I have made clear my support for marriage equality. But this is not a post making the argument for legal recognition of same-sex marriages. This is simply a report on the state of the struggle as of November of 2009.
Hawai’i. In 1993, the Hawai’ian State Supreme Court rules that the state law limiting civil marriage to heterosexual couples is unconstitutional unless the state can show (1) compelling state interests for the discrimination of same-sex couples and (2) that the limitation is narrowly drawn so that other rights are not impacted. This case causes such panic that the U.S. Congress passes the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which forbids federal law from recognizing same-sex marriages–and any couples married in states which do recognize such from receiving any of the federal benefits which are given heterosexual married couples. This “preemptive strike” was designed by the Republican controlled Congress to cause problems for Pres. Bill Clinton (D)’s reelection campaign against Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS), since it was presumed that Clinton would veto the legislation. Instead, on 21 Sept. 1996, Pres. Clinton signed DOMA into law and went on to defeat Dole in November. On 03 November 1998, Hawai’i voters amend their state consitution to allow the Hawai’i state legislature to limit marriage to heterosexual couples. In light of this, the Hawai’ian Supreme Court dismissed the suit challenging that law on 06 December 1998–so it was never decided whether the law would have been unconstitutional or not. As of this writing, there have been no further efforts by marriage equality advocates to change the laws in Hawai’i in their favor and marriage remains reserved for opposite sex couples in the Aloha State. Hawai’i has recognited “Reciprocal Benefits” for same-sex couples, having some of the legal recognitions of marriage, since 1997.
Massachussetts. On 18 November 2003, the MA State Supreme Court ruled that banning same-sex mar riage violated the state constitution. On 17 May 2004 same-sex marriage became legal in MA. There was an abortive attempt in February 2004 to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, but it was never completed and there have been no further attempts. The experience in MA seems to show that acceptance of marriage equality by a majority of the general public takes about two (2) years.
California. California began recognizing same-sex Domestic Partnerships in 2000. At first these Domestic Partnerships had only a fraction of the legal rights of civil marriage, but they were expanded over time. The mayor of San Francisco began offering same-sex marriage licenses in 2003 until the courts stopped him and ruled those marriages invalid. 29 September 2005, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) vetoes a legislative bill to legalize same-sex marriage. He vetoed a second such bill on 12 October 2007. 15 May 2008, the Supreme Court of CA rules that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Gay and lesbian couples begin to get married on 16 June 2008. 04 November 2008, CA voters pass Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that amends the state Constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage–it takes effect 05 November 2008 and marriage licenses to same-sex couples cease that day. A legal challenge to the law, claiming that this is more than an amendment, but a major revision of the Constitution (and thus cannot be enacted by simply ballot measure) is rejected by the CA Supreme Court (26 May 2009)–but the Court says that those marriages performed in the few months that same-sex marriage was equal will continue to be valid. 11 October 2009, CA Gov. Schwarzenegger signs into law the recognition in CA of same-sex marriages performed in other states. Currently, marriage equality advocates are debating whether to try to repeal Proposition 8 in 2010 or wait until 2012 when electoral turnout will be greater because of the presidential election. The 2012 date would give both advocates and opponents of same-sex marriage more time to mobilize supporters and try to change minds.
Connecticut. Connecticut passed a Civil Unions law in 2005. On 10 October 2008, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that discriminating against same-sex couples in civil marriage violated the state constitution. The court ordered the legislature to legalize same-sex marriage. 12 November 2008, same-sex marriages began in CT. 23 April 2009, Gov. Jodi Rell (R-CT) signed into law the statutory recognition of same-sex marriages previously recognized only by court order. On the same day, Gov. Rell signed a law that would convert existing same-sex civil unions into marriages beginning 01 October 2010.
Vermont. On 20 December 1999, the VT State Supreme Court rules that denial of benefits and rights “incidental to marriage” to same-sex couples violates the states “common benefits” clause. In response, the VT legislature created a same-sex “civil unions” law in 2000 which grants same-sex couples the legal and civil rights and benefits of marriage, but without the name “marriage.” This civil unions law is signed by then-Gov. Howard Dean(D-VT)–who later wishes he had pushed the legislature for full marriage equality. The experience of VT with civil unions–and of many residents going to nearby MA for marriage ceremonies–over a 5 year period, leads for a strong push for same-sex marriage recognition, but this is opposed by Gov. Jim Douglas (R-V). On 06 April 2009, the Vermont General Assembly passed legislation recognizing same sex marriages, but this was vetoed the same day by Gov. Douglas. On 07 April 2009, the Vermont General Assembly overrode the governor’s veto with a two-thirds majority. On 1 Sept. 2009, same-sex marriages began in Vermont.
Iowa. On 03 April 2009, the Iowa State Supreme Court declared that civil marriage could not be restricted to heterosexual couples and, thus, recognized the legality of same-sex marriage. An attempt to repeal this decision is underway, but amending the state constitution is not easy in IA. An amendment must pass both houses of the state legislature two consecutive years running and then be confirmed by popular ballot. Democrats currently control both houses of the state legislatur and the leadership has vowed to prevent any such legislation from reaching the floor. If the Republicans were to win back both houses of the state legislature in 2010, they could not introduce legislation to amend the constitution to ban same-sex marriage until January 2011. It would have to pass both chambers in 2011 and 2o12 and then be sent for ballot ratification. So, the earliest a repeal of marriage equality in IA could occur would be 2013 and marriage equality advocates are hopeful that state residents will be “used to” same-sex marriage by then and not go along with repeal. The longer the law is on the book, the greater its chances for permanence. As of 27 April 2009, same-sex marriages have been legally performed in IA.
Maine. In 2004, Maine adopted a Domestic Parnerships law that granted same-sex couples some of the rights and benefits of marriage. 06 May 2009, Maine Gov. Baldacci signed the Marriage Equality Bill which would have allowed same sex marriages to begin on 11 September 2009. However, Maine law allows for a People’s Veto by ballot initiative. That initiative, called Question 1, hired the same firms that successfully repealed CA’s marriage equality through Proposition 8. But marriage equality advocates were confident that they could defeat Q 1–and, initially, on election night 03 November, it looked like Marriage Equality won, but as the night wore on, the People’s Veto won 53-47%. Thus, same-sex marriage was repealed without ever taking effect in ME on 03 November 2009. Marriage Equality advocates are not sure where to start next in ME.
New Hampshire. Same sex civil unions are legalized in 2008. On 23 March 2009, the NH House of Representatives passes legislation recognizing same-sex marriage. 29 April, the NH Senate passes same-sex marriage with minor amendments designed to protect the religious liberty of churches, synagogues, mosques, etc. which have religious objections to same-sex marriage. 06 May, the NH House concurs with the amendments of the senate and the bill is sent to Gov. John Lynch (R-NH). Lynch had previously said he would veto such legislation and there are not enough votes to override, but the amendments lead him to reconsider. Lynch says he will sign the bill with a few further protections for religious liberty and outlines them. On 03 June 2009, Lynch signs same-sex marriage into law–effective 01 January 2010. There is an attempt at repeal in NH both by legislature and by ballot–they cannot start until 01 January 2010. Because the law was passed so narrowly, nothing should be taken for granted. Whether NH’s marriage equality law stays past January 2010 is yet to be decided.
New York. New York passed legislation in 05 that recognized same-sex Domestic Partnerships with limited rights. In 2007, New York’s State Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages performed elsewhere must be recognized by New York. On 12 May 2009, the New York State Assembly (lower House) passed a law allowing same-sex marriages in New York and sent it to the New York Senate. The New York Senate has 32 Democrats and 30 Republicans and it would take 32 votes to pass same-sex marriage. The Senate has vowed a vote on the bill before the end of the year–presumably the delay is because they are currently 2 votes short. If the law passes the Senate, Gov. David Paterson has promised to sign it–has, in fact, been a strong champion of marriage equality. Gov. Paterson faces a tough re-election fight in 2010 and it is not clear if any successor would sign the bill, so marriage equality advocates are pushing hard for passage this year. Ballot initiatives are illegal in New York, so repeal would be more difficult–and the fact that NY already recognizes same-sex marriages performed out of state argues for the staying power of marriage equality if it can clear the senate this year.
New Jersey. New Jersey legally recognized same-sex civil unions beginning in 2007 after the NJ Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples were entitled to all the legal benefits of marriage. Momentum has been growing for full marriage equality, but, originally advocates had not planned to initiate legislation until early 2010. However, the defeat of incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) by Atty. Gen. Bob Christie (R-NJ) on 03 Nov. ’09 has led to a hurried run at the legislature. Corzine is a GLBT advocate, whereas Christie has already promised to veto any such legislation. NJ opinion is about evenly split. If NJ passes same-sex marriage this year, Corzine will sign the law. If not, they either have to wait until Christie is defeated, or build up enough support to override his veto.
Washington, D.C. In 1992, Domestic Partnerships for same-sex couples were recognized in the District of Columbia. Over the years these have been expanded ever closer to those of heterosexual marriage. D.C. recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. A bill to legally perform same-sex marriages in the nation’s capital cleared a key committee 4-1 this past Tues. ’10 Nov. 2009. It is due to be voted on by the full city council on 01 Dec. and 10 of the 13 council members are co-sponsors of the bill, so passage is assured. However, there may be a ballot initiative for repeal here as in ME.
Washington (state). Domestic partnerships were approved in 2007 and expanded step-by-step until they now are civil marriage in all but name. On 03 November, Washington residents voted by ballot initiative to keep this “all but marriage” law. If the pattern of acceptance holds, Washington state will be ready to recognize same-sex marriages by 2012–especially if the legislature votes before then to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
In 2004, as part of the effort to “re”-elect Pres. George W. Bush (R), who was in a very tight race with Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA), Republicans pushed to drive up the conservatives at the polls by placing ballot initiatives in key states that would ban same-sex marriage constitutionally. Between ’04 and ’08, over 20 states adopted amendments banning same-sex marriage. Now, 2 of the states that banned same-sex marriage by constitutional amendment in ’04, are reconsidering.
Oregon. Oregon was one of many states in ’04 which voted to amend its constitution to ban same-sex marriage, but, unlike some other states (e.g., Kentucky), OR did not ban civil unions or domestic partnerships, too. In 2007, the OR state legislature passed legislation banning discrimination against LGBT persons and also allowed same-sex couples to register as domestic partners with limited benefits. Marriage equality advocates are building on this base and are working for consciousness raising throughout the state in advance of plans to attempt to amend the state constitution, again, granting marriage equality in 2012.
Michigan. Michigan was another of the many states which used ballot referenda to amend their constitutions to ban same-sex marriage in ’04. But Speaker of the House Pro Tem (State Rep.) Pam Byrnes made good on a campaign promise last year and in June 2009 introduced an amendment to repeal the ban on same-sex marriage. If the bill receives 2/3 support from both the state house and state senate, then it will go to voters for repeal in 2010. I expect it to be a very close vote.
There are also civil unions or domestic partnerships in Nevada, Maryland, Colorado, and Wisconsin–which makes each of these states likely to be the next frontiers in the struggle for marriage equality.
In June, the Respect Marriage Act was introduced into both chambers of the U.S. Congress. If approved, the Respect Marriage Act would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and allow the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages performed in the states that have them.
With the current makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court, I understand why marriage equality advocates are reluctant to challenge DOMA or state laws banning same-sex marriage in federal court. I would like to see a friendlier Supreme Court makeup, first. But it seems to me (a non-lawyer) that a good legal case can be made for ruling that banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. 1) Loving v. Virginia (1967) struck down state bans on interracial marriage–bans which, at that time, still existed in 13 states and the District of Columbia. Loving v. Virginia established that marriage is a natural right and that customs and prejudices cannot restrict the liberties of two people seeking the bonds of marriage. Now, to date, that has only been applied to heterosexual couples. 2) Opponents of same-sex marriage argue that same-sex couples have never been recognized as marriage. They compare it to other cases in which the courts have forbidden the relationships to be recognized as valid marriages: cases of incest, or of an adult marrying a minor, or of bestiality. But in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), the Supreme Court struck down the so-called “sodomy laws” of the various states–private homosexual acts between consenting adults cannot be made illegal. Yes, there is far more to marriage than sexuality, much less sex acts, but this decision suggests that the Court already recognizes a difference between same-sex adult couples and the illegitimate relationships which opponents would use as an analogy: incestuous couples, liasons between an adult and a minor, liasons between a human and an animal, etc. If the law already distinguishes between same-sex couples (whose liberties to be a couple cannot be infringed) and other non-heterosexual couples (whose liasons can be declared illegal), then it seems that the argument made in Loving v. Virginia for heterosexual interracial marriages should apply to same-sex marriages. 3) The argument that marriage must entail the possibility of progeny fails on several counts–a. We would not marry any couple where the woman was past menopause or the man had any reasons to be infertile if the possibility of children were definitive of marriage. b. Just as heterosexual married couples can adopt children or (now) use hi-tech means to become pregnant or hire a surrogate, so those options are also open to the same-sex couple, so that even if we consider children to be a usual component of marriage, same-sex couples are not thereby prohibited. 4) The argument that heterosexuality is a traditional component of the definition of civil marriage is irrelevant since definitions of marriage have changed over time. Once marriages had to be arranged–and girls were married at ages we would now consider to be child sexual abuse. Once interracial marriages or marriages between persons of different religious persuasions were considered null and void, but now they are not. There is no reason that marriage cannot now evolve to include same-sex marriage.
If the Supreme Court were to rule in such a fashion, all the current state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage would be struck down. Depending on how fast the makeup of the court changes, and who is confirmed (and how quickly) in judicial openings, I would think that such a ruling might occur sometime in the next decade–prior to 2020. That’s my best guess. In the meantime, the state-by-state struggles continue.
As expected (and dreaded by GLBT folks and allies), the California Supreme Court rejected arguments that ballot initiative “Proposition 8” passed last Nov. was more than an amendement, but a revision of the California Constitution. If that argument had prevailed, Prop. 8., which bans same-sex marriage, would have been struck down since revisions cannot be made by ballot initiative alone, but must go through the state legislature. The CA Supreme Court Judges, even those voting originally that the state constitution guaranteed marital equality, had indicated back in January during oral arguments that they were not open to the “revision” vs. “amendment” distinction. The really bad news is that they relied on the argument of Prop. 8 litigator Ken Starr (of Monica-gate infamy!) that because the rights of convicted felons to vote can be stripped, so also can previously recognized rights of gay and lesbians be stripped from them. Great. In effect, the court has just criminalized gayness.
However, the justices also ruled that the 18,000 same-sex marriages that took place in CA during the few short months of its legality (May-Nov. 2008) would remain valid. As a gay friend (a pastor and fellow member of the Baptist Peace Fellowship) from CA emailed me: This now creates a system in which some 18,000 gay couples in CA are in a situation analogous to that of free blacks in slave states before the U.S. Civil War–having rights denied to others “of their kind.”
This is not the last word. Prop 8. supporters will work to get the marriages undone, too. But polling since last Nov. shows that Prop. 8 would probably fail (narrowly) if it were re-voted. Marriage equality has gained ground since last Nov. So, supporters of marriage equality will seek to undo Prop. 8 legislatively. I think they will succeed, but if this is to stop going back and forth, I think CA may need a major constitutional overhaul which strengthens equal protections and makes it harder to strip rights from people.
This is one of the enduring tensions in the American form of government: a democratic republic ordinarily means “majority rule.” But the Framers of the Constitution also sought to protect the rights of minorities–to defend human rights and civil liberties against “majorities of the moment,” and “mob rule.” Who and what is protected has been a debate for nearly 200 years, now.
The question isn’t rhetorical and isn’t meant to be simply partisan, but a disturbing pattern is emerging. Observe:
2000: U.S. Presidential election. VP Al Gore has won the popular vote, but things are too close to call in FL and the electoral college will be decided there in this close election. An early network calls it for Gore, but has to back off because it is clear that Bush is gaining. Later Fox News calls FL for Bush, but the Associated Press never calls the election for anyone. It became clear that a recount was in order, but Bush sent lawyers to challenge everything and bused in fake “protesters” at the recount to intimidate canvassers, etc. Eventually, he sued in the U.S. Supreme Court to have the count stopped and him declared the winner.
2001: GOP controlled Congress passes the “Helping America Vote” act which creates touch-screen computer voting machines with NO PAPER TRAIL for recounts; machines which computer experts show can be easily hacked to give a different result than the actual voting. Only after many mistrials with these machines in 2002 and 2004, do most states insist on paper trails.
2004: Another close Presidential race that will all come down to one state, this time OH. There were many shenanigans including removing voting machines in poorer neighborhoods, running out of ballots, closing polls early, always in Democratic districts. Rather than go through a repeat of 2000, however, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) simply concedes defeat, although it is not clear who really won OH.
2004 b: In the Washington state Gov.’s race, there is a virtual tie between Christine Gregoire (D) and Dennis Rossi (R). After both a machine and hand recount, Gregoire is declared narrowly to be the winner. Rossi sues in local court and then appeals to the WA state Supreme Court to try to get this reversed. Gregoire is only seated as Governor after several months. (Rossi immediately planned a comeback in ’08, but Gregoire won more decisively then–although still narrowly, it was outside the need for a recount.)
2008: When it becomes clear that Sen. Barack Obama(D-IL) is likely to beat Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) decisively for the presidency, Republicans claim that the community organization ACORN is “stealing the election” by means of a voter registration fraud. (ACORN registered over 1 million voters, but Obama won by 9.2 million votes.) They attempt to interfere in the elections of several swing states.
2008b: Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), who won his seat in 2002 by beating a dead man (barely), the late liberal champion Paul Wellstone (D-MN), is in a statistical tie with challenger Al Franken (D-MN)–which will automatically trigger a recount according to MN law. Coleman calls on Franken to concede and declares himself the winner. After 2 recounts, Franken is ahead by 225 votes. Coleman sues and the result is Franken is declared the winner by 312 votes. Coleman plans to appeal.
2009: Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) was nominated by Pres. Obama to become Secretary of State. Gov. Patterson (D-NY) appointed Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY-20) to fulfill her term until a special election is held in 2010. So, a special election must be held to replace Rep. Gillibrand. Even though the NY 20th is a very Republican-leaning district and State Sen. Jim Tedisco (R-NY), the GOP nominee, is the NY Sen. Minority Leader who starts out the race with a 21 point advantage, we once again have a virtual tie. Everything will be decided by absentee ballots. With Murphy (D) ahead by 178 votes and the only remaining votes left coming from areas that lean more Democratic, Tedisco yesterday ran to court and asked to have the ballot counting stopped and himself declared the winner–even though he is 178 votes behind! UPDATE: NY state has no recount law. After the absentee ballots were in, the machine and paper ballots were counted thoroughly. Final result: Patrick Murphy(D) is ahead of Jim Tedisco (R) by 273 points. All that’s left are the 1,300 challenged ballots (most challenged by Tedisco) and most in counties that favored Murphy. So, it is mathematically impossible for Tedisco to win. He lost in a close race despite the fact that NY 20 has 70,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats and Tedisco began with better name recognition and a 21 pt. lead and RNC Chair Michael Steele put his rep. on the line saying that a Tedisco win would be proof that Republicans are making a comeback and Obama and the Dems are on the way out. But still, here’s Tedisco insisting that the court declare him the winner while he’s 273 points behind!
See the pattern? If you beat Republicans decisively like Obama did, you must have stolen the election. If it is close, Republicans rush to the courts (seeking conservative, Republican judges) to have the will of the people overturned or to have ballot counting stopped so that the will of the people is not known. (Karl Rove was the master of this use of the courts. Long before he helped G.W. Bush get “elected” in 2000, he prevented a Democrat in a close election in court for 11 months [!] before a conservative judge ruled for a Republican that was nearly 500 votes behind!) That’s not to mention the standard Republican tactic of voter suppression, gerrymandered districts, purging voter rolls (Oh, your name is only similar to a convicted felon? So sorry. Maybe you can vote next time!), robocalls giving false information about where to turn out, etc.
So, if the Republican wins, that’s democracy. If the Democrat wins, there must have been a mistake or a crime, so we must use whatever means necessary to overturn the results because Republicans are the natural rulers and must not be thwarted by the inconvenience of more people voting for their opponents?
Please, tell me these are flukes and not a pattern of absolute Republican subversion of American democracy! In the words of Rachel Maddow, “I need a talking down.”
The U.S. Congress is organized by caucuses: groups of Representatives and Senators that meet together to work for legislative agendas. Even the two major political parties, in the person of their elected members of Congress, are referred to as the Democratic caucus and the Republican caucus. But there are numerous other caucuses: The Congressional Black Caucus is composed of African-American Representatives and Senators. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is similar for Hispanic members (although much smaller), a caucus to address the specific concerns of minority constituents. But most caucuses are ideological: The “centrist” Democratic Leadership Caucus (DLC) which produced Bill Clinton (and I tend to look askance at as the “corporate Democrats); the “Out of Iraq” caucus formed to put pressure on the Bush administration to end the Iraq War (and now on the Obama admin. to speed up the troop removal); the “Blue Dog” Democratic caucus (which is composed of fiscally conservative budget hawks). The largest caucus, believe it or not, is the Progressive Caucus(71 members)–but they are stronger in the House of Representatives than in the Senate.
Well, now there is a brand new caucus, the Populist Caucus. So far, only Democrats have joined, but the caucus is open to all who seek to advance an economically populist agenda. “Populism” is a pragmatic ideology (or impulse–it may not be well enough defined to be an ideology) that stands up for “the little guy (or gal)” against elites or entrenched interests, especially economic elites. There can be dangerous dimensions to populism since it stays close to the concerns of ordinary people: In the past progressive populist movements have been divided by racism and “nativism,” the anti-immigrant prejudice.
But progressive economic populism has taken on a resurgence in our day. The resurgence began in the U.S. in 2005–as an angry reaction to the government’s poor response to Hurricane Katrina. In the wake of the revelations concerning Abu Ghraib (and, later, concerning Guantanemo Bay) and of the missing WMD, the American public began to feel deceived about the war in Iraq. Thus, a populist anti-war movement, involving soldiers and veterans and family members of the military, combined with the traditional peace movement. It was this populist uprising that led to the Democrats reclaiming the majority in Congress in 2006—even though most of the elected Democrats were not (then) populists and most of the mainstream media and the political classes did not understand the populist nature of the uprising. Consider three Democratic Senators that were elected for the first time in ’06 in races they were not expected to win: Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA). All three were in states thought to be Republican strongholds: Montana was part of the West that is turning Democratic, but in ’06 it still looked pretty Republican. Tester was not a politician, but a wind farmer who sought to revitalize Montana through green energy–a populist environmentalism that worked to combine unlikely allies: ranchers and environmentalists against rich developers destroying the land. Jim Webb was a former independent (who had served as Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy) who had often voted Republican in a traditional Republican southern state. A fiscal conservative who is pro-military (though not a hawk and a fierce opponent of the Iraq war) and a conservative on gun issues–but he ran as a Democrat for the Senate because of the exploitation of the poor. Economic justice for ordinary people, says Webb, should be the heart and soul of the Democratic people. (His strong passion for prison reform is rooted in this economic populism, too, since we are wasting an entire generation.) Sherrod Brown was already a Democratic Congressman and a progressive–but Ohio in ’06 was still considered friendlier to Republicans than Democrats–certainly than progressive Democrats. Yet Brown won by sticking close to economic populist issues.
Very different states and very different people–but united by a concern for economic populism. Since ’06, the populist movement has grown. And the economic crisis has increased it. The anger that ordinary people feel toward the rich (especially the rich who created the mess and then use our money for their selfish ends) is a populist anger. The grilling of the Bank CEOs in Congress yesterday is a result of that rising populist tide. (The CEOs now understand THAT the public is furious–but they have lived for so long in their own world that they still seem not to understand WHY. Like the 2 Wall Street firms that were caught on tape still giving out cash awards–but no longer calling them bonuses! As if “re-branding” will stave off populist anger.)
Well, now this rising populism has resulted in at least one organization: The Congressional Populist Caucus. It will give voice to the populist anger at the economic crisis and the opaque bank bailout. It tried to put a “Buy American” provision into the stimulus package (cut out by the 3 Senate Republicans as part of their price for voting for it–very patriotic). They will still try some form of encouraging “Buy American” policies while hoping to avoid longterm protectionist tariffs that have negative longterm economic consequences. They want to revisit trade policies with a focus on Fair Trade in place of “free trade.” Universal healthcare and middle-class tax reform (and closing tax loopholes for rich people and corporations) will also dominate the agenda. I am contacting them to promote the Employee Free Choice Act and Mass Transit. I am very glad to see my own Congressman (elected in that populist year, ‘o6), John Yarmuth (D-KY), among its first members. Here are the initial 21 members of the new caucus:
Reps. Michael Arcun (D-NY); Peter DeFazio (D-OR); Betty Sutton (D-OH); Bruce Braley (D-IA), who will chair the caucus; Leonard Boswell (D-IA); Steve Cohen (D-TN); Joe Courtney (D-CT); Keith Ellison (D-MN), elected in ’06 as the first Muslim U.S. Congressman (now there are 2); Bob Filner (D-CA); Phil Hare (D-IL); Mazie Hirono (D-HI); Hank Johnson (D-GA); Steve Kagan (D-WI); David Loebsak (D-IA); Eric Massa (D-NY); Linda Sanchez (D-CA); Jan Schackowsky (D-IL), who may challenge Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL) in ’10 for Obama’s old Senate seat; Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH); Peter Welch (D-VT), and John Yarmuth (D-KY). I expect more to join, including the aforementioned 3 Senators.
There is some overlap with the Progressive Caucus, but not all Populists would identify as Progressive (or liberal) and vice versa. ( The late Molly Ivins would be a great example of a progressive populist. Ted Kennedy, while certainly a progressive, is not really populist, coming from such “blue-blood” stock. Sarah Palin is populist, but NOT progressive at all. John McCain attempted to fake populism with his “Joe the Plumber” idiocy–but when Samuel Joseph Wurzelburger turned out not to be a plumber–to be fake about everything, the tactic blew up in McCain’s face. Most Republicans do “faux populism” well–but I think Palin truly is a populist–though a conservative or even reactionary one.) See how many members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus below you find also in the new Populist Caucus:
Senate member: Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Tom Udall (D-NM) were Progressive members before being elected to the Senate, but the Senate doesn’t work in caucuses as much as the House. The late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) was a member until his 2002 death in a plane crash. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was a member until being elected House Minority Leader in ’04. As Minority Leader and then as Speaker, she has recused herself from membership in any of the ideological caucuses.
Current House members: Neil Abercrombie (D-HI); Tammy Baldwin (D-WI); Xavier Bacerra (D-CA); Madeleine Bordallo (GU-AL), at-large, nonvoting member from Guam; Robert Brady (D-PA); Corrine Brown (D-FL); Michael Capuano (D-MA); Andre Carson (D-IN) (2nd Muslim Congressperson); Donna Christensen (VI-AL), at-large, nonvoting member from the U.S. Virgin Islands; Yvette Clarke (D-NY); William “Lacy” Clay (D-MO); Emmanuel Cleaver (D-MO); Steve Cohen (D-TN); John Conyers (D-MI); Danny Davis (D-IL); Peter DeFazio (D-OR); Rosa DeLauro (D-CT); Donna Edwards (D-MD); Keith Ellison (D-MN); Sam Farr (D-CA); Chaka Fattah (D-PA); Bob Filner (D-CA); Barnie Frank (D-MA); Marcia Fudge (D-OH); Alan Grayson (D-FL); Luis Gutierrez (D-IL); John Hall (D-NY); Phil Hare (D-IL); Maurice Hinchey (D-NY); Michael Honda (D-CA); Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL); Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX); Hank Johnson (D-GA); Marcy Kaptur (D-OH); Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-MI); Barbara Lee (D-CA), formerly co-chair, now the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus; John Lewis (D-GA); David Loebsak (D-IA); Carolyn Maloney (D-NY); Ed Markey (D-MA); Jim McDermott (D-WA); James McGovern (D-MA); George Miller (D-CA); Gwen Moore (D-WI); Jerrold Nadler (D-NY); Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-DC), nonvoting delegate; John Olver (D-MA); Ed Pastor (D-AZ); Donald Payne (D-NJ); Chellie Pingree (D-ME); Charles Rangel (D-NY); Laura Richardson (D-CA); Bobby Rush (D-IL); Linda Sanchez (D-CA); Jan Schakowsky (D-IL); Jose Serrano (D-NY); Pete Stark (D-CA); Louise Slaughter (D-NY); Bennie Thompson (D-MS); John Tierney (D-MA); Nydia Velasquez (D-NY); Maxine Waters (D-CA); Mel Watt (D-NC); Henry Waxman (D-CA); Peter Welch (D-VT); Robert Wexler (D-FL).
But as important as I think the Progressive and Populist caucuses are in Congress, I think it is far more important for there to be a progressive populist MOVEMENT throughout the country.
News stories have told how Democratic (and Independent) Registration is up and Republican down–just as participation in most of the Democratic primaries and caucuses has been twice as large as participation in the GOP caucuses and primaries. Greater turnout is good for our entire democracy. We know the contrasts: in many young democracies in Africa and in former Soviet Republics (and, to a slightly lesser extent, in Latin America, too), citizens line up (that’s “queue” for British readers) for hours on end for the right to vote. In many cases throughout the world voter participation is well above 70% while in the U.S. less than 50% of eligible voters cast ballots. And, until this year, young voters were the least likely to cast ballots.
It’s time to change all that. Democracy is far from perfect–certainly not the Reign of God. Christians’ primary political loyalty is to the Reign of God and to the Church Universal. The Church has carried out its mission under numerous types of government. Democratic republics with full protection of religious liberty for all give the most benefit for the Church, but can also seduce the Church into thinking that it’s primary task is to make democracy work–whether in liberal or conservative form.
But because democracies do give space for the Church and governments with elected leaders are more susceptible to citizen accountability (including the prophetic function of the Church in speaking Truth to Power), they can be temporal vehicles for conditions of relative justice this side of the Eschaton. So, greater participation is a good thing.
So, I am carrying voter registration cards with me everywhere I go from now until October 3 (one month before the election–and the last day citizens can be registered and still vote in this election). I plan on signing up everyone I can, especially young people–because research has shown that if citizens in the U.S. vote as soon after their 18th birthday as they can, they make it a lifelong habit. The older people get before voting, the less their participation is throughout their lives–and democracy suffers.
I will also be concentrating hard on African-Americans and Latinos since they participate less than whites–to the detriment of their communities and the detriment of the common good. Part of the reason for this is a level of cynicism in these communities (and among the young of all ethnic groups) that their vote will count, or that the system is rigged against them no matter what they do. There is good basis for such fears: One need look no further than Katherine Harris, who was Florida Sec. of State in 2000 and simultaneously the head of George W. Bush’s presidential election committee in FL. She deliberately purged the voting rolls of thousands of eligible African-American citizens, claiming falsely that they were felons who had lost the right to vote. Then there are the Diebold electronic voting machines without paper trails that experiments have shown can be easily hacked to change the outcome–and without a paper trail there is no way to do a recount. In ’04, voter suppression in Ohio was accomplished by the simple means of removing voting machines from heavily Democratic districts without warning. And even though repeated studies have shown that voter fraud is miniscule, the Supreme Court has upheld Indiana’s draconian return to the old “poll tax,” requiring a high-tech voter registration I.D. that costs $35–obviously more than the very poor can afford. Other states are now rushing to put such measures on their ballots before Sept., hoping to curb participation in an election that threatens the interests of the super-rich and ultra-powerful (NOT the interests of the poor or the Middle Class!). Since African-American voter turnout is expected to be at record highs in many states in the South, we should also expect greater-than-average attempts at voter suppression, too.
But non-participation just makes these problems worse. Yes, we need more than voting for real change. Yes, people power in the streets is needed to hold elected officials accountable. Community organizing and ‘Net activism are also necessary. We need, as Thoreau said, to vote with our whole lives and not just with a ballot. But the ballot is a powerful weapon of change–or else why would the Powers work so hard to keep marginalized populations from exercising it? One of my few major disagreements with Dorothy Day’s approach to “building a new society in the shell of the old,” was her total apathy and disinterest in voting. In her (pre-Christian, pro-Marxist) youth, she marched and went to jail for the right of women to vote–but never showed any interest in casting a ballot herself.
Yes, build alternative communities of Salt and Light and Leaven. Yes, subvert the dominant order with communities of noncomformity (and conformity to the Rule of God) that resist the dominant values of racism, sexism, plutocratic materialism and the conversion of all values to market values, rape of the earth, militarism and violence. Absolutely. But none of this should be seen as in opposition to voting in elections–even though there are no perfect parties or candidates and one often has to weigh which issues and values must trump others in the election (while not surrendering work for those values in other ways).
Of course, I will also lobby for these citizens to vote for my chosen presidential (and other) candidates, but even if they register Republican and/or vote for the other candidate, the health of the democracy will be better than with non-participation. Democracy is not the Ultimate Good–that’s the Rule of God. But it is a Relative Good and working for its health is not something Christians should neglect.
Former Prime Minister and current opposition leader Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan has been assassinated by a suicide bomber. At least 20 others were killed in the attack. While Ms. Bhutto was not without flaws (she had been accused of corruption before the coup which brought Bush’s friend Musharraf to power and sent her into 8 years of exile), she represented the best hope for change–for a return to democracy and the rule of law. She threatened both the secular dictatorship of Musharraf and the Islamist (not Islamic, Bhutto was a faithful Muslim) extremists and Taliban supporters in Pakistan. Someone found her too threatening and eliminated her. Pray for her family and for the Pakistani people.
I have further reflections on Ms. Bhutto’s death and what it means that so few in North America are willing to take such risks in democratic struggles for justice here. The struggle may have a setback in Pakistan, but ultimately that struggle will continue. I worry more about our society where people would rather watch “Dancing with the Stars” or “WWF Raw,” etc. than follow the issues in an electoral campaign.
Award-winning Canadian journalist Naomi Klein has made a career of combining her training in economics (she was a fellow at the London School of Economics), law (honorary doctor of civil laws from University of King’s College, Nova Scotia), and journalism to report on the front lines of the debate over free market globalization for The Nation and the U.K.’s The Guardian. The short film above goes with her bestselling book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. The film is a short introduction to her thesis, which is documented and defended at length in the book. The idea is that disciples of economist Milton Friedman (who won a Nobel Prize in economics for his work on monetary supply, but who is better known as the most thorough advocate of radical laissez-faire capitalism) use societal shocks (invasions, coups, natural disasters, etc.) in a way similar to the way torturous interrogators use individual shocks to gain compliance with captives. Friedman advised his disciples to use crises, shocks, to force through radical privatization of education, commerce, healthcare, prisons, even the military–while people were too numb from a crisis to know what was happening and resist. Klein wants to document this pattern (from Pinochet’s Chile to China after Tienneman Square to Iraq under Paul Bremer to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, etc.) in order for people to recognize and resist it. Her thesis is well worth considering. Radical capitalism is neither the fruit not the handmaiden of democracy, but is most radical in dictatorships (e.g., Pinochet’s Chile, contemporary China, post-Communist Russia) and undermines democracy by concentrating power in business oligarchies and taking it away from the judicial and legislative branches of goverment and concentrating it in the executive–and then reducing government to bare minimum. (It is worth noting that the insurgency in Iraq, though fanning sectarian rivalries between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, and augmented by foreign fighters from al-Qaeda, did not get any real headway until U.S. administrator Paul Bremer forced through the radical privatization of Iraqi business with sweetheart deals for U.S. business and concomitant loss of jobs for the Iraqis. The Iraqi people saw this looting of their natural resources–against international law–as a continuation of the war against them–and THEN the insurgency grew and the U.S. death toll started to mount. Klein contends that Abu Ghraib was a response–another shock– to a people that were refusing to be controlled. It is worth considering. I think what has been done to New Orleans fits this pattern perfectly.)
The focus of most political commentary in the U. S. just now is on the presidential race. But the Congressional races, especially the races for the U.S. Senate, are looking just as interesting. Currently, the Democrats have a technical 1-vote majority in the Senate. It’s a technical majority because 2 senators, Sanders (I-VT) and Lieberman (I-CT) are Independants who caucus with the Dems–and Lieberman’s such a hawk, he might as well be a Republican. So, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been able to enforce party discipline on moderate Republicans and keep Democrats from getting the 60 votes needed to stop filibusters and to override presidential vetoes–thus, preventing Democrats from forcing an end to the war except by cutting off funding–something they are reluctant to do.
A 1 vote majority is fragile and Republicans would love to regain control over the Senate, just as Democrats hope to gain greater majorities that can accomplish more. Here’s the rub. Under the U.S. system, although EVERY member of the House of Representatives has to run for re-election every 2 years, senators serve 6 year terms–and only a third are up for reelection at any time. Usually, this means that any large shifts in the Senate are difficult to accomplish: That is why Democrats retained control of the Senate in ’94 (“Year of the Republican!”) when the GOP not only took over the House for the first time in 50 years, but did so in a way so decisive as to make GOP bigwigs like Tom Delay dream of a “permanent Republican majority.” The difficulties in major Senate shake-ups is also why in ’06, when all winds were blowing in the Democrats’ favor, they only managed to secure a 1 seat majority (and that was more than even most Democrats dared hope)!
But ’08 could be one of those rare years of Senate shake-ups. While nothing is ever guaranteed (unless voting machines are rigged as the GOP tried in ’02, ’04, and ’06), the landscape is looking pretty bleak for Senate Republicans for several reasons–many of which are beyond their control. If the Dems pick up a net gain of 9 Senate seats (10 in case Lieberman switches to Republican or caucuses with the GOP–as he already votes with them on Iraq!), they get a super-majority of 60. That means, if all 60 Democratic members vote the same way, the GOP could not filibuster or block Senate legislation (not even appointee confirmations). Further, with 60 Senate votes (plus 2/3 of the House), they can even override vetoes by a Republican president. A 9-10 seat pickup would be extremely difficult, but it is a real possibility for several reasons:
- The biggest structural problem for the GOP is that in ’08 22 U.S. Senate seats up for reelection are currently held by Republicans, whereas the Democrats only have to defend 10 seats.
- Several GOP members are quite elderly and considering retirement. So far, 3 Republican Senators have announced retirements: Wayne Allard (R-CO), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), and John Warner (R-VA). Open seats are naturally more vulnerable than seats with incumbents. Then there is the Larry Craig (R-ID) soap opera over alleged solicitation of gay sex in a public restroom. If he retires, Idaho’s Republican governor will appoint a Republican replacement, but he will have to campaign in ’08. Idaho is a very “Red” (i.e., GOP) state, but a strong Democratic contender could force the GOP to spend time and money defending a seat in Idaho that they need for more vulnerable seats elsewhere. Other Republican Senators rumored to be considering retirement are: Ted Stevens (R-AK) who is under federal investigation for bribery; Thad Cocheran (R-MS); Elizabeth Dole (R-NC)–not as likely, in my opinion; Pete Domenici (R-NM).
- A death is always tragic. There are no exceptions, in my view. But there is no question that the unexpected death of Sen. Thomas Craig (R-WY) of leukemia on 04 June ’07 gave a huge opening to Democrats. Wyoming is a very conservative state (it’s VP Cheney’s home state!) and its governor appointed John Barrasso (R-WY) to serve until the next election cycle. So, BOTH Wyoming’s Republican held Senate seats are up for grabs in ’08. You can bet the Dems will pull out all the stops to try to pick up at least one of them, though the GOP is helped because Wyoming law demands that each candidate specify which seat they are contesting.
- Currently, anger over the Iraq war is at all time highs and the Republicans are getting the bulk of the blame for Iraq.
- That anger is strongest in some of the areas where Republicans are weakest as the population is turning more Democratic–e.g., New England, where both Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) are in for the fights of their political lives. Every time Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) twists their arms to keep voting for the Bush positions on the war, their chances of losing their seats to strong challengers increases.
- As in ’06, GOP scandals are making seats that were previously considered “safe” suddenly vulnerable to strong challengers. 1. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is under federal investigation for campaign irregularities. Alabama is a VERY conservative state, so unless Sessions is indicted, he may be able to weather the storm. So far, the only Democrat to announce is State Sen. Vivian Figures (D) from the 33rd District (Mobile). Figures is an African-American woman in her first national race in a VERY Republican state (and one which is still very racist), so her chances aren’t good unless Sessions’ scandal story grows to the point of huge public disgust. 2. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), already rumored to be considering retirement is now under federal investigation for bribery! Several strong, well-liked Democrats are considering entering this race. 3. Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), as mentioned above. 4. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), normally an extremely powerful incumbent, is suspected of involvement in several scandals related to KY’s Governor Ernie Fletcher (R-KY), a McConnell protege. His approval rating is below 50% for the first time since he won his Senate seat.
- Surprisingly, the GOP has not done well this year in recruiting strong challengers for Democratic held Senate seats, but Democratic recruitment for challenges to GOP seats is looking stronger every day. There is still time left for the Republicans, but they cannot afford any delay.
- And then there is the odd case of South Carolina, where the GOP seems determined to hurt itself. South Carolina is an extremely conservative state and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is very rightwing and a darling of the GOP base–who has mostly avoided scandals. Yet, because Graham voted for Bush’s “comprehensive reform” plan for immigration, large sections of the Republican base are abandoning him. He is facing not 1 but 3 challengers in the GOP primaries. They won’t win, but they could force Graham to have to spend time and money getting re-nominated that he would need in a general election. If the Dems recruit a strong, conservative Blue Dog Democrat as a challenger cut from the same mold as Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC) or Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA), they might have an outside chance at this seat–and, if they even make it a close race, they are still taking GOP money and energy to defend a seat that should have been safe. The GOP cannot afford such distractions in ’08.
I think it almost certain that the Democrats will increase their Senate majority by a minimum of 5 seats, but to get the 10 necessary for filibuster and veto proof majority will be very difficult. However, if the Republicans keep making it easier, who knows? Here in Kentucky, we face the difficult task of trying to unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the powerful Sen. Minority Leader. Normally, that would be impossible, but McConnell’s role as “obstructionist in chief” over the Iraq war has angered many and his behind the scenes roles in several scandals involving Gov. Fletcher (R-KY) has brought his approval rating to under 50% for the first time since his initial election and his campaign apparatus in the state has also been damaged. So, with a strong challenger (I am hoping for Andrew Horne, a Louisville attorney and Iraq war veteran), we just might pull it off.