The most striking aspect of Richard Rodriguez’s latest book, Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography, was its attempt to understand 9/11 in an empathetic way. His response to that atrocity was to draw closer to Islam, not to push it as far away as possible. He saw Islam as a desert religion like Christianity and tried to see what had happened to create a monstrous fanaticism of the Taliban and al Qaeda variety, and to look into his own Catholic faith for reasons as well. I was challenged by this, and wanted to talk about it. So here we have the podcast. Richard insists on the connection between Islam and Christianity, perhaps most vividly in the Arabic-rooted Spanish words of his own Catholic grandmother, and the intimacy of inter-religious conflict:
We went on to talk about martyrdom in both Islam and Christianity, and the distinction, important to me, between fundamentalism and faith:
For the full conversation on Deep Dish, click here. If you aren’t a subscriber, click here to sign up for complete access to all things Dish.
Late last night, McClatchy reported that the CIA inspector general has asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations that the CIA illegally monitored Congressional staff investigating the Agency’s secret detention and interrogation programs. The Senate Intelligence Committee spent four years and $40 million investigating the use of waterboarding and enhanced interrogation techniques in secret overseas prisons, producing a reportedly “searing” 6,300 page finding excoriating the Agency’s actions.
As part of this investigation, intelligence committee staff were required by the CIA to use Agency computers in a secure room in Langley to access millions of sensitive documents. Congressional investigators reportedly agreed to use those computers under the condition that their work not be monitored by the CIA, in accordance with due respect for the separation of powers and the integrity and independence of the investigation. Apparently, the spy mentality proved too strong to resist, as earlier this year the committee determined that their work had in fact been monitored in possible violation of their agreement.
What we have here is a rogue agency, believing it is above the law, above Congress and indeed immune to even presidential oversight. John Brennan, a man who never piped up as the CIA was orchestrating war crimes in a manner unprecedented in US history, is now revealed as running an agency that broke the law and attacked the very basis of a constitutional democracy by targeting the Congress for domestic spying! The CIA is legally barred from any domestic spying, let alone on its constitutional over-seers.
It’s enough to make you think that the CIA committed crimes so damning and lied so aggressively during the torture regime that it is now doing what all criminals do when confronted with the evidence: stonewall, attack the prosecution, try to remove or suppress evidence, police its employees’ testimony, and generally throw up as much dust as possible. That they continue to do this is a real challenge to this president. How much longer is he going to let these goons prevent the truth from being known? Why is he allowing Brennan to continue to run an agency when, under his watch, it has laid itself open to a criminal investigation of its own alleged obstruction of justice?
Yes, I have to keep pinching myself. For the longest time, in my marriage equality stump speech from the 1990s, I would end by citing Hannah Arendt’s classic case for ending the anti-miscegenation laws:
Even political rights, like the right to vote, and nearly all other rights enumerated in the Constitution, are secondary to the inalienable human rights to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence; and to this category the right to home and marriage unquestionably belongs.
What I was trying to do was to get (at that point) mainly gay people to see how the denial of the right to marry was effectively a nullification of the Declaration of Independence for gay Americans. The right of gay people to marry was more profound in truth and in law than the right of gay people to vote. “So why aren’t you fighting for it?” I’d declare. Until they did. Getting straight people to see this was actually easier over the years (tell a straight person he doesn’t have the right to marry the woman he loves and you’ll get some powerful pushback). But now look:
Americans think the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution gives gays the legal right to marry. In a closer but still significant division, 50 percent say it does, while 41 percent say not, with the rest undecided.
So a Supreme Court ruling that did not find civil marriage as a core constitutional right for gay couples would now be against public opinion. Ross and Rod are surely more right than they might imagine. This is becoming not a victory for gay equality but a rout. The new Post/ABC poll, for example, finds for the first time that there is a plurality in favor of marriage equality in every age group. Even the over-65s are now in favor, by 47 – 43 percent. The next generation (under 40s) sees the issue as a no-brainer with a massive 72 – 22 percent in favor. 40 percent of Republicans are now supportive, with 23 percent strongly supportive. And, in fact, the intensity factor – long on the side of fundamentalists – now operates in favor of gays and their friends and families.
By the end of the Obama presidency, gay Americans may well achieve a near-total victory in their quest for equality.
My apologies upfront: that was simply an irresistible headline. On Sunday, Ross complained that conservatives are not being allowed to negotiate the terms of their surrender on marriage equality:
We are not really having an argument about same-sex marriage anymore, and on the evidence of Arizona, we’re not having a negotiation. Instead, all that’s left is the timing of the final victory — and for the defeated to find out what settlement the victors will impose.
Contrary to the lessons being taught by our toxic culture, not every momentary advantage needs to be followed up with the crushing and humiliation of one’s enemies. So the question should not be, “Can we succeed in getting society to treat those who disagree with us as moral lepers?” but “Is it right to do so?” Churchill famously started one of his books with a credo that included the phrase “In Victory: Magnanimity.” Magnanimity is definitely not a virtue that today’s culture prizes — but this is a moment that calls for it.
American Christians are about to learn what it means to live in a country where being a faithful Christian is going to exact significant costs. It may not be persecution, but it’s still going to hurt, and in ways most Christians scarcely understand. Maybe this will be good for us. Maybe. We’ll see.
It seems to me there is an important distinction here. If the gay rights movement seeks to impose gay equality on religious groups by lawsuit, or if it seeks to remove tax exempt status for institutions that refuse to include gays for theological reasons, then I agree that such attempts to humiliate and coerce opponents should be resisted tooth and nail. Such spiking of the ball is a repugnant and ill-advised over-reach, and, to my mind, a betrayal of the soul of the movement. We should be about the expansion of freedom for everyone, not its constriction. We should be in favor of persuasion, not coercion. The question of allowing any individual or business to discriminate against gay people and gay couples is, however, a much trickier area. In any public accommodations, I think it’s counter-productive and morally disturbing. But my own strong preference is for as much live-and-let-live as possible: i.e. not filing lawsuits against anti-gay businesses but supporting pro-gay ones in the marketplace.
Still, championing the ability to fire gay people on religious grounds does not seem to me to be a winning argument for those opposing marriage equality. A majority of even Republicans favor laws banning workplace discrimination against gays, and the national majority is immense: around 68 percent for and only 21 percent against. In the same poll, 80 percent of Americans thought this was already the law! That’s a hill I would not aim to die on, if I were the Christianist right.
But what Ross and Michael and Rod are really concerned about, it seems to me, is the general culture of growing intolerance of religious views on homosexuality, and the potential marginalization – even stigmatization – of traditional Christians.
Reading all the grim reports from Ukraine this morning, this quote really stood out. It’s a report of what Angela Merkel reportedly told Barack Obama in a phone-call last night, after speaking with Vladimir Putin:
She was not sure he was in touch with reality, people briefed on the call said. “In another world,” she said.
That is the truly worrying thing. But it is always worth trying to see things from the point of view of our foe, to see if his madness makes some kind of internal sense, and to see if we have any blind-spots that may hinder us from the smartest response. Greg Dejerejian notes:
One need not be a Putin apologist to recognize some salient facts: 1) the Maidan movement included ultra-nationalists and even neo-fascists, 2) the Yanukovych transition deal was crudely scuppered leaving the Russian side caught unawares and looking flat-footed (never appreciated by Vladimir Putin); and 3) this was followed by deeply provocative measures by the new Government in Kiev to move to extinguish Russian minority language rights. More assertiveness was surely on tap, as the mood was manifestly one of triumphalism.
I fell prey to this myself, buoyed by obvious and instinctive support for any country resisting the boot of the Kremlin, and too blithe about the consequences of a revolution that overthrew a democratically elected president. But as we now know only too well, Ukraine is deeply divided between its pro-Western West and its pro-Russian East; any attempt to resolve this underlying tension decisively was bound to risk real rifts within the country and tempt Russia to intervene. Anatol Lieven has a must-read:
President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of the EU offer led to an uprising in Kiev and the western and central parts of Ukraine, and to his own flight from Kiev, together with many of his supporters in the Ukrainian parliament. This marks a very serious geopolitical defeat for Russia. It is now obvious that Ukraine as a whole cannot be brought into the Eurasian Union, reducing that union to a shadow of what the Putin administration hoped. And though Russia continues officially to recognize him, President Yanukovych can only be restored to power in Kiev if Moscow is prepared to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and seize its capital by force. The result would be horrendous bloodshed, a complete collapse of Russia’s relations with the West and of Western investment in Russia, a shattering economic crisis, and Russia’s inevitable economic and geopolitical dependency on China.
It seems vital to me that we see what Putin is doing from his point of view. What seems to us like an unprovoked, Sudetenland-style invasion is both mercifully less than that (so far) and also, critically, a function of Putin’s string of recent setbacks. He has already lost a huge amount. And he is now recklessly and thoughtlessly acting out as a result. Dmitri Trenin describes Moscow’s current worldview thus:
In Moscow, there is a growing fatigue with the west, with the EU and the United States. Their role in Ukraine is believed to be particularly obnoxious: imposing on Ukraine a choice between the EU and Russia that it could not afford; supporting the opposition against an elected government; turning a blind eye to right-wing radical descendants of wartime Nazi collaborators; siding with the opposition to pressure the government into submission; finally, condoning an unconstitutional regime change. The Kremlin is yet again convinced of the truth of the famous maxim of Alexander III, that Russia has only two friends in the world, its army and its navy. Both now defend its interests in Crimea.
How to deal with an authoritarian leader, increasingly paranoid about the West, his greater regional aspirations turned to dust, who is now wielding military power in a manner more reminiscent of the Cold War than of anything since? One obvious response is counter-provocation, of the kind that John McCain and the Washington Post editorial board would instinctively prefer. It seems to me that, given how Putin has reacted to Western pressure so far, this would merely invite more recklessness.
The saner approach is to try and mollify some of Russia’s legitimate concerns about Ukraine – the rights of the pro-Russian Ukrainians in the East, for example, some of which were suspended (and now restored) by the new Kiev government, while persuading him of unstated but profoundly adverse consequences if he ratchets up the use of force even further. David Ignatius – unlike the breathless neocons on the WaPo editorial page – makes the case very effectively this morning. What our goal must be now, above everything, is avoiding any pretext for a Russian invasion of Eastern Ukraine.
And the truth is: this is very much in Russia’s actual interests. Its stock market and currency are in free-fall this morning, but a full-scale invasion of Ukraine would mean a mutual bloodbath, effectively destroying Russia’s standing in the world, tearing up its relations with the major powers, including, possibly China, and rendering it a rogue, primitive, paranoid power, whose elites would be cut off from the global trade and financial markets they rely on. There must be some faction in the Kremlin able to see this, even if it only occupies a small part of Putin’s mind.
But it will not be enough. Ukraine has long occupied a powerful place in the Russian imagination. Pride and identity are at stake now, and they make a catastrophe much likelier. And so the West needs both to be firm about military intervention but also cognizant of Russia’s genuine fears and insecurity in the wake of recent events. Djerejian again:
Here’s the money quote from Jan Brewer’s veto statement last night:
Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific and present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona. I have not heard of one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated … Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value, so is non-discrimination.
As I’ve mulled this over and over, I have a few straggling thoughts. Against the bill: it had two terrible features. The first was the breadth of the religious liberty invoked. The real innovation in Arizona was the extension of religious liberty claims against other citizens, rather than against the government itself. That’s a big leap, and trivializes religious liberty in some ways. No individual can coerce, even with a lawsuit, the way the government can. The second is the environment in which this bill was introduced. In Arizona, gay citizens have no right to marry, and no legal protection against being fired simply for being gay. Indeed, a fundamentalist Christian or Muslim needs no new law to discriminate quite brutally against gay people under the rationale of religious liberty. To argue that the real problem here is the victimization of fundamentalists is therefore bizarre. In fact, it’s a grotesque inversion of reality.
As for the case for allowing fundamentalists to discriminate against anyone associated with what they regard as sin, I’m much more sympathetic. I favor maximal liberty in these cases. The idea that you should respond to a hurtful refusal to bake a wedding cake by suing the bakers is a real stretch to me.
Whenever I read the blog-posts of Walter Russell Mead, or the fulminations of Leon Wieseltier, or the sputtering harrumphs of John McCain, or the neoconservative or liberal internationalist horrified respect for Vladimir Putin’s Great Game of geo-politics, I find myself on the other side of a vast, intellectual chasm. I’ve tried at times in my head to engage the arguments, and have consistently found myself at a loss. It’s not the arguments for this or that military or diplomatic intervention that stump me. It’s the entire premise behind them.
At times, I’ve put it down to a very different response to the Iraq War. Many of these voices decrying Obama’s restraint in the face of evil or distant conflict have not drawn the same lessons I did from that defining episode in American foreign policy in the 21st Century. I saw that war as an almost text-book refutation of the logic behind US intervention in this century. The Iraqis were not the equivalent of Poles in 1989. They were deeply conflicted about US intervention and Western liberalism and came to despise the occupying power. The US was not the exemplar of liberal democracy that it was in the Cold War. It was a belligerent state, initiating Israel-style pre-emptive wars, and using torture as its primary intelligence-gathering weapon. Its military did not defeat an enemy without firing a shot, as with the the end-game of the Soviet Union; it failed to defeat an enemy while unloading every piece of military “shock and awe” upon it. A paradigm was shattered for me – and shattered by plain reality. A realist is a neocon mugged by history.
But the more I ponder this, the more I wonder if it isn’t also rooted in an entirely different response to the end of the Cold War as well. I remember vividly some early disputes at TNR as the Soviet Union collapsed. Marty, in particular, was just as vigilant toward the new Russian government as he had been toward the Communist one (and that was during the elysian years of Yeltsin’s doomed, democratic experiment). I found this utterly baffling. For me, the fight against Communism was not a fight against Russia. They were separate entities; one was a global, expansionist ideology, capable of intervening across the planet; the other was a ruined but still proud regional power. Indeed, if we were to prevent a return to Communist norms, I believed we should expect Russia to flex some muscles in its area of influence, for the Orthodox church to return as some sort of cultural unifier, for Russia to return to, well, being Russia, with some measure of self-respect. Magnanimity in victory was a Churchillian lesson I took to heart. I hoped – and hope – for more, but came to understand much more vividly what I had unforgivably forgotten after 9/11 – the perils of trying to force democratic advance in alien cultures and polities.
For me, the end of the Cold War was a blessed permission to return to “normal”. And “normal” meant a defense of national interests and no countervailing ideological crusade of the kind the Communist world demanded. In time, it seems to me that the basic and intuitive foreign policy for the US would return to what it had been before the global ideological warfare against totalitarianism from the 1940s to the 1980s. The US would become again an engaged ally, a protector of global peace, but would return to the blessed state of existing between two vast oceans and two friendly neighbors. The idea of global hegemony – so alien to the vision of the Founders – would not appeal for long, at least outside the Jacksonian South. As Islamist terror traumatized us on 9/11, however, I reverted almost reflexively to the Cold War mindset – as did large numbers of Americans. It was the rubric we understood; and defining Islamism as the new totalitarianism helped dispel what then appeared as the delusions of the 1990s, when peace and prosperity seemed to indicate an “end of history”, in Frank Fukuyama’s grossly misunderstood and still brilliantly incisive essay.
From the perspective of 2014, however, the delusions seem to have been far more profound in the first decade of the 21st Century than in the last decade of the 20th. The conflation of Islamism with Communism was far too glib – not least because the former was clearly a reactionary response to modernity, while the latter claimed to be modernity’s logical future; and the latter commanded a vast military machine, while the former had a bunch of religious nutcases with boxcutters. And the attempt to use neo-colonial military force to fight Islamism was clearly doomed to produce yet more Islamists – as the Iraq and Afghanistan interventions proved definitively. More to the point, Americans now understand this in ways that many in the elite don’t:
From 93 percent to 48 percent is quite some shift in 12 years. Sometimes, when I’m criticized for changing my mind on the wars against Islamist terror, as if I were some kind of incoherent madman, I can’t help chuckling. I can see why it might seem fickle or unprincipled or irrational if I were alone. But when there’s a stampede among Americans on exactly the same lines, I’m clearly not an outlier. People changed their minds because the facts forced them to. The polling on the Iraq war is even worse:
For a long time now, the Republican party has essentially decided to ride the tiger of right-wing extremism to electoral victories and total Washington gridlock. The real action on the right side of the aisle has been on the far right, with each new anti-Obama movement and eruption out-doing the last in terms of upping the ante. Shock-jocks have defined the message, aided and abetted by key leadership figures. And so, in the latest manifestation, we have the former vice-president, Dick Cheney, telling Sean Hannity the following last night:
They peddle this line that now we’re going to pivot to Asia, but they’ve never justified it. And I think the whole thing is not driven by any change in world circumstances, it is driven by budget considerations. He would much rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military or support for our troops.
So a former vice-president is out there, saying the president prefers to spend money on food stamps than on “support for our troops.” He could have made an argument why he thinks we should maintain the stratospheric levels of defense spending that have been in place since 9/11; he could have argued that the US needs to maintain the ability to fight two major land wars simultaneously in perpetuity. He could have said a lot of things. But he decided to accuse the commander-in-chief of not supporting the troops and actually wanting to keep people in poverty. There is this belief out there that Republican extremism comes from the base and not the elites. But Cheney proves otherwise.
Now we get the extreme religious liberty bills across the country that are clearly a function of gay panic among fundamentalists and a decision to capitalize on it for electoral gain; we have a Republican lobbyist pulling a publicity stunt by drafting a law to ban gay players from the NFL; we have a state senator, using sarcasm in such a way as to describe mothers as “hosts” of unborn children; we have gubernatorial candidates proudly campaigning with a man who called the president a “subhuman mongrel”; and the list goes on and on:
attempting to make contraception illegal (North Carolina), requiring sonograms and their images of fetuses to be presented to women seeking abortions (several states), advocacy of secession (Colorado and Texas), making enforcement of federal laws regarding guns a crime (Missouri), adopting a tax code that puts a greater burden on the poor and middle class while advantaging the rich (North Carolina and Kansas), mandating photo identification for voting while making the availability of those IDs only in Department of Motor Vehicle offices where the non-driving majority of those without IDs never go (a number of states), refusing federal funds for expanding access to Medicaid for millions who need such access and protection (21 states, all with Republican governors) and, attempting to mandate the teaching of “creationism” in schools (several states).
Now, it’s true that some kind of pushback seems to have begun.
The right-wing pundit, who supported the Kansas discrimination bill, feels that his side’s position is being distorted:
If a Christian owns a bakery or a florist shop or a photography shop or a diner, a Christian should no more be allowed to deny service to a gay person than to a black person. It is against the tenets of 2000 years of orthodox Christian faith, no matter how poorly some Christians have practiced their faith over two millennia.
And honestly, I don’t know that I know anyone who disagrees with any of this. The disagreement comes on one issue only — should a Christian provide goods and services to a gay wedding. That’s it. We’re not talking about serving a meal at a restaurant. We’re not talking about baking a cake for a birthday party. We’re talking about a wedding, which millions of Christians view as a sacrament of the faith and other, mostly Protestant Christians, view as a relationship ordained by God to reflect a holy relationship.
This slope is only slippery if you grease it with hypotheticals not in play.
But the wording of the bills in question – from Kansas to Arizona – is a veritable, icy piste for widespread religious discrimination. And that’s for an obvious reason. If legislatures were to craft bills specifically allowing discrimination only in the case of services for weddings for gay couples, as Erickson says he wants, it would seem not only bizarre but obviously unconstitutional – clearly targeting a named minority for legal discrimination. So they had to broaden it, and in broadening it, came careening into their own double standards. Allow a religious exemption for interacting with gays, and you beg the question: why not other types of sinners? If the principle is not violating sincere religious belief, then discriminating against the divorced or those who use contraception would naturally follow. I’ve yet to read an argument about these laws that shows they cannot have that broad effect.
We all know there are plenty of kooks out there – on both sides – who say repulsive, racist or bigoted things all the time. The Internet has given every vice a voice. And I also hate stupid guilt-by-association smears that merely try to discredit politicians or writers on the basis of views they do not share and supporters they have not chosen. But I simply cannot get Ted Nugent’s rant about the president as a “sub-human mongrel” out of my head. And I cannot believe that a major political party in this country would not just refuse to repudiate it, but actively embrace Nugent as an ally in campaigns.
And yet they are. Just for the record, here is the full quote from Nugent – which is no exception to his usual fare:
I have obviously failed to galvanize and prod, if not shame enough Americans to be ever vigilant not to let a Chicago communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel like the ACORN community organizer gangster Barack Hussein Obama to weasel his way into the top office of authority in the United States of America.
This is the rhetoric of racist neo-fascism. It’s not legitimate criticism; it is an expression of white supremacy and the alleged evils of race-mixing. The fact that the GOP candidate for governor of Texas would seek to have Nugent join him on the campaign trail only weeks after these remarks were uttered should rightly disqualify him from holding any public office in this country. And yet Greg Abbott refuses even to address his endorsement of a white supremacist like Nugent.
The fact that Sarah Palin, a former candidate for the vice-presidency, would openly celebrate Nugent as her arbiter of what is good and true in politics, is equally horrifying even as it is completely unsurprising.
The fact that the former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, did not respond to this disgusting comment by condemning it immediately, but by reflexively deflecting the question back to Democratic extremists, is also appalling. The Republicans’ favorite rock star has called the president an animal. What would it take for a Republican to say he or she is horrified by that language and to defend the dignity and basic humanity of the president of the United States? Do they not hear the eliminationist racism in that phrase? Do they not even begin to imagine what it connotes for millions of Americans?
And now we have Ted Cruz also refusing to say, minutes after he just watched the full Nugent diatribe, that he would not have Ted Nugent on the campaign trail with him in the future. Money quote from the interview with Dana Bash, who asks Cruz his response to the Nugent rant:
Gabriel Arana thinks we are on the verge of a wave of legislation in the red states similar to the Kansasbill:
As I argued back in November, seeing defeat on the horizon in the gay-marriage wars, social conservatives have shifted gears. Instead of trying to stop the tide of social change, they are seeking to exempt themselves from it under the banner of “religious liberty.” Typically, social conservatives have pushed for exemptions in blue states like New York or Vermont only once the legislature has begun considering gay-rights legislation. But starting with Kansas, followers of the gay-marriage saga should expect to see more and more red states considering such preemptive measures as standalone bills.
Here’s my core question: how can we know these bills are genuinely about religious liberty and not actually about anti-gay prejudice? I think there’s one test that can clarify that. Allow me to explain.
Readers know I have sympathy for those – like evangelical florists, say – who feel that catering a same-sex wedding violates their conscience. I don’t like the idea of forcing those people to do something that truly offends them; if I were planning my own wedding again and found that a florist really had issues, I’d find one who didn’t. It would sure be nice to muddle through a bit here and avoid, if we can, outright zero-sum battles between the freedom of some to marry and the freedom of some to avoid an occasion of what they regard as sin.
But this is America, and so we won’t, of course. So it also seems to me that the one demand we should make of such a defense of religious freedom is that it be consistent. For me, with devout Catholics, the acid test is divorce. The bar on divorce – which, unlike the gay issue, is upheld directly by Jesus in the Gospels – is just as integral to the Catholic meaning of marriage as the prohibition on gay couples. So why no laws including that potential violation of religious liberty? Both kinds of marriage are equally verboten in Catholicism. So where is the political movement to insist that devout Catholics do not have to cater the second weddings of previously divorced people?
For that matter, why no consideration of those whose religious beliefs demand that they not bless marriages outside their own faith-community? Do we enshrine the right of, say, an Orthodox Jewish hotel-owner to discriminate against unmarried couples who might be inter-married across faiths? Do we allow an evangelical to discriminate against Mormon couples, because their doctrine about marriage is so markedly different from mainstream Christianity’s?
It seems to me that the acid test for the new bills being prepared by the Christianist right with respect to religious freedom and marriage is whether they are discriminatory against gays and straights alike. Currently, they don’t begin to pass muster on that front. Until they do, the presumption that they are motivated by bigotry rather than faith is perfectly legitimate. Dish readers are already flagging the discriminatory bills as they pop up:
I’ve appreciated your work in keeping the world up to date on the recent events in Kansas. Unfortunately a bill that would seem to be suspiciously similar, if not identical, is being picked up in Tennessee as well.
There seem to be two major responses to the Washington Free Beacon’s enterprising investigation into the Diane Blair documents at the Clinton library University of Arkansas Special Collections library. The first is: up and at ‘em! She’s a candidate for president (well she hasn’t ruled it out); her record in public life is obviously germane; what’s the problem? The second is: can we not revisit the entire 1990s? It was bad enough at the time. And please, give the Clintons a break after all these years. Byron York makes the first case; Frank Bruni makes the second.
York wins by a mile, it seems to me. When you’re electing a president, obviously his or her character under pressure is an important thing to understand. Many candidates – like Obama, for example – have such a slim record in public life (and such an apparently impeccable private life) that the details can be a little sparse. Nonetheless, we know about his pot-smoking, his intimate family background (not least because he wrote his own book about them), his marriage, his friendships, his religious affiliations, and on and on. Now think of what we learned (and didn’t!) about a former half-term governor’s improbable rise. When you come to someone like Hillary Clinton, who’s been in the halls of power for two interminable decades, the record is much deeper and wider. It is not somehow prying into someone’s zone of legitimate privacy to note the following, as York does, in order to counter the hagiography that has emerged in the last decade or so:
New voters also need to learn about Mrs. Clinton’s checkered history as a lawyer and the game of hide-and-seek she played with federal prosecutors who subpoenaed her old billing records as part of the Whitewater investigation. After two years of defying subpoenas and not producing the records, she suddenly claimed that they had been in a closet in the White House residence all along.
Add to that Clinton’s amazing $100,000 windfall in cattle futures and the shenanigans in the White House travel office, and you’re dealing with completely legit questions about ethics in public life. The benefit of time passing is that these maneuvers can be seen more dispassionately, and dismissed as ancient news, if appropriate. I can’t imagine, for example, that cattle futures will figure prominently in the 2016 campaign. And Clinton’s stonewalling the largely-debunked Whitewater “scandal” may well burnish her rep for steeliness, rather than make her seem conniving.
But what about the Lewinsky mess, which was obviously not her doing, which derailed her husband’s second term, and in which she was much more sinned against than sinning? I don’t believe it should be a prominent feature of the campaign – and trying to shoehorn it into the debate, as Rand Paul has been doing, is bound to boomerang. Forcing a spouse to relive her husband’s infidelity and dishonesty and even perjury crosses a line in civility Americans are rightly sensitive to. But the trouble is – this wasn’t an entirely private matter – you can’t erase impeachment from history - and the Clintons, in any case, have a strong story to tell about Republican over-reach. There is, moreover, a completely legitimate question to be drawn from the episode: What does it tell us about Hillary Clinton’s political character?
It tells us that she is one cool customer. Claire Underwood has a doppelganger. Here’s the money quote for me from the WFB piece:
In her conversations with Blair, the first lady gave her husband credit for trying to end the affair with Lewinsky, and said he did not take advantage of his White House intern. “It was a lapse, but she says to his credit he tried to break it off, tried to pull away, tried to manage someone who was clearly a ‘narcissistic loony toon’; but it was beyond control,” wrote Blair. “HRC insists, no matter what people say, it was gross inappropriate behavior but it was consensual (was not a power relationship) and was not sex within any real meaning (standup, liedown, oral, etc.) of the term.”
So for Clinton, there is no power dynamic at work in a female intern having an affair with the president of the United States. I’d love to see her make that case in other sexual harassment cases. And for Hillary, Bill Clinton was not lying when he said that he did not have sex with Lewinsky. On the question of Bill’s honesty, Hillary thinks he was always telling the truth. As for feminism, Hillary Clinton had more sympathy for Bob Packwood than for the countless women he grotesquely harassed and groped:
The bill that just overwhelmingly passed the Kansas House of Representatives is quite something. You can read it in its entirety here. It is premised on the notion that the most pressing injustice in Kansas right now is the persecution some religious people are allegedly experiencing at the hands of homosexuals. As Rush Limbaugh recently noted, “They’re under assault. You say, ‘Heterosexuality may be 95, 98 percent of the population.’ They’re under assault by the 2 to 5 percent that are homosexual.” As its sponsor, Charles Macheers, explained:
Discrimination is horrible. It’s hurtful … It has no place in civilized society, and that’s precisely why we’re moving this bill. There have been times throughout history where people have been persecuted for their religious beliefs because they were unpopular. This bill provides a shield of protection for that.
The remedy for such a terrible threat is, however, state support for more discrimination. The law empowers any individual or business to refuse to interact with, do business with, or in any way come into contact with anyone who may have some connection to a gay civil union, or civil marriage or … well any “similar arrangement” (room-mates?). It gives the full backing of the law to any restaurant or bar-owner who puts up a sign that says “No Gays Served”. It empowers employees of the state government to refuse to interact with gay citizens as a group. Its scope is vast: it allows anyone to refuse to provide “services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits” to anyone suspected of being complicit in celebrating or enabling the commitment of any kind of a gay couple.
If the Republican Party wanted to demonstrate that it wants no votes from anyone under 40, it couldn’t have found a better way to do it. Some critics have reacted to this law with the view that it is an outrageous new version of Jim Crow and a terrifying portent of the future for gays in some red states. It is both of those. It’s the kind of law that Vladimir Putin would enthusiastically support. But it is also, to my mind, a fatal mis-step for the movement to keep gay citizens in a marginalized, stigmatized place.
It’s a misstep because it so clearly casts the anti-gay movement as the heirs to Jim Crow. If you want to taint the Republican right as nasty bigots who would do to gays today what Southerners did to segregated African-Americans in the past, you’ve now got a text-book case. The incidents of discrimination will surely follow, and, under the law, be seen to have impunity. Someone will be denied a seat at a lunch counter. The next day, dozens of customers will replace him. The state will have to enforce the owner’s right to refuse service. You can imagine the scenes. Or someone will be fired for marrying the person they love. The next day, his neighbors and friends will rally around.
If you were devising a strategy to make the Republicans look like the Bull Connors of our time, you just stumbled across a winner. If you wanted a strategy to define gay couples as victims and fundamentalist Christians as oppressors, you’ve hit the jackpot. In a period when public opinion has shifted decisively in favor of gay equality and dignity, Kansas and the GOP have decided to go in precisely the opposite direction. The week that the first openly gay potential NFL player came out, the GOP approved a bill that would prevent him from eating in restaurants in the state, if he ever mentioned his intention to marry or just shack up with his boyfriend. Really, Republicans? That’s the party you want?
As for the allegedly Christian nature of this legislation, let’s not mince words. This is the inversion of Christianity.
The trailer for R.J. Cutler’s The World According To Dick Cheney, which premiered last March:
What has long struck me about Dick Cheney was not his decision to weigh the moral cost of torture against what he believed was the terrible potential cost of forgoing torture. That kind of horrible moral choice is something one can in many ways respect. If Cheney had ever said that he knows torture is a horrifying and evil thing, that he wrestled with the choice, and decided to torture, I’d respect him, even as I’d disagree with him. But what’s staggering about Cheney is that he denies that any such weighing of moral costs and benefits is necessary. Torture was, in his fateful phrase, a “no-brainer.”
Think about that for a moment. A no-brainer. Abandoning a core precept of George Washington’s view of the American military, trashing laws of warfare that have been taught for centuries at West Point, using the word “honor” as if it had no meaning at all: this is the man who effectively ran the country for years after 9/11, until he was eventually sidelined in the second Bush term. Here is the true Nietzschean figure – beyond good and evil, motivated solely by his own will to power and hatred of those who might thwart him. Here is the politician Carl Schmitt believed in: one for whom all morality is subordinate to the exercise of power, and whose favorite form of power is overwhelming physical violence. The other word for this is sociopath.
Mark Danner, in his latest examination of this profoundly evil figure in American history, considers the former vice president’s legacy:
A comparison to Jason Collins, the National Basketball Association player who came out last spring, is instructive … Collins came out at age 34 and near or at the conclusion of his career as a professional athlete, having made a living playing ball for 12 years. Sam came out at age 24 and the very beginning of his career, with all of his earning years ahead of him. Especially given where they respectively are, Sam is simply better, and therefore risking more.
“I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet,” said an NFL player personnel assistant. “In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”
All the NFL personnel members interviewed believed that Sam’s announcement will cause him to drop in the draft. He was projected between the third and seventh rounds prior to the announcement. The question is: How far will he fall?
“I just know with this going on this is going to drop him down,” said a veteran NFL scout. “There’s no question about it. It’s human nature. Do you want to be the team to quote-unquote ‘break that barrier?’”
A “man’s-man game.” What’s interesting to me is how that assessment of football is used to exclude homosexuals!
But that’s simply a function of ignorance. That formulation equates homosexuality with femininity, but it’s a much more complicated and diverse phenomenon than that. There are, it seems to me, many homosexualities – across the entire male-female spectrum, with many different routes to adulthood. Yes there are many gays who identify with women and the company of women. But there are also many who identify with men and the company of men (and along the entire spectrum in between). There are hyper-masculine gays as well as hyper-feminine ones and everything in between. (There’s also, I’d argue, more muted diversity along these lines among straight men as well.)
What we’ve been witnessing these last couple of decades, as the stigma against gayness has abated, is the emergence of more and more gay men who could have passed for straight and remained closeted or even married to a woman in days gone by. These gay men are often invisible both to gay insiders who revere and enjoy more traditional manifestations of gayness and to straight people who simply assume that more traditionally masculine-type men are never gay. But these gay men exist, are out in increasing numbers, and deserve just as much dignity and acceptance as anyone else. What Sam’s honesty has done is help explode crude and overly-narrow assumptions about gay men – particularly among sports-fans and African-Americans. And yes, I think his race is important. The stereotypes about gay men as intrinsically feminine are deeply embedded in African-American culture. If black gay men are to have the future they deserve, the stereotypes need to end. Michael Sam just opened up a whole new arena for mutual understanding and human dignity.