2008 Election: Why The Supreme Court Matters

The 2008 election will either reignite the culture wars or provide the first signs that the American public will no longer tolerate the politics of division. Should the electorate choose the former, the war will be extended for a generation by virtue of the Supreme Court appointments that will ensue.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

Sarah Palin’s selection as John McCain’s running mate has evangelicals feeling all warm and fuzzy. Her presence on the ticket has energized the conservative base and rekindled concerns that this election will see the reemergence of a full-scale culture war. Truth be told, the culture war had never ended…it had just been sent into a funk with the selection of John McCain.

While many in the media have focused on the enthusiasm Palin has brought to this election cycle (high ratings and ad revenues anyone?), few have actually attempted to impart the significance of the Palin selection. It’s my suspicion that John McCain, unable to gain traction in the polls, elected to heed the lessons learned by those who are now leading his campaign…those who previously crafted the campaigns of George W. Bush. What this means is that the GOP, once thought to be moving away from values politics, has again opted to return to what it knows best…the politics of division.

Those who think this is a momentary relapse may want to think again. The appetite for wedge issue politics is immense…and the size and enthusiasm of the crowds, at the once lukewarm McCain campaign stops, is all the evidence one needs.

While I believe there is a movement in the evangelical community towards expanding their list of relevant issues…a movement that would likely lead some values voters to reconsider the merits of always voting with the GOP…there must be concern that the Palin selection will do little to advance that shift. Frankly, who could blame these fledgling pastors for abandoning their efforts to expand the consciousness of their followers and return to the red meat issues that have proven so successful in motivating the masses. If nothing else, it becomes a question of financial viability. Vegetarian values may seem vogue…but it’s still the red meat that sells.

What is often lost in the media’s focus is an understanding of the actual objectives of those voters who have seen a new dawn in the selection of Sarah Palin. Yes, the generalized analysis offered by the media chooses catch phrases like “God, guns, and gays”…but the stakes that underlie this culture war are far more ominous.

In fact, the tactics used by the GOP are much the same as those employed by the religious right. An example may be beneficial. For years, Christian conservatives have utilized a strategy of repetitious rhetoric…designed to define their opponents as an imminent threat to their beliefs. The best example is the constant assertion that there is a “militant homosexual agenda”.

Now aside from the Stonewall Riots, a skirmish between subversives in skirts and the police department that sought to harass them, the notion of militancy is strictly hyperbole. Regardless, this hyperbole establishes an extremely effective mindset in the moral minions…one that believes the enemy seeks to vanquish their values and install a new world order. Where this strategy deviates from past propaganda employed by partisan politicos is in its effort to cast the opposition as the aggressor…not the aggrieved.

I’m of the opinion that the lessons learned in the civil rights era serve as the foundational basis for this new strategy. The efforts to maintain segregation (think George Wallace) were eventually viewed as extreme by a majority of Americans. Proponents of maintaining racial inequality did little more than voice their prejudice…exposing their objectives and alienating the fair minded.

In the last thirty to thirty five years, many of those who shared these ideological leanings have reconstituted themselves as evangelicals. Let me be clear…by no means am I implying that all evangelicals hold the same views or that being an evangelical is evidence that one does. What I am saying is that it became the chosen vehicle for a group of like minded individuals intent upon waging war against the social issues they opposed.

Call it a softer gentler strategy…at least on its surface. Insert language that implies one is defending family values and Christian principles…from militant groups who have no regard for our long standing cultural traditions…and one begins to see the shift, subtle as it may be. At the same time, it is essential to argue that the enemy’s objective has no connection to civil rights or constitutional inclusion; rather it is a rogue lifestyle intent upon undermining our values.

Now let’s look at goals. Again, a look at the civil rights era sheds light on the strategy. What was learned from the civil rights era is that any legitimization is apt to insure more…eventually leading to judicial justification, legislative affirmation, and ultimately societal acceptance. When social conservatives invoke the slippery slope argument, they are actually explaining their own perceptions of the process that led to racial inclusion and therefore guides their opposition to any and all measures that validate homosexuality.

Like their black and white interpretations of the Bible, they see the battle against gays in the same manner. The rush to embrace Biblical literalism represents the commitment to this new strategy. As such, any compromise is akin to capitualtion…which means ideology must be absolute if one is to successfully repel the efforts of the enemy. At the same time, the ultimate goals must be disguised and deflected with rhetoric that is palatable to the general public. The door must be shut (constitutional amendments) before they can ultimately unveil their moral manifesto.

That leads me to the latest and clearest evidence of the obscured, but unfolding, objective. I wrote about this subject previously, when it was in its foundling state. As it turns out, the first foray into the execution of the plan has proceeded and is scheduled to be implemented at the end of this month. Take a look at the details.

From The Washington Post:

Declaring that clergy have a constitutional right to endorse political candidates from their pulpits, the socially conservative Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting several dozen pastors to do just that on Sept. 28, in defiance of Internal Revenue Service rules.

The effort by the Arizona-based legal consortium is designed to trigger an IRS investigation that ADF lawyers would then challenge in federal court. The ultimate goal is to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.

“For so long, there has been this cloud of intimidation over the church,” ADF attorney Erik Stanley said. “It is the job of the pastors of America to debate the proper role of church in society. It’s not for the government to mandate the role of church in society.”

(more…)

Monday, September 8th, 2008 by Daniel DiRito |

FISA: Why I Can No Longer Vote for Barack Obama

Barack Obama lost my vote today. I was never a rah-rah supporter, yet prior to the FISA bill vote today, I believed that I could suck it up and vote for whoever ended up being the eventual Democratic Party nominee. For the first time in my adult life, I’m faced with the unhappy prospect of staying home on November 4th.

Commentary By: Richard Blair

As a true, progressive Democrat, this is incredibly hard for me to write.

Since the start of the presidential election season, I’ve been quite clear that Barack Obama was not my first – or even second – choice as the presidential nominee for the Democratic Party. But I’ve been consistent in saying that I’d support the eventual nominee, whoever he or she might be.

That all changed today. Actually, I’ve become more and more uncomfortable with the now-presumptive nominee since the time that the primary season officially ended. Barack Obama has been tacking toward the center since the time that Hillary Clinton quit her challenge in the race. From Iraq, to the abortion issue, to the Telecom Immunity Act of 2008, I’ve watched closely as Obama has tried to grab some middle ground, and attempt to diffuse future criticism of him by the GOP as being “soft on terrorists” and not a heartland values type of guy.

Earlier today, ASZ’s good friend Brendan commented on a prior post that as an Obama supporter, he’s experiencing extreme “buyers regret”. I can understand that feeling on the part of many starry eyed Obama supporters who felt that he was (in essence) the second coming of John F. Kennedy.

Let me pose a hypothetical: would John F. Kennedy have voted for the FISA bill today had it come up during his time as Senator? … (more…)

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

California Supreme Court Overturns Ban On Same-Sex Marriage

The march towards equality for gays took a step forward today with the ruling by the California Supreme Court. While this is a day for celebration, there may well be setbacks should an amendment banning same-sex marriage pass in November. The battle is far from over.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

I realize I should be excited about the California Supreme Court’s decision to remove the ban on same-sex marriage…but the pragmatist in me simply won’t allow it. I’ll explain my thinking after the following excerpt on today’s ruling.

SAN FRANCISCO – – The California Supreme Court ruled today that same-sex couples should be permitted to marry, rejecting state marriage laws as discriminatory.

The state high court’s 4-3 ruling was unlikely to end the debate over gay matrimony in California. A group has circulated petitions for a November ballot initiative that would amend the state Constitution to block same-sex marriage, while the Legislature has twice passed bills to authorize gay marriage. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed both.

Schwarzenegger, who has vetoed two measures that would have authorized same-sex marriage, today said he would abide by the court’s ruling.

“I respect the court’s decision and as governor, I will uphold its ruling,” he said in a statement. “Also, as I have said in the past, I will not support an amendment to the constitution that would overturn this state Supreme Court ruling.”

But as early as November, voters could be asked to render their opinion on an amendment that would again attempt to ban same-sex marriage.

A coalition of religious and conservative activists has submitted 1.1 million signatures to qualify the amendment, which would say that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

Andrew Pugno, an attorney for the initiative’s sponsors, said the Supreme Court decision is a boost for the measure because opponents have been saying there is no real threat that same sex marriages will happen.

“This decision draws a line in the sand and makes it clear that this is the last chance for voters to have a say,” Pugno said. “This is proof positive for voters that the courts are out of control and the voters have to step up.”

First, the timing of this ruling isn’t advantageous. As we approach a critical election in which the Democrats are poised to take the presidency as well as additional seats in the house and the senate, giving the rabid right wing an issue to rally around is apt to boost the GOP’s fundraising, motivate evangelicals to get out and vote, allow John McCain to exploit the differences between the GOP and the Democratic Party with regards to same-sex issues (including forcing the Democratic nominee to clarify his or her position on the ruling and same-sex marriage), and give supporters of an amendment to add a ban on same-sex marriage to the California constitution ample ammunition to fund and promote their ballot measure (every right wing organization is going to pour money into this ballot initiative).

Secondly, I believe that the mood of voters had changed since the 2004 election. That change included less of an emphasis on values driven politics and more of a focus on issues that endear voters to the Democratic Party. Today’s ruling may return us to the days of God, guns, and gays…with a particular emphasis on gays. Should that happen, it would allow the detractors of the Democratic party to reemphasize the fact that they are generally in favor of extending more rights to gays, accepting of court rulings that expand rights even if the voters wouldn’t vote to approve them, and in favor of appointing more judges with similar views.

Let’s look at the chronology to better understand the shift that took place since 2004 and the likelihood that this ruling could facilitate a step backwards in terms of renewed voter resistance. Following on the heels of Massachusetts allowing gay marriage as a result of a 2003 court ruling, in February of 2004, San Francisco and other municipalities began issuing marriage licenses to gays. While all of these actions felt empowering and led to numerous celebratory moments, it was short lived (except in Massachusetts) and likely assisted in the passage of amendments to ban same-sex marriage in eleven states.

Following the 2004 election, Iraq, the economy, and other issues pushed the values agenda to the back burner as voters focused on other concerns. The outcome of the 2006 election supports that contention. As we’ve approached the 2008 election, the general perception has been that God, guns, and gays had fallen into disfavor with voters (or at least been overtaken by other priorities) and would not play a significant part in this election cycle.

If one believes that history repeats itself…and that the U.S. has a history of vacillating between left and right (in a manner reminiscent of a pendulum) when it comes to issue of morality…this ruling could create the momentum needed to effect a shift to the right…or at the very least a halt to the current swing leftward. While these back and forth swings seem inevitable, the timing of this ruling may be the accelerant that sets in motion the unfavorable shifts noted above…sooner than they would have otherwise occurred. That would be a classic example of an unintended consequence…but an unwelcome and unfortunate one no less.

Look, I also believe that the affording of rights can’t always be scheduled for maximum advantage…nor should they be delayed accordingly. History will undoubtedly view this ruling as one of the important steps in the chronology of granting gays equal status. Nonetheless, the journey between now and then may well include events that (similar to this ruling), at the time they occur, seem to be a step forward but that ultimately precipitate a temporary step backwards. As such, the soldiers need to be prepared for the times when retreat and retrenchment are the order of the day.

Today is a time for celebrating…but tomorrow may be another story. It is imperative that we remain vigilantly mindful of the impact our actions will have on the ever shifting political terrain. This means that it is essential for us to be aware of the positions each of the combatants holds on the battlefield. In the end, regardless of the victories and defeats, the march towards equality must never cease. Today we’ve won a battle…tomorrow the war proceeds.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Thursday, May 15th, 2008 by Daniel DiRito |

California To Rule On Gay Marriage: Good News, Bad News?

The California Supreme Court is scheduled to rule on same-sex marriage tomorrow. Both sides anxiously await the ruling…hoping for the outcome they desire. Regardless of the decision, I’m afraid the battle is far from over.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

Most of us are familiar with the expression, “Be careful what you wish for”, though I suspect it rarely keeps us from spending our time hoping to achieve or attain the things we seek. The fact that the California Supreme Court is set to rule tomorrow on whether the state can deny gays the right to marry will likely be a defining moment in our understanding of the concept of the double edged sword.

On the one hand, those who have waited years to have their relationships recognized may see a favorable ruling as the culmination of a dream come true. On the other hand, a favorable ruling will undoubtedly be seen as a nightmare to those who have expended untold energy seeking to prohibit any recognition of same-sex relationships. Hence, how the two sides absorb the outcome will likely have more meaning than the actual ruling.

The California Supreme Court will rule Thursday on the legality of the state’s ban on gay marriage.

The justices today posted a notation on the court’s Web site that the ruling in the civil rights challenge to the same-sex marriage ban will be posted at 10 a.m. Thursday. The Supreme Court heard arguments in five consolidated legal challenges in March, and had until early June to rule on the issue.

The long-awaited ruling is a crucial test of the simmering public, social and legal debate over gay marriage, triggered in 2004 when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom allowed thousands of gay and lesbian couples to wed before the courts put a halt to the marriage licenses.

A ruling in favor of gay marriage could stoke a political firestorm in the fall if a proposed constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage in California makes it onto the ballot. A decision on whether the initiative qualifies for the ballot is expected in June.

As such, tomorrow will bring both the culmination of hopeful expectations and the delivery of disappointment. Needless to say, that means the ruling is apt to inspire one side while inciting the other. How those perceptions are played out in terms of focus found or fear infused will likely have more to do with deciding the future of gay marriage.

So where will that leave us? Frankly, it leaves us where we’ve always been…needing to find the means to communicate with those we don’t understand in order to remove the misconceptions that serve to maintain what has to be viewed as an untenable status quo.

In the end, without real change, today, tomorrow, and the day after are one and the same so long as the issue of gay marriage remains a zero sum equation in the minds of the combatants. Tomorrow will have a winner…but we’d all be wise to realize that it may not be a victory.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008 |

South Dakota: Save The Fetus – Flog The Mommy?

South Dakota pro-life activists are pushing an anti-abortion initiative for November. This follows a similar attempt in 2006. While this measure has more exceptions, the requirements are impractical and the consequences are potentially dangerous. Protecting the unborn shouldn’t endanger the living.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

Abortion opponents are an interesting lot. For years, they have argued that all abortion is wrong as it involves the taking of a life. An inability to sway the public to embrace laws that would ban all abortions seems to be leading pro-lifers to adopt an incremental approach. South Dakota appears to be the battleground of choice.

In 2006, the residents of South Dakota rejected a ballot initiative that would have banned virtually all abortions except for those necessary to save the life of the mother. The measure was soundly rejected by 56 percent of South Dakota voters.

A new initiative appears to be headed for inclusion on the 2008 ballot in November. However, this new measure provides exceptions for rape, incest, and to protect the health of a woman.

When the 2006 initiative was drafted, many felt anti-abortion advocates were attempting to craft a law that would eventually reach the newly constituted…and presumably more conservative…U.S. Supreme Court.

Abortion opponents in South Dakota filed petitions this week that are likely to put an initiative on November’s ballot calling for a near-ban on abortion, renewing a contentious fight over a similar proposal in 2006.

The new language was drafted by South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long, state Rep. Roger W. Hunt (R) and 20 other lawyers. As with the 2006 initiative, passage would probably trigger a lawsuit that could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court and provide an opportunity to reconsider its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

“My job is to protect the women of South Dakota,” said Leslee Unruh, VoteYesForLife.com executive director. If abortion rights advocates “follow what they’ve done in the past, suing, they’ll probably sue on this one, as well. We’re prepared for that; we’ve done due diligence in the preparation for this law.”

The sponsors said their polls show that a majority of South Dakotans support the initiative with the exceptions.

A woman would have to report rape or incest to police before seeking an abortion to qualify for that exception. “A woman who is the victim of incest and is 13, being raped by her father, is highly unlikely to report that,” said Sarah Stoesz, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.

Opponents also said the definition of a health risk to the woman is too narrow because the language implies a doctor would have to be certain the woman’s health was threatened and excludes mental and emotional issues as health exceptions.

While I understand the arguments against abortion, I can’t help but find fault with intentional efforts to promote vague and misleading ballot measures. In their zeal to protect the unborn, their actions often punish those who have been born. For example, previous studies indicate that many women never report being raped and the same is often true for cases of incest.

Requiring these women to file a police report in order to abort a fetus that results from such heinous acts seems insensitive, if not unconscionable. It could also place children at risk should they report an incestuous assault that didn’t result in some form of protective custody or jail time for the perpetrator. Never mind that the incest victim might be in danger…by God we must protect that fetus.

What troubles me most is that these activists are frequently the same people who throw out terms like –the nanny state’ or rail against laws that would close loopholes that allow criminals to obtain handguns. Unfortunately, many of them believe the definition of freedom is relative or open to selective interpretation.

If I follow their tortured logic, a daughter who is raped by her father should find it easier to obtain a gun to shoot her dad than to consult in confidence with a physician about her options to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Similarly, the strategy suggests that a rapist should find it easier to have a weapon to commit his crime than for his victim to abort the resulting pregnancy.

Why not just require victims of unwanted pregnancies to face two trials…one involving the prosecution of the perpetrator…and one to present their case for terminating the pregnancy. Let’s take it a step further. Let’s require that the second trial be conducted by the victims church complete with a jury of fellow parishioners and the pastor as the presiding judge. That way they can apply God’s law and Biblical interpretation to the situation.

As to dealing with the health exception, that could be more complicated. Maybe we could revive some of the methods utilized to identify witches. Perhaps if the pregnant woman can swim across the nearest river (during the spring runoff, of course), she is healthy enough to have the baby. If she doesn’t make it (and drowns), she would have been entitled to abort the child. Yes, that sounds reasonable.

Look, I’m all for protecting the innocent. I simply think it ought to include the ones who have already been birthed…and not just the ones who believe their second amendment rights are sacred. In the meantime, I’m still watching and waiting for that pro-life gun show protest…the one where they read from the Bible and hold up ghastly pictures of murdered people.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008 by Daniel DiRito |