Last week ended with a rather surprising string of news stories. Some commentators in the news have pointed to one or another of these apparently unconnected events as significant turning points in America's history. That may be true. But they offer me chances to reflect on issues of national concern that I have been concerned about too, and in some cases issues on which I have changed my mind. Let's get started:
The groundswell of opinion against display of the Confederate Battle Flag
To me, it's all about context. Unfortunately some individuals espousing hatred have hijacked that symbol as a tool of intimidation. In particular, this occurred in the 1880s and 1890s as well as the 1950s and 1960s. In the latter of these periods, it was also a symbol for defiance of federal authority. Again, it's all about context. Since it has been prominently displayed in those contexts since 1865, it's display should be limited. Governor Haley of South Carolina is right to ask her state's legislature to remove it from the capitol grounds. Those are the grounds of all the people. A symbol used to instill fear and hatred shouldn't fly over the grounds of all citizens.
Yet if you choose to fly it over your own house, I respect the First Amendment's power to grant you that right. And I have no objection to it flying over the graves of Confederate war dead or at a memorial at Gettysburg or Vicksburg or anywhere else where men fought and died under that flag.
It's about context. I saw a recent Facebook post claiming that a Confederate flag over Gettysburg is as improper as a swastika over Normandy. To me that's a false comparison on too many levels.
One weird story that struck me a bit speechless: a Doylestown area car collector has decided not to display his "General Lee" at car shows this summer. Hmmm. Context tells me that the display of that on a TV show of the late 1970s is a different thing than the waving of that banner by Klansmen in the 1960s. But I wonder if it's a sign of racial intolerance that I as a white boy in the northern suburbs could afford to overlook.
The Supreme Court's Decision on Gay Marriage
It was the right decision. Quite some time ago I came to the point of view that the 14th Amendment couldn't permit the denial of marriage rights to same sex couples. Simultaneously, I've come to better know friends who are gay and really can't stand the idea of denying them the joy I know in my own marriage.
This remains, though, the one great issue on which my religious faith hasn't helped me make up my mind. Biblical messages on it are ambivalent and ambiguous. I understand, though don't necessarily agree, with individuals who find spiritual reasons to object to same-sex marriage. And I think motivations beyond mere bigotry allow some Christians to believe same-sex marriage defies a Christian definition of marriage. This is the one issue on which my understanding of the Constitution and rights in a more generic sense trumps my spiritual compass.
The Supreme Court's Decision on Obamacare
The Court made the right call. And in doing so, they made me more disgusted with the Republicans (my party, by the way) than I expected. For six years, the Republicans have opposed the Affordable Healthcare Act. They've pushed for its repeal. They've failed to offer a reasonable alternative. In the end, they hoped that a technicality from some lawsuit could overturn it. It didn't play out. These were six wasted years, years in which alternatives could have been offered, alternatives that supersede the call for "repeal and refund."
The ACA is a bad law. But I would contend that health care is so problematic it defies almost any law. It may just be time to call health care a public good, a merit good, and make it taxpayer funded. Too many externalities. Too many perverse incentives. By accident, the ACA may be creating a better (or at least less broken) status quo. Shame on the Republicans for hoping for a loophole.
The Referendum on Obama's Legacy
A few weeks ago a columnist pointed to how the two above-referenced news stories as well as the Pacific Trade Pact and opined that they would settle Obama's legacy. Combine that with his response to the Charleston murders, and the blunt acknowledgment that he's a lame duck and I think we have a good prediction about what historians twenty-seven years hence will be saying.
On domestic issues: not too bad.
On foreign issues: not too good.