Fundraiser and Linkathon for My Mom’s Health Care Expenses

My mother, Angela, is very ill and needs medical care that we can’t afford on our own. About a week ago I started a fundraiser on my weblog. Thanks to the several generous donors who’ve contributed so far, we’ve accumulated almost $860 toward the cause. Unfortunately, this is just a drop in the bucket toward our ultimate goal.

Les has agreed to let me post a message about my fundraising efforts here on SEB. I’m hoping that some of my fellow readers might be able to pitch in, or might know someone else who could. To learn the full story of why this money is being raised and how it will be used, you can read this post from my blog. If you’d prefer the short version, you can find it on my donation page.

There’s another way you can help—one I just thought of on my way home from work tonight. In an effort to spread the word about this fundraiser and boost donations, I’ve decided to start a linkathon. It’s kind of like a telethon for “Jerry’s Kids” or a phonathon for your alma mater, but instead of phones and TVs we’re going to use our weblogs and journals. The plan: to turn this fundraiser into a meme that’s posted to as many blogs as possible. If you can’t afford to donate (or even if you can and do), this is a great way to help out by informing others of the fundraiser.

Here’s how you can join the linkathon and lend a hand:

     

  1. Write a post for your blog or journal that tells the general purpose of the fundraiser and the linkathon.
  2. In your post, include a link to at least one for the following two web pages:
  3. Encourage your readers to get involved and join the linkathon themselves, and include these same instructions in your own post.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Your donation, however small, can make a difference. And now, your links can too!

Evangellical Christian Mag Gives Constantine a Thumbs-Up

In a review that surprised the hell out of me (no pun intended), evangelical Christian magazine Relevant has given the new Keanu Reeves flick Constantine a big thumbs-up. Recognizing the movie’s similarities to the Biblical books of Job and Revelation, author Kevin Miller praises the film for presenting highly relevant spiritual questions in an entertaining context:

While the theology of this film is far from orthodox, the themes and questions it raises are a different story. Few Christian films have done a better job of depicting the difference between works and grace. And few mainstream films offer such a strong affirmation of the spiritual dimension of life, showing it to be every bit as real and consequential as the physical. Constantine also addresses a number of spiritual questions that seem particularly pressing at this point in time, questions like “Is God good?” “Does He have a plan for me?” “Is He out to get me?” “Is He even there?” and “What must I do to be saved?”

 

It’s an interesting perspective on the film, coming from an interesting publication. Relevant represents the crystallization of what I’ve seen as a growing trend in the the last few years: evangelical Christians of my generation and a little older who’ve opened themselves and their faith up to all aspects of politics and pop culture, rather than walling themselves off from the world.

While I’m not an evangelical Christian myself, I think this is a refreshing change and hope to see more of it. Such an outlook can only be beneficial to relations between those of all faiths.

(Props: The Revealer)

Federalism as a Solution to the Culture Wars: a Proposal

NOTE: This post appeared in an earlier form on my own weblog. I’m submitting it to SEB as a guest post because I think the issues it addresses deserve attention and consideration from a larger audience—especially among thinking members of the political left—than my lowly blog can provide. I’d like to thank Rick Brady, whose comments to my original post helped me find its soft spots.

Rick Brady at Stones Cry Out has recently hit on a topic1 that I’ve been discussing amongst family and friends: the use of a states’ rights approach as a way to end the divisive national debate over gay marriage. Under such a philosophy of government—known as federalism—the states would each be permitted to make their own laws about moral issues such as gay marriage, and the federal government would stay out of it. By removing a few of the seemingly intractable wedge issues from the national discussion, we may be able to alleviate some of the partisan rancor that has plagued our country and focus on other important issues that are less emotional.

An American Tradition

Before diving into the possible pros and cons of federalism, it should be noted that federalism is the constitutionally-established governing philosophy of the United States. The Tenth Amendment clearly gives the states a great deal of leeway in how they conduct their internal affairs. It really could not have been done any other way. The original thirteen colonies were largely self-governing entities. Having just won their freedom from the British monarchy near the time when the Constitution was drafted, the colonies weren’t eager to surrender most of their autonomy to another powerful central government. Over the years, the federalist model has fallen out of favor in the U.S., and this country has begun to function more like a unitary state.

A Recipe for More Division?

In his post, Rick highlights the concern that a return to federalist principals will only make matters worse by leading to mass-relocations by both liberals and social conservatives to states with laws that are friendlier to their philosophies. The possibility for even greater division is a valid concern, but one that I believe could be overcome by state-level efforts to be competitive on other terms.

For example, to offset the effects of federalism-induced migration states could offer attractive tax incentives for businesses, encouraging them to locate there and thus boosting the state economy. They could entice families with an excellent public school system, or draw young adults with an inexpensive, high-quality state university system. The one-two punch of a quality university system and a strong state economy with steady hiring would be particularly effective.

By allowing every state to pass its own laws consistent with regional moral standards, former wedge issues may well vanish into the background for most people. Let’s face it: only about 10% of the population is gay. If you’re straight, are you going to pass up a good-paying job in Alabama (which, hypothetically, has low in-state tuition costs for your college-bound daughter) just because gay people can’t get married there? It doesn’t effect you—the hypothetical straight person—so probably not. With about 90% of the population left to attract through other means, the “red” states wouldn’t be at that much risk of losing a healthy liberal and moderate population.

The Chaotic Potential of Federalism: A Constitutional Solution

Rick seems worried that a return to federalism in the U.S. might cause some states to move to extremes of the political spectrum—passing laws that permit prostitution, legalize drugs, or establish a state-sponsored religion. In addition to creating an even more polarized national environment, this would produce a chaotic interstate legal environment.

I understand Rick’s concerns here as well, but feel that they’re unwarranted. One major reason that “pure federalism,” as he calls it, wouldn’t work in this country is that the Constitution explicitly disallows it through the combined effects of the Supremacy Clause of Article VI—establishing the primacy of the Constitution and federal law over state and local law—and the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which states in part:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; …nor deny to any person within its [the State’s] jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

I’m not a lawyer, but it’s my understanding that the Supremacy and Equal Protection clauses—as traditionally interpreted within the dominant paradigm of cooperative federalism—are the reason that the Supreme Court can strike down state laws and parts of state constitutions. These two constitutional protections strictly limit the scope of federalism. For example, Rick raises the specter of a state-established religion as one argument against federalism. This would be an impossibility, however, since any state-sponsored religion would violate citizens’ First Amendment right to religious freedom. In this way, the Supremacy and Equal Protection clauses offer built-in constitutional protection against the kind of “Faustian bargain” that Rick warns federalism might become.

There’s a way out of the legal chaos problem, too. In the event that the exercise of states’ rights got so out of hand as to make a scrambled mess of interstate legal operations, the federal government would be well within its rights to pass laws directed at ironing the situation out. This is permitted by the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which gives Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce.

Yes, We Need a Marriage Amendment

Rick pointed out to me in a comment on my original post that interpretation I’ve described of the Supremacy and Equal Protection clauses would ultimately lead to the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act. It would be found unconstitutional due to violation of the Equal Protection Clause and possibly the Full Faith and Credit Clause, which stipulates that contracts made in one state be held valid in all states2. With DOMA overturned, the whole point of this exercise—state choice on the matter of gay marriage—is lost. For this reason, I support a marriage amendment to the Constitution, just not one like the Bush administration has suggested.

I propose a marriage amendment that integrates the DOMA’s stipulations about the acknowledgement of same-sex marriages and civil unions into the constitution as an explicit exception to the Full Faith and Credit Clause. I would not support an amendment that included the DOMA definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, since I believe that is up to the people of the states or their elected representatives to decide. Passage of such an amendment would pave the way for federalist principles to govern gay marriage in America and would preserve the spirit of the DOMA. I imagine it would also face more favorable odds of passage and ratification than the marriage amendment proposed by the Bush administration.

Federalism at Work Today

Precedents exist for the successful use of federalist principles to resolve divisive or sensitive cultural issues. Obscenity, for example, has been defined based on community standards rather than national standards ever since the 1973 Miller v. California Supreme Court decision.

Medical marijuana has also benefited from a states’ rights approach—eleven states have passed laws allowing for medicinal use of the drug, with Montana becoming the most recent of the bunch last Tuesday. The federal government’s attempts to stamp out such laws have been unsuccessful, in large part because the state laws smartly invoke the Commerce Clause of the Constitution by stipulating that the pot be grown, sold, and used only within the state. Since the federal government is only empowered by the Constitution to regulate interstate commerce, the medical marijuana laws have fared well in court challenges thus far.

Other examples of federalism already at work include Oregon’s newly-embattled “Death with Dignity Act” permitting physician-assisted suicide, concealed carry laws in several states that allow residents to pack concealed firearms for self-defense, legal prostitution in Nevada, and the end of the national 55 mph speed limit that existed from 1973 to 1995. Many of these issues still crop up in the media from time to time as minor controversies, but nothing on the scale of the current gay marriage debate.

Yea or Nay? The Right’s Federalism Flip-Flop

I find it both telling and frustrating that conservative politicians have consistently come out in favor of states’ rights—when it’s in the best interests of their agenda. On issues such as school prayer and gun rights, the right has consistently favored letting the states set their own policies. When it comes to gay marriage, civil unions, or medical marijuana, however, their take on federalism is quite different.

I realize that conservatives could rightly argue that this accusation cuts both ways. The time has come for both parties to put aside the notion of federalism as a political expedient and to weigh its merit as a real governing philosophy for this nation. Carefully applied within its prescribed constitutional limits, federalism could offer a remedy for America’s deep partisan divides. It might just be an idea whose time has come again.

1Meme lineage: Bill BennettAndrew SullivanRick Brady → me.

2Unlikely, since an exception to the Full Faith and Credit Clause has commonly been made for marriage.

Lesbian Menace Invades Oklahoma

It’s recently been revealed that Tom Coburn, Republican Senate candidate in Oklahoma, said at an August 31st town hall meeting that lesbianism had become “rampant” in south-east Oklahoma schools. The Associated Press reports:

In the tape released by the campaign of Brad Carson, the Democratic candidate, Coburn says a campaign worker from Coalgate told him that “lesbianism is so rampant in some of the schools in southeast Oklahoma that they’ll only let one girl go to the bathroom. Now think about it. Think about that issue. How is it that that’s happened to us?”

Joe McCulley, school superintendent in Coalgate, chuckled when asked about Coburn’s remark.

“He knows something I don’t know. We have not identified anything like that. We have not had to deal with any issues on that subject—- ever,” McCulley said.

Moralistic scare tactics have become standard for hard-right Republican candidates, but this certainly represents a bizarre new extreme in the trend. In a similar incident, Kentucky Republican Jim Bunning said that his opponent Daniel Mongiardo—- a black-haired and olive-skinned Italian American—- looks like one of Saddam Hussein’s dead sons.

On the upside, if such such bizarreness continues to come from right-wing candidates we may be able to look forward to a Democrat-controlled Senate after the November 2nd elections as voters get increasingly turned off by the demented distortions of Republican candidates. Hey, a man can dream can’t he?