Saturday, December 13, 2008

Kleiman update

Re: The previous post, which was originally about this post.

Mr Kleiman posted a comment pointing out a factual error in my post (my bad, I gotta stop posting late at night) and laying out his position in more detail. I was, in fact, misreading him in places, and his proposed solution has quite a bit to recommend it. I don't think it's likely to happen politically (govt recognizes partnerships, under some different name, for everyone, gay & straight alike, and religious organizations decide for themselves what 'marriage' means), but it would be a cleaner solution, and Mr Kleiman doesn't seem to think it's likely to happen immediately either. Anyway, go read the comment, it's worth it.

Thanks for the quick & courteous reply. I'm still sometimes amazed to realize I'm not just talking to myself on this internet thingy....

Friday, December 12, 2008

Trying to have it both ways

Mark Kleiman has a generally very good post over at RBC discussing gay marriage and his lack of sympathy for Maggie Gallegher, who resigned from the Coyote Grill in Hollywood after it was boycotted over her contributions to Prop. 8.

Most of the post is very good, pointing out that the boycott was about her public political acts, not her private religious beliefs, and that disapproving of something is not the same as wanting to use the power of the state to prohibit it.

So far, so good. However, in the last paragraph he reveals how little he really gets it:

Not that it matters, but I'm not especially a fan of legal recognition for same-sex marriage. I agree with Barack Obama that the state should recognize and protect committed pairwise domestic partnerships regardless of what they are called, and leave the definition of "marriage" to be worked out in civil society without the interference of the state. But that wasn't the question on the ballot.
But that's the problem. As the experience of New Jersey is showing, saying "it's a protected committed pairwise domestic partnership but not marriage" leads to all sorts of problems. Lack of insurance coverage, hospital visitation and consent-to-treat issues, and more, because the relevant (Federal, for the most part) regulations use the M-word exclusively. If it's not marriage, real marriage, it's separate and very much unequal. Leaving the definition of "marriage" to be "worked out by civil society" is playing with the lives of the people he claims to care about.

Leaving it to the states lets the states serve as policy laboratories. that's the classic Federalist argument for non-involvement. In this case, the experiment of almost-but-not-quite marriage has failed. It has not produced equality under the law for gay couples. Saying "civil society can work it out without government involvement" is impossible in an economy and society in which the government is as involved in our lives as it is. (Should it be less involved? Maybe. But that's not the question on the ballot, to borrow a phrase.)

If Mr Kleiman means that some sort of domestic-partnership status is a necessary waystation on the road to full equality, I'm skeptical but willing to be convinced. But unless I'm misreading him, that's not the point he's trying to make. He seems to be arguing in favor of benign neglect, of leaving the issue fallow because, after all, it's just so messy and while he doesn't personally have any objections, you understand, he just doesn't see the need to make it official. The states can set up something separate but equal (because we all know how well that works out) and "civil society" (by which he appears to mean straight society) can decide whether or not it's ready to allow queers to use the m-word. And if there are specific legal privileges that are tied to the m-word, well, um, I guess the queers will just have to wait, and be grateful for what they can get.

I wonder how many signatures we need to put the validity of Mr Kleiman's marriage on the ballot. We are going to get to vote on that, right? Or is he comfortable with the idea of the majority voting on minority rights because he's confident that it won't be his rights that are taken away?

I dunno. It's late, I'm in finals-week grading, perhaps I'm being unnecessarily uncharitable. But when someone who's usually so sharp says something so obtuse, it stands out.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ruth Marcus Loses It

Ruth Marcus's column today on why Caroline Kennedy should be named Senator for New York starts off trying for some fair-and-balanced by discussing several very good reasons why she should not be named:

I always find it a bit creepy when children follow the career paths of their parents.... even though politics as family business has a lengthy pedigree in American history, I recoil from political dynasties.

For one, dynasties tend to illustrate the phenomenon of reversion to the mean: It's rare that the second generation outperforms the first....

More unsettling, political dynasties are fundamentally un-American. This is not -- or is not supposed to be -- a country in which political power is an inherited commodity. The notion that Caroline Kennedy could simply ring up the governor and announce, or even politely suggest, her availability grates against the meritocratic ideal. After all, even the children of politicians generally take the time to climb the usual rungs rather than parachute into top jobs.

Right on, Ruth. She gets it. Caroline for Senator would be a bad idea. If she wants to attain high elective office, let her go through the rigors of a campaign. Let her demonstrate her competence and let the voters decide if she's worthy.

A big bundle of cash -- see, for example, Jon Corzine, former Goldman Sachs chairman, former senator from New Jersey, now New Jersey governor -- is helpful for vaulting your way over the drudgery of doing time on the state Senate subcommittee on pensions. Ditto other forms of celebrity -- see, as an example, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Before getting all huffy about Caroline Kennedy's qualifications for the job, let's take a breath and remember Jesse Ventura and Sonny Bono.

But, again, they all campaigned. They all went through the process. They had to come out with positions on issues that weren't their pet causes, they met the voters, they did what they were supposed to. Yes, they had advantages. All other things are never equal. But U.S. Senator wasn't their first elective office. Even Hillary went through the process. Did she run on Bill's coattails? Duh, of course. But she also did fundraising, and campaigning, and the other things that gave her legitimacy.

So, why is Caroline so uniquely qualified? What makes her the best person to fill that position and represent New York in the Senate at this time?

What really draws me to the notion of Caroline as senator, though, is the modern-fairy-tale quality of it all....The lucky little girl with a pony and an impossibly handsome father. The stoic little girl holding her mother's hand at her father's funeral. The sheltered girl, whisked away from a still-grieving country by a mother trying to shield her from prying eyes.

In this fairy tale, Caroline is our tragic national princess. She is not locked away in a tower but chooses, for the most part, to closet herself there....She is the last survivor of her immediate family; she reveals herself only in the measured doses of a person who has always been, will always be, in the public eye....

I know it's an emotional -- dare I say "girly"? -- reaction. But what a fitting coda to this modern fairy tale to have the little princess grow up to be a senator.

Actually, no. Not if it's by being named to the position with little significant accomplishment in public life. (Yes, she's written a book. Better than nothing, but is that enough? By that standard, Bill O'Reilly is better qualified.) For her to enter politics and build on her family's legacy, by achieving something significant in her own right? Absolutely.

But of all the ways of choosing Senators, and of all the reasons to choose a particular person to fill a vacant seat, "it would make a perfect fairy-tale ending" is one of the worst. It isn't (or shouldn't be) about happy endings to stories we tell ourselves, it should be about the best combination on ideology and competence to get done what needs to be done now. I suspect Ruth Marcus knows better and, on reflection, will come to her senses.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Who, exactly, are these "reactionary liberals"?

George Will's column today is on the perils to the Republic posed by the threat of reviving the Fairness Doctrine. I'll let him summarize it:

[T]he doctrine required broadcasters to devote reasonable time to fairly presenting all sides of any controversial issue discussed on the air. The government decided the meaning of the italicized words.
He points out, quite correctly, that the original argument in favor of the Doctrine was scarcity of spectrum; with only a relatively few stations, and those stations using the public's airwaves for private profit, they had a responsibility to present different sides of an issue. (From his comments, it appears Will found the rationale unpersuasive, but that's a separate issue.)

And he observes, correctly, in an era of 100-channel cable packages, exploding talk radio, and that there Internet thingy, the scarcity argument doesn't carry nearly as much weight as it used to. BUT... check out the last few paragraphs. Note what's there, and what isn't.
[S]ome liberals now say: The problem is not maldistribution of opinion and information but too much of both. Until recently, liberals fretted that the media were homogenizing America into blandness. Now they say speech management by government is needed because of a different scarcity -- the public's attention....

And these worrywarts say the proliferation of radio, cable, satellite broadcasting and Internet choices allows people to choose their own universe of commentary, which takes us far from the good old days when everyone had the communitarian delight of gathering around the cozy campfire of the NBC-ABC-CBS oligopoly. Being a liberal is exhausting...

If reactionary liberals, unsatisfied with dominating the mainstream media, academia and Hollywood, were competitive on talk radio, they would be uninterested in reviving the fairness doctrine. Having so sullied liberalism's name that they have taken to calling themselves progressives, liberals are now ruining the reputation of reactionaries, which really is unfair.

So I have a question: Who, exactly, are these "reactionary liberals"? Part of why I read Will is his careful research, his willingness to name names, cite sources, and in general provide a factually-grounded as well as well-reasoned argument. (I seldom agree with him, but his columns are always thought-provoking.)

Yet here he simply invokes the right-wing bugaboo of "reactionary liberals." Um, I spend a fair amount of time cruising through the left blogosphere. Not all my time--I do have a life, such as it is--but I'm simply not seeing a groundswell from the Left for reviving the Fairness Doctrine. I'm hearing a lot of bloviating from the right about how restoring the Doctrine is going to be Barack Hussein Obama's first step in turning America into a Socialist Muslim Atheist Marxist Dictatorship. The Lefties I'm reading are more concerned with the economy in free-fall, the Iraq mess, and health care, than with restoring the Fairness Doctrine.

So who are these people, Mr Will? What are your sources? Or, to keep your readership up with the base, do you just occasionally take a Limbaugh rant, edit it for tone, and run it?