Thursday, August 05, 2010

Politics Today

I was busy, so I didn't read the news yesterday. I come back this morning, and the top three stories people are talking about seem to be:
  1. Equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians, which a California court just declared a constitutional necessity yesterday (appeal pending);
  2. Conservatives who want to change the constitution to alter the 14th Amendment's guarantee of citizenship for everyone born in the U.S. (John Stewart's brilliant take here (h/t))
  3. Whether people should be allowed to build a religious center on private land -- controversial because it's Islam, a mosque and it's a couple blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks.
In other words, it's all identity politics, all the time. It's the question of whether we're going to be an inclusive society, or not. Whether we are a nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, or a nation of white, straight Christians -- of scared white, straight Christians.

On one very important level, this is utterly, thoroughly ridiculous. Our country and world face some really !@#$%ing serious problems -- global warming above all, but a horrible economy, two wars and the bipartisan eroding of basic civil liberties also -- and we're fighting about silly little identity politics? People are up in arms, not about politicians fiddling as the world burns, or blocking stimulus bills that would actually create some !@#$%ing jobs, or our country's occupying and fighting in countries with (at this point) only a fairly tenuous connection to national security (and an equally tenuous moral justification).... but about people getting married, having babies and building places to worship? You've gotta be kidding me.

But I guess that's where we are. Do we believe in the proposition that all are created equal, or not? Are the children of illegal immigrants, Muslims and gays and lesbians to be included in that consensus... or are they to be excluded, just as African Americans, women and so many others were when our nations creed was written?

It's a crazy fight. But if it's what we're fighting about, I know which side I'm on.

And, of course, it's ultimately deeply connected to the other fights, too. I find it hard to believe that, if not for the fear of other religions and other ethnicities, we would currently be fighting in Afghanistan and (certainly) Iraq.* Without the fears of those who want America to be Christian, and to be white, and to be straight, we would not fear that government money would go to "them" and not to "us"... and could digest the straightforward Keynesian argument that we need to let the government spend when no one else will to dig ourselves out of a recession. And without those fears, we could let the government tax the carbon that's going to roast us all, and keep the government from throwing civil liberties overboard on us out of the fear that "us" might be "them".

So I guess that, yeah, we need to have this fight -- this fight over who were are as a people (and as people) -- before we can deal with the rest. But I worry. Because people are dying in our wars, being held without trial in our jails, and suffering for lack of jobs now. Above all, the world will not wait for us to solve our cultural problems before it heats to unsustainable levels.

Fear of those not "us" -- not in the (false) image of those who "us" are -- is causing problems that will not wait for that fear to resolve itself. And what good will a tolerant, decent society be if we create it on the ashes of a livable world?

If there's a solution to this problem, I don't know it. But it's the problem we face in politics today.

* Iraq, a war based on errors, arrogence and lies, is obvious. But I think it applies to Afghanistan too. We didn't invade anywhere after the Oklahoma City bombing; we treated it as a crime, not an act of war.

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