I’ve been thinking about the current rumours of Hillary Clinton entering the Obama administration as Secretary of State, and find that I’m not particularly surprised or disappointed. While I have little respect for her political style and even less regard for her leadership skills (manifestly demonstrated in the primary campaign, where she failed to control her own team with even minimal competence), the State Department might be a good fit for her. She has claimed over and over that she has the chops for international relations, threat-management, and tough negotiation, and a job in State would give her a chance to put up or shut up. The portfolio comes with a substantial amount of executive power, but keeps her well away from those “3 AM” decisions on which I do not, in fact, trust her judgement. It also leaves her responsible for cleaning up a good bit of the Iraq War fallout, which is a nice penance for a bad call (her vote to authorize said war).
The main problem will be Bubba Clinton playing backseat-driver, but that threat might even be turned into an advantage provided Obama proves sufficiently adept at directing his staff and keeping them on message. His electoral camnpaign was notoriously disciplined and dead-on in every strategic move, which speaks well for his choice of advisors, his administrative abilities, or both. His early appointments (and rumoured appointments) include some noticably larger egos, however, than those following him on the campaign trail. Emanuel I can see being kept in line, but old Bill? He couldn’t even stay on message during his wife’s primary battle, and he’s a first-rate attention whore. That said, if Obama can keep Hillary onboard with his foreign agenda, the raft of international contacts built up in Bubba’s eight years in the White House might help Obama to begin the process of repairing and strengthening America’s standing in the world. The jubilant crowds greeting the Obama victory in corners far and wide were a good first step, but a lot of concrete, practical, substantive changes in policy and behaviour will need to come together for that goodwill to blossom and pay dividends.
On the way to work this afternoon I passed a large demonstration outside the local LDS (Mormon) Church. They were protesting the recent passage of an amendment to the state constitution that defines marriage strictly as the union of one man and one woman, thus overturning (they hope) the decision earlier in the year by the state supreme court that legalized homosexual marriages in California. As much as I hate having to depend on the courts for such things (on account of our legislators being cowards and our citizenry ignorant), I am fairly confident the measure will be overturned, either within California or at the federal level. These protests, while unlikely to influence any of the church-going bigots, should help to keep up the media pressure and stimulate discussion of the legal issues.
Support for a ban on marriage by committed same-sex partners strikes me as the most blatant hypocrisy. All this Christian talk about stable families and family values break down in the face of such irrational bigotry. Their position depends on two essential arguments: on the Bible condemning male-male relations (though it says nothing about lesbians), and on ignorance as to the origins of homosexual attraction. The first is erroneously labelled a “moral” argument, which is an incoherent statement so far as I’m concerned; morality should depend upon a credible system of ethics, not on the caprice of a bronze-age priesthood. As for the second, given the fantastic weight of scientific (neurological) and psychological evidence, I am appalled that people can still make the claim that homosexuality is some kind of choice, and that exposing children to homosexual relationships will somehow “encourage” them to choose a queer lifestyle. My mother, in fact, takes this line: she wants to make sure her grand-daughter does not grow up in a world where homosexuality is accepted as normal. Needless to say, I am disgusted with her.
But the thing this keeps coming back to for me is that legal rationale. I haven’t found a prop. 8 supporter yet who can explain to me how this kind of discrimination is different in any of its fundamentals from the arguments for “separate but equal” facilities in the pre-civil rights era. They say that “civil unions” offer most of the same legal benefits as a marriage, so the gays should be content with that. But what matters is the word, the very idea, of marriage. In our society, saying “my civil partner” does not have the same emotional force as saying “my husband” or “my wife”. With everyone, gay and straight, taught from early childhood that marriage and family are the highest ideals of a loving relationship, what sense does it make to deny the right to about ten per cent of the population? Separate but equal is anything but equal, and since it did not stand up in the case of racial discrimination, why should we return to it now?
Right, so I’m sitting in my favourite coffee house, just outside the university grounds in Newport Beach. As I’m setting up my computer and waiting for my appointment to arrive I find myself unable to ignore the conversation at the next table. (This is a constant issue for me. I am unable to filter out ambient sounds, which is probably part of the reason I became an effectrive multitasker; if I couldn’t do my work while following two or three conversations I would have gone insane and never left the house!) And what are these birds talking about? Why, the miseries of being filthy rich, of all things!
If you can believe it, one of them is bitching up a storm about how things are always breaking down in her house and how she has to keep calling out a maintenance man. Get this: she has thirteen bathrooms in her home! With that much plumbing to maintain, I guess it’s not surprising that she has regular repair issues, but why the hell is she complaining to her friends about how much trouble this is? If she can afford a home with thirteen bathrooms, life is obviously treating her pretty well! (She has also had a live-in nanny since her kids were born, which is unbelievably self-indulgent.)
My question is purley rhetorical, of course. People will always have problems in life to complain about, and her life-experience is undoubtedly so caught up in the world of wealth that there is no unconscious need to consider her situation from an outsider’s perspective. It says something about the impact of our early lives (and, to some extent, to continuing life experiences) on our psyches, where the material conditions to which one is accustomed become the baseline against which all other lives can be judged. We really are so much a product of our social environments, after all.
Well, the election is over and I managed not to make any substantive comments on-line about it. I really am having a hard time keeping up the habit of writing here; it just slips my mind day after day. Oh, well. Not that I’m short on opinions! 😉 But perhaps another day; my appointment has just arrived.