Thursday, November 06, 2008

America's Victory; California's Shame

I went out last night for a celebration dinner here in Tokyo and it was gratifying to hear so many Japanese at the tables around me talking about Obama (the name is easy to pronounce in Japanese -- there's a Japanese village called Obama in Fukui prefecture, and they were partying hard yesterday).

My greatest pride as an American has to do with our ideals: that we are all created equal, that America is the land of opportunity, that anyone can achieve anything in America if he or she is willing to work hard enough. Obviously the nation has frequently fallen short of that ideal. But yesterday we lived it, and damn, does it feel good.

But my pride in America was leavened by shame for my adopted state, California. There, by a margin of about two percent, citizens voted to amend the state constitution to prohibit gays from marrying. I wrote about this issue a few days ago and don't have much to add here. I'll just say that the discrimination Californians institutionalized today will prove brief -- no more than a single generation, because young people seem not to share their elders' antiquated views on homosexuality -- and that a decade or two from now, we'll look back at what happened in California today the same way we look back at the internment of Japanese-Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor, with the important difference that post-Pearl Harbor hysteria is relatively easy to understand, while the sources of the anti-gay hysteria that in the early 21st century motivated a prosperous and otherwise normal state to send a whole class of its citizens to the back of the bus will forever remain a mystery.

Back to the national election. No one can say for sure what kind of president Obama will be, but his judgment, temperament, and ability to put together a formidable campaign augur well. So does his refusal to deflect nonstop slurs without responding in kind. I hope that in defeat, Republicans will reflect on what cost them this election: a wholesale abandonment of principle, and the uselessness of baseless character attacks in obscuring that abandonment in the minds of a majority of voters. If Republicans can return to the arena once again confident enough of their principles to avoid campaigns based on demagoguery, America will be much the stronger for it, and so will the GOP.

But first the party has to emerge from denial. Here are a few items that might help.

First, as manifestly unqualified as I thought Sarah Palin was for national office, it seems things were even worse than I suspected. Yes, some of the news coming out now is score-settling. But not all of it. A party that tolerates this kind of candidate on its ticket cannot be taken seriously. One way by which we'll know how well Republicans are emerging from denial is whether Sarah Palin can make a serious run at the 2012 nomination.

During the last six weeks of the campaign, I received a fair amount of email from McCain backers who claimed the polls were wrong and McCain would be elected. I hope the people who made these claims will now reflect on the possibility that if they were mistaken about the polls, they might be mistaken on other matters, as well. And for anyone tempted to attribute Obama's landslide win to the ACORN bogeyman, you'd first have to explain how pre-election polls and the actual votes cast could track so closely. Surely ACORN is not quite so all-powerful as to have found a way to match up polling and actual votes.

Listening to President Bush's remarks after the election, I was struck -- not for the first time -- by the president's argument that "the most important responsibility of the US government is protecting the American people... this commitment will remain steadfast under our next commander-in-chief." I hope Bush's retirement will mean the end of this kind of inaccurate, dangerous, and hypocritical rhetoric. Inaccurate, because the Constitution doesn't provide for the importance of Bush's claimed "most important responsibility." In fact, what the Constitution requires the president to swear an oath to protect is the Constitution: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Dangerous, because in implying that the government might have to choose between protecting the people and protecting the Constitution, this kind of rhetoric creates an unnecessary temptation and a a possible excuse. Hypocritical, because the party of rugged individualism and personal responsibility ought not to demean itself by suggesting people are so in need of its protection that the Constitution comes second.

As for the ridiculous, militaristic, and unconstitutional notion of "our commander-in-chief," President Obama would do the country a service by telling America that he is not "our" commander-in-chief. America doesn't need a caudillo, pseudo or real, and the commander-in-chief fetish could very usefully be retired along with our outgoing president.

I'll spend the next four years rooting for the return of a principled Republican party, and, while, wishing our new president very well indeed, doing what I can to help keep him honest. He's demonstrated great promise, and, on FISA, also a willingness to break his promises. He'll need not just our support, but also our honest criticism.

But for the moment... what a day. And what a country.

P.S. With the election done and another novel deadline approaching, I'm going to try hard to get my blogging addiction a little more under control. We'll see if my efforts are successful. If you miss me, stop by my discussion forum and say hello. It's also a good place to find out the latest on Fault Line, including excerpts and contests, and on the Rain Fall movie, premiering in Tokyo on April 27th. Hope to see you there.


KSR said...


As you were out of the area (indeed out of State and Country!) at the end election process, let me give you my theory as to why Prop 8 “won.” For those who don’t know, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area…a very “blue” area to be sure. I spent a great deal of energy and time campaigning for an Obama victory in the final weeks. I wasn’t alone. Indeed, the Palo Alto office was so crowded with volunteers, you couldn’t even get in the door. You can see the photos and read a brief blog entry here. The main task of the California GOTV (get out the vote) effort was to call voters in other states and remind them a) to vote, b) the date to vote, c) tell them where the voting poll was, d) thank them for voting for Obama. It was a mammoth undertaking. In the end, I think that was one of the key differences for Obama. You can see how many counties went “more blue” (increase the vote percentage for the Democratic candidate over previous years) in a wonderful map at the NY Times here . Be sure to click on “Voting Shifts” to see the county by county USA map. It’s stunning.

I digress. What I describe in Palo Alto was not unique to this area. All over California, this type of grassroots organization and mobilization was occurring. And while we were all distracted, the Yes on 8 organizers were taking advantage of that. The amount of Yes on 8 (for those who don’t know, a Yes vote means that you want to amend the California constitution to define marriage as between a man and woman) volunteers was simply stunning. I work in Cupertino, and right out my office window, I watched a parade of Yes on 8 people that stretched several hundred yards. They were on the busiest street corners for days. They were infrequently matched by “No on 8” volunteers. In short, the Yes on 8 grassroots was about as big as I’ve ever seen for a state proposition.

Furthermore, and I think this is just as important, there is speculation that people voted against their intent. In other words, they were confused and voted “incorrectly” as to what outcome they ultimately wanted. What does a Yes vote mean? After all, the California Supreme Court had already validated gay marriage. So voting yes means that we just affirm that decision, right? Wrong. You had to actually read the proposition, not the massive mailers and door hangers that you received at home that were purposefully misleading. The commercials didn’t help either. You had to do your own research (even talking with friends!) to figure it out. Other states like Florida and Ohio got saturated with presidential commercials. We got Yes/No on 8.

On the other matter you write about, it will be fun to watch what happens to the Republican party. They’ll be back, of that I have little doubt. Never underestimate the power of the Democratic party to shoot themselves in the foot. It is amusing to watch all of the pundits and GOP leaders trip over themselves to say things like “I knew it, but couldn’t tell you.” Yeah, right. Sarah Palin turns out to be worse than we expected. Yikes. Had McCain actually wanted to become president and put up an actual fight, she may have had a chance to be president herself. I think that chance will never return for her. She’s political toast.

Lastly, I find it interesting to listen to the “analysis” of McCain’s concession speech. Everybody speaks of it in such glowing terms. I remember pausing the TV while he was giving that speech and saying to my wife, “Man, if this is the McCain that ran, the outcome might have been different.” Indeed, that is the McCain that people in the primaries voted for. That is the McCain we saw in 2000. He completely abandoned his principles and let the party operatives define his campaign. And it was the old Rovian slash and burn politics that nobody wanted to hear. People are also saying it was the economy that doomed his candidacy. I think that is a complete red herring. If he had been a better leader on this issue, people would have said to themselves, “I trust him with this huge crisis.” But he didn’t and wasn’t. He floundered, stumbled, became “erratic” and just didn’t shine as a leader. Contrast that with Obama, and you see why some Republicans voted for him.

In the end, I’m proud of our country’s choice and have a sense of renewal. I told friends about a year and a half ago that the next president MUST be inspirational. After W leaves, this country needs to be lead. We chose wisely.

David Thompson said...

Very well said, Barry!

Anonymous said...

Barry, I enjoyed your post.

Steve in Germany

Anonymous said...

So here is what I think gay couples should do, not just in CA but all over the country: show up at City Hall to get married. Whereupon the guy in charge says, sorry, but you're both, er, men. Or, sorry, but you're both, um, women. Whereupon the couple says, no, we're not, we're one of each. Which gives the guy in charge an immediate, practical, forensic problem. Pretty soon - because of the 14th Amendment - every applicant for marriage anywhere in the nation would have to submit to a State-verified DNA test. Like at the Olympics, back in the day. Surely that's the inevitable consequence of the law? And surely that kind of absurdist protest is the best way to break it down?

FishNoGeek said...

Barry...great post, as usual. A couple thoughts:

First, I can't agree more that this is a proud moment -- but for those of us who have lived abroad (especially those currently out of the country), it's particularly special.

Unlike the folks who've never left, expatriates are routinely faced with a difficult choice: blithely ignore the confusion and criticisms that people in other countries have about the US, confront them with patriotic bluster and rhetoric, or consider them carefully, using them as a mirror in which we can come to better know ourselves.

Obviously, I believe the latter to be the best choice. Unfortunately, along the way you find out about some not-so-glorious moments in American history, most often things that simply went unreported in our media and certainly didn't show up in our textbooks. You start to see that some of the very values and drives that have made us powerful also have a dark side.

You end up spending a lot of time explaining, if not apologizing. There comes a creeping sense of shame, or at least a conflicted sense of self.

[Tangent: John Rain wouldn't be as globally savvy as he is, and the books wouldn't be as 'interculturally astute', had Barry not faced these demons himself. At least, I'd bet big money that he's spent many uncomfortable hours gazing into that mirror...]

It's been a particularly trying year on this front. I've spent months patiently explaining 'red state logic' for as many people as I can. It's hard work. It's humbling. I think it's important.

It's important in part because, at the core, most of those 'red state values' begin innocently as positive and traditional American values. The become demons only when they ossify, become insular, and lose touch with reality.

Reality, by the way, is global.

Thus, I'm with both Barry and KSR: I'd love to see a resurgence of "traditional" American values by the Republican Party. Lose the rhetoric and the bitterness.

Honestly, I want McCain back! Not Candidate McCain, but the old Senator McCain who broke ranks and spoke his mind and crossed the aisle. KSR's right, we saw a little bit of that man in the concession speech. I'd love for the whole party to take on that attitude. I'd probably vote for it.

But back to the importance of Obama for the small percentage of us whose focus lies beyond the borders: watching our President-elect and new First Lady step out to take their first walk together after the acceptance speech brought (very unmanly) tears to my eyes. Finally, I thought, this is an embodiment of what the rest of the world admires about us. This is what our America ideologies are supposed to mean.

For a few moments, that creeping sense of shame was replaced with a creeping sense of pride. I don't expect it to last.

But damn, if those tears weren't sweet.

Can people who have spent their entire adult lives as contrite apologists for a paradoxical sense of patriotism still have hope?

Yes, we can.

David Farnell said...

fishnogeek, you describe my feelings very well, as I watched NHK news in Japan interviewing people all over the world saying that America is once again the beacon of hope, the land of the free--my wife gently chiding me as the tears ran down my face.

Barry, your comment about keeping Obama honest is right on. That is the duty of all Americans, always, to keep those in charge honest, regardless of party. Constructive cynicism works best.

I joined a political party for the first time in the runup to the 2002 midterms, when I declared myself a Democrat and started giving money and other assistance. Now, I feel, that task I set myself is complete, and I am gladly returning to independent status. I look forward to a revitalized GOP that I can respect and, often, respectfully disagree with once again.

Here's hoping the Democrats don't self-destruct as they so often do when handed the reins. But I have cautious confidence in the President-Elect to keep them in order.

Fran said...

As Mary-Louise Parker's character said on "The West Wing": "I'll keep poking him with sticks. It's how I show my love." And lots of people will be watching Obama carefully, sticks in hand, to keep him on track.

I think another part of the upset on 8 was the "they'll invade our school" strawman, which grabs at people's emotions before their brains can kick in. But let's face it, in a time when teachers barely have time to cover the basics in overcrowded, underfunded classrooms, which is what I hear is the case in most public schools, not just California's, the issue of gay marriage is in all likelihood a nonstarter. But it does get emotions riled up.

So my Lillian and I are married no matter what comes out of this, even if they make the law retroactive (which is a whole 'nother can of worms), and we'll keep pushing for equality.

And for our new President to be as honest as we want him to be. We have our sticks firmly in hand and our eyes on his actions.

And maybe, just maybe, the Republican party will divorce itself from the Evangelical Right, and come back to its senses.

Anonymous said...

I am pleased that Obama won, and i thought Mccain gave a gracious concession speech. I hope Obama turns out to be an excellent president.

Couple other thoughts. One, i doubt Obama will repudiate the commander in chief role. It's too popular among the american people.

And two, i thought that Bush was walking a tightrope about the protecting the american people first thing, for the aforementioned reasons. But i think in this day and age we might need to bend the rules a bit in order to protect against terrorists. If terrorists are afforded better protection in the US than they are in the Middle East, than i don't think our security situation is what it should be. And being able to listen to their conversations is a big step in preventing that.

elkit said...

Regarding the Commander-in-Chief title and putting the constitution second, I think you'll like Obama's org chart, as posted on TPM. It shows the Constitution right up top, and the President, Vice President, and their offices right underneath. Nicely represented, I thought.

Anonymous said...

As for the Palin '12 talk and how it will show whether the GOP emerges from denial, i say phooey. Its millions of people who would be choosing to elect her, not some scheming backroom group of old white men.

Anonymous said...

Barry, still pushing the gay agenda I see. I too was shocked by the California vote. Who'd thought there were any morals left in that state. Well, if at first you don't succeed, then riot, riot, riot.

But then, I must be wrong, because Drew Barrymore agrees with you.

Anonymous said...

“Send a whole class of citizens to the back of the bus?” This comparison cheapens African-American suffering under Jim Crow. And upholding the definition of marriage (as every civilization has defined it!) is hardly hysterical. Doesn’t California already grant same-sex couples virtually every right that marriage bestows - - except the word “married”?

If this position will “forever remain a mystery” to you, at least know this: Redefining the most important institution in the life of a civilization is not a civil right. When I look for hysteria, I see it from those who would see the traditional religious community as the moral equivalent of a racist hater.

Fran said...

Traditional marriage? You mean like the one Britney Spears had? That traditional, sacred marriage?

Anonymous said...

Fran, demeaning Britney Spears is (a) a logical non-sequitur, (b) an ad hominem attack, and (c) does not add to the clarity of this discussion.

Fran said...

But you see, hers was a legal marriage. For all its foolishness, it had legal merit and standing.

Mine does not, even though my wife and I are not a fly-by-night, spur of the moment pseudo-relationship. And yet we cannot have the same legal protections, rights, responsibilities and benefits that the Britney travesty would have had, had something dire happened to either of them in that 72 hours.

We've stayed together, stayed faithful, raised our children, paid our taxes and mortgage, and our relationship is just as valuable to us as I'm sure yours is to you.

And it really wasn't an ad hominem attack. It was sheer incredulity.

Then too, you have to be specific about your definition of "traditional marriage". Whose tradition? Based on what? If you're going to cite a religious basis, you're opening a big door, since this country respects (in theory, anyway) all religions, not just the predominant Christian one. I'm not Christian, so why would I submit to Christian ideology?

David Farnell said...

Tyrrell, marriage is defined differently in different cultures at different times. We are constantly redefining and refining it--once, in America, to be a married woman meant to be virtually a slave to one's husband. Once, in the South, marriages between black slaves were common but not recognized by law. There have been times and places when my own marriage, which is interracial, would have been defined as "impossible," in a legal sense.

Personally, I would like to see the government keep out of marriage entirely, merely certifying civil partnerships between two (or more) consenting adults of any combination of genders, and allowing those partners to decide for themselves whether they are "married" or simply cohabiting or joining forces to raise a child, whatever. Churches could define and recognize marriage however they want, just as individuals would be free to do.

Jsh, frankly, if I were a member of a minority group and I were having my civil rights taken away from me by a bunch of religious bigots who think they can tell me whether or not I'm married, I would riot too. Hell, I'd be acting a lot worse. Any gay person who's not really pissed off right now, I'd have to wonder what's wrong with him or her. I see them getting mad and marching, and I say "Good for them." And if I get a chance to help them out in "the gay agenda" (oooo, scary music!), I will. Because it happens to be the American agenda: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Anonymous said...

As a Veteran, I certainly do not agree with many of the thoughts and wishes of the Democratic party. Does that mean I believe in the War in Iraq? I did at one point, today I am less sure, but, that being said, we (Our troops) are there and we should not leave until the job is completed. But, what at this point is our job?

At what point does the United States, as a world power, have to say, "Hey, wait a minute, we must take care of our own before we take care of the rest of the world!" In order to do that, I feel, and maybe I am incorrect, that we must at least slow down the influx of immigration into our country. Statistics prove that in my lifetime, as a white male, I believe by the year 2038(?), I will become a minority in this country. At the rate we are letting people immigrate to the US, how can the government keep track of the "Bad guys", especially if we offer them amunity for information which does not prove to be true?

9/11 proved that we are not impregnable, and although it seems like a long time ago, it was not! The last few democratic presidents have proven their agendas, the first is to slow military spending significantly, tax the middle class and give it to the poorest of the poor, my first question to that is, what happens when there is no longer a middle class?

I truly don't know what the answers are, but, I do remember that, in theory this countries government was and is supposed to have a checks and balances system, but, that is obviously not working because of lobbyists and corrupt officials!

Somebody sent me an email the other day about all of the waisteful spending our government does, and this was my response:

Personally the one thing that bothers me most about the senate is the whole tax idea and Social Security, and their benefits for life. Not one of us "Normal" tax paying citizens get these benefits, and Senators, even those voted out of office after one term for doing a lousy job, get full retirement benefits, which include a fund which actually works, unlike Social Security. I believe that if Congress were forced to take the Social Security benefits like everyone else in the United States, they would be a little bit more interested in changing it, but, since they have "no vested interest" interest in it any longer they don't care, and therefore it will be allowed to die.

Sorry to be so long winded, but, when I am passionate about something, I usually speak my mind, or in this case, blog my mind!

Someone above mentioned something about President Obama and Commander-In-Chief and his new organizational chart? I don't have time now to look at it, but, if Obama is trying to change the organizational chart, who wants him as Commander-In-Chief anyway, when did he ever serve in the armed forces?