Friday, June 26, 2015
Three Watershed Moments, One Week
Let's cut to the chase. This was a bad week for conservatives. First, the Confederate flag, the symbol of slavery and oppression for millions of African Americans, is at long last starting to come down in several southern states; second, the Supreme Court upheld the tax subsidies in states that didn't set up their own exchanges, thus preserving Obamacare; and lastly, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, throwing out all state-imposed bans against it.
Where is a racist, myopic homophobe to go these days? Let's break down each of these historic moments in the order of how they happened.
The Confederate flag. All I can say is it's about time this blight on the nation fell. Flying this flag is no different than raising a swastika banner in the middle of Jerusalem. Not only is it a vile and painful reminder of the subjugation of an entire race of people, it glorified a traitorous revolt against the United States that had to be brutally put down at a terrible cost. The Civil War stands as this nation's costliest and bloodiest war, and for the South to continue its romanticizing of this symbol was and is an abomination. But, more importantly, it's an affront to what the country supposedly stands for and was founded on.
But encouraged though I am that this flag's status as a symbol is slowly coming to an end, I remain skeptical that this will lead to any real breakthrough in the thinking that permeates much of the South. The underlying problem in this region goes much deeper than a mere flag. Until the attitudes of the majority of the population begin to change, I fear that nothing substantive will come of this. For instance, when these states abandon their voter suppression laws and embrace the reality of a diverse and multi-ethnic culture, then, and only then, will I start to believe that the South is finally ready to join the 21st century.
King v. Burwell. The surprise here wasn't the what - I had a hunch it would be a 6-3 victory for the Administration - but rather the how. In his majority opinion Chief Justice John Roberts not only upheld the tax subsidies in states that elected not to set up their own exchanges, he took off the table the last vestige of hope conservatives might've had to reverse this outcome: administrative interpretation.
Roberts basically wrote that the law was unambiguous in its language. To put it in layman's terms, the statute always intended for everyone to be eligible for tax subsidies, regardless of whether they got them through a state-run or federally-run exchange. Any unbiased reading of the law would arrive at the same conclusion.
What the ruling ostensibly does is bar a potential future Republican president from reinterpreting what the statute means and directing the I.R.S. to deny the subsidies. Here, Roberts is quite clear:
"Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them." That's the legal equivalent of a bitch slap, folks.
While I don't for a moment believe we are done hearing from the wingnuts on the Right on this issue, for now at least both the Administration and those of us who aren't unhinged can breath a sigh of relief. Obamacare dodged yet another bullet from its foes and, thanks once again to Roberts, it lives to fight another day.
Gay Marriage. To be honest, I wasn't nearly as optimistic about this one as I was with King. Even with Justice Kennedy's past support for gay rights, I didn't think the Court would have the stomach to do the right thing on such a volatile subject. Well, bravo to Kennedy for stepping up to the plate and casting the correct and deciding vote. Good for him and good for America.
This isn't just a triumph for the gay community; it's a victory for freedom everywhere. If these words of Jesus - "what you do for the least of these, you did for me" - have any meaning, then certainly those who have suffered humiliating insults and discrimination at the hands of a majority of Americans who could never walk in their sandals serve as a textbook example.
Now they can lift up their heads with pride and live the life they were meant to without having to hide in the closet. They can marry their partners and enjoy all the legal benefits that go along with that marriage. Perhaps of all the landmark decisions that have come down from the Supreme Court, this is the most meaningful, because it acknowledges a staggering reality that can no longer be denied, either morally and, now, legally: That we are all God's children and no one is above another.
Some will denounce this decision as judicial activism. Let them. Their words will fall into the dump heap of history. The fact is we are a more perfect union today because of this decision than we were before it and that is a good thing.
So there you have it. Three watershed moments in one week. The first from a tragedy, the second a concession to common sense, and the third a victory for human rights. Rarely do we have a week like this. Let's take a minute to enjoy it while it lasts.