Reflections on the 30th Anniversary of “The Dream Series”

The logo is 30 years old now, and looks its age.  In that pre-Photoshop era, it was laboriously created by hand, with physical layers of text, photo and black tape on a two-column backing cut from a newspaper layout page.  (The light blue typography guides didn’t show up when the page was shot back then — my 21st Century scanner uses different technology.)

I slapped the logo on the inside cover of my 1980 AP stylebook after the conclusion of what all of us referred to as “the Dream series.” I still have the stylebook, and the logo is not going anywhere — it was designed to be moved and reused, but the paste has fused the logo to the book cover.

What may be the greatest speech in American history (Gettysburg? Please.) led to what undoubtedly was the most lucrative week of my brief career in journalism.  I was on the night copy desk at what was then The Home News, a family-owned, 60,000-circulation newspaper in New Brunswick, NJ.  For the 20th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, a team of reporters wrote a huge, week-long series of articles examining race relations and issues in Central Jersey from every perspective you can imagine.  (There was even an article about racial imbalance at The Home News itself — I think there were seven or eight black employees out of a workforce of perhaps 200.  The article carefully noted that union contracts compelled the company to hire its typographers, printers and drivers from among the membership of the respective trade unions — and all of those employees were white.)

I’ve lost track of the tear sheets, unfortunately, but as I recall the series included two to three full pages of articles every day for seven days, or maybe it was five days, in addition to the normal news hole.  It was a huge commitment of staff and other resources for a small daily.

The powers that be decided they wanted one editor to do all of the copy editing, headline writing and layout for the series, to give it a consistent look and feel.  That editor was me — and I was told to do it all on overtime, because they couldn’t spare me from my regular duties.  So after each day’s local news was put to bed, I started working on the following day’s batch of Dream series stories.  I ended up putting in for my normal 37.5-hour work week (union contract, you know) plus 37.5 hours of overtime, because that’s what it happened to total.  The payroll department thought I was putting in for a week’s vacation pay in advance, so they paid it out at straight time, and corrected it to time-and-a-half the following week.

The New Jersey Press Association gave the paper a special award for the series, along with a $1,500 prize.  The company matched the prize and passed out low-three-figure bonuses to the reporters, and to a copy editor who already had been well-paid for the project.

I was five years old when Dr. King gave the speech, and most of the reporters on the Dream series were around the same age.  We all marveled at the impact of this man and this speech, and at what had (and had not) changed in 20 years.  None of us dreamed that the 50th anniversary would arrive with a black man in the White House.

5 Questions About George Zimmerman’s (Appropriate) Acquittal

Police photo of George Zimmerman after the shooting

1.  Did the prosecution prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that George Zimmerman was not acting in self-defense when he pulled the trigger?

This actually was the only question the jury needed to decide.  If the answer is no, then racial profiling, Florida’s stand-your-ground law and all the rest are irrelevant.  As law professor and legal über-blogger Eugene Volokh writes, “once the defense introduces any evidence of possible self-defense, the prosecution must disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.” If the jury concludes that the prosecution has failed to meet this test — and given Zimmerman’s injuries and the testimony that Trayvon Martin was on top,  they could not honorably have reached any other conclusion — then murder and manslaughter are both off the table.

2.  So was Zimmerman blameless in Martin’s death? 

Gracious, no.  He disregarded the dispatcher’s (regrettably understated) instruction not to follow Martin, and he sure as hell should never have gotten out of his car.  If Zimmerman had not been playing wannabe cop, Trayvon Martin would be alive today.  But as William Saletan said in a thoughtful and well-researched Slate article, Zimmerman’s actions “make him a reckless fool instead of a murderer.”

3.  If Zimmerman was at fault, shouldn’t he be punished?

In our legal system, a defendant can be convicted only of the specific charges leveled against him or her.  Zimmerman was charged, ludicrously, with second-degree murder, and manslaughter is a lesser included charge.  I wonder if Zimmerman could have been charged with reckless endangerment, or impersonating a police officer, or some such.  If self-defense gets Zimmerman acquitted for pulling the trigger, maybe he could have been convicted of a much-lesser crime for his actions before pulling the trigger.

4.  Will the U.S. Justice Department bring civil rights or hate-crime charges against Zimmerman?

Unfortunately, that’s the way to bet, given that race-obsessed Attorney General Eric Holder runs a thoroughly politicized Justice Department.  The evidence supporting self-defense will be just as strong the second time around, but there’s no telling what a jury might do.  But Zimmerman can take some hope from a CNN article about Holder’s statements in the aftermath of the shooting last year:

“For a federal hate crime, we have to prove the highest standard in the law,” Holder said in April 2012, 45 days after Zimmerman shot the African American teenager in what was depicted by civil rights groups as a racially motivated killing.

In words that now sound prescient, Holder described to reporters that day how “something that was reckless, that was negligent does not meet that standard.”

5.  How has President Obama behaved in this saga?

Once again, as in the arrest of Professor Gates, Obama irresponsibly inserted himself into a racially charged local legal issue.  His statement that “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon” could have had the effect of tainting the jury pool and making it harder for Zimmerman to get a fair trial.  To the credit of the jurors, they withstood all of the pressures, acknowledged the reasonable doubt and reached the verdict demanded by that doubt.  To Obama’s credit, his statement after the acquittal was better: “We are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.”

(Public domain police photo via Wikipedia)


SCOTUS Gets It Right on Same-Sex Marriage — and on Voting Rights Act

The Web Goddess and I joined a small but joyous impromptu gathering yesterday evening on the steps of Maplewood Town Hall, celebrating the Supreme Court decisions in support of marriage equality for same-sex couples.

I’ve blogged and demonstrated in favor of marriage equality for years, so I’ll not rehearse those arguments today.  Instead, I’m moved to take keyboard in hand by a comment I heard expressed twice on the Town Hall steps yesterday, to the effect that the Supreme Court “got one right the day after they got one wrong.”

A day earlier, the high court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, ruling that conditions have changed in the South since 1965. In the minds of many at yesterday’s rally, this was a setback for black rights that partly offset the victory for gay rights the following day.

But I see both rulings as a victory for federalism, or for states’ rights if you will — and anyone tempted to dismiss “states’ rights” as code for bigotry should pause to reflect on the pioneering role of the states in the marriage equality struggle.

The VRA ruling has the limited effect of restoring to nine states of the old Confederacy (and various smaller jurisdictions) the same level of control over the election process exercised by other states.  The federal government and the courts retain the power to invalidate any specific election practice that is discriminatory.  The VRA ruling simply shifts the burden of proof from the states to the parties seeking to demonstrate discrimination.

The pre-clearance provision of VRA was an extraordinary response to an extraordinary level of institutionalized racism, and I have no quarrel with the need for such a measure in 1965. But NBC News cited statistics compiled by the court that show how dramatically the situation has changed:

In Alabama, for example, the white registration rate was 69 percent and the black rate 19 percent in 1965. By 2004, that gap had all but disappeared — 74 percent for whites and 73 percent for blacks.

As George Will noted, “Mississippi has more black elected officials — not more per capita; more — than any other state.”

The South no longer deserves a presumption of guilt on racial matters.

(Photo by Bernie Poppe)

Sullivan’s Corporate Masters Stab Him in the Back on Newsweek’s Cover

Why does Newsweek suck?Newsweek, a once-important news magazine now owned by a liberal blogging site, has a cover this week offering me the opportunity to let Andrew Sullivan, a once-independent blogger, explain to me why I am “dumb.”  Grateful though I am for Newsweek‘s efforts to improve the tenor of our national discourse, I’m going to pass.

I am, however, enough of a blogosphere junkie to be interested in how Sullivan’s six-person “personal” blog responds to the firestorm of criticism the cover has rightly received.  I also know from my own long-ago journalism days that authors almost never write their own headlines, and Sullivan confirms that’s true in this case.  Sullivan professes to be perplexed by the criticism:

None of these critics shows any sign of having read the actual article. Is it too much to ask that they rip me apart after thinking rather than before? It’s not a book, for Pete’s sake. It’s less than 3,000 words, and has strong criticism of the left in it. Maybe the headline, which I didn’t write, set them off.

Gee, ya think?

Sullivan, a former conservative, has a talent for outraging people with whom he once made common cause.  Nevertheless, he’s an extremely talented writer, and certainly is capable of thoughtful and nuanced argumentation.  He has to understand how offensive the cover headline is.  The headline of his own blog post announcing the cover — a headline that he did write, or at least controlled — is “Why Obama Should Be Reelected.”  The article itself, once you get past the disgraceful cover, is headlined “How Obama’s Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics.” I’m inclined to disagree with the premise, but if the article were positioned that way, I might actually want to read it.

Even though this is a case of an author being wronged by a headline writer, I’m not inclined to let Sullivan off the hook entirely.  Sullivan, a true pioneer of blogging as an independent medium, now appears so beholden to Tina Brown & Co. that he can’t even manage the mildest of complaints about the utterly inappropriate headline.

How do I know this?  His minions publish a “Daily Wrap” post each day cataloging the three dozen blog posts Sullivan writes or signs off on in an average day.  Here’s the overview of Sully’s posts about what the blog carefully calls “his Obama defense”:

Today on the Dish, Andrew called out Fox News for making him persona non grata – which potentially produced an on-air debate over the blockbuster Newsweek piece with Megyn Kelly – and defended his Obama defense here, here, and here.

Feel free to follow the links if you wish — Sullivan gave my humble blog an exciting traffic spike once back in the day, so I won’t begrudge him the traffic from my vast audience (hi Mom!) But I can tell you that I read all of the posts, and while he carefully avoids echoing the incendiary headline, there’s no hint of any criticism of it.

After years of snotty elite references to stupid right-wingers versus “the reality based community,” can’t Sullivan understand why conservatives might boycott an article that calls them “dumb” as an opening gambit?

But but but… the dumb people are not just conservatives!

Just browsing at a few of the right-wing blogs, I see that they have attacked it without actually, you know, reading it… Half the article is devoted to liberals and Democrats!

In a previous incarnation at the Atlantic magazine, Sullivan’s blog proudly proclaimed that it was “of no party or clique.”  But he has become so indoctrinated into the cult of Obama that he defends The One against all comers, from the right or the left.

Yes, Mr. Sullivan, I’m criticizing your article without reading it.  I’m pretty comfortable with that decision. If some ink-stained clown put a gratuitous racial slur in a headline over my criticism of presidential policies, I wouldn’t expect to win many converts with that post.

Martin Luther King, Jr.: Preacher, Activist, Martyr… and American

At church today I had the privilege of reading excerpts, from the lectern, of one of the greatest speeches in American history.

I was worried that I wouldn’t make it all the way through without crying.  I have a Boehner-like tendency to dissolve in tears on solemn occasions — not just at funerals, but also at weddings and ordinations, and whenever some spoken sentiment profoundly moves me.

This is the weekend of Martin Luther King Day, and it was only 15 minutes or so before the opening hymn this morning that I learned I would be reading from Dr. King’s speech. I was intent on doing justice to the text, so I ignored the early part of the service as I sat in the pew, listening to the famous cadences march through my mind. Here is the passage that choked me up repeatedly; it’s at about the 6-minute mark in the video:

I say to you today, my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

A dream deeply rooted in the American dream.  Dr. King had grievances with some Americans, but a deep love for America.  Yes, I know about the dalliance with socialism, and about the anti-war activism that sometimes lapsed into anti-American rhetoric.  But Dr. King deserves to be judged on the totality of his life, and for paving a path for others to follow.

Nearly half a century later, another skilled black orator would proclaim America’s greatness even while urging Americans to do better. In eulogizing a murdered nine-year-old girl last week, President Obama said:

We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us. That’s what I believe, in part because that’s what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed. Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation’s future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.

When Dr. King gave his famous speech, Obama was just two years old — too young to share Christina’s interest in politics.  But Obama came of age in a society profoundly shaped by Dr. King’s legacy — so profoundly that a daughter of a slave lived long enough to vote for the first black president.

Ulysses Grant Dietz

I made it through my reading of Dr. King’s speech this morning, then returned to my pew to listen to a moving sermon by parishioner Ulysses Grant Dietz, the great-great-grandson of the general who won the war that freed the slaves.

Ulysses talked about “the bubble of integration and acceptance of diversity” that we enjoy in Maplewood, NJ.

My children, who are not white, have never been taunted because of their skin color, nor because they are adopted, nor because they have two fathers, nor because one of their fathers is Jewish.  They have black friends, and Asian friends, and white friends, and even gay friends—all of which would have been unimaginable in the Syracuse of my childhood.

The road to civil rights paved by MLK Jr. is not complete. The legal instruments of justice and equal civil rights for all Americans are largely in place—with some glaring exceptions. Living into those legal facts, however, is still, as we all know too well, a work in progress.  But we are on that road, and together we are moving forward.

America is not perfect, but it is exceptional.  Dr. King helped make it a better place through his leadership, his eloquence and his sacrifice.  Happy Martin Luther King Day.

If You Insist, I’ll Pontificate on the Election Results

Press conference photo from NY Times

A friend and former co-worker (“hi Father Tom!”) teased me by phone today about being at my day job when I could be blogging about the election.  I told him I knew there would be no shortage of commentary today about the election, and I didn’t think my dozens of daily readers are parked on my blog and repeatedly clicking the refresh button.

But what if I’m wrong about that?  From what I know about how Google Analytics works, I’m pretty sure a hundred clicks on the refresh button would still get logged as only one visit.  So if you recognize yourself in this paragraph: 1) get a life; and 2) could you at least click on the ads once in a while?  (Note to Google AdSense snipers: that was a joke — I’m not really trying to generate artificial ad clicks.  I will take this opportunity to explain, however, as allowed by AdSense guidelines, that my Google AdSense “earnings” to date total $62.79, or an average of 12 cents a day since May 2009.  (Ka-CHING!) I put “earnings” in quotes because I won’t see any money until if and when the total reaches $100.)

Where was I?  The election — which would seem like an even bigger win for the Republicans if not for the fact that a few zealots predicted a Senate takeover.  I don’t have much in the way of original brilliant insights, but I’ll share some of the best commentary I’ve seen today.

Peter Wehner:

After watching President Obama’s press conference, Democrats who are still left standing must have been mortified. The depth of his self-delusion was stunning. To put things in perspective: the Democratic Party just suffered the worst repudiation any political party has since before the middle of the last century. …

If you listened to the president, though, the “shellacking” was because of process rather than substance. ObamaCare, he assured us, is a sparkling, wondrous law; the only downside to it was the horse-trading that went on to secure its passage. They would be “misreading the election,” the president helpfully informed Republicans, if they decide to “relitigate the arguments of the last two years.”…

After his victory in 2008, Obama’s message to Republicans was: “I won.” Today, after his party was throttled, Obama’s message is: “Come let us reason together.”

What we saw today was less a president than a dogmatist — a man who appears to have an extraordinary capacity to hermetically seal off events and evidence that call into question his governing philosophy, his policies, and his wisdom. The election yesterday was above all a referendum on the president’s policies, yet his big takeaway was not to relitigate his agenda. …

The author of one of the worst political debacles in American history seems to have learned almost nothing from it.


President Obama came close, but he still just cannot admit that his radical policies and their effects on the economy are the cause of his devastating political rebuke. …

For most of the press conference, a humbled but deer-in-the-headlights Obama half-heartedly argued that the populist outrage against his own massive debt, huge wasteful government, and elitism was really outrage against the economy he inherited, an outrage that he shares. We don’t know it, the president hints, but we are still angry at the Bush years, and yesterday mistakenly took our wrath out on Obama’s methodical, albeit too slow, efforts at recovery. In short, there was little admission whatsoever that Obama’s message and the way he pushed it turned off millions — there was no repentant Clinton, circa autumn 1994, here; instead, a shocked Obama who seems hurt that we do not appreciate him.

I don’t think the American people — who just last week heard their president boast that Republicans had to sit in the back seat, and that Latinos should punish their Republican “enemies,” and who have now given him the greatest midterm putdown in over a half-century — suddenly will pay much attention to his calls for an end to the old divisiveness.


During his press conference this afternoon, President Obama insisted that the American public doesn’t want to “re-litigate the past.” Roughly four minutes later, he insisted that he inherited the deficit, which got worse because of a recession he inherited, as well. Somehow Obama forgot to mention that he increased spending 23 percent, tripling the deficit in the process.

No wonder he doesn’t want to re-litigate the past. …

For a year, as he relentlessly pushed a healthcare bill, against public opposition, his advisers kept telling the press that once he got his healthcare priority passed, he would “pivot” to focusing on jobs. So while the country bled jobs from its economic jugular, Obama crammed through an unpopular piece of legislation that wouldn’t fully kick into effect until 2014. He did not do so in secret. “A crisis,” his chief of staff explained numerous times, “is a terrible thing to waste.” But the point he wants people to take away is that all of the runaway spending on his watch—much of which was focused on “reforms” that, by design, will do nothing to deal with the recession for years, if ever—was all done for an emergency that he inherited.


Barack Obama’s election, The New Republic’s John Judis wrote two years ago, “is the culmination of a Democratic realignment that began in the 1990s, was delayed by September 11, and resumed with the 2006 election.” This was truer than Judis realized, for he seemed not quite to grasp that a culmination is the reaching of the highest point. He imagined new highs still to come…

In his victory speech, [Florida Senator-elect Marco] Rubio–quoted by blogger Jonathan Adler–issued a very pertinent warning to his party:

We make a great mistake if we believe that tonight these results are somehow an embrace of the Republican Party. What they are is a second chance, a second chance for Republicans to be what they said they were going to be not so long ago.

Rubio is absolutely right. Pajamas Media’s Frank J. Fleming summed it up best when he observed last month that Republicans were going to “win huge” because they “kind of suck”–in contrast with the Democrats’ “Godzilla-smashing-through-a-city level of suck–but a really patronizing Godzilla who says you’re just too stupid and hateful to see all the buildings he’s saved or created as he smashes everything apart.”

If we assume that Republicans remain in general disrepute, one must conclude that John Judis got it exactly wrong two years ago. This was a thundering rejection of Obama-style liberalism.

I’ll close with a Facebook quote from a liberal friend who was sharing a HuffPo article about Mississippi Gov. and uber-Republican Haley Barbour:

“A short portly white conservative from a small town in the Deep South” vs. Obama in 2012 – the outcome of that would sure tell you something fundamental about this country, wouldn’t it?

Yes, it would tell you that conservatives outnumber liberals.

Rand Paul: Giving Libertarianism a Bad Name

Taranto aptly called it “a rookie mistake” when newly nominated Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul told an interviewer that he was troubled by the fact that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — which Paul otherwise supported –  crossed the line of regulating behavior by private businesses.  However intellectually coherent Paul’s position might be in a narrow, libertarian-absolutist, freshman-dorm-room kind of way, politically and realistically it’s nuts.

Or as Taranto says:

In this matter, Paul seems to us to be overly ideological and insufficiently mindful of the contingencies of history. Although we are in accord with his general view that government involvement in private business should be kept to a minimum, in our view the Civil Rights Act’s restrictions on private discrimination were necessary in order to break down a culture of inequality that was only partly a matter of oppressive state laws.

If he’s going to play in the big leagues, Paul needs to stop making rookie mistakes. In discussing the horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Paul apparently felt a need to stick up for the spiller:

“What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of ‘I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,'” said Paul who overwhelmingly won Tuesday’s GOP Senate primary in Kentucky and is a favorite of Tea Party activists. “I think that sounds really un-American in his criticisms of businesses.”

“I’ve heard nothing from BP about not paying for the spill,” Paul continued. “I think it’s part of this blame game society in the sense that it’s always got to be someone’s fault, instead of the fact that sometimes accidents happen.”

I’m a big fan of capitalism myself, but geez.  There will be other, better opportunities to criticize Obama and the Democrats for excessive corporate-bashing.  For now, Paul would be wise to simply refrain from joining the dogpile on top of the oil industry.

If I were to describe my political philosophy in one word, that word would be “libertarian.” My libertarian slogan of choice is “free people and free markets, under the rule of law.”  The “rule of law” part is a recognition that if you go too far down the spectrum toward small government, you wind up with anarchy.  To become a Senator, Rand Paul needs to stop following his father that far down the libertarian trail.

Dear Census-Taker: I’m a Conservative, Liberal, Subversive, Patriotic American

It’s Census time, and there’s a nefarious conservative plot afoot to undermine the gummint by subverting the racial purity of the decennial enumeration. The idea is to answer the racial question by ignoring the familiar black/white/Asian categories, selecting “Other,” and writing in “American.”

How do I know it’s a conservative plot?  Well, it’s been discussed at length in The Corner.  Taranto posted on his Facebook page that he “was American before it was cool,” and backed it up with a link to his article at the time of the 2000 census, where he advocated essentially the same thing.   There’s even a menacing quote from uber-conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia: “In the eyes of government, we are just one race here. It is American.”

So it must be a conservative plot — except the Web Goddess doesn’t see it that way.  When I first mentioned the idea to her, she said it appeals to her from a liberal perspective.  The twist she suggests is to move back one step further and answer the race question with “Other – human.” There’s a logic to that, but it passes up an opportunity to make a patriotic statement.  If some future World Government takes a census, I’ll answer “human” on that one.

Another idea is for anyone who was born and raised in this country to answer “Native American” — but the Census folks seem to have anticipated this.  If you look at the form reproduced above, the category is labeled “American Indian or Alaska Native” — there is no Native American box to check.

One thing that’s clear is that you shouldn’t lie, as “native American” Hans A. von Spakovsky writes:

Congress has directed through a federal law that anyone who “refuses or willfully neglects…to answer, to the best of his knowledge, any of the questions” on the Census form can be fined $100 (13 U.S.C. § 221).  If you deliberately give a false answer, you can be fined up to $500.  Although there are not a lot of reported prosecutions, this statutory requirement has been upheld by the courts as constitutional.

So the standard I have to meet is answering “to the best of [my] knowledge.”  OK, here are some samples of my knowledge:

  • I know that data on race helps fuel the racial grievance industry. (I do not know of any counterbalancing, non-pernicious use for racial data.)
  • I know that any moral justification there may once have been for Affirmative Action (and other forms of race-based discrimination) has disappeared with the election of a black president.  Equality of opportunity should be the standard, not equality of outcome.
  • I know the approach the Census takes to racial identity is utterly ridiculous and inconsistent.  Start with the question itself, as reproduced above.  Note that one of the choices offered under “Other Asian” is “Pakistani.” In the words of Mark Krikorian, who touched off the debate in The Corner:

    If “Pakistani” — a political/religious identity invented in 1934 — is a “race,” then “American” is a race.

    (“Invented” is the correct term, btw. There is no ethnic Paki tribe – the word started out as an acronym. But I digress.)

  • I know more than 20 million people chose “American” as their race in the 2000 Census — making it the third-ranking choice, after “German” and “African American.”  Here’s the data from the U.S. Census’s “Ancestry” page.  (Yes, I know that race, ethnicity and ancestry all mean different things, but the Census seems to use the terms interchangeably.)  And here’s a more user-friendly version of the Census spreadsheet — I’ve eliminated empty-category noise and sorted by top answers. It turns out that “English” outpolls “Mexican,” although if you lump in “Mexicano” and “Mexican-American,” the Mexicans surge ahead. “Human” doesn’t show up, it must be lumped in with “Not Reported.”

So it turns out that to the best of my knowledge, I’m an American.  Who’s with me?


Civil Rights, and the Intersection of Race and Sexual Orientation

Dennis and Christine Wiley, Baptist preachers in DC who support marriage equality

Dennis and Christine Wiley, Baptist preachers in DC who support marriage equality

Not long after the Presidential election last year, the Web Goddess and I had dinner with four of our closest friends, who happen to be a black couple and a lesbian couple.  There was exactly one McCain voter in the room — which turns out to reflect almost precisely the voting results in our hometown of Maplewood, NJ.  (I would have guessed it had been even more lopsided.)

I don’t think of these friends primarily in demographic terms — we’re three couples who met through our local Episcopal church and found we enjoyed each other’s company.  But of course, race was a common conversation topic in those post-election days.  Sexual orientation also claimed some attention through California’s successful Proposition 8, which overruled the state Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage in that state.  On this issue, we all knew the vote at our dinner table would be 6-0 the other way.

Obama’s ground-breaking candidacy had inspired a huge increase in black voters around the country — and it was being reported that his coattails may have had an adverse effect on gay people in California, as about 70 percent of black California voters had voted to ban gay marriage.  (Later analysis asserted that 58 percent was a more realistic number — still well above the 49 percent of whites who voted similarly.)

One of our friends, who wants nothing more than to marry, in New Jersey, the woman she has been committed to for more than a decade, brought up this awkward confluence of race and orientation.  Her voice trailed off as she looked inquiringly at our black friends, and we all watched the husband shake his head helplessly.  “There’s a lot of homophobia in the black community,” he said softly.

These memories were stirred today by the publication today of an op-ed in the Washington Post about the D.C. Council’s vote this week to legalize same-sex marriage in the nation’s capital.  The headline that caught my eye was “Why Two Black D.C. Pastors Support Gay Marriage.”  It turns out they’re not just black — they’re Baptists, and leaders of “the first and only traditional black church in the District of Columbia to perform same-sex unions [non-marital commitment ceremonies].”

Christine and Dennis Wiley write that “our first-hand experience has convinced us that homophobia within the black church and the wider community is real,” and they thoughtfully discuss what they see as the historical reasons for this.

A more complicated element of black homophobia is the lingering influence of sexual stereotypes that originated during slavery. According to theologian Kelly Brown Douglas, the myth of “over-sexualized” black bodies portrayed black men as violent “bucks” who posed an ever-present threat to white women, and black women as “Jezebels” who seduced white men.

These stereotypes served to justify the whipping, lynching and castration of black men, and to excuse the sexual violation of black women by white men. They were just one element of what blacks had to struggle against to gain acceptance and respectability in white society, especially during the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th. On this matter, religion has often been a vehicle of suppression, accommodation and control. While the church was a refuge from the horrors of racism and played an empowering role in African American history, it also taught black people to repress behaviors — especially sexual behaviors — that might attract unwanted attention, appear uncouth or seem threatening to white people.

A final piece that shapes black attitudes toward same-sex marriage is the preoccupation with racism in the black community. This obsession, although justifiable, has led to a failure to appreciate how racism is inextricably connected to all other forms of oppression. Those who fail to see this connection may resent the comparison of gay rights with civil rights. But as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

gaypridemarchT-blue copyKing also said, “the arch of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  I firmly believe that same-sex marriage is a straightforward civil rights issue.  There’s only one acceptable outcome — and I believe I will live to see full marriage equality in this country.

Even in the socially liberal Episcopal church, the topic of gay equality has been controversial.  (Nationally, at least — in Maplewood, not so much.)  I marvel at the courage of these two black Baptist preachers, and I wish them Godspeed.

Hope (and Ammunition) for Opponents of Socialized Medicine

It seems clear after Saturday’s Senate vote that America will avoid the worst excesses of the various Democratic proposals to remake the health care system.  The Senate voted 60-39 to allow the debate to reach the Senate floor, but although the vote was a nominal victory for the Democrats, they had zero votes to spare as they (temporarily) averted a Republican filibuster.

In particular, while stalwart Independent ex-Democrat Joe Lieberman sided with the Democratic caucus on this procedural vote, he has made it clear he will join Republicans in blocking any bill that includes the single-payer stalking horse known as the “public option.”  A few Democrats have also signaled that the party cannot necessarily count on their votes on an actual bill, while I’ve seen no signs that any Republicans are likely to break ranks.

Thankfully, the public “option” appears to be dead.

But just in case it attempts to lurch zombie-like from the grave, I’m glad to see an increasing number of resources available making well-articulated arguments against the move toward socialized medicine.

The video at the top of this post is perhaps the best of four well-made films available at, a website “dedicated to correctly diagnosing the problems with the U.S. health care system and promoting solutions which preserve and extend individual liberty.”  Three of the films feature Canadians describing why America should not emulate Canada’s health care system, and the fourth examines the famous battle cry of  “45 million Americans without health care” and shows how it vastly overstates the problem.

The other health care system we’re told we should covet is the fully socialized European model.  Here, too, there is a helpful video, this time from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity,  titled “Don’t Copy Europe’s Mistakes: Less Government Is the Right Way to Fix Healthcare.”  (Hat tip: America on the Rocks.)

Another great resource, although a more cumbersome one, is James Taranto’s “Great Moments in Socialized Medicine” — a frequently recurring feature in his trenchant Best of the Web Today column on the Wall Street Journal‘s website.  These items cite news stories describing instances where the bureaucracy of the British health care system has impeded quality health care, and often are set up by Taranto’s trademark dry wit.  From an example last week:

If women are discouraged from getting mammograms, as a U.S. government panel recently advised, some will die, but at least others will be spared the discomfort of getting mammograms. There isn’t a similar upside to the following decision by Britain’s socialized medical system, described by London’s Daily Mail:

Liver cancer sufferers are being condemned to an early death by being denied a new drug on the Health Service, campaigners warn….

Each individual item could be dismissed as anecdotal evidence, but Taranto has posted dozens of such items, and the recurring drumbeat is quite effective.  It’s a pity that it’s so hard to find them.

Taranto is an important pioneer of the blogosphere — I’ve been reading his BotWT every weekday since before 9/11, and he continues to polish his craft.  Unfortunately, his site hasn’t kept up with innovations in blogging software.  His primitive format doesn’t even provide a way to link to individual items within his daily roundup, let alone make use of elementary organizational tools like tags, and the search function is highly unsatisfying.  But a jerry-rigged Google roundup of his columns that include “Great Moments” posts can be found here.

Rep. Artur Davis

Rep. Artur Davis

This is a bit of a tangent, but one last hopeful sign can be found in a particularly flagrant example of rhetorical over-reaching.  Jesse Jackson, who long ago squandered whatever moral authority he might once have had, last week said at a Congressional Black Caucus meeting, “You can’t vote against healthcare and call yourself a black man.”  This was a reference to a vote against Pelosi-care by Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama, who does call himself, and who from his photo appears to be, in fact, a black man.

If the increasingly desperate proponents of health care “reform” continue to serve up this type of poisonous rhetoric, it will only serve to stiffen the spines of Americans across the country who have been pressuring their representatives to tread carefully in remaking one-sixth of the economy.