Monthly Archives: November 2012

Wendell Phillips: A Forgotten American Hero




Note: On my old blog site, I posted an article on November 29 of last year, commemorating the 200th birthday of Wendell Phillips. Because Wendell Phillips is such a major influence on me and someone that I consider to be one of my five greatest heroes, I felt it was important to repost the article I wrote on him last year.

Just in time for the holidays, Glenn Beck has a new book out about George Washington that promises to be a love fest for our first president. The synopsis states that Washington was “respectful to all.” Oney Judge, whom Washington had pursued all the way to New Hampshire after she attempted to escape slavery, might disagree, as would Washington’s other slaves. In Realistic Visionary: A Portrait of George Washington, Peter Henriques describes how George Washington ordered most of the dogs kept by slaves on his plantation to be shot or hung because slaves were using the dogs as sentinels to steal food. If I had been this “respectful” to my parents, I would probably have gotten grounded. Interestingly, the most exceptional heroes are often forgotten in our depictions of American history. The greatest casualty of the typical version of American history, except for gay and lesbian figures, has been white men and women who were active in the abolitionist movement in the United States. A typical student of the American education system will have very little knowledge of white abolitionists and will be only be able to name a few. Of these few, some such as John Brown and William Lloyd Garrison are often portrayed in a negative light. Most students, when asked about Wendell Phillips, Samuel Joseph May, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Lydia Maria Child, Abby Kelley, Stephen Foster, Henry Ingersoll Bowditch, George Luther Stearns, and others, might stare at you blankly. Many educators, even those who have lived in the Northeast, will have a similar reaction. Today, I will be writing about Wendell Phillips. The reason for my decision is that, unbeknownst to most Americans, November 29th marks the bicentennial of his birth. Besides being a white abolitionist in Boston, who was Wendell Phillips? It is important to note in our examination of the man that, first of all, he was a child of privilege. His ancestors had been among the original settlers of the Massachusetts colony, and his father had been the first mayor of Boston. Educated at Harvard, Phillips was a master orator. He advocated a host of unpopular causes, most of them noble and farsighted, some of them less so: immediate emancipation, resistance to fugitive slave laws, the evil of the Constitution and the United States government, racial equality including interracial marriage, rights for Native Americans, women’s suffrage, abolition of capital punishment, and democratic Socialism. The moderates and conservatives who were appalled by Phillips’ speeches nonetheless were forced to concede that his public speaking ability was incredible. If he had desired to enter politics, his upper class, old stock Puritan roots, combined with his handsome features, public speaking ability, and powerful six-foot frame would have made him likely to become an important figure in the government. But Phillips had no taste for the government. He fully understood that the Constitution had been written with protection for slavery and that politicians had to chose between defending slavery and breaking the law. Thus, Phillips not only avoided running for public office but also refused to vote. Instead, he worked as a social activist, defending equal rights. In addition to writing and speaking on behalf of his causes, he also directly resisted unjust laws. In the 1840s, more than a century before Rosa Parks’ heroic stand in Montgomery, Phillips rode with black abolitionist William Nell on the New England railroads in a successful attempt to desegregate public accommodations there. In the 1850s, he worked with other Bostonian abolitionists, such as Henry Ingersoll Bowditch, to thwart the men who tried to recapture runaway slaves. Phillips’ radicalism did not cease after the Civil War. Unlike the majority of Northerners, Phillips (and many other abolitionists) bitterly denounced the end of Reconstruction and the abandonment of blacks to the mercy of white Southern racists. His solution to the problem of what to do with the ex slaves involved providing them with education and land, in essence a form of reparations. If America had listened to Wendell Phillips, the modern day controversy over reparations would not exist. Yet he also knew when to temper his radicalism. Phillips had long argued that the North should separate from the South because of slavery. But when the Civil War broke out, Wendell Phillips realized that it was a prime opportunity to destroy slavery once and for all and rallied to the Union cause. While he is almost unknown today, many well-known figures either interacted with him or were inspired by him. Despite clashing over the Constitution, he and Frederick Douglass eventually formed a strong friendship. He also became acquainted with Harriet Tubman by way of their mutual friend John Brown. In 1884, W.E.B. DuBois delivered a speech at his high school graduation in Massachusetts about Wendell Phillips, who had died earlier in the year. A few years later in Jacksonville, Florida, as recounted in The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, prominent black writer James Weldon Johnson’s high school graduation included a black boy reading a Wendell Phillips speech. In 1915, future African American radical Paul Robeson delivered the same speech. In many ways, Phillips was much more revered in the late 1800s and early 1900s by African Americans, who understood his contribution to racial justice, than by whites. Why is he so obscure today? I asked retired professor James Brewer Stewart, author of Wendell Phillips: Liberty’s Hero, this very question at the Wendell Phillips Bicentennial at Harvard this past June. According to Stewart, the reason is that Phillips cannot be fitted into a patriotic narrative. Maybe he is right. After all, Phillips spent his life on the fringes of society denouncing America and the Constitution. Compare him with Frederick Douglass. While Phillips is revered almost entirely by a handful of leftists, Douglass is frequently praised by conservatives and libertarians, despite the fact that he made unpatriotic statements and favored open immigration. The reason is that Frederick Douglass believed the Constitution to be an antislavery document. Phillips and I have both debunked this claim. To be clear, Frederick Douglass is a personal hero of mine. On the issue of the Constitution, however, he was simply incorrect. Still, this incorrect stance, more than all of his great achievements, has made Douglass an icon with many conservatives. Phillips’ disdain for the Constitution has made him a pariah with conservatives. I also think he is obscure because both blacks and whites who hold racist views have tried to suppress stories of white men and women who rejected racism. On a related note, when people try to explain away racist statements made by the Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, and other figures, they like to resort to the argument that “Everyone was racist back then.” InForced Into Glory, a largely inaccurate biography of Abraham Lincoln, historian and Wendell Phillips enthusiast Lerone Bennett, Jr. correctly says that such a statement is inaccurate. But when compared with Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, or Stephen Douglas, Lincoln looks like a great champion of racial justice. When compared with Garrison or Phillips, he looks quite bigoted. For people obsessed with building up the Founding Fathers, many of whom were far more racist than Lincoln, it becomes even more important to suppress Wendell Phillips. After all, if they learn about Thomas Jefferson, who owned and whipped slaves and sold dozens of them to pay off debts accrued by a luxurious lifestyle and then learn about Wendell Phillips, an altruistic figure who spent his life standing up for other peoples’ rights and was left poor due to donating so much of his money, they might decide Phillips is the more admirable of the two men. Likewise, if black children learn about Wendell Phillips, they may decide that not all white people are racist and therefore judge individuals not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. That is a possibility that the Louis Farrakhans (who, interestingly, attended Boston Latin School, just like Wendell Phillips) of the world cannot allow. In a society where Pat Buchanan denounces Brown v. Board of Education, where a Kentucky Senator believes that public accommodations segregation should not be banned, and where a poll showed that only 40% of Republicans in Mississippi want interracial marriage to be legal, it is obvious that all too many Americans today still hold more reactionary racial views than Phillips did 150 years ago. Imagine how appalled the great abolitionist orator would be if he went to Mississippi and saw segregated proms. Phillips is equally pertinent in the current struggle against slavery. I have written before about how both Stewart and myself have tried to use his legacy to understand and combat 21st century human trafficking. In essence, conscientious social reformers must become modern day counterparts to Wendell Phillips. Furthermore, I believe his legacy is important in the area of gay rights. I have written before about why I strongly believe that he would champion gay rights if alive today. The idea that a person’s worth derives from what they do, not by immutable traits like race or sexual orientation, is an idea that Wendell Phillips helped pioneer. If Wendell Phillips were alive today, he would probably use his great eloquence and sarcasm to rebut ministers who argued that the Bible condemned homosexuality and gay marriage. After all, he would be reminded of the preachers who had used the Bible to defend slavery. If he observed people arguing that the Constitution did not include a right to gay marriage, he would deliver a spellbinding speech lambasting the document itself as oppressive. Just as 19th century America needed Wendell Phillips, we still need his spirit today.

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”—Wendell Phillips, 1852


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On Spielberg’s Lincoln

Note: this blog post is not a standard review so much as it is my thoughts on the recently released movie, Lincoln. Therefore, anyone who has not seen the movie, plans on seeing it, and is averse to spoilers should probably not read past this point.

This must be Lincoln Year. I can’t remember the last time before 2012 that I saw a movie about Abraham Lincoln come out in theaters. This summer, we had Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. If you had taken the matter of the vampires off the table when evaluating it for historical accuracy which, as a fantasy lover I was inclined to do, you could still have made an equally long movie detailing all of the historical errors Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter made. Lincoln, by contrast, had only one major point that might qualify as a historical error, which I discuss later in this blog post. I found Daniel Day-Lewis to be a mixed blessing as Lincoln. His acting skills were perfectly good. His high-pitched voice may have caught some people off guard, but it is consistent with the way that primary sources describe Lincoln as sounding. I have always said that with his reedy voice and Southern backwoods twang, our sixteenth president probably sounded a lot like Jim Nabors. Still, I was disappointed that Liam Neeson, the actor originally cast to play Lincoln, left the film as it floundered in development Hell. At 6’4”, Neeson would have been exactly the right height to play Lincoln, and in recent years, he’s also acquired an appropriate build. His stated reason for leaving the film was that he had gotten too old, but this seems illogical and downright bizarre. Lincoln is fifty-five with the movie begins and fifty-six when it ends. I cannot believe that the sixty-year old Neeson could not convincingly play a 55-year old living in the 1800s and aged by four years of serving as president during a major war. Also, Daniel Day-Lewis is, depending on the source, 6’1-6’2”, and while that is taller than most American men, it does not allow his height to stand out quite as much as Neeson’s would have. This is especially true given that one of the main antagonists of the film, Fernando Wood, is played by the 6’3” Lee Pace. In real life, Wood was six feet tall, which means he should look several inches shorter than Lincoln. One thing I liked about the movie was that it touched on so many of the Lincoln family quirks and controversies. We see how Abe had prophetic dreams, and Mary Todd became more and more unhinged after the death of her son, Willie. (Another one of the Lincoln’s sons, Edward, had died back in 1850 at the age of four.) We also see how Robert Todd Lincoln, Abe’s oldest son, was kept out of the military for a long time by Mary, before he eventually became an assistant to General Ulysses S. Grant and was thereby able to serve in the military at minimal risk. Finally, we see glimpses of the tornado-like behavior of Tad Lincoln, Abe’s youngest son. In real life, Willie and Tad Lincoln were notorious for wreaking havoc through wild games wherever they went, and Mary and Abe were notorious for exceptionally permissive parenting. I cannot help but think that in today’s media, the Lincoln family would fare quite poorly. Another thing the movie did a good job of was having well-developed African American characters. Perhaps the most well developed one was Elizabeth Keckley, a real life historical figure who purchased her freedom and became an employee and friend of Mary Todd Lincoln. Abe’s racism, mild for the era but still blatant, gets touched on but does not become a major plot point. And indeed, the film only covers the last months of his life. This means we do not get to see his time as a lawyer when he defended a black woman in a mortgage proceeding—and helped a slaveholder regain a runaway slave and her children. We do not see him as a young Congressman, opposing the Mexican War, waged partly to gain more slave states, and supporting the Wilmot Proviso to ban slavery in new Western land. We do not see him as a Senate candidate, partaking in his iconic debates with Stephen Douglas, opposing both slavery and abolitionism, repudiating racial equality while insisting that the Declaration of Independence applied to blacks. We do not see him in the first term of his presidency, initially insisting that the Union is not fighting to end slavery, trying unsuccessfully to placate distrustful slaveholders, and slowly moving toward the abolitionist camp through such steps as issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. We do not see his interaction with Frederick Douglass. We do not see his bid for reelection in 1864, in which some abolitionists such as Wendell Phillips and Frederick Douglass initially supported the more radical John C. Fremont in his attempt to wrest the GOP nomination away from Lincoln. If the movie had begun in the 1840s, it might have allowed the audience a better look at the complexities of Lincoln’s racial views. Still, the largely forgotten and historically maligned figure of Thaddeus Stevens gets a good treatment in the film that might begin to rehabilitate his reputation. Stevens, for those who have not heard of him, was the House leader of the “Radical Republicans” and one of the most liberal members of Congress in the 1800s when it came to slavery and race. He was a longtime proponent of black voting rights, defended runaway slaves as an attorney, and was one of only two Congressmen to vote against an 1861 resolution stating, in part, that the North was not fighting the Civil War to end slavery. The month that the Thirteenth Amendment became law, Stevens proposed a resolution against racial discrimination similar to what became the Fourteenth Amendment. As the movie depicts, he advocated confiscating plantations and dividing them up amongst ex slaves, and during Reconstruction, he was a leading advocate of increased rights for freed blacks. When he died, he was buried in an integrated cemetery and left money to an orphanage, which he insisted be free of racial segregation. Yet just as the movie depicts Stevens’ radicalism, it also shows how he sometimes took a moderate stance that might even be construed as racist. In one scene, a racist Democratic Congressman tries to bait Stevens into saying that he believes in total racial equality. Fearing that expressing such a view will doom the Thirteenth Amendment, Stevens reluctantly implies that he does not support total equality. In real life, Stevens reassured moderates that the Fourteenth Amendment would not make state laws against interracial marriage unconstitutional, so long as people of all races were punished equally for violating them. Was Stevens morally wrong to pander or equivocate in such a manner? Ought he to have taken the more aggressive stance of abolitionists like Wendell Phillips or his Senate colleague, Charles Sumner (who gets only a marginal role in the movie but is played quite accurately)? Yes. However, in Stevens’s answer to critics of the Fourteenth Amendment, one can detect the work of an old lawyer. Notice that Stevens avoided saying that he personally believed interracial marriage to be unnatural or that state laws against it were just. He simply said that the Fourteenth Amendment would not interfere with such laws. Given Stevens’s life, I am inclined to believe that such a statement was a calculated measure to improve the Fourteenth Amendment’s chances of passing rather than a display of sincere racism. And indeed, the movie touches on an aspect of Stevens’ personal life that has been debated since he was in politics. A lifelong bachelor, Stevens had a housekeeper named Lydia Smith who was one-quarter African American. During his political career, people claimed that Stevens and Smith were lovers, and some historians believe to this day that they were. There is evidence, albeit circumstantial, for this idea, and near the end of the film, Lincoln shows Stevens and Smith in bed together, clearly romantically involved. Speaking of Stevens and the Radical Republicans, I was impressed that Steven Spielberg, a staunch Democrat, did not avoid making it clear that the Democratic Party of Lincoln’s era was proslavery. In fact, one would have a hard time not knowing that fact after seeing this movie. My main criticism was that the filmmakers missed an opportunity to correct some misconceptions about the Emancipation Proclamation. In the film, Lincoln tries to explain to his Cabinet why the Thirteenth Amendment is necessary by pointing out that after the war, a judge could rule the Emancipation Proclamation unconstitutional and send legions of blacks back into slavery. Quite right, says this historian, but there was another reason the amendment had to be passed. As I explained in a blog post about two months ago, the Emancipation Proclamation only applied to states and locales under Confederate jurisdiction at the time that the proclamation was issued. For instance, a slave in Harlan County, Kentucky or Dorchester County, Maryland was out of luck for the time being. While Maryland and Missouri abolished slavery of their own accord between the start of the war and the passage 13th Amendment, Kentucky and Delaware did not. (Of the two states, Kentucky had a MUCH larger slave population.) Unfortunately, too many Americans have been taught that the Emancipation Proclamation freed all the slaves, and I suppose the filmmakers thought it would be futile to expend much effort trying to convince them otherwise.

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The Natural Born Citizen Clause is Unfair

Which one of these people would have been eligible to run for president?

For years now, conservatives such as Joseph Farah and Donald Trump have been claiming that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. He showed them his birth certificate, but even that failed to shut some of them up. Some people have even claimed that he is not eligible to be president because his father was not a citizen. Some conservatives, to be sure, have realized that the birther movement is ridiculous and damaging to the GOP and have basically told birthers to stop acting like paranoid, racist crybabies. It is fascinating to wonder what would have happened if Republicans had put as much effort into finding a phenomenal candidate to challenge Obama as they did in trying to claim his presidency itself is illegal. Anyway, all of this begs an interesting question. While claims about Barack Obama being a foreigner or otherwise not being a natural born citizen are absurd, would it be so terrible if he was? I realize that the process of amending the Constitution is very tedious, and it is really not worth expending political capital to go through all of the steps necessary to repeal Article 2, Section 1, Clause 5’s natural born citizen requirement. At any rate, we have the ability to stop observing this clause without actually repealing it. How? The answer lies in the Fourteenth Amendment, passed by Republicans. Section 1 of the amendment stipulates that, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” It is ambiguous, but it could be interpreted as meaning that naturalized citizens from foreign nations cannot be denied any right that is given to other U.S. citizens, including the right to run for president. The rest of this blog post will be devoted primarily to arguing that is would be best if the United States took this approach and began allowing foreign-born citizens to run for president. In the first place, we have to look at the concept of what I will term “border nationalism.” This is the idea that foreigners run the risk of being hostile to American ideals, disloyal to America, or both. This is different from racism in the sense that people who are border nationalists can believe in equality for people born in the United States, regardless of their race, while being suspicious of foreigners regardless of their race. When this ideology gets taken to the extreme, it becomes xenophobia. But is this idea a fair reason to ban immigrants from running for president? Is it even rational? First of all, the assumption that a foreigner will automatically have anti-American values and that this should disqualify all foreigners from running for president is ridiculous. The views of foreigners, just like the views of Americans, run the gamut on pretty much everything. I should note that the whole concept of “American values” can be somewhat tiresome. In 2005, Newt Gingrich attacked possible pro-gay rights decisions by the Supreme Court as being influenced by foreign, left-wing nations and insisted that we stick to “American traditions.” As far as I am concerned, homophobia is one “American tradition” I would love to see end. Additionally, I believe that a look through history will highlight the silliness of the “natural born citizen” clause. Before he faded into the background from making one stupid comment too many, Glenn Beck began trying to channel Thomas Paine as a model for the Tea Party Movement. Seeing conservative Mormon Glenn Beck try to channel liberal secular humanist and economic redistributionist Thomas Paine was a bit weird, but that’s another discussion for another time. At any rate, Paine earned his fame and popularity largely by writing Common Sense in 1776, a defense of the American colonists’ attempts at independence. He also wrote other works, such as Rights of Man and Agrarian Justice. What is less well known is Paine’s background. He was born in a town called Thetford, which just so happens to be in England. After spending some time at sea, Paine returned to England and began working there as a tax officer. It was not until 1774, when he was well into his thirties, that he moved to Philadelphia. Longtime readers are well aware that I am not fond of the Founding Fathers as a group. St. George Tucker was indeed correct when he said that a single day as an American slave was a thousand times worse than anything that the British government had done to white colonists. Yet the American Revolution is almost universally described as a noble event that should be celebrated. And Thomas Paine played an important role in it. Tea Partiers have celebrated this role while ignoring the fact that if Thomas Paine were alive today, the law that they support would make him ineligible to be president. What would a Thomas Paine presidency have been like? Paine was not at the Constitutional Convention, but we have a pretty good idea of his political views from his writings. He certainly adhered to the good aspects of the Founding Fathers’ ideology, but he showed less inconsistency than most of them did. When Paine spoke of natural rights, he meant them to apply to blacks. Paine has widely been credited with writing an antislavery tract in 1775, but there is not a consensus among historians as to whether he was the true author. However, it is now documented that Paine urged Thomas Jefferson not to bring slaves into the land acquired by the Louisiana Purchase. He also pleaded unsuccessfully with Jefferson to join with him in a plan of emancipation. He expressed sympathy for those held in bondage, and despite the fact that slavery was legal in Pennsylvania when he first arrived there, Paine never owned a single slave. Perhaps, unlike George Washington, President Thomas Paine would not have signed a bill strengthening the Constitution’s fugitive slave clause. He certainly would not have disgraced the office of president to the extent that George Washington did, rotating his slaves in and out of Pennsylvania to keep them from becoming legally free and pursuing a courageous runaway slave in his spare time. To be fair, the Social Security system might have collapsed by now, since Paine might have enacted it one hundred forty years earlier and wanted to start giving people payments when they turned fifty. And his proposal to give every person the equivalent of over $27,000 as a one-time entitlement when they reached adulthood would also not be good for the budget. But I think these would have been a permissible sacrifice to have avoided the shame that the slave master Washington brought upon the presidency. Well, some people will say, Paine is just one example. Let us try another. Had it not been for a foreigner, America might have been taken over by Japan during World War II. The German-born Albert Einstein played a crucial role in developing the atomic bomb. Again, the dropping of the bomb posed a serious ethical dilemma, but most Americans consider it to be a necessary decision. Those Americans should thank Einstein and remember that were it not for him, they might not even be able to vote for presidential candidates. And indeed, Einstein’s commitment to freedom surpassed that of the majority of Americans of his era. He publicly supported legalizing homosexuality in 1903, nearly sixty years before Illinois became the first U.S. state to do it and one hundred years before the Supreme Court did it nationwide. Einstein publicly condemned racism towards blacks and supported the campaign to save the “Scottbsboro Boys,” nine black youths in Alabama falsely accused of raping white women. (And where was Samuel Liebowitz, the Scottsboro Boys’ lawyer who defended them pro bono, born? Why, Romania of course.) After he moved to the United States, he eventually joined the NAACP. In 1937, when black opera singer, Marian Anderson, was denied a room at an inn in Princeton, Einstein invited her to stay at his house. While Einstein’s Socialism would have had an ill effect on the American economy, think of how his presidency could have been at the forefront in fighting for civil rights. Now let’s look at the birthplace of the men who have assassinated American presidents.

John Wilkes Booth: Bel Air, Maryland

Charles J. Guiteau: Freeport, Illinois

Leon Czolgosz: Alpena, Michigan

Lee Harvey Oswald: New Orleans, Louisiana

Not an immigrant among them. The vast majority of Confederate leaders, who seceded to preserve slavery, were born in the United States. And face the facts: we have had some truly horrendous native-born presidents. Some of them, like Woodrow Wilson, brought the U.S. dangerously close to totalitarianism. Some of them, like Andrew Jackson, had no more respect for human rights than Muammar Gadafi. The best person should get the job of president regardless of where they were born.

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How the GOP can Start Winning Again

Mitt Romney has gone from being the toast of the town among Republicans to being less popular than Michael Moore in just a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, Karl Rove is forced to try to explain to angry Republican donors what he did with their $300 million dollars, because he certainly did not use it to win elections. The silver lining for Republicans is that 2016 may be their year. Americans do not tend to elect the same party to the presidency twelve years in a row. Clinton and Bush 43 both spent eight years in office, like Obama will. But Clinton was followed by a Republican, and Bush was followed by a Democrat. When a president has served for eight years, anti-incumbent sentiment tends to set in. And remember, I like President Obama very much, but the fact of the matter is that he was very politically vulnerable this year. He is still the president because the Republican Party propelled him to victory through its own incompetence, as I discussed in my last blog. So who are we going to see the Republican Party nominate in 2016? There was a lot of talk about Chris Christie, but I don’t see the stars aligning in his favor. A while back, I said that the advent of television had made it very difficult for short or overweight people to get elected president. That is not fair, but it is the way the political game works. Furthermore, Christie is currently in the Republican Party stockade next to Romney thanks to making his convention speech, “The Life and Times of Chris Christie,” and praising President Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy. Defending the “Ground Zero Mosque” probably didn’t win him any points with conservatives, and derailing gay marriage in New Jersey probably didn’t win him any points with moderate liberals. There’s been some talk about Marco Rubio, who’s younger, more fresh-faced, and of a more advantageous weight. But he has also endorsed DADT and the Federal Marriage Amendment, while opposing ENDA. Back in 2006, Florida was having so much difficulty finding families for foster children that some of them had to sleep in the state conference room. When some people suggested that the problem was compounded by Florida having one of the most stringent anti-gay adoption laws in the nation and that it might be wise to let gay couples be foster parents, Rubio flatly refused. In 2016, the Gay Rights Movement will have more momentum than it does now, and Rubio is going to get raked across the coals for his Paleolithic stance. Don’t look to Paul Ryan in 2016. He couldn’t even carry his own state in an election where the incumbent president had a tenuous approval rating and a bad economy. I could see Jeb Bush or, if the GOP is not too close-minded to have a black woman at the helm, Condoleezza Rice, as likely candidates. Will I vote for them? Not likely. But they might have a shot at winning, although I think Rice would really face an uphill battle due to racism and sexism. But in my view, the GOP needs someone completely new. Honestly, I think the best person for the nomination is Margaret Hoover. She’s a political commentator from the swing state of Colorado, and she seems like a legit social liberal, fiscal conservative. She seems to really understand racial issues. Nominating her would take the gay rights issue completely off the table. She is a member of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, a group that is trying to challenge Prop 8 before the Supreme Court and legalize same-sex marriage all over the country. If the GOP runs her against Hillary Clinton, I’m voting Republican, barring something major and completely unforeseen. She was on record as being against DADT before the policy was repealed. She wants the Republican Party to mellow on immigration. And she’s a free marketer. Can you imagine? Someone with the potential to appeal to Tea Partiers, and Hispanics, and African Americans, and gay rights activists? The Christian Right will try to steamroll over her, but she could be exactly what the Republican Party needs. The Republican Party needs to go ahead and concede all of the Democratic Party’s points on gay rights and issue an apology for past opposition. A lot of white evangelical voters are going to throw a fit, but they will get many more younger voters and gay voters. Besides, look how well appealing to evangelical voters on gay marriage worked out in this election. And remember that John Kerry agreed with George W. Bush that gay marriage was wrong and still lost the presidential election and most of the white evangelical vote. Barack Obama said point blank that gay marriage was right and beat Mitt Romney. Heck, if the Republican Party repudiates its racist and homophobic elements, it might even become competitive in the Northeast again. On the subject of race, at this point, simply believing in racial equality is not enough for the Republican Party to extricate itself from the mess it has gotten itself into with black voters. Democrats may pal around with racists and have their blatantly offensive Jefferson-Jackson Dinners, but they also do a much better job of making it clear that they believe in racial equality and understand the negative legacy of slavery and racism for African Americans. At this point, the Republican Party has to do seven things. First of all, it needs to stop associating with racist political figures like Haley Barbour and Robert Bork. Second, it needs to repudiate racist pundits like Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, and Rush Limbaugh. Third, it needs to take a stand that while quotas do more harm than good, affirmative action is necessary and should continue. Fourth, it needs to oppose the Confederate Flag and any honoring of the Confederacy, which shouldn’t be too hard, since the Confederates were Democrats. Fifth, it needs to oppose racial profiling of African Americans. Sixth, like the Democratic Party, it needs to stop honoring the Founding Fathers. Tea Party, I am talking to you. Seventh, it needs to emphasize its historical opposition to slavery and the fact that it was more supportive of African Americans’ rights than the Democratic Party until the 1960s. As for other racial minorities, one thing that the GOP should do is put its limited government rhetoric into practice to support increased sovereignty for Native American tribes. They should also support more open immigration policies and amnesty for illegal immigrants who are already here and have an otherwise clean record. What about abortion? I have a policy of never giving my opinion on abortion on this blog, so I will simply say that if the Republican Party is going to continue to be pro life, they need to make it abundantly clear that they support abortion being legal in the case of rape or to save the life of the mother. Believe me, this stance will gain them way more votes than it will lose. On other social issues, the Republican Party needs to take a basically libertarian position: pro-civil liberties, pro-drug legalization, anti-censorship. They should firmly support the right of students to pray in school, but should oppose public school teachers initiating prayer and the display of religious symbols on public property. For economics, a two-pronged strategy is needed. The party should take a strong fiscally conservative stand in favor of low government spending and against national health care. However, it will be better long term if the GOP prioritizes a balanced budget above low taxes and is open to raising taxes if it is necessary to reduce the national deficit and debt. This was the position of Republican presidents from Lincoln to Ford. The party took a detour with Ronald Reagan, started to get back on track with Bush 41, then went off the track again with Bush 43. The consequence has been massive debt and deficits. Want to know why the remake of Red Dawn changed the invading nation from China to North Korea after production started? It’s because China holds so much of our debt, thanks in part to the reckless fiscal policies of Reagan and Dubya. While some populist policies—opposing corporate subsidies and free trade agreements—are in order, Republican politicians should not go the route of Newt Gingrich in the 2012 primaries. Gingrich’s attacks on Bain Capital had the flavor of a conspiracy theory. The former Speaker of the House has made no bones about his admiration for Teddy Roosevelt and seemed to be trying to imitate the Rough Rider’s attack on fellow Republican William Howard Taft’s alleged support for corrupt big businesses. Gingrich, however, forgot that Roosevelt’s attack on Taft helped cost Republicans the presidential election that year. On foreign policy, Republicans need to enact embargoes on countries with bad human rights policies and lobby to have them kicked out of the U.N. and the Olympics, but avoid getting militarily involved unless a country is planning to attack or has already attacked the U.S. I am not a partisan Democrat. I have causes that I believe in, especially civil rights. I vote for whoever is best on civil rights. If both candidates are equal on civil rights, I vote based on other issues. And if the day comes when the Republican Party nominates better candidates than the Democratic Party, I will vote for them.

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A Very Long Blog Post about a Very Significant Day

Note: This is a very long blog post, but I have a lot to say, and I think both Republicans and Democrats need to hear it.

Well, as you all can imagine, I was one happy camper last week. People said that gay marriage could never win a popular vote. It won in all three states where it was on the ballot this month. People said a pro-gay marriage candidate could not be elected president. Barack Obama supports gay marriage and beat Mitt Romney by over three million public votes and over a hundred electoral votes. Wisconsin has elected an openly gay Senator. Minnesotans voted against strengthening their state’s ban on same-sex marriage. At least five pro-gay marriage Senators got elected. John Boehner and his cohort of homophobes kept control of the House, but we did see the homophobic Joe Walsh lose to the pro-gay marriage Tammy Duckworth, and we will have four new LGBT members of the House of Representatives. Pro-gay marriage Senators like Sheldon Whitehouse and Bernie Sanders easily kept their seats. I once said I thought that, rather than marking the end of the world, 2012 would mark the beginning of the end of America denying gay people equal rights. I think I was right. So today and in the coming days, I will be doing a series of blog posts analyzing the voting results. The first thing that ought to be looked at is, why did President Obama win and Romney lose? Romney was so confident of his victory that he had failed to write a concession speech. He had designed a transition website, and fireworks had been purchased. You have to believe that McCain knew he was likely to lose in 2008, with the country having suffered through eight years of Bush, but it appears that until election night, Romney really thought that he was going to be polishing the drapes come January. Well, something that everyone has to realize is that the Republican Party cost itself the election and propelled President Obama to a second term. It snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. No president since FDR has won reelection with as high an unemployment rate as Obama. Obama was struggling to maintain a majority approval rating. This election could have been a slam-dunk for the Republican Party. Yet, that is not what happened. One important factor in Romney being caught completely off guard is that Republicans seemed to think that legions of people would voted for Obama in 2008 would be voting against him this time. Obviously, this did not happen. Most of the people who voted for Obama in 2008 voted for him again in 2012. I believe that the overconfidence from Republicans was largely the result of the fact that every time an individual who had supported Obama in 2008 withdrew support from him, it was a story in right-wing news outlets. Why did more of Obama’s 2008 supporters not vote for Romney? One factor is the Republican Party’s problem with minority voters. At one time, African Americans almost universally voted Republican. But as the Democratic Party did with gay voters until very recently, the GOP took their votes for granted starting in the 1890s. The Democratic Party remained the more racist of the two parties until the 1960s, so, the thinking went, most blacks were always sure to vote Republicans, and working hard to appeal to them was therefore unnecessary. But when FDR began offering economic programs that were seen as beneficial to African Americans struggling in the Great Depression, many of them began voting Democrat. Although the Republican Party was less racist, many African Americans probably felt that if neither party was going to do a whole lot about civil rights, they might as well go with the party with the economic platform that they favored. Still, the African American vote remained at least somewhat competitive until 1964. Dwight Eisenhower got about 40% of the black vote in 1956, and Richard Nixon got about 30% in 1960. This would be an incredible feat for a Republican to pull off today. But in 1964, the Republican Party nominated Barry Goldwater, a Southwestern conservative who opposed the Civil Rights Act. A greater percentage of Republicans than Democrats in the House and Senate voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but black voters saw the writing on the wall. Lyndon Johnson, realizing the benefit of a united black voting bloc for the Democratic Party, had signed the legislation, and the Republican presidential candidate opposed it. In 1968, the Democratic Party nominated its most pro-civil rights candidate in history, Hubert Humphrey, while Richard Nixon tried to play both sides of the fence and colluded with segregationist Democrat-turned-Republican, Strom Thurmond. From 1964 to 2012, each Republican presidential candidate has received less than 20 percent of the black vote. GOP icon Ronald Reagan palled around with white supremacists, had a record of opposing federal civil rights legislation, and coddled apartheid South Africa. A party that gets almost no votes from people of a particular race has a precarious existence. Romney made some attempts to win black votes, but he also appointed blatant white supremacist Robert Bork to his Justice Advisory Committee. Furthermore, while he spoke of pursuing affirmative action for women, he did not publicly support affirmative action for African Americans, which would have been a prime opportunity to portray himself as a Rockefeller Republican rather than a Goldwater Republican on civil rights. Romney’s decision in the primaries to attack Gingrich and Perry for supposedly being too liberal on illegal immigration backed him into a corner with Hispanic voters that he could not “etch a sketch” his way out of in the general election. And while I was unable to find statistics on the Native American vote, Native Americans usually vote mostly Democrat, and Romney’s failure to talk much about the severe problems facing many Native Americans makes it unlikely that he got much support from them. The second reason was that Mitt Romney was simultaneously insulting to working class Americans and not fiscally conservative enough. There was simply no way to spin his “47%” comment in a positive way. The message was clear: the 47% of the country who does not pay income taxes, whether they are elderly, in the military, poor, or whatever, whether or they not they pay other kinds of taxes, are lazy, entitled moochers. And of course, people of all economic classes are split in terms of how they vote. Many veterans, senior citizens, and working class Americans were doubtless planning to vote for Romney, and plenty of people among the 53% of income tax-paying Americans voted for Obama. People like Warren Buffett and Alec Baldwin certainly did not decide to vote for Romney after hearing those comments, but a crucial number of “Joe Six Packs” in Ohio may well have decided to vote for Obama. Meanwhile, Romney failed to tap into widespread opposition to Obama’s health care bill. He had signed a bill while governor of Massachusetts that required people to buy health insurance whether they wanted it or not. Thus, he was unable to do a good job of distinguishing between his own health care policy and that of President Obama’s. I think this led some socially liberal, fiscally conservative Americans who opposed ObamaCare to vote for Obama based on social issues. The GOP’s tendency to be insufficiently conservative on certain fiscal issues is largely responsible for the 2008 recession. As president, George W. Bush helped continue Bill Clinton’s promotion of irresponsible lending by favoring low-to-no doc mortgages and the elimination of down payments. The result was that the end of Bush’s administration was marked by a recession that Bush justifiably received a lot of blame for. And finally, Mitt Romney lost because of women’s rights and gay rights. Since Ronald Reagan axed the equal rights amendment plank from the GOP platform at the behest of the Christian Right, Republicans have not surprisingly had a hard time appealing to women. And when you have Senate candidates claiming that the female body can magically prevent a pregnancy from resulting from rape or that such a pregnancy is a gift from God, you really have an uphill battle. Those comments were not merely stupid. They were offensive and reprehensible. As far as gay rights go, I have made it perfectly clear that this is a very personal, since the cause of equal rights for all Americans regardless of sexual orientation is so dear to me. I also made it crystal clear in my last blog post that my vote was based on that issue. Now, when you have a guy like me who opposes so many of the Democratic Party’s fiscal policies yet won’t even consider voting for Mitt Romney, it seems pretty clear that the Republican Party is doing something wrong. Please understand, it was not just Romney I had a problem with. There is no chance in Hell that I would have voted for any of the major Republican primary candidates: Paul, Santorum, Gingrich, Cain, Bachmann, or Perry either. Why? Because they are bigots. Commentators like Neal Boortz and Margaret Hoover have been warning the Republican Party that it would pay a price if it continued to trash gay people, but they were ignored. Republicans chose to listen to vipers like Karl Rove, Mike Huckabee, Tony Perkins, and Brian Brown. Obama got 77% of the gay vote, seven percentage points more than he received in 2008. Opposition to gay rights goes over badly with younger voters, even ones who are quite conservative fiscally. And it might behoove Republicans to pay attention to the fact that starting 2004, when the differences between the two parties on gay rights started becoming more pronounced, no Republican presidential candidate has been able to win a single Northeastern or West Coast state. When Neal Boortz went off on a tirade against social conservatives shortly after the election, at least one person said that Republicans had actually been trying to avoid gay rights issues and that it was all the fault of liberals for bringing it up. Wrong. Anderson Cooper did not make George W. Bush and most House and Senate Republicans support an anti-gay marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. What Romney and Ryan found out is that you can’t endorse a constitutional amendment about something, then say it is not a big issue. Basically, they wanted to claim that the big issue was jobs and only discuss gay marriage when they were speaking to evangelical and fundamentalist voters. It just does not work like that. Furthermore, whether Republicans like it or not, gay marriage is a current, important issue, and a lot of gay voters understandably want to know a candidate’s position on it. Rather than whining about Democrats bringing up gay marriage, Republicans should just admit that opposition to equality is quickly becoming political poison. Finally, I want to thank Linda McMahon. In her first Senate race, she lost to Richard Blumenthal, who ended up supporting gay marriage. In her second Senate race, she ran against Mike Murphy, who staunchly supported gay marriage during the election. With all of the WWE’s scandals, combined with her lack of debating skills and her disadvantage running as a Republican in a blue state, Linda McMahon helped Blumenthal and Murphy win. And thanks to Linda McMahon, Connecticut now has two pro-gay marriage Senators. I tip my hat to her. Tune in for my next blog post, in which I discuss what is next for the Republican Party.

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Why Obama Must Win

I have voted in state and Congressional elections. I remember deriving pleasure from going beyond the confines of two party politics to vote for John Monds in the 2010 governor’s race, because I knew that both Roy Barnes and Nathan Deal were homophobic. If I had to it to do over, I would vote for Monds again. But this is the first presidential election in which I will be voting. And I will be voting for Barack Obama. At one time, I regarded him much less positively than I do now. I was appalled by his opposition to gay marriage and his espousing of the idea that heterosexual couples should be allowed to have civil marriage, while gay couples should be forced to settle for civil unions. I continually chided my liberal friends for being so enthusiastic about Barack Obama. I proudly supported Mike Gravel, who strongly favored gay marriage, in the primaries. I said that Dennis Kucinich, who had come around by 2004 to publicly support gay marriage, would be the second best nominee. I would have voted for Obama in 2008 had I been old enough, but only as the lesser of two evils. And I did not realize how disastrous a McCain presidency would have been until I saw the Arizona Senator fight tooth and nail to uphold “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” There were a couple things that changed my attitude about Obama. The seeds of this change were planted when he stopped defending DOMA in court and helped get “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repealed. But I was still debating about whether or not to tepidly support Obama or vote for a pro-gay marriage third party candidate. What changed all that were twenty-nine words from the president: “I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married,” I immediately knew that I would be voting for Barack Obama in November. And the fact that he had become the first sitting president to publicly support equal rights for gay people made me admire him a lot. I now see what I was missing for the past five years of not being an Obama lover. These days, I’d love to hang out with President Obama. Am I a single issue voter? You bet I am. The most fundamental, straightforward moral issue facing this country is whether or not all people will receive equality under the law regardless of immutable traits. The most important test for a nation is whether or not all citizens have equal rights under the law regardless of immutable traits. As long as a nation denies some citizens equal rights under the law based on immutable traits, that nation can never be truly great nor truly free. Sexual orientation is an immutable trait, meaning that it is inherent and unchangeable. It is as fundamental to one’s identity as eye color and fingerprints. It is impossible to control the gender of the person one falls in love with, just as it impossible to control the person one falls in love with. You may or may not fall in love with a certain person depending on factors such as availability, but the gender you are hardwired to be attracted to will not and cannot be changed. Because sexual orientation is immutable, it is just as immoral to deny a person equal rights based on sexual orientation as it is to deny a person equal rights based on race. For these reasons, as important as issues like the economy and foreign policy are, I believe that equal rights for gay people is even more important. I am a fiscal conservative. I do not want national health care, and I think the bailouts were a mistake. I think Medicare privatization needs to be seriously considered. But I will vote based on gay rights. So why not vote for Gary Johnson, Rocky Anderson, or Jill Stein? Well, let’s face it, Gary Johnson supported same sex marriage about six months before Obama, but if the president’s shift is a case of moving with the political wind, then so is Johnson’s. When Johnson was a Republican, he opposed gay marriage and played the “I’m evolving” card. Shortly before switching to the pro-gay marriage Libertarian Party, Johnson came out in favor of marriage equality. It is true that Rocky Anderson and Jill Stein have phenomenal track records on gay rights. Anderson first came out in support of gay marriage in 1996, Stein in 2001. And Stein says she wants to force states to legalize gay marriage, something Obama is unwilling to do. But the fact of the matter is that Anderson and Stein have no chance of getting elected president. But there is a person in the Oval Office right now who is running on a platform of equal rights for gay people, the first major party nominee ever to do so. He has done more for gay rights than any president before and has been working to clean up the homophobic messes Bill Clinton left us with. That person is Barack Obama. When there is one person who supports equal rights for gay people and has a good chance of winning and another who has supported equal rights for gay people longer and more vigorously but has no chance of getting anywhere near the presidency, I have to go with the former. It is counterproductive to dwell on the “man and woman” drivel that Obama was spouting in 2008. I have to vote based on what Obama is saying now, not what he said four years ago, just like I cannot vote based on the fact that Democrats in the 1800s and 1900s supported slavery, the Trail of Tears, and Jim Crow. Also important to consider is who will be president if Obama does not win reelection? Mitt Romney. He keeps flip flopping on a number of gay rights issues, and the Log Cabin Republicans seem to be trying to imply that he might kinda sorta support federal workplace protection for gay people, even though he’s said the opposite pretty clearly. But one thing he has been consistent on during both his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaign is that he opposes gay marriage. He will defend DOMA, unlike Obama. And he has pledged to sign a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage. I think that in a way, President Obama is a lot like Ulysses S. Grant. Corruption scandals plagued Grant’s administration in much the same way that a bad economy and questionable fiscal policy have plagued Obama’s. This has led to Grant often being ranked among the worst presidents. Yet in 1870, Grant favored a constitutional amendment giving black men the right to vote. In 1875, he signed a civil rights bill banning racial segregation in most public accommodations, which the Supreme Court regrettably struck down in 1883) He sent federal troops to the South to protect African Americans from racist violence. Grant started out in a very bigoted position. In the 1850s, he was a proslavery Democrat. But after the war, he became a Radical Republican. The fact is that Ulysses S. Grant did more for African Americans’ rights than any president except Lincoln. LBJ, and possibly JFK, though that is quite debatable. Sadly, however, most historians prior to the Civil Rights Movement believed in nationalist and neo-Confederate historiography and viewed Reconstruction as a vicious regime imposed on white Southerners that gave former slaves power and rights that they were incapable of exercising. Abolitionists and neo-abolitionist historians defended Reconstruction, but for much of the twentieth century they were ignored. But as neo-abolitionist historians increasingly gain a foothold, and Republicans tout Grant as an example of their party’s historic support for civil rights, old Ulysses is starting to rise in the presidential rankings. I believe that some day, historians will also appreciate Barack Obama’s unprecedented (for a U.S. president) support for equal rights. I dearly hope that we will be able to see what he can do for equal rights in a second term.


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