The Kids Are All Right

Republican Presidential hopefuls keep playing to their (aging and shrinking) base.

Mike Huckabee recently said something to the effect that President Obama isn’t “really” American, because he wasn’t a Boy Scout with a father in Rotary. For his part, Newt Gingrich, that intrepid defender of traditional marriage, wants to impeach President Obama for his decision not to defend the constitutionality of DOMA in court.  (Lest you question Gingrich’s  commitment to “traditional” marriage, I would point out that he’s had three such marriages himself, and in each one, he dutifully behaved the way men “traditionally” behaved–at least in 19th Century France–by cheating on his wives.)

I hate to tell Newt this, but in the 21st Century, traditions are changing.

A new survey from Pew has confirmed what any objective observer can see: a continuing and rapid rise in support for same-sex marriage since 2009. Currently, 45% say they favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, while 46% are opposed. In Pew surveys conducted in 2010, 42% favored and 48% opposed gay marriage and in 2009, just 37% backed same-sex marriage while 54% were opposed.

And despite the current war on women being waged in Congress, Pew found that opinions about abortion have also liberalized. In 2009, for the first time in many years, the public was evenly divided over whether abortion should be legal or illegal in all or most cases. But support for legal abortion has recovered and now stands at 54%.

Independents have become more supportive of both gay marriage and legal abortion since 2009. Roughly half of independents (51%) now favor same-sex marriage, up from 37% in 2009. And 58% of independents say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared with 47% in Pew Research Center surveys two years ago.

When you look at the age breakdowns in these and other polls, you’re left with an inescapable conclusion: if we can just hang in there until the old farts in my age cohort die off, the kids will be all right.

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If You Can’t Say Something Nice…….

I’ve got to say, events of these last few months have really put a strain on my mother’s admonition that “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.”

Okay–let me try. The Indiana legislature did take a (hesitant) step toward rational policy-making by setting up a committee to study marijuana prohibition. It’s only a study committee, but it is implicit recognition of the fact that our drug war policies are costly and counterproductive. That’s a good thing.

Problem is, so far as I can tell, it’s the only good thing that has happened during this legislative session.

  • At a time when poll after poll finds job creation at the top of the list of voter concerns, the GOP majority has been fixated on restricting abortion,  prohibiting   same-sex marriage, union-busting and immigrant bashing.
  • Despite all the verbal hand-wringing about the state’s fiscal problems, the legislature refused once again to eliminate Indiana’s 1008 wasteful, unnecessary and expensive Townships.
  • The war on public education may be well-intentioned (to give lawmakers the benefit of the doubt), but it is anything but informed. One small example: the effort to link teacher pay to student achievement. Sounds reasonable–if you don’t understand the situation.  The likely result would be to discourage good teachers from teaching in schools with lots of poor kids, since available research links student performance to parental income. (There are ways of measuring achievement that control for socio-economic status, but somehow I don’t think that’s what our genius legislators intend.)

    I have a student who is interning at the State Senate. His account of the “discourse” (note quotes) in that august chamber are dispiriting, to say the least. To date, my favorite is the statement made by Senator Ron Alting during discussion of Delph’s anti-immigration bill. Alting began by saying that the legislation would damage Indiana’s reputation; he also recognized that it would hurt economic development and our convention business, saying “we will be impacted like Arizona.” His conclusion? “So be it. I’ll vote for it.”

    Just kill me now.

    Debate and Hate

    Coincidences over the past few weeks have made me think a lot about civility.  A colleague and I were asked to lead an after-play discussion on that topic at the Phoenix Theater; we disagree politically, but have often commiserated about the increasingly toxic tone of public argumentation.  I later participated on a panel at Butler University on the same subject.

    And then there was the appalling conduct of the anti-healthcare Tea Party demonstrators in Washington who greeted Andre Carson and John Lewis with the “N” word, called Barney Frank a “faggot” and actually spit on other Representatives.

    Locally, we’ve had another eruption of nastiness aimed at people who work at Planned Parenthood. Not satisfied with picketing the organization’s clinics, these protestors have taken to disrupting residential neighborhoods by screaming obscenities and threats at the homes of Planned Parenthood staff members and volunteers.

    Now, I would be the last person to deny these folks their First Amendment right to express their opinions, and to do so in ways that I personally find repulsive.  But I can’t help but wonder what these angry and hostile people think they accomplish with such behaviors.

    Take the attacks on Planned Parenthood. I understand being opposed to reproductive rights for women (and let me hasten to say that most opponents of abortion rights do not engage in these tactics), but Planned Parenthood is primarily about women’s health, not abortion. It provides cancer screenings, testing and treatment for STD’s, along with contraceptive advice and education. (In fact, nearly 95% of Planned Parenthood’s work is focused on pregnancy prevention; ironically, that means that no organization does more to reduce the actual incidence of abortion.)

    Do the people screaming all night in front of the homes of Planned Parenthood staff members and volunteers really believe that Indiana would be a better place for women and children and families if the organization stopped serving its nearly 90,000 mostly low-income patients with pap tests and birth control and treatment for STDs?  Do they really think any other provider would fill that void? Or are they simply willing to sacrifice women’s health in order to get their way? 

    For that matter, do they really think these tactics will help them get their way? Do they think this is how you persuade other people of the merits of your position?  

    I sometimes have to remind myself that we live in uncertain and anxiety-filled times; a certain amount of irrational behavior is understandable, if unhelpful. I do recognize that a very tiny percentage of Americans actually engage in these despicable behaviors. My concern is that these expressions of bile are doing real damage to our ability to engage in genuine debate.

    While few partisans are spitting on elected officials or threatening local volunteers, many more are engaging in fact-challenged arguments and distortions in an effort to win political points. Health insurance reform will not allow government to euthanize granny. Planned Parenthood is not encouraging young women to abort.

    It’s time to get a grip.

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