I've recently been thinking quite a bit about the current political situation in the US. There are many things that have happened in this country that are wonderfully encouraging, that make me want to cry out with joy, but there are others that are terribly sad.
First of all, I was thrilled by Obama's success in areas of the Deep South. I had heard for some time that there was a chance that he could take both North Carolina and Virginia, but, honestly, I didn't believe it. It's amazing to think that Obama won both the home of Jesse Helms and the seat of the Confederacy (as well as of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University). I just wish Jesse and Jerry could have lived to see it. It's heartening that a moderate rather than an extreme reactionary won in such places.
Overall, this last election day was pretty impressive. Like I've mentioned before, I was very relieved that McCain was not elected. Had the man won, the consequences could have been catastrophic. McCain, undoubtedly, would have implemented extremely belligerent policies in the Middle East, policies that could have led to terrible levels of violence (both here and there). That's not the worst thing that could have happened, though. An even more troubling result of a McCain presidency would have been an almost certain shift in the balance of the Supreme Court. The courts have long been America's protection against dangerous populism (against the majority imposing itself upon any minority) and against ruthless politicians willing and able to create a powerful, intrusive government that doesn't need to heed the rights of its citizens. Considering how ready so many activist conservative judges are to efface substantial sections of the constitution if it suits their political agendas, the prospect of there being a majority of such persons on the nation's highest bench is horrifying. We could easily have seen large portions of the constitution explained away and effectively erased in an effort to build the authoritarian, paternalist state of which so many conservatives are enamored.
That said, I don't have high expectations of Obama (and have even lower expectations of Biden, who has, after all, served as one of the generals of the "War on Drugs," which is nothing but Prohibition reborn). I was hoping (I have to admit) that I would be wrong about Obama, that he'd surprise me, but so far my opinions of him have been universally confirmed. He already seems prepared to backtrack on some promises (like repealing Bush's tax breaks for the wealthy), and the way he's forming his cabinet is thoroughly discouraging. The extreme sort of vetting Obama appears to be engaging in is virtually guaranteed to weed out anyone who might risk doing something daring and to put in place a cabal of bland, ineffectual representatives of the establishment. It looks likely that all Obama and his lackeys are going to do is to give broken institutions facelifts, instead of tearing these down and replacing them with something that works. The system's going to get patched, so that it can hobble on; it's not going to be genuinely fixed. Ultimately, such an approach does more harm than it does good. Our nation's acting like a person with a thorn in his foot who decides to take an aspirin so that he can limp around instead of pulling the thing out and letting himself heal. Honestly, I want a Clement Attlee, not a Tony Blair. Sadly, Obama looks like he's going to be a Blair, a Clinton clone, not a real reformer. Still, he is better than was the alternative.
Obama's election, though it has saved us from the disaster of a McCain presidency, and though it could yet turn out to promote admirable policies, has, regrettably, been substantially undermined by other political events. The passage, in California and other states, of constitutional amendments that define marriage as being between one man and one woman is just shameful. Unfortunately, those people who were disappointed by the success of these measures and who hope to undo them are going to have to ready themselves for a long and difficult fight. They can certainly forget about any help from Obama. He's been clear in his support of keeping marriages restricted to traditional American models. The courts are unlikely to provide much help, either. If provisions in state constitutions could have allowed the extension of marriage to non-traditional couples (and potentially even to groups of more than two persons), then changes to those constitutions will, almost certainly, put an end to such rights. The religious institutions that have backed these amendments have been pretty clever in their tactics. Instead of pushing for laws that could have violated parts of state constitutions, and which would have been overturned as a result, they've changed the constitutions themselves. Now, these new amendments will be reflected in the laws. Discriminatory laws will not violate constitutional requirements. My suspicion is that we're going to see quite a few measures like these in years to come. I also suspect that a good many of them will be passed.
I hope I'm wrong, but I would be genuinely surprised if I were. America is still an extremely religious country, and moral injunctions contained in the Abrahamic scriptures are still taken seriously by many people. There can be little doubt that a substantial proportion of the American population understands marriage to be a sacred institution, to be some sort of magical bond created by a particularly irritable and narrow-minded deity. If gay activists in the US think that popular opinion supports their cause, they're mistaken. They have, as a result, a very difficult battle ahead of them. The best route before was, without a doubt, the courts, but Christian activists are cutting these off by changing the foundations of local laws through constitutional amendments.
All in all, the US is certainly heading in a better direction than it was before the elections of 2008, but these elections have shown that we still have a long way to go. Our society has quite a bit of growing up to do, and those of us who are interested in progress need to help it mature. Our freedoms, the quality of our lives, and so much more is dependent upon our actions, upon how we move our nation forward. We shouldn't settle for half measures. We should struggle for real progress, for actual change.