Monday, February 15, 2016

A Man for Another Season

I mourn Antonin Scalia, the man. He was, by all accounts, a man of intelligence, humor and charm. But I will not miss Antonin Scalia the jurist. He had a pinched view of the Constitution that was for another time.

He was a textualist, by which he meant that a law says what its plain language states, not what the people adopting it meant. Unless the people adopting it were the founding fathers, in which case the law (the Constitution) means what they meant it to say. He called that approach being an originalist. I call it expedient.

Enough has been written about the state of politics, suffrage and slavery at the time of the founding of our country that it need not be repeated. Suffice it to say that under those circumstances the Constitution is an amazingly democratic and pluralistic governing credo. Which is why it has endured.

Our society is very different today than it was then. We have adapted to tremendous shifts in economic, political and cultural norms. This is why we have endured. No organism, amoeba or nation, can survive and flourish if it fails to adapt to a changing environment.

The founders did not contemplate today’s conditions. They could not have. To try to gather their views, as if by seance, to inform decisions about how we should live together today, is folly. Most of us aren’t even interested in our father’s or grandfather’s old-fashioned opinions about how we should live our lives, never mind Thomas Jefferson’s.

Justice Scalia took pride in saying that he did not let his personal views inform his judicial judgements. I do not believe that.

He was unabashedly homophobic. He did not advocate protecting women’s reproductive rights. He thought it was fine for us all to carry arms, no matter the gun violence in our cities. He said once, only half joking, that he might draw the line at shoulder-held anti-aircraft weapons.

He was, in his devout adherence to his Roman Catholicism and to his personal views about what is socially moral and acceptable, a man of an earlier time. He did not like the cultural changes the were thrust upon him. And he did not like expanding the interpretation of the Constitution to accommodate them. He fought back by saying those expansions were not part of the plain text, were not part of what the founders had in mind, and so were illegitimate.

He did not like the right to privacy found in Roe v. Wade. He thought the concept of substantive due process was an oxymoron. He did not think Brown v. Board was well decided. He thought it was not a good thing, through affirmative action, to let blacks swim in educational waters that he thought might be too deep for them.

He was an eighteenth-century man railing against the modern world. Women, gays, blacks. He resisted change, but change we must.

So long, Antonin. My condolences to your family and friends (among them your ideological opposites, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Elena Kagan, which says a lot about you as a friend). I’m not religious, but you were. I hope you’re up there in heaven with Jefferson and Adams slapping you on the back, welcoming you home.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Woman of a Certain Age

Judi Dench for President. She wouldn’t take any crap off Putin. Or Bond. Or any of the boys she regularly keeps in their place.

Or Helen Miren.

Or Gloria Steinem.

Maybe we could have a seance and see who Eleanor Roosevelt would favor.

Strong women one and all. 

The question today is this: are we ready to go beyond the strong women of film and the lionesses of feminism and elect a woman as president? 

I hope so. Not just because I think it would be the same kind of breakthrough as was electing a black man, one that offerers a role model to girls and women, one that gets the rest of us used to the idea, but because I think a woman might do a better job than a man. I’m quite certain that Hillary Clinton would do a better job than any of her rivals.

Bernie Sanders has good ideals, but no way to get there. The Republicans, by and large, don’t even have good ideals. It’s hard for me to imagine why any modern, self-respecting woman would vote for any of the current crop of misogynist Republican contenders.

As to Bernie, he’s the Ralph Nader of this go round. He has broader support, but the same flaws. He’s rigid about what he sees as right and wrong. If you don’t agree with him, he doesn’t want to talk to you. He wants to lead a revolution, not a discussion. His revolution isn’t going to happen in our country any time soon. And, as far as he is concerned, neither is a discussion of alternatives.

These things seem so obvious to me that I am struggling to understand why Hillary Clinton isn’t the landslide choice of anyone, man or woman, who wants the country to be the land of opportunity for all, not just the wealthy, but who also understands that the animal spirits of capitalism are why our economy leads the world.

Hillary Clinton takes on her adversaries forthrightly. She scolds when she thinks someone needs it. She fights back aggressively when attacked.

Kind of reminds one of “M.” We all love M. But the Bond films are just movies, and a man is the star. 

We admire the strong women of film. We admire pioneers like Roosevelt and Steinem. Somehow, though, we are having a hard time going from them to a woman president.

We are emotionally conflicted when it comes to women. We admire strong women, but they scare us a little. Most of us have been raised by and around women in more traditional supporting roles. It’s a little weird to think of them leading us the way men have in the past.

Rather than admit that very natural reaction to cultural roles in transition, we come up with excuses in the specific case to put off the day of reckoning. She’s too shrill. She’s too bossy. Sure, a woman would be fine as president, just not her.

Many say that women have had to be tough to get ahead in a man’s world. The implication is that, yes, she’s disagreeable but she had to be. I don’t buy that. I don’t think the women who are rising into leadership roles are any different than the men they are replacing. They are as tough as they need to be. It’s just that we’re not used to seeing that from women.

We need to get used to it. There’s nothing wrong with them. The trouble is in the eye of the beholder.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Is Sexy Sexist?

Is sexy sexist?

On either side of the gender line?

It will be a great day when women and men are treated equally. It will be a sad day if we lose sexy in the process.

I believe we can have our cake and pop out of it too. 

Here are some ideas for how:

Objectify money, not women (or men). Objectify fame. Objectify private jets and Pulitzer prizes. Objectify anything but each other. All those other things are things. We are not.

No article of clothing is “asking for it.” Still, there are horses for courses. Dress for the way you plan to work or play, and don’t mix up the two.

Gender equality begins at home. Do for one another the things we know make us feel good, and the things we don’t really want to: Examples in category one: compliments (even when a bit of a stretch); opening doors; random flowers (for men or women); making dinner. In category two: cleaning the house; staying home with the sick kid; visiting his or her family regularly; giving up some of your career to make his or hers better.

Gender equality means fantasy equality. Do what turns the two of you on. That’s a different thing than all the rest of life. You may not think you can turn fantasy on and off like a light switch, but trust me, you can. Really, it’s more like striking a match.

And lastly, in this time of transition for women from fifties wives to tech warriors, and for men from Don Draper to Mark Zuckerberg, don’t gender stereotype your children. What you teach them before they know anything else can take a long time to unlearn. Teach them to see themselves the way you want to be seen.

I love a powerful woman (both in principle and in real life). I love a sexy woman (ditto). Make something like that happen in your own life (with the gender of your choice). Believe me, it doesn’t get any better.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Spreading the News

The Good News came to Iowa last night. Good news for Cruz, Trump, Rubio and their large blocks of evangelical supporters.

What does that mean for the rest of us?

The English word “evangelical” comes from “euangelion,” Greek, meaning “the good news.”

So far so good.

According to the website of the National Association of Evangelicals, “The evangelical faith focuses on the ‘good news’ of salvation brought to sinners by Jesus Christ.”

Okay, not too bad. A little specific to that one prophet, but I grew up around Christians and they seemed harmless enough at the time. This was after the crusades and witch burnings, so I never felt any fear other than of having to sit in church and listen to some guy tell me that pretty much my whole plan for the next week was going to send me to hell. I even liked singing bible songs around campfires. (The s’mores were a big inducement.) Here’s one song I remember:

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red, brown, yellow
Black and white
They are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children
Of the world.

The song was written by C. Herbert Woolston of Chicago, who was said to have been inspired by Matthew 19:14, where Jesus says, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.”

So that’s good, right? The good news according to Jesus is to welcome all the little children, regardless of color.

But wait, not those Muslim kids. He couldn’t have meant them. And surely not the Mexicans and Central Americans. There were no Muslims or Mexicans nearby when Jesus uttered those welcoming words.

Maybe what Jesus urged us to do must be construed in the context of his time. Maybe evangelicals are originalists, like Scalia on the Supreme Court.

There were Egyptians nearby in Jesus’s time, but nobody is talking much about Egyptian immigrants just now. Syrians were all over the place then. They’re trying to get in now, but the darlings of the evangelicals—Cruz, Trump and Rubio—don’t want to let them in because they might be terrorists. Maybe that’s a distinction an originalist evangelical can hang onto. There were no suicide vests in Jesus’s time, so no worries about welcoming a few Syrians in those days, but now…  

I have to say, what evangelicalism seems to me to boil down to is rejection of anyone who is not a Christian. As far as I know, Iowa’s evangelicals haven't suggested dealing with heretics the way as ISIS does—I haven’t seen any images of bloody heads rolling down snow-covered Iowa corn rows—but they make me nervous nevertheless.

I’m not a Christian, but that’s not supposed to matter in our country. Remember us, the nation founded by people fleeing religious persecution?

Elections have consequences. This isn’t about a constitutional interpretation by the Supreme Court, which tries with varying degrees of success to balance our two pillars of religious liberty, the establishment and the free-exercise clauses of the First Amendment. This is about the will of the people. Whom do we want to lead us? What principles do we hold most dear?

Are they exclusion or inclusion? Are they fear or hope? Will we help others, as Jesus and the Golden Rule exhort us to, or only those who look like us and share our faith?