Proposition H8

The 1990s brought forth a bastion of political correctness. All at once, we were forbidden from saying “black,” “retard,” and “fag,”  in lieu of the more acceptable terms African-American, mentally-challenged, and homosexual. The politically correct terminology was so successful and so thorough that the words looked weird written on the page. It was uncomfortable to even write them. That’s because I’m a product of those nineties. If you miss a good racist joke, you can blame it on Bill Clinton.

In high school, we held assemblies in the auditorium and painted posters around the school to bring to the forefront what it meant to be tolerant. Tolerance was the term of the nineties and the platform from which the politically correct language would spring. We were actively taught in our liberal arts-led public brainwashing education, that in order to heal society, we had to tolerate people who seemed different than us. But tolerance as a term never sat quite right with me. I never wanted to be in the company of someone who was taught to merely tolerate my existence. But we had to start somewhere, right? And that start was with the accepted vernacular.

Civil Rights comes in waves in this country: in 1920 white women won the right to vote and later, “African-Americans” were awarded the same; progress was made in the way we looked at and treated the handicapped among us. And the word “gay” was maligned as a derogatory expression when we used it to mean “stupid” or “weak.” This week, marriage equality is rearing its head as the Supreme Court examines Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

When I started ninth grade, AIDS was a full-blown threat with some high profile public figures falling ill. We learned that Elton John was homosexual, and that our suspicions about Boy George were spot on. Four years after I left high school, Matthew Shepard was slaughtered by someone who was decidedly intolerant.

Something Maya Angelou once said has always resonated with me. She spoke about how we demonize the people around us, to call murderers or pedophiles, “monsters.” Not people. The words serve to separate and to alienate us from each other. We can’t call people like that “people” because that’s what we are. But no person is a monster, she said.  If one human could complete a heinous act, it is within the realm of possibility for each of us. The Latin phrase she quoted was, “Homo sum, humani nil a me alienum puto.” I am a human being, nothing human can be alien to me.’

In a similar vein, she continued, we have within us the possibilities to accomplish what the greatest among us have: “If a human being dreams a great dream, dares to love somebody; if a human being dares to be Martin King, or Mahatma Gandhi, or Mother Theresa, or Malcolm X; if a human being dares to be bigger than the condition into which she or he was born—it means so can you.” All of us, each of us, human.

No matter what the courts decide, marriage equality is on its way, just as the times before them had come to cast aside our base judgements and remember the humanity that makes us hold more in common than we oftentimes like to believe. In time, “gay marriage” will simply be called “marriage.”

Beyond that, can we graduate from tolerating our differences to something else? I don’t mean love. I don’t believe we could love everyone we bump into. Respect? No, I think I could learn to love all human beings around me before I could commit to offering indiscriminate and undeserved respect. Coexist brings me to a bumper sticker on a hunter green Subaru, the paint peeling and rust flaking from the bumper. Coexist sounds like tolerate to me – a life lived next to someone else. It’s better than annihilating that neighbor, but I think we can do better. Celebrating our differences is way more than we can ever hope to realistically expect.

I watched a documentary about Matthew Shepard in my first psychology course in college, undoubtedly meant to foster awareness of others, their conditions, and how we react to them. In this psychology course, I learned about transference, a term that meant hating the part of someone else that was something you perceived to be a deep-seated trait of your own. Sort of like how I can’t stand judgmental people.  I remembered that Matthew Shepard’s killer was discovered to have been homosexual. That he butchered another human, calling him “fag” while he did it, not because he was intolerant of that boy, but because he hated that part of himself. He couldn’t bear to see it displayed so blatantly by another.

As I watched Rob Portman change his views of marriage equality after he’d discovered that his own son was homosexual, I thought about ownership. How if we could all own the things we don’t like in ourselves, we could stand up to our parties, our peers, and ourselves and voice our collective humanity in words that seek not to alienate, but to connect.

What would this country look like if we could learn acceptance?

Justice

Sorry to be morbid but there’s a strong statistical possibility that one of the current justices will move on—whether retiring or expiring—in the next four years and that the next president will once again be called upon to nominate someone for the highest Court in the land.

Preamble
We’re a few weeks away from the presidential election and at the halfway point in this series of columns. Therefore, before we tackle this week’s issue, it’s appropriate to pause and assess the current situation.

In the first election column I referred to this series as a summit quest; a challenge to leave more nonsensical items of the campaign silly season behind and equip ourselves only with the truth as we tackle important issues. In it I also laid out a few irrefutable facts and circumstances that would serve as underlying assumptions, or “base camp,” for our climb and warned that the closer one gets to the summit, the thinner the air would become. Little did I know how prescient this analogy was; even former Vice President Al Gore blamed President Obama’s horrific debate performance in Colorado on altitude sickness.

Whether it was his fumbling answers or Mitt Romney’s Cosa Nostra-like threats to public television—kissing Big Bird on one cheek while plunging a knife beneath his wing—our ascent must take into consideration current events and the candidates’ performance. As far as the first debate is concerned, Romney took command of the evening and ran the proceedings as though he was giving a Power Point presentation. He was concise, efficient and direct, never once allowing the facts to stand in his way. Obama was riddled like Sonny at the Causeway as jubilant Romney fans took to the airwaves and social media to pounce on bewildered liberals.

Great fun.

As stunned as I was by this turn of events, it changes nothing with respect to my analysis of the election because both President Obama and Gov. Romney have substantial records and demonstrated beliefs that are far more illuminating than the debates. Moreover, our country’s challenges remain the same, as do the circumstances in which we live. It’s why policies and issues are more important than one’s ability to annunciate them in less than two minutes. I’m not questioning the importance of the debates as far as campaigning is concerned, but nothing said between the two men can alter what they have done in the past or where we are today.

But the home stretch of a campaign puts everything under a microscope, and no one can predict what might become a turning point. The tragic event that occurred at our embassy in Libya on Sept. 11th was immediately and inappropriately politicized by the Romney camp. The White House followed up with its own (ongoing) gaffe by not forthrightly acknowledging the strong possibility that this was an organized terrorist attack and not an impromptu protest that spun out of control. But, here again, as maddening as Obama’s reticence in this matter is, his patience demonstrates why his approach is more preferable to the blustering rhetoric coming from the right.

Here’s why: As the evidence mounts from that night, it seems increasingly clear that this was indeed an organized terrorist attack. Therefore, it should be dealt with in the same covert manner that we have been conducting our affairs for the past four years. Overreacting in this part of the world, particularly in a state as fragile as Libya, can have devastating repercussions. If we had responded with immediate force like the George W. Bush “shoot first, look for WMD’s later” approach when the images first appeared of Ambassador Chris Stevens’ body being carried by unknown Libyans, then we would have missed that they were actually Libyan civilians who had found the ambassador alive and were calling for help. When none were found, they put Stevens into a car and took him to a hospital.

The world around us is so fragile. What some regard as callousness on the part of the president should be viewed as his understanding of this reality.
With that consideration, let us soldier on to this week’s chosen issue. The first few columns in this series took a detailed and practical look at the economy, deregulation, foreign policy and the stimulus. This week is more personal and I will keep it brief.

Justice
One of the most important aspects of the presidency is the opportunity to nominate justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. For some presidents, it has been their most enduring legacies. Four of the justices are currently in their 70s, and the average American lifespan according to the Centers for Disease Control is 78. Sorry to be morbid but there’s a strong statistical possibility that one of the current justices will move on—whether retiring or expiring—in the next four years and that the next president will once again be called upon to nominate someone for the highest Court in the land.

While we believe the collective American conscience has evolved beyond horrifying decisions such as Dred Scott, even the current Court is capable of alarming incompetence. Consider the Citizen United decision or simply read the following remarks made recently by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia at the American Enterprise Institute:

“The death penalty? Give me a break. It’s easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion. Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state.”

This type of spiteful and irresponsible attitude must be quelled by stacking the Court with thinking and feeling individuals.

Hopefully, Citizen United will someday be repealed. Ironically, perhaps an Obama Court will someday reverse one of his most dangerous acts thus far, which was to sign into law the indefinite detention provision of the NDAA 2012 bill last year, one of the greatest encroachments on our civil liberties in decades. Lastly, as the father of two daughters, I have no choice but to take the Republican Party at its word with respect to its desire to take away a woman’s right to choose. Sticking our heads in the sand and saying, “Oh, that will never happen,” ignores the Republican platform, their campaign promises and actual bills Republicans have put forward in Congress.

Because Obama has already demonstrated his tendencies with respect to the Court through his appointments of Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, we know where he stands. During his political career, Mitt Romney has stood on all sides of virtually every issue and therefore offers little insight into the type of nominee he would proffer. But his acquiescence to the most radical conservative wing of the Republican Party is troubling enough to inform my decision in this case.

This court once again sides with the incumbent.