Saturday, May 16, 2015

Equality is a family value

While my dad was in the rehab center and when my conservative brother came to visit I thought it prudent to borrow Dad's copy of the March/April/May issue of Washington Monthly to get it out of the house (hmm... named "Monthly" and printed quarterly). The reason: the cover article is Can Gay Wedlock Break Political Gridlock? The illustration showed a happy donkey and elephant in a red convertible with a "Just Married" sign on the back and heading into the sunset. Even my 16 year old niece had learned there are some issues we simply do not discuss with this brother.

Of course, with a title like that I just had to actually read it. And then I read a couple more articles.

This cover article is by David Blankenhorn, William Galston, Jonathan Rauch, and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead. I've read stuff by Rauch before and was quite impressed with his understanding. The article in the magazine is six good-sized pages, so my summary will be leaving lots of it out.

With same-sex marriage soon legal nationally the political landscape for marriage has changed. For about 50 years both parties have lamented the decline of marriage. A big part of that has been marriage becoming a class-based institution. Middle and upper class people get married, poor people don't. A big chunk of the article goes into this in detail. This marriage gap harms children because it deprives them of a parent's support. It harms adults by reducing their chance of economic success. It harms communities because the young aren't guided into stable relationships. It harms the country by fueling inequality.

Lots of research went into the importance of families during the 1970s and '80s along with much discussion of what to do about it. But the debate was sidetracked in the 1990s by women's equality and gay rights. The discussion of marriage became a pitched battle with equality on one side and family values on the other. Pro-equality meant anti-family (sound familiar?).

But the ideas have shifted. Progressives have realized that family structure and social justice are related. Conservatives are beginning to realize that a man's marriageability is dependent on his prospects in the job market. Gays and lesbians have realized that they have a stake in the health of marriages. That has prompted progressives to see that social equality of both gays and the poor is impossible without access to marriage. Conservatives are realizing that antagonism to same-sex marriage turns off the younger voters and it is better to support gay and lesbian couples.

The authors make some recommendations. Make a public argument for marriage opportunity; explain why it is important. Increase marriageability by helping the poor join the workforce and handle life in the middle class and by providing community support of marriage. Change public policy, such things as not reducing benefits upon marriage, offer counseling to those considering divorce, support public education of life and financial literacy, and reduce incarceration which removes men from families. Include sexual minorities in all that family support. Do research on gay families, including why marriage matters and cultural factors that support marriage.

Equality is becoming a family value.

Another article in Washington Monthly that caught my attention is A New Agenda for Political Reform by Lee Drutman and Steven Teles. Most of this nine page article describes how Congress made itself stupid by cutting a big chunk of its support staff. That included staff that knew institutional history, how things got done, and could offer independent analysis of what was in various bills, and guide legislators in writing bills. Only in America are the ranks of advisers to lawmakers filled with twentysomethings, even if they are bright and eager. That means Congress must rely on industry lobbyists to explain what is going on in the world, and to write the bills that Congress passes. Naturally, those lobbyists are highly biased. I knew the situation was bad, but I didn't know how bad and precisely why.

All through the article I was thinking this is the situation the Congressional corporate masters want. How would we convince Congress to defy their masters? What reasons could we give? Thankfully, the authors have some, though they know it will be an uphill fight.

The Tea Party may realize that a stronger Congressional staff is necessary to effectively oversee the rest of government and root out waste. The GOP may realize that while they wail about executive overreach they are cutting their power to do anything about it. Both parties complain about out-of-control and do-nothing bureaucrats and may soon realize they need staff to identify and fix abuses. The cost for an expert support staff? Less than the typical Pentagon project overrun, which legislative oversight, made possible by an expert support staff, could reduce.

A third article has only a morsel to share. The title is How Mike Huckabee Became the New Sarah Palin, and is by Ed Kilgore. In 2008 Palin turned resentment of the "liberal elites" who supposedly run the country into victimization, self-pity, and vengeance. Democrats didn't just do bad things, they looked down their noses a "real" Americans. Since then many Republicans, especially Huckabee through his new book, have adopted Palin's line of attack.

The Christian Right, Tea Party members, and conservatives in general have added this general indictment of the liberal elites and their underclass clients:
an unpatriotic determination to undermine rights and overthrow governing norms set down eternally by the Founders of this exceptional nation under the direct inspiration of Almighty God. So liberals were not only mocking the religion and culture of good white middle-class folk, and stealing their hard-earned money (and richly earned government benefits) to buy votes from the lower orders – they were also spitting on the foundational principles of America and defying God.
Yeah, that's what we're facing.

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