THE FRENCH AND THE FUTURE

Perhaps the least appreciated potential shift in global politics is happening in … France. The polls there are showing that it’s perfectly possible – maybe even likely – that voters will reject the new, cumbersome and unnecessary E.U. constitution. The NYT today reports on Chirac’s latest lame attempt to shift public opinion in his favor. A good read on why this could force a seismic change in Europe is the following piece by Anatole Kaletsky in the Times of London:

The alternatives offered to the people of France are not between the idealistic European multiculturalism of the 21st century and the xenophobic nationalism of the 19th. Rather they face a choice between two approaches: on one hand the liberal ideology of free markets and small governments that seems to be sweeping the world after its relaunch in Britain and America in the 1980s. The alternative is the 1970s belief that a centralised, protectionist and bureaucratically managed state could gradually be extended to the whole of Europe, preserving and enhancing the traditions of Gaullism in its glory days, when Chirac and Giscard were rising to power.

The EU isn’t all bad. It has acted as a democratic magnet for many other countries on its periphery; its democratic values have helped goad national governments into adopting more liberal economies and more inclusive societies. But the French dream of a rival to the U.S. is both reactionary – why should Europe and America be in competition? – and doomed to economic failure. In fact, the obsession with political union has acted as a diversion from the vital reforms needed in continental Europe’s economy. It would be a lovely irony if the French helped kick-start a more reasonable and diverse collection of cooperative nation states as the real future of Europe. In that country, the people are often wiser than the elites.

MUST-READ ON AFGHANISTAN: A concise, on-the-ground, revelatory report on what’s really happening in that country. Apart from the Gonzales Gulag (“news reports claiming that the US has set up a network of secret and lawless prisons in Afghanistan are dreadful, if accurate”), the picture is relatively promising. Money quote:

[T]he power of the gunmen and the chaos of the war years have diminished greatly, and people believe they will continue to diminish. This bears emphasis, in contrast to the unwarranted hysteria of some of the commentary I read on Afghanistan (“an electoral-narco-gulag-permanent-base dependency,” passim). Many people still don’t understand just how bad things were in Afghanistan, or how hard it is to find the traction to begin rebuilding a country from such a low base. Look at the stats on where Afghanistan is now (poverty, infant mortality, kidnappings, repression of women, impunity for murderers), and of course it’s appalling, of course it’s a dependency — four years ago it was a textbook failed state. Look at the trajectory of the place, and there’s reason for much hope.

Patrick Belton is doing great and good work – as an aid worker and as a journalist.

CONNECTICUT’S CHALLENGE: Two days ago, Connecticut became the second state to grant marriage rights in all but name to same-sex couples without any court prompting. California was the first. The new legislation emerged from the usual political process, with no judicial intervention. A bill was also passed reserving the name “marriage” for heterosexual couples. It seems to me that this shifts the debate on marriage rights in America. Many opponents of equality between gay and straight couples have insisted that what they are primarily opposed to is the judicial imposition of equality, not necessarily equality itself. Connecticut shows that the procedural argument is insufficient. The legislators framed this reform, not the courts. Something not completely dissimilar, by the way, is happening in Massachusetts. In the Bay State, the process for a constituional amendment is under way. That process is difficult but it is democratic. Elected representatives have to take a stand; they face re-election difficulties if they fly in the face of the democratic will. After almost a year of equality, Massachusetts voters have rewarded pro-equality legislators and penalized those who backed the amendment. There’s a good chance that the legislature will let the amendment die before too long. Again: this is a democratic process. Such democratic processes have led to constitutional amendments against marriage rights and civil unions in many states. In my view, federalism means those decisions, however regrettable, should be respected. But so too should Connecticut’s. And that is where the anti-federalist import of the proposed federal amendment is most clearly revealed. It seems to me that such an amendment would revoke Connecticut’s new civil unions, since they provide almost all the legal benefits of civil marriage. The co-author of the amendment, Robert P. George, has been quite clear in saying that the amendment is designed to invalidate civil unions that are the equivalent of civil marriage as well as civil marriage itself. So again we have two conservative principles in conflict: the procedural conservatism that respects states’ rights, and the theocratic conservatism that holds that a “sacred” meaning for civil marriage must be imposed nationally regardless of any state’s decision. It’s time that opponents of equal rights for gay couples acknowledge that this is now the choice: between a diverse, federalist country, and an explicitly Christian definition of a civil institution to be imposed on everyone.

EMAIL OF THE DAY: “I am literally sitting in the hospital room with my dying father as I read your comments on Eric Cohen’s commentary. He is dying of Pulmonary Fibrosis, a disease from which there is no chance of recovery. He has specified in a living will, and thru multiple discussions with family and the hospital staff, that he does not wish to be placed on life support when the rapidly approaching (within days) time comes.
The thought of having the state, in the name of someone else’s beliefs, defy my father’s wishes for a natural death with dignity, fills me with rage. If we can not maintain a simple right to die when nature itself would have us do so, what rights do we maintain? Who is playing God here?” The Republican party is playing God, that’s who.