The Revolution Bernie missed

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bernblog“I was there. Where were you?” It is a recurring theme, in fact the go-to defense for Bernie Sanders’ campaign. But the question has a particular resonance in the LGBT community. That’s because we were here when you weren’t looking, shouting when you weren’t listening, at times, sick and dying when you weren’t reacting.

That’s what makes the reaction to Barney Frank last week so startling. Frank committed blasphemy in the eyes of Sanders supporters by pressing for details on one–it doesn’t even matter which–of Sanders ideas. It took only hours for the standard response to show up in the Huff Post: “Where has Barney Frank been for the past 25 years?

I suppose you could have missed Barney Frank if you were trying hard enough, and a lot of people were. But for starters, he was the one fighting for and passing the Fair Housing Act, which banned discrimination of HIV positive individuals. He was the guy fighting for and passing The Grove City Bill, which bans discrimination against HIV positive people from social services, or any service, that uses federal funds. He was the guy calling for emergency funding to shore up the AIDS Drug Assistance Program and that was him making the case for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act for the past decade.  He was also that guy who charged onto the House floor and threatening to out every gay Republican in Congress if they dared make sexual orientation grounds for denying security clearance (which they were about to do).

It’s not the first time Sanders surrogates, or the candidate himself, seemed to think LGBT history is open for revision. Sanders repeats the claim that he “was there” on marriage equality right from the beginning as though he’s actually begun to believe it. But history revised is history stolen.

LGBT history is particularly susceptible to revisionism because so little has made it into main stream consciousness.  The Stonewall-era activists didn’t leave much of a written legacy. They were more likely to be hijacking John Lindsay’s state-of-the-city address than drafting philosophical positions. Compared to other social movements, they leave a thin volume of memoir and reflection. That’s because by the 1980’s many had fallen to the only thing that could ever silence them. Their role in fighting AIDS, and the many battles that followed, is in the form of the intrepid spirit they left to future generations.

Whenever you co-opt the past you compromise the future. Sanders presents his vote against the Defense of Marriage Act as a grand statement on the dignity gay families. But it was far from it. He described his vote, at the time, as defending state’s rights not human rights. It was the same position that Mitt Romney held and had nothing to do supporting gay families. As much as this revisionism lifts Sanders, it diminishes the courage of men like Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) who actually were there. Nadler introduced a bill to repeal DOMA at every session of Congress since it passed in 1996 and did it for the right reasons.  

Sanders considers approving a Pride march while he was mayor of Burlington Vermont, a hallmark of his courageous leadership. In fact, approving a parade that your not even willing to march in as late as 1983, is closer to acquiescing to the norm than leading the way. Mayor Thomas Menino, was there in 1983.  He didn’t just march in the Pride parade, but began boycotting Boston’s legendary St. Patrick’s Day Parades that year because the sponsors banned gay groups.  Mayor John Lindsay was there, supporting a parade and ordering the NYPD to stop entrapment as early as 1970. Mayor George Moscone was there, vigorously opposing anti-gay city ordinances right up until the moment he and Harvey Milk were assassinated in San Francisco City Hall in 1978.

Most egregious of all, is Sanders’ own claim that “didn’t have to evolve” like his opponent, but was “there from the beginning” on marriage equality.  Two years after Chief Justice Margaret Marshall was there, crafting her historic decision as a call to justice, Sanders was still missing the call altogether.  As late as 2006 he’s on record stubbornly clinging to his opposition to marriage equality in his own state. 

While he pretends to have placed principle above political ambition, some actually did and they paid for it.  Chief Justice Marsha Ternus was there, along the with the elected judges on the Iowa Supreme Court.  They were threatened with losing their careers, and were eventually forced from the court, for having the courage to rule unanimously in favor marriage equality regardless of consequence. Every time Bernie lies about his principled position, he diminishes theirs.

Governor Andrew Cuomo was there, risking his new-found political capital pushing the New York Assembly to approve marriage equality. Sanders waited until after the Vermont legislature had already approved it to chime in with his support.

Governor Jerry Brown was there too. He signed a bill to tell the truth and teach Gay and Lesbian History in California schools. It is just the first step in very long journey. But, when the truth is told and the heroes are named, part of that truth will be this:  Bernie Sanders’ name was never there. 

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November 16

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Epic water-gun battle, Barnet, VT

When you come though these things, you come out with something you didn’t have before.  It’s nothing you ever asked for, nothing you wanted, but it’s yours now.  It’s you.

It’s you in some different incarnation.  Maybe you’ve developed a deeper empathy, but I think it’s bigger than that.  Maybe you’ve come into a kind of grace, or something like it. Maybe you’re just a softer person or maybe a harder person, or just one who knows how small the difference really is.

Or maybe it’s a certain kind of sadness that sinks so deeply and settles so firmly that it becomes a permanent part.  It’s not a scar, not a wound that ever heals, but something that grows, ages, transforms.  It’s not wisdom, not a lesson learned  because it’s innate and as thoughtless as breathing. You can’t know it, you can only live it. It’s a constant reminder that joy is worth the journey, love is worth the risk and shrinking away from either is not living at all.

It is what she gave you, her parting gift.

I see her so easily still, right this moment, a flashing grin beneath the shadow of her ball cap. One final glance back before she saunters straight through heaven’s door. We’ve got this, we’ve  already won.  We know love that can never be touched, not by those biting November winds or the twenty-five years that have since passed, not by time, not by space, not by anything.

Not ever.

Who’s Watching When the Legitimate Press Legitimizes Hate

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supremecourtScott Lively is nothing if not newsworthy. A public figure whose work has had punishing–often devastating–impact on thousands of people around the world, he likes to be described as “a lawyer, author and activist.” Although you really can’t argue with any of those, nearly all of the reporters who have covered him would consider it intellectually dishonest to ignore the rest of his story.

He is a defendant charged Crimes Against Humanity. Lively made a name for himself in Uganda as an “expert” homosexuality.  He helped draft and promote an infamous law imposing long prison sentences and, in some cases, the death penalty for homosexuality.  Uganda’s highest court eventually abolished the law, but Lively’s supporters continue his work.  He was recently handed a defeat when the First Circuit Court, denied his petition to dismiss and will stand trial for mass persecution of a minority.

He is also an author and master of exploiting the desperate and violent. His work,  The Pink Swastika, which argues that gays engineered the holocaust and warns of a homo-fascist agenda, has led to a 50-city speaking tour in Russia. He has thanked President Putin for sharing his vision and he personally takes credit for his role in increasing anti-gay intolerance and violence.  Mr. Lively also practices what he preaches; he was ordered to pay $30,000 in damages to a lesbian photographer he attacked and dragged around by the hair.

So, “lawyer, author, activist,” in any context, may be perfectly true, but indisputably inadequate. In the context of LGBT issues, though, concealing his background is concealing the truth.  It is lying by omission. What Lydia Wheeler has done in The Hill goes even further.  She doesn’t ignore his history, she rewrites it in order to give his position credibility. Her article, Faith Leaders Demand That Liberal Judges Sit Out Gay Marriage, is unequivocal, intentional lying.

It’s also the kind of thing I wouldn’t normally notice. I mean, everyone’s got a dog the fight. The point isn’t really reporting the news, it demonstrating how it proves you’re were right.  Fox might as well just end every broadcast with “we told you so!” But that’s what makes the Lydia Wheeler piece extraordinary: it’s not what she did it’s where she did it. The Hill, as Lively himself recently bragged, “is one of the most read and respected news sources inside the beltway.” In this case, he’s actually got a point.

When Lively showed up in D.C. last month to hold a “press conference” hardly anyone noticed. He was taking time from his other important work, raising public awareness of President Obama’s role as the antichrist leading a satanic-gay army into Armageddon.  He brought along a small cadre, a who’s-who of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Groups.

Lydia Wheeler, covering the event for the The Hill, reported a coalition of “religious leaders” had gathered to demand two Supreme Court justices recuse themselves from the marriage equality case.  The “religious leaders” is Scott Lively (the tense switch is hers, intentional and entirely transparent).  His lack of any affiliation to a religion, ordination, theology, ecclesiastical association, accountability, representation or anything typically associated with the term seems beside the point.

To be clear, it wouldn’t be Wheeler’s job to judge the quality of the title.  But, something remotely resembling vetting might in order when you’re using the same description you use for Archbishop of Canterbury.

A pile of empty boxes Lively posed with are described as “300,000 symbolic injunctions.”  But why nothing equals 300,000 as opposed to 3 or 3,000,000 or what “symbolic injunction” actually means, are apparently not worth asking.

I’m not going to go through the line by line absurdity. The fact is, not a single word in this story was meant to reflect reality.  It was as much an act of kindness as act of deceit. It was a gift Lydia Wheeler handed to Scott Lively courtesy of The Hill and God only knows the occasion.  

For Wheeler it’s no big deal, she has so little to lose in terms of integrity or respect anyway. For Lively it’s the best opportunity he’s ever had to look legitimate. For The  Hill, it is a stain that won’t, and certainly shouldn’t, be forgotten for a very long time.

 

[I provided links to the stories about Lively’s bizarre activities and, in most case, had several options: they are well publicized. I did not, however, provide links for any information that came from his own website.  I’m no more comfortable doing that, than linking readers to neo-Nazi or White Supremacist groups.  If you want to see his vile work, he’s easy enough to find.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sam Alito: No Girls Allowed

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It is a magnificently American irony. A man who fought so hard to keep women out of Princeton University, ends up along side one of those Princeton women on The United States Supreme Court deliberating, no less, the biggest civil rights case in a generation. With only eight other in people world doing this job, what were the chances? But this is precisely the kind of thing Sam Alito was worried about.

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Princeton graduates Sam Alito ’72 and Sonia Sotomayor ’76

To be clear, no one should hold Justice Alito to views he held decades ago. If this were a case of youthful exuberance, a collegiate ideology long since  tempered by maturity and pragmatism, I’d join the endless parade of white guys who defend him. But, the problem with Sam Alito isn’t just bygones.

The problem is not that he joined a group whose primary purpose was limiting the number of women admitted to Princeton (not just limiting the impact of Affirmative Action: they also opposed gender-blind admissions). It’s not that he claims to have been active in the group well into the 1980’s or bragged about it to prove his reactionary credentials when seeking a promotion in Reagan administration.  It’s not even that Justice Alito argues from a myopic world view centered on race and gender. The problem is that he demonstrates no ability nor interest in entertaining any other perspective. And he doesn’t see a damn the wrong with that.

During last week’s opening arguments on marriage equality (Obergefell v Hodges), Alito offered a stunning display of pretense and irritability. He was hardly the only one failing to see beyond the prism of his own experience, but he never appears to struggle with alternate viewpoints.  He dismisses them out of hand.

His dependence on ad populum fallacy belies his training. It also illustrates that narrowness of his thinking. He asked Mary Baunato (plantiff) if we can “infer that all those nations and cultures thought there was some rational practical purpose for defining marriage that way or is it your argument that they were all operating independently based solely on irrational stereotypes and prejudice?”  Playing off Justice Kennedy’s notion that millennia of tradition can’t be wrong, he seems legitimately perplexed. Irritated that Baunano doesn’t immediately grasp his assault on logic, he quickly loses patience with her reasonability : “You’re not answering my question.”

Just as Chief Justice Roberts can’t see how marriage has changed in any substantive way–because it hasn’t for him–Alito can’t see the error in subjugating a class of people that isn’t his class of people. For both, the defense is that it has always been that way and has served them just fine, exquisitely in fact.

Apparently having heard enough, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg leisurely interjects: “[The plaintiffs] wouldn’t be asking for this relief is the law of marriage was what it was a millennium ago…Same-sex unions wouldn’t have opted into a pattern of marriage which is a dominant and subordinate relationship.”

Alas, Justice Alito and Justice Ginsburg seem on equal footing. They make equally compelling cases for why we need women and minorities at Princeton, at Columbia and, God knows, on the Court.

Ali was not the greatest boxer; that’s too small for him.

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No one appreciates the power of Ali like George Foreman.  As a kid, listening the gold-medalist on the radio, he viewed Ali with equal measures of fear and fascination. He recalls first hearing the phrase “black Muslim,” growing in a small Texas town. Nobody really had a problem with “Muslim,” he says, but the word “black” inspired fear and suspicion. What was this guy talking about; what kind of problems could a man like Ali cause, what trouble was he going to stir up?

Ali arrives in Kinshasa, Zaire to meet Foreman for the Rumble in Jungle

Ali arrives in Kinshasa, Zaire to meet Foreman for the Rumble in Jungle

His confusion with Ali gave way to competition which gave way to contempt and, eventually,  to a hard-earned and heart felt respect.  George Foreman didn’t just experience the force that was Ali, he came to terms with it.

Before turning pro in 1969, George Foreman was already on the wrong side of Muhammad Ali. While he trained for the ’68 Olympics, some of the most elite black athletes in the country considered boycotting the Games altogether. The Olympic Project for Human Rights,  which promoted a boycott, counted Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul Jabbar), Bob Beaumont and Tommie Smith among its members. They presented a series of grievances to the Olympic Committee concerning South Africa, Rhodesia and Muhammad Ali.

In South Africa, the Botha government had recently banned political opposition to apartheid. In Rhodesia, white-supremacists under Ian Smith declared national independence, violently imposing their will in defiance of world condemnation. Both countries planned to send whites-only teams to the Games.

By 1968 Muhammad Ali was a revolutionary force unto himself.  He cast a figure just a large as any African republic.  A convert to the Nation of Islam (and later Sunni Islam), he applied for conscientious objector status during the Vietnam war.  When his status was denied he stood his ground, was stripped of the heavyweight title, denied license to fight in all 50 states, had his passport revoked and was pilloried by the national press.

OPHR  demanded that the Olympic Committee ban both apartheid states from the games and that U.S. boxing officials restore Ali’s title.  They were also calling for the removal of Avery Brundage, the avowed white-supremacist and anti-Semite who chaired the Olympic Committee.

Peter Norman, Tommie Smith & John Carlos (all three wearing OCHR buttons)

Peter Norman (Aus), Tommie Smith & John Carlos, all wearing OPHR symbols.

In the end, however, OPHR concluded that boycotting the Olympics  was too much to ask of athletes who had sacrificed so much to get there. Abdul Jabbar, the best known collegiate athlete in the country, however, made a dramatic stand. He refused to join the U.S. Olympic basketball team, and he paid for it.

When Today show host, Joe Garagiola, asked Abdul Jabbar why he refused to play for his country, he famously answered: “I live here, but it’s really not my country.” Never known to be much of a thinking man, Garagiola replied,”then there’s only one solution…move.”

Tommie Smith went to Mexico City and set a world record, broke the 20 second barrier in 200 meters, and won gold.  Then, he sacrificed it all moments later. In one of the most iconic moments in sports, he and John Carlos raised their fists high during the National Anthem.  It was an act of immense courage, as well as the end of two careers.

The questions Abdul Jabbar, Smith and Carlos were grappling with are still relevant, but no closer to being resolved, today. The raging debates of athletes wearing I-Can’t-Breath jerseys, or running onto the field with their hands raised,  is no different than it was nearly 50 years ago.  How do our most celebrated athletes acknowledge the reality of being black in America?  Is it necessary, or even possible, to compartmentalize one’s existence enough to leave your identity in the locker room, like another item of street clothing?

For Muhammad Ali that wasn’t an option.  He had rejected the name, the history, the religion, the station, and the very consciousness that had been imposed upon him. He was his politics.  There was no gesture he could refrain from or button he could remove, no catch phrase he could avoid.  The problem people had with Muhammad Ali was his being Muhammad Ali.

Early in his career, after beating Sonny Liston, a reporter asked Ali about his association with the Nation of Islam.  He saw right through the question and got to the heart of the matter, saying “I don’t have to be what you want me to be.” He controlled the dialogue, he would not be controlled by it.  It was one more thing, like black, beautiful and Muslim, that we just couldn’t get used to: a black man who would define himself on his own terms.

On the other side of the moon, George Foreman understood none of this.  He was far removed from the historic Cleveland Summit.  Boycotting the Olympics never crossed his mind and he dismissed Smith and Carlos for their “college boy protests” (later he’d say it was more about elitism: he felt rejected by OPHR who, he says, never once reached out to a non-collegiate athlete).

But in 1974, the man who had feared the term “black” confronted the man who owned it  in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Dem. Rep. of the Congo).  The likes of Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson and George Plimpton were on hand, propelling this far beyond a mere title fight.  This was a story vindication and validity, righteousness and respect, courage against compromise.

It would be hard to overstate the significance of Ali’s victory.

I suppose it would be equally hard to overstate what it meant for Foreman to lose.  Ali had always reached something in him that no one else could touch. Only Ali could trigger that level of rage, that depth of shame. When he read in an interview that Ali said “Foreman is no boxer, he just wants to kill somebody,” he says he felt so ashamed. He also said every word was true.

Foreman turned the Rumble in the Jungle into an obsession, an internal burning rage that  that ate at him relentlessly.  He said he was robbed, the water was drugged, the ropes were loose and the fight was rigged. For six years he couldn’t admit to being beaten. Then, in 1980 when a reporter asked what had happened in Kinsasha, he said the words aloud. “He beat me.” The air coming out of his lungs took with it a crushing weight, but exposed a another level of shame. Recalling that moment, Foreman, says he realized what he’d done in denying Ali’s victory. He had had put a “blemish on this great man’s career.”  So, in the early 1980’s he  reached out to Ali.

He discovered the animosity was one-sided. Without hesitation, Ali welcomed the friendship, the unique bond and unabashed love he love he had to offer.  In 2003, Foreman would remember  the Rumble in The Jungle like this: “He wanted them to love him…Ali made them love him. That’s why I couldn’t beat him. He heard them chanting his name;  that’s where the stamina came from. They loved him. I love him too.”

“He’s the greatest man I’ve ever known,” Foreman added, “Not greatest boxer, that’s too small for him.”

You Don’t Have to be Spokesman to Speakout

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As far as brands go, Halliburton probably elicits more empathy than the Kardashians. It’s not so much that they’re terrible people; they’re just in a terrible business. It’s hard not to court contempt when your product is your own vacuous self-importance.

That may explain, if not excuse, at least some of the callousness directed at Bruce Jenner. I don’t mean just in the press either; anyone surprised by the ridicule and catcalls from the paparazzi should have better managed his expectations. I mean in real-life conversations, with people who know better in places I’d have never expected.

kardsBlogNormally, I’m pretty good at zoning out of celebrity chatter.  Any mention of which rapper dated which model and a switch is flipped; my mind’s searching out a melody, drafting an email, contemplating the universe’s first sound, anything, but hearing a word you’re saying.  But, when I heard a well-trained, demonstrably skillful, educator  “theorizing” that Jenner seemed to hate himself and may be “self-mutilating”, my instinct was to ask if he realized that he’d just said that out loud.

More to the point, I’m wondering why he thought he could.

After I had joined that conversation and said my piece, somebody raised the issue again. “I’m a very liberal person” she said, “but I just don’t get this…do you?” The truth is, I don’t know if I get it.  But I know that it doesn’t matter, it can’t matter.  Nobody has to sell me, or any of us, on the value of another person. You don’t have to get it.

Throughout history, people no worse than us, no less intelligent or conscientious watched terrible things happen to one another over differences we would barely notice today or transgressions we no longer recognize. I doubt they ever imagined how wrong it would seem in our time, any more how than we can imagine how it ever seemed right in theirs.  I think, certainly hope, that when we exercise such unflinching judgment, history returns the favor.

So, it seems that Bruce Jenner is sort of a P.R. nightmare. “The worst possible choice,” says  Zoey Tur in The Washington Post. CNN reports that activists are wary of the spectacle he’s causing.  The Post also says that “the transgendered experience will be swept up in the ultimate symbol of abnormality and dysfunction,” apparently referring to Kardashians.

I don’t know when the right transgendered role model will come along or exactly how we’ll know them when we see them. Outside the Washington Post, at least, abnormality and dysfunction are still hard to quantify. But, that doesn’t mean it’s open season while we wait; you don’t get a pass to point and talk about the most disenfranchised like carnival attractions.

Just for the record, I have said my share of stupid and insensitive things in my time. I suppose it happens when I failed to make a connection or know enough history.  It’s mostly because its so difficult to see beyond the prism of my own experience.  Unless, someone tells me, I can’t see what it looks like from where they’re standing. But it is my responsibility to try.

Billie Holiday at 100

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Billie HolidayShe held court at Pod and Jerry’s on 133rd, The Ebony Club and Bop City on Broadway or The Alhambra Club up in Harlem. Much of it legend, memories lost in smoke and bourbon, lies that seemed fair enough, facts that were too hard to take.  If it seems like scene in a movie it was.

Out of total darkness she’d step into a small circle of light, tap out a beat in peek-toe stilettos only to be ignored by her own painted lips. Her trademark   stance, head cocked, eyes closed, she languishes half a beat, one beat, maybe five beats behind the band.  She’d “bend” a phrase like a rapper, clip an ending, draw-out syllables, on time, off time, studiously riding the melody then shaking it off when it failed to serve her message.  This was the house she owned and these were rules she made.

Before critical analysis became so dependent on the singer-songwriter, we celebrated vocal genius and Billie Holiday set the standard. She altered our sense of rhythm, took liberties with the melody and structured a phrase like no one ever had (save, perhaps, her hero Louis Armstrong).  If Armstrong was her patriarch, Sinatra was surely her prodigy. The term “standard” was virtually meaningless once Holiday worked a song into entirely new and personal entitiy.

And yet, her story remains as big as her sound, the story, important, irresistible and simplistic.  It’s a story of rape and abuse, poverty, racism, justice turned malignant, prosecution for sport, suffering, self-medicating and dying. It was best-selling book and a movie that earned 5 academy award nominations, more commercially successful than anything Holiday herself had ever done.

Stories though, in the pantheon American music, are made by men. Women are made by them. It’s hard to imagine anyone casting Hank Williams, Chet Baker, John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, or any of the legends who suffered, self-medicated and died in the process, as products of circumstance. Hardship, abject hardship, not withstanding, each demonstrated technique that was intentional, cultivated and crafted. No one looks beyond their own genius to explain their impact on American culture.

The Jazz Encyclopedia refers to the collision of art and tragedy in Holiday’s life as an immutable whole.  It goes to quote famous Jazz critics who, with the greatest affection, claim her failing pipes made her later recordings all more evocative. The long-standing take is that emotional authenticity more than cultivated technique solidified her status.  But this gives too much weight to circumstance and, for me, not enough respect to her true genius.

Cynthia Folio and Robert Weisberg at Temple University actually took on this issue a few years ago. In a complex destruction of Holiday’s timing and phrasing, they looked at multiple recordings of the same song.  In some cases, a song had been recorded five times including studio and live performances. They mapped out the timing, phrasing and melodic alterations from the earliest recordings (at her peak range and tone) through her final recordings.  The study demonstrated that very little was circumstantial in Holiday’s performances. Her technique was consistent and calculated throughout.

Today, on what would have been her 100th birthday, it’s worth considering that circumstance did not make Billie Holiday’s music important.  She did.

Traditional Marriage: What’s Behind the Veil

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When I heard Jeb Bush say he was “for traditional marriage,” I thought one of us must be terribly confused.  I know, everyone else at the CPAC conference was saying the same thing.  But, that’s because most of them like sounding crazy.  Jeb’s supposed to be the smart brother.  

Jeb Bush at CPAC '15 Should I have known what he meant? I don’t think so, this isn’t just code for opposing marriage equality.  That position needs no code. If Marco Rubio could say he believes marriage is between a man and a woman so could Jeb if that’s what he wanted to say. But, it’s still more difficult for me to believe Jeb Bush supports traditional marriage than to believe he’s a complete idiot.  On the surface, both seem like reasonable conclusions, but still premature and not entirely fair. 

Across the conservative press and with remarkable consistency, “traditional marriage” refers to marriage based on thousands of years of scripture, custom and law.  Browse the back issues of any conservative journal: the deeper you go the clearer it gets. Vested in religious, Roman and common law, culturally transcendent, timeless and immutable. It is above the vagaries of social change. Or, at least until now, anyway.

The problem this argument just can’t get around is the last century.

Not to sound pedantic, but it’s hard not to state the obvious when being told the world is flat. But what had seemed so irrefutable, the fact that “traditional marriage” never really made it through the last century, has somehow reentered  political discourse among people who should know better.   The fact that traditional marriage, in both form and substance, proved incompatible with twentieth century sensibilities isn’t threatened by ignorance, but by revisionism.   

How does anyone not notice that married women are not compelled to automatic dispossession or “domestic chastisement,.” The legacy of these concepts, excluding women from  signing contracts, establishing credit, incurring liabilities or the right to know if their husbands remortgaged or sold marital property remained in practice through the 1970’s (The Fair Credit Access Act was introduced in 1984; after Congresswomen Geraldine Ferraro discovered that credit established in marriage only applied to her husband).

Lest anyone think this is merely about the form and not the substance of marriage,  consider the how dramatically the role and responsibilities of men has changed. No longer responsible the actions of their wives, men are not entitled, certainly not expected to discipline their wives. The collapse of  the “domestic curtain” that kept marriage beyond the reach of the state, meant that husbands be charged  with assault, rape or attempted murder (since the 1970’s in criminal, not family courts).

This, my traditional friends, the dignity and equality of women, is what altered the meaning of the meaning of marriage. Marriage, which defined gender roles as much as it was defined by them, would have a radically different purpose in world where women defined their own roles. The rejection of immutable gender roles, universally codified, violently enforced, crucial to the institution and beyond the reach of the state is what changed the definition of marriage.  In fact, every  single advancement women have ever won was the result of hard fought battles against “thousands of years of scripture, law and custom.”

Marriage equality will not result in the redefinition of marriage, it is the result of the redefinition of marriage.  

Yet, the argument for traditional marriage persists, not because it works, but because is fits the classic conservative defense of exclusivity.  It won’t impact marriage equality, but won’t go away either.  It will just be another valiant loss to modernity, another piece of the essential folklore, another legend form a bucolic past, another reason to limit the franchise. 

Edward Brooke, Republican from Massachusetts

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Edward W. Brooke (R-MA)

Today marks the forty-eighth anniversary of Edward Brooke’s election to the United States Senate.  I don’t think the significance of Brooke is lost on anyone of any party: the first African-American elected to Senate by popular vote, the only African-American elected to a second term and, until 1993 the only one to serve in the twentieth century. By lately, when his name his invoked, it’s about the other distinction.

Brooke was the last Republican senator elected from Massachusetts, before Scott Brown. His, is the brand of Republicanism Scott Brown or Charlie Baker needed to market: proof that “compassionate conservative” is not an oxymoron. At ninety-five, Brooke is a final link to the era when the Mass Republican Party produced national leaders.

Brooke, Elliot Richardson, Leverett Saltonstall, Francis Sargent and Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. easily commanded network coverage and frequently influenced foreign and domestic policy.  Before John Kerry’s unlikely election the Senate, Saltonstall and Brooke kept the seat Republican for forty years. It was, in fact, the Republicans who handed Lt. Governor Kerry a golden opportunity by rejecting the national prominent, well funded statesman Elliot Richardson for right-winger Ray Shamie in the ’84 primary.

But, beyond geography, there is simply no demonstrable connection between those Republicans and their modern counterparts.  And the difference goes well beyond legislative priorities. Of course Brooke’s landmark legislation, the Fair Housing Act,  expanding Title IX protection to girls and women and tightening the Voting Rights Act, would be inconceivable in today’s GOP.  But his vision for the party was different.  He refused to cast those in need as the enemy.  For him, poor people are not the ones defrauding our government. The safety net is not what’s bankrupting us; further disenfranchisement couldn’t possibly be the answer.

He vigorously opposed Nixon’s Southern Strategy, to marginalize minorities in exchange for the white Southern vote. He believed that Republican ideas could win on merit, not tactics. After all, he’d done it, beating a popular Democratic governor by half a million votes and winning a second term by six hundred thousand. He warned his party not politicize the Supreme Court, that it would only compromise the Court’s independence and the Party’s integrity.  They didn’t listen.  So, when Nixon attempted to deliver a key campaign promise– reversing the direction of Warren Court–Senator Brooke chose conscience over loyalty. He voted against the confirmations for G. Harrold Carswell and Clement Haynsworth to the High Court and both were defeated.

In 2007, Brooke told NPR that Nixon was neither conservative nor liberal, but a pragmatist. Nixon, he said, liked power and knew how to get it.  It would be hard to imagine any circumstance in which the modern Republican party could be described as pragmatic. Nixon’s formula for winning, has since become the dogma that leaves little room for dialogue and no room for compromise.

Today’s Republicans seemed to have lost any ability to self-regulate. One, of the many, great things you could say about Edward W. Brooke III, Republican from Massachusetts is… he saw it coming.

When a K-9 Questions the Purpose of Life

Notes dated June 24, 2011…

The dog keeps trying to squeeze between me and my laptop, laying her head on the keypad, pawing at my hands. I think it’s because we just saw the ophthalmologist to talk about the future of the one eye she has left.   It’s a very big deal, so maybe she’s anxious.  Maybe she’s overwhelmed by the finite nature of it all, wondering how ten years of living so vividly, suddenly becomes a handful memories fading like her eyesight.

I wonder what she thinks about the dimming of the light. I mean,  here’ll come a time when each of us is desperately trying to magnify his own flashes of memory, recall the fading colors, searching for confirmation, praying that we’ve done right by those we loved the most.  The Power of the Universe will not measure us by the thoughts in our heads nor hopes in our hearts, but by what we actually did with what we’d been given.

Did our eyes see broadly enough? Did we look for signs of redemption? Reflect compassion?  Did our ears hear bravely enough? Could our shoulders, these shoulders, be leaned upon, did these arms hold, did my hands hold the hands that need to be held?  How will I know if I was even worth the time that I have used up, and what if I wasn’t, what have I done, what has been squandered?

I look back down at Bessie. She’s staring up at me, as though she’s asking for something. It’s something I’m just I’ve got.  I don’t know what to do with these questions: they’re so much bigger than I feel right now.

But, then I take another look and wonder: “on second thought, she might just want to rub her belly.”