Saturday, January 28, 2006

All Obama, All The Time

Barack Obama is on the cover of the latest edition of The American Prospect. And it's a great article. Here's a snippet:
That he has not pushed through major legislation matters hardly at all, not to him, not to supporters. He is a fledgling in the minority party and, during his first year, 99th in seniority. No matter. Obama has bigger ideas.

Back to the Democrats. The first part of his answer involves some boilerplate about the usual list of issues -- education, health care, energy independence -- peppered with deferential language about wanting to "be a part of the process." Then, he gets to the business about what makes him different: "Where I probably can make a unique contribution is in helping to bring people together and bridging what I call the 'empathy deficit,' helping to explain the disparate factions in this country and to show them how we're joined together, helping bridge divides between black and white, rich and poor, even conservative and liberal." Later, in a similar vein: "The story that I'm interested in telling is how we can restore that sense of commitment to each other in a way that doesn't inhibit our individual freedoms, doesn't diminish individual responsibility, but does promote collective responsibility."

Obama wants nothing less than to redefine progressive values, make them more universal, and unite the country around them. His staggering 72 percent approval rating in Illinois -- a number that reflects strong support not only in and around Democratic Chicago, but from Republican downstate as well -- shows he may be figuring out how to do that. His first year in the Senate suggests a man on a long, ambitious, and intricate journey. It's not too much to say that the future of the Democratic Party, and maybe even the country, could be profoundly affected by where that journey ends.

That quote at the end of the second paragraph, about restoring a sense of commitment to each other, strikes me as money. Too often, the American (and global) social climate seems to be one where we climb all over each other in adesperatee race to get ahead. Very Darwinian, very Adam Smith. But at the end of the day, I don't think most Americans are happy with a social climate that makes us all each other's enemies. We want to have neighbors we can trust our kids with; we want to know that if we run into a hard economic patch, some one will be there to set us straight; we want to be assured that if we get sick, there will be a doctor we can afford giving us the best treatment available. Those aren't liberal or conservative values. They're just American values.

All told, I was a relatively early passenger on the Obama train, beginning to get excited about him even before his stellar Democratic Convention speech. But one of the things the article pressed upon me was how close we were to losing him. In a very competitive 5-way primary, Obama was neither the party establishment's preferred candidate, nor the wealthiest candidate with his hat in the ring. That he managed to take an outright majority in such a field is testament to his incredible political skill. But still, it makes you wonder: What if....

Hitting the Cronies

For quite some time now (October 2005 is the earliest post I could find quickly, but I know I've been saying it since well before that), I've been adamant that the winning message for Democrats in 2006 is an anti-corruption, clean-government, the-GOP-is-power-drunk campaign. And wouldn't you know if they aren't starting to listen. Look at this new video released by the Jon Tester campaign attacking Montana Senator (and Abramoff crony extraordinare) Conrad Burns. Oh it feels good to watch. Check out The Billings Gazette on the matter too.

Meanwhile, Rick Santorum, by far the most endangered 2006 incumbent, is getting nailed on his connection to "The K Street Project," the GOP's on-going attempt to turn the entire lobbying community into an arm of the Republican party. Basic story: he denies that he had anything to do with them; folks point out he's lying. Not good for Ricky.

While I agree with Kevin Drum that the dynamics of the electoral map make a Democratic 1994 unlikely, I still think that the corruption issue will drive a few seats our way that we wouldn't be able to touch otherwise. And as folks come around to the notion that this is a Republican scandal, not a generic "congressional" one, I see this issue becoming only more potent as November approaches.

The Center of the Blogosphere

Though it's mostly on another subject, a line from this Todd Zywicki post prompted me to ask a question that's been niggling at me for some time. He writes:
My impression is that liberal blogs tend to be in some sense larger and more centralized (such as Daily Kos), whereas conservative blogs tend to be more plentiful, smaller, and more decentralized in structure.

Zywicki isn't the first one who's said this--it's a refrain I've heard for awhile now. My question is whether it's true? And what I really wonder is how much The Daily Kos distorts our picture of the thing.

Because when it comes to Kos, Zywicki is absolutely right. Kos is large, centralized, brings together a huge community, is a fund-raising machine, participates in activism--it pretty much is a massive, do-everything hub. And there really isn't any parallel on the conservative side of things. But, and here's where my question comes in, is there really anything else like it amongst liberals either? What Kos has done is absolutely amazing, no question. But across the whole blogosphere (left and right), I think of it as something of an anomaly. Outside of Kos, liberal and conservative blogs seem to behave roughly in the same manner. They have their heavy hitters (Kevin Drum, Josh Marshall) as well as plenty of middling and smaller blogs floating around. Take Kos out of the picture, and there doesn't seem to be any more or less centralization, monopolization, or conglomerization amongst liberals vis a vis conservatives.

Am I wrong about this? I know that "take Kos out of the picture" makes for a pretty big shift in the blogworld, but even still--I think that it's fairer to call Kos a singular phenomena rather than tag it as emblematic of the whole left end of the blogosphere.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Answering the Prayer

Prayers for the Assassin--Review

One of the more tragic traits of America's current political climate today is that opponents aren't just wrong. They're hacks, they're disingenuous, they're liars, they can't possible believe all the happy and moral sounding rhetoric they spout out. It has become impossible to even imagine that one's ideological adversaries are misguided but flawed. Instead, each party views the other with complete mistrust, certain that they have no principles or values, only an endless lust for power--and that they'll say or do anything to get it.

Robert Ferrigno's Prayers for the Assassin styles itself as a revelation of what will happen if America loses the war on terror. Set in a post-Civil War 2040 America, it has nearly 2/3 of the United States under an oppressive Muslim theocracy. But ultimately, Prayers for the Assassin isn't about bashing Muslims or Islam. It's about bashing liberalism.

One of the critical aspects that can make or break a novel is how well it constructs its "world." If it's a fictional universe, is that universe cohesive, uniform, and logical? Or is it built solely to satisfy the plot devices of the author? If (as in Assassin) the novel is set in the "real world", then are the historical events the author lays out reasonable predictions? This is Assassin's first real failing, as the book depends on several wildly implausible leaps to get us from a largely secular democracy to a near-totalitarian Muslim theocracy.

The premise of the book is that nuclear bombs had been set off in New York City, Washington D.C., and Mecca, Saudi Arabia. At first, it was assumed that these attacks were precipitated by Muslim extremists, but the world is shocked when America airs confessions by an Israeli spy that in reality, the "Zionists" were behind the attacks in order to discredit the Arab world. Credulous sheep that they are, the global populace buys the frame wholesale, and the new world order begins. A "Euro-Arabic" alliance invades Israel, which flees to Russia for sanctuary (apparently Russia gets over its severe internal anti-Semitism to do this--a social shift no way whatsoever). From here, things get a bit hazy. Americans convert en masse to Islam, though it is disputed as to why (some say it's because they blindly followed the conversion of a few pop and movie stars. Others say it's because they were sick of cheap, diluted religion and wanted something with some muscle behind it). In any event, the newly converted Muslims immediately launch a Jihad, dividing America into the Muslim North and West, and a Christian South consisting entirely of the states of the old Confederacy.

It only takes one or two sentences implying that the old South is bravely fighting for freedom against the Northern oppressors to realize that the author is clearly trying to affect some kind of psychological guilt release for conservative southerners, caught between their claims of uber-patriotism and the uncomfortable truth that they were the only Americans to openly commit treason against the state (and in the purpose of that most American of ends--slavery). The juxtaposition where this rebellion is justified is meant to imply that the last one is too. Otherwise, why would the only rebel states be the confederate ones?

To be sure, I do think that most American Southerners would not be too keen on the prospect of Islamic rule--and probably would fight aggressively against it. But the problem is that's true for most Northerners too. Not only are most Northerners not Muslim either, but their political beliefs are if anything even farther removed from radical Islam than are the prevailing opinions in the American south. Ferrigno shows zero respect for liberal ideological commitments--the entire spectrum of northern liberal socio-political norms is wiped away without any explanation whatsoever. That Ferrigno views his book as a political conflict, as opposed to a religious one, is further demonstrated by the political geography of his new nation. In addition to the aforementioned (and wholly unwarranted) North/South divide, the primary cities in the Muslim state are selected not for their connection to the American Muslim community, but for their connection to the American liberal community. Even though Detroit probably has the largest and most influential Muslim community in a major U.S. city, Seattle is selected as the capital of the new state (why not just make it Boston and be done with it?). San Francisco is labeled as "Sharia Central," and we are told that the Golden Gate Bridge has been redecorated using the skulls of stoned homosexuals (talk about a political turnabout!). One can almost see the author smirking as he wrote that package--he thinks it delicious irony, we know it's just wild delusion. Because what is missing is why the good denizens of Seattle, or San Francisco, or any northern liberal city made the abrupt switch from being on the left edge of American politics to the right fringe. Presumably, it's because of their Islamic conversion, but that just shifts the question back a notch (as well as raising the ultimately fatal question of why a largely liberal community would convert as one to an extreme manifestation of a religion opposed to their whole value system). The move only makes sense if one believes that liberals are normatively vacuous--that their entire ideology is just political parroting. This may be satisfying to hear for a certain class of rabid right wing partisans--but it's intellectual insulting to anybody else with a political pulse.

To be blunt, there is almost no set of reasonable assumptions one could make in which Ferrigno's scenario would play out. The book tries to draw a parallel between the Islamic strife growing in Europe and America's future. But the analogy is flawed--Europe has not even attempted to assimilate its Muslim minority, nor has it made even the slightest effort to incorporate Islam into it's cultural mosaic (the problem in Europe, ironically, is that there is no multi-culturalism, not too much of it). Muslims in Europe are in a permanent state of marginalization--designed to be a perpetual underclass. It doesn't take a Political Science major to predict ethnic strife resulting. By contrast, America's pluralist tradition and the recognition that "American" encompasses all faiths and ethnicities have made us a model for internal religious relations. There have been virtually no instances of home-grown Muslim terrorism in America; nearly all of our post-9/11 conflict has been with radical Muslim's who have been raised and educated in other states. The failure to even attempt to distinguish the overwhelmingly moderate American Muslim community from their radical Middle Eastern (and European) colleague is wholly unwarranted, wildly essentialist, and probably crosses the line into overt racism. Even in the Middle East, not all Muslims are reactionary radicals--there is, again, no reason to assume (and no reason given) for why in the space of a few years the entire American Muslim community abandons even the semblance of modernist ideals. That there is a powerful and radical variant of Islam in the world today is no answer--that's been true of pretty much every major world religion across history. Radicalism is only a path, it is not (in the case of Muslims or anyone else) an inevitability.

Furthermore, as much as conservatives hate to admit it, there is a real and vibrant liberal tradition in America. When people in San Francisco say they support gay rights, they aren't just biding their time until it's politically convenient to bash lesbians with rocks. Sometimes a spade really is a spade, and by and large the liberal desire for a pluralist, secular, and progressive democracy is quite genuine. Only a tiny sliver of left-wing academia even purports to defend Islamic radicalism as such, and I suspect even this group would default to its underlying progressivism if the prospect of a theocracy hit our doorstep. I hate to make the argument, because (as I said earlier) I don't believe any major American political unit really would buy into fundamentalist Islam, but if anything it is far more plausible that the conservative elements of American society would make common cause with their Islamic compatriots. If any stoning of homosexuals is on the American horizon, it's going to happen in Birmingham well before it happens in San Francisco.

In every aspect, the book goes out of its way to insult liberals and their allies, while at the same time implying that there are no actual liberals at all. The only Christian group to align with the Muslim theocracy is the Catholic Church--traditionally the largest liberal Christian denomination. Perhaps the only positive attribute given to the Islamic State is that it purports to have no poverty ("you can have your social welfare state--but only if you're willing to have women locked in their homes!"). And nearly every character in the book has dialogue along the following lines:
Main Character: This regime is crushing us! We can't write freely, we can't read freely, we can't even think freely!

Minor Character: Would you prefer the old regime? I remember back then, the government was so bad they [banned prayer in school/funded obscene art projects/struck God from the Courtroom/let criminals run amok in the streets].

With all the subtlety of a sledge hammer, Ferrigno is blaming liberals and liberal policies for turning all of America into a parody of its individualist, modernist values. Lovely sentiments, but in the real world things are more complex than that, and conservatives deserve at least as much blame for systematically undermining modernist values as liberals do for (perhaps occasionally) pushing them too far.

Prayers for the Assassin can be an entertaining thriller, along the lines of The Da Vinci Code (although nowhere near at that level of talent), if one can overlook the naked political agenda behind it. This is a bit like saying Darfur is a nice place to visit if one can overlook the genocide, but in a sense it doesn't matter because I honestly think Ferrigno wants us to take his geo-political predictions seriously. Otherwise, why would he be seeking out political bloggers for reviews? If that's the case, then it might be the saddest thing of all, because Ferrigno's vision has all the plausibility of a drug-induced hallucination. I'm not actually going to say the book is completely bad, because purely as a drama it hits a good pace and pulls the reader along. But the political stench so overpowers the rest of it, and is so blatantly partisan, that whatever benefits it might have as pulp fiction are completely eradicated. If you're going to relax with mindless fiction, try to avoid the ones which suck out your soul in the process.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Pro-Life Progressivism

Apropos my obligatory Roe post, I think there are several readers who would be interested in an upcoming Symposium in the University of St. Thomas Law Journal entitled "Pro-Life Progressivism" (H/T: Thomas Berg). Professor Berg has posted his introduction to the Symposium onto SSRN, and Mark Sargent's contribution, "The Importance and Coherence of Pro-Life Progressivism" is already online.

Although I prefer to avoid terms like "pro-life" and "pro-choice", given that I a) am on the fence and b) like both values, I think that much of the positions that would fall under "pro-life progressivism" would closely mirror my own. An excellent quote found in Professor Sargent's footnotes illustrates the point of convergence:
While liberal feminists support the legality of abortion, many have moral reservations about the high incidence of abortion in the United States. Nevertheless, for these feminists, the way to reduce the incidence of abortion is not to burden or coerce involuntarily pregnant women but to press for reform policies to create alternatives for such women. This sounds remarkably similar to what some Catholic pro-lifers are currently doing regarding abortion policy in the United States – educating public opinion and sponsoring programs which offer alternatives to abortion for involuntarily pregnant women. This is not to minimize basic differences between Catholics and feminists concerning the moral status of fetal life and the primacy of women's autonomy. Rather, it is simply to point out possible areas of agreement and cooperation between these two groups at least with respect to public policies to assist women. [Mary C. Segers, "Feminism, Liberalism, and Catholicism," in CATHOLICISM AND LIBERALISM 263-64 (R. BRUCE DOUGLASS & DAVID HOLLENBACH, EDS., 1994)]

I have advocated heavily for this sort of "alternatives-first" approach to the abortion issue. In fact, where I break with most pro-lifers is that I advocate that method to almost a complete exclusion of the traditional "legal sanctions" model, where abortion is outlawed and/or criminalized. I do have moral qualms about abortion, but they are tempered by two major points: 1) That I also recognize the competing value of woman's autonomy which I think is very important here and 2) that I think abortion represents a singularly poor venue for law-based solutions. As I result, I reconcile my internal divide by trying to reduce the number abortions not by prohibiting it, but by reducing the times when abortion is either necessary, coerced, or is "the best available choice."

Anyway, I'm just a novice at this issue. Hopefully the Symposium itself will be quite thought-provoking!

Gun (and Bait) Registration

Interesting story via BlackProf about a Florida bill which would mandate that gun and bait shops offer voter registration. In of itself, I see no problem. But as usual with these sorts of things, the problem is one of disparate impact. A Democrat in the legislature tried to amend the bill to add beauty shops and day care centers to the list, and was rejected. I think it's fair to say that gun and fishing aficionados are more likely to vote Republican, while day care centers and (to a lesser extent) beauty shops might attact more Democrats. By making an aggressive push for one party's registration, while ignoring the other, I think the state crosses the line from fair promotion of democracy into naked partisan gamesmanship.

Show a little class, Florida.

Obligatory Roe Post

It's Roe's anniversary (a friend noted the irony of calling it a "birthday"), so I suppose I have to write something about abortion politics in America today. I think I write abortion much less than most political commentators, primarily because a) the issue doesn't interest me that much and b) I'm rather conflicted on the subject anyway. I remain probably closest in alignment to a Clintonite "safe, legal, rare" philosophy, but my guiding star is that every abortion represents, in some respect, a failure of society. A failure to provide adequate birth control, a failure to make child-birth a real option for women, a failure to stop penalizing working mothers--whatever it is, something went wrong. So our policies should try and fix those underlying problems, rather than a (to my mind) simplistic solution based off criminalization.

So I'd just like to cite a few statistics I think would be of interest. In Jimmy Carter's new book (as quoted by Chainz of Restless Mania), he writes that
Canadian and European young people are about equally active sexually, but, deprived of proper sex education, American girls are five times as likely to have a baby as French girls, seven times as likely to have an abortion, and seventy times as likely to have gonorrhea as girls in the Netherlands. Also, the incidence of HIV/ AIDS among American teenagers is five times that of the same age group in Germany.... It has long been known that there are fewer abortions in nations where prospective mothers have access to contraceptives, the assurance that they and their babies will have good health care, and at least enough income to meet their basic needs.

This leads Chainz to comment a feeling I've had for a long time, that the pro-life movement, as an institution, doesn't seem to really care about the lives of the innocent. I think Feministe once said they weren't "pro-life", they were "pro-birth". They just want the child to be born. Once that happens, they promptly lose interest in his or her future (if they don't become actively hostile to it).

I also wrote two articles in our progressive political journal (The Carleton Progressive) about Roe, one laying out the reasons for pro-choice liberals to let it die, and the second explaining why I didn't actually believe the analysis I gave in the first (links if they become available). A pro-life friend of mine read the articles and wanted to discuss abortion with me. Mostly, I just made an elongated argument of what I said above--I don't like abortion, but I don't think law is a good solution to the problem, and instead we need to deal with underlying effects while keeping it "safe, legal, and rare." But he cited me statistics that said 90% of women who get abortions use them for "birth-control" purposes. I said I was skeptical of the study (or at least how its findings got labeled). He sent me a link, and I think my skepticism was justified.

The study asked what the "main reason" women had an abortion across several categories:
Wants to postpone childbearing--25.5%
Wants no (more) children--7.9%
Cannot afford a baby--21.3%
Having a child will disrupt education or job--10.8%
Has relationship problem or partner does not want pregnancy--14.1%
Too young; parent(s) or other(s) object to pregnancy--12.2%
Risk to maternal health--2.8%
Risk to fetal health--3.3%

I'd imagine that whoever said this totaled up to 90% was only counting the last three categories as not "birth-control". But I'd only put the first two categories as "birth-control," the rest seem like perfectly reasonable decisions by a pregnant mother reflecting on her future and social/economic situation. The leads to less than 30% of women using abortion as "birth-control," and upwards of 70% using it as a response to some form of external economic, social, or medical pressure.

So there's your obligatory Roe post. I hope you're happy. Comments appreciated, but again, this isn't an issue that really concerns me that much. I understand people who take it very seriously--I understand why this can be your be-all-end-all. But even still, I'd be much happier if this issue was reduced in importance in American political debates and we let other issues rise to the fore.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Patrolling the Old Line State

According to Alas, a Blog, a Maryland court has issued a decision holding that the prohibition against same-sex marriage violates the Maryland constitution. That's a positive, but Ampersand is worried that the legislature will overturn it. And state Democrats seem none-too-pleased either.

As Amp notes, to overturn the state constitution, you need the approval of 60% of both legislative chambers, plus a majority of Marylanders voting for it on a ballot referendum. I think that the Maryland state senate, at least, can block this off. With 33 Democrats to just 14 Republicans, anti-gay forces would need to poach 15 Democrats (and hold their entirely party together) in order to pass the amendment. This doesn't seem feasible to me. What may be problematic is the alignment of the state's highest court, which apparently consists of 3 liberals, 3 conservatives, and one Democrat appointed by a Republican whose tenure is too new to evaluate. So there is no guarentee that the ruling will even survive on a legal level.

However, that won't stop it from impacting highly contested races in the state. Maryland currently has an open senate seat that Democrats should hold (but Republicans are making a game effort for). More intriguingly, Democrats have been itching to take a shot at Governor Robert Ehrlich ever since he slid into the office past the incompetent Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Two of the state's hottest political stars, Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, have both declared their opposition to Ehrlich in 2006 election. By all accounts, he should be sweating, but gay marriage is always a life boat for conservatives anywhere. If this was any other election season, I could see the Maryland legislature resisting anti-gay moves, but this is the most in-the-air electoral season Maryland has seen in a long time, which could lead to some kooky positions. Keep an eye out.

Penetrating Ideas

Richard Jeffrey Newman has posted a superb response to my piece regarding the links between anti-Semitic and anti-Israel ideologies. If you start reading the post, this may seem to be a bit self-serving, as he agrees with most of what I say. But he also makes what I consider to be a fair attack on me at the end--that by saying that anti-Semitism is the key issue in the I/P debate, I'm marginalizing Palestinians who presumably have other values at stake. And that's true--while I believe that anti-Semitism is "the" center in the outside academic debate swirling around the conflict, for the actual on-the-ground participants, there are a multiciplity of factors in play that vary from person to person and go well beyond anti-Semitism. I don't think that most of the locals--Israeli or Palestinian--have all that much use for the rhetoric of the intelligentsia anyway, they've got more immediate problems on their hands. But even still (perhaps especially still), their perspectives do matter and shouldn't be rendered invisible as a by-product of a justified attack on the global academic left. So, as I said in his comments, I modify my previous assertion: while I think that anti-Semitism is "the" center for western academic discourse on Israel, it is one of at least two (possibly more) centers in the localized conflict environment.

Meanwhile, if I'm reading this email (reprinted by PrawfsBlawg's Hillel Levin) correctly, then Professor Kenji Yoshino has favorably cited my blog post on his book. Here is the relevant Yoshino quote:
In terms of remedies, I'm with the person who responded to your post by observing that a rights-based approach can protect difference by finding common ground at a higher level of generality. To take a simple example, a right against discrimination on the basis of religion would protect individuals of different religions. I don't think this universal rights approach is a panacea, but I do think it is an avenue our courts and legislatures should explore further. In fact, as our country gets more diverse, I think we will be driven toward this universal liberty approach because the group-based equality approach lends itself to the very balkanization you describe. Last quote: "Ironically, it may be the explosion of diversity in this country that will finally make us realize what we have in common. Multiculturalism has forced us to vary and vary the human being in the imagination until we discover what is invariable about her." p.192.

The emphasis is my own. So is that person me? Well, here was my quote:
When we affirm the right of other cultures to have their own identity free from social stigma, we aren't crafting some bordered ethnic sovereignty model within which they can freely operate and from which we are irrelevant players. It isn't a conference of exclusivity. It's just a different type of shared value: the value of autonomy, the value of human dignity, and yes, as Levin says, the value of respect. I wish for my choices to be respected, and thus I respect the choices of others. This is not an uncrossable gap. Much the opposite, it creates a very strong and very deep bond between all of us as persons that, by protecting ethnic, religious, and social bonds, also transcends them.

I've trolled through the comments in Hillel's posts, and I don't see anything closer what he purports to agree with than that. So I think I can fairly say it was me.

There's no impact here. It's just cool to have a Yale Law Professor say "yeah, this guy's got it down." And like with the other post, it's nice to see that smart people are agreeing with what I say. I love a good debate, but having allies every once in awhile does wonders for the ego.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Cover Four Defense

Yale Law Professor Kenji Yoshino has published what looks to be a fascinating book, "Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Liberties". It also has its own website giving us the nickel explanation of the book's concepts.

Essentially, Professor Yoshino argues that many marginalized persons, be they racial minorities, women, homosexuals, religious persons, or the disabled, "cover" their identity in order to assimilate into contemporary society. "Covering" is a cousin to other ways that minorities try to minimize the stigma that comes with their disenfranchisement. Probably the most well studied way of doing this is by "passing," simply pretending to be a member of the dominant cultural group (for example, a light-skinned black who acts and expects to be treated white); another Professor Yoshino adds is "conversion" (being coerced into becoming part of the dominant group, as in homo- to heterosexual conversion therapy). "Covering" specifically does not consist of denying ones status as a person, but minimizing or "toning down" the more well-known aspects of it. A black woman not wearing cornrows, for example, or a Jew who foregoes his Kippah, for example, would both be "covering" their identity even if they don't explicitly hide it.

Yoshino says that covering can occur across four axes: Appearance, Affiliation, Activism, and Association.
Appearance concerns how an individual physically presents himself to the world. Affiliation concerns his cultural identifications. Activism concerns how much he politicizes his identity. Association concerns his choice of fellow travelers -- spouses, friends, colleagues.

Some people cover over only a few of these, others across all of them. However, all of us cover to some degree, as we all suppress certain aspects of our identity in order to fit into what mainstream society expects of us.

I first heard of the book through PrawfsBlawg, where Hillel Levin has written two posts discussing the book. He's sympathetic, but wary of the type of division that can occur when we put too much attention on what separates us rather than things that unite us:
At the same time, however, I strongly believe that there is a value in conformity. It seems to me that the melting pot ideal--with all of its limits--is still a worthy ideal; and surely the melting pot calls on us all to conform and cover. I fear that Yoshino's argument, if taken to its logical conclusion, leads to a world in which we can all respect each other--a laudable goal--but in which we cannot talk to each other. After all, our communication and identification is based on our common and shared experiences.

I understand Levin's concerns, but I don't they necessarily flow from Yoshino's argument, even if taken to its "logical conclusion." Protection from covering does not eliminate the qualities that we share, it just moves them to a more abstract level. Christians and Jews don't share a common practice of wearing skull caps, but they do share a common value of religious autonomy. Yoshino, I believe, is cognizant of this, writing in his Q&A section that
courts can still protect individuals from covering demands, by relying on liberties that all Americans hold. For example, the Supreme Court struck down a statute in 2003 that criminalized same-sex sexual intimacy. But it didn't decide the case as a gay-rights case. Rather, it said that we all -- straight or gay -- have a right to control our intimate sexual lives. I love this approach because it protects our right to be different, but by focusing on what unites us as Americans rather than on what divides us.

I think that's really important analysis, because it cuts to the heart of why I can support new progressive civil rights projects such as this. If the end result was to divide us into non-communicative cultural fiefdoms, then I don't think whatever benefits we might be able to pull would be worthwhile; aside from the fact that I think inter-group dialogue benefits us all, my Jewish background makes it morally imperative that society has the capability to intervene in other cultures' "problems"--at least in certain limited situations. But I don't think that "equality of difference" paradigms will lead to that world. When we affirm the right of other cultures to have their own identity free from social stigma, we aren't crafting some bordered ethnic sovereignty model within which they can freely operate and from which we are irrelevant players. It isn't a conference of exclusivity. It's just a different type of shared value: the value of autonomy, the value of human dignity, and yes, as Levin says, the value of respect. I wish for my choices to be respected, and thus I respect the choices of others. This is not an uncrossable gap. Much the opposite, it creates a very strong and very deep bond between all of us as persons that, by protecting ethnic, religious, and social bonds, also transcends them.

Yoshino gives the example of parallels between homosexuals and religious persons (obviously different religious groups have different views on homosexuality, but let's focus on the conservatives). Anti-gay discrimination, in its current form, is primarily against "flaunting" homosexuality--you can be gay, but don't let me see it. And while I think that the cries of the religious right that they are persecuted against are wildly overblown, the one area I think they do have a just claim is that in many places, being "flamingly religious" comes with massive social stigma. At Carleton, I know a fair few religious persons--nearly all feel compelled to erect some defense around it. The liberals are quick to disassociate themselves from the Pat Robertson/Jerry Falwell wing of their faith, less they be tainted as bible-thumping Neanderthals. And the conservatives mostly just withdraw from political dialogue completely--they know a hostile environment when they see one.

In other words, at some level religious persons and homosexuals are in the some boat. Religious Christians feel compelled to cover their identity in order to receive mainstream legitimacy; homosexuals feel compelled to cover their identity in order to receive mainstream legitimacy. This similarity of status creates grounds for social change--the right of homosexuals to not be just heterosexuals with better hair can be analogized to the right of Christians to not be just atheists wearing crucifixs. This sort of comparison strikes me as fruitful grounds for social reform in areas where classical forms of communication have stagnated.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Ideological Players

In an otherwise sad post commenting on the demise of the print version of Legal Affairs, Orin Kerr also points me to the latest debate on their site, this one between Yale Law Professor Peter Schuck and Texas Law and Philosophy Professor Brian Leiter. The subject is one of my favorites, whether law schools should strive for more ideological diversity. So far the debate has largely tracked traditional lines, with Schuck citing all sorts of studies saying that there are more Democrats than Republicans on law school faculties, and Leiter indicting the credibility of the studies (or at least, the ability to draw the conclusions Schuck does with the data presented).

Leiter also argues that ones general political orientation is a poor indicator of what one feels about legal issues. He asks "what exactly is the 'white Republican female' viewpoint on the analysis of causation in tort law, default rules in contract, the empirical foundations of the hearsay exceptions, the scope of the dormant commerce clause, the relevance of behavioral law and economics, or the professional responsibilities of insurance defense lawyers?" I'll admit I probably couldn't answer those questions because I don't have any formal legal training. But I'm still not convinced political ideology has no bearing on any of these things. Presumably, all have normative implications--that's why we're debating them. And the process by which we determine what issues or positions or arguments are correct seems relatively constant across various issues--even esoteric ones. Obviously, people do break from the "mold" in their beliefs, and I'd even be willing to concede that there is a significant portion of persons wgo, for a variety reasons, conduct normative legal analysis using a separate value system than their political analysis receives. But I don't think that the way politics interacts with law and legal teaching can just be dismissed, or minimized to the degree Leiter does.

Anyway, the debate is on-going at the site. So we'll see how it plays out.