells you something about her), and that’s when her self-effacing charm comes out.

She tells one story I love: Hillary knows she doesn’t sing well, so she mostly just doesn’t do it. (In her announcement speech, after she made fun of her Republican rivals by quoting lyrics from the Beatles’ “Yesterday”, she quipped: “You’re lucky I didn’t try singing that.”) But years ago she made one exception: After Chelsea was born, she sang lullabies. That stopped one day when Chelsea became old enough to put rudimentary sentences together. The toddler held up one finger and said, “No sing, Mommy.”

I also now have my own impression of her mysterious and unique relationship with Bill. Critics sometimes portray their marriage as a sham of political convenience, but I don’t think so. Bill Clinton is quite simply the most interesting person Hillary has ever met. She describes their relationship as one long conversation that started back at Yale in the 1970s and is still going. No matter what he might do, the world would be a dull place without him to talk to. For his part, I don’t think Bill would know who he was if he couldn’t see himself through her eyes. In all those infidelities, he’s never been looking for someone to replace Hillary, and if she dies first he will be devastated.

The establishment radical. As for understanding Hillary’s politics, a simple formula will take you a long way: progressive ends through pragmatic means. One of David Brock’s more interesting insights is the formative effect of her student-government years at Wellesley. Like most American colleges and universities, Wellesley changed a lot between 1965 and 1969. But unlike many other educational institutions, Wellesley stayed surprisingly peaceful through it all. Brock attributes that to Hillary’s cadre of student activists:

Hillary was able to co-opt the campus administration by calibrating student demands and winning change through the system.

He sees that experience as imprinting a paradigm of change on her: Hillary is not a revolutionary. She does not seek to overthrow the power structure, but is constantly probing to see how much the powers-that-be are willing to give up to keep the peace and stay in power. Brock labels this “establishment radicalism”.

[At Yale] Hillary took her moral bearings from the radicals, while favoring establishment tactics – precisely the formulation she had told Saul Alinsky would be most effective [when she turned down his job offer and went to law school]. This enabled her to work within the mainstream and to retain the respect and admiration of those in power.

You can hear this in her voting rights speech (see video below): “Progress is based on common ground, not scorched earth.” That’s why she won’t offer liberals red-meat rhetoric about “the bankers” or “the billionaire class”. They represent a power center she hopes to negotiate concessions from, not battle to the death.

The establishment-radical paradigm got reinforced by her biggest failure: healthcare reform. Not only did HillaryCare not become law, she was blamed for the 1994 Democratic rout that made Newt Gingrich the Speaker of the House. She learned her lesson: Push the powers that be too far, or get too far out in front of the country, and you’ll be slapped down.

You can see that cautious vision at work in her account of the Arab Spring uprisings: She presents herself (in Hard Choices) as the hesitant voice in the administration (compared to Obama’s idealism; this is one of the rare instances where she portrays herself out of harmony with Obama). Pushing tyrants like Mubarak to liberalize was right up her alley, but seeing them overthrown by young activists who offered no political program or organization to replace them made her very uneasy. (You can tell she feels vindicated by how things have played out.)

Half a loaf. That pragmatism often causes her to champion half-a-loaf policies when in her heart she still wants the whole loaf, or even to accept a step backwards to prevent a longer slide. You can see that in the Clinton administration’s gay-rights record. Bill came into office wanting gays to serve openly in the military and not thinking about marriage equality at all. He ended up with don’t-ask-don’t-tell and the Defense of Marriage Act — two policies both he and Hillary supported repealing in more recent years. But by supporting those compromises he avoided measures that would have been harder to reverse, like a federal marriage amendment. Through DADT and DOMA, the door to progress stayed ajar until the political climate changed.

It is both a strength and a weakness that Hillary never floats a pie-in-the-sky vision. Behind every Clinton proposal is the judgment: I think we could really do this.

Ironically, one of the best criticisms of that approach comes from the young Hillary Rodham, in the commencement speech she gave to her graduating class at Wellesley in 1969:

For too long our leaders have used politics as the art of the possible. And the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible, possible.

If I could fix one thing about Hillary’s current rhetorical style, I would add a dash of dream-the-impossible-dream.

Hillary as Wellesley’s first student commencement speaker. Is that young woman still in there somewhere?

The wonk-in-chief. The other big thing to understand about Hillary is that she’s a wonk, a technocrat. She believes that smart people can figure things out, and that simple ideological solutions are often wrong. The most from-the-heart line in her economic policy speech was:

And, please, let’s get back to making decisions that rely on evidence more than ideology.

I don’t think she believes in ideology. Here’s what I mean by that: What’s real to her are people and the situations of their lives. (That comes through most clearly in It Takes a Village.) Ideologies are abstractions, and while abstractions can be handy tools for thinking things through, they aren’t real in the same way that people are real.

Worse, ideologies exaggerate conflict and hide agreement. My ideology may directly contradict yours, but when we get down to cases and start looking at individuals, very often we might want the same things for them. That’s how she can negotiate with the Iranians and make deals with insurance companies: If we can get down to cases and then create new abstractions from them, maybe we agree on principles that weren’t part of our prior ideologies.

But that approach demands a respect for facts and the real world. Her own respect for such expertise runs deep and traces all the way back to being a girl of the Mad Men era (just a few years older than Sally Draper) hoping to go places women had never been. Being smart and working hard to master the details of a subject was young Hillary’s claim to a place in the Man’s World. She knows that when expertise is disregarded, that’s when prejudice and old-boys’ networks and all the other defensive mechanisms of the status quo have free rein.

She has a wonkish sense of integrity that is easy to overlook: In the three speeches discussed below, every idea comes with either a proposal to implement it, or a promise that such proposals will come later. That discipline won’t let her indulge in the sweeping rhetoric that you’ll hear from other candidates to her left and right. Bernie Sanders can promise to break up the big banks. But in Clinton’s economic speech, you can almost hear her unspoken thoughts on that: What we really ought to be doing is getting the irresponsible risk out of the banking system, and while the too-big-to-fail banks are part of that, there are sometimes bigger risks in “the shadow-banking system, including hedge funds, high-frequency traders, non-bank finance companies; so many new kinds of entities, which receive little oversight at all.” She anticipates her future proposal, where she may have to give a little on the big banks in order to get the risk-reduction she wants.

That wonkish integrity may have cost her the presidency in 2008. She and Obama had very similar half-a-loaf healthcare plans, because neither dared to come out for the single-payer system that I suspect both would prefer. But once committed to her plan, she refused to misrepresent it: Obama pretended he could implement his plan without the unpopular individual mandate, but Clinton would not say that.

She’ll compromise in constructing her proposals, but once she has a plan she takes pride in it and won’t distort it.

But can I trust her? Just this week, we saw another example of what I’m coming to see as the standard pattern: The NYT had a BIG story: Two State Department inspectors general had asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into possible misuse of classified information in Clinton’s emails as Secretary of State. After dodging the bullets of countless scandals in the past, maybe this one would finally nail her.

Except … well, it wasn’t actually a criminal investigation. They had to issue a correction about that. And it wasn’t specifically targeted at Secretary Clinton. Another correction. And a Newsweek journalist who got hold of the same documents says even the corrected NYT story misinterpreted the whole thing. He concluded: “the piece is wrong in all of its implications and in almost every particular related to the inspector generals’ conclusions.”

In short, the big story has evaporated, leaving behind no specific accusation, but a general impression that Clinton must have done something wrong. That’s the pattern. The only atypical thing about this “scandal” is that it fell apart so quickly. If you take a post-investigation look at everything from Whitewater to Benghazi, there’s nothing there. But the overall effect is to shroud Hillary’s public image in a general haze of distrust.

Compare this to the residual cloud of pseudo-scandals that hangs over President Obama: his birth certificate, death panels, Fast & Furious, using the IRS to target the Tea Party, stealing our guns, plotting to invade Texas, and so on. By the Obama administration, most liberals had caught on to the right-wing attack machine, and the way it can sometimes co-opt “liberal” media like the NYT. So we shrug off those Obama stories. But your conservative friends and relatives are sure there must be a fire somewhere under all that smoke. But the attacks on Hillary started in a more trusting era, so her cloud seems more real.

Sometimes I hear this question: Given that Hillary carries this baggage, can’t Democrats nominate a ticket doesn’t have such a cloud hanging over it? Sure. It’s simple: Find candidates so perfect that the opposition can’t even lie about them. Good luck with that.

Now let’s look at the campaign speeches.

The Announcement Speech. [Transcript. Video.]

Announcement speeches are always sited in symbolic places. The choice of Roosevelt Island outside of New York City sends several messages: First, Hillary is running as herself, the former Senator from New York. If she had wanted to run as Bill’s wife, she’d have announced at the Clinton Library in Little Rock.

Second, as she points out in the speech, you can see the new World Trade Center from there. She’s acknowledging that we’re in a post-9-11 world, and she’s identifying with the collective heroism of New York City. But she’s also sending the message that New York isn’t stuck in 2001; it remembers, but it’s getting on with its life. America should do the same.

But finally, and most important, Roosevelt Island indicates that she’s running as a Democrat and claiming the heritage of the Democratic Party as it was remade by Franklin Roosevelt. The Republican nominee will have to run away from both the obstructionist Republican Congress and the disastrous legacy of George W. Bush. (That’s why Jeb Bush’s logo just says “Jeb!”.) But Hillary is confidently invoking the legacies of both President Obama and President Clinton. In the Economics speech she says:

Twice now in the past 20 years, a Democratic president has had to come in and clean up the mess left behind. I think the results speak for themselves.

In this speech, she ties the failure of those two Bush presidencies to ideas Republicans are still pushing.

We’re still working our way back from a crisis that happened because time-tested values were replaced by false promises. Instead of an economy built by every American for every American, we were told that if we let those at the top pay lower taxes and bend the rules, their success would trickle down to everyone else.

She recalls FDR’s historic “Four Freedoms” speech, and organizes her own speech around another set of four:

If you give me the chance, I’ll wage and win four fights for you.

Those fights are:

  • To make the economy work for everyday Americans, not just those at the top. More about this in the economic speech. But the key point is: “Growth and fairness go together. For lasting prosperity, you can’t have one without the other.”
  • To strengthen America’s families. Here you can see my point about ideology. When Republicans talk about “strengthening the family”, they mean an archetype of family: heterosexual Mom and Dad married once-and-for-all-time, raising their biological children in a house down the street from their Christian church. But Hillary is talking about the actual families that live in America: households of people related in all sorts of ways, who are struggling to get by and to achieve their full potential.
  • To maintain America’s leadership for peace, security, and prosperity. This part would fit in most Republican speeches, minus the endorsement of diplomacy. Most of my disagreements with Clinton are in defense and anti-terrorism, but I have to admit she is probably more in tune with the country than I am.
  • To reform our government and democracy so that it works for everyday Americans. More on this in the voting-rights speech, where she goes into detail about fighting the Republican efforts to suppress voting. But there’s also campaign finance reform: “We have to stop the endless flow of secret, unaccountable money that is distorting our elections, corrupting our political process, and drowning out the voices of our people. We need justices on the Supreme Court who will protect every citizen’s right to vote rather than every corporations right to buy elections. If necessary I will support a constitutional amendment to undo the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United.”

The Economics Speech. [Transcript. Video.]

The basic principle is unchanged since Bill’s presidency: “If you work hard and do your part, you should be able to get ahead.” Hillary describes this as the “basic bargain” of our society.

The most fundamental liberal/conservative battle of frames revolves around who the poor are. Republicans push a Makers vs. Takers frame, in which the poor are moochers. A government safety net should keep them from dying in the streets, but leave them miserable enough that they will get off their asses and work. As Paul Ryan put it: “We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.”

When that frame takes hold, Democrats lose: We become the people who want to tax away your hard-earned money and give it to the moochers, who could succeed if they tried, but don’t bother because life in the government hammock is too pleasant.

In the Democratic frame, the poor do work hard, but life at the bottom of society is so arduous that it’s difficult to do more than survive day-to-day. If we want poor people to invest effort in building a future for themselves and their children, we need to make their lives a little easier, and check that the uphill roads we expect them to travel are still open.

The Clintons have specialized in co-opting Republican rhetoric, as in the “work hard” above. Here’s another example:

I firmly believe that the best anti-poverty program is a job. But that’s hard to say if there aren’t enough jobs for people that we’re trying to help lift themselves out of poverty.

She steals Republican rhetoric around “growth” and organizes her own economic proposals around three themes: strong growth, fair growth, and long-term growth.

Hillary critiques the Republican growth prescription like this:

For 35 years, Republicans have argued that if we give more wealth to those at top by cutting their taxes and letting big corporations write their own rules, it will trickle down, it will trickle down to everyone else. Yet every time they have a chance to try that approach, it explodes the national debt, concentrates wealth even more, and does practically nothing to help hard-working Americans.

Her view is that strong growth depends on a large and vibrant middle class. “Inequality is a drag on our economy.” So anything that blocks people’s rise into the middle class is a growth problem. So her growth agenda involves equal pay for women, legal status for immigrants, and child care for working parents. It also requires investment in productivity by both the private and public sectors. The tax code should encourage private investment (and discourage moving jobs overseas), and government should finance an “infrastructure bank” to build and maintain airports, roads, a better electrical grid, and world-class internet (which we don’t have now). And it requires encouragement of the clean energy sources we’ll need in the future.

These investments will create millions of jobs, save us money in the long run and help us meet the threats of climate change.

Making “strong” and “fair” separate points is really more rhetoric than substance, because she believes they go together:

You can’t have one without the other. We can’t create enough jobs and new businesses without more growth, and we can’t build strong families and support our consumer economy without more fairness. We need both.

The fairness part of the speech covers increasing the minimum wage. (She hasn’t committed to a national $15 rate, which I see as a combination of her wonkishness and commitment to political possibility. As a wonk, she knows that the minimum wage should vary according to the local cost of living. A $15 rate probably won’t hurt employment in big cities, but in rural Iowa it might. So politically, $15 is not the hill she wants to die on.) Also: encouraging unions and profit sharing, defending and “enhancing” Social Security, shifting more of the tax burden back onto the rich, setting “a high bar on trade agreements” (though she still hasn’t taken a clear position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership), and “seeing every 4-year-old in America have access to high quality pre-school in the next 10 years.” She promises more specific proposals on student debt and K-12 education in a later speech.

The long-term growth portion of the speech focuses on Wall Street, whose focus on quick profits through financial manipulation is largely responsible for the collapse of 2007-2008.

To the extent that such behavior was criminal, she wants to prosecute it:

There can be no justification or tolerance for this kind of criminal behavior. And while institutions have paid large fines and in some cases admitted guilt, too often it has seemed that the human beings responsible get off with limited consequences or none at all, even when they’ve already pocketed the gains. This is wrong, and on my watch it will change. … Too big to fail is still too big a problem … and we will prosecute individuals as well as firms when they commit fraud or other criminal wrong-doing.

She wants to defend the Dodd-Frank reforms, get more of a regulatory handle on “the shadow banking system”, provide tax credits for businesses that invest in their workers, and reform the capital gains tax to encourage more long-term investment. (The details of that came out later.)

The Voting Rights Speech. [Transcript. Video.]

We have a responsibility to say clearly and directly what’s really going on in our country. Because what is happening is a sweeping effort to disempower and disenfranchise people of color, poor people, and young people from one end of our country to the other. … I call on Republicans at all levels of government, with all manner of ambition, to stop fear-mongering about a phantom epidemic of election fraud and start explaining why they’re so scared of letting citizens have their say.

… We need a Supreme Court that cares more about protecting the right to vote of a person than the right to buy an election of a corporation.

Proposals:

  • Repair the Voting Rights Act to restore the pre-clearance procedures thrown out by the Supreme Court.
  • Expand absentee voting and vote-by-mail.
  • Ensure that no one should ever have to wait more than 30 minutes to cast a vote.
  • At least 20 days of in-person early voting, including weekend and evening hours.
  • Universal, automatic voter registration when people turn 18, unless they opt out.

What Clinton has going for her. In resume terms, Hillary Clinton is one of the best qualified candidates ever. She had an unofficial-but-central role in her husband’s governorship and presidency. She served eight years in the Senate, and four as Secretary of State. (I recommend Hard Choices as a world tour of American policy. It’s organized by region, so you get a country-by-country review of America’s foreign relations during Obama’s first term. By the time you’re finished, you’ll probably know more about America’s challenges abroad than most Republican presidential candidates do.)

But experience is only a face-card in politics if you know how to play it. John McCain could never make it work against Obama, primarily because McCain always seemed like the one more likely to make some rash, spur-of-the-moment decision. I think Hillary will know how to use it, particularly against a national neophyte like Bush or Walker. In debates, she’ll spring the proper I-was-there story about Putin or Bin Laden at just the right moment, and it will be effective.

Where I wish for more. The progressive case against Hillary is that the current crisis doesn’t call for making the best deal possible with the powers that be, it calls for revolutionary change. Wall Street, the fossil fuel companies, the billionaires buying our elections — that whole power structure has to go. Just changing course from center-right to center-left won’t save our economy, our society, or the planet.

In foreign policy and defense, she is too identified with what Glenn Greenwald calls the National Security State. I don’t think she’ll start another Iraq War, but the drone wars in Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan, and other countries would continue. And I don’t see her reining in the surveillance of the NSA.

The trick that I don’t think either Bill or Hillary (or Obama) ever mastered was how to take the half-loaf while continuing to raise energy behind the full-loaf vision we really need. Bill Clinton showed how to minimize the damage of the conservative consensus that formed during the Reagan years, but he never reversed it or inspired a new liberal consensus. Neither has Obama, and I’m skeptical that Hillary will either.

At the same time, I think the progressive ire and distrust towards Hillary that I see on my Facebook feed is overblown. She negotiates and constructs compromises — with Iran, with Wall Street, whoever — that’s who she is. It’s a trait, not a flaw.

We could do a lot worse in our next president, and if we don’t elect her I suspect we probably will. But is that a good enough reason to support policies — like drones — that I think are huge mistakes?

So the question boomerangs back to me: Can I take half a loaf in a president? And if I do, can I keep reaching for more later?

The Monday Morning Teaser

As some of you have noticed, the 2016 Stump Speeches series has stalled. The reason is simple: Next up was Hillary Clinton, and that article turned into a bigger project than any of the others.

Here’s why: For most candidates, what needs to get covered is “Who is this person?” and “What is he (or she) saying?” But for Clinton, the problem isn’t that we don’t know enough about her, it’s that we know too much and don’t know how to sort it out. The questions I keep hearing about Hillary amount to: “Who is she really?” and “Can I trust the things she’s saying? How much of it is her heart really in?”

Those are tougher questions, and required more work than just fact-checking a speech. I decided to attack them by reading all her books — well, I skipped the one about the White House pets — plus a couple of others that seemed relevant. I was hoping to find themes that stayed constant through the years. And more than that, I was hoping I could start hearing her author’s voice in my head. I realize that sounds more like channeling than journalistic analysis, but that’s what the questions seemed to require.

The project took some time, but I think it worked. You can judge for yourself later this morning. The article is unusually long, even for me, but it’s got five books and three speeches to cover. And it concerns the candidate who currently has the best chance to wind up as President of the United States. Who is she really?

I’ve still got a lot of editing to do, but I’m hoping to have that out by 9 EDT, or maybe 10. The weekly summary should follow a couple of hours later.

Short Supply

By easing tensions with Cuba and now Iran, President Obama is “recklessly squandering America’s precious supply of enemies,” the leader of a conservative think tank said on Tuesday.

— Andy Borowitz “Obama Squandering America’s Precious Supply of Enemies

This week’s featured articles are “Trump is the New Palin” and “So What About Polygamy Anyway?“. The previous featured post “You Don’t Have Hate Anybody to be a Bigot” has sprinted out to become the third most popular post in Sift history, with over 90K views in its first two weeks. It’s been creeping up on 100K in a Zeno-like fashion.

This week everybody was talking about the deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program

The criticisms of the deal are all basically of the form: “I would have dictated harsher terms to Iran.” The problem is that sovereign nations don’t let you dictate terms to them. If you want that kind of power, you’ll have to win it in war. Unless and until you do that, you’ll have to accept outcomes less appealing than the ones you would have dictated.

So the right question isn’t: “Does this agreement give us everything we want?” but “Is there any better alternative?” The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg — in a roundtable with David Frum and Peter Beinart — summarizes:

I put great stock—sorry, David—in the argument that opponents of this deal should be forced to come up with a better alternative. I haven’t come up with anything. I do think, in the absence of a deal, we would be looking at an Iran soon at the threshold, or at a military operation to delay the moment when Iran could cross the threshold. (Delay, not defeat, because three things would happen in the event of an American military strike: Sanctions would crumble; Russia would become Iran’s partner; and the ayatollahs would have their predicate to justify a rush to the bomb. Only more bombing could stop them, and then, of course, we would be talking about a never-ending regional war.)

To me, it looks like the Obama administration has threaded a very difficult needle: The only reason we were able to get any concessions at all from Iran was that the administration — thanks, Secretary Clinton — assembled a global coalition around a tough set of economic sanctions. Russia and China were not excited about joining that coalition, and even our NATO allies are not as gung-ho against Iran as we are. But the sanctions held long enough to get Iran to the negotiating table, where they have agreed to hamstring their own nuclear program for 10-20 years.

Critics of the deal (like David Frum) effortlessly project those sanctions (or possibly harsher ones) indefinitely into the future, and argue that Iran should have paid a higher price to end them. But support for the sanctions could have lapsed in any number of ways, and then we’d be nowhere.


The NYT had a good explanation of which issues the negotiations hung on, and how they were resolved.

and the Greek crisis

Greek banks are open again, sort of. But it’s not over.

and another shooting

This one in Chattanooga.

and (believe it or not) still the Confederate flag

The KKK rallied in front of the South Carolina Capitol Saturday to make the point that “the Confederate flag does not represent hate”. At least that’s what I think the guy making gorilla noises at the black protesters was trying to say. (Don’t ask me; I don’t speak Gorilla.)


The flag issue showed up in a different way in the House of Representatives. Democrats had attached an amendment to the bill funding the Interior Department next year, saying that the Confederate flag would not be flown over federal cemeteries. Republicans were going to try to reverse that amendment, and then John Boehner — realizing that the Confederate flag is not the hill he wants his party to die on —  decided to pull the bill off the floor instead.

This may not sound like a big deal, but it throws a monkey wrench in Republican plans for another government shutdown come October. Now that they control both houses of Congress, they were able to pass a budget that Democrats hate. The plan was to follow with the 10-12 appropriation bills that fund the government, daring President Obama to veto them. They believe this will put them in a stronger position for a shutdown than they were in 2013, when the House and Senate couldn’t agree.

But the Interior bill was one of those appropriations, and if they can’t pass it, the plan starts to come  apart. In particular, it shows a weakness that will probably undo other appropriation bills: Trying to pass bills with no Democratic support only works if the Republicans are united, and so small numbers of Republican congressmen can hold out for concessions like defending the Confederate flag.


Historian Douglas Blackmon explodes all the “heritage” myths about the Confederate flag:

No, the seeming immovability of that symbol over the past half century has been about something very different from an appreciation of actual history.  The modern resurrection and defense of the flag was wholly a product of the civil rights struggles since the 1950s, and the need for a rallying point for defenders of segregation and apologists for white discrimination and white privilege.  The flag wasn’t even flying in most southern states until the 1960s, and then it was hoisted with the explicit intention of telling the rest of the country, finally emerging from its own racial dark ages, to go to hell. And wherever that flag was invoked, it was accompanied in those days by explicit defenses of the most virulent racism and ethnic hate.

but I was thinking about the revolving door

The “revolving door” refers to people who work in industries regulated by the government, leave to take a job as a regulator, then return to the industry at a high pay rate. It’s a time-honored tradition in this country, and it sucks, whether it’s practiced by Republicans or Democrats.

The latest high-profile example of the revolving door is former Attorney General Eric Holder, who returned to his partnership at the law firm Covington and Burling. Matt Taibbi sums up in a Rolling Stone article brilliantly titled “Eric Holder, Wall Street Double Agent, Comes in from the Cold

Here’s a man who just spent six years handing out soft-touch settlements to practically every Too Big to Fail bank in the world. Now he returns to a firm that represents many of those same companies: Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup, to name a few.

Collectively, the decisions he made while in office saved those firms a sum that is impossible to calculate with exactitude. But even going by the massive rises in share price observed after he handed out these deals, his service was certainly worth many billions of dollars to Wall Street.

Even if you give Holder the benefit of the doubt and assume that all of his decisions as Attorney General were made in good faith, by going back to work for Wall Street he has undermined the public’s confidence in the government, and shown all future prosecutors which side their bread is buttered on.

and Bernie Sanders

Here’s the worrisome thing about Sanders as a presidential candidate: When he faces hostility, he gets preachy. He talks louder and talks down to the audience. As quickly as he can, he goes back to his talking points. For example, look at his presentation at the Netroots Nation conference this week.

Read Eclectablog’s account:

At times he plunged on, talking over the protesters as if they weren’t there. While he is largely a supporter of civil rights and is, in general, right on the issues of the Black Lives Matter movement, he came across as a self-important know-it-all who has better things to do than to listen to uppity black kids who are disrupting HIS speech. In the end, he took off his microphone and left the stage without as much as a wave to the audience.

For the record, I disagree with the tactic of trying to shout speakers down, so I don’t support the audience interruptions. I also agree with the talking points Sanders is trying to get back to.

But recall how skillful politicians like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama have handled situations like this. You’re never going to satisfy the kind of people who come prepared to shout you down, but at the same time you want the people who agree with the shouters to feel like you at least heard their concern and want to respond to it.

Sanders doesn’t communicate that. And that lack of skill is especially going to hurt him when he reaches out to the black and Hispanic communities, as he must if he’s going to mount a serious threat to Hillary Clinton. (It will also hurt him in debates, if an opponent can taunt him into exposing his preachy side.) Blacks in particular will be watching how he interacts, not just listening to what he says. It’s not going to be enough to quote proposals from his platform, no matter how good they might be. He’ll need to get across that he respects the non-white communities and is listening to what they say, even when he disagrees.

When I saw him in Portsmouth in May, the room was enthusiastically on Sanders’ side, so his argumentative side didn’t show. But look at this clip from a townhall meeting that went off the rails last summer.

Here’s an issue (Israel/Palestine) where I disagree with Sanders, and I come away feeling that he didn’t hear the audience concerns at all. Their rudeness made him mad, so he talked louder and talked down. (“As some of you may have noticed, there’s a group called ISIS.” Really, Bernie? That had completely gotten past me. Thanks for pointing that out.)

A skillful politician understands that he’s not just arguing with the people who are shouting at him; he’s talking to the whole world, including people who agree with the shouters even if they deplore the rudeness. Sanders doesn’t seem to get that.

So while I agree with Sanders on most issues, and I want somebody to put progressive economics on the 2016 agenda, I question whether he has the skills to run a successful presidential campaign. I’m leaning towards voting for him in the New Hampshire primary, because the early primaries are the time to be idealistic and issue-oriented. But if I were a delegate to the Democratic Convention next summer, I think I’d prefer Clinton, because she’ll run a better general-election campaign. I’m not willing to go down to defeat just to maintain ideological purity. The damage that a Republican president could do in four years — to ObamaCare, to the Iran deal, to immigration reform, to the Supreme Court — is too great.

you also might be interested in …

The real news: Bloom County is back.


Don’t miss John Metta’s essay “I, Racist“.

White people and Black people are not having a discussion about race. Black people, thinking as a group, are talking about living in a racist system. White people, thinking as individuals, refuse to talk about “I, racist” and instead protect their own individual and personal goodness. In doing so, they reject the existence of racism.

But arguing about personal non-racism is missing the point.

Despite what the Charleston Massacre makes things look like, people are dying not because individuals are racist, but because individuals are helping support a racist system by wanting to protect their own non-racist self beliefs.


Is this the year when ObamaCare rates sky-rocket? A lot of people want to convince you that it is, but probably not. By and large, rates will increase, but by modest amounts.


By a 4-2 vote, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has ended an investigation into Scott Walker breaking election laws during his 2012 recall election. TPM explains why this is such a disturbing precedent.

Collectively, those four justices have thus far received just under $6 million from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and about $2 million from Wisconsin Club for Growth – the two groups being investigated for wrongdoing and who, along with the Walker campaign, launched the case against their prosecution.

The groups helped pick the judges. Then one of the groups was allowed to rewrite the state’s rules so those judges could sit on cases where they are a party. Then the groups persuaded those judges to shut down an investigation into whether they broke campaign finance laws by declaring those laws unconstitutional.

and let’s close with a prank

What’s in a single letter, anyway?

So What About Polygamy Anyway?

After same-sex marriage, is polygamy a further slide down the slippery slope, the next step of progress, or a separate issue entirely?


For the last 10-15 years, people who brought polygamy into a discussion were usually talking about something else. Polygamy was supposedly the next stop on the slippery slope we would step onto if we legalized same-sex marriage: Once you start fiddling with the definition of marriage, the doomsayers prophesied, there is no clear place to stop. In the Supreme Court’s recent marriage decision, Chief Justice Roberts brought that argument into his dissent:

One immediate question invited by the majority’s position is whether States may retain the definition of marriage as a union of two people.

Slippery-slope arguments are often a way to create flashy distractions from the issues that are actually present: If you have no coherent case to make about why a loving, committed same-sex couple shouldn’t be married, you talk instead about legalized polygamy, incest, pedophilia, and bestiality. Maybe no one is actually making those proposals yet, but they could at some point down the road.

On the other hand, some slippery-slope arguments actually are prophetic. In his Lawrence dissent in 2003, Justice Scalia warned:

This reasoning leaves on pretty shaky grounds state laws limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples.

Twelve years later, here we are.

And sometimes, when we look back on prophets of doom, our modern eyes see them as unintentional prophets of progress. The downward slide they feared, we recall proudly. For example, shortly after the Civil War, Rev. R. L. Dabny published a retrospective justification of slavery and secession: A Defence of Virginia. In it he warned the North of the horrors its abolitionist notions would ultimate bring to pass:

But other consequences follow from the abolitionist dogma. “All involuntary restraint is a sin against natural rights,” therefore laws which give to husbands more power over the persons and property of wives, than to wives over husbands, are iniquitous, and should be abolished. The same decision must be made upon the exclusion of women, whether married or single, from suffrage, office, and the full franchises of men. … But when God’s ordinance of the family is thus uprooted, and all the appointed influences of education thus inverted; when America has had a generation of women who were politicians, instead of mothers, how fundamental must be the destruction of society, and how distant and difficult must be the remedy!

Wives owning property! Women voting and running for office! Surely society must collapse from the unnatural strain of such abominations. Why didn’t we listen when Dabny warned us? If only we’d kept blacks in slavery, we could have avoided all this.

[You knew that was sarcasm, right?]

So OK: But for a few dead-enders, same-sex marriage is a done deal now. So polygamy’s usefulness as a slippery-slope horror is over. But are the predictions correct? Is that where we’re heading next? And if we get there, will it be a downward slide or an upward climb?

In Politico Magazine, Fredrik deBoer got right to work with “It’s Time to Legalize Polygamy“. Jonathan Rauch then answered with “No, Polygamy Isn’t the Next Gay Marriage“. And deBoer responded on his blog with “every bad argument against polygamy, debunked“. Another worthwhile piece promoting polygamy (with a better collection of links) is William E. Smith’s “Who’s Scared of Polygamy?” on Religion Dispatches.

I’m not going to take a pro or con position, but I would like to shape the discussion a little.

If you’re worrying (or hoping) that some judge will legalize polygamy next week, stop. Think about how hard it would have been to implement same-sex marriage during the Washington administration: At the dawn of the American Republic, men and women had different legal rights, and husband and wife were unequal legal roles. Same-sex marriage would have been absurd then, because women were legally incapable of playing the husband role, and before they could become wives, men would have to give up inalienable constitutional rights. To make same-sex marriage legal then, the whole legal relationship of men and women — which was embedded in countless laws — would have had to change.

But everything was different by 2003, when the Massachusetts Supreme Court considered the question. Massachusetts had passed an Equal Rights Amendment into its Constitution in 1976, so men and women were equal under the law. The U.S. Supreme Court had thrown out Louisiana’s Head and Master law in 1981, so husband and wife were legal equals. All that really had to happen to make same-sex marriage a reality was to change the forms from Husband and Wife to Spouse and Spouse.

(You can accurately describe American marriage after 1981 in a lot of ways, but “traditional marriage” is not one of them. I don’t know of any traditional society where husbands and wives have been equal under the law.)

Polygamy today resembles same-sex marriage in the Washington administration. Changing the forms to allow an indefinite number of spouses wouldn’t come close to defining it. Are we talking about Biblical (or Mormon) polygamy, where one man marries several women? Jacob and Leah and Rachel, say, or Solomon with his “seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines“? Or a group marriage where everybody listed is married to everybody else? Or maybe a chain marriage, where Bob marries Carol marries Ted marries Alice, but Bob and Alice are just friends? Or is some central couple the prime relationship, with other spouses secondary? The possibilities are endless, and the law would have to account for them.*

However you picture it, giving polygamy legal recognition would mean establishing legal infrastructure to answer questions that don’t come up in binary marriages. In a group marriage, can one spouse divorce the others, or does the whole relationship dissolve and need to be reformed? What’s the property settlement look like? Do all spouses have equal rights and responsibilities regarding the children, or do biological parents have a stronger legal bond? In a Biblical polygamous marriage, are all the wives equal, or does the first wife have a special role?

In any of the polygamy models, it doesn’t take much imagination to spin out questions that may not be unanswerable, but aren’t answered in any obvious way by current law. Such questions go all the way down to the most trivial level: What fee should a clerk charge for a plural marriage license? Are current fees based on per-person or per-marriage logic? That question never comes up as long as all marriages are between two people, but someone would need to decide God-knows-how-many minor issues like that.

Consequently, a court can’t simply order to a county clerk to issue a three-person marriage license. The judge would have to rewrite big chunks of the legal code, which a judge is not equipped to do, even if one thought he or she could get away with asserting that kind of power.

Is polygamy a legal right? A somewhat more realistic fantasy/nightmare goes like this: A judge might find that three or more people have a right to the legal advantages marriage offers, even if the judge can’t say exactly how that right should be implemented. That would have to go through a legislature, which is equipped and empowered to rewrite large chunks of the legal code.

So a judge could order the legislature to rectify the situation within a specified time. The legislature would probably refuse, and then the judge could assess damages against the state, which the governor could refuse to pay, and from there who knows where it all goes.

A key part of that scenario, though, is that the legal argument for a right to polygamy is sitting there inside the same-sex-marriage jurisprudence, waiting for some bold judge to notice it. In spite of John Roberts’ dissent, I don’t think that’s true.

In order to have this discussion, though, we need to set aside the particular opinion Justice Kennedy wrote, which really is as bad as the dissents claim. (I covered that when it came out.) It’s not at all typical of marriage-equality opinions, and it contains little in the way of a legal framework that could be extended to polygamy or anything else. I suspect it will have the same kind of influence that Kennedy’s similarly mushy DOMA opinion had: In subsequent lower-court decisions, judges made their rulings consistent with the outcome of the DOMA case, but didn’t attempt to apply Kennedy’s reasoning, such as it was.

The way pro-marriage-equality judges other than Kennedy have approached the issue is through the equal protection of the laws, a position I summarized in May: The opposite-sex marriage laws create an advantageous institution (marriage) and extend its benefits only to opposite-sex couples, when same-sex couples could be included by simply editing the license form, and no credible evidence suggested that negative consequences relevant to the mission of the government would ensue. (The possible offense to God claimed by anti-gay activists is not something the Constitution instructs the government to take notice of. Read the Preamble.) Under those circumstances, there’s really no way to claim that gays and lesbians are being granted the equal protection of the laws promised by the 14th Amendment.

What lies in the background of that argument is that the separation between gays/lesbians and the benefits of marriage is not something the affected individuals can easily fix on their own. Sexual orientation may or may not be innate, but it is not generally changeable in adulthood. And while legally, a gay or lesbian person could enter into a marriage with someone of the opposite sex, it’s hard to see that as a satisfactory solution. Consequently, because of who you are, you might be unable to take advantage of the marriage laws.

That argument is much harder to make for polygamy, which feels more like a lifestyle choice than an innate orientation. The government set up an advantageous path hoping to induce you to live one way, but you decided to live another way. I would defend your right to make that choice, but I don’t see how it gives you a right to the advantages of the other lifestyle.

Maybe some other legal argument for a right-to-polygamy is possible, but I don’t know what it is. I think you’d need to show that favoring binary relationships is an irrational thing for the government to do, and can’t conceivably lead to any social benefit the government might reasonably want to achieve. Constructing such an argument would be much harder than just cutting and pasting from the same-sex marriage arguments.

If polygamy isn’t a right. If polygamy isn’t a right inherent in the laws currently on the books, then if people want it, they need to convince legislatures to pass new laws. And that means convincing a large chunk of the electorate (who may or may not have polygamous fantasies) that a society that openly includes polygamous households is better — or at least no worse — than the society we have now.

If we’re debating in a legislature rather than before a judge, then I think the burden of proof shifts a little on both sides. To win in court, a polygamy supporter would need to show that banning it is completely irrational. To win in a legislature, they’d just need to argue that allowing it makes more sense than banning it. deBoer sums up:

my argument for polygamy is that there are people in the world who want it, and I recognize the inherent and total equality of the dignity and value of their relationships in comparison to two-person relationships.

As in same-sex marriage, we’re talking about real people doing real things. What’s our basis for telling them not to? I’m not saying there is no basis, I just can’t explain what it is off the top of my head.

On the other side, a legislature would have to debate a real proposal, not just an idea. Exactly what relationships are we giving legal form? How do all the details work? In particular, a law shouldn’t create holes in the system, which would be easy to do. (If my health insurance plan covers my spouse, maybe I could establish universal health care by marrying everybody. Or maybe I could solve the immigration problem by marrying all of the undocumented immigrants. Yes, those examples are ridiculous. But it’s not hard to imagine more realistic unintended scenarios, where groups might redefine themselves as marriages to take advantage of a poorly phrased law.) deBoer argues that the difficult logistics of polygamy isn’t a reason not to do it. But a real proposal would have to deal with those logistics.

In short, I would tell both deBoer and Rauch the same thing: I’m convincible, but I’m not convinced. The anti-polygamy argument isn’t sharp enough, and the pro-polygamy argument isn’t detailed enough. But however the issue eventually comes out, it will do so on its own merits, and will not follow automatically just because gay couples or lesbian couples are getting married.


* I’ve questioned whether I should even use the word polygamy to cover all these possibilities, since it often refers specifically to Biblical polygamy, with polyandry referring to a woman with many husbands. But the articles I’ve referenced are comfortable with that usage, so I have reluctantly followed it.

Trump is the New Palin

Whether you love him or hate him, it doesn’t matter. He’s bluffing.


After John McCain showed the bad judgment to make Sarah Palin a national figure in 2008, every few months a flurry of excitement/panic about Palin’s political future would erupt in the media. She was anointed the early Republican front-runner in the 2012 presidential cycle, to the point that Ross Douthat devoted a whole column to denying her front-runner status. When that speculation faded (because by the spring of 2011 she’d made no moves to build an organization in Iowa or New Hampshire), she went on a national bus tour to fan the flames again. She didn’t officially bow out until October, 2011.

Then she was going to run for the Senate in 2014, but that didn’t pan out either. This January she said she was “seriously interested” in a 2016 run, and proclaimed herself “ready for Hillary” at the Iowa Freedom Summit. But in a year when it seems that every Republican with a pulse is running for president, Palin isn’t.

I’ll take some credit for seeing through the Palin hype. After the 2010 mid-terms, I looked ahead to 2012:

Unlike New York Magazine, I don’t expect Palin to run. I expect her to keep people guessing for as long as she can, but to find an excuse to back out.

Sarah wants to be famous and make a lot of money and not work very hard. (If that’s a vice, a lot of us have it.) Teasing about running for office served those goals well, but actually running would require effort, not to mention answering the lamestream media’s gotcha questions, like “What newspaper do you read?

And that brings me to Donald Trump.

Trump is not exactly Palin — he loves hostile questions, for example — but the same phenomenon is at work. He really has no interest in being president, and when the campaign gets serious he won’t be there. So if his candidacy is getting you either excited or riled, don’t waste your energy.

Like Sarah Palin, Donald Trump lives off his image. That image is all about leadership, so of course he wants to be seen in terms of the ultimate leadership job, President of the United States. If you buy Trump’s image, you think he’d be a great president: making the tough decisions, banging heads together until everybody gets in line, cutting through the BS of the vested interests, and doing the common-sense things we all know need to get done. Who wouldn’t want to call up ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and say, “You’re fired”?

It’s a great fantasy. But actually being President? What a headache that would be. Even the Donald’s hairpiece would go grey.

In previous cycles, bluffing about running for president has served him well. But Trump understands something that seems to have escaped Palin: To keep people interested, you have to keep raising the bar. Except for a small group of rabid fans, the public has lost interest in Palin, because we’ve seen it all before. So she can hint about running, but until she starts acting like a serious candidate — building an organization, appearing in debates, pushing some signature issues beyond the buzzword stage, and so on — nobody is going to pay much attention.

If Trump hinted about a 2016 race and then backed away from it, nobody would pay attention to any future bluffs. So he raised the bar: This time he actually declared his candidacy, and he’s giving speeches and interviews. He’s still not building an organization in primary states or raising money for a serious campaign, but he’s on top of the recent polls (with 18% of Republicans in a very divided field), and he’ll probably be on the stage in August when the first debate happens. Chances are good he’ll get a lot of attention during that debate and be in the headlines the next morning.

A big piece of the current bluff is that he doesn’t need to raise money: He’s very, very rich — as he keeps telling us — and so he can self-finance.

And that’s where the bluff is going to break down. The kind of campaign he’s run so far — flying around and giving speeches — isn’t very expensive. The big money in primary campaigns goes two places: Early, it goes into hiring staff and opening campaign offices in early-primary states, and then later it goes into TV advertising. He’s not doing either.

The kind of money Trump has spent so far — and foregone as business partners run away from him — is a recoverable investment. He’s building the Trump brand, which will net him future earnings in book sales and TV ratings. The campaign — at least the way he’s run it so far — will keep his act fresh for years to come.

By November, though, a serious candidate will have to start putting serious money into Iowa and New Hampshire. Not thousands, millions. TV time on the Boston stations that cover southern New Hampshire is not cheap. The idiosyncratic process of the Iowa caucuses requires a ground game. And if you survive the Iowa/NH/South Carolina winnowing in January and February, you just need more money to compete nationwide in March.

That’s not an investment any more. It would take maybe $100-200 million to win the Republican nomination, and even more to run a serious third-party campaign in the fall if he isn’t nominated. That’s money he can never get back.

And I don’t even believe he has it. Trump’s empire has always been a precarious structure built on debt. (That’s why he’s been involved in four bankruptcies.) Whatever he might be worth on paper, he doesn’t have hundreds of millions of ready cash available to blow on a whim.

So this campaign is a more elaborate bluff than he’s run in previous years, but it’s still a bluff. Look for him to find an exit sometime in December.

The Monday Morning Teaser

I’m back after my week on Star Island off the coast of New Hampshire. (Give yourself credit if you knew that New Hampshire had  a coast.)

There will be two featured posts this week. The first, “Trump is the New Palin”, makes a bold prediction: Donald Trump will leave the race for president before he has to spend more money than the publicity is worth. I’ll guess that to be sometime in December, when candidates need to buy ads on Boston TV stations to stay competitive in New Hampshire. I expect to post that article soon, probably before 8 EDT.

The second, “So What About Polygamy, Anyway?” picks up on an argument between Fredrik deBoer and Jonathan Rauch. All through the same-sex marriage debate, we kept hearing that we were on a slippery slope and legalized polygamy would be next. Well, is it? Should it be? Along the way I’ll take a look at some slippery-slope predictions of the past, including some that in retrospect look more like the march of progress than a slide to perdition. Expect that by 10.

The weekly summary has two weeks to cover, which includes the Iran deal, the Greek bailout, the Chattanooga shooting, and a bunch of other stuff. (Honestly, I didn’t believe the Iran deal was going to happen.) And I’ll close with a picture of a good prank.

 

Divine Intentions

No Sift next week. The next new Weekly Sift articles will appear July 20.

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And, but for the interference with his arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriage. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

Judge Leon M. Bazile (1965)
denying the motion of Richard and Mildred Loving
to vacate their conviction for miscegenation

If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God’s word and had desired to do the Lord’s will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made. The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn the line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line.

Rev. Jerry Falwell
“Segregation or Integration: Which?” (1958)

Savannah Guthrie: If a state clerk refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple, would you agree with that too?
Ted Cruz: There’s no religious backing for that.

— The Today Show, 6-29-2015

Today’s featured post “You Don’t Have to Hate Anybody to be a Bigot” puts those quotes in their proper context.

It’s kind of ridiculous what’s been happening to this blog’s traffic. The Sift had 228K views in June, compared to 13K last June and 215K in all of 2013. Runs like this always end eventually, but usually traffic recedes to a higher plateau than before. I hope some fraction of the new readers become regulars.

This week everybody was still reacting to marriage equality

I discussed this to a certain extent in the featured post. But Mike Huckabee’s op-ed deserves some further attention. This is how the Huckabee administration will respond to the “religious freedom” issues raised by the same-sex marriage decision. (I use the scare quotes because the traditional meaning of religious freedom is very different than what Huckabee has in mind. He’s practicing a kind of Newspeak.)

The whole piece is full of Religious-Right jargon, so I may have to decrypt it in some future Sift.


I have a certain respect for the Tennessee clerks who resigned rather than issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. If your conscience won’t let you do your job, resign in protest. There’s a fine tradition there. Imagine if, say, Colin Powell had resigned as Secretary of State rather than take the Bush administration’s bogus case for invading Iraq to the UN. Resigning in protest makes much more sense to me than the Texas clerks who want to keep their jobs, but not do them.

That said, I hope Decatur County replaces its clerks with people who want to serve the whole public, rather than just the people they approve of.

and talking about Greece

Greece soundly defeated a referendum to accept the new bailout package offered by the European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund (collectively known as “the Troika”). Nobody really knows what happens now: Will the Greek banking system collapse? Will some new deal get negotiated? Will Greece end up abandoning the euro? I could speculate, but The Guardian and The Atlantic probably speculate better.

As for how the euro figures in the development of the crisis, this Vox video explains it pretty well.


Remember a few years ago, when some people still didn’t realize that President Obama was shrinking the deficit he inherited, and Tea Partiers were predicting a Greece-like debt crisis for the U.S.? With a few more years of perspective, it’s clear that there is a lesson for the U.S. in the Greek experience, but it’s the exact opposite of the one the Tea Party wanted to teach us: Keynes was right. When you get into a deep recession, the government needs to spend more, not less.

Recessions always balloon the deficit: Tax revenues go down and safety-net payments go up. Governments can react in two ways:

  • austerity: Cut government spending wherever possible to get the deficit back under control.
  • stimulus: Increase government spending to get the economy moving again.

In their responses to the deep 2007-2008 recession, the world’s advanced economies created an accidental macro-economic experiment: In spite of intense Republican opposition, America went for stimulus, while Europe chose austerity. Within Europe, the healthier economies like Germany, France, and the UK had their austerity moderated by democratic opposition. But Italy, Spain, and Portugal had credit problems, so they had to ignore popular opposition and impose the harsher austerity bond markets demanded. Greece was in a class by itself: Needing bailout money from the Troika, it had to take the extremely harsh terms the Troika imposed.

Here’s what happened:

The U.S. came out of the recession fastest, followed by the European countries that practiced moderate austerity, followed by the harsh-austerity countries, with Greece trailing far behind. (The graph would show a more dramatic U.S. advantage if the base point were the start of the recession rather than 2010. Ireland and Germany are only slightly behind the U.S. at the end of the graph, but they were far above us at the beginning of the recession.)

The Troika-imposed austerity was supposed to close the Greek government’s deficit, restore market confidence in Greek debt, and cause a rebound in the Greek economy (through a macro-economic mechanism Paul Krugman calls “the Confidence Fairy“). Instead, it accelerated the deflationary cycle, shrunk the economy further, and increased the deficit — which of course required more budget cuts.

Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz comments:

The disparity between what the Troika thought would happen and what has emerged has been striking — and not because Greece didn’t do what it was supposed to, but because it did, and the models were very, very flawed.

University of Maryland economist Peter Morici agrees:

Already, the Troika, … has imposed five years of budget cuts, higher taxes and labor market adjustments. The Greeks have endured a 25- percent contraction in GDP, 25-percent cut in private-sector wages and 25 percent unemployment.

Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio has soared to 180 percent from 130 percent of GDP, and that is an impossible burden to repay. … Another round of austerity would only further pummel the Greek economy, and impose economic deprivation that European leaders should be ashamed to engineer.

So, has the Tea Party learned anything from this? Don’t be silly; their economics is faith-based, not evidence-based. In his announcement speech, Bobby Jindal promised:

I will grow the private sector economy by shrinking the size, scope, and reach of the federal government

Jindal, in other words, wants to go the way of Greece.

and still the Confederate flag and racism

It’s hard to satirize some people. In an effort to defend the idea that the Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern heritage rather than hate, the KKK is having a rally at the South Carolina capitol.


This week I noticed video-journalist AJ+ for the first time. In this piece, she wanders through South Carolina asking people about racism:


Bianca Campbell makes Georgia’s open-carry law real, describing her recent trip to the bookstore.

The idea of openly carrying a gun to protect myself has never been a realistic option—only when I’m imagining myself as Storm from X-Men dismantling oppressive systems with Black feminist thunderstorms and a small silver glock just in case. In reality, if the cops saw me with a gun, a bag of Skittles, or even a loosey cigarette, they would probably shoot me and ask questions about my permit later. [my note: She’s only slightly exaggerating what you can see in this video.] As a Jamaican-American whose parents had to navigate the country’s unjust immigration system, I’ve almost always known that papers and permits don’t save dark-skinned people.

And so now, Georgia’s open carry policy, the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and the whole foundation of America’s justice system works as it was always intended: allowing certain people to feel safe at the expense of others existing in fear. I was without arms and face-to-face with a man who may or may not have wanted to kill meand a man who had the freedom to make that decision without repercussions.


Here’s how to show that Negro president that whites are still on top in Tennessee:

and the unending tide of Republican presidential candidates

Chris Christie announced. Donald Trump surged in the polls after describing Mexican immigrants as “rapists”.

President Obama was in La Crosse  this week, and he previewed how an anti-Scott-Walker general-election campaign might go:

We’ve seen what happens when top-down economics meets the real world. We’ve got proof right here in Wisconsin. There was a statewide fair-pay law that was repealed. The right to organize and bargain collectively was attacked. Per-student education funding was cut. Your minimum wage has been stuck in place. Meanwhile, corporations and the most fortunate few have been on the receiving end of hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax cuts over the past four years…

What happens when we try middle-class economics? Just across the river, it’s a pretty interesting experiment. In Minnesota, they asked the top two percent to pay a little bit more. They invested in things that help everybody succeed, like all-day kindergarten and financial aid for college students. They took action to raise their minimum wage and they passed an equal pay law. They protected workers’ rights. They expanded Medicaid to cover more people.

Now, according to Republican theory, all those steps would’ve been bad for the economy, but Minnesota’s unemployment rate is lower than Wisconsin’s. Minnesota’s median income is around $9,000 higher.

and Bernie Sanders

Bernie continues to draw huge crowds and rise in the polls, but 538’s Harry Enten and The Hill‘s Eddie Zipperer do their best to throw cold water on the Sanders surge. They do make a few good points:

  • In national polls, Sanders is still way behind, and most of his recent rise mostly comes from consolidating the left, not making inroads on Clinton supporters. When you take Elizabeth Warren out of a poll — as most have done by now — Sanders’ support increases without hurting Hillary.
  • In New Hampshire polls, the ones that have Sanders within striking distance of Clinton usually list Joe Biden as a candidate, which splits the establishment vote. If you assume Biden isn’t running — which seems likely — Clinton’s lead increases.
  • Sanders has yet to draw much black and Hispanic support. Non-white voters aren’t a big factor in New Hampshire and Iowa, but they are a huge chunk of the Democratic coalition nationally.

That third point is interesting. As a group, minority voters are highly pragmatic. They have a long, sad history with guys they never heard of (especially white guys) saying stuff that sounds good. So they tend to stick with candidates they know and have come to trust.

In hindsight, we think of Obama as naturally being the favorite-son black candidate, and he did eventually get enthusiastic black support. But in the 2008 cycle blacks were slow to get on board. (Obama’s earliest supporters were young whites who resented Clinton’s vote to authorize the Iraq War.) He had to prove himself as a viable candidate with white voters before many blacks would take him seriously. Hispanics got behind him even later.

Sanders has a good record on racial issues, but he represents an overwhelmingly white state and (whether the perception is fair or not) is not the first person you think of when you remember important civil rights battles. The non-white vote is not lost to him, but he will have to work to win it.


That said, I have to shake my head at how much effort pundits devote to discounting Sanders. Networks give serious attention to Republican longshots like Santorum or Perry, but can’t seem to mention Sanders without pointing out that he can’t possibly win. As someone — I thought Andy Borowitz, but now I can’t Google up a reference — put it:

Someone needs to tell the millions of people about to vote for Bernie Sanders that no one is going to vote for him.

And when somebody does notice the Sanders phenomenon, the narrative usually then shifts to “Is Hillary screwing up?” not “What is Sanders saying to raise such enthusiasm?”

and religion

Interesting article on ISIS and Islam:

Dalia Mogahed suggested that the relationship between Islamic texts and ISIS’s brutality is actually the reverse of what both ISIS and many of its enemies claim. It’s not, she said, the group’s interpretation of Islamic texts that drives its brutality—it’s the group’s desired brutality driving its interpretation of the texts. “We start at the violence we want to conduct, and we convince ourselves that this is the correct way to interpret the texts,” she said.

That’s long been my theory about American social conservatives and Christianity. The political positions come first, and they drive the Biblical interpretation. I mean, why take literally some obscure Leviticus text condemning homosexuality but not “Sell your possessions and give to the poor“?


I have ambivalent feelings about Bill Maher, particularly when he talks religion. But when he’s right, he’s right. In this video, he wants to know why the Democratic Party or the “liberal media” get all the credit for heaping scorn on Christianity, when he’s the only one actually doing it.

And here, Maher points to the House vote to let meat companies refuse to tell us what country their meat comes from. Bill combines the two goals of “erasing meat labels and repealing the estate tax” into a single slogan for the Republican Party: “Eat shit and die.”

Here’s a package of underpants. There’s a label on it, tells you where it’s from: Honduras. … Here’s a pound of ground beef (or whatever). Where did it come from? Fuck You is where it came from. … Shouldn’t you be able to know that? Next time you hear Republicans say they want to “protect” you from “burdensome regulations”, this is what they mean. But this isn’t really de-regulation; this is reverse regulation. Regulations are supposed to protect people from corporations, not corporations from people.

and let’s close with a visual pun

You Don’t Have to Hate Anybody to be a Bigot

Throughout American history, most bigots have been nice folks who had sincere religious reasons for treating other people badly.


Social conservatives were all over the airwaves and print media this week, explaining how and why the battle over marriage equality is not over. The Supreme Court may have spoken, but the other branches of government, they promised, could still step in somehow, if we elect the right people. Or county clerks could just refuse to issue licenses. Or ordinary people could practice civil disobedience in some unspecified way. There are, Glenn Beck has promised us, ten thousand pastors willing to “go to prison or to death” over this issue (though exactly what charges will brought against them or who might try to kill them is a bit vague).

To me, the most revealing moment of this Alamo-like refusal to surrender came when Texas Senator Ted Cruz was interviewed by Savannah Guthrie on The Today Show. Cruz was defending the “religious freedom” of Texas clerks not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, when Guthrie made an analogy:

GUTHRIE: If a state clerk refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple, would you agree with that too?
CRUZ: There’s no religious backing for that.

Religion and interracial marriage. To anyone who remembers the 1960s or has read the history of interracial marriage (or civil rights in general), Cruz’ response is simply ridiculous. Opposition to interracial marriage was constantly expressed in religious terms.

For example, the reason the Supreme Court had to decide Loving v. Virginia, the case that legalized interracial marriage nationwide in 1967, was that when Richard and Mildred Loving tried to get their conviction for miscegenation overturned (so that they could legally come back to Virginia), Judge Leon M. Bazile was having none of it:

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And, but for the interference with his arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

Judge Bazile’s decision says nothing about hating black people or even interracial couples. Yahoos on the street might have taunted Richard Loving as a “nigger lover”, but the judge did no such thing. He just saw the sense in a Virginia law that upheld God’s plan for the races.

Segregation. Opposition to school desegregation could be similarly respectful and devout. In 1958, Rev. Jerry Falwell preached a sermon “Segregation or Integration: Which?”. (Like all of Falwell’s pro-segregation sermons, this one is sadly unavailable online. Perhaps Liberty University might want to rectify this.) In it, he expressed his religious objection to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision.

If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God’s word and had desired to do the Lord’s will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made. The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn the line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line.

That polite-but-concerned religious defense of segregation goes all the way back to 1867, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court OK’d segregated passenger trains. Chief Justice Daniel Agnew wrote:

We declare a right to maintain separate relations, as far as is reasonably practicable, but in a spirit of kindness and charity, and with due regard to equality of rights, it is not prejudice, nor caste, nor injustice of any kind, but simply to suffer men to follow the law of races established by the Creator himself, and not to compel them to intermix contrary to their instincts.

Slavery. Even slavery had religious justifications, and the breakup of the Union was presaged by the splits in major religious denominations between Northern churches who found slavery immoral and Southern churches who taught that it was part of God’s plan. As Josiah Priest wrote in 1852:

“If God appointed the race of Ham judicially to slavery, and it were a heinous sin to enslave one, or all the race, how then is the appointment of God to go into effect? …. God does never sanction sin, nor call for the commission of moral evil to forward any of his purposes; wherefore we come to the conclusion, that is is not sinful to enslave the negro race, providing it is done in a tender, fatherly and thoughtful manner.”

Hatred of men, or love of God? Like most people who oppose marriage equality for gays and lesbians today, past opponents of racial equality were not necessarily the screaming haters we see in the more dramatic videos from the civil rights movement. Far more were sedate and thoughtful people who were not aware of hating anyone. They just held a sincere belief — “in a spirit of kindness and charity”, they would tell you — that blacks were an inferior race who were better off among their own kind, or perhaps under the “tender, fatherly and thoughtful” guidance of a white master.

Most believed that God agreed with them, and could cite you chapter and verse to prove it. Freeing the slaves, desegregating the schools, allowing interracial marriage — at the time, those changes were all seen as aggressions against the religion of large numbers of American Christians.

And it is a mistake to think that such beliefs are dead relics of an era long past. There are still white supremacist churches today. As the web site of Thomas Robb Ministries in Harrison, Arkansas puts it:

For the mission God has bestowed upon His chosen people, the white race, he requires their separation.  They must honor their heritage, not despise it. Other races must honor their heritage as well. In a well ordered world, this is God’s way.

Granted, such groups are small compared to the Catholics or Southern Baptists. But your First Amendment rights don’t depend on the size of your congregation. If the religious freedom Ted Cruz wants for himself applies to Thomas Robb’s parishioners as well, then of course the county clerk must be able to refuse a marriage license to an interracial couple.

Conservatism and progress. It’s not hard to see why Cruz doesn’t want to remember or identify with the historical tradition of social conservatism: When we look back from today’s perspective, we see that the slavers and segregationists were wrong. Most of them were probably very nice people if you met them in the right circumstances, but they were wrong. They had sincerely held beliefs that were firmly anchored in their understanding of Christianity, but they were wrong.

So hardly anybody wants to claim their legacy today.

That’s the general pattern of social conservatives and progress: Eventually, progress catches up to them as well, so they can look back and see that the previous revolution in social practices and public morality was justified. The slaves should have been freed. Blacks should have been served at the Greensboro lunch counter. Women should be allowed to vote and run for office and enter the professions. (I didn’t get into the religious arguments for keeping women in the kitchen, but trust me, they were plentiful, and are also still with us.)

But this time it’s different! It always is. With no one left to defend them, our memory of the social conservatives of the past reduces to Simon Legree, KKK lynch mobs, police unleashing dogs and fire hoses against peaceful marchers, and the white rabble screaming obscenities at little black girls on their way to school. The thoughtful, intellectual, devout defenders of an unjust status quo are forgotten, because their memory embarrasses their heirs.

Consequently, in every generation, the well-considered, devout bigotry of nice people is presented to the world as a new thing. They’re nothing like the villains we recall from past social-justice movements. This time they have good reasons to block progress. They have looked deep into their souls and read their Bibles and taken it to the Lord in prayer. They don’t hate anybody, they just believe that the world as it was when they were growing up was endorsed by God, and they want to stop today’s amoral radicals from upsetting God’s appointed order.

In other words, they are just like every generation of social conservatives before them. The analogy with Josiah Priest and Chief Justice Agnew and Judge Bazile and the young Jerry Falwell (who later reversed himself, removed his segregation sermons from circulation, and quietly pretended he had never believed anything else) could not be more apt.

Bigotry is not the same as hate. Bigotry just means believing that certain groups of people do not deserve the same kind of consideration you want for yourself. Their suffering and distress doesn’t count, or they must have brought it on themselves in some obscure way. You don’t have to hate those people any more than you hate your dog when you keep him penned in your yard, or hate your children when you make them eat something they hate. (The analogy of parents and children, in fact, was often applied by pro-slavery writers to the master/slave relationship. Husbands, similarly, needed to make decisions for their wives, because women were pure but unworldly creatures. That’s what men loved about them.)

I don’t know precisely why Ted Cruz or the four dissenting judges in Obergefell believe that gays and lesbians don’t deserve the equal protection of the laws, but I doubt hate has much to do with it. It doesn’t have to. The Tennessee clerks who resigned rather than issue same-sex marriage licenses — I’ll bet they’re nice people with sincere beliefs. But they’re also bigots.

Conservatives blanch in horror at that word, when someone applies it to them. In Justice Alito’s dissent, he imagines this dystopian future:

I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.

How unfair, that those who find their neighbors’ relationships unworthy might themselves be examined and found wanting. How unfair, that they might be lumped together with the past bigots they so closely resemble. Don’t we understand that it’s different this time? That these are nice, thoughtful people of sincere beliefs?

We understand quite well.

Hidden residue. On the surface, bigotry against gays and lesbians may seem unrelated to racial bigotry. But when you deny your unattractive roots rather than repent and atone for them, their influence can linger in the back of your mind, occasionally peeking out at inopportune moments.

In an Alternet article picked up by Salon, Tim Wise called attention to the lingering racial bigotry implicit in some prominent denunciations of the recent marriage-equality ruling. Congressman Louie Gohmert, for example, warned of divine retribution:

God’s hand of protection will be withdrawn [from America] as future actions from external and internal forces will soon make clear. I will do all I can to prevent such harm, but I am gravely fearful that the stage has now been set.

Gohmert is far from the only person to make this point, and his statement contains no overt racism. But think about its implications: God kept the U.S. under His special protection and showered us with blessings while we committed genocide against the Native Americans and enslaved Africans by the millions. But as soon as we celebrate people of the same gender living together in loving, committed relationships, He’s done with us.

I don’t see an alternative to Wise’s interpretation: Gohmert’s statement only makes sense if you assume that the suffering of non-whites is beneath God’s notice.

Wise goes on to discuss another Ted Cruz interview, this one with Sean Hannity. The Obergefell decision coming so closely on the heels of the Court’s refusal to gut ObamaCare made for “some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation’s history”. (“I couldn’t say it more eloquently,” Hannity responded.)

Put aside the many-people-died events in American history (like Pearl Harbor or 9-11 or the bloodiest battles of the Civil War) and just restrict your attention to Supreme Court history. Cruz graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law, so I assume he knows about the Korematsu decision that OK’d putting Japanese-Americans in concentration camps; and Dred Scott, where the Court declared blacks had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect”; and the 1883 decision in the Civil Rights Cases, which gave the green light to Jim Crow. To be some of the darkest 24 hours in the Court’s history, preserving ObamaCare and establishing marriage equality has to rank with those.

Again, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the suffering of non-whites just doesn’t count. Wise draws his conclusion:

Sometimes, racism is manifested in the subtle way a person can dismiss the lived experiences of those racial others as if they were nothing, utterly erasing those experiences, consigning them to the ashbin of history like so much irrelevant refuse.

You don’t have to hate anybody to be bigoted against them. Believing that they don’t count is more than enough.

Summing up. There’s nothing new about nice, salt-of-the-Earth people who sincerely believe that certain other people are undeserving of empathy or respect or fair treatment. There’s nothing new about those beliefs being expressed and justified in religious terms, or put forward by ministers and theologians.

Quite the opposite, that’s the normal situation. Throughout American history, most people have been pretty nice — even the bigots. America has seen nice slaveholders, nice segregationists, nice male chauvinists. And from the beginning, we have been a religious people, who could not have lived with ourselves if we couldn’t justify our bigoted beliefs in religious terms.

So we did, and we do. It’s normal.

Bigotry has a long history in the United States. And while that tradition includes haters, they’ve never been the majority. Today’s non-hateful bigots, with their sincere beliefs and their Biblical justifications, stand in a line that goes back to the beginnings of our nation. But the people in that line have consistently been wrong, and eventually even the people further up the line see it.

That’s why they never claim their legacy or own the authenticity of their place in that line. But the rest of us don’t have to humor their historical blindness. Bigotry today looks no different than bigotry 50 or 100 or 200 years ago. There’s no reason to call it anything else.

The Monday Morning Teaser

What I paid the most attention to this week was the continuing backlash of social conservatives against marriage equality. One moment that stood out for me was when Ted Cruz was asked whether the “religious freedom” to resist same-sex marriage (which he was promoting) also could be used to resist interracial marriage. Outrageously, he replied that there is “no religious backing” for opposition to interracial marriage.

That sent me to the history books, including a fascinating recent one on how interracial marriage became legal, called Almighty God Created the Races by Fay Botham. The parallels in the arguments are quite striking, as Botham herself recognizes in the final chapter.

So why, I wondered, are the Ted Cruzs so resistant to claiming their social-conservative heritage? And why was Justice Alito so concerned that his fellow marriage-equality opponents might be called “bigots”? And I came to understand the reason: Our image of the bigots of the past is that the were all haters, like the mobs being held back by federal troops in Little Rock while they yelled obscenities at the little black children going to school. No wonder Ted Cruz and Sam Alito are offended to be lumped together with them.

But when you look back more thoroughly, you find that the vast majority of segregationists and male chauvinists and even slavery defenders were just like the marriage-equality opponents of today: not conscious of hating anyone, but sincerely believing — usually for reasons rooted in their religion — that certain people shouldn’t be treated fairly, and that everyone will be better off if they remain unequal. In other words, most of the bigots of the past were probably nice folks, if you met them under the right circumstances — a lot like Ted Cruz and Sam Alito.

The result of that history project will be this week’s featured post “You Don’t Have to Hate Anybody to be a Bigot”. It should be out around 9 or 10, EDT.

The weekly summary covers yesterday’s referendum in Greece, which launches me into a reflection on how the we’re-turning-into-Greece line the Tea Party was pushing a few years ago had the economics exactly backwards. There are still more Republican presidential candidates, and pundits are finding new reasons to ignore the huge crowds Bernie Sanders is drawing. Confederate flag defenders came out in force, but I don’t think they did their cause much good. I quote a first-person response to Georgia’s open-carry law, and a couple of great Bill Maher riffs. I’m still looking for a closing. So let’s predict that to appear around noon.

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