Token Dissonance

Young, Gay, Black, and Conservative! Oh, my! What on Earth did Yale do wrong?

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Sympathy for the Vanquished

“And I know that I needed changes
But not this, this is not painless
Oh no, this is not painless…” –Army of Me

a softer world_modernprometheus 1066 (not perfect)

“Live and be happy, and make others so.”

The British show Skins is a singularly beautiful attempt at reckoning with the tumultuous friction of modern life. Through interwoven tales, the audience is engaged in a hauntingly familiar yet comfortably distant simulacrum of the brokenness woven deeply into the ordinary, well-to-do humanity of the developed world. On the surface, it’s a show about sex, drugs, and teenagers, yes, but it’s also a compelling exploration of longing, pain, hypocrisy, self-loathing, cynicism, abandonment, terror, self-discovery joy, hatred, identity, redemption, and self-worth—all the glorious and hideous contradictions of the multitudes we each contain in our phenomenal largeness.

As good art does, the stories of Skins engender sympathy for characters whose many actions we know we should (and do) find remarkably unsympathetic. In one episode, a Lesbian character, Emily Fitch, lashes out against her homophobic mother after they are forced together because the family’s world has suddenly imploded. Beyond Emily’s exceedingly understandable fury and Mrs. Fitch’s awful behavior, my first and strongest reaction to the mother’s pain was sadness. A less kind soul might call it sympathy for the devil, but it reminded me that even at our worst, we are human, and deep down we’re often clawing all too desperately at the threads of a world we see unraveling, in the vain hope we might weave a comforter to protect all that we love.

Of course, it doesn’t work that way, so we often behave destructively precisely when we would like to think we are doing the opposite. (I am reminded of that old adage: the opposite of love is not hate but indifference.) In that homophobic mother I could see every loved one who fought to love and support me notwithstanding their struggles with my identity as a gay man. And as I have fought to love and support them, in turn, I could not help but think that Mrs. Fitch of Skins no more deserved her daughter Emily’s cruelty than my loved ones of “evolving” views would merit mine.

All of which brings us to the recent controversy surrounding the forced resignation of Mozilla CEO and cofounder Brendan Eich. In light of much discomfort over his support for California’s Prop 8, Eich reasonably pleaded for time to demonstrate his “personal commitment” to treating LGBT employees fairly and professionally—as he had presumably been doing for years, given the lack of any substantive evidence or claims to the contrary. That his pleas did not avail raises an essential question that must, eventually, confront every advocate for justice: what is the point of all this?

Early last year, I wrote about the controversy of gay Boy Scouts and Chick-fil-a’s Dan Cathy with the conclusion:

“In an ideal world, people from various perspectives will find new occasions and opportunities to understand one another, to everyone’s benefit. Even if not all minds ever fully change, there is hope in the possibility of harmony emerging from where once there thrived grievance and resentment.

Wherever you fall on this or any issue, there is often a world of difference between being wrong and being evil. We don’t have to all agree on the content or path to a better world of enduring fulfillment and mutual respect, but we can at least acknowledge that we each strive for one. If nothing else, may we always have at least that much in common.

We can agree to disagree.”

In reflecting on the late unpleasantness, my friend (and fellow LGBT writer) Leah Libresco makes an astutely concurring observation:

“If the gay rights movement wants to change Brendan Eich’s mind, it’s to their advantage to keep him enmeshed in mainstream culture; after all, gay friends and acquaintances are one of the strongest predictors of support for same-sex marriage.

Balkanized businesses, which only hire employees or leaders that are politically palatable to their donors and customers aren’t economically or socially efficient. Instead of creating weak-tie relationships across ideological divides, they segregate people who disagree, fostering a fear of contamination by association. This exclusionary approach raises the stakes of political conflict dangerously high. When the losing side of a debate is blacklisted, all disputes become wars of annihilation.”

It had once been a rallying cry of gay rights activists—like other civil rights proponents—that we were not out to harm anybody else but striving merely to secure the civil liberties and freedoms we have been cruelly denied. Those who meant this knew that for every Pharaoh or Pharisee that conspired to break us over the malice of their hardened hearts, there were parents, friends, or neighbors whose frustrating opposition was more the stuff of misguided love, worry, fear, or confusion. Thus, what we’ve been rightfully seeking is progress against injustice, not vengeance against those who were wrong, however painful their wrongness.

Most of us have known gay-rights skeptics who “meant well” but did not grasp the harm they caused or else were honestly conflicted about how best to resolve circumstances that confounded their understanding. Many of these people have since come around—or will, in time—as their eyes have opened to a new wisdom of the mysteries of love, grace, and the human condition. But all of these people—me included—will always have been closed-minded, anti-gay “bigots” and “troglodytes” once.

Some minority of our neighbors and coworkers may never quite embrace the “new normal” to our full satisfaction. But that unqualified embrace in every quarter is not required for the tide of equal rights to wash away the desiccated relics of discrimination. What will win us the day in small-town homes as in urban markets is the wholesome charity with which we encourage and nurture relationships between people of profoundly different backgrounds, perspectives, circumstances, and metaphysical commitments, that we might better engage each other through respect that allows at the very least for some abeyance of condemnation, if not total absolution for past wrongs and conflicts.

The past and contemporary opponents of gay rights are already beyond any hope of victory. Those on the right side of history should be as magnanimous in sociopolitical strength as we were persistent in our prior weakness. To do so may be uncomfortable at times, but it is the kind of discomfort that strengthens and informs in accordance with our principles rather than degrades in resignation to spite. We should allow and encourage people like Branden Eich to demonstrate a real commitment to equality and diversity in the workplace—which, for the record, Eich had been doing for years—if only because we want to be the kind of people who want to coexist peacefully.

It is, in short, the kind of discomfort we need.


Winners & Losers

“The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” –Margaret Thatcher

But I'll settle for laws that ruin yours instead.  Somebody wins!

But I’ll settle for laws that ruin yours instead. Everybody wins (except you)!

If you’ve read This Town or one of its many reviews, or—heaven help you—you live inside the Capital Beltway, you’re comically and/or intimately familiar with the ethanol-rich flow of our capital’s lifeblood: the parties (here defined as social gatherings lubricated with intoxicating refreshments). We throw them for any and every possible occasion—holidays, birthdays, Thursdays, candidate debates, vote counts, the State of the Union, the Response to the State of the Union, federal government shutdowns, federal government re-openings, days that aren’t Thursday, etc. I’ve been to many an event that started because somebody found a bottle of wine in or around the fridge. (Protip: There is always a bottle of wine or spirits in the vicinity of a D.C. fridge.)

A recurring topic at recent parties has been the incredible rollout of Obamacare, which has been so remarkable as to warrant a mellifluous shout out from none other than Brad Paisley (a recurring feature in Obama’s White House) and Carrie Underwood at the Country Music Awards. Beyond the usual allegations of racism against anybody who criticizes anything Democrat-related, one of the recurring themes of reaction to the unaffordability of the Affordable healthcare has been to impugn the intelligence, morality, or priorities of those complaining about those losing their plans.

One element of this approach is the classic Nanny-State offense: people are upset because they don’t know what’s good for them. President Obama pioneered this argument in early attempts to retcon “context” into his lie malleable promise that we could keep our health plans if we wanted them. The New York Times (D-Acela) caught the Hail Mary and ran with it, backed up by other liberal media. A number of my liberal friends have taken up this talking point by, among other things, somewhat-rhetorically asking what government-determined minimum provisions our pre-Obamacare plans lack. (They have generally avoided the awkward fact that many of these “better” plans actually offer worse coverage.)

The obvious rejoinder to this contemptible rebuke is that we dissatisfied taxpayers are grown men and women who are perfectly capable of deciding whether or not our current health plans suit our needs for prices we’re willing to pay. Nobody feels sorry for millionaires like Dylan Ratigan having to pay a few thousand dollars more for anything. Reasonable people do take umbrage at the idea of 60-year-old women paying out the nose for worse care they didn’t want. If I happen to be wrong about that, I eagerly await the Escalating Costs Affordable Household Act, in which the government will let us keep kick us out of our cars and houses because they don’t have 360-degree cameras or come with income-determined subsidized children cared for by live-in vegan housekeepers provided by the IRS.

A second element is one championed with didactic persistence by the likes of Greg Sargent, Ezra Klein, and other liberals: lots of not-remotely-rich people have to pay profoundly more for (worse) coverage because it helps the poor and elderly, and that’s worth the inconvenience suffered by those who were promised no inconvenience. When I bemoaned the fact that the cheapest ACA-compliant plan my insurer could offer me—a very not-rich twentysomething just a couple years out of college—would nearly double my premiums and hike up my deductibles (while offering me “benefits” I could never use), a number of my liberal friends echoed pro-ACA media in talking up the reasons why the higher costs for people like our friends (of all and no political persuasions) and me were necessary.

The rejoinder here became obvious through a question I publicly asked one of the defenders: “Are you paying for your own healthcare?” The answer, if it isn’t predictable, was: No.

And there’s the rub.

Many fine soliloquys and ostensibly thoughtful discussions of the many sacrificing for the few, the “better-off” investing in the “worse-off,” the “haves” doing their duty by the “have-nots” spring from the mouths and fingers of people who will not themselves have to sacrifice anything. It’s all well and good for New York Times editors, Washington Post columnists, MSNBC program hosts, or young liberals on plans provided by large employers (whose mandate was delayed) or their parents to wax poetic about the need to appreciate the “success stories” of Obamacare and accept the “tradeoffs” of the beleaguered middle as a regrettable price for progress because they—liberal professionals and professional liberals—are not (yet) paying that price.

It’s great that the president finally apologized for making losers out of millions of people through his not-so-Affordable Care Act and lying about it. But his contrition, even if sincere, is not terribly reassuring. It will not resolve the financial struggles to which he has consigned us “losers,” nor does it even suggest a commitment to concrete reforms that will alleviate the price the professional Left knows only in allegory. The liberal, pro-Obamacare people who are paying that price are largely shocked and appalled, as I noted in an earlier post.

Perhaps those liberal “losers” will now appreciate the tongue-in-cheek descriptor on my friend Ryan Fazio’s Twitter account: “One day I hope I’m rich enough to be a Democrat.”

Unfortunately for us, most of the government is run by people who are more than rich enough to be Democrats or more than well enough connected to avoid the consequences of Democratic “tradeoffs.” And unfortunately for us, those people still think they know better than us about what we need to know—or be lied to about—and what we need to have (or not have). Hence, we should read reports like the recent one in the New York Times with a heavy dose of cynicism:

“Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, introduced legislation this week to force insurance companies to reissue the health plans they have been canceling by the thousands. And officials in several states have sought assurances from insurance companies that people will not be dropped until the federal health insurance website is working.

The president did not endorse those specific efforts and did not elaborate on how he intended to help people who were faced with paying higher premiums for a new insurance plan. Mr. Obama said the White House was looking at a “range of options” to help people whose policies had been canceled.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the best way to help people keep the coverage they want is to let people keep the coverage they want.

But it is unlikely the administration has any intention of allowing a proposal like Landrieu’s to become law since it would undermine the entire structure of the law. For this reason, as Avik Roy observes, “President Obama didn’t express any regret for the policies that caused people to lose their existing coverage.” To the contrary, as Roy explains in detail, Obama continued to lie about the effects of his signature law even while apologizing for those effects. The administration knew back in 2010 that number of people losing plans would be closer to $93 million (quite probably more) than “5 percent of the population.” The very design of the law ensures that mandated options for most people will be more expensive. And, perhaps most damningly, the aforementioned Nanny-State offense to protect people from their own autonomy has been the public position of the administration for years.

It is to this very Nanny-State offense—and to whose defend the law by rightfully attacking the previous awful healthcare regime—that Roy offers a succinct summation of the core problem with Obamacare as intended, passed, and effected against the Middle America:

“Any serious health reform program—left, right, or center—would involve some disruption of our existing health-coverage arrangements. What makes Obamacare such a deeply flawed piece of work is not that it disrupts our existing arrangements, but that it disrupts those arrangements by forcing people to buy costlier coverage.

And not only does Obamacare force people to buy costlier coverage, it most significantly punishes a population that is already disadvantaged in our current system: people of average income who buy coverage on their own, and don’t benefit from the heavy subsidies enjoyed by people with government- or employer-sponsored insurance.”

If I may state the obvious: the Affordable Care Act would never have passed in the first place if Democrats and the media were honest about these cancellations in 2009. If they had presented the “tradeoffs” for Obamacare’s winners and losers clearly and intelligibly, Democrats might have been forced to pursue more conservative, market-oriented proposals of the sort Republicans had been advocating at the time. But Obamacare’s proponents opted for misdirection, the law passed over prescient objections, and so here we are.

When the chips are down, and it comes to choosing between us and the healthcare law, the liberals in our government and their enablers in the media have made their choice abundantly clear: the law won.

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The Silence of the Cruz

“Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further.” – Job 38:11

Is it still a majority if most folks disagree?

I pledge allegiance to the Moral Majority…

Sometime last month, I was at a party full of energetic young conservatives from various parts of the country. The topic of the recent government shutdown arose. Everybody agreed that Obamacare is a nightmare and that the general public would soon come to see that liberal pipe-dream-big-government reforms are dark and full of terrors. But as the government was, at the moment, shut down, we all felt obliged to comment on that particular tactic.

In order to avoid a tedious dispute over the merits (or lack thereof) of either side—and to resist the enduring conflation of anecdotes with data—I will elide the conclusions we reached in favor of a simpler observation. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) spoke for nigh a full day to make his grand stand against the Democrats’ not-so-affordable-or-caring reform. In the process, he was joined or supported by many Republicans eager to signal their willingness to die on the hill of opposition to a bad law before God and man.

I point this out not because I mean to argue whether Cruz and his supporters accomplished anything substantial in all those 21 hours. I point it out only to compare it to Ted Cruz’s words on the Senate floor on Monday defending his opposition to a bill that would outlaw discrimination against LGBT Americans.

He said nothing.

It is remarkable to think that not even a decade ago, a bipartisan coalition opposed gay rights loudly and often in an era where prohibitions on gay unions were passed from Oregon to Virginia. Today, however, Ken Cuccinelli seems poised to lose a winnable election in a swing state with a marriage ban primarily because of his extremist reputation on “social issues” (including an inconveniently relevant attempt to eliminate LGBT employment protections at Virginia universities). And yesterday, not one of 30 Republicans who voted against cloture used floor time to speak against the Employee Non-Discrimination Act in the U.S. Senate.

Ted Cruz said nothing. Mike Lee said nothing. Marco Rubio said nothing. Jeff Sessions said nothing.

This isn’t to say that no Republicans spoke on the matter. To the contrary, Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois gave his first floor speech in the two years since his stroke to urge support for the bill. He was joined in his affirmation by other Republicans including moderate Susan Collins, staunch red-state conservative Orrin Hatch, and Tea Party favorites Kelly Ayotte and Pat Toomey (former president of the notoriously primary-challenging Club for Growth)—none of whom, for what it’s worth, have expressed support for gay marriage.

Contrast this to the House, where Speaker Boehner joined his peculiarly silent Senate colleagues by announcing his opposition to ENDA through a spokesman. While the Ohioan did not step in front of a camera to explain why the law doesn’t deserve a vote, he did take pains to lie about whether current federal law already protects an American worker from being fired for being gay, as many people think it does. (It does not.)

If one weren’t careful, one might think there was no argument to be made as to why LGBT Americans should be subject to unjust discrimination.

Of course, there are plenty of actors willing to say a great deal about why ENDA is supposedly bad law. Some are sensible. Others, less so. And I suspect at least a few Senate opponents will find their tongues, if only for a moment, before the final votes are cast. The duo from Kentucky is even offering an amendment to attach right-to-work protections to the bill. Imagine that: with the passage of a single law, American workers could be free from unjust discrimination for being who they are or for refusing union coercion. (While I do dare to dream, I won’t hold my breath on that one.) But whether or not Boehner eventually yields to a position favored by a majority of voters in every state, it is time to take stock of how the tides have broadly shifted on social politics.

If any prominent elected official is willing to make a fiery denunciation of anti-discrimination protections for our neighbors and loved ones, let them do so openly and proudly. If there are sound objections to be heard, let us hear them in both chambers, and allow the American people to reach their conclusions. Opponents of gay rights will certainly find some wizened applause in certain quarters. Those understandably leery of anti-discrimination laws more broadly will have to weigh the options and effects. But whatever happens, allies of gay Americans may at least take some solace in watching how the remnant of anti-gay politics whimpers into a resentful and weakening crouch as a new generation of conservatives moves on to modern challenges worthy of our energy and effort.

The era of anti-gay political dominance—or even parity—in the national scene is over. The silence on the floor of the ENDA opposition merely shows that, finally, everybody knows it.

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We Passed the Law—and the Law Won

“I was all for Obamacare until I found out I was paying for it.” –Anthem Blue Cross customer in California


“I don’t understand. Why did Democrats vote for this?” – A young liberal Democrat in DC

One of the neat things about living and working inside the Capital Beltway is that politics tends to be a personal matter. And no, I don’t mean “the personal is the political,” in that bizarre wing-nut way in which self-described progressives never deign to suffer friends of differing views, or in which abortion activists (on either side) cast aspersions against the humanity of their friends with sententious yet genial aplomb. The sense I mean is much simpler than that: the professional class tends to be intimately involved in political matters, and so political matters to some degree or other make for as expedient a topic for casual conversation as any other.

As such, it was hardly a surprise when the effects of the Affordable Care Act arose in leisurely discussion at a Halloween party in Friendship Heights. After all, the exchanges went live less than a month ago, and many Americans, including me, have already received notice from insurance providers about impending, legally required cancellations to healthcare plans somebody promised we could keep.

I was not surprised to hear my friends’ exasperated testimony of how their premiums were tripling or how once affordable healthcare options had been forcibly bloated with “benefits” their anatomy could never use. I was not surprised to hear that my friends’ new individual plans demanded higher deductibles and copays, making once routine offerings suddenly less economical. Nor was I shocked to hear that friends insured by their employers were suddenly facing higher employee contributions to plans that were not more generous. Like a child of a Republican legion named Cassandra, I could only nod with grim commiseration at the plight of Democratic friends who were now deprived of any health plan because the colossal wreck of did not allow them to replace the coverage the healthcare law had ended.

And now is the fall of our discontent.

While Republicans and more centrist Democrats have been warning the country about spiraling costs, crippling dysfunction, and escalating disaster in the peculiarly titled “Affordable” Care Act for years, the critics-come-lately are a bemused and distraught cast of hope-and-change-minded liberal Democrats.

Yes, you read that right.

The aforementioned complaints about Obamacare’s shenanigans from that Halloween party came from proud liberal Democrats who voted for—and still support—President Obama, the Democratic Party, and the liberal promise of healthcare reform. Yet these hopeful liberals are now at a loss as to how their progressive leadership sold them out to a healthcare system threatening to cannibalize what little financial security they’ve managed to accrue in the few short years since college. Like many of their peers, young and old, black and white, male and female, from California to D.C., my friends are realizing the disorienting truth that, to paraphrase Doug Stamper, the “Affordable” Care Act is a joke, and we will be the butt of it.

Sue Klinkhamer, a 60-year-old ex-congressional staffer who diligently supported Obamacare—even after her former boss, Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), lost his seat to the vaunted overhaul—expresses succinctly the peculiar sense of betrayal in an open question to fellow Democrats:

“Someone please tell me why my premium in January will be $356 more than in December?”

It would be easy for (some) conservatives to recline into a bath of schadenfreude and reflect with idle glee upon old GOP proposals that Democrats rejected in 2009. After all, prominent liberal economists acknowledged as far back as 2007 that mandating higher costs for young people is essential to progressive reform. It might likewise be tempting to allow House Republicans’ latest plan to salutarily reform healthcare law to fade into the volatile din of hostility between (and among) those seeking to undo Obamacare and those—like President Obama—determined to maintain it. But such vindictiveness would never match the injury the Democrats’ own agenda is inflicting upon liberals and middle-Americans of all persuasions, nor will short-sighted partisanship undo that damage.

As should surprise nobody now, the Obama administration and the insurance industry are colluding to ensure the healthcare law takes effect without delay. Various liberal bloggers and pundits are already making excuses for “glitches” in the law or downplaying their effects. (Some are even blaming Republicans for a failed approach many conservatives have fervently opposed for decades.) As ever, these forces are all playing what they perceive to be a long game, which is why Democratic acknowledgement of Obamacare’s evident and metastasizing harm to millions of Americans has been muted.

Let me be clear, there are many losers in Obamacare, whether the White House admits or not.

But whatever the spin, from any and all sides, healthcare costs will still be higher with Obamacare, and ordinary citizens will bear that weight tomorrow—in numb resignation or in stiff resentment—as we do today.

If the administration was wrong (or dishonest or misunderstood) about our ability to keep our plans, save money on healthcare, or even to have enrolled for new plans by now, it should surprise nobody that many earnest, well-meaning people will be deeply leery of even more rhetoric or promises with due dates ever in the offing. For all who are serious in Washington, the time for vainglory and grandstanding is over.

If I could give advice to pragmatist Republican and centrist Democratic leaders about how to help Obamacare-plagued people like my friends, Sue Klinkhamer, and me, I would suggest, for now, that they not lose the forest through the trees. is a mess, to be sure, but anybody who has worked with technology knows that new programs usually sputter and break before they get up and run. It would not be a stretch to assume the government’s website will eventually function as intended—and my friends robbed of coverage by Obamacare will eventually find new plans, however more costly. But when the technical difficulties pass, the broader problems with the law will endure, and therein lies a new saga of pain for much of Middle America.

The current plan that I would like to keep will die by the end of 2014. I hope the thoughtful leaders in Washington will have delivered us from Obamacare into truly better options by then.


Of Politics and Philosopher Kings

Update: This post was adapted by The Daily Caller. You can find that article here.

“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.” -William Pitt the Younger

Pop quiz! Which of the following areas was covered by preclearance: A) Arkansas, B) Tennessee, C) West Virginia, or D) New York City

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its long-awaited ruling on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

From SCOTUSblog:

“Today’s holding in Shelby County v. Holder, in Plain English: Today the Court issued its decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the challenge to the constitutionality of the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. That portion of the Act was designed to prevent discrimination in voting by requiring all state and local governments with a history of voting discrimination to get approval from the federal government before making any changes to their voting laws or procedures, no matter how small. In an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts that was joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito, the Court did not invalidate the principle that preclearance can be required. But much more importantly, it held that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which sets out the formula that is used to determine which state and local governments must comply with Section 5’s preapproval requirement, is unconstitutional and can no longer be used. Thus, although Section 5 survives, it will have no actual effect unless and until Congress can enact a new statute to determine who should be covered by it.”

In short, the federal government may still require preclearance, but it will now have to devise a formula suited to modern circumstances to do so in modern times. I know, I know—how dare a bunch of unelected judges require our elected federal officials to be responsive to current, real-world circumstances before selectively burdening local officials with cripplingly onerous regulations based on problems from half a century ago! The audacity!

Of course, a more or less bipartisan chorus of people has already begun to address a situation that everybody seems to know: while certainly not impossible, it is not terribly likely that Congress will pass a new standard of teeth for the preemptive Section 5. Accordingly, preclearance will have as much vitality from now on as Charles Xavier’s vegetative brother.

If you don’t like it, vote us out!

Guess we’ll have to finally treat districts in the littoral South, New York City, New Hampshire, California, and other erstwhile preclearance zones like we do everywhere else in 21st Century America. What a revolutionary change.

But whatever your opinion of the need for preclearance, it should be noted that any reasonable defense of the standard ought to be based in modern considerations. By the same token that labor activists would object to a minimum wage and workplace protections based in 1960s dynamics, every American committed to justice, fairness, and equality should oppose selective restrictions in 2013 based in the world as it was in 1965. My parents didn’t even exist in 1965, blacks voted in higher rates than whites in 2012 (despite the hullabaloo over voter ID laws), and I see no reason why my elected officials should have to waste incalculable human and financial resources answering for crimes they neither committed nor would tolerate.

I can understand the sentiment behind the objection that Congress will never pass another set of preclearance standards, and so Section 4 was the best that could be hoped for; however, the practical result of that sentiment is manifestly unjust. We cannot tolerate unfair and unconstitutional governance simply because some of us like how the results of that legislation make us feel. Thus we cannot expect or allow the Supreme Court to play the caped vigilante overwhelming any and all legal restrictions whenever our duly empowered officials upset us.

As Chief Justice Roberts sagely mused in upholding (most of) Obamacare:

“Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.”

Personally, I don’t buy the recurring trope that either the South or the Republican Party is particularly racist. But if either myth is true, it should be feasibly enough to write targeted, modern laws demonstrating this effect and re-empower Section 5 accordingly. After all, Congress did overwhelmingly pass the Voting Rights Act again in 2006. This time around, it may take more effort, but what else is new in politics?

If you are unsatisfied with how your elected officials behave, then change your officials. If you disdain how your neighbors’ officials behave, then persuade your neighbors to change their minds and then their officials. If you are unwilling or unable to do any of these things, then I would kindly suggest finding a new set of battles to fight or else abandoning the whole sphere of politics.

If you learned nothing else from George R.R. Martin’s songs of realism and heartache, remember this: life isn’t your fairytale, you aren’t the protagonist, and you won’t always get what you want. Get over it.

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Sexual Politics in the Grand Old Dominion

“The only question is, whose vision of moral rectitude does it reflect?” –Bishop E.W. Jackson

How could this guy not appeal to Democrats and swing voters?

There are several different narratives percolating on the intersection between religious faith and homosexuality in America.

We have 61 percent of the Boy Scouts voting to drop both a ban on gay scouts and an institutional condemnation of homosexuality. This is particularly interesting in that the largest sponsor of the Boy Scouts—ahead of the United Methodist, Roman Catholic, and Southern Baptist congregations—is the Mormon Church. Not only did the Latter-Day Saints support the change, but their church has been pointedly moving away from the gay front of the culture wars toward a more libertarian consensus on the role of government and institutions in private life.

From Ralph Hallow in The Washington Times:

“The behind-the-scenes effectiveness of the Mormon Church, which sponsors more than a third of all Scout troops in America, is becoming more visible and appears to be nudging the GOP a bit toward a more libertarian stand on some social and cultural issues. Up to a point, Mormons and evangelicals think that the more libertarian the nation’s political center of gravity, the lower the risk of government meddling in religious matters.

But overall, it’s Mormonism that may be on the ascendancy. The nation’s best-known Mormon politician — Mitt Romney — unequivocally endorsed gay equality in Scouting in 1994, long before his 2012 presidential race.”

Representing a different set of priorities, we have legacy scout alum and RedState editor Erick Erickson announcing his acceptance of the Boy Scouts’ decision and rejection of further involvement from his family with the institution. As Erickson puts it, it’s fine to welcome gay people—and he has gay friends!—but it must be maintained that gay behavior, which presumably includes those committed, monogamous relationships that some call love, is sinful. Eve Tushnet, a gay Catholic and a friend-of-friends from Yale, would agree. This position on gay love is, blessedly, a minority and declining view in America, but we have little reason to believe it will die quietly.

And then there are people like Bishop E.W. Jackson Sr., the Republican Party of Virginia’s convention-chosen candidate for lieutenant governor. Jackson’s contribution to the discussion: LGBT people make him “feel ikky all over.” That is among his least objectionable statements. (We are supposed to be comforted by the fact that “he wouldn’t support any sort of ban on gay sex”—not that Lawrence v. Texas is constitutional precedent or anything.) Of course, he also spends his free time promoting discrimination against Muslim Americans (because obviously most of them are, like, terrorists and stuff) and warning people about the dangers of Satanic possession inherent in yoga.

As a conservative with libertarian leanings, I’m an independent at heart. I’m willing to entertain diverging views even on such sacred cows as gun control (use both hands and stand your ground) and the freedom to marry (Yes). I do have friends and family who oppose me on either and other positions, and I have and will support and vote for candidates who disagree with me on major issues if I am persuaded that their overall vision is superior to that of their opponent.

So I would vote for Chris Christie were I a New Jersey voter, despite lip-curling disdain for his positions on gun rights, pork-free relief bills, and gay marriage (which is as benign—if still annoying—as opposition can get), and against a Democrat whose policies would be great for gay rights (i.e., extending the invaluable word, “marriage”) but otherwise abhorrent. Likewise, I would support Mark Kirk in Illinois, despite his unsettling antipathy to gun rights, for essentially the same reasons unabashedly gun-grabbing progressives would support Brian Schweitzer over a Republican in Montana. That said, I would probably support neither (as first, second, or even third choices) in a Republican presidential primary, which would presumably be full of better (overall) options.

But however certain I may be that the progressive vision of America should be regarded as a call to arms against the equalizing asphyxiation of a prosperous civilization, there are bridges too far in that fight. With Jackson, even in areas where we agree, he manages to make me uncomfortable. For instance, I would find it difficult to support at-will abortion (i.e., pregnancies terminated for reasons other than rape, incest, or health considerations). However, I must draw a line well before comparing Planned Parenthood—which, in many cases is the only viable non-abortion health option for poor women—to the KKK. I also agree that liberal policies are disastrous for minorities (and most people), but I don’t see how expressing unmitigated contempt for minority voters wins any converts.

So to put it bluntly: I am not terribly inclined to support E.W. Jackson. (Yes, I suppose there may be worse options, but I am a zealous opponent of invoking Godwin’s Law.) That is not to say I will vote for the Democrat rather than just skip that race altogether, but barring a sudden and convincing change of heart from Jackson, the Virginia lieutenant governorship is all but certainly the Left’s race to lose. These things do happen when party bosses opt for conventions over primaries so as to limit the input of voters—the same voters who will decide the general election.

Fortunately, my political and moral revulsion toward Jackson has not yet translated into opposition to GOP gubernatorial candidate and current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. To be sure, I have qualms with Cuccinelli—not the least of which his opposition to Gov. McDonnell’s bipartisan transportation bill and less-than-enthusiastic regard for workforce protections for LGBT employees—but I will allow his campaign to convince me that his governance will hold the centrist-to-conservative line set by his predecessors of both parties. Besides, the prospect of a Democratic Party hack like Terry McAuliffe as Governor of the Commonwealth is downright unconscionable.

We all have to compromise somewhere.

For some closing thoughts, allow me to make a general point on sexual politics that pertains to Erickson and Tushnet as much as to Jackson and other Virginia Republicans like Robert G. Marshall. The sexual revolution is over. In fact, it was so long ago settled that before I was ever dreamt of, my parents grew up in a world where birth control, casual sex, and divorce were already culturally ingrained, and gay relatives and friends were already finding the precursors of modern acceptance. It is all well and good for the Erick Ericksons of America to solemnly distinguish their values from the philosophical incoherence of the Boy Scouts on the one hand and the rabid bigotry of E.W. Jackson on the other. However, that is a conversation that no longer has any more resonance in 2013—when 72 percent of Americans believe gay marriage will happen eventually—than a debate over the validity of absentee voting.

Accordingly, the conversation ahead of 2016 is whether and how potential Republican presidential nominees will downplay any opposition to gay marriage. I fully expect influential contingents of the conservative base to demand full-throated opposition to gay rights, and I suspect they will get some bone or other (e.g. nominal but express opposition to the freedom to marry). I also expect a growing mainstream contingent of pro-gay Republican and Independent voters will be unusually eager to kick that bone away in the face of popular Democratic grandstanding for gay rights.

This tension is not sustainable. Conservatives, as a movement, will have to learn to articulate a set of values that is inclusive to gay Americans—and the voters who support them. Otherwise, the Republican Party, along with the values of strong families and free enterprise it espouses, will buckle under the weight of escalating political liabilities like an aging welfare state over an overtaxed population.

Whatever happens in Virginia this November, the need to adjust timeless values to evolving cultural trends will continue.

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The End of All Happiness

Important Note to Readers: This article contains potentially ruinous SPOILERS about “Game of Thrones” Season 3, Episode 9, “The Rains of Castamere.” If you are waiting to see the episode somehow unsullied by the knowledge of what transpires, please turn away now. Otherwise: Abandon every hope, who enter here.

“We all live in a house on fire, no fire department to call; no way out, just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns the house down with us trapped, locked in it.” –Tennessee Williams

“Oh [there is], plenty of hope, an infinite amount of hope—but not for us.” –Franz Kafka

“as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.” –Ecclesiastes 9:12

On the first Sunday in June, the fans of HBO’s popular “Game of Thrones” witnessed the abomination of desolation generally referred to as the Red Wedding. For those who saw the massacre coming, the entire episode weighed as heavily and cruelly as any lingering hope with which the Old Gods may have mocked Cassandra in the last days of her ambitious warrior-king Agamemnon. For those who did not, well, there are various articles about their jilted and horrified reactions.

The first thing that people reach for, in the throes of sudden tragedy, is a reason for madness. Why do good things happen to bad people? Why are hope and good intentions so often thwarted? Why is the world so broken? What is the point or value of divine invocation if such godless cruelty prevails? Is this feeling in our hearts, as we watch the Great Cause of a Free North bleed out on the floors of degenerates, the actual murder of some kind of idea greater than the men who embodied it?

As it happens, George R.R. Martin—author of the A Song of Ice and Fire novel series on which HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is more or less faithfully based—answered the “why” of the Red Wedding himself. Like a gruesome reanimation of Cervantes’s deconstruction of chivalry, Martin purposefully sets out to mock and disabuse the idealism of his audience with the compelling guile of Lucy extinguishing the hope of Charlie Brown. And like Don Quixote before him, the original sin of Robb Stark—and his fans—is that he sincerely and cartoonishly believes the world to be other than it is. After all, the Red Wedding is, in fact, based on real atrocities committed by real people who, depending on your view, were never properly held accountable in life for their sins against God and man.

But Martin explains his motives well enough on his own in an exclusive interview with James Hibberd of Inside TV:

“People read books for different reasons. I respect that. Some read for comfort. And some of my former readers have said their life is hard, their mother is sick, their dog died, and they read fiction to escape. They don’t want to get hit in the mouth with something horrible. And you read that certain kind of fiction where the guy will always get the girl and the good guys win and it reaffirms to you that life is fair. We all want that at times. There’s a certain vicarious release to that. So I’m not dismissive of people who want that. But that’s not the kind of fiction I write, in most cases. It’s certainly not what Ice and Fire is. It tries to be more realistic about what life is. It has joy, but it also had pain and fear. I think the best fiction captures life in all its light and darkness.”

To that last bit, the Red Priestess Melisandre would add that shadow is a servant of light, and so the darkness, too, may gratify the Lord of Light, just as the trials and suffering of good men on Earth may be thought to gratify the God of Abraham. But this conversation is not, at its core, about theodicy. It is about life, in spite and because of the motives or amusements of whatever transcendent forces may exist.

Make no mistake, I hate that Robb Stark dies defeated and that wickedly self-serving characters like the Lannisters and Boltons are left in triumph to carve up a ruined world. But whether your faith is in the God of C.S. Lewis or Arya Stark, we know that we live in an unjust world where good ideas may die as easily as good men. No matter how glorious and placating the trappings of civilization, values, and good intentions may seem, we can never become so complacent as to believe that men like Ned or Robb Stark always, or even usually, win the day. Nor can we forget that some of our greatest heroes in the previous century fought just causes to virtuous ends by smearing innocent blood on their hands, the ghosts of which echo from Dresden to Nagasaki.

The ultimate promise of free, republican society is that we may build more perfect unions of secured liberty, fair laws, meritocratic prosperity, and enduring peace. To this end, it is wonderful to know that we in the civilized world maintain societies where, notwithstanding threats of terrorism, bloody events like the Red Wedding or Black Dinner are no longer imaginable (except, perhaps, wherever the lords of black markets still seek whom they may devour). But underneath it all, man is no different a creature now than a thousand years ago, and the cruel indifference of a vast universe remains the frontier into which we spin for as long as we are given.

So in the end, there will always be pain and pragmatism, atrocities and heartache, and the twin devils of cruelty and cunning will always pay their due to those industrious and fortunate enough to profit on the failings and misfortunes of others. It may not be a given any longer that our peculiar games of thrones will end in death, but there are other ways to destroy lives and break spirits in the 21st Century than to drive a sword through a heart and twist.

If there is nothing else to learn from the Red Wedding, remember this: no matter how hard you work, how noble your intentions, or how faithful your supporters, everything can still be taken from you in any instant for any reason. Though on a lighter note, we may take some solace in the corollary truth that the wicked are no more secure in their iniquity than the noble in their virtue. According to Rousseau, the intuitive knowledge of this reality once made the Ottoman Turks exceptionally gracious, whereas the ignorance of it left European gentry singularly incapable of imagining life beyond stations they learned too late were fleeting.

What it would mean for us as a society to earnestly believe any noble protagonists may readily be perspicacious Churchills or ill-fated Starks is a question too complex for me here to pretend I know an answer. Perhaps the seeds of this perspective are already present enough, as in the haunting lines with which the Hound attempted to reassure Arya Stark that she would soon reunite with her family:

“You’re almost there, and you’re afraid you won’t make it.  The closer you get the worse the fear gets.”

The fear is always worst when we cannot make an end of the reasons we wrap our hearts in cold hands to numb the pain of loss. So much for our happy endings.


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