Riding the New York City subway at 5:30 am on a weekday is a radicalizing experience. Unlike 9:00 am when the trains are filled with middle class and upper middle class mostly white folks, headed to their good jobs with good or even great pay and reasonable work hours, the subway at 5:30 in the morning is filled with mostly black folks, most of them older — going to work at this ungodly hour not because they’re lazy but because this is all the work they can get.
The fact that black folks like those on this train get up earlier than white folks, on average nationwide commute longer and work later in life but are still disproportionately in dead end, low paying jobs is clearly not a function of laziness. No one on a subway train at 5:30 in the morning is lazy. They get up extra early find their seats in our broken system.
All the more reason to head to Zuccatti Park and defend the Occupy Wall Street eviction — for those who need justice but can’t get out of work.
The Republican Party is now officially out of touch with the vast majority of the American people. While there was no real doubt of this before, Republicans did a better job of feigning mainstream populism on and off. Until last week, when the GOP proudly stood its ground against not only core American values and principles but even mainstream popular opinion.
First, it was taxes. Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Republican Senate Minority Whip John Kyl petulantly abandoned debt negotiation talks with Democrats because the Republicans are firmly opposed to any repeal of tax breaks for the super rich. Here were are, a nation that has always relied on those who get the most out of America to give the most back — now at a time when, as the profits of the rich continue to reach record levels, unemployment and economic stagnation for the rest of us remains. All the Democrats want to do is restore the upper tax rates to the levels under President Clinton, then the economy was thriving — not even to the much, much higher levels under past Republican presidents like Reagan or Eisenhower. And almost two-thirds of Americans agree that we should raise taxes on the rich to address the deficit.
Yet the Republicans continue to push irresponsible and unpopular cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. It should now be apparent to every American that the Republican agenda in these respects does not prioritize the economic health and well-being of the hardworking American middle class but, rather, the greedy interests of wealthy campaign donors and Wall Street. The GOP would rather create even richer billionaires than create more jobs for working people. The GOP would rather give handouts to insurance companies than make sure our seniors can keep affording their health care.
Meanwhile, in an historic vote on the right side of history and basic human decency, New York has enacted marriage equality for same-sex couples. Four — count ‘em, four! — Republicans in the state senate voted in support of the law. Meanwhile, 53% of Americans — a majority — support same-sex marriage. And, as we know from the history of comparable civil rights struggles, public opinion will only grow more favorable. And, unless they do something, the Republicans will grow even further out of touch.
In the short term, this doesn’t bode well for Republicans in 2012. Apart from the fact that they don’t seem to have a candidate who possesses both a genuine smile and a genuine knowledge of American history, the Republicans are quickly losing public opinion on every political issue on which they’ve sought to demagogue in the past. It will get harder and harder to gin up fear about gay marriage and divide voters as public opinion tips further toward marriage equality. And despite having successfully elevated the deficit as a political issue in 2010, the Republicans are showing a pathetic lack of leadership in seriously solving the problem — meanwhile, putting our entire nation at risk of default. In fact, the very same deficit crisis Republicans played up to win in 2010 will likely be their downfall in 2012.
But in the long term, I worry about the health of our democracy, such as it already was, when one of the two major political parties is so beholden to special interests that it increasingly ignores the interests of not only all voters but even its own base. The Tea Party, albeit entertaining, has meant that Republican figures like Michelle Bachmann hold greater sway than someone like John Huntsman or Gary Johnson who, while I may not personally agree with their politics, I can objectively state they are more in line with the American mainstream than Ms. Bachmann could ever dream to be.
Which makes the surge of Bachmann and the pro-rich petulance of Cantor and Kyl a dream for the Democrats in 2012 — but, ultimately, a nightmare for our collective political future.
In thinking about how my home state of New York is now just one vote away from the right side of history in achieving marriage equality, I have to be honest that I might never get married. It’s not that I don’t love my partner. It’s not my family, including our two-year-old daughter, wouldn’t be better protected if we were wed. It’s just that I’m not entirely sure the government should be in the business of approving — or disapproving — of our intimate, personal relationships as citizens. Let religion do that. Let government give benefits to all families, in all forms, equally.
Still, I feel the way about marriage that I feel about a lot of rights — I may not want to exercise them, but how dare anyone try and deny me the right to if I choose.
In that sense, the right of us liberal, New York City gays to get married is a lot like the right of conservative, rural manly men to own guns. And I believe in the right of law-abiding citizens to own guns, even though I would never own one myself. That doesn’t mean there cannot be reasonable limitations on those rights — for instance, you can’t own a machine gun and you can’t marry your cousin. But we would all agree that government should infringe as little as possible on personal liberty — making restrictions where it does not in order to police morality but because of legitimate, rational social concerns. We don’t want people marrying their cousins because, if they have kids, those kids are likely to have serious medical and mental health problems? Fine. We don’t want gay people to marry because we think it’s icky or immoral? Who cares. It’s not government’s job to dictate our values. It’s government’s job to protect and support us all, equally, regardless of our different values and expressions of them.
In the founding philosophy of our nation, life and liberty go hand-in-hand. We are not just entitled to be alive but entitled to the freedom to make choices about our own lives. It’s amazing to me that those who often encourage government to play a deeply invasive role in our personal lives are the same people who want government to play as small a role as possible in facilitating the economic opportunities that affect us all. Ah, but you can’t have your anti-government cake and shoot it, too. While the notion of liberty may be yanked and twisted to fit ideological convenience, it will ultimately prevail — as enduring as my love for my partner. History doesn’t just bend toward justice. It bends toward love.
To those members of the New York State legislature hesitating on their support for marriage equality: Explain to me why you don’t want the government to take away your guns but you do want the government to take away my family?
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