Friday, August 11, 2006

Gay Marriage is Not Inevitable: Remember That the Equal Rights Amendment Failed

A year or two ago it seemed that legalized same-sex marriage was inevitable, and would be coming to a justice of the peace near you soon. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court had declared bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, and several others states had similar cases in the pipeline. Several other NATO countries had legalized same-sex marriage. The next logical step in the civil right movement was about to be consummated.

But that is not how things look today. When the Massachusetts court made its ruling, it gave the conservative opponents of "liberal judicial activism" a perfect weapon, which they promptly used in the 2004 election. I think that decision was the most important factor in President Bush's victory. And those judicial cases in the pipeline didn't pan out as the egalitarians had hoped, either. The top courts in New York and Washington states upheld their state constitutions' bans on same-sex marriage. The Massachusetts decision prompted 20 states – including my state of Kentucky – to amend their constitutions to make the traditional understanding of marriage perfectly clear, and another 8 or 9 are likely to adopt such amendments this year. Only a handful of states have gay marriage now, and it appears likely to stay that way.

When I was a teenager one of the biggest issues of the day was the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The ERA, written by Alice Paul (a Swarthmorean, by the way) in the '20s, was quixotically proposed in the Congress for 40 years. Suddenly, in the early '70s, the world changed. The ERA passed the congress in 1972, and was sent to the states for ratification. 30 of the needed 38 states quickly passed it in the first two years. Then the reconsideration set in. The ERA tide peaked at 35 states in Jimmy Carter's first year, then stopped. Some states even rescinded passage, including Kentucky. The time limit ran out just before Ronald Reagan ushered in a new era without the ERA.

The Equal Rights Amendment, having come within a whisker of being added to our Constitution, is dead. My students have never heard of it. What once seemed an inevitable revolution in the law died aborning. To be sure, legal equality of the sexes was achieved in other ways. And perhaps equal marriage-like unions might be achieved in other ways, too.

Don't count your legal revolutions until they hatch. The good ship SSM may sink into the sea like the ERA.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Take Your Vacation

A third of Americans don't take their full vacation time. And many people are disappointed with their vacations, because they build up a huge fantasy about how perfect they have to be, since their vacations are so rare.

The hidden problem, I think, is that workers are thinking of vacation as part of work. They are resting so that they can work better. I am all for work. I have as strong a work ethic as the next Presbyterian elder. But I don't live to work. Work is not my life.

Vacations are to reconnect with family and friends. They are best for rebuilding the social ties that work frays. So even if the weather is not cooperative, if the real point of vacation is to spend time together, a gray day will work as well as a sunny one.

Go play.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Wall Street Goes With Family As Well As Combat Goes With Family

There is an excellent article in the New York Times, Jenny Anderson's "Wall Street's Women Face a Fork in the Road," about the huge difficulties facing women who want the top investment jobs and kids. The story is upbeat, dwelling both on the determination of the women and the formal programs at some top firms to attract women, and especially to integrate returning moms. But the overall picture is pretty grim.

The investment business is organized now to run all the time, and its top performers, especially the young and hungry ones who want to rise, are at the office, on the road, and/or on the phone all the time. They stick with a deal until it is done. They are a can-do crew.

Investment bankers and brokers live like soldiers in combat.

Soldiers in combat cannot care for children.

The difference is that soldiers have families and support networks at home to care for their children when they are in combat. And combat is not supposed to last forever for any given soldier, even if the war itself is endless. Almost no one can stand a life of continuous combat, kids or no kids. The ones who do either have no life outside of combat, or have families that essentially run on their own, which they visit from time to time. Almost no mothers, and not that many fathers, can stand to live that way for decades at a time.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

My Favorite Martian

Today is primary day in Connecticut, where incumbent Democratic senator and former vice-presidential nominee Joe Lieberman is in danger of being knocked off by a leftist challenger from within his own party. The main issue – practically the only issue – of that race has been Lieberman's support of the Iraq war.

I like Joe Lieberman. On almost every issue, he has taken a position about where I do, and stuck with it. I was delighted when Al Gore put him on the ticket in 2000, and lament daily that they lost the presidential election by one crucial vote. If Al Gore and Joe Lieberman had been in the White House, 9/11 probably still would have happened. In the aftermath, though, the United States would have led the world in a successful coalition war to drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan and attempt to create a democratic society there – or at least a country in which women could learn to read and the national soccer stadium would not be used for daily hangings. And we would not have invaded Iraq and squandered the world sympathy that we had, even in much of the Muslim world.

But that is water over the dam. The Supreme Court gave us their choice for president, which in turn gave us the Bush family's choice of war. And now we are stuck with it. We have to stay in Iraq until we can build up some kind of viable regime. The alternative is sheer chaos and genocidal civil war, at the end of which a new dictator would arise combining the brutality of Saddam Hussein with the insane zeal of Osama bin Laden. That is why Democrats like Joe Lieberman, and I, believe we still have to fight this foolish war that the Decider – who is clearly not the Think-it-Througher – has gotten us into.

I am very disappointed with Senator Lieberman's petulant refusal to support the party nominee if he loses today, vowing to run as an independent if the Democratic voters turn him out. Still, I have voted for independent Connecticut centrists who left their party before. Lowell Weicker left the party of Reagan to run for senator when I was in graduate school. I also am saddened the way Joe Lieberman dumped his first wife, a story I had not heard until this current stink. The Lieberman race has split the Gruntled household, as the earlier Weicker race did. This time, none of us are Connecticut voters, so our argument is more hypothetical.

Readers younger than I am might wonder at the title of this blog. Senator Lieberman resembles actor Ray Walston, who played the title character in the silly Sixties sit-com "My Favorite Martian," which I enjoyed as a child. I often think of the show when I see Lieberman on television, and can imagine a pair of antennae rising from his head while he is making the most serious pronouncements.

I heard David Brooks say that he wished there were a John McCain/Joe Lieberman party. I agree with that. Joe Lieberman's stands on the major national issues –- including this tar baby of Bush's war – is right. I would rather have him in the U.S. Senate than out of it.

Monday, August 07, 2006

For Men at the Bottom, Unmarried Life Nears the 25% Threshold

It is rare for a man to get to 40 and never have been married. The unmarried proportion has been rising in most of the big demographic groups – all education levels, all races, both sexes. Still, the vast majority of people marry. For educated people, the marriage rate has stabilized, and may even have turned the corner.

For forty-something men who did not finish high school, though, nearly a quarter have never been married. This is up from about 8% 25 years ago. The big thing that has changed is that there used to be more women than men at the lowest levels of education. Since women prefer to marry more educated men, this was still a favorable ratio for the least educated men. In the past quarter century, however, women have passed men at all levels of education. This is good news for the most educated men, but bad news for those at the bottom.

In the 1960s Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously sounded the alarm bells on the declining black family when the black illegitimacy rate hit 25% (the white rate at that time was in single digits). He was widely excoriated, but he was right. Since then the bottom has fallen out of the black marriage rate. For uneducated black men, hitting 40 having never married has been the norm for some time. When we now see that marriage is shrinking for all men at the educational bottom, alarm bells should ring, too.

I am not an alarmist. The sky is not falling. Most importantly, there are always things that we can do to reverse bad social trends. Most of these unmarried men would like to marry and have children. Some are afraid of divorce. Some have no secure jobs, which scares them as well as potential wives. Marriage is a risk, and they are not irrational to fear taking it. And marrying without secure jobs or a reliable place in the economic and status ladder increases that risk. But what they are missing is that no one marries in complete security, no matter where they are on the economic ladder. And marriage itself increases the odds of steadiness and security. Couples, even poorly educated couples, help one another through economic rough patches. AND more education is always possible, to improve your odds.

Less education is likely to mean less marriage for men always. But we could stop the erosion of marriage at the bottom before we get to the 25% mark.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


Steven Spielberg's fine film, "Munich," follows the secret, unofficial team that the Israeli government sent to kill the leaders of the Palestinian terror group Black September after the terrorists murdered Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. At first Avner, the Mossad agent who leads the group, accepts his charge to hunt down Black September and murder them in spectacular ways, to send a message to Israel's many enemies. However, when each Black September leader is replaced by an even worse one, and when the Palestinians retaliate with attacks on Israeli embassies and civilians, Avner starts to doubt the morality of his team's, and his government's, actions.

Late in the film an anguished Avner asks his Mossad controller "what have we accomplished?" Why, he wants to know, if the men they killed were certainly terrorists and criminals, was he not sent to capture them and bring them back to Israel for trial, like Adolf Eichmann?

When we meet Avner, he is introduced as the son of a war hero, proud to be a Mossad agent, with his lovely, pregnant wife – a real sabra, as he insists. When he is summoned to meet his boss, a couple of generals, and Prime Minister Golda Meir – at her house, where she serves him coffee herself, and praises his father – well, what patriot could refuse the task they set for him to hunt down his nation's enemies? As he explains it to his wife later, he couldn't live with himself if he said no.

I think, though, that he (and Speilberg) get it right in the end. Satisfying though it might feel at first to hunt down terrorists, it was the wrong thing to do. Golda Meir, in the meeting in which she authorizes the assassinations, is shown saying that sometimes a civilization has to make compromises with its own values. But that compromise came back to bite them. The trial of Eichmann was Israel at its tough best. That is what they should have done with Black September. Sinking to the level of the terrorists did Israel no good; it brought even worse terrorists to power.