Category Archives: Politics

Kim Davis

The best things about the Kim Davis story have been the memes. Kim Davis, in case you were busy discovering water on Mars, is the Kentucky county clerk who has refused to grant marriage licenses to gay couples because, she says, of her deeply held religious convictions. Anyway, the memes have been terrific. A few favorites: Harrison Ford, holding up a sign reading ‘didn’t much care for Star Wars, did his job anyway.’ Freddy Mercury: ‘did not in fact like fat-bottomed girls, did his job anyway.’ And one featuring Congress, reading ‘US Congress, didn’t want to do their job, did . . . oh, wait, shoot, this one doesn’t work at all.’

Still, mock-worthy though Davis’ refusal has been, it’s not entirely risible. Religious liberty is an important constitutional principle. Marriage is an important institution. I wasn’t going to write about her at all, frankly, but after her visit with Pope Francis was confirmed, I thought I would toss a few random thoughts into the old Blog-Generator 2000©. With no particular coherence, and in no particular order, then:

1) Neither her physical appearance or the redneck-cliché look sported by her husband are fair game, or deserving of commentary. But her marriage history is relevant, though not for reasons often presented by our fellow lefties. Her personal story needs to be seen in the context of a conversion narrative. Once lost, now found; once a sinner, now repentant, right? Of course, there’s no reason to doubt the sincerity of her beliefs, and I think her history makes her stance more coherent; she’s been saved, in her mind, in both a spiritual and secular sense. Her life really has changed for the better, in measurable ways, because of her conversion. We should respect that.

2) I wish I could believe that Pope Francis’ visit with her was in the spirit of Jesus ministering to sinners and publicans. (While there has been some dispute about whether this visit actually happened, the Vatican has now confirmed it). This is an exceptionally cool pope; pro-science, deeply concerned with poverty and an opponent of capitalist greed. But he’s still a Pope, however progressive he may seem on a range of issues. On gay marriage, though? Not so much. This is who Francis is, this is what he stands for. Like every other pope ever, he’s infallibly fallible.

3) Let’s be very clear about what the SCOTUS decision in Obergefell did and what it did not do. It did not create new federal law. It did not ‘legislate from the bench.’ It was not a case of ‘five lawyers in Washington redefining marriage.’ The Supreme Court did exactly what it’s supposed to do: judicial review. It found laws banning same sex marriage unconstitutional, violative of the Fourteenth Amendment. That decision did have the effect of legalizing gay marriage across the country, that’s true. But there’s a small but significant between saying ‘you have to stop preventing’ these sorts of marriages and saying ‘you have to allow’ them. They add up to the same optics; deliriously happy folks celebrating their mutual, and now official, commitment. Those optics are also the main reason that public opinion on this issue has shifted so dramatically. I mean, come on.

4) But precisely because SCOTUS did find preventing gay couples from marrying unconstitutional, Ms. Davis was absolutely obligated not to unilaterally overrule their decision. Which, by denying licenses to gay couples who showed up in her office, she was attempting to do.

5) It’s perfectly obvious that Judge Bunning, the guy who jailed her for contempt, absolutely didn’t want to do that. He gave her every opportunity to comply with the Court’s decision. He made every effort to accommodate her beliefs. Her recent actions, which are to provide gay couples with marriage licenses with her name removed, are probably also illegal. This case is not over; she could easily find herself in jail again, for contempt.

6) Can we agree that the footage of Mike Huckabee’s aide physically preventing Ted Cruz from going up on stage and sharing in the ‘solidarity with Kim Davis’ photo-op love is one of the funniest takeaways so far from this political season?

7) I’m setting the over/under on how long before Kim Davis is a Jeopardy question at 18 months.


Soft voices, saying awful things

To the shock and awe of the pundit class, this election cycle has been dominated by The Donald, the Last Trump, the man the Deseret News columnist Sven Wilson calls “a human whoopee cushion; apply some pressure, and disgusting noises come out.”  Trump is bombastic, egocentric, and rude. He’s also either racist, or perfectly capable of saying racist things without embarrassment. And he’s ahead, by a lot, in all major polls. He also holds, on a few issues, policy positions that are (you have no idea how much it hurts to say this, but it’s true), reasonable and moderate. Meanwhile, much more mild-mannered, quiet, personally pleasant-seeming candidates in the race have been, quietly and politely saying awful, and untrue things. And getting away with it, because they’re not Donald Trump.

Case in point: Dr. Ben Carson:

I guess it depends on what that faith is. If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, no problem. I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I would absolutely not agree with that.

Just for the record, the Constitution that Dr. Carson holds so dear states, in Article VI, that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Even if they’re (gasp, shudder!) Muslims.

To be fair, Dr. Carson has walked that back, a little. And I’m going to let go the fact that he’s a creationist, or that he once called the Affordable Care Act the “worst thing to happen to this country since slavery.” Or that he once seriously suggested that the 2016 election might be called off, due to anarchy. Or his suggestion that homosexuality is a choice, because people “go into prison straight – and when they come out, they’re gay.” In fact, Dr. Carson does sometimes walk back his more controversial comments; he’s a master of those ‘if anyone was offended, I’m sorry’ apologies. The point is that Dr. Carson, though ostensibly a very nice man, holds extreme views on almost every major political issue of this season.

Let’s turn to Carly Fiorina. She was widely perceived as having won the last Republican debate. And in a sense, she probably did. She is articulate, smart and a superb debater. And honestly, I enjoyed watching her perfect response to Donald Trump’s insults about her appearance. Her star is rising among Republican voters, and for good reason. She’s an excellent communicator.

But then there’s this. Describing those horrific Planned Parenthood videos, she said this:

Anyone who has watched this videotape, I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’

Wow. That’s powerful stuff. And so we think, inevitably, ‘those Planned Parenthood doctors are moral monsters.’ Except for one little problem; the image she so memorably describes never happened. It’s not on the video. Those videos are misleadingly edited anyway, and we do see a very brief shot of a still-born infant. But the image, and text she describes never happened.

She’s essentially accusing doctors of murder. The doctors in that video, and Planned Parenthood itself, could well sue her for malicious prosecution, a lawsuit they would win. I understand that conservatives are morally opposed to abortion, and that the Planned Parenthood videos are offensive to the sensibilities of many good religious people. They were intentionally edited to provoke precisely that response. Just consider this: shutting down Planned Parenthood will certainly increase, not decrease, the numbers of elective abortions performed in this country.

Ms. Fiorina was recently interviewed by Katie Couric, and they ended up talking at length about global climate change. Kudos to Ms. Fiorina! That’s an important issue, and one that most Republican candidates would rather not address. Again, she came across as reasonable and moderate. Again, she’s very impressive in interviews; well spoken and smart.

Except that essentially everything she said was dead wrong. called her on it. My favorite moment was when Fiorina said that California “destroys lives and livelihoods with environmental regulations.” California does indeed have stringent environmental regulations. California also created more jobs than any other state in the nation last year, and is fifth in GDP growth. And a lot of that growth is in, wait for it, yes, clean energy.

But my favorite is still Ted Cruz. And he was on Stephen Colbert last night, and he said this:

From 1978 to 1982, economic growth averaged less than 1 percent a year. There’s only one other four year period where that’s true. From 2008 to 2012, and what Reagan did was, he cut taxes, he cut regulations, unchained small businesses, and economic growth boomed, millions of people were lifted out of poverty. . .  As I travel the country, I haven’t seen anyone saying, the thing we want from Republicans is to give in more to Barack Obama and the direction we’re going.

Sounds reasonable, sounds principled. And Cruz’s manner is, again, fairly mild. Except that what he said is complete horsefeathers. Politifact checked this out recently. During Ronald Reagan’s Presidency, the number of Americans ‘raised from poverty’ was 294,000. By instructive contrast, during Bill Clinton’s Presidency, the number of Americans in poverty declined by 6.5 million.

It’s certainly true that poverty has increased during President Obama’s time in office. The numbers of Americans in poverty did go up from 2008-2012. The poverty rate has been in rapid decline since 2012, however.

And we all know why. Everyone in America knows why. The Great Recession hit in 2008. The economy nearly collapsed, not just here, but also in most of the developed world. Of course poverty has been high during Obama’s Presidency. He inherited an American economy in free-fall. And he’s done a splendid job of reversing it. Obama’s stimulus, so lamented on the right, created millions of new jobs. The benefits far outweighed the costs.

The simple-minded narrative would be that George W. Bush wrecked the economy, and Barack Obama has saved it. But the root cause of the Great Recession, the deregulation of the financial sector, was signed into law by Bill Clinton. But Clinton was a moderate Democrat, who occasionally embraced conservative principles. In reality, conservatism destroyed our economy, and Keynesian economics saved it. And Ronald Reagan did not lift millions of Americans from poverty, and what people really want is for the Obama recovery to continue. Ted Cruz’s comments, on Colbert, were really very silly.

Someone who speaks quietly will always seem reasonable, even if he is saying horrific things softly. Someone who speaks in full, grammatical sentences, with vivid examples to illustrate her point, will always come across as informed and sensible. Even if nothing she says can survive the most rudimentary fact-checking. Ted Cruz may seem like the Dad in a fifties sitcom, but Ward Cleaver would never stoop to vitriolic and untrue attacks on a sitting President. Style matters. Content matters a good deal more.

So how do we beat Trump?

I don’t know that Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate for President in 2016. Nate Silver, at, thinks he won’t be. It would be essentially unprecedented for a Presidential candidate with so few important endorsements from opinion-makers and party leaders to win the nomination. It would be similarly unprecedented, however, for a candidate who has held a lead in the polls as big as Trump’s for as long as he’s held it to not win the nomination. So it could happen.

It could happen. Take a second, and wrap your head around that amazing possibility. Donald Trump could win the Republican nomination for President of the United States. A guy whose basic stump speech consists of the rawest immigrant-bashing, braggadocio, attacks on his critics, and open dissing of the personalities of the opposing candidates. He could be the nominee.

So I went to the movies the other night with my wife, and, being an old guy, hit the restroom on the way into the theater. In the men’s room, these two middle-aged guys were talking about the Trump phenomenon. Bright guys; from the context of their conversation, I think they were both attorneys, possibly even law partners. I followed them out of the facility, eavesdropping. And as they went into their theater, one of them said, “The bottom line is, he’s a truth-teller. People like that.”

No. Donald Trump is not a truth-teller. In order to be a truth-teller, you have to tell the truth. Donald Trump does not tell the truth. On many issues, maybe even most issues, he says things that are factually inaccurate. I don’t doubt the sincerity with which he holds his views. I am, most emphatically, not calling him a liar. I am saying that there are such things as facts, as provable objective realities. The authenticity with which a person holds to views does not convey truthfulness on those views.

What Trump is, is authentic. He is who is, unvarnished and unapologetic. He brags all the time, because that’s what narcissists do, but also because he really, genuinely, authentically thinks his plan to defeat ISIS (for example) is going to be awesome. And when he says he’s going to ‘make America great again,’ and says it with his characteristic brio, it’s an appealing idea.

But let’s talk about truth. If I were to say to you, with great confidence, that I think the Earth is flat, I would be saying something untrue. It wouldn’t matter how genuinely I believe the Earth is flat. It isn’t.

In other words, the opposite of ‘truth’ isn’t necessarily ‘a lie.’ It might just be ‘ignorance.’ It might just be ‘factual confusion.’ It might be ‘ideology.’ It’s in that sense that I say that Trump is not a truth teller. I don’t think he’s actively trying to deceive people. I think he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

So when he suggests (and I’m paraphrasing here), that America is being flooded with illegal immigrants, that those immigrants represent a major crisis for our country, that the Mexican government is sending those immigrants our way and that the ones they’re sending have a propensity for violent crime, and that our nation’s economic difficulties are largely due to illegal immigration, he is saying things that are not true. I’m not saying this because my opinions differ from his. I say this because all these issues have been carefully studied, published in peer-reviewed journals. And for the most part, the facts are not really in dispute. I mean, we don’t know exactly, precisely, how many undocumented workers there are in the US, in part because one of them died while I was writing this paragraph, but researchers from a number of disciplines, using different approaches to estimate the totals, all come up with figures within a few thousand of each other. I do not believe that Donald Trump is familiar with that research. I don’t think he cares.

I also have opinions about Donald Trump’s opinions. I think his opinions are, at best, based on gut impressions, or prejudices, or are simply made up on the spot. He’s a businessman. When he needs to know something for a project he’s working on, he does just as much research as he needs to do to enable the deal to go through. But I don’t know the man. I’m not in his head.

The poll numbers for Donald Trump, and Dr. Ben Carson suggest that the Republican electorate is fed up with traditional politicians, and with politics as usual. But the poll numbers on the Democratic side are even more interesting. Because right now, Hillary Clinton is floundering, and Bernie Sanders is surging.

I think the way to defeat authenticity is with equal authenticity. And if the electorate really is fed up with traditional politicians, that bodes ill for Hillary Clinton. I admire the woman, and think she’s easily the most qualified candidate in the race. I like her recent speeches. I would very much like for her to be President. But she comes across as, well, inauthentic. She seems like a politician. The ridiculous email non-scandal is hurting her immensely, not because there’s anything there, but because her response to it has seemed lawyerly. If this election is about authenticity, I have this suspicion that her reaction would be ‘I can fake that!’ Her candidacy is massively successful by traditional standards–she has wads of money, endorsements from every shaker-and-mover in the Democratic party, an excellent organization. But she’s floundering.

And she’s about to make a major miscalculation. She’s been attacking Sanders. She might even run ads against him. Bad bad bad idea. Double-plus un-good. Because that’s what politicians do.

Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, seems cranky, seems impatient, isn’t terribly charismatic. But tens of thousands of young people flock to his events, driven there mostly through social media and word-of-mouth. He says, over and over, exactly what he plans to do as President. That’s incredibly appealing.

I’m not actually much of a Bernie Sanders fan. He’s skeptical of free trade, and I like free trade. He’s squishy on immigration, because unions are. And he’s indiscriminate in his criticism of big corporations. I’m no fan of corporate malfeasance. But not all big corporations are evil. I mean, if the choices are Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump, that’s the easiest call in the history of American politics. If that’s the choice, I’m voting for Sanders. But he’s not the candidate of my dreams.

But there’s one other viable choice. Vice-President Biden hasn’t yet announced his intentions. It’s not surprising that he’s waited this long; after all, his son Beau, who he loved and who he called his ‘best friend’ died just a few weeks ago, a devastating personal blow for a man who has suffered more personal tragedies than most people. But I desperately hope Joe Biden runs.

If you didn’t see it, go on and see Stephen Colbert’s interview with Vice-President Biden. It’s just extraordinary. An astonishing moment of personal connection, between two men whose lives have been shaped by personal tragedy, in which both men talk about faith and love and family and how one recovers from the worst blows human beings ever have to bear.

If Joe Biden runs for President, runs while still consumed with grief and pain, if he stands before the American people, here’s what he will say. This will be his message:

“I have suffered personal tragedies, as have so many of you, my fellow Americans. And what I have learned is this: we have to help each other. We have to respond to pain and fear with courage and with generosity. My son’s death has taught me, more than anything else, one lesson: the purpose of life is to serve others. And I am running for President, because the purpose of government is to help the least fortunate among us.”

The way to fight authentic bombast is with equally authentic humility. The way to fight untruth is with truth. I am praying that Joe Biden runs for President. If he does, I will vote for him, and will work for his success. And he will win.

What I think Donald Trump means by political correctness

Donald Trump is way ahead in all the national polls, in the race for the Presidency. And this unlikely fact is driving the professional political class crazy. Things weren’t supposed to happen this way. In the leadup to the 2012 election, the list of announced Republican candidates had a similar clown car vibe, and unlikely front runners did keep popping up–Herman Cain, anyone?–but eventually order was restored, and the putative favorite, Mitt Romney, did in fact become the nominee. That isn’t happening now. And various pith-helmeted politico/anthropologists have been jungle-safariing for an explanation.

The most recent of these was the respected conservative pollster, Frank Luntz, who declared “my legs are shaking” after meeting with a focus group of Trump supporters:

The focus group watched taped instances on a television of Trump’s apparent misogyny, political flip flops and awe-inspiring braggadocio. They watched the Donald say Rosie O’Donnell has a “fat, ugly face.” They saw that Trump once supported a single-payer health system, and they heard him say, “I will be the greatest jobs president God ever created.” But the group—which included 23 white people, 3 African-Americans and three Hispanics and consisted of a plurality of college-educated, financially comfortably Donald devotees—was undeterred.

At the end of the session, the vast majority said they liked Trump more than when they walked in.

The same night, Republican strategist Nicolle Wallace, who is working for the Jeb! Bush campaign, reported similar encounters with one particular Trump supporter: her father. She was on Rachel Maddow’s show a couple of nights ago, and she declared herself similarly baffled and appalled. Trump supporters don’t care: that Trump called Mexicans rapists and insulted Megyn Kelly and holds heterodox views (for a supposed Republican) on a whole range of issues. None of that matters. He says things that would permanently end most political careers, and his poll numbers go up. Then he’s called on it, refuses to apologize, refuses to back down. And his poll numbers go . . . up.

Here’s what I think is going on.

Remember, early on, when he said “I don’t have time for political correctness.” I don’t think he meant ‘political correctness’ as I generally understand the term. Political correctness usually refers to super-persnickity sensitivity to un-or-sub conscious sexism or racism in commonly used language. It relates to, among other things, the dismaying fact that English, unlike other languages, does not have a gender-neutral personal pronoun. Take this sentence: “when your child asks for chocolate, what he’s really asking for is. . . .” That’s sexist. It assumes that ‘your child’ is male. One unsatisfying solution would be to use the feminine pronoun ‘your child . . . she’s.’ Another, equally unsatisfying, would be ‘your child . . . he or she.’ My inner grammar finniken recoils at the increasingly popular compromise ‘they.’ Fact is, there’s not really an elegant way to de-genderize our personal pronouns. Well, the political correctness police don’t care about syntactical elegance. They want sexism gone from our language. They’re fine with ‘your child . . . he or she.’ Or worse, ‘your child . . . your child.’  Now I’m depressed. . . .

Sorry. Back to it. That’s not the kind of political correctness Mr. Trump seems to be referring to. Essentially, he’s saying ‘I’ll be rude if I want to.’ My beloved schoolmarm mother is, properly, horrified.

Digging deeper. I just finished reading a fascinating book, Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. Ronson describes a woman, Justine Sacco, who, as she passed through Heathrow Airport in London, sent out a tweet about the trip she was taking to Africa. A dumb joke, she thought. She got on the plane, shut off her phone, fell asleep. When the plane landed, and she turned her phone back on, she discovered that her life was essentially over. Her tweet had gone viral, and was widely condemned as racist. She lost her job. She couldn’t get another one, because prospective employers would google her, see the tweet and the reaction to it, and decide she was toxic. 30 years old, and unemployable. Terrifying.

So Ronson’s book is about public humiliation, the ferocity of the cyberworld, the way we judge others based on a single tweet or comment or incident. And he cites several other examples of people whose lives were ruined, as Sacco’s was. But his book also includes a fascinating, and rather Trumpian, counter-example.

Formula One racing mogul, Max Mosley is not just prominent in his own right, he’s also the son of a prominent man–Oswald Mosley, the British fascist leader during WWII.  Max Mosley was filmed by the British tabloid News of the World having a spectacular sado-masochistic sex orgy with five prostitutes, in a torture dungeon filled with German memorabilia. And he survived it, reputation and employment intact. He survived by going on a national news program and saying ‘yes, that’s me in those videos. I have a kinky sex life. So what? Lots of people do. I’m not ashamed, or embarrassed, any more than anyone else should be about their sex lives.’ And it worked. If anything, he was more popular afterwards.

I’m not saying that Donald Trump has Nazi-themed sex orgies, or anything like it. But there’s a certain game that somehow attaches to politics more than other endeavors. It’s a cycle of mistake-scandal-contrition-forgiveness that all politicians, when they say or do something embarrassing, are supposed to engage in. When Donald Trump says he rejects political correctness, he’s saying that he’s not playing. He’s unashamed.

Look at Facebook. If your Facebook newsfeed is like mine, it includes dozens, hundreds even, of politically-themed memes. And a lot of them show some prominent political figure, and a quotation of something offensive they said on some subject or other. And we’re supposed to recoil in horror. We’re supposed to take that particular quotation as indicative of the program or platform or personality of that political figure. We’re supposed to conclude that anyone who could say something like that must be either a monster or a moron. Certainly, having said that awful thing disqualifies him or her for public office.

Well, Trump’s not having it. He’s not playing that game. He’s not apologizing. He’s running for President because he thinks America’s on the wrong path. He wants to ‘make America great again.’ And a lot of people agree with him, and love how unabashed he is about it. And one of the things they like about him is that he’s not acting like a politician, carefully parsing every statement and focus-group-testing every stance. I get it; I get why he’s popular.

We all say dumb things all the time. And our mistakes don’t define us. We all have blind spots and we all have cockamamie ideas and we all have irrational and foolish prejudices. Trump just doesn’t apologize for his. Part of his personality is that he says rude things about people sometimes. Part of his personality is that he brags all the time about how great he is. That’s who he is; that’s the package. If you don’t like it, vote for someone else.

And that humiliating search for ‘gotcha’ quotations and past policy preferences, and the perceived necessity of groveling before the media when you get caught; it really does seem demeaning and unnecessary and self-righteous. That’s what Trump’s not interested in. He won’t apologize and he won’t back down. And that’s what he means by rejecting ‘political correctness.’ It is, I’ll admit, kind of refreshing.

(There’s still zero chance I’m going to vote for him. He’s just wrong on too many issues. But I am starting to get his appeal.)

Immigration problems, imagined and real

The United States of America does not have an immigration problem. There are, of course, a large number of Americans who are convinced, not only that illegal immigration does great harm not only to our nation, but to them, personally, and that some final solution should be our highest national priority. Shrieking at high volume that ‘they’re here illegally, illegally’ does not constitute an  immigration policy, but a certain orange-haired buffoon has dominated the polls by making a frankly racist–yes, I said racist, not nativist–appeal. He must find the subsequent poll numbers satisfying, perpetual ego-gratification being The Donald’s raison d’etre. The word ‘policy’ suggests research, cogitation, and an appeal to reason, none of which he, or his followers, seem capable of, but Trump has offered what can be best understood as suggestions to ‘solve’ the ‘immigration crisis,’ essentially involving turning every undocumented child in America into Anne Frank, and building a higher tech 1900 mile all-American version of the Berlin Wall. The costs, human, moral and political, no less than financial, of these preposterous propositions, he poo poos. He’s a fascist fantasist, not a real candidate for the Presidency. Because, you see, America does not have an immigration problem.

No ‘illegals’ flooding across the borders; the numbers of undocumented workers have declined over the last ten years. No need for ‘border security,’ which has succeeded mostly in trapping undocumented seasonal workers here against their wishes. They’re not ‘taking American jobs'; in fact, Hispanic immigrants have more entrepreneurs per capita than another other ethnicity. No crime wave; undocumented workers have much lower crime rates than other groups. I’m not saying that changes in immigration policy aren’t badly needed. Many immigrants are dreadfully exploited by their employers, without recourse. The eleven million or so undocumented folks already here should be able to come out of the shadows; have a clear pathway to citizenship, for example, involving paying a fine (the crime of illegal border crossing is a misdemeanor, comparable to a moving traffic violation, so a fine of a couple hundred dollars sounds about right), passing a citizenship test and background check, and a hearty handshake from a county clerk. We should absolutely pass the Dream Act. We should issue more green cards. There are positive steps that can and should be taken. But border security is not an issue, and the very notion of mass deportations is an obscenity.

What most Americans don’t understand is that Europe does have a huge immigration problem, with horrific human costs, and that there are things we could do to help. Europe is being flooded by immigrants, up to half a million this year alone, with accelerating rates that could push that number to a million. As Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir:

These people are fleeing civil war and violent repression in Syria, Afghanistan and other Arab or Muslim nations of the Middle East and North Africa; they are fleeing poverty, hunger and economic dislocation in sub-Saharan Africa. They try to enter Europe from every possible direction by every possible means: They cross the Mediterranean to Greece or Italy on rickety, overloaded rafts and boats; they walk clear across Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary toward the supposed promised land of northern Europe’s large cities.

And European politicians are torn. Essential European humanist values war against growing nativist dissatisfaction, and against continuing economic struggles. The EU’s response to the financial crisis of 2007-8 was the imposition of precisely the kind of austerity measures Republican politicians called for in the US. Fortunately, we had a President willing to embrace Keynesian stimulus measures instead, despite ferocious opposition which prevented a full recovery. European economies remain stagnant, with a few genuine basket cases: Greece, Spain. And still, desperate, impoverished people come pouring in. And in every European nation, nativist resentment has led to home-grown proto-fascism. Politicians who don’t at least pay lip service to anti-immigration acrimony are electorally punished.

The US could help. We could take them. American immigration restrictions have always made exceptions for refugees fleeing political oppression and the most severe economic deprivation.

The Deseret News, my local fishwrap, published an op-ed piece calling for the nations of the world, including the US, to take ISIS seriously–meaning, I think, American ground forces supporting the illusory ‘good guys’ in the Syrian civil war, and the ‘feet-don’t-fail-me-now’ Iraqi “army.” I don’t pretend to have the faintest idea how ISIS could possibly be defeated, or what US military response is feasible, or potentially efficacious.

But we could take in some refugees. Perhaps even a great many refugees.

We are the richest nation on earth, and call ourselves the leaders of the free world. We can do this; a Marshall plan in reverse. Then, we fed the poor; we rebuilt the economy of a nation that we had helped defeat in combat. We have an even more compelling moral imperative here.

Lately, a favorite Republican talking point in regard to ISIS is that their existence is Obama’s fault. Apparently, he pulled out of Iraq too quickly, destabilizing the region. This particular bit of recent-historical revisionism is really too stupid to require much rebuttal; Obama followed the previously negotiated pull-out deadline the US and Iraqis had already agreed to, after conspicuously voting against the war that, you know, really and actually and genuinely destabilized the region. Saddam Hussein’s Baath party, in a way, kind of was ISIS, though comparatively less brutal–though he did drop poison gas on villages–and war-mongering–if you don’t count his invasion of Iran. And remember, Saddam Hussein was a US ally. He was our guy; we liked him. He was even given the key to the city of Detroit, remember.

Saddam was the evil we knew and were used to; ISIS is the new face of evil, internet-savvy and correspondingly more familiar, and thus, more frightening.  And of course, the refugees flooding Europe are fleeing Syria, but also Yemen and Egypt and Somalia and Lebanon. A lot of them are fleeing to Jordan, which is doing it’s best, but is badly overtaxed. And, of course, they’re desperate to reach Europe. And Europe isn’t all that far.

We could take them. We could help solve this. The Europeans are our allies, our friends, our closest world-associates. If foreign policy is the expression of national self-interest, this is an issue where our interests coincide. We could, and should, accept many more immigrants from the Middle East.

It is, however, sadly, difficult to imagine the response if an American politician called for something like this. One guy, however, could. The guy who isn’t running, the guy who will never run for public office again in his life.

Please, Mr. President, do the right thing. Save some lives, and help out our friends. Make America a safe haven. Say to peoples ravaged by war and violence and starvation: “come.” Come to us, tired, poor, wretched refuse of teeming shores. Homeless, tempest tossed. We’ll raise our lamp for you.

“We’re not gonna take it”

Following a recent rally and speech in Alabama, as Donald Trump left the stage, what I assume is his campaign theme song played loudly, following him off stage. I’ve heard it a couple of times since, following his speeches. It was Twisted Sister’s anthem, ‘We’re not gonna take it.’ If that is indeed Mr. Trump’s theme song, it strikes me as an astonishingly appropriate one.

It’s an interesting question, is it not, the selection and use of a campaign song? There was a time when campaigns commissioned songs from musicians:

Let’s put it over with Grover. Don’t rock the boat; give him your vote. There’s a time for a man who’s a leader of men. Let’s put it over with Grover again.

Sadly, that most perfect of Grover Cleveland campaign songs wasn’t written until 1968, by Richard and Robert Sherman, for a Walter Brennan movie. (The Shermans also contrasted it with a boring one for Benjamin Harrison). Of actual campaign songs, it would be difficult to top Bill Clinton’s choice of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop (Thinking about Tomorrow)” in 1992. Optimistic, forward-thinking, and catchy; hard to beat. John Kerry’s choice of CCR’s “Fortunate Son” in 2004 was equally inspired, especially given who he was running against; a politically connected guy from a wealthy family whose National Guard service was essentially a ploy to get out of fighting in Vietnam. Mike Dukakis also hit the jackpot with Neil Diamond’s “They’re Coming to America.” Given the anti-immigrant sentiments of today’s Republicans, I’m surprised someone on the Democratic side doesn’t revive that one today. Except that it’s associated with Dukakis, and he lost badly.

I’ve only mentioned Democratic candidates’ theme songs. Sadly, Republican candidates have had a tendency to pick songs by artists who disagree pretty strenuously with their policies. John McCain and Sarah Palin went with “Barracuda,” because that was Palin’s nickname as a high school point guard. But Heart, who wrote and recorded it, turns out, loathed Sarah Palin’s politics, and threatened to sue. Likewise, Tom Petty didn’t take it well when George W. Bush used “I won’t Back Down” for some early events. At least Mitt Romney, when he used Kid Rock’s “Born Free” picked a song by a Republican, though Kid Rock has since disavowed membership in the party, saying he’s “f-ing embarrassed” to have been a Republican.

But now Trump seems to have chosen “We’re not going to take it.” And that song’s absolutely perfect; the song, the band, the message.

Watch the Twisted Sister video:


The grotesquely evil and abusive Father, the nerdy kid who can only find solace in the music of, well, Twisted Sister. But the power of music marks the kid’s revenge; one power chord drives the father out the window, crashing to the ground. It’s a song of defiance and rebellion, but it’s a strangely non-specific kind of rebellion. And it’s led by Dee Snider, Twisted Sister’s lead singer, who deliberately dressed like a sort of androgynous gargoyle. The point was to profit by choosing a look parents would loathe. (Look at some of their early videos, like “The Price,” where Snider wore no makeup and dressed in jeans).

Look at that chorus, though: We’re not gonna take . . . ‘it’. What is this ‘it’ we’re not going to take?

We’ve got the right to choose, and there ain’t no way we’ll lose it.

This is our life. This is our song. We’ll fight the powers that be just

Don’t pick our destiny ’cause, you don’t know us, you don’t belong.

Chorus: We’re not gonna take it, no we ain’t gonna take it, we’re not gonna take it anymore.

Oh, you’re so condescending, your gall is never ending

We don’t want nothing, not a thing from you.

Your life is trite and jaded, boring and confiscated

If that’s your best, your best won’t do.

All, of course, sung loudly and emphatically, by a guy dressed like some kind of grotesque glam rock parody.

What do we know about Trump’s supporters? They’re fed up, they’re angry, they’re furious about a political process that seems both hypocritical and ineffectual. They like Trump because he gets things done. They also like him because he ‘tells the truth.’ In fact, he doesn’t actually tell the truth; whenever his claims can be fact-checked, they turn out to be, in almost every instance, ludicrously inaccurate. But he says things–often insulting things– that most politicians don’t say and then he doesn’t back down when challenged. Plus, he’s rich, and he’s spending his own money on this campaign. He won’t be beholden to ‘special interests’ if elected. (He is now accepting campaign donations, which, I predict, will have no impact whatever on his popularity).

Above all, Trump has played the oldest card in the deck. He’s able to reassure voters that all their problems, all their feelings of economic insecurity and worry about the future and sense that the future is slipping away are all the fault of a single, unpopular minority ethnicity. The ‘Mexicans,’ are to blame. And, by golly, he’s going to deport them. Build a wall and keep them out, and get them both to build it and pay the costs involved. Like Nero blaming ‘Christians’ for the Great Fire of Rome, or the Hutu blaming the Tutsi in Rwanda, or the Gio and Mano blaming the Krahn in Liberia, scapegoats are always simple-mindedly easy to identify and splendid targets for finger-pointing. (Note how deftly I sidestepped Godwin’s Law). And the results can be brutal.

In fairness, this has not yet happened with Trump. The rhetoric has been fierce; actual violence has been limited to a single appalling incident in Boston. Still, Mr. Trump can at least be cited for failure to establish a civil tone in this campaign. And unfocused, inchoate rage is discernible underneath the excitement of Trump supporters for his campaign. He’s not going to take ‘it.’ They’re not gonna take ‘it’ anymore. Take that liberal elites. You’re condescending, trite and boring. You’re outa here.



Birthright citizenship

Over the next fifteen months before we all get to vote on who the next President of the United States will be, lots of things will have happened. We’ll all have seen the Star Wars movie. We’ll know what finally happened with Katniss. Apple will come out with a nifty new dingus, Amazon will deliver by drone, and Wall Street crooks will go unpunished. Kale will come in injectable form, houses will be equipped with holodecks and engineers will be working out the final bugs in transporter technology. 2016 is going to be dope.

We’re in the silly season of Presidential politics, is my point. Candidates are jostling for position, raising money, giving speeches, trying to figure out what voters’ main concerns are and what issues might be profitably emphasized. Trying to get noticed. Now, in August 2015. With football season starting in, like, two weeks. And because one candidate, the most unlikely candidate in years, is leading the Republican race by a big margin, the issues he’s focused on have tended to draw the most attention. Which means Trump, and which means immigration. And, lately, he’s been saying a lot about an obscure but important issue; the idea of birthright citizenship. A policy that has to change, apparently. Trump calls it a ‘magnet for illegal immigration.’

And other candidates are weighing in. Chris Christie: “While birthright citizenship may have made sense at some point in our history, right now, we need to relook at all of that.” Lindsay Graham: “I don’t mind changing the law. I think it’s a bad practice to give citizenship based on birth.” Bobby Jindal: “We need to end birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants.” Scott Walker, asked if he supported ending birthright citizenship, responded ‘yeah,’ before waffling. Carly Fiorina and Jeb Bush wouldn’t go that far, but both agreed that illegal immigration is a serious issue. (HINT: no, it isn’t.)

Here’s the thing: birthright citizenship isn’t a policy, and it isn’t a law that can simply be changed legislatively and it isn’t ‘a practice.’ It’s in the Constitution. And it’s not really ambiguous or obscure. Here it is, from Article One of the Fourteenth Amendment:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside

If you’re born in the United States, you’re a citizen of the United States. Period. And yes, the National Review and Daily Caller have recently made themselves look ridiculous by arguing that ‘all citizens born in the United States are citizens of the United States’ doesn’t mean, you know, that being actually born here somehow means that you’re, like, a citizen or whatever. (I’m absolutely not going to link to those two publications, by the way).  Silly websites are welcome to publish silly articles all they want to–First Amendment–but the facts are that getting rid of birthright citizenship requires an amendment to the Constitution, and that will never, ever happen. And trying to make it happen will also have the charming side effect of destroying the Republican party. Which I would rather not have happen, thank you very much. ‘Cause: Lincoln.

Reading articles about this issue is sort of fun, though. It’s not hard to read between the lines of the various statements of the Republican Presidential candidates to see what a tricky issue this is for Republicans. First of all, they have to pretend that illegal immigrants are currently pouring over our southern border–which they’re not–and that undocumented workers therefore create a host of big social problems–which they don’t. Trump wants to build a big fence, and get Mexico to pay for it. He won’t and they won’t. It’s a silly, nonsense issue. And Trump won’t let it go, because he’s not a serious man. He just pretends to be one on TV.

And it’s not like there aren’t actual, real things that can and should be done for those people who are now in our country, living their lives half-in-shadow and hoping for some resolution to their legal status. We could, for example, pass the Dream Act. We could create a sensible pathway to citizenship. We could end the grotesque exploitation of these workers by employers. There are real things we could really do. Instead, Trump flies around in his helicopter saying ridiculous things on the subject.

And I, for one, hope he keeps running, keeps up in the polls, keeps harping on building big walls and calling Mexicans rapists. Keep it up, Donald. The race for the Presidency, in fact, may already be over. To find out why, some recent history.

In my lifetime, two candidates from California have won the Presidency; Nixon and Reagan. Both were conservatives; Reagan, massively so. From 1960-1996, California only voted for a Democrat for President once. Nowadays, of course, California is a reliable blue state, a Democratic stronghold. What happened?

Immigration hysteria. In 1994, California Governor Pete Wilson, in a close race for re-election, blamed illegal immigrants for all his state’s problems. He strongly supported Prop 187, which denied all sorts of state benefits to undocumented workers. And Republicans haven’t won California since. Hispanic voters noticed. And they vote.

To win the White House, Republicans probably need to win about 45% of the Republican vote. Mitt Romney, you may have noticed, did not win the Presidency. He won 27% of the Hispanic vote, and polled afterwards, Hispanics kept going back to one word–self-deportation–as the main reason they went Democratic.

Self-deportation then, birthright citizenship now; the Republicans keep shooting themselves in the foot with Hispanic voters. Jeb Bush would rather actually come up with a sensible immigration policy: and you can see how uncomfortable Trumpian demagoguery on this issue makes him. He speaks fluent Spanish; his wife is from Mexico. I don’t particularly want Jeb Bush to be President, but this is a policy where his instincts are reasonable. His brother, as President, proposed an immigration bill that wasn’t half bad. Marco Rubio sponsored a decent enough immigration bill in the Senate; he’s not a wacko on this issue. So there was reason to think that Republican outreach to Hispanics could work.

And there’s still plenty of time for Rubio or Bush to revive their respective candidacies. But the Republican electorate is, by and large, insane on this issue. Make any proposal that provides for people who are already here to stay and you’ll get accused of supporting ‘amnesty.’ Blarg.

Self-deportation was a terrible idea when Governor Romney proposed it; birthright citizenship just flat isn’t an issue at all, because the Constitution is very hard to amend, and no amendment ending citizenship for frankly racist reasons has a chance of passage. So it’s not like this is, you know, a thing. But for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, it’s about the best question they ever get asked. “Do you support birthright citizenship?” “Yes. I support the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.” Boom.

Meanwhile, millions of young people, the Dreamers, remain in a preposterous legal limbo. That’s the issue we should be talking about; passing the Dream Act. This is America. We built our nation on immigration. How about this: I will support any candidate who supports full amnesty and the Dream Act. And oppose any who don’t.


Planned Parenthood

Let me start with this: there is simply not a political or moral issue about which I feel more conflicted than abortion. As a feminist, I cannot imagine anything more basic or fundamental than a woman’s right to make the most essential decisions regarding her health, her body, or reproduction. Seen from that perspective, I would likely define myself as pro-choice. I likewise believe that the preservation of human life is of paramount importance. And whatever we may think of a human fetus, it is incontestably human. It might become a fully formed human being, with all the rights and privileges we humans grant to other humans. From that perspective, I suppose I would also have to label myself pro-life.

As you’re probably aware, an anti-abortion group calling itself the Center for Medical Progress conducted a sting operation intended to discredit, and if possible, destroy Planned Parenthood. Actors secretly taped meetings with at least four officials with Planned Parenthood, portraying themselves as researchers seeking tissue from aborted fetuses to be used for medical research. The meetings were then heavily and misleadingly edited to create the impression that Planned Parenthood profits from the sale of fetal tissue, and that these conversations were basically negotiations over price. The Center for Medical Progress released the edited videos on YouTube, and they created a sensation. They are exceptionally difficult to watch. The Planned Parenthood doctors come across very badly. They seem callous to the point of inhumanity.

I have not watched the longer videos, the raw material from which the YouTube videos were edited. Fortunately, Sarah Kliff, a first-rate journalist with a background in the relevant legal issues involved, has watched them. Here’s her report:

The videos are sting videos that are designed to smear Planned Parenthood. The unedited footage shows the fake buyers actively attempting to make the discussions look worse for the hapless Planned Parenthood staffers. The Center for Medical Progress argues that these videos show the organization was selling fetal tissue for profit — which is, to be clear, a crime. But abortion clinics are allowed to receive compensation for any time spent procuring fetal tissue — for example, the extra time a staff member has to spend getting consent to donate or the work a lab technician does identifying specific types of tissue. Planned Parenthood says this is all the videos show, and for the most part they’re right. It’s routinely the fake buyers, not Planned Parenthood, who move the discussion toward money.

Planned Parenthood is an organization that believes it can do good in the world by procuring fetal tissue for medical researchers. Their critics find fetal tissue research self-evidently repugnant. To a large degree, what you think of the videos comes down to what you think of the fraught topic of fetal tissue research. But there are also moments that should give supporters of the women’s health provider pause — moments when officials with the group seem to haggle over fetal tissue compensation and appear to make women’s health a secondary priority. These are moments that do not appear any less troublesome when watched in the full video. They are not simply a product of biased editing — and, if anything, the biased editing is making them too easy for Planned Parenthood’s supporters to ignore.

Of course, as Kliff also notes, the main impact of these videos is emotional. These leisurely lunches, in nice restaurants, with well-dressed people chatting casually about fetal tissue over a glass of wine; well, these people seem monstrous. It’s hardly surprising that Republicans in Congress have introduced bills intended to de-fund Planned Parenthood.

So that’s one emotional reaction. But there’s another strong emotional response possible, and it’s the one I experienced recently while watching the recent Republican Presidential debate. Mike Huckabee seriously argued that a fetus should be given all the rights of citizenship, and protected via the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments. Scott Walker’s stance on this issue is to make all abortions illegal, without exceptions for pregnancies that were the result of rape or incest, and without exceptions for instances where the mother’s life is in jeopardy. Think about that. Let’s suppose that a woman presents at a hospital with an ectopic pregnancy. A fertilized egg has attached inside a fallopian tube. There are both surgical and medical treatments possible, but there is no possibility of saving the fetus. And the patient will die without medical treatment. The ‘no exceptions’ stance of many of the Republican candidates would, taken to their logical conclusions, condemn that woman to death.

This is an issue about which it’s difficult to the point of impossibility to have a calm, objective, rational conversation. If one believes that humanity begins with conception, then an organization like Planned Parenthood, which does perform abortions, is essentially engaged in the murder of babies. At the same time, a great many fetuses spontaneously abort in what we prefer to call miscarriages. If, as some claim, God regards every fertilized egg as a human life, then forgive me for suggesting that God is remarkably cavalier with human lives.

Let’s instead keep the uneasy truce that Roe v. Wade created, in which first trimester abortions are all legal, and in which the state’s interest in protecting the fetus begins with viability. And let’s also admit this truth: abortion is much more a tragedy than it is a sin. Is it possible to, not allow abortions, but limit the number that actually occur?

First, let’s admit this reality: if Planned Parenthood were completely de-funded, if it ceased to exist, that action would, in all likelihood, make a difference in the numbers of abortions performed nationally. They would increase; they would go up. Planned Parenthood is much more in the business of preventing pregnancies than it is in the business of aborting them. It is also the only source for women’s health care for many poor women all across the country. It is, in short, an organization that does a great deal of good.

Second, if we take human life seriously, if we’re pro-life (and, remember, ‘pro-life’ is one word I use to describe myself, another being ‘pro-choice’), then let’s genuinely support human life. Let’s end the death penalty for capital crimes. Let’s all commit ourselves to opposing war. Let’s pass a national maternity and paternity leave bill. Let’s find ways to fund child care for working women. And let’s do whatever we can to lower the costs associated with adoption, including adoption by same-sex couples.

Third, let’s support the goal of universal, national, comprehensive (age-appropriate), medically accurate sex education in all American public schools. And let’s admit that, however well-intentioned it may have initially been, that abstinence-only education is a policy failure. That should be easy to do; after all, the states that support abstinence-only programs have higher teen pregnancy rates than states that offer comprehensive education. It just strikes me as morally wrong to ask teachers not to teach any academic subject completely and accurately.

This is an astonishingly divisive and emotionally turbulent issue. And, of course, for some people, it’s an issue where no compromise is possible. But I don’t believe that’s true for most of us. Let’s see if we can find some reasonable middle ground. Start by continuing funding for Planned Parenthood.


Aside from Trump. . . .

Like 24 million of my fellow Americans, I watched the first Republican debates. Mostly, I watched for the same reason most of us rubberneck accidents on the freeway. We wanted to see The Donald crash and burn. He did not disappoint. Asked, by Megyn Kelly, about appalling comments he’s made about women in the past, Trump smirked and suggested those comments were all aimed at Rosie O’Donnell. After that gratuitous insult, he then treated us to a seminar on why alpha males, caught in the role of sexual harasser, tend to lose the subsequent lawsuits. Deflect, accuse, wonder why dames can’t take a joke and, geez, guys, it’s all just a bunch of political correctness. The next, day, he topped off this charming display of boorishness by suggesting that Kelly’s ‘rudeness’ to him was due to her menstrual cycle. What a prince.

So, usual Trump tactics and results. Say something insulting and idiotic. Watch your poll numbers go up. Get called on it, double down. Watch your poll numbers go . . . up. Apparently, in 2015, infantile tantrums work. (In all fairness, he did offer one of the few specific and sensible policy suggestions of the night. The man’s a pig; doesn’t mean he’s stupid).

Of course, it doesn’t matter. As the invaluable Nate Silver pointed out today, Trump can’t win. He may continue to go up a little in the polls, but his negatives are off the charts; he’s pretty close to his poll ceiling. He has a solid core of supporters, but twice as many people insist they would never, under any circumstances, ever vote for him, and that’s among Republicans. And as John Oliver pointed out on Sunday, none of this really actually matters all that much. There will be babies born before the 2016 election whose parents haven’t even met yet. We’re way way early.

So what did this first debate tell us? What can we learn from it? And what, especially, does it tell us about who might be the Republican nominee for President?

The most recent poll has Trump in first, Ted Cruz in second, Ben Carson in third. I have immense admiration for Dr. Ben Carson, an admirable man with a remarkable personal narrative. From my perspective, he looked lost up there. He has no political skills, and essentially no understanding of the major issues of the day. Ted Cruz is one of the lizard-people, I’m convinced of it. He exudes unctuous smarm. And he’s detested in the Senate; absolutely detested, including by fellow Republicans.

Carly Fiorina probably won the earlier ‘kiddie table’ debate, which didn’t surprise me, actually. I’ve heard her speak, and she’s very good. She’s well-spoken and intelligent, and understands the issues in a way that the other non-politicians running sometimes don’t. Her problem is her narrative. She was CEO of Hewlett-Packard, which she ran into the ground. She ran for the Senate in California, and got clobbered. 12 of the 30 top operatives in her Senate campaign recently came out with a statement that they would never work for her again, ever, in any capacity whatever. And her former H-P employees make for a formidable (and computer-savvy) group who will do whatever they possibly can to sabotage her campaign. She’s another ‘too much baggage’ candidate, I think.

Of the actual serious candidates, I thought Marco Rubio did pretty well, as did John Kasich. And, speaking as a Democrat, that’s scary. Rubio struck a chord with his talk about a childhood in a family that lived paycheck to paycheck. If he could take that experience, and translate it into concrete policy suggestions that really would help the lower and middle classes, he could be a formidable opponent. And Kasich came across as a decent, honorable, competent man. When the man said that he had attended the wedding of a gay friend, I expected boos from the audience. None followed. Yay. I mean, it’s not like he said anything all that remarkable; basically, ‘I decided not to be a self-righteous jerk when my friend got married.’ But the ‘basic humanity’ bar has been set deplorably low by some of the more unhinged members of the people on that stage.

Let’s make a few basic assumptions. First, let’s assume that Joe Biden decides not to run for President, and that Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee. I know that a lot of progressives really like Bernie Sanders; I’m among them. He’s the Clean Gene McCarthy of this race; a man of integrity, a serious man with serious policy ideas. I think it’s great that he’s in the race. I don’t think he can win. He might even win both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary and still lose the nomination; Hillary Clinton is much stronger with minority voters. But I want the Democratic primary process to be tough, grueling, a real grind. It’s been awhile since Secretary Clinton was in a tough electoral contest. It’s good for her to struggle. I think she can win, but she has a lot of negatives, too.

Let’s further suppose that the Republican nominee, when all the dust settles, is Marco Rubio, and that he selects Kasich as his running mate. Rubio, from Florida; Kasich, from Ohio. That’s a formidable ticket. Ohio and Florida? In play?

Now, they’ve got to run on an economic platform that makes sense. No more ‘tax cuts for billionaires, because wealth trickles down’ garbage. They can’t just say ‘I feel bad for poor people because my Mom was poor, so see, I care about you and your concerns.’ You actually have to govern in a way that reduces income inequality, and puts more money in the pockets of poor people. No more running against ‘Obamacare.’ No more crap about how the nuclear deal with Iran will bring about the end of days. Rubio’s expanded Child Tax Credit idea is the kind of Republican idea that could actually make a difference in the lives of poor people. They need more policy proposals like that one. And if they do that, run as moderates, Rubio/Kasich could win.

Unless, of course, Trump runs as a third-party candidate. He’s kept that door open, as everyone saw last Thursday. And he would absolutely pull votes from Rubio. or any other Republican. But speaking as a Democrat, that’s a lot to hope for. Donald Trump is, fundamentally and essentially, an infant. And infants get bored.

Unenumerated rights

Okay, Civics 101: The Bill of Rights to the Constitution describes basic, fundamental unviolable rights retained by the citizens, areas into which the government cannot intrude. We all know this, and if pressed, we could probably name most of the important ones off the top of our head. Freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to assemble. When we say we live in a free society, the Bill of Rights is usually what we’re talking about. We take those rights for granted. We just assume, as a matter of course, that we can call the President of the United States or our local congressman a miserable rat fink and not get arrested for it.

What we don’t always consider, though, is the fact that some of the rights that the Constitution does enumerate are pretty strange, and don’t seem to deal with issues that anyone really thinks about anymore. They reflect controversies and issues that were important to 18th century society, but aren’t really significant to our society. The most immediate and obvious is the 3rd amendment, the one against quartering soldiers in your home. I mean, I would be pretty ticked off if someone from Hill Air Force base were to show up at my door and tell me I needed to put up some guys from the 75th Air Wing, so could I clear some space for them please. So, yay 3rd Amendment. The British did that; put troops in citizens houses, and people got pretty ticked off about it. But it’s not something that happens anymore.

If we were starting from scratch, I think that the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th amendments would all make the cut today. The 3rd and 7th seem iffy to me. The 2nd? If we didn’t already have it, I don’t think anyone would notice. Most countries don’t consider gun ownership a fundamental human right, and they seem to do okay. I bet it’d go.

Anyway, those aren’t all the rights we have. The 9th amendment makes that clear: the fact that some rights are enumerated in the Constitution doesn’t mean that that’s all there are. People have lots more rights than the 10 listed in the Bill of Rights. I see the 9th as kind of a rueful admission that times change, and some basic, fundamental rights will come more clearly into focus in time. As, indeed, has happened.

This issue of unenumerated rights, however, is the key to understanding some of the more controversial Supreme Court decisions. If The People, through their elected representatives, choose to enact laws that deny some unpopular minority its basic rights, it’s clearly the role of the Court to declare those laws unconstitutional. And so if someone were to say ‘hey, everyone hates Norwegians; they’re all still Vikings!’ and got Congress to pass a law banning, say, midsummer celebrations, Norwegian-Americans could say ‘hey, wait, first amendment, freedom to assemble’ and the Courts, presumably, would declare that law unconstitutional.

But what about the right of gay people to marry? Is ‘the right to marry’ an unenumerated right, as the 9th Amendment provides for? After all, Chief Justice Roberts made a point of the fact that the word ‘marriage’ is not found anywhere in the Constitution. Or is a right to marry so fundamental that it simply has to be one of those unenumerated rights the 9th amendment provides for? Likewise, Roe v. Wade. The constitution hasn’t a word to say about ‘privacy.’ Is there a constitutional right to privacy? So what about marriage? What about privacy? Unenumerated but obviously real rights? Or extra-constitutional legislating from the bench?

The real answer, of course, is that we don’t know definitively, and never will. Why would we? The 2nd amendment is really short, and nobody agrees about what it means. All texts support multiple readings; all texts, always, forever. The whole idea of ‘strict construction’ of constitutional texts is quite nonsensical.

But I would like to propose a possible rule of thumb that we might apply to this question. It’s the ‘of course’ rule. In other words, if you ask most people, ‘is the right to marry a fundamental right,’ they’d pretty much all say ‘of course.’ Unenumerated rights exist if basically everyone thinks ‘well, of course, that’s a right.’ Or you can turn it around. Ask most of your friends, ‘should the federal or state government have the final say in whether two consenting adults not of the same immediate family should be allowed to marry?’ Betcha anything the answer is unanimous. In fact, if you really want to have fun with it, say to your teenaged daughter, ‘honey, I think I should have final say over who you marry. I’m your parent, and I know best.’ Then stand back and watch the fireworks. Human beings simply do not make more important decisions in this life than the decision who to marry. So, it’s a right. Unenumerated, but a right. And thanks to the 9th amendment, i would argue (disagreeing with Justice Douglas in Roe) constitutionally protected.

So how about privacy? Is there an unenumerated but constitutionally protected right to privacy? I’ll grant that Justice Blackmun did us no favors with his unfelicitous language about ‘penumbras’ emanating from the 9th and 14th amendments. But let’s apply the ‘of course’ standard.

This is from Bruce Schneier, an internationally respected expert on security; on the measures governments take to protect their citizens.

Privacy is a basic human need. A future in which privacy would face constant assault was so foreign to the framers of the constitution that it never occurred to them to call out privacy as an explicit right. Privacy was inherent to the nobility of their being and their cause. Of course, being watched in your own home was unreasonable. Watching at all was an activity so unseemly as to be inconceivable to gentlemen of their day. You ruled your own home. It’s intrinsic to the concept of liberty.

And of all possible human communications, of all possible human decisions, what could be more fundamental than the right to make our own decisions regarding our bodies, our health, our treatment by our physicians? Doctor/patient confidentiality is just the beginning, not the end, of our right to have our health decisions kept to ourselves.

Of course, in abortion, there’s another consideration; the potential human life we call a fetus. I agree that balancing the right of a woman to privacy in her personal medical decisions, and the right of a viable human being growing in her uterus is a complicated and difficult task. That’s why Roe v. Wade did not legalize all abortions, under all circumstances. We might disagree with some of the specifics with which the Court tried to strike that balance, especially in the light of current medical advances. Still, I can’t help but think that the Court ruled correctly. Our continuing task must be to find ways to make abortion safe, legal, and rare.

So yes, although the Constitution does not explicitly mention marriage, I think it’s unreasonable to conclude that marriage is not a fundamental constitutional right. And although the Constitution does not explicitly mention privacy, a right to privacy can nonetheless exist. Unenumerated rights are rights nonetheless. The 9th amendment says so.