Monthly Archives: January 2014

Rand Paul For President? Not If I Can Help It

In 1964, Nelson Rockefeller was defeated by Barry Goldwater for the Republican Party nomination. Both prior to and during his time as Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller consistently favored racial equality and supported the Civil Rights Movement.

Senator Barry Goldwater had supported some state and local civil rights reforms and even some federal civil rights legislation. He was not a segregationist in the manner of Southern Democrats like Strom Thurmond, Richard B. Russell, J. William Fulbright, James Eastland, and John C. Stennis. However, he was one of just six Republicans Senators to vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (twenty-one Senate Democrats voted against it) and stated that if private businesses wished to discriminate against blacks, it was not the role of the federal government to stop them. For the last fifty years, Goldwater has been portrayed as a principled libertarian free of racial bigotry but also bound by conviction to oppose federal bans on private sector discrimination. The time would indeed come when an aging Barry Goldwater embraced libertarianism, skewering the Religious Right, endorsing the legalization of medical marijuana, and calling for a full repeal of the military’s ban on gay and lesbian soldiers. Interestingly, according to Goldwater family friend John Dean, the Arizona Senator also eventually expressed regret for voting against the Civil Rights Act. However, in the 1960s, Goldwater was still a conservative with a bit of libertarian flavor, rather than a true libertarian. A good analogy is that Russ Feingold is a liberal with a bit of libertarian flavor. (Full disclosure: Russ Feingold is a political hero of mine, even though I don’t agree with all of his stances.) Goldwater was also, in the 1960s, a very mild, moderate, conflicted racist. In 1964, Goldwater tried to paint his opposition to the Civil Rights Act in libertarian terms by saying that the federal government only had the right to ban government discrimination. Yet just four years earlier, he had written that the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court, a firmly libertarian decision that only prohibited discrimination in government-run schools, had been an overreach of federal power. This is totally contrary to true libertarianism, which holds that the government must not use the force of law to brand some citizens as inferior and others as superior. Five years after voting against the Civil Rights Act, he would support federal anti-pornography legislation. Thus, the 1960s Goldwater was neither a consistent opponent of government discrimination nor consistently devoted to restraining federal power. With these facts in mind, Goldwater’s claim that his motivations for opposing the Civil Rights Act had nothing to do with racism rings hollow. Yet his time as a presidential candidate made him a libertarian icon thanks to his commendable opposition to the military draft and strong support for fiscal conservatism. At the same time, his candidacy not only marked the end of the GOP’s days as the less racist of the two parties but also had the side-effect of promoting the idea that libertarianism is hostile or callous to the needs of minorities, despite the fact that a libertarian lawyer named Moorfield Storey served as president of the NAACP for twenty years and persuaded the Supreme Court to strike down laws mandating residential segregation. Which brings me to Rand Paul.

Like Barry Goldwater and Ron Paul, Rand Paul has become popular with many libertarians. I myself believe that Rand Paul is one of the best politicians when it comes to issues such as fiscal responsibility and ending government violations of privacy and due process. There is some talk of him being the Republican Party candidate for president in 2016. However, I have to say that I am not even open to voting for Rand Paul and that although I have written before of my hope that Hilary Clinton will not be the Democratic Party nominee, I would vote for her over Rand Paul in a heartbeat. As I said earlier, Paul has better policies than Clinton in many areas. Unfortunately, he is also a bigot in libertarian clothing. In 2010, Rand Paul echoed Barry Goldwater’s view that if a business wants to discriminate based on race, the government should not prevent them from doing so. Unfortunately, just like his father, Rand is only a libertarian when it suits him. At the same time that he was defending the right of Lester Maddox to keep black people out of his restaurant, Rand Paul thumbed his nose at the right of Lieutenant Dan Choi to serve his country without remaining in the closet. When asked in 2010 about Paul’s view on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Paul’s campaign spokesman stated that, “Dr. Paul believes this is a matter that should be decided by the leadership of the military, not through political posturing.” In other words, if the generals wanted “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to stay, Paul wanted it to stay. It should be noted that at this point, even libertarians like John Stossel and Andrew Napolitano, who were working for Fox News, were already eviscerating the military ban on openly gay soldiers. More recently, Rand Paul’s position on gay marriage has been hardly libertarian. While he has indicated support for privatizing marriage, he has also made it clear that if civil marriage exists, he would prefer it be denied to gays–again, a violation of the libertarian principle that government has no right to discriminate arbitrarily. In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Paul opined, “I think right now if we say we’re only going to [have] a federally mandated one man, one woman marriage, we’re going to lose that battle because the country is going the other way right now. If we’re to say each state can decide, I think a good 25, 30 states still do believe in traditional marriage, and maybe we allow that debate to go on for another couple of decades and see if we can still win back the hearts and minds of the people.” Essentially, Paul wants to leave the gay marriage issue to the states in order to keep gay marriage illegal in much of the country.

Rand Paul is fine with government discriminating against gay people, but when it comes to the government protecting blacks from getting discriminated against, he starts using libertarian rhetoric. I believe in federal anti-discrimination laws that apply to the private sector as well as the government. In fact, I support affirmative action, which is probably enough to keep me from being considered a full libertarian. However, I absolutely acknowledge that there are non-racist people who are consistent libertarians and believe that while the government must not discriminate, the government also cannot force private institutions to stop discriminating. Rand Paul is not one of these people. And just as I would have identified as a “Rockefeller Republican” in the 1950s and 196os based on the Rockefeller Republicans’ support for equal rights, even though my fiscal views are much more Goldwater-esque, I now identify as a Democrat based on the party’s support for equal rights. And just as I would have voted for Lyndon Johnson over Goldwater in the 1964 general election based on the issue of racial justice, I would vote for Hilary Clinton over Rand Paul, because I cannot vote for a candidate who displays racism and homophobia. And while my concern here is moral, not pragmatic, I should state my belief that if a racist homophobe becomes the standard bearer of libertarianism, it will damage the movement greatly by turning off young people, women, gays, and racial minorities. There is already an unfortunate perception among some people, aided by the Libertarian Party’s nomination of Bob Barr back in 2008, that “libertarian” is simply another word for right-wingers who think the Republican Party is not fiscally conservative or anti-gun control enough. I, for one, will never “stand with Rand.”


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Oklahoma, Jimmy LaSalvia’s Exit, and the Republican Party’s Need to Evolve

Life is not very pleasant if you are homophobic and are living in America right now. I remember how five years ago, my fellow gay rights activists and I weren’t even sure that we could get gay marriage legalized in California. The idea that in five years, Oklahoma might be in play, barring a situation in which federal intervention legalized gay marriage in all fifty states, was not something that I could fathom, and I suspect that the same is true for most gay rights activists. The state of Oklahoma is represented by two of the most of the most homophobic Senators serving in Washington, D.C. right now. Both have voted for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Tom Coburn, the junior Senator, once declared that the “gay agenda” was the biggest threat to freedom in America. James Inhofe, the junior Senator, proudly described his successful Senator campaign as focusing on “God, guns, and gays,” and has boasted through a spokesperson that he refuses to hire any staffers that are gay. Oklahoma’s governor, Mary Fallin, has recently fought to deny spousal benefits to members of the National Guard who are gay. You know, because social conservatives are all about “supporting our troops.” Yet earlier this week, a federal court ruled in favor of gay marriage in Oklahoma. While the decision is being appealed, the fact that gay marriage in Oklahoma is even on the table represents the incredible strides that the Gay Rights Movement has taken in the last two years. Similarly, the fact that there are now legally recognized same-sex marriages in Utah is something that would have seemed like a fantasy five years ago.

I wanted to devote the bulk of this blog post, however, to another sign of the times. Jimmy LaSalvia, co-founder of GOProud, has announced that he is leaving the Republican Party due to its institutional homophobia. Now, a little bit of background about GOProud is important. This organization was started as an alternative to the Log Cabin Republicans. The Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) is an organization of gay Republicans that supports the GOP while working for gay rights. The LCR does have a record of taking Republican politicians to task when they express homophobia, most significantly by refusing to endorse George W. Bush in 2004 after the president announced his support for an anti-gay marriage amendment. GOProud, however, was formed in no small part because some people felt that the LCR was not showing enough support for the Republican Party. Back when I was on Tumblr, I documented how GOProud had invited Ann Coulter, who has gone on record opposing virtually every gay rights reform in the last ten years, to speak at an event, and how Chris Barron, a co-founder of the organization, attacked an LCR member for daring to criticize Herman Cain’s homophobia. In fact, Barron tried to portray Cain as the dream candidate for gay voters. If the Democrats had nominated Pat Buchanan, I might have been able to buy that. So when I found out that Jimmy LaSalvia, another co-founder of GOProud, was leaving the Republican Party, I greatly admired his decision, but I was also surprised.

While the Republican Party leadership may ignore the writing on the wall here, LaSalvia’s defection for friendlier pastures demonstrates that homophobia is killing the GOP. As I mentioned earlier, LaSalvia co-founded a group whose very purpose was to always champion the Republican Party, even when the party promoted anti-gay policies. The fact that LaSalvia is no longer willing to be repeatedly denigrated and abused by the party that he has loyally supported is a testament to how sick people are getting of  homophobia and how many of them are turning on the Republican Party as a result. According to a study by Gary J. Williams in cooperation with Gallup, President Obama got seventy-six percent of the vote from Americans who identified as, “gay, lesbian, or bisexual.” Mitt Romney got twenty-two percent. In an October 2012 Gallup poll, President Obama’s approval rating among LBGT Americans was a full twenty-three percentage points higher than his approval rating among non-LGBT Americans. I may be wrong here, but I have a hard time imagining that LGBT Americans are vastly more likely than heterosexual Americans to support left-leaning economic policies. My guess would be that LGBT Americans are not much more or less likely than heterosexual Americans to favor the Democratic Party’s economic policy. Rather, I believe that a heavy majority of LGBT Americans are painfully aware of the fact that they are not welcome in the Republican Party unless they check their desire for civil rights at the door. Of course, the Republican Party’s pandering to racist voters is probably alienating gays of all races, especially given the fact that the rate of interracial relationships is higher among same-sex couples than among opposite-sex couples.

Probably more damaging to the Republican Party is the fact that so many heterosexuals now support equal rights for gays. According to a Gallup poll, fifty-three percent of Americans favor legalizing gay marriage. Fifty-eight percent of political Independents and sixty percent of Americans who identify as “moderate” favor it. This represents a massive shift in the liberal direction since the 1990s, with a 1996 Gallup poll showing just twenty-seven percent of Americans in support of gay marriage. Compare this with gun control, where America has actually become more in line with the Republican Party since the 1990s. According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans favoring stricter gun control has gone from seventy percent in 1993 to just forty-nine percent in 2013. While the GOP will probably benefit politically by standing firm on gun control, it is hard to deny that continuing to take a conservative position on gay rights is a recipe for political disaster. The percentage of Americans who favor same-sex marriage will only increase. While only forty-one percent of senior citizens favor legalization of gay marriage, seventy percent of Americans ages eighteen to twenty-nine do. Thus, unless Republicans change course, they are in for a world of hurt when the youth of today become the majority. Writing for National Review, hardly a hotbed for gay rights support, Jonah Goldberg observed, “it vexes some older conservatives that some young conservatives are insufficiently anti–gay marriage.” How right he is (on this issue.) Jan van Lahouizen  and Joel Benenson, pollsters for George W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively, released a study last March stating that fifty-three percent of Republicans under thirty believe that their states should legalize gay marriage.

And unsurprisingly, the surge in public support does not just apply to gay marriage. During the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” controversy, poll after poll showed that the majority of Americans were in favor of letting gays and lesbians serve openly in the military. As far as back as 2011, the Public Religion Research Institute took a poll that showed fifty-six percent of Americans supporting the right of gay couples to adopt children. In 2013, the Institute found in a poll that seventy-three percent of Americans, including seventy-five percent of Independents, sixty percent of Republicans, and fifty-nine percent of white evangelical Protestants favor workplace protection laws for gay people. And a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed support for allowing gay youth to serve in the Boy Scouts of America at sixty-three percent and support for allowing gay adult leaders at fifty-six percent.

Every party in every country evolves, for better or for worse, and every party must evolve for the better to stay in a position of power. The Democratic Party had to learn that tolerating or promoting Jim Crow was not the way to build and maintain a base of power outside the South. The Republican Party must return to its roots by embracing civil rights for all.

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Long Term Solutions for the Issue of Immigration

The issue of immigration is one that shows little signs of going away. There is widespread disagreement both about what level of legal immigration is desirable and about what should be done regarding those immigrants who have and are entering the country illegally. The large number of immigrants coming from Mexico has made Mexican immigrants the primary focus of the debate. What should be done to address this issue?

While I support amnesty and the DREAM Act, I believe that additional steps must be taken to fully address the issue of immigration. In the first place, the naturalization process must become streamlined. One of the major reasons so many people come here illegally is that immigrating legally can take an incredibly long amount of time. The Salt Lake City-based newspaper, Deseret News, documents the case of a Columbian immigrant named Ruth Ceballos who, “after a decade of wading through government red tape, she finally won a visa. The trouble was, Ceballos had been trying to get a visa for so long that her three children had grown into adults during her decade-long wait, meaning that because they were no longer minors, they would not qualify to immigrate with her and her husband.” So one part of reforming immigration policy is cutting through the red tape, eliminating immigration quotas, and allowing all immigrants who pass medical and criminal background checks to quickly enter the United States, become citizens, and stay here if they so choose. While it is sometimes argued that the United States has no obligation to admit immigrants, I would argue that this is a problematic assertion to make when one considers the fact that, in the grand scheme of things, it has not been a very long time since whites themselves arrived here and dispossessed the Native Americans. The idea that people of European descent can show up, seize a country from its inhabitants and then, in a fairly short period of time, lock the gates behind them, is fallacious. Let us wait at least a few more centuries before asserting such a claim on this country.

The second step is to understand that the idea that legions of immigrants cross the Mexican border for welfare and other public assistance programs fails to hold water. If this idea were correct, we should have expected to see the number of illegal immigrants decline after the passage in 1996 of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act. This piece of legislation placed stricter limits on the ability of people in the United States to receive welfare payments and is rightly trumpeted both by many Democrats and by many Republicans as cutting down on abuse of the welfare system. According to, “In all, the biggest surge of immigration in modern U.S. history ultimately may be recorded as having occurred in the mid-1990s-to-early-2000s, yielding illegal residents who now have been settled in the U.S. for 10 years or more.” So in other words, right around the time that it became harder to sit back and rely on welfare instead of getting a job, more immigrants started coming here.

The third step is to understand that states like California, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona which have high rates of illegal immigration were originally Mexican territory, and Mexico did not voluntarily relinquish them. In the case of Texas, white immigrants who had moved to what was then the Texas Territory launched a rebellion against the government, in no small part due to a desire to protect the enslavement of blacks. California, New Mexico, and Arizona were plundered by the United States in the Mexican War, a war that happened largely because the United States baited Mexico into it. After the war, individual Mexicans who lived in these areas were defrauded of their property. The gold of California and the oil of Texas put vast amounts of money into the hands of the United States rather than Mexico. If Congress does not follow my recommendations for streamlining the immigration process in general, I am proposing that the equivalent of the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act be passed for Mexican immigrants. According to, “The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 gives Cubans a right to become legal permanent residents once they have reached the U.S. and have been here for one year, provided that the U.S. Attorney General doesn’t object.” Just as the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act is a good form of restitution by the United States for supporting the Batista dictatorship and thereby paving the way for Castro to take power, giving Mexican immigrants the same legal considerations that Cuban immigrants receive would be a good form of restitution for the theft of Mexican land.

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Are CNN’s Poll Numbers on the Affordable Care Act a Mandate For Fiscal Conservatism?

A couple weeks ago, I formed an opinion likely to arouse consternation from both liberals and conservatives. While I have been a supporter of marriage equality since childhood, it was in 2012 that I came to the conclusion that the Republican Party was going to slowly chip away at its own pillars, so to speak, by continuing to oppose equal rights for gay people. My view is that even Chris Christie’s “everything but marriage” stance has fallen out of favor with voters and could end up sending the Republican Party to the political graveyard inhabited by the Federalist Party, the Democratic-Republican Party, and the Whig Party. More recently, however, I came to suspect that the Democratic Party may have its own spoke in the wheel, namely national health insurance. My theory was that gay rights was the biggest liability for the GOP, while national health insurance was the biggest liability for the Democratic Party and that whichever party became pro-gay rights and anti-national health insurance would probably end up in the driver’s seat politically.

To be perfectly clear, I have been on record in the blogosphere for the past three years as opposing national health insurance, even though I am an enthusiastic supporter of President Obama. I believe that the Affordable Care Act has been like the episode of Calvin and Hobbes in which Calvin notices that the faucet in the bathroom is leaking and tries to take it apart in order to fix it. By trying to take apart a running faucet, Calvin causes a flood in the bathroom. Lately, as Democrats have been bombarded with criticism over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and President Obama’s poll numbers have slipped, I have started to wonder if insisting on national health insurance could potentially thrust the Democratic Party out of power. As someone who votes based on gay rights, I will not abandon the Democratic Party over the issue of national health insurance, but I have been concerned that others might. There is polling data indicating both public support for gay marriage and public opposition to the Affordable Care Act. So does this mean that the American public is becoming socially liberal, yet fiscally conservative? Does this mean that Democrats will be more likely to win future elections if they reverse positions on national health insurance? While I would like to see the Democratic Party adopt a libertarian stance on health insurance, a closer look at the polling data on the Affordable Care Act suggest that this may not be a winning stance politically.

For a bit of trivia, can anyone tell me what former Senator-turned-Heritage Foundation president, Jim DeMint, has in common with former Representative-turned political pundit, Dennis Kucinich? At first glance, you might say they have nothing in common. DeMint is a poster boy for just about every conservative cause out there, and Dennis Kucinich is so liberal he makes Barack Obama look like Ann Coulter. But, in fact, one of the only things that DeMint and Kucinich have in common is that neither one of them was very happy with the Affordable Care Act. But of course, they were unhappy about it for totally different reasons. DeMint thought the act was too liberal, Kucinich thought it was too conservative. For instance, Kucinich was frustrated with the fact that the bill did not include a public health care option or allow states to pursue a single payer system. Now, that brings me to the fine print of the CNN polling data. In CNN’s December poll, people were asked if they favored or opposed the Affordable Care Act. Only thirty-five percent favored it. However, fifteen percent of those opposed said that they opposed the Act because it was not liberal enough. Only forty-three percent of the total people being polled stated that they opposed it because it was too liberal, leaving fifty percent of the people saying they either supported the Act or thought it did not go far enough. In essence, many observers, including initially me, failed to notice that the strong opposition reflected in CNN’s poll numbers included people who agree with Jim DeMint and people who agree with Dennis Kucinich. A good analogy would be that laissez-faire capitalists like Albert Jay Nock and Socialists like Norman Thomas were both critical of the New Deal, but obviously not for the same reasons.

My reaction to this is conflicted. On the one hand, as someone who has recently started considering themselves a Democrat and will probably register with the party in 2016, I cannot help but feel some sense of relief. These poll numbers indicate that the apocalyptic picture right-wing news outlets are painting for the future of the Democratic Party may be inaccurate. On the other hand, I am concerned about the fact that the American public appears to be in support of national health insurance, as I believe that such a system opens the door for increasing government control over our lives. It has always been my view that if a person has unusual tastes in food and drink and therefore wants to consume nothing but bacon and Scotch, that is their right. Such a “live and let live” system only works, however, when the public is not forced to foot the bill for the bad health decisions of individuals. Once everyone’s doctor bills are put on the taxpayers’ tab, it becomes harder to maintain a system in which people live their lives the way that they see fit. Furthermore, forcing people to buy something whether they want it or not is a violation of free choice, while allowing people to wait until they get sick or injured before buying insurance wreaks havoc on premiums. Perhaps what this blog post and the poll numbers show is that there are no easy solutions to America’s health care problems and that while people on all sides of the issue should stand firm in their beliefs, a dose of understanding and respect would be a welcome addition to the Affordable Care Act debate.

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How the United States Can Promote Gay Rights Internationally

While same-sex marriage was already illegal in Nigeria, the country has now passed legislation making same-sex marriage an imprisonable offense and also outlawing public displays of gay relationships and meetings of gay rights groups. With this in mind, I wanted to address three ways that the United States can combat oppressive anti-gay policies in other countries.

1. Embargoes.

While going to war with other countries to topple oppressive governments is problematic and downright unsustainable, sanctions are a good alternative. By refusing to trade with countries that criminalize gay people, the United States can take decisive action against the reprehensible policies of these countries without having to use violence. The successful divestment campaign against South Africa’s apartheid government undertaken in the United States and many other countries was a glorious example of using economic pressure to protest persecution abroad. Even conservative historian Ron Radosh acknowledged that, “supporters of disinvestment in South Africa would rightfully argue, what is more important, investments or the freedom of a people suffering under the brutal apartheid regime?” When the U.S. maintains economic relations with countries that have horrific human rights records, the U.S. is condoning and sponsoring oppression, however unintentionally. Similarly, participation in the Olympics and recognition by the U.N. ought to be contingent on meeting certain human rights standards.

2. Be a Model of Freedom and Equality

As the United States promotes gay rights internationally, we must also consistently respect the dignity of all people regardless of sex, race, gender identity, or sexual orientation. The United States will have a hard time taking other countries to task for their treatment of gays if gay Americans continue to be denied equal rights under the law. Over half of all states refuse to include gays in anti-discrimination laws, and a heavy majority of states still have government-imposed discrimination against gays. These policies are not only unjust but make it difficult for the United States to castigate homophobic nations without looking hypocritical.

3. Establish Consistent Standards

One of the biggest problems with America’s foreign policy is that our government has no consistent standards for which human rights violations are serious enough to warrant sanctions. The United States established an embargo on Cuba shortly after Fidel Castro took power. While imposing the embargo was the correct decision, it seemed rather odd that the human rights violations of Fulgencio Batista, Fidel Castro’s predecessor, had not been sufficient cause for an embargo. The reason, of course, was that Batista was considered a “friendly dictator,” one who supported “American interests.” Similarly, it seemed baffling that an embargo was being imposed on Cuba but not South Africa, where the government was just as brutal as Castro’s, if not more so. The United States must clearly define which human rights violations warrant sanctions and consistently enforce this policy, regardless of the economic or diplomatic fallout. Otherwise, our country will appear to be inconsistently singling out countries and will be at risk of having our motives questioned.



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Gay Rights Predictions for 2014

1. We will end the year with gay marriage in at least half the states.

2. The Boy Scouts of America will end its anti-gay policy or watch its influence diminish.

3. Another Senator opposed to gay marriage (I’m picking Susan Collins) is going to announce a change of heart.

4. More states and cities will pass anti-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation, and ENDA may even pass.

5. More states will legalize gay adoption.

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Can Andrew Cuomo Win Without Being Pro-Death Penalty?

With Elizabeth Warren having ruled out a presidential run in 2016, I am going to tentatively state that Andrew Cuomo would be my top choice for the next president. The precise reasons why I feel this way are a matter for another post, but barring something unexpected happening, if Cuomo runs, I will be voting for him in the Democratic primary. I decided to write this blog post about a political stance of Cuomo that I am in full agreement with but may unfortunately cost him the Democratic nomination. That stance is his opposition to capital punishment. To give a bit of my personal background on this issue, before I became very interested in gay rights, abolition of the death penalty was actually the cause I was most into. While I do not devote as much time and energy to it as I used to, my views have not changed. I am still unequivocally opposed to the death penalty under any circumstances. Yes, that includes in the case of terrorists.

Opposition to the death penalty is something of a Cuomo family tradition. Andrew’s father, Mario, became famous for his opposition to the death penalty. New York is something of a bastion for “billy club liberalism”–support for moderate-to-conservative policies on crime and liberal policies on most other issues–which explains why, although members of the NYPD are forbidden under a city ordinance to use racial profiling, they also have great discretion to “stop and frisk” people. As Governor of New York, Mario Cuomo was trying to maintain a political career in a time when America was experiencing a shift toward support for more authoritarian penal codes. Arguably, Mario refusing to take the route of many previously anti-death penalty politicians and endorse executions in at least some circumstances played a major role in him losing his office to George Pataki. Whenever Andrew Cuomo takes a controversial stance as New York’s current governor, he likes to compare it to his father’s principled opposition to the death penalty. In 2004, Andrew publicly urged New York to end the death penalty once and for all. Thus, Andrew Cuomo has staked out a very firm position against the government putting people to death.

At first glance, this might not seem like something that will damage Cuomo’s chances of receiving the Democratic Party nomination. Cuomo is a Democrat, and  Democrats typically oppose the death penalty, right? The truth, however, is more complicated. Originally, the Democratic Party was primarily pro-death penalty. While serving as a judge prior to becoming president, Andrew Jackson imposed the death penalty multiple times, including in one month sentencing three men to die for stealing horses. As Sheriff of Buffalo, New York, Grover Cleveland sometimes performed executions himself. Arguably, opposition to the death penalty was more closely connected with the Republican Party. Abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and Lydia Maria Child who became supporters of the Republican Party (as well as abolitionists such as Wendell Phillips who disdained all political parties) made up much of the anti-death penalty movement during the 1800s. In Wisconsin, where capital punishment was abolished as early as 1853, it was primarily Republican legislators who foiled an 1857 attempt to bring it back. The “Great Agnostic” Robert Ingersoll was a staunch Republican and a vocal opponent of the death penalty. While serving as a member of the Ohio legislature, future Republican president, James Garfield, had gone on record as firmly opposed to the death penalty, though this did not stop the man who assassinated him in 1881 from being executed. “Czar” Thomas B. Reed, the Republican Speaker of the House for much of the 1890s, had fought to abolish the death penalty in his native Maine. After retiring from public office, former Republican president Rutherford B. Hayes became anti-death penalty. In the early 1900s, “progressive” Democratic president Woodrow Wilson favored the death penalty. In the 1930s, a shift began. President Franklin Roosevelt announced his opposition to the death penalty. During World War II, however, Roosevelt demanded that three saboteurs be executed without civilian court trials. Harry Truman was more liberal than FDR but still took a complicated stance on the death penalty. In 1950, Truman commuted the death sentence of a man who had attempted to kill him. But when Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sentenced to die for allegedly passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, Truman admitted that he had never really favored capital punishment but did not intervene to stop their executions. As president, John F. Kennedy allowed a federal execution to take place but also signed a bill repealing Washington, D.C.’s mandatory death penalty law. It was in the 1960s that the heyday of Democratic opposition to the death penalty began. Lyndon Johnson allowed Attorney General Ramsey Clark to ask Congress to end the death penalty. In 1968, Hubert Humphrey, who had gone on record as opposing the death penalty in his 1960 primary campaign, was nominated as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate. In the 1972 election, George McGovern also opposed the death penalty. In 1976, as the Democratic Party made some attempt to reclaim a portion of its conservative heritage, Jimmy Carter voiced support for the death penalty, though of course he later became a strong opponent of the practice. This rightward tilt on executions did not last long, however. The Democrats’ 1984 candidate, Walter Mondale, was opposed to the death penalty, as was the 1988 candidate, Michael Dukakis. Dukakis’s opposition to the death penalty was one of the issues that Republicans used to pillory him as “soft on crime,” (his ill-advised weekend furlough program for dangerous prison inmates did not help either). By the early 1990s, the Democratic Party had decided to once again change its stance on the death penalty. Having watched several anti-death penalty candidates be crucified by voters, it was probably decided that the “politically correct” stance was to favor executing some criminals. In 1992, Bill Clinton strongly favored the death penalty, and as president he signed legislation that expanded its use. Al Gore was also in favor of the death penalty. Though plenty of Democrats, such as Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, and Russ Feingold, still opposed the death penalty, they were not getting anywhere near the presidency. In the 2004 Democratic presidential primaries, only Carole Moseley Braun, Dennis Kucinich, and Al Sharpton opposed any use of the death penalty. John Kerry, the party nominee, had previously opposed the death penalty but amended his stance to voice his support for executing terrorists. In 2008, the three Democratic frontrunners, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards, all favored the death penalty in some capacity. Obama did not express the same gung-ho support that Bill Clinton had shown, but he made it clear he believed that the government had the right to use the death penalty in certain cases, such as with terrorists and murderers of children. Andrew Cuomo shows none of this moderation. He simply states that he wishes to abolish the death penalty, without laying out any exceptions. If Cuomo is nominated in 2016, he will be the first major-party candidate since Michael Dukakis to unequivocally oppose the death penalty. And the fact that he seems to draw inspiration from his father on this issue may make it hard for him to change his position. It is always possible he will change his position. However, I am not sure it would be necessary in order to get nominated. While Democratic Party leaders seem to feel that support for the death penalty is a necessary ingredient for a winning candidate, I am skeptical, because I truly think many Americans would be surprised to know that, say, Barack Obama and the Clintons, favor the death penalty. And evidence from Gallup indicates that while opposition to the death penalty has not reached the levels it was at in the 1960s, it has noticeably increased since the 1990s. As I said earlier, the perception is that Democrats are anti-death penalty. So I am not sure that making the perception reality would hurt Cuomo that much. My personal hope is that Cuomo can win the nomination and the election while still opposing capital punishment, because I would like to see it proven that opposition to capital punishment is not, no pun intended, the kiss of death for presidential hopefuls.

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My Review of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

In addition to being a good year for gay rights, perhaps the best year ever in the United States, I would argue that 2013 was a good year for films. One of the best was Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. I finally got a chance to watch it, and overall, I was very impressed. The film is close to two and a half hours, but in my view, this length was absolutely necessary. Mandela’s story, even the portion of his life ending with his election as president, is a long one, and a hundred minute movie would have felt rushed, jammed together, and incomplete. Even this film at times suffered from omission. In my tribute blog for Mandela, I told the story of Cecil Williams, the gay, white anti-apartheid theater director from Cornwall who let Mandela pose as his chauffer in order to travel around South Africa mobilizing support for armed rebellion without running afoul of the government’s pernicious pass laws. Williams was, in fact, in the car with Mandela when Mandela was arrested in 1962. Unfortunately, Williams is omitted from the film, and Mandela is depicted as being alone in the car when he was arrested.

Overall, though, Long Walk to Freedom is superb. I had seen Idris Elba, the actor playing the late president and freedom fighter, in a couple of films previously and was already a fan of his acting. After watching this film, I can say that I would be inclined to give Elba an Oscar for this. He plays Mandela brilliantly. Elba was stated to have received the role partly due to his height, but it is tough for me to comment on this, as Nelson Mandela has been described as anywhere from six feet even to a full 6’4”. (Elba is a shade under 6’3”.) To be sure, Elba has quite a bit more muscle mass than the man he is playing, but he still looks a lot like him, especially when portraying Mandela as an old man.

Long Walk to Freedom does not portray Mandela as flawless. The womanizing that helped destroy his first marriage is shown in the film and is not rationalized by the filmmakers. Still, Mandela’s greatness is also shown. He is correctly portrayed as a loving father and grandfather. As 12 Years a Slave showed the brutality of American slavery, Long Walk to Freedom shows the brutality of South African apartheid, as white South Africans treat black South Africans as less than human, and black South Africans caught without papers are beaten to death by the police. For those who have not previously learned about the history of South Africa, it becomes very easy to understand why Mandela and the African National Congress were justified in rebelling violently. Early on, he tells black South Africans that as they are not treated as full citizens of their country, they have no obligation to recognize its laws. In his courtroom scene, which sent chills down my spine, Mandela states that non-violent resistance had failed to end or even significantly lessen the brutality of apartheid and that the South African government was the entity responsible for the outbreak of violence. Later in the film, Mandela points out the absurdity of the government using violence to maintain apartheid while demanding that he renounce violence as a means of ending it. On a related note, the film destroys much of the hagiography manufactured about P.W. Botha by the Right. In the 1980s, as pressure mounted on the United States to impose strong sanctions on South Africa, some conservatives tried to paint a narrative in which South African President P.W. Botha was modernizing South African social policies and would make harsh sanctions unnecessary. As the film shows, however, Botha was willing to make some concessions to blacks, but he had no intentions of giving them equal rights. In a scene toward the end of the film, Botha’s political henchmen try to enlist Mandela as an ally by promising the repeal of legislation such as the pass laws. However, they also state that black South Africans will never receive the same voting rights given to whites. Mandela, of course, rebuffs this offer.

The trauma of prison for both Mandela and his second wife, Winnie, is also deftly portrayed. A reprehensible warden goes out of his way to make Nelson’s life a living Hell and states point blank that he is not financially dependent on his job, as he has plenty of money and could quit at any time. Instead, he stays and derives pleasure from tormenting the wrongfully imprisoned. In one of the most heartbreaking scenes, Nelson receives a letter from Winnie, only to find that so much of it has been censored that it is barely intelligible. Winnie spends over a year in solitary confinement and emerges bent on bloody vengeance. While it is impossible to condone her acts later in the film, it is also impossible not to sympathize with the horror and pain she experienced.

Still, like 42, The Butler, and 12 Years a Slave, this film makes it clear that not all white people believed in racism. White people are shown working with Mandela in the ANC, trying to defend Mandela in court, and participating in international anti-apartheid protests. And viewers are reminded of Mandela’s rejection of all forms of racism in a scene when he warns his grandchildren against meeting racism with racism.

All in all, I really recommend this film. In contrast to The Wolf of Wall Street, which is about three hours long and feels like thirty-three, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is captivating and does not feel like it is dragging on at any point. For anyone who wants to see a great film, wants to learn about history, or both, it’s hard to find a better choice.

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