Today we have a Democratic President who is not a progressive, who is not, in my opinion, a liberal. He has expressed his admiration for Ronald Reagan. Thinking about our current president made me nostalgic for a time when a major Democratic Party player refused to play at wasteful bipartisan brinksmanship or speak of a fuzzy post-partisan era. Mario Cuomo spoke of unity, spoke of bringing the party together - but not just for the sake of collapsing the country into one politically mediocre middlism. He believed that Democratic unity - liberal unity - was what would bring our country prosperity and justice.
When Mario Cuomo spoke we on the left who did not have his platform knew we could outright criticize military adventures and trickle-down economic theories; we could demand that we take care of the old and the less well-abled; we could care about all races and orientations; and and treat women equally under our constitution. The 1980s were a lousy time for those of us on the left as they were so much the Reagan years. But at least we had leaders like Mario Cuomo who would speak out, publicly and courageously in the name of all these things, but even - oh my - the E.R.A.
Pay special attention to this passage:
It is over 20 years since Mario Cuomo dared to spell it out in three letters: E.R.A -- while a convention hall full of Democratic delegates roared those letters back at him.
Can you imagine now a Democratic Party shining on the hill introducing the Equal Rights Amendment or fighting for the three state strategy or fighting, state by state - including all those supposedly newly blue ones - for its passage?
I confess I cannot imagine today's Democratic Party doing this. But may I be wrong. May the Democratic party wake up from its mediocre middlism and go to the mat for the majority, for the 51 percent of Americans who are not guaranteed the highest protection of their equality under the law.
Note: this is a revised version of an earlier post. The comment, which was directed to this earlier post on this blog:
Note: this is a revised version of an earlier post.
The comment, which was directed to this earlier post on this blog:
I don't really know or care what your formalistic obsession with DNC Convention rules are, and I doubt other GULC professors will care either. If you want to have a serious conversation about the role of sexism in the campaign, I suspect you might find some Obama supporters who are willing to have that conversation. But if you start by telling your other profs that they supported Obama because he's black, or because he's a man, or because he is hip, they won't respect you and they won't listen to anything else you have to say.
My reply, with identification of the alum redacted:
My reply, with identification of the alum redacted:
Dear Mr. G.Because you did not comment anonymously and shared your views frankly, I am taking the time to to let you know that I have read and considered them. Of course I disagree with your perspective on my position on President Obama: I believe I have criticized him when it is merited, not demonized him. But as you note, beginning by telling somebody something they are not likely to agree with is not a very engaging way to begin a dialogue.
Note to readers: Many have sent comments or private emails to lend moral support and advice about taking care about running against the majority view in the workplace, especially around this election. I believe I was misleading in my original post. I will only comment on the election and its meaning for the law school if I can do so courteously and if it seems at all worthwhile. But I appreciate, greatly every message of support and solidarity. Camaraderie among dissidents is alive and well.
As for the morning session of the faculty retreat ... I made the choice to, in the words of the Beatles, let it be. The panel includes two of three colleagues who will work in the new administration in high positions. One will be working specifically on climate change, two others in the department of justice. These colleagues are liberals and not among those who chilled the atmosphere of the law center during the election season. They would have worked in a Clinton administration and will do good and important work no matter what. Today is not the day to distract from their aspirations. There will be better occasions to raise the issues that distress me.
You asked whether I was finding it easier to be a liberal who was not enthusiastic about President Obama's candidacy and is not enthusiastic about his administration. The short answer: no. The problem is both due to external circumstances and internal ones. I've never been a left-leaner who takes pride in being left of the mainstream Democratic establishment. But this year, as the race narrowed down to Clinton and Obama, it was clear to me to that the more liberal candidate was Clinton: the candidate more interested in a politics favoring the middle-class, especially the lower middle class, and the poor; the candidate more interested in separation between church and state; the candidate more interested in gay rights and women's rights and economic justice. The candidate who understood that Kumbaya is not popular song in Washington, D.C. and for good reason: politics is not nonpartisan: it is fight, rooted in competing visions of social good and the means to achieve it.
I work at a place of higher education where it was unfashionable to support Clinton's candidacy, on the widely broadcast assumption that no liberal could prefer any other candidate to a viable black Democratic candidate. There were some underlying messages broadcast along with this: that it was "cool" to support a relatively young black man who liked sports while it was "shrill" to support a slightly older white woman who liked her daughter and her friends. Indeed as time went on, the misogyny of the academy, which is a topic for another time, became more and more apparent.
I started this blog with the intention of giving those friends and family interested in the volunteering I did for then-Senator Clinton's campaign a way of opting in to updates. I told almost nobody at work about the blog or the extent of the blogging because it was so obviously assumed by every colleague around me (except for those encountered at Clinton events, where we greeted each other with happy surprise) that we must all be on the same side and that meant the Obama side. Work is enough of a stressful environment (that's why it is called work, after all) that I did not have the interest or the energy to forcefully object to this blind assumption.
I did occasionally express my frustrations with the DNC and the way it rigged its convention, its refusal to follow its own rules. This usually provoked hostility. I think some of that hostility had to do with the fact that, since I am a member of law school faculty, the criticism hit home: law professors - full fledged ones - tend to take pride in due and fair process. To be reminded that the Democratic Party had engaged in the same sort of hijinks that so offended my colleagues when performed by the Republican Party did not make people happy.
Part of my coping strategy was to put my head and heart into my teaching and scholarship and try to tune out the political noise, which was very loud. The line between work and politics at a "liberal" law school in Washington D.C. is very thin. The strategy has been effective for my teaching and scholarship. But just as so many people feel irreparable rifts with friends who could not accept that they would not support Senator Obama, I feel a rift - I don't know if it will be irreparable - with an institution that felt so comfortable silencing anybody who supported Senator Clinton.
Coming up is our faculty retreat. Part of its theme is "reflections on the presidential election." I will have a better idea of how things are after this event, because I will see if I can talk about the misogyny during the election and the centrism (even economic and social right tilt) of the current Democratic administration without getting the same blowback that went on prior to the general election. Maybe it will be easier for people to hear about these concerns now that a Democrat is safely ensconced in the White House. They, like me, were so ready for an end to the Bush years, and maybe any questioning of whether the ends justified the means or even whether the the means were regrettable was too scary or painful or threatening before President Obama actually won. I confess I am nervous about voicing my views at the retreat. Yet if I do not, then I am not being fair to my colleagues who may not realize just how antagonistic they seemed to any Democrat who did not share their faith in party and candidate Obama.
I am still trying to figure out how a Democrat who won the presidency by a large margin, got into office, with the entire country knowing that we needed action from the Federal government has managed to squander the opportunity to lay the groundwork for a systematic domestic agenda at which social justice and welfare are front and center. I knew President Obama was not the most liberal or progressive of the Democratic contenders for the presidency - and I wondered often as the campaign proceeded just how liberal or progressive he was at all. I did not prefer the content of John McCain's views to whatever I could glean the content of "hope"/"change" was.
I assumed that President Obama had a domestic agenda that he would promote and actually, although I felt that the way the nomination had been rigged in Denver, the Democratic Party did not deserve to have its candidate with the general election, I did assume that the Party establishment's favored son would actually fight for its causes.
But if we examine how President Obama has handled TARP-part 2, it seems like he has no plan and certainly not one that puts domestic justice and welfare front and center. Read this for a good take on the situation. Best quote: "On the domestic issues Mr. Obama ran and won on — health care, education, climate change, rebalancing the distribution of wealth — the legislation does little more than promise there will be more to come."
The proper relationship between markets and governments in a liberal state is a debatable one. Adam Smith, generally understood to be one of the major progenitors of modern laisezz faire economic-political theory, did not advocate for the absence of the government intervention in economic affairs. Indeed he felt that the state, via law, would be required to create efficient markets because, in the era in which he wrote, professions and financial institutions were dominated by private parties who had not achieved that domination through economic division of labor and competition - the hallmarks of the Smithean classical economic theory. Rather, professions and financial institutions were dominated by guilds and churches, among other groups, who had achieved their economic position not by virtue of serving the economic interests of the community well, but as a side-effect or perk of attaining power in other ways. Smith's economic theory qualifies as liberal not because it advocates minimal government intervention in economic affairs, but because of its egalitarianism: Smith argued that in order to create equal opportunity for individuals pursuing their economic self-interest (which he believed would have the fortuitious effect of creating an overall efficient wealth creating economy), power had to be removed from the special interest groups of his day (the guilds, the churches, etc.) that denied that equal opportunity on grounds that had nothing to do with economic interests (e.g. excluding some people from some sorts of jobs on the grounds of the religion) or with simply shoring up economic self interest that was not being exercised within a system likely to maximize overall wealth creation.
Today, President Obama has signed an executive order creating "a revamped White House office for religion-based and neighborhood programs, expanding an initiative started by the Bush administration that provides government support — and financing — to religious and charitable organizations that deliver social services." (See this New York Times article, also reprinted after the jump in this post for all quotations).
This is precisely the inverse of a Smithean approach to government and the economy. Wholly apart from questions related to the constitutionality of the expanded office and its powers, this inversion must be noted on grounds of its illiberalism. What the expanded office does is to advantage certain groups - faith-based ones - not on grounds of the likelihood of their contributing to efficient wealth production, but on the grounds that the President believes they are "good" and will do "good":
“No matter how much money we invest or how sensibly we design our policies, the change that Americans are looking for will not come from government alone,” Mr. Obama said. “There is a force for good greater than government.”
Whether or not one agrees with President Obama's metaphysics (if by forces for good he is referencing supernatural beings) or his confidence in the beneficence of organized religious groups (including, see article, The Church of Scientiology) has nothing to do with the illiberalism of the government funding religious groups to expand their resources for “to lift up those who have fallen on hard times,” as President Obama put it.
If one of the tasks for our society is to aid those who have fallen on hard times, we have two established, liberal ways to accomplish that task. We can entrust the job to the market, assuming that entrepeneurs will find a way to serve their own economic interest while helping others. Indeed, many mega-churches can be understood as doing just just this: they participate in the supply-and-demand cycle for charitable services, often advantaged by all sorts of tax-exemptions, not just on income but on property owned. Or we can choose to add social safety nets officiated over by civil servants acting directly on behalf of the state.
The Time article notes: "In announcing the expansion of the religion office, Mr. Obama did not settle the biggest question: Can religious groups that receive federal money for social service programs hire only those who share their faith?"
Sometimes a conspicuous lack of an answer tells us more than any answer could. The fact that this question - whether faith-based organizations who receive direct government funding to engage in economic activity may discriminate on the basis in their own hiring practices - has not been giving a resounding no tells us that there is not even aspiration to liberalism in this effort to further meld government and religion in this country. Recall, Smith specifically objected to the negative that churches had on the creation of efficient provision of goods and services because churches imposed noneconomically relevant criteria who could participate in the provision of those goods and services. President Obama's new office flies in the face of this point.
Perhaps this is why his executive order was signed stealthily, "away from the view of television cameras or an audience"?
Time for another thought experiment (admittedly, one not far removed from recent and present realities). Imagine if the United States were facing an unprecedented financial-social crisis, the makings of which had been brewing for years and the solutions to which were far from obvious. Suppose the mood of the country favored genuine unity. Genuine unity, of the sort that Churchill asked of the British people as they faced years of grueling warfare against Nazi Germany; deep social cooperation to solve deep problems, not just starry-eyed rhetoric penned by a twenty-seven year old.
Suppose that the U.S. had a well-respected political leader available, one with a history of successfully addressing problems of social welfare, the sort of problems that the economic crisis will generate and exacerbate and which will have to be addressed if the the social - and therefore, economic- fabric of the country are to be restitched.
To this point in our thought experiment it might seeem quite obvious that the U.S. would turn to this leader. But now, include these variables: this leader is 66 years old and looks and acts consistent with that age; this leader is a woman; this leader is openly gay and has listed her domestic partner on official websites since such websites have been in place; this leader is a highly ambitious politician, somebody who sought to develop and cultivate her own political following, although also has shown the ability and willingness to work with and across political dividing lines.
Try to figure out which variable would most weigh against this person as the choice to lead the United States in time of such crisis.
Apparently, none of them are preventing Iceland from coalescing around Johanna Sigardardottir (right) as the Iceland's choice for its next Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, check this out:
A week or so into our new Presidential administration, and the strange sensation of living in a universe that only partially intersects that of many people I would formerly have have considered obvious political allies continues. Starting yesterday and on through today I began receiving messages from blogger friends and then from NOW-NY and then Planned Parenthood, that something very strange seemed to be happening with the economic stimulus bill. Apparently President Obama (who neither NOW nor Planned Parenthood can bring themselves to name as part of the problem, although Planned Parenthood does suggest calling the White House) and Congressional Democrats are willing to curry votes from Republicans on the Hill by cutting the Medicaid Family Planning State Option from the stimulus package the Congress is hoping to have ready for presidential signing by mid-Februrary. The Medicaid Family Planning State option is a provision that would provide health care coverage for 2.3 million low-income women, according to Planned Parenthood, by "allow[ing] states to expand their Medicaid family planning services, including cancer screenings and other preventive care, to more women in need, without having to go through the burdensome Medicaid waiver process." Or as the National Women's Law Center puts it, "In a disappointing move, the economic recovery package will not include a provision to make it easier for states to make family planning services more accessible and affordable to the millions of women and families who depend on them. The Medicaid Family Planning State Option would have allowed states to expand Medicaid eligibility for family planning services without having to obtain a federal waiver." Meanwhile, when I went to look at the January 28 New York Times print edition to for details, I found no mention of this ditching of the Family Planning option until deep into one of the three stories on the stimulus package, mentioned in passing in a vague paragraph on page A16 of the Washington print edition of the Times:
As the House version of the legislation came to the floor on Tuesday, Democrats stripped from it a provision that Republicans had ridiculed as having nothing to do with economic stimulus, one expanding federal Medicaid coverage of family planning services. (The Congressional Budget Officehad estimated that the provision would actually save the government $200 million over five years by reducing pregnancy and postnatal-care expenses.)
Then, as I sat down to compose my thoughts about this latest bit of chicanery over women's bodies, things turned a bit more surreal. Apparently, despite its reported spike in subscriptions, Ms. Magazine has enough leftover editions of its inaugural issue - you know, the one with this patently ridiculous cover, to just today be offering me more "one more chance" to own the cover in poster size.
Please note: no way in hell does a feminist look like a person who is willing to horse-trade funds for family planning benefits under Medicaid to placate Republicans, who will do anything to beat back money for family planning which they are trying as quickly as possible to turn into an epithet. Family planning is a good idea. So is birth control in most people's lives. So, in some cases, is access to safe and legal abortion. Family planning, birth control, access to safe and legal abortions: these are not dirty words. They are real world, practical options - options needed, at least as options, by all women if they are to be truly autonomous actors in our society; and therefore options that must be as available to those whose health insurance is provided by the government as to those whose insurance is provided by private insurers.
Here's a little trick used by many who teach property law across the country. Most first year law students arrive in their Property Law courses with two visions of what property is: either the stuff they just put away in their dorm rooms or a field in the country somewhere. So we law professors often start by telling them that no,that isn't property at all. What property really is, is the set of entitlements and rights any particular person or the state has to control or use the stuff they just put their dorm rooms or the field in the country. In other words, property is a bundle of say-so's over what happens to the bits and pieces in the world. Who gets to say what about what happens to what what bits and pieces makes up the law of property. Today's casebooks tend to leave out the statutes and cases that blatantly assumed that women and black men were bits and pieces that were just as much the objects of debates about particular say-so's - cases about the details of chattel marriage (e.g. since a husband controlled all of his wife's legal rights, could she ever charge him with rape?) and chattel slavery (e.g., since a slave owner controlled absolutely the working conditions of slaves, could a slave owner be charged with murder for willfully and knowingly depriving slaves of adequate rest or water thereby leading to their deaths?). Property casebooks tend to leave out these cases because it is rightly considered unacceptable to conceive of women and black men as the equivalent of the stuff in the dorm room or the field in the countryside. So, especially when it comes to chattel slavery, current law school curricula focus on the law that removed blacks from the status of chattel and recognized them as persons, not property.
Because there has never been a legal seismic shift in the status of women in this country - nothing comparable to a Civil War leading to an Emancipation Proclamation or the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution or the myriad of statutes and regulations passed to make the guarantees of these Amendments a reality - there is no natural place in law school curricula to address the halting transition our society is making toward giving women full say-so over their own bodies and the opportunity and means to give that say-so tangible effect. Some family law courses consider the question; some specialized courses in feminist legal studies do. But even the most aspirational of law school curricula still must work from the law as it is, not as we would have it be. And the fact remains that women have not been liberated from the shackles legally imposed on them.
If President Obama and the Democratic Congress were to horse-trade away men's rights to control their health care, I am confident that there would be hue and cry. But this is because the baseline assumption in our society is that men are entitled to control their own bodies. No man of any color is the property of the state, nor may the state dole out its aid starting from the presumption that the state has more say so over men's bodies then men themselves do.
But since President Obama has decreed "there's not a minute to spare" before he gets the stimulus package he is willing to settle for, apparently he has not a minute to spare to fight for the women's rights and resources to control and care for their bodies.
Today, many men and women of good will toward this country and its new president are, nevertheless, heavy-hearted. These are men and women who looked heartily forward to seeing Hillary Rodham Clinton inaugurated president. In an election cycle when winning the Democratic nomination was tantamount to winning the presidency, these men and women worked and rooted hard for Mrs. Clinton during a hotly contested Democratic primary season, one where she won the popular vote and where we can never know for sure who would have won at the Democratic National Convention had announced and promulgated Party procedures been allowed to run their course.
Some of these men and women supported Mrs. Clinton despite of her gender, some because of her gender. For some, gender truly was not part of the equation of their support. Some, like me, started as a firm Clinton supporter for reasons that had nothing to do with Mrs. Clinton's gender and ended up realizing that in order for this country to ever elect a woman president, we will have to work together at the deepest of social and cultural levels - let alone in politics -to eradicate the misogyny and sexism that reared its head as soon as it became clear that there was high likelihood that a woman would become the next president of the United States. Misogyny and sexism did not just pop up out of nowhere, either. It was used deliberately or willfully ignored by alleged liberals from whom we expected so much better.
The pain felt today by many of Mrs. Clinton's supporters is the pain of frustration: frustration at realizing how deeply and pervasively sexism and misogyny infiltrate our lives and our world. It is the pain of impatience: impatience with others' obliviousness to the infiltration. It is the pain of anticipated toil: the toil ahead to put women into 51 percent of the positions in all spheres of public life so that eventually one woman with even half the qualifications of Mrs. Clinton will indeed be elected President of the United States of America.
We can take that pain and turn it totally inward, to the point where it exhausts us. Or we can take that pain and turn it outward, in the form of energy to fuel the changes we demand. As I have listened to Mrs. Clinton herself spend her time in the build up to being confirmed Secretary of State, I have witnessed a leader showing us how to do the latter. I do not know Mrs. Clinton personally, but from what I know of human nature and what I can glean from her odyssey since Denver, surely she has experienced some of the pain so many of her supporters feel today. I am also sure that, like all of us, she will always carry some measure of the pain within her. What makes Mrs. Clinton's leadership so extraordinary is that she exemplifies the power of pushing through the inner pain or going around it or using it to fuel continuing achievements.
If today you are among the hurt and the angry, remember that tomorrow (or the next day or the day on which you are ready), you will have a chance to take that hurt and anger and put it to use for full social justice for all people, including the 51 percent that are women.
Some pleasing surprises found today:
I am not often deliberately autobiographical here at Heidi Li's Potpourri. But sometimes an ally asks you to join in a project and ...
Apparently, some in the Pumasphere are playing the following game: if tagged we are asked to write six things about ourselves AND tag six other bloggers to do the same, as part of a way of supplying some diversion for those who will be sauntering the web with care over this weekend. So, in name of community building and camaraderie:
1. Yes, I am 5 feet, 9 inches tall. If you have seen me in person, and you are insightful you know this and will not get bogged down in discussions of whether height is relative and what my height means for you. Recently, I attended an event where a very insightful person questioned my height, and when I asked whether he really did indeed want to get into a conversation about the nature of reality, he quickly replied that given his full head of dark brown hair, completely ungreyed, he saw no point in going there.
2. According to my mother, I never asked for a brother or a sister (after me, my mom went through some pregnancies that the babies didn't survive) but when I was about three or four I requested a cat, so I would have "somebody to talk to" when she and my father were talking to each other. I named the cat that arrived Mischief Funnyface Feldman, and no better black and white alley cat has ever been a better companion. Mischief was also an excellent conversationalist which was fortunate since my parents were plenty able to spend time in good conversation with each other.
3. I love to nap.
4. I love to laugh, and probably the reason I am still with my husband and always will be is that he is uniquely able to crack me up.
5. I was raised in a fiercely anti-racist home, really one that was unusually like that for its time and place. My mother, in particular, instilled in me the attitude that skin color simply is not relevant to evaluating a person. She and my father established the authenticity of their own view by not batting an eye when the first person I ever lived with - and the person who became the aforementioned husband - turned out to be brown with a name that most Americans find to be quite the tongue-twister. They met the young man and the first thing they said to me when we spoke in private was that THIS was a person who showed the sort of kindness and intelligence that they thought would make me happy.
Now I knew that this color-blindness was quite uncommon. Still is, I imagine. I was not, and am not, naive about the lack of color-blindness in this world. And until this election year I felt my life was nothing but the better for having had instilled into it both anti-racism and color-blindness - for never thinking that color of a person's skin was relevant to his or her value. But here is a paradox: while I understand intellectually that the election of a non-white to the Presidency of the United States of America is historically remarkable, I cannot become interested in President-elect Obama's imminent inauguration simply because of the color of his skin. And that's because I have never really paid attention to the color of his skin. So, in a slightly perverse way I am alienated from the obviously authentic joy other people take in the fact that we are about to have our first non-white President. Again, I stress that I get it on an intellectual level. I do not even think that it is per se racist to be moved simply by color of the our incoming President's skin. The paradox arises for me because skin color has simply mattered so little to me throughout my life, I cannot suddenly make it matter to me now.
6. In a way, I wish I could make it matter, because I admit I feel a loss at not being swept up in pure joy that many people of good will are genuinely feeling as they see the upcoming inauguration like Rev. Jesse Jackson does: “It is a huge civil rights moment,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson. “Barack Obama has run the last lap of a 54-year race for civil rights."
The last lap: from where I sit, with no ERA, with 51 Percent's goals far from realized, with misogynist, homophobic Rick Warren about to bless the new president's term we have laps and laps and laps still to run. But I do hope the inauguration of Barack Obama is at least part of the tortuous path in the quest for a truly liberal society, one where accidental features of individuals - their skin color, their gender, their sexual orientation, their nation of origin - have nothing to do with how we measure one another's worth. Only time will tell.
I will be extending invitations to the following blogs' authors to join in the game of tag. (Note, given the evolving nature of how people use the term "Puma" I am taking the liberty of identifying blogs I find interesting and in keeping with the self-governing independence of thought that to me characterizes the emerging core of Puma political thinking).