Two of my favorite writers on legal subjects, Dahlia Lithwick and Barry Friedman, wrote a piece for Slate earlier this week wondering if the progressive agenda hasn't been exhausted by recent victories on same-sex marriage. "While progressives were devoting deserved attention to gay rights," they argue, "they simultaneously turned their backs on much of what they once believed." I share their sense of frustration, but I interpret the landscape differently. To me, the problem isn't the lack of a robust progressive agenda. The problem is that progressives generally lack power. Last week, I saw strong defenses of progressive goals at every level of politics, from ordinary citizens to the highest offices in the country. From the opposition of activists and state legislators to barbaric attacks on the welfare state in North Carolina and reproductive freedom in Texas, to the President Obama's climate change speech and the eloquent defenses of fundamental values of equality made by Supreme Court justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan, a broad progressive agenda directed at urgent problems was seen in a brief window of time. The problem, of course, is that much of this came in the wake of defeat; even the stirring victory in Texas is likely to be merely delaying the inevitable.
Still, an extensive progressive agenda is out there. It's worth trying to define some of the most important issues that the American "left," broadly construed, should be and are trying to address. I do not claim originality or an exhaustive list; my intent is to generate discussion and thought about what problems to focus on and how to move forward.
Sacred ground, where worldly laws don't apply. (Flickr/prariedogking)
Ready for the next court fight over Obamacare? Get to know Hobby Lobby, the chain of stores fighting the Affordable Care Act's requirement that the health insurance employers offer their employees cover contraception, and the next Christian martyr to the unholy scourge of health coverage for employees. Hobby Lobby's owners are conservative Christians, and though their company isn't a church, they'd like to choose which laws they approve of and which they don't, and follow only the laws they like. And a federal appeals court just ruled that not only can their suit go forward, but they're likely to win. Because apparently, "This law violates my religious beliefs" is now a get-out-of-jail-free card.
The decision is simply mind-blowing, essentially finding that private business are just like religious institutions, and therefore they can decide which laws they have to obey:
Obamacare is well on its way to being permanently unpopular. A problem for supporters of health-care reform? Not really—because the Affordable Care Act could become just as untouchable as Medicare or Social Security. That’s right—get ready for “keep your Obamacare away from my Affordable Care Act!”
At one point in Humboldt: Life on America’s Marijuana Frontier, Emily Brady’s account of her year in a remote Northern California county where pot is the cash crop that drives the local economy, one of the book’s subjects—a native of the area named Emma Worldpeace—talks to a new friend about the pictures of deceased classmates that hang on tackboard on Emma’s dorm room wall.
“Did you know all these people who died?” she asked. “Yeah, I grew up with all of them,” Emma replied. “Oh my god, that seems so tragic.”
One of the oddest political turnarounds in recent days has been the emergence of Arizona governor Jan Brewer as an Obamacare hero. Up until now, Brewer was known primarily for her forceful advocacy of the notorious anti-immigrant measure S.B. 1070, for supposedly wagging her finger at the President of the United States on an airport tarmac, for claiming weirdly that headless bodies were showing up in the Arizona desert, and for perhaps the most epic brain freeze in the history of televised debates. Yet despite being a fervent opponent of the Affordable Care Act, Brewer not only decided to accept the expansion of Medicaid that is being rejected by many of her fellow GOP governors, she actually campaigned aggressively for it over the objection of many Arizona Republicans, and yesterday won the battle when the expansion passed the Arizona legislature.
So will other Republican governors follow her lead? Perhaps, but it's going to depend a lot on their own personal political calendars.
Ramesh Ponnuru has a long piece at National Review imploring conservatives to come up with a health-care plan they can swiftly put in place when Obamacare inevitably collapses under the weight of its disastrous big-government delusions. Though I disagree with almost every point Ponnuru makes along the way, from his analysis of what will happen with Obamacare to his recommendations of what a conservative health insurance system should look like (the fact that anyone, even a free-market dogmatist, thinks catastrophic coverage plus high-risk pools would work out great is just incredible), I'll give him credit for trying to get his ideological brethren to actually come up with a proposal to solve what they themselves keep saying is a terrible problem. But alas, his effort is doomed to fail. Why? Because when it comes to health care, conservatives just don't care. I'll elaborate in a moment, but here's the crux of Ponnuru's argument:
When Colorado and Washington State passed ballot measures legalizing marijuana last November, they weren’t just the first states in the country to do so—they were the first governments in the world to do so. While other nations and states, most notably the Netherlands and California, have decriminalized marijuana possession, the drug is still technically illegal. That means that while it’s tolerated by law enforcement, the government need not concern itself with a full-scale system for regulation and taxation.
Compromise is often an unhappily revealing art. “Ideals may tell us something important about what we would like to be. But compromises tell us who we are,” the philosopher Avishai Margalit writes. In finding compromises with Republicans on the federal budget, Democrats need to remember not only who they are but who the voters depend on them to be.
Commonly referred to as "the DSM," the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is often referred to as psychiatry's "Bible." If that's the case, imagine the outcry if an overzealous publisher merged the Gospels of Luke and Mark, and you have a pretty good idea of the controversy surrounding the release of the manual's fifth edition.
What a drag it’s been these past few weeks to watch the military brass—those kings of accountability when it comes to other people’s behavior—huffing and bluffing and outright lying about what they knew and when they knew it. First we had to endure the sight of them gaping over the news that the sexual-violence crisis they’ve done nothing to squelch since the assault of 83 women and seven men at the Tailhook Air Force convention in 1991 has worsened. Now those same Pentagon officials are shocked, simply shocked, by the military’s spiking suicide rates, despite the fact that those numbers, which have been rising steadily for the past 12 years, come from their own reporting system (and some claim are still an undercount).
Angelina Jolie—a woman with some of the world’s most famous breasts—has explained in a thoughtful New York Timesop-ed this week why she's had them prophylactically removed and replaced. Jolie’s mother died young, after a decade living with ovarian cancer; when Jolie herself got genetically tested, she learned that she had a BRCA1 genetic mutation that gave her an 87 percent chance of getting breast cancer. To protect her children from losing their mother too young, she opted for surgery, which she describes in some detail.
For years, even before Barack Obama was elected, one of the many complaints liberals (mostly) had about the current employer-based health insurance system was "job lock"—if you have insurance at your job, particularly if you or someone in your family has health issues, then you're going to be hesitant to leave that job. You won't start your own business, or join somebody else's struggling startup (unless they provide insurance), and this constrains people's opportunities and dampens the country's entrepreneurial spirit.
That this occurs is intuitively obvious—you probably know someone who has experienced it, or have experienced it yourself. And today there's an article in that pro-Democrat hippie rag The Wall Street Journal entitled "Will Health-Care Law Beget Entrepreneurs?" Amid the worrying about the implementation of Obamacare in January, and the quite reasonable concern that the news could be filled with stories of confusion, missteps, and dirtbags like that Papa John's guy cutting employees' hours rather than give them insurance, to avoid the horror of increasing the cost of a pizza by a dime, it's a reminder that there will probably be lots of stories like this one in the news too, stories about people whose lives have been changed for the better by the fact that Americans will have something they've never had before: health security.
Say you’re an employer with an employee who works 30 hours a week. If you have 50 employees or more come next year, you’ll be required either to provide her with health-care coverage, which the Affordable Care Act will by then mandate for all employees who work at least 30 hours a week, or you’ll have to pay a $2,000 penalty for failing to cover her.
Or, you could just cut her weekly hours to 29. That way, you won’t have to pay a dime, in either insurance costs or penalties.