Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
They Said It:
Although our modern socialists’ promise of greater freedom is genuine and sincere, in recent years observer after observer has been impressed by the unforeseen consequences of socialism, the extraordinary similarity in many respects of the conditions under “communism” and “fascism.” As the writer Peter Drucker expressed it in 1939, “the complete collapse of the belief in the attainability of freedom and equality through Marxism has forced Russia to travel the same road toward a totalitarian society of un-freedom and inequality which Germany has been following. Not that communism and fascism are essentially the same. Fascism is the stage reached after communism has proved an illusion, and it has proved as much an illusion in Russia as in pre-Hitler Germany.”
F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, 1944.
THE “GREAT” BATHROOM WAR.
If you are an “average American,” it probably never occurred to you until a couple of weeks ago that there is some great unmet need with respect to people’s bathroom habits that cries out for government intervention.
Of course, the people in the Obama administration aren’t, by any means, “average Americans.” Having spent their lives creating an image of selfless service to the needs of the oppressed victims of American society, they have most certainly spent many waking hours fretting earnestly about the nation’s bathrooms and who is using them. Samantha Allen described the lengthy and difficult extent of their valiant efforts this way last week at the Daily Beast:
The Obama administration has been quietly moving transgender rights forward for years. Before the struggle for same-sex marriage was even over, federal agencies and departments were bolstering protections for transgender people, piece by piece. Each of this week’s wins can be traced back to an earlier policy. . . .
The Obama administration’s stance on transgender students in bathrooms is nothing new. All the way back in April 2014, the Department of Education announced that transgender students were protected under Title IX’s prohibition of sex discrimination. Fast forward to the present day and Title IX is part of the DoJ’s justification for suing the state of North Carolina over HB 2.
The groundwork for Friday’s transgender health-care rule was laid almost four years ago. In August 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would interpret discrimination on the basis of transgender status as a form of sex discrimination. In 2015, the HHS issued a proposed rule along those lines. Friday’s final rule is the logical conclusion of these more gradual reforms.
In fact, the Obama administration was advancing transgender rights two years into his first term, long before they exploded into the mainstream by way of the bathroom debate. . . .
Once upon a time, the great heroes of the Left stood tall against the dogs, the water hoses, and the police beatings in cities across America, from Chicago to Selma, from Washington to Berkeley, to express their disdain for the immoral war in Vietnam and the rights of black citizens to enjoy the guarantees of the Constitution. They stood side by side with Lyndon Johnson in the fight for anti-poverty legislation and Medicare and Medicaid. They ran the evil and corrupt Richard Nixon out of town. They raged against the injustice and unsustainability of the capitalist means of production, and against the entirety of Western civilization and the notion that wealth must be concentrated in the hands of only a few; against an unjust war.
As the song goes, “Those were the days my friend; we thought they’d never end.” But they did end. And they ended in victories. Which left the next generation of would-be revolutionaries with little of great importance to do, and no real idea how to do it or why.
Yes, there were two Gulf Wars. But they weren’t really the same. They young leftists couldn’t work up any real ideological affinity with Saddam Hussein, a member of the fascist Baath party and a wanton murderer. Moreover, there was no draft. These wars were, therefore, being fought by simpletons, by people who asked for what they were getting, fools who had (can you believe it?) volunteered to go to war on behalf of this imperialist, corporatist quest for oil. The new protesters skipped a few classes, made a few signs, and made themselves as obtrusive as possible, only to find out that no one really cared. Their serious and “self-actualizing” endeavors at social change turned out to be little more than a sad attempt to co-opt the righteous indignation and legitimate discontentment of a previous generation. They had hippie envy and nothing more. They didn’t “change the world” like their Boomer forefathers did. They didn’t really change anything. And they didn’t change anything because there was nothing much to change. Previous generations had won every battle they fought.
Of course, no one bothered to explain this to the young leftists. And even when they demanded “full” equality in the form of a black president, they didn’t quite grasp why it all came so easily. There had to be catch, they figured. It must have been a fluke. How could a black man be elected with more nearly 70 million votes – many from Republicans and conservatives? The fight had to go on, they determined, and their new president agreed. He was one of them, after all. A crusader extraordinaire. He said so himself. And if anyone could fix what was wrong with this oppressive country, he could.
Barack Obama, as you may know, was born in 1961. His mother moved him oversees in 1963, and he didn’t return until 1971. He graduated high school in 1979 – a full 15 years after the Civil Rights Act had been passed and six years after American troops began withdrawing from with Vietnam.
All of which is to say that he missed great Boomer revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. He was out of the country for most of it and too young for the rest of it. And even though he was the child of a rebellious mother who prided herself on her civil rights bona fides and her willingness to fight the power, he grew up on the beach, smoking pot, and attending a posh prep school in Honolulu. After that, he headed, off to an elite California college and then off to the Ivy League. He missed it all – as a child of privilege, nonetheless.
Like his contemporaries, though, he knew better. He knew, deep down in his heart that he was oppressed. After all, his grandmother “once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made” him “cringe.” Naturally then, after graduating from law school – Harvard Law School at that – Obama had to continue the fight and did so by making a very comfortable living in the “civil rights business,” first running a large urban voter registration organization and then joining law firm specializing in civil rights cases – namely suing big banks for not lending enough money to poor, urban homebuyers. And of course he ran with some big dogs, icons of the activist Left, a real, life, murdering terrorist and a practitioner of “black liberation theology” who openly and unapologetically asked God to “damn America.”
After his election to the presidency, Obama continued his “civil rights” activism. He called “education” the “great civil rights battle of our generation.” He called same-sex marriage a great “civil rights victory” over “fear.” He has used executive orders and regulatory authority throughout his presidency to advance causes he sees as and has labelled continuations of the civil rights movement. And, for the most part, it has all come easily. There have been no fights, no riots, no great ideological wars – not that he or anyone else much noticed.
On occasion, conservative commentators – your humble correspondents included – like to have a little bit of fun at Jesse Jackson’s expense. If you list the number of times and the number of events that he has compared to “Selma,” it’s not hard to see why. Jackson has called everything from Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law to dining hall labor protests at Yale to the elimination of collective bargaining for public sector unions in Wisconsin the “new Selma.” If Pat Moynihan were still alive, he’d call this “defining Selma down.” And it’s very similar to what Barack Obama has done and continues to do with respect to “civil rights” regulation.
The simple fact of the matter is that the great civil rights battles in the country are already won. And they were won long before Barack Obama even graduated high school. Just as Jackson’s repeated invocation of Selma does grave disservice to the actual marchers at Selma, who suffered actual violence at the hands of actual corrupt and racist representatives of government, so Obama’s constant invocation of the broader civil rights movement does a grave disservice to those who fought and died for real advancement in the face of real government resistance.
It’s important to understand that what Obama is doing here is perfectly and utterly mundane. It is not brave. It is not bold. It is both easy and painless. All he is doing is activating the mechanism of government to advance his preferred ends. By contrast, the real civil rights activists – from the school children in Topeka to the marchers at Selma to the rioters at Stonewall – fought against the government and did so fearlessly. They took on the government, the sole power in society with a claim to legitimate use of violence and coercion. And they did so because the government denied them the rights granted to them by their Creator and explicitly promised to them by the Founding documents. They demanded that they be treated justly – often at real and palpable risk to their own safety and well-being.
The contemporary Left, of course, does nothing of the sort. It merely invokes the specter of anti-black, anti-minority, anti-gay hatred and violence and appropriates it for its own ideological ends. Part of its motivation is the desire to tell itself that the fact that the Democratic Party is now run principally by billionaire and millionaire corporatists hasn’t changed its historic role as a great noble a warrior for equality.
Unfortunately, the other part of its motivation is political. Obama likes to present himself as a civil rights warrior, but he is first and foremost a politician who knows that political power can be maintained only if the source of that power remains viable. A point in fact is the sad truth that the Left needs minorities to remain poor and thus to remain dependent on them.
As such, it is hard to take Obama or his fellow crusaders any more seriously than those protesters who mulled around on campus for a few weeks trying to defend Saddam Hussein from American smart bombs. To put it bluntly, transgender bathroom business isn’t Stonewall or Selma. It just isn’t. And to make the comparison demeans and diminishes everyone involved.
Nearly twenty years ago, then Congressman JC Watts, who was about to deliver the Republican response to Bill Clinton’s State of the Union address, decried “some” leaders in the black community, whom he called “race-hustling poverty pimps,” which the New York Times described as men whose “careers depend on keeping black people dependent on Government.” Watts drew a great deal of criticism for the comments, notably from fellow Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., who – for some reason or another – assumed that Watts was talking about his father.
More recently, Van Jones, the hardcore leftist fired early in the Obama administration after he was publicly exposed as a hardcore leftist, warned that Donald Trump was a legitimate threat to Hillary Clinton’s ambitions. “In order for the Democrats to win the White House they don’t have to get 50 percent of the black vote or 60, or 70, or 80, or 90,” Jones said, “Democrats in order to win historically need 90 to 92 percent of the black vote.” Democrats MUST motivate minorities to vote. And they do so, in part, by perpetuating the notion that Republicans are making them poor and denying them equality.
A similar phenomenon is almost certainly at work in the Obama administration’s efforts with respect to bathroom behavior. Obama – and again, the Left more generally – sees himself as the great liberator, the man protecting the world’s oppressed from the forces of darkness, i.e. Republicans. But he is running out of people to protect, and because he is, the game is becoming more and more obvious. Before Justice Scalia’s death this spring, the Supreme Court of the United States was both nominally conservative and virtually overrun with Catholics (6 of 9 justices). And yet, this conservative and Catholic Supreme Court essentially made same-sex marriage the law of the land. Minorities had the Civil Rights Act. Women had Title IX. Most of the country had impeded if not outright banned discrimination against people based on creed, color, sex, and sexual orientation. And the right to marry was assured. By a bunch of Papists!
Back during the George W. Bush administration, the Democrats used to get apoplectic with Karl Rove because he leveraged the culture wars to his boss’s advantage. He encouraged states to hold referenda on gay marriage, knowing full well that these votes would “rally the base” and help keep Republican officials – including his boss – in office. Of course, the politics of gay marriage has changed so dramatically over the last decade that the proverbial shoe is now on the other foot – or at least it was. Obama and his political gurus did precisely what Rove did, only in reverse, using support for gay marriage to rally their base. But that doesn’t work anymore. Now that gay marriage is constitutionally sanctioned, Obama et al. have had to move on. And they’ve moved on to something so bizarrely trivial as bathrooms because they have nothing else. They have no choice but to maintain their image as the defenders of the oppressed, and they’ll do whatever is necessary to convince people that someone, somewhere is oppressed, even if they have to fabricate both an oppressor and an oppressed class in the process.
Now, under most circumstances, we might be willing to dismiss this self-glorification and the manipulation of policy to enhance and maintain political power as, more or less, politics as usual in the post-democratic state. But there’s a great deal more to it than that, and it has everything to do with this notion that the great “civil rights” fights are over and that the Left is doing little more than fabricating victims to “protect.”
As you undoubtedly know, the current conventional wisdom in and around Washington is that Donald Trump and his voters represent a huge and telling break with the politics of the past, that the Trump “revolution” is somehow indicative of the breakdown of various national institutions, most notably the Republican Party. We don’t necessarily disagree with this notion in principle. What we see though is less an instantaneous revolution and more the maturation of a phenomenon that has been growing for decades. Trump voters, for the most part, are also Huckabee voters. They are also Buchanan voters. They are voters who have been unhappy with the Inside-the-Beltway Republican Party for nearly a quarter century. There are more of them now, of course. And they’re all a little more upset than they were before. And they have been invigorated success of the Tea Party (which nevertheless remains a different but related phenomenon). But this is NOT a new phenomenon. Trump voters have been around for decades, waiting for Trump to find them.
For our money, the real “revolution” is on the Democratic side of the aisle. We can dismiss some of the Sanders phenomenon as simple distaste for the manifest politically incompetence of “inevitable” nominee Hillary Clinton. She is, after all, a terrible campaigner, and is carrying more baggage than a professional football team on the way to a road game. But the cold hard truth is that she should be winning much more easily than she is, these shortcomings notwithstanding. And the fact that she is not is reflective of a groundswell of statism unlike anything this country has ever witnessed.
More people want big government today than at any time in the past. They want the comfort, the sense of protection, the sense of security that big government promises. They want the government to handle all of their problems and to make those problems go away. In short, they are lining up to buy what Bernie Sanders is selling.
Critics say these people want socialism. But that isn’t really what this is about. True socialism is dead, and the country is not at risk of a Marxist takeover, as we have said in these pages recently. Even Sanders concedes as much. What’s fascinating, we think, is that if you take a look at Sanders’ supporters, the one thing that stands out, the characteristic that unites them is their ordinariness. They may like to play dress-up socialist, but they would hate real socialism because they are the average people who would suffer most and most immediately under real socialism.
They’re the white-bread, middle-class hipsters; they’re kids who went to school to get largely useless degrees, borrowing money they didn’t have any intention of paying back; they’re the people whom the (marginally) conservative columnist David Brooks labeled “bobos” nearly twenty years ago. They’re the “bourgeois bohemians” who constitute the “new” upper class. And they’d get crushed by socialism. But, for whatever reason, they still want big government. And they want it in their lives, in their bedrooms, and now in their bathrooms as well. They want it to regulate all aspects of society. They want it to create a world in which all threats to their happiness and sensitivities are regulated. This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. But it certainly has reached a new heights and new mass appeal, which caught nearly everyone, including Hillary Clinton, by surprise. Moreover, it is all moving way too fast for her to catch up. Bernie’s caught the wave, accidentally maybe, but now he is riding it for all its worth.
All of this, we suppose, has something to do with wanting a clear and worthwhile purpose in life, as we mentioned above. After all, this may be the first generation in human history that has no other real purpose. They ben asked for nothing, but have been given everything. So, it is not surprising that they are different.
Truly dedicated and observant readers may well recall that we have always been somewhat to the libertarian side on the question of same-sex marriage. We have no desire to tell people whom they can or cannot love. We have no reason to believe that gay men and women can’t or shouldn’t form long-term, monogamous relationships. We have never believed that it is particularly productive to restrict the legal rights of same-sex couples. Moreover, we have never thought that same-sex couples pose anywhere near the size and potency of threat to the institution of marriage as does the casual and careless denigration of the convention by contemporary heterosexuals. Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, to name just two, have arguably done far more to damage the institution of marriage than any gay couple anyone can name.
All of that said, we’re generally unhappy with the means by which gay marriage came to be reality in this country. The gay marriage debate in this country has been anything but libertarian. Above, we mentioned the riots or the uprising at Stonewall Inn in 1969, an event or series of events considered the beginning of the gay rights movement. Consider, for a moment, precisely what happened at Stonewall. WGBH, the Boston PBS affiliate, described the events at Stonewall as follows:
In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in the Greenwich Village section of New York City. Such raids were not unusual in the late 1960s, an era when homosexual sex was illegal in every state but Illinois. That night, however, the street erupted into violent protests and demonstrations that lasted for the next six days. The Stonewall riots, as they came to be known, marked a major turning point in the modern gay civil rights movement in the United States and around the world. . . .
New York City had the largest gay population in the United States. It was also the city that most aggressively upheld anti-sodomy laws. In the mid-1960s New York created police vice squads to raid gay bars and baths, and began using decoys to solicit and entrap gays. By 1966 over 100 men a week were arrested as a result of this effort. “It was a nightmare for the lesbian or gay man who was arrested and caught up in the juggernaut but it was also a nightmare for the lesbians or gay men who lived in the closet,” Yale Law School professor William Eskridge says in the film. “This produced an enormous amount of anger within the lesbian and gay community in New York City. Eventually something was bound to blow.”
The Stonewall Inn was not a fancy establishment — even its regular customers described it as a dive. Operated by the Mafia, the bar served watered-down drinks without a liquor license. Its two dark rooms had no running water — just a tub where the drinking glasses were rinsed for reuse. The Stonewall Inn was, however, one of the only places gay people in New York City could socialize, providing a rare haven where they could drink, dance to the jukebox, and be themselves.
Previous raids of the Stonewall Inn had resolved peacefully. Typically, after police made some arrests, the bar shut down, reopening for business just a few hours later. But the raid on June 28th was different: patrons at the Stonewall resisted arrest and the police quickly lost control of the situation. A crowd gathered on the street outside the Stonewall, forcing police to barricade themselves in the bar. Riot officers wearing helmets and armed with nightsticks descended on the scene. The violent protests and demonstrations that erupted that night continued for almost a week.
Note that what happened at Stonewall was libertarianism writ large; a complete and unambiguous rejection of government intrusion into private lives. The patrons of the bar – and by extension the gay community throughout New York and throughout the country – were tired of the government treating them unjustly. They were tired of government enforcing its cruel and insufferable laws. Stonewall was more than a mere rebellion. It was an overt and invigorating declaration of independence, a cry for liberty against the Leviathan.
Now consider the difference between what happened at Stonewall with what has happened in the process of achieving marriage equality. In the former, the state was the enemy, the imposer of domineering hegemony. In the latter, by contrast, the state was the principal ally, but still the imposer of domineering hegemony. Brendan O’Neill, the editor of the libertarian-leaning Spiked magazine, has called this a transformation from a “politics of autonomy” to a politics of validation. “For much of the past 50 years,” O’Neill wrote last year, “radical gay-rights activism was in essence about saying ‘We do not need the approval of the state to live how we choose’; now, in the explicit words of The Politics of Same-Sex Marriage, it’s about seeking ‘the sanction of the state for our intimate relationships’.”
The evolution of public policy regarding gay marriage, in this country and throughout the Western world, is the story of unmitigated growth in government authority. For a variety of reasons, but especially because of the Left’s desire to increase the size and scope of government, the gay rights movement has been appropriated by those who seek government-imposed conformity above all. The movement transformed from a movement seeking liberty to one seeking a new and unchallenged orthodoxy. Make no mistake about it: the process by which gay marriage was achieved in this country constitutes the single largest expansion of government in recent memory. The statists once demanded that the government regulate all economic and business matters. Today, they demand that the government regulate even all personal matters. The state is now in charge of deciding what relationships are acceptable.
For a long time, many on the political Right – ourselves included – have thought that the future social tranquility depends entirely on the willingness of the victors in the culture wars to be magnanimous in their triumph. If, for example, we have any hope of keeping the conflict between marriage equality and religious liberty from tearing the country apart, the burden will fall on those who have achieved legal equality not to demand complete religious equality as well. With state sanction for marriage, there would be no need to push for church sanction – unless, that is, one intended to destroy the church’s ability to decide on the meaning and application of its own beliefs. Or so we thought.
As it turns out, though, there is no leeway here. The state has decided what is and is not legitimate, and the state can broach no dissent. Bakers, photographers, reception hall owners have no ability under our expanded government to dispute the Leviathan’s pronouncements. The state is all powerful. And those who do not comply with its demands will be branded enemies of the state.
Of course, this is not the end of it. The Sanders Revolution – and the Obama Revolution as well – demands bigger and bigger government. It is not enough that government should tell us what relationships are and are not legitimate. It is now necessary for government to go further, to tell us where we can and should go to the bathroom.
Most of the conservative commentators upset with last week’s bathroom-themed “dear colleague” letter on from the Obama administration are upset specifically about the threat that the letter poses to federalism, to the rights reserved to the states and to the people. As the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal put it:
The directive on bathroom facilities for transgender students, sent last Friday by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education to every public school district in the country, is not the first time the Obama Administration has swept American institutions under its administrative control.
In April 2011 Education, backed by Justice, sent every institution of higher learning what has come to be known in academia as the “Dear Colleague” letter. They don’t mean that in a friendly way. That 19-page letter described how the feds wanted every college and university to comply with the Administration’s expanding definition of Title IX requirements on sexual harassment. The letter wasn’t a law or even a regulation. It was described as “guidance.” As the nation’s public schools learned Friday, this gives “guidance” new meaning.
That meaning is that the Obama Administration intends to obliterate what is left of federalism, the principle that states retain powers not delegated to the national government. How else can one interpret Friday’s “guidance” on bathrooms, locker rooms and sports teams to public grade schools and high schools, long considered a symbol of local control?
The Administration’s letter to its “colleagues” in the nation’s public schools brings to mind Little Red Riding Hood, standing innocently before the large, smiling figure in granny clothes, except for the disconcertingly big, sharp teeth. The Obama teeth emerge on page two of the Education Department’s letter: “As a condition of receiving Federal funds . . .” Yes, unless the schools “treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for the purposes of Title IX,” the school district may lose federal funds.
This is indeed a stunning development. And given that one half of The Political Forum wrote his master’s thesis on Title IX, we can guarantee you that this hardly intent of the legislators when they passed the United States Education Amendments of 1972. Nevertheless, the striking thing from our perspective is the now total control of all aspects of human activity demanded by the state. The state now demands to have a say even in the matter of how, when, and where people use the bathroom. Thirty, twenty, even ten years ago, this very idea would have been considered completely unthinkable. If, in 2008, you had written that the goal of government was to regulate bathroom behavior, that Barack Obama was intent on telling you and your children what is acceptable AND necessary in the restroom, you would have been dismissed as a crank. And rightly so. Yet here we are.
For our part, we’ve always thought that the conflation of homosexuality and transgenderism was a mistake, that the “T” in LGBT was somewhat out of place. The federal government, however, has no such misgivings. The experts on “transgenderism” generally acknowledge that the condition is deeply psychological, even if possibly a natural occurrence. As Paul McHugh, the former psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, put it a 2014 Wall Street Journal piece, “Claiming that [trangenderism] is civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder.” Clearly, that differentiates the condition from homosexuality in significant and incalculable ways.
Not that the government has any intention of acknowledging this. To many on the Left, transgenderism represents everything they seek – personal affirmation, political power, and the justification for the ongoing expansion of government. The actual needs and requirements of those who are affected by trangenderism are irrelevant to the Left. Indeed, the condition is tacitly encouraged to validate government intervention. This is the end result of Sanders phenomenon – and of the Obama phenomenon before it.
So where does it lead? We’ll be damned if we know. As we said above, in the past, young activists fought for and earned social and political change, eventually turning their effort and success into political capital. This time, though, there is nothing to win. There is no fight. There will be no success or enemy vanquished. There is no political capital to be earned. They will all but certainly win the great bathroom war. But to what end? They’ll be able to sit around drinking their lattes, patting themselves on the back, but whom will they have helped? What “change” will they have achieved? And what will they demand next? How far can they push their meaningless battle before there is pushback, particularly from those who know better, given their own history of struggle?
Everyone knows that the Republican Party is in big trouble this year. But the Democratic Party is in trouble too, probably bigger trouble than the GOP. The Democrats can’t afford to lose this election, thereby demonstrating frustration with their spurious domestic agenda. But they can’t really afford to win either. What will they do for an encore? How will they top the bathroom battle? If they try, they may alienate what’s left of the “moderate middle” in the country. But if they don’t, they’ll lose their raison d’etre; they too will become a meaningless husk of a once-relevant political party.
From our perspective, we think they’d be better off losing. At least President Trump would provide them an enemy against whom to fight and a reason to still exist as a party. If they win, however, they’ll be dissatisfied, no matter what the government does. And like the GOP this year, they’ll eventually get around to burning their whole party down.