Saturday, November 20, 2004

Voters Matter - why we need a populist approach to equality

Newsday.com - Opinion "Take issues to the people, not courts: Progressives need to abandon their over-dependence on lawsuits to reach their goals and concentrate on swaying voters"

The progressive movement in this country is not populist. Indeed, judging by the reaction to the recent election, that movement is anti-populist. But no political movement can endure in a democracy without the support of the people. So unless progressives are prepared to take up arms in a revolution (unlikely given their stand on gun control), they are in for some rough years.
Over time, though, voters matter - just as they mattered on Nov. 2, when liberalism took another beating - and gay marriage was rejected in 11 out of 11 state elections.

Whatever you feel about the rights that have been gained through the courts, it is easy to see that dependence on judges has damaged the progressive movement and its causes. Liberals "became lazy at some point," says Marshall Wittmann, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute who has worked for groups as diverse as the Christian Coalition and the Democratic Leadership Council. "By relying on the judiciary, their political muscles have atrophied."
The left has no idea how to win over the mainstream in this country. They think that promises of government spending, and the exhortations of various "beautiful people" should be enough, with perhaps the ranting of Michael Moore thrown in for good measure. They don't know how to talk to people, they are unwilling to compromise, or grant the validity of even part of the opposing point-of-view. (Disagree with the left and you are stupid, uneducated or a fascist. If you were as smart as they are, you would see things their way after all. It is not possible they are mistaken in anything.)
Gay conservative writer Andrew Sullivan, who has worked persuasively for a decade to build public support for the cause of "marriage equality," wrote recently that the judicial strategy might be counterproductive. "Court-imposed mandates rub people the wrong way, even those who support including gay couples within the family structure," he observed. "Extra-legal tactics like Gavin Newsom's particularly rankle."
Might be counterproductive? I would say that the legal strategy - or in the case of Newsom, the extra-legal strategy - has set equality back 50 years, or more.

So if we want equality, what do we need to do?

Learn to talk to people. Recognize that just because I disagree with you, does not make me stupid or evil.

Give up on the idea of hate speech. Freedom of speech - a foundation of a free society - means we must be free to insult one another. Nothing will make a ranting lunatic look bad more than responding to them in a calm and reasoned way. Driving them underground, will not make them go away. Drag them out in the light and expose their ideas for what they are. Be calm and reasoned, not loud and insulting. Otherwise you have dropped to their level, and in a shouting match we cannot win.

Plenty of religious and spiritual people are on our side. Use their arguments to speak to religious people who oppose us. The New Testament has plenty of passages about not being judgmental. Learn what they are and quote them to people. The Old Testament contains lots of laws - Kosher dietary laws for example - that are in the same books as are the statements about gays. Why do they cling to one law, and reject the next? (Should we outlaw the hamburger and milkshake, or a cheeseburger and fries because of the Old Testament?) Speaking the language of religion to religious people will not win over everyone; insulting them and their religion will win over no one.

Equality before the law is not an economic goal. It has nothing to do with health care, tax cuts, or foreign policy. This is a capitalist society, not a socialist one. Stick to the topic at hand: equality before the law. And remind people that Liberty, Equality and Justice are moral issues.

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