Archive for the 'politics' Category



01
Aug
12

Happy birthday to me

So I’m sitting back, eating steak, drinking bourbon, and skimming my RSS feed for easy topics to blog about when I hear a–

*knock, knock, knock*

–on my door.

I get up from Jason Kuznicki’s intro guest post at The Agitator and look through the peephole, only to cast my eyes upon a rather corpulent individual in a Mk. 1 mod 0 standard-issue Toronto grey flannel suit.  White shirt.  Red tie.

“Who is it, please.”  Not a question.  In American that translates to “fuck off I’m armed”, but I’m (sometimes regrettably) possessed of a very Canadian politeness.

“It’s the Government of Canada” comes the reply.  “Can I come in?”

Second look through the peephole.  Big as this guy is, he’s not big enough to be the whole .gc.ca by a long shot.  Oh, now that makes sense — it’s just the majority party.  None of the Loyal Opposition, certainly this fellow isn’t carrying any of the bureaucracy around his beltline or he wouldn’t fit in the building.  Either way, not a welcome houseguest.

“You have the wrong apartment,” I answer.  Think for a second about what I’ve been reading on the internet.  “And I don’t have any dogs.”

“Mr. Bluntobject?  I brought you something.  For your birthday, I mean.  Can we just talk?”

Oh, christ.  I open the door.

There he is, grinning like an imbecile and wearing a sweatervest under the suit coat.  Looking very pleased with himself.  And proffering an envelope made of gaudy wrapping paper.

“It’s your birthday, so I got you something nice.”  He waggles the envelope.  “Go on, take it!  Open it!”

I hook my thumbs into my pockets, cock my head to one side.  “That’s not an order of rendition to Syria, by chance?”

Government looks puzzled, and very sincere all of a sudden.  “Huh?  Aren’t you white?”

“Last I checked, yeah.”

“Then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.”

I raise an eyebrow.  “Just like Ian Bush?”

Government gets impatient.  “What, are you one of those G20 anarchists or something?”

“Not just yet, no.”

A vein throbs on his forehead.  “Look, in the past, mistakes were made.  By somebody — you know, shit happens, right?  Anyway, I got you this because I think you’ll like it, it’s not violent at all, just open it and have a look, okay?  It’s a new piece of legislation that just took effect today and I think you’ll be really pleased.”

Canadian politeness.  I take the envelope and tear it open.  And gasp–

“You really did it.”

Government beams.  “Yep!  We got rid of the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopsony on wheat and barley.  I knew you’d like it!”

Okay, I admit it, I’m impressed.  “I didn’t expect you to know what ‘monopsony’ even means.”

Government shrugs.  “I don’t.  Eric Crampton told me to say it.”

Well, close enough.

“I have to say, I’m really impressed.  Well done, sir.”  And, so help me, I hold out my hand.  He grabs it and shakes it vigorously with both of his.

Government grins toothily, an enthusiastic light growing in his widening eyes.  “And with the economic growth this’ll generate across the prairies, we’ll be able to afford to build dozens of new prisons for our–”

*slam*

Well, it was nice while it lasted.

19
Jul
12

All linky, no thinky: Special edition on Reason magazine

So far, blogging seems to be the biggest casualty of my new job.  In any case I’ve accumulated a ton of open tabs, and rather than try to string them together into an intelligible post I’m just going to vomit them forth into WordPress, with a bit of snark and little else in the way of added value.  This one’s all from Reason‘s Hit & Run blog.

——

First we have a lulzily indignant paean to category error:

(h/t Reason, ofc.)

The author of this ironically sincere piece — we’re well into the realm of metacommentary here — is up in arms over the fact that some of her friends might be conservatives (or libertarians; she’s a bit confused on the distinction).  Brian Doherty has a lot to say, and most if it is witty and incisive and includes anecdotes like this:

And I distinctly remember a marketing person at ZDNet, who was trying to organize a debate over Internet regulation, screaming in frustration across the office, “Goddamnit. Is anybody here NOT a libertarian?”

But what I get most strongly out of the Phoenix piece, which Doherty doesn’t mention, is that its author is mostly just frustrated with the realization that libertarians — and even conservatives — are people too, not just abstract and easily-despised Others.  They might even be people with whom she’s friends – or worse, people who buy the same clothes she does.  How horrifying!

(Full disclosure: I’m a vociferous anarchocapitalist and I wear Naked & Famous jeans to work.  Finding hipster jeans that will accommodate legs with muscle on them is a bit of a challenge; fortunately, raw denim stretches.)

——

I hear someone recently gave a speech that sounded a bit like this:

If you have a mosque in Tennessee, somebody along the line gave you a hard time until you paid them off. There was a xenophobic zoning official somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to swim in an ocean of paperwork. Somebody invested in roads and bridges, and used that investment to stonewall you. If you’ve got a mosque — you didn’t build that. Somebody else could have made that happen, but didn’t.

I might’ve gotten a few of the words mixed up, but the intent’s basically there, right?  Government’s inextricably entwined in major struggles and accomplishments, invested in every step of the way — including the three steps back after two steps forward.  If government wants to step up and take credit for the successes of new businesses great and small, it’s also going to have to step up and take the blame for xenophobic disgraces like this one:

——

Next we discover that Jesse Walker — and Alex Pareene — dislike Aaron Sorkin as much as I do:

Pareene:

He’s a smug, condescending know-it-all who isn’t as smart as he thinks he is. His feints toward open-mindedness are transparently phony, he mistakes his opinion for common sense, and he’s preachy. Sorkin has spent years fueling the delusional self-regard of well-educated liberals. He might be more responsible than anyone else for the anti-democratic “everyone would agree with us if they weren’t all so stupid” attitude of the contemporary progressive movement.

Bang.  On.  (There’s more.  Click through and RTWT.)

Sorkin’s worship of the Great Man theory reminds me of the sort of person who admires Robespierre and Stalin — but, carefully, only in the abstract, because those purges are kind of awkward.

——

You know those late-’80s dystopias in which prisoners are subjected to horrible experimental medical experiments?  (Okay, okay, this theme far predates the ’80s but I’m thinking of Skinny Puppy albums.)  Well, imagine a world in which we replace the destitute and disadvantaged with the extremely rich.  After all, those plutocratic fuckers need to “pay their fair share”, right?  Wouldn’t it be great if they helped advance the cause of medical science and maybe scouted out some horrifying side effects the way that douchenozzle in the red Camaro scouts out traffic cops?  Why, progressives would be ecstatic — and not because they’re at all resentful of the successes of others, no sir, it’s just because they only hear noises that might save babies.

Spoiler warning: We actually live in that world.  And of course bioethicists are complaining.

Naturally.  Someone comes up with a new cancer treatment, and the first thing a bioethicist says is “That’s horrible!”

——

Turns out that Jimmy Carter is racist.

——

Finally, you know how people are constantly talking about Canada and Sweden as if they’re basically the Soviet Union with the hammers and sickles filed off (and wonderfully successful, therefore socialism works)?  Yeah, not so much.  Sweden’s been massively privatizing and deregulating its public sector, and Canada’s been deficit-hawkish and growth-focused for quite some time now.  Great comparison, bass-ackwards conclusion.

——

Maybe this weekend I’ll clear up the tagged articles from my economics RSS feed.

10
Jul
12

Kids these days

Being a glib economic dilettante, I’m fantastically underwhelmed by arguments that a large cohort of people are behaving against their best interests.  Demonstrated preference is a pretty blunt, uh, instrument, but as a ballpark approximation it seems to do pretty well when n is large.  So when I get a link to Time magazine asking

and claiming that kids these days are voting against their best interests, I’m skeptical.

On the other hand, I love a good generational warfare rant, particularly one that pegs my confirmation bias and concludes that

Americans over the age of 55 who are able to retire under old-fashioned defined-benefit pension plans and who can look forward to keeping their full Social Security benefits should heartily salute the younger generation for their extraordinary generosity.

Generosity, hell.  Nobody asked me if, pretty please out of the goodness of my own heart, I’d underwrite the extraordinarily optimistic entitlements and expenditures being lavished upon the old by my governments.  Some of that “generosity” was extracted under threat of violence, and I suspect the vast majority was simply put on my tab by mendacious asshats who insist that debt doesn’t matter all that much.  Cover that with generous amounts of lube and shove it right up your quivering chocolate starfish.

*ahem*

Here, courtesy of Time‘s fact-checker — take it with a pinch of salt, and inspect that salt for dumbworm eggs before you do — are some numbers to back that up:

When it comes to government finances, the facts are as well known as they are stark. The federal government spends more than seven times as much on someone 65 or older as it does on a child. Even after you include state and local spending on public schools, total spending per person on children is less than half that for the elderly. Over the past decade, the number of children in poverty has soared, and over the rest of this decade, spending on children will shrink by a fifth (as a percentage of total federal spending), while spending on the elderly will swell even more. On the current path, in 25 years Social Security, health-care and interest on accumulated debt would consume all Federal government revenue, according to the latest Congressional Budget Office projections. As a percentage of GDP, all other Federal spending would fall by at least 15%.

[...]

Current policies will continue to shift resources from the young to the old. Moreover, these policies are ultimately unsustainable, so that when today’s young people retire, they will not be able to count on full benefits. Without a change in policy, in 40 years Social Security will only be able to pay three-quarters of the payouts that have been promised. The gap cannot be closed by tax increases alone without sizable spending cuts.

(Links in original, mind the dumbworms.)

So why aren’t all post-Boomers deficit hawks?  Maybe it has to do with the fact that most of the continent’s loudest hawkers of deficit hawkishness are movement conservatives, which means that signing on to deficit reduction also means signing on with school prayer, “teaching the controversy” of evolution, ever-escalating Wars On Drugs and Terror, virulent opposition to contraception and gay marriage, and stridently-proclaimed anti-foreign bias.  Party politics is a package deal; you can’t pick and choose.

(It’s flat false that movement conservatives are the only ones opposing gay rights, free trade, relaxed immigration, drug-law relaxation, and police demilitarization.  The centre-left — whatever that means on your side of the 49th — has made a core competency of promising de-escalation and then cranking down on the thumbscrews “more in sorrow than in anger”, although their base does manage to police them on a single issue — see for example DADT — about once every other election.  Don’t try to argue about factis with me in the comments, this is all about verbis.)

Deficit hawkishness also tends to go hand in hand with plain old-fashioned hawkishness, and as the saying goes, old soldiers never die — young ones do.  Furthermore, threats to reinstate the draft pop up with irritating consistency, sort of like this one reported (and handily fisked) by David Henderson:

Ricke, as you might suspect, is the mendacious asshat rattling his goddamn sabre:

In late June, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the former commander of international forces in Afghanistan, called for reinstating the draft. “I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk,” he said at the Aspen Ideas Festival. “You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game.”

This was the first time in recent years that a high-profile officer has broken ranks to argue that the all-volunteer force is not necessarily good for the country or the military. Unlike Europeans, Americans still seem determined to maintain a serious military force, so we need to think about how to pay for it and staff it by creating a draft that is better and more equitable than the Vietnam-era conscription system.

Permit me first to direct your attention to that airily thrown-in aside — “so we need to think about how to pay for it”.  Go on, cupcake, find me a way where “paying for it” doesn’t land squarely on the shoulders of the post-Boomers.  Even if we were somehow to manage to create an “equitable draft” — this is my raised eyebrow of skepticism — in which every percentile had “skin in the game”, we’d be left with the dismal situation of everyone wanting an enormous and lavishly-equipped military.  How the trembling fuck would we be able to pay for that and blithely continue handing out Social Security to every bluehair with an entitlement complex?  Spoiler warning: We wouldn’t, but it’d take a lot more public debt for the bond markets to convince us of that fact.

Anyway, this is mostly a generational-warfare post, so I’ll briefly excerpt Henderson’s fisking (though it’s really good and you should RTWT — and don’t stop before you get through at least the first half of the comment thread, there’s good stuff to be found there!):

Finally, although Ricks doesn’t say it in the op/ed (although he comes close in the last paragraph), I think Ricks’s argument, and McChrystal’s, is essentially that when the rich and powerful have their kids drafted, they’ll suddenly start paying critical attention to foreign policy. I used to accept this argument. That didn’t make me favor the draft because I always thought it was profoundly unfair–even uncivilized–to put millions of innocent people in involuntary servitude so that their parents would become politically active.

(Emphasis added.)

We’ll call that idea a “nudge”, shall we?  Soft paternalism?  After all, the state isn’t forcing the parents of draftees to become politically active, only giving them some extra incentive to do so.  Something tells me the Pigou Club would not approve.

Finally, some of you are squirming back and forth in your seats, waiting for me to get to the end of this post so you can mention a certain politician’s name in the comments.  (I can see you from here!)  Don’t worry, guys, I got your back: Ron Fucking Paul.  Hawkish on the deficit and doveish on most everything else — and funnily enough he’s rather popular with the young’uns.  Pity he went anti-gay in the Iowa caucuses and horrendously mishandled the racist-newsletters debacle.

27
Jun
12

It’s good to be the incumbent

Andrew Sullivan links to Leo Linbeck:

Money can’t buy love, but it can buy power: in November 2010, Congress had an approval rating of just 17 percent, while the re-election rate in the House was 86 percent. This disconnect between approval and re-election rates is the clearest sign that the congressional accountability system is broken. …  With larger districts, primary elections, the greater influence of money, and a series of reforms that discouraged challengers, House members were freed from the accountability system that had held them in check.

Whence comes that money?  Why, from you and I, dear fellow taxpayer.  The federal budget is, in a lot of ways, merely a giant campaign slush fund for incumbents.

Today the House is a spending machine—it spends $10 billion each day and more than 25 percent of GDP.

(Actually, a lot of it comes from the future generations who’ll have to pay higher taxes and receive fewer services in order to finance increasingly-onerous debt service payments.  But they can’t vote yet.)

This is, pretty much down to the letter, why I’m not particularly fussed about the still mostly hypothetical “money buys power” implications of Citizens United.  Incumbents effectively already have a staggeringly vast money advantage.  When the Super PACs start spending ten billion dollars a day — heck, let’s drop that down to a hundred million dollars a day, one cent for every dollar Congress spends — I might start to take notice.  Until then, I’ll just shake my head at the folks who play Chicken Little whenever a concerned and engaged citizen drops the equivalent of a 2006 mortgage into the marketplace of ideas but don’t flinch a millimetre when high-powered Senators extort protection money from private companies for the outrageous insult of minding their own business and trying to avoid playing the Washington money game.

14
Jun
12

In which I defend Jonathan Chait from David Frum

…ew.

So a few days ago, Sally Quinn wrote a somewhat tone-deaf article bemoaning the fact that she doesn’t get invited to high-powered dinner parties with Big Powerful Senators any more, for which she’s been roundly derided.  Jonathan Chait more recently piled on with, among other cutting remarks, this incisive comment on the good ol’ days:

When assessing Quinn’s sense of the Lost Eden of Washington, we should also have a firmer sense of what the culture was actually like. Here is one scene from Quinn’s inculcation into the Washington elite:

Washington writer Sally Quinn told of a 1950s reception where: “My mother and I headed for the buffet table. As we were reaching for the shrimp, both of us jumped and let out a shriek. Senator Strom Thurmond, grinning from ear to ear, had one hand on my behind and the other on my mother’s. As I recall, we were both quite flattered, and thought it terribly funny and wicked of Ol’ Strom.”

Once Washington was a happy place where a girl and her mother could be groped simultaneously in good fun by a white supremacist. Sadly, it has all been ruined by Kim Kardashian and Ezra Klein.

I have never been more thankful for Kim Kardashian and Ezra Klein.  (In fairness, I don’t think I’ve ever been thankful for either in the first place.)

David Frum clearly enjoyed reading Chait’s piece as much as I did, although he probably wasn’t as surprised to enjoy a Chait column as I was.  However, he sees something sinister in the shift of power from philandering racists to pajama-wearing bloggers:

Over half a human lifetime, Washington has shifted from a city whose status hierarchy was dominated by official rank to one whose status hierarchy is determined almost entirely by money. A US senator is a smaller deal in the Washington of 2012 than his or her predecessor of 1972; a visiting billionaire a much bigger deal. Not that the senator has sunk to zero; not that the billionaire would not have been important in 1972; but the ratios have changed—and changed really quite dramatically.  Sally Quinn may not be the most sympathetic observer of the trend, but she is surely one of the most authoritative. You don’t have to like her piece to hear her message.

Frum’s implication, contra Chait, is that this change is for the worse.  I call bullshit.

Taking Frum’s comparison of Senators to billionaires literally, we see that there are 100 American Senators and, according to Forbes, 1226 billionaires in the world (of which 424 are American).  In terms of power inequality, which do you think is worse?  We’re all about reducing cronyism and spreading out access to power, aren’t we?  Surely a world where power has devolved from its concentration in lifelong Senators to a more dilute community that includes bloggers and sex-tape celebrities is a better one by this metric.

Fractions, motherfucker: Do you speak them?

12
Jun
12

Should discriminatory churches receive tax breaks?

Eugene Volokh reacts with some alarm to a proposal that they shouldn’t:

He first notes that such denials are probably Constitutional, but voices another concern:

But I think such proposals are bad policy, and are contrary to the worthy American tradition of religious pluralism and tolerance. When the government (federal, state, and local) spends over 1/3 of the gross domestic product, and when tax exemptions are broadly available to a vast range of charitable organizations, it would be wrong, I think, to deny this same exemption to religious institutions that take a different approach to sex relations than does the government (assuming the government indeed adopts the rigid view that the professor suggests).

I take the same view as to groups (religious and ideological) that engage in constitutionally protected race discrimination, for instance in selecting clergy. While I think such discrimination is wrong, I don’t think religious and expressive groups that engage in such discrimination ought to be excluded from such generally available benefit programs.

Something about the argument that “tax exemptions are available to charitable groups, so they should be available to churches” strikes me as dangerously weaker than what Volokh has in mind.  But anyway….

The problem here is that churches are social institutions.  More or less I’d prefer to live in a world where I could say “Whatever your church doctrine states is up to your church and your faith, and it’s none of my business”.  If your church doesn’t want to ordain women, that’s your business.  If your church only wants to ordain left-handed bronies, that’s your business.  Treat religious establishments as private social clubs and I’m happy.

But we don’t live in that world.  Churches can marry people, which confers civil privileges.  Ordained ministers, last time I checked, count as special people if you need references for passport applications and the like.  Religious institutions and officials are woven into the civil framework, so discriminating by sex when ordaining those officials warps the rest of civil society.  Given that, I think the rest of civil society has some business poking its nose into the churches’ hiring practices.

Anyway, to answer the original question in my typically irritable libertarian way: No, discriminatory churches shouldn’t receive tax breaks – and neither should anyone else!

24
May
12

We need more money in politics

Radley Balko writes about the Kentucky primary, in which Tea Party insurgent candidate Thomas Massie defeated incumbent establishment candidate Alecia Webb-Edgington:

The gist of it is that Massie got a ton of money from the libertarian Super PAC Liberty For All, and apparently this is bad because… reasons.  Balko quotes Washington Monthly‘s Ed Kilgore thus:

Wow. Wonder if the kid down in Texas [founder of Liberty For All -- ed.] turned in a term paper to his poli sci class entitled “How I bought a congressional seat in Kentucky.”

This, taken charitably, is the usual argument against money in politics: A handful of super-rich donors will subvert and come to dominate the Sacred Institution of democracy by throwing filthy lucre at it, reducing a vibrant and robust form of government to a hollow and corrupt plutocracy.

But of course nobody owns Kentucky’s congressional seats, and thus nobody can buy them.  What Super PAC money does when it “buys” seats is largely buy advertising, which attempts to convince people to vote for the candidate being supported.  Those people — remember, you trusted them to vote just a few years ago before Citizens United came down — still get to choose for whom they vote.  This doesn’t matter to critics like Kilgore, who see voters as a bunch of ignorant and credulous rubes easily duped by whoever comes along and waves negative advertising in their faces.

Explain this to an opponent of Citizens United, and you’ll likely get a contemptuous eye-roll and dark mutterings about quasi-covert campaign organizations, Ron Paul’s delegate-”stealing”, and other insinuations straight out of a First Edition Shadowrun sourcebook.  All this infrastructure, it is implied, is bought and paid for by wheelbarrows full of Super PAC money — I guess there’s an entire underground market of Nixonian covert political operatives lurking just out of sight and charging enormous prices.  You’ll also get chided to quit being so naive, particularly if you press for details that never quite emerge, because opposition to Citizens United is usually a way for people to signal seriousness by predicting imminent disaster, and ‘splaining people their faults from an assumed position of authority goes hand-in-hand with the Serious pose.

And again, all of this infrastructure — or at least the bits that actually exist outside of bad fiction — is already available to the establishment candidates, and more and better besides.  That’s what political parties are — powerful insider networks with plenty of influence that exist to get “their guy” elected by all available means.  Parties already throw around a fuck-ton of money, which is apparently okay because look over there.  But more than that, parties wield a great deal of personal influence — well-established networks of media and donor connections, name recognition, campaign infrastructure, other incumbent office-holders — which is simply unavailable to outsider candidates.  Balko:

Kilgore is right on one point. Without the half million dollar infusion from the super PAC, it’s doubtful Massie would have won. And that of course is precisely the point. Strict limits on campaign contributions only further entrench the two major parties. If your views aren’t in line with establishment thinking, if the party machinery has backed a more traditional candidate with predictable positions, you’ll be starting your campaign in a hole. They have the phone lists, the donor lists, the existing office holders and the perks of their offices, name recognition, and the campaign infrastructure. It takes money to overcome all of that. It takes money to merely be heard. Take all the money out of politics (assuming you could—you can’t) and the two-party machinery advantages don’t go away. It just makes it more difficult to challenge them.

The fantasy underlying Kilgore’s position is that, without the money in politics, any citizen with a yearning to represent s/h/its community and a taste for Good Honest Hard Work could run for federal office and have a reasonable shot at succeeding — but once the filthy lucre flows in, only the very rich get to decide who gets nominated and elected.  Here in the real world, however, incumbents enjoy a massive electoral advantage precisely because they generally have access to all the party machinery Balko listed above.  Absent the free flow of money into political speech, our plucky citizen faces utterly dismal odds against an entrenched, well-connected, and heavily advantaged elite.  Donations from Super PACs begin to level that playing field.

Money, it turns out, is a lot easier to come by than party insider status.  Massie got half a million dollars from Liberty For All.  That’s peanuts in the political game — it’s a cheap Vancouver mortgage, or a half-assed venture capitalization.  You could get that kind of money on Kickstarter, for fuck’s sake.  Can just anyone lay their hands on half a mil?  Surely not — but it’s a lot more accessible than a position of power and influence in a major party’s federal organization, or a helpful last name.

The more money we get into politics, the less dominant insider status will be, and that strikes me as a very good thing.

(Will Wilkinson piles on.)

11
May
12

Dragging the feds, kicking and screaming…

…into the present age.  Yesterday I quoted and wrote:

To be clear, this is a defense of our culture, not the guy who gave the speech.

One of the hypotheses I’ve drawn out of following politics for the past few years is that the politicians and party elites are at least a decade behind We The People.  Rather than praise Obama’s courage, we should be praising the electoral masses for dragging him kicking and screaming into the present decade.

Today, Scott Shackford has an insightful article over at Reason’s Hit & Run blog on a similar topic:

Even though pretty much every gain in recognition of gay marriage has taken place on the state level, the Tenth Amendment is still frequently seen on the left as an excuse for cranky right-wing secessionists to try to force schools to teach creationism.

I suspect, rather, that progressives see “States’ Rights” as a racist dog-whistle, pricking up the ears of the sorts of folks who talk about the “War of Northern Aggression”.  This frustrates the hell out of me, because instead of being associated with fire-hoses in Alabama, it could just as easily be associated with gay marriage in Iowa and New York, or medical marijuana in Oregon and Colorado, or hell, even strict automobile emissions standards in California.  Shackford points out that these things are happening at the state level because the feds move too slowly:

Fighting on the state level for gay marriage recognition is mandatory because of how slow and conservative (in temperament, not necessarily political philosophy) the federal government often is. By the time the Supreme Court actually struck down anti-miscegenation laws in 1967, they had already been repealed in all but 17 states. Many states had already struck down sodomy laws by the time the Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional in 2003. Even though four out of five Americans had decided by 2010 that prohibiting gays from serving openly in the military was stupid, it took a tremendous amount of political maneuvering to actually end the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, and some Republican presidential candidates swore they would bring it back if elected in 2012. Federal government is slow.

Of course, the problem is that if some states are going to be New York and Oregon, others are going to be North Carolina:

The fear of embracing the Tenth Amendment resides in the acknowledgment that if a state has the authority to recognize gay marriage, then it also has the authority to deny it. And thus gay marriage is an equality issue, a Fifth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment issue. It’s not about states’ rights.

But a blanket federal decision on civil rights depends upon precedent, and that precedent happens at the state level:

While ultimately true (just at it was ultimately true with interracial marriage bans), the actions on the state level help inform and sharpen the debate before the federal government. Anti-miscegenation came before the Supreme Court first in 1883 and the laws were upheld. Most states had these laws, but they started falling after World War II. The states led the way to the Supreme Court decision.

Consider the arguments that will likely be used to defend California’s Proposition 8 or the Defense of Marriage Act before the Supreme Court. How many of those arguments regarding the “compelling state interest” in denying marriage recognition to gays and lesbians can be countered by virtue of the gains made on the state level in the past five years? How much harder would it be to attempt to argue for the federal recognition of gay marriage if no state had taken the plunge yet?

The gay and lesbian community should not fear states’ rights or the Tenth Amendment. History has shown that these smaller political battles are the building bricks that will lead to the national consensus, and thus the desirable federal outcome.

Come to think of it, that’s more or less exactly how it worked out in Canada.




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