Friday, August 31, 2012

2012 Republican National Convention

I finally got a chance to watch the Republican National Convention.  I have had to resort to transcripts and excerpts before today.

We started the evening by spending Date Night watching the new movie 2016.  I was unfamiliar with the "anti-colonial" model of President Obama, and it certainly makes more sense than "Muslim" or "Socialist", although these might yet be true.

We made it home just before 10PM in time to catch the introductory speeches.  Clint Eastwood did indeed show up and made a few well-placed extemporaneous comments, plus a small comedy routine with an empty chair in which President Obama was imagined to be sitting for an interview.  I wasn't sure if he was prepared enough, but he seemed to remember his outline and stuck to it.  This speech was unusual in that it was not squeaky clean and polished, and so represented a big risk of flopping on the most important night of the convention.  Kudos to the RNC for taking the risk, and kudos to Eastwood for pulling it off without "screwing the pooch."

Eastwood was followed by Senator Marco Rubio, who delivered an excellent defense of the philosophy that is America.  I am familiar with the term "American Exceptionalism", and I believe that Rubio is one of the finest evangelists of this philosophy.  I have read in many comments written to online articles in which many Europeans question the validity of American Exceptionalism.  I think they miss the fact that today their nations are more like America, and so what was once exceptional now seems less so.  Yet there are many nations still who have not achieved the systematic freedom we take for granted, and so it takes someone like Rubio, whose family's life story treads the path from tyranny to freedom, to remind us of our virtue.

What most resonated with me was Rubio's description of his father and mother working long hours following emigration from Cuba so that he and his siblings and their offspring might have a better life.  My wife Kathy's grandfather emigrated from Hungary following World War 2.  The story of their departure on foot from Budapest as the Soviets closed on the city is one of fear, of utter fatigue, of the strength of kinship, and of total sacrifice.  Her father and uncle made that trip as children, riding in a cart pulled by their uncle's cavalry horse.  Her grandfather had been a respected attorney in Hungary, but could not find any such work in the United States.  Yet he persevered in whatever he could do, and his children built incredible families and futures, and their childrens' destinies are secure after three generations of accumulated hard work.  In America, it is possible to succeed, even if you start with nothing.  It takes education and industry and time, but America holds open the wide gate of opportunity to all comers.  The element of time is what I think the Liberals miss; it's as if they want everything for everyone now, even though it takes one or more lifetimes to build and maintain success.

Romney's speech was good.  Reagan might have given something more stellar, but I will not complain.  In many ways, Reagan spoiled the speech-giving process for many politicians that came after, because he made it look so easy and did it so well.  But Romney hit all the bases, used a dash of humor here and there, and got his audience participating in a few back-and-forth sessions.  I learned a few things about him tonight, specifically about his father and the impact that his immigrant heritage had on him.

Kathy has really grown politically.  I saw her nodding vigorously a few times during 2016, and Rubio's speech clearly moved her as well.  She does not have the time to follow the news, so her dad and I do what we can to send her online news.  As a result, she learned a great deal about Romney tonight, and is far more comfortable with him than with Obama.  She is a small businesswoman through and through after seven long years.  She still doesn't have a salary--hopefully next year--and she doesn't want to be demonized when she does.  We've put a lot of effort into our business, and no one can give us back those years or take credit away.  We are pleased that Romney and Ryan praise us for the work that we put in, and the jobs that we created, and the customers that receive valuable goods and services through and from us.  We grow the economy; we don't take from someone else in a zero-sum game.  If Obama understood this and communicated it through his words and actions, then his policies would look radically different and would be more likely to succeed.

We're looking forward to the debates.  We're hoping that Paul Ryan can keep Joe Biden from disarming him by turning everything into a joke.  If he can, then Ryan will clobber Biden.  As to the Romney-Obama debates, we hope that the they are not a complete farce like all the rest have been over the last several presidential election cycles.  We really liked the format that Mike Huckabee used for the Republican candidates, by using states' attorneys general to ask the questions and press them home one candidate at a time independently.  The field could be widened to have questioners include business people, skilled and trade laborers, state and local government officials, educators, retired military, and so on.  We'd find a lot more about the candidates than letting them spar under the most artificial rules and time constraints.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Expanding and Contracting the definition of "Marriage"?

A recent letter to the editor (not by me) entitled by the editor "If gays, lesbians marry, why not relatives?" related the defense given by many, that "two consenting adults [have constitutional rights] to marry whom they love".  The author of the letter took issue with this defense, logically concluding that it could be used as justification for incestuous marriage.  Readers of the letter were not kind, calling this a "slippery slope" and calling the comparison of same-sex marriage with incestuous marriage a "nonsense argument".

My interpretation is that the readers overreacted.  In their rush to defend same-sex marriage, they overlooked the actual thesis of the letter.  The letter took issue with the simplistic defense, not with the actual merits of same-sex marriage.  My efforts to defend the author on these grounds were themselves attacked (with some bringing in the topics of cannibalism and rape), as if I too had stated that same-sex marriage was equivalent to incestuous marriage (or rape or cannibalism).

After a little back and forth, a real debate emerged.  My opponent cited the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, whose "Equal Protection Clause" reads

[N]or shall any State ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

He reasonably simplified this clause as "similarly-situated citizens must be treated the same by the State," and asserted that same-sex couples were similarly situated to opposite-sex couples, and that incestuous couples and polygamous couples are not similarly situated.  His assertion led me to point out that people are most likely to disagree whether same-sex couples are in fact similarly situated.

The disagreement should involve statements regarding the State's fundamental interest in promoting the effects of marriage; for, why would the State erect such a powerful legal framework of inheritance, medical rights, incentives for generating offspring and responsibilities for rearing them, etc.?  Surely not merely to protect the right of two consenting adults to join in a contract.

The most significant and irrefutable difference between same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples has to do with reproduction.  It is a fact that same-sex couples cannot naturally create offspring wholly within the circle of their own inherent biological capabilities.  It requires human intervention from outside the circle, such as through sperm or egg donation, or the use of a surrogate parent.  (It can be argued that many opposite-sex couples must resort to these methods as well, but as a class, opposite-sex couples together have the reproductive capability that same-sex couples do not.)

The question arises: Is reproduction one of the State's fundamental interests in promoting opposite-sex marriage?  If so, is the absence of this ability in part of the population, especially in today's age of advanced reproductive technology and a legal system sympathetic to artificial reproduction, sufficient to declare same-sex couples "not similarly situated" and so deny the right to marry?  Reasonable people will disagree, and hostile debate will not bring the many sides closer to understanding.  This is a matter of philosophy, not of fact.

It would seem that in all other ways, same-sex couples are similarly situated.  They share a desire with opposite-sex couples for a special familial integration, recognized with the full majesty and force of law, of two lives full of income and property, offspring (whether adopted or not), and the power to make joint decisions and be a pre-eminent part of each other's lives.

Civil Unions were introduced to offer this second, more sweeping, legal aspect of marriage, but is argued by many to be inadequate because the institution is "separate but equal" to marriage.  To determine why they are separate, it is necessary to determine what the State's justification is for promoting marriage, as opposed to allowing civil unions.  It is for the people of each State to decide the answer to that question, and the rationale used to answer the question matters, which brings us back to the author of the letter to the editor.

If marriage is justified solely in legal terms, resting especially on the general right of consenting adults to contract with one another as they choose, then it should come as no surprise when any consenting adults wish to enter into any contract with one another as they choose.  It is still reasonable for the State to determine the extent to which such a contract is legal, but the State must justify each limitation, and that may be scientific (as with incestuous relationships), or social-scientific (as with polygamous relationships).

If, however, some justification is couched in philosophical terms (whether in addition to or in lieu of scientific or social-scientific evidence), then the contractual limits may be arbitrary, subject only to the collective will of the electorate.  This is, I believe, where the same-sex marriage debate actually stands.  The will of the electorate of the past is being challenged in legislatures and courthouses by the electorate of today.  Some State legislatures have embraced same-sex marriage (though often at the prompting of the judiciary); others have rejected it, even to the extent of enshrining their opposition with that of the electorate directly into their State constitutions.

The people are speaking.  Some have determined that same-sex couples are similarly situated to opposite-sex couples.  In this respect, I believe that they have contracted the definition of marriage, by eliminating** the possible justifications that the State may have for promoting only opposite-sex marriage.  They have, however, expanded the number of people eligible to be married, and so this is likely the source in popular usage of "expansion of marriage rights".  (**It is possible that new justifications specific to same-sex couples could be added, but I have not observed these.  Equality of same-sex couples seems to be the primary reason, not their superiority; the superiority of opposite-sex couples has been claimed by many opposite-sex marriage proponents.)

Likewise, some have determined that same-sex couples are not similarly situated.  Whether these people have expanded or restored or clarified the definition of marriage is difficult to say, as the definition of marriage comes down to us from so many different paths through history, and is touched by both fact and falsehood.

It would be sufficient, in an ideal sense, that both of these groups of people, both pro and con, have chosen to re-examine their personal justifications for marriage and collectively written new definitions that are acceptable to them in their States.  In truth, perhaps many have undertaken this re-examination with solemn conviction, but likely many others have reacted from lesser motivations, ranging from ignorance to selfish desire.  I lament that so many on opposing sides reduce to hurling insults and epithets, and arguing only on emotional grounds, none of which serves the common interest, and all of which disrespects someone's individual interest.  Once again, the limitations of representative democracy reveal the flaws in our system of government as it has evolved to the present day.

In all cases, oversimplification of the arguments for or against same-sex marriage, especially when enshrined in law, can lead to heretofore absurd or undesired conclusions.  Get educated on the complexity of the arguments, and form studied opinions before rendering them.