Monthly Archives: March 2015

Your Business Is Not a Church

So as most of my readers are probably aware, Indiana has passed a “religious freedom” bill. One of the effects of this bill is that it strengthens the legal right of Indiana business owners to discriminate against gay people. This legal right was already in place, as Indiana does not have a private sector anti-discrimination law applying to sexual orientation. While liberals are often accused of promoting “victimology,” racists, sexists, and homophobes frequently wallow in victimization rhetoric. The latest class of alleged victims on the Right are business owners who refuse to provide equal service to LGBT customers. I talked about this in a blog post last year, but I wanted to review the reasons why these business owners are not being victimized in any way. A business, such as a bakery, is not a church. The owner may be devoutly religious, but the business is still not a church. A church should not legally be forced to marry a gay couple, but a business cannot be permitted to skirt anti-discrimination laws (which need to be extended nationwide to LGBT people) because these laws conflict with what the owner heard from their minister, priest, rabbi, imam, etc. Otherwise, an Islamic Fundamentalist business owner could refuse to bake cakes for Christians’ weddings. A white supremacist Protestant Fundamentalist could refuse to take photographs for an interracial couple’s wedding. Interestingly, there is a documented case in our country’s legal history of a restaurant owner trying to use religious beliefs to justify racial discrimination. In the 1960s, a Southern barbecue restaurant owner named Maurice Bessinger tried to sue for the right to refuse service to black customers on religious grounds. (Bessinger also believed that slavery was divinely ordained.)  Thankfully, he lost the case, due to the fact that Piggie Park Enterprises, Inc. was not a house of worship.

There are some people who are very hardcore libertarians who believe that the actions of the business owners described in these scenarios should be legal. I disagree with this view, and it’s one of the things that makes me a moderate libertarian or “liberaltarian.” But the very hardcore libertarians are consistent. They don’t believe the government has the right to prohibit same-sex marriage or adoption, and in fact, the Libertarian Party was in support of marriage equality when it was still a minority view in the Democratic Party. However, most of the politicians and pundits championing these “right to discriminate” laws are not hardcore libertarians. They are the people who have never had a problem with using big government to discriminate against gays and have turned to using libertarian rhetoric more and more often as the pendulum has swung against them.

Another fact that is important recognize is that all businesses receive some sort of government aid in the sense that if the business is robbed, police intervene, and if the business catches on fire, firefighters intervene. Some of these police and firefighters are LGBT, and LGBT Americans pay taxes for police and fire departments. This means, in effect, that people such as Mike Pence, are asking LGBT people to aid in the protection of businesses that deny them equal service. Perhaps homophobic business owners would like to rely exclusively on their own security teams for dealing with fires and robberies.

One bit of good news is that these bills are only passing in very conservative states, and even then, they often fail to pass. Even in my home state of Georgia, which, once you venture outside of Atlanta, is about as far from a haven of acceptance for gay people as you can get, a “right to discriminate” bill is teetering on the brink of defeat. Another bit of good news is that soon, it will be illegal nationwide for businesses to discriminate against gay people. The tide has turned, and no amount of crying from bigots is going to change that.

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The Best Chance of Beating Ted Cruz

Well, an event that I had hoped would not happen but knew probably would happen has, in fact, happened. Ted Cruz, Texas’ junior Senator, has stepped into the Republican Party presidential primary. Let me first off state that there is no chance that I will be voting for Ted Cruz. He fiercely opposes marriage equality for gays and lesbians. He has praised the late racist, homophobic Senator Jesse Helms. He is, in short, a reprehensible bigot. However, whether those of us who usually vote Democratic want to admit it or not, the Republican Party has the advantage going into the 2016 presidential election. It is very difficult for the same political party to win three presidential elections in a row. From 1952 to the present, it has only happened once, when George Bush, Sr. was elected after two terms of Reagan. Furthermore, the Democratic Party lost control of the Senate a few months ago, leaving the GOP in control of both houses of Congress. There is no strong reason to think that the Affordable Care Act has helped the Democratic Party politically. The public frustration over issues like HealthCare.gov and canceled insurance plans, to say nothing of the problem of the individual mandate and the fact that national health insurance opens the door to government control of people’s lifestyles, suggests that it will likely hurt the party.

The Democratic Party certainly has a significant chance of winning in 2016, but they will have to go through the election with an understanding that the overall odds are stacked against them this time. What should they do to win if Ted Cruz gets the nomination? In the first place, Cruz’s views on gay rights are now in stark contrast to public opinion, so the party will need to nominate someone with good, solid credentials on supporting equal rights for gays and take care to emphasize the difference between this nominee and Cruz. I’d prefer, of course, someone who has consistently supported equal rights for gays, but a convert to the cause like Joe Biden, or even a relative latecomer like Hillary Clinton or Brian Schweitzer could probably do well taking the fight to Cruz on this score. They will also need to maintain their support for women’s rights, racial equality, and immigration reform. These are all important from an ethical and practical standpoint no matter who the Republicans nominate, so that means John Hickenlooper and especially Jim Webb need to be kept away from the Democratic nomination. What are some tactics that will be particularly necessary if Cruz gets nominated? First of all, Ted Cruz has been critical of overreaches of power by the NSA, which have continued to take place under a Democratic administration. This means that the Democratic nominee needs to be someone with a bona fide record of supporting strong restrictions on government surveillance or at least someone who has not gone on record as tacitly supporting a Surveillance State. Otherwise, people for whom reigning in the Surveillance State is a top priority may vote Republican. Secondly, the Democratic nominee needs to have a strong antiwar record or at least not have voted for, say, the Iraq War in the past. As has been pointed out by another commentator, Cruz was not in national politics when the Iraq War happened, meaning that if the Democrats nominate someone who voted for the war, he could potentially criticize them on this issue FROM THE LEFT. And if the amount of liberals who like Ron Paul is any indicator, this could potentially send some liberal, antiwar voters into Cruz’s column. The takeaway from these two points is that the Democratic Party would be ill advised to nominate, say, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, or Joe Biden, since all of them voted for the war, and none of them are particularly liberal/libertarian on government surveillance.

Cruz’s greatest strength with voters will be his fiscal conservatism. He can tap into widespread frustration over the problems with the Affordable Care Act and generally out of control government spending. Democrats are going to have to try their best to neutralize these issues and make the election turn on social issues. It is probably a pipe dream that the Democrats would nominate anyone who opposes national health insurance. Such a candidate would never make it through a primary. But they can nominate someone who is against pork barrel spending and corporate bailouts. The bailouts enacted in the early days of the Recession triggered the formation of the Tea Party and, as Eliot Spitzer surmises, probably helped cost the Democrats control of the House in 2010. Pork and bailouts are an issue that a Tea Partier like Cruz can exploit in a way that more “establishment” Republicans never can. All things considered, it is hard to think of a better candidate for the Democrats than Russ Feingold. During his time in the Senate, he was one of the most liberal politicians on gay rights, cosponsored a bill to ban racial profiling, had a reliably liberal record on immigration and women’s rights, was the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act, voted against the Iraq War, crusaded against government waste, and voted against the Troubled Asset Relief Program. There are certainly other candidates who would be suitable, but if the Democratic Party does not seriously work at neutralizing the advantages of Cruz or whoever else the Republicans nominate, they are probably in for a long night on November 8, 2016.

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