Both the comments and a private email have convinced me that my previous post was ill-considered and a total flop, so let us move on. Today, there are three different things on which I wish to comment [hence the title of this post.]
The first is the enormously important announcement by the White House and the Department of Justice that it would henceforth not defend the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA] in court, and instead argue that it is presumptively unconstitutional. This represents a major new step by the Obama Administration in the direction of LGBT equality. The key element in the announcement is the White House opinion that differential treatment for Gays and Lesbians must pass what the courts call a "heightened scrutiny" test. Three levels of scrutiny have been defined in Supreme Court cases -- the lowest, relatively easy to pass, is simply that the legislature must show some "rational basis" for its enactment. This rules out blatant irrationality and prejudice or favoritism. The second standard -- much more demanding -- is "heightened scrutiny." To clear this bar, the state must show both that it has a compelling interest in discriminating against some population, and that its legitimate interest could not have been accomplished in a way that did not involve the differential treatment. "Strict Scrutiny" is the third and highest standard. Heightened scrutiny is essentially like strict scrutiny save that in a very limited number of situations involving different treatment for men and women, the court has allowed the differential treatment when it is based on objective differences between the sexes [separate bathrooms, say.] Racial discrimination is required to pass the strict scrutiny standard. Both standards treat the discrimination as presumptively unconstitutional, so that the burden is on the state to justify it. If the courts accept the Administration's claim that same sex discrimination must pass a heightened scrutiny test, it will transform the status of Gays and Lesbians in the United States. At a time when so much else is happening politically and internationally, it is extraordinary that Obama has taken this step. DADT [Don't Ask Don't Tell] and DOMA were the two big items on the LGBT hit list when Obama was running for president. He has successfully engineered the repeal of DADT, and he has now made a major move to defeat DOMA in a climate in which there would be no chance at all of Congressional repeal. It is time, I think, for progressives to acknowledge as much.
The second subject for comment is the pro-union rebellion that has erupted in the MidWest, in response to the ham-handed efforts by Governor Walker of Wisconsin to strip public sector workers of the right to organize and bargain collectively. The final destruction of labor unions has been a goal of the Right Wing in this country forever, and they have been very successful in destroying organized labor in the private sector, but public sector workers [police, fire fighters, teachers, etc.] have remained a bastion of union strength. In the old days, when Republicans like Eisenhower led the party, union rights were accepted and endorsed. It is not just an old man's nostalgia that leads me to see present-day America as a throwback to a terrible nineteenth century time. The reaction to Walker's efforts is the best thing that has happened in American politics in quite some time. It is spreading -- indeed, metastasizing -- and looks to give to the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party the sort of energy that lately has been reserved for the extreme right wing of the Republican Party. It is impossible to tell how this will play out, but Walker's idiocy -- being punked by the fake phone call, for example -- is helping us no end. By the way, anyone who doubts the truth of simple-minded conspiracy theories need only read the transcript of Walker's phone conversation with the soi-disant billionaire Koch brother. There are times when it is really hard to distinguish reality from political satire.
The third matter for comment, of course, is Libya, and more generally the eruption of anti-dictator sentiment and action across North Africa and in the Middle East. The bloodshed in Libya is, quite frankly, what I feared and expected in Egypt. The almost bloodless fall of Mubarak was astonishing, but Gaddafi's vicious, brutal death throe in Libya is what one would expect from a dictator backed against a wall. The only hope for a speedy ending of what has become a civil war is the continued defection of military units from the palace. Already, several Libyan pilots have crashed their planes into the Mediterranean rather than carry out orders to attack the rebels. I have lived for most of my adult life with an Arab world frozen into rigidity and dictatorship. I cannot even begin to imagine the direct and indirect consequences of the upheavals now taking place, but I am certain that two or three years from now, the world will look very different. Better? God, I hope so. But different. Certainly.
All in all, a good day for the left, I think.