11/4/04

We are not wrong

The New Republic has two post-mortems of Tuesday's anti-liberal revolution worth reading and quoting. One, though anonymous, is written (I confidently aver) in the hyper-literary, sometimes tortured style of Leon Wieseltier, though it does at times manage to stumble over eloquence on its way to the heights of purple prose:

There is honor, moreover, in a certain kind of loss. In our distracted and accelerated and gamed society, with its religion of winning, we sometimes forget this. But the many millions of Americans who believe that the tax code should be more fair; and that one of the ends of government is to bother itself about its neediest and least fortunate citizens; and that the morality of the market is not all the morality that a society requires; and that the Bible is not the basis of a democratic political order, or of our political order; and that robust stem-cell research, and science more generally, is a primary social good; and that gay marriage is a question of equality and not the beginning of the end of civilization; and that American troops must not be sent to war ignorantly or dogmatically, or without the means to win; and that the good reputation of the United States in the world is one of its most powerful historical instruments--the many millions of Americans who believe these things are not wrong. They are merely not a majority. But they are a very large minority.

The other is by TNR's editor, Peter Beinart:

[C]ultural sensitivity is one thing; principle is another. In their attempts to win rural voters, Democrats have already essentially abandoned gun control. That doesn't keep me up at night. But gay marriage is different. The fact that it is widely unpopular cannot obscure the fact that it is morally momentous and morally right. Liberals once lost elections for supporting civil rights as well and now look back on those losses as badges of honor. Eventually, since young people are far more tolerant of homosexuality than their parents, gay marriage will stop hurting Democrats at the polls. Until then, the party should try to win elections on other issues--and look forward to the day when conservatives apologize for trying to deny yet another group of Americans their full human rights.


Postscript: I've read in some liberal blogs (this suggestion is usually made by right-wing commenters, but let's take it in good faith) that we should embrace federalism in the service of gay marriage and other causes we hold dear. Let New York, Massachusetts, and the Blue Brethren move forward, and Wyoming will . . .catch up, or something. ("Heterosexuality forever!" at the courthouse door?) A historian friend, "DRF," made the following comment, which is worth posting separately:
I'm going to tackle the issue of a new federalism that was raised by elf and Zack. I, too, have been wondering if we are headed for a new federalism on social issues, and I'm not yet certain about how I feel about that, if indeed we are. But I adamantly disagree that antebellum federalism on slavery was a bad thing. It's true that antebellum federalism meant that there was a period of two generations (roughly, 1802-1865) in which slavery wa illegal in most circumstances in the states north of the Mason-Dixon line and legal in the states south of it. But the alternative to this was NOT to make slavery illegal throughout the U.S. If the framers of the Constitution had attempted to resolve the issue of slavery at a national level in 1787, the result would have been either (a) no federal union at all; or (b) the continuing legality of slavery throughout the U.S. And if slavery had remained legal throughout the U.S. in the early 19c, I doubt that northerners would have gathered the courage to push effectively for its abolition at a national level. Many northerners who opposed slavery in the slavery 1780s and 1790s were nevertheless anxious about the prospect of living in a multi-racial society; specifically, many feared that a large-scale "race war" would break out if slavery ended abruptly without a national plan for shipping ex-slaves back to Africa. When numerous states abolished slavery within their borders and managed to create peaceful (albeit segregated) multi-racial societies, those who witnessed the process gathered the moral courage and political confidence to push for an end to slavery elsewhere. On balance, then, I would argue that diversity in states' social legislation has often been a liberalizing influence, whether or not it's "fair" in the short run.

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