Friday, December 5, 2014

We're not America Yet

Two hundred thirty-eight years ago, America was founded on the concept of liberty and equality. Of course, that was not strictly true because we still institutionalized slavery and women were treated as second-class citizens. But America is a work in progress. While we don’t have legal slavery today, we still have a long way to go toward equal rights for all races. While the Constitution was changed (less than 100 years ago) to guarantee women the right to vote, we still have a long way to go toward pay equality and a level playing field for women.

Over the past decade, a new rights struggle has taken center stage – equal rights for LGBT Americans. As reported in today’s New York Times, a group of Democratic legislators, along with LGBT activists, is working on a bill, akin to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to guarantee equal rights in all areas such as housing, insurance, marriage, employment, and other areas.

And why not? It’s a shame that the spirit of the Constitution has taken centuries to implement, and that we’re not done yet. And why now? As the Times article points out, “Any effort to create a new class of legally protected people … is likely to run into serious opposition from conservatives.” But the article points out that this legislation may take a decade or more to come to fruition. Social mores change. We now have marriage equality in a majority of states. Younger voters are more open to their LGBT peers. The entertainment industry is starting to portray LGBT Americans in roles that transcend their sexual orientation.

Four years ago, on this blog, I proposed a new Equal RightsAmendment that would guarantee equal rights for the LGBT community. Given the difficulty of even passing the original ERA, this new legislative solution is a better approach. Kudos to Senator Jeff Merkley, Representative David Cicilline, and others, as well as the thousands of activists who are pouring their hearts into this struggle.

Let’s not forget that the quest for equal rights for minority races and for women is not yet complete. But as we move forward, we also need to support equal rights for our LGBT fellow Americans.


One of the iconic songs of my generation is John Lennon's "Imagine." The lyrics describe a world of people living in harmony, income equality, and peace. Of course, since the time that Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden, the world has never been that way. But that doesn't mean we can't strive for it, even incrementally.

So let's go on an imaginary ride through recent New Jersey history. Imagine if Chris Christie's priorities were to be the governor of all residents of the Garden State instead of being singularly focused on the White House and the wealthy donors who would help get him there. Imagine if Chris Christie was a moderate Republican, and how much better we would be if he were.

Along this journey, we'll meet a few Republicans who championed initiatives that benefited all Americans, and who would probably be shunned by the right-wing zealots who have taken over their party.

One of Christie's earliest actions as governor was to unilaterally cancel the much-needed ARC tunnel - a project that would ease the congestion of rail traffic to Manhattan and create tens of thousands of much-needed jobs as the state was starting to recover from the Great Recession. Compare that to the action of Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, who championed one of the most important initiatives of the 20th century - the Interstate Highway System. Eisenhower knew the value of a robust transportation infrastructure, and even though his motives included the rapid evacuation of cities in case of a nuclear war, he also knew that rapid movement of goods across the country was vital for economic growth.

Imagine if Christie had the same empathy for the gay community as Ted Olson does. Olson is hardly a "moderate", but the former Solicitor General under George W. Bush was a tireless fighter for marriage equality, challenging the mean-spirited California Proposition 8 in court.  Had Christie not been genuflecting to the religious right with his veto, we would have had marriage equality a lot earlier, not only benefiting hundreds of same-sex couples, but also providing a much-need boost to New Jersey's economy. If it weren't for his presidential ambitions, Christie would have followed the path travelled by his fellow Republicans Diane Allen and Jennifer Beck, and devout Christiecrat Brian Stack - all of whom voted for equality.

The next Republican we meet on our journey is Richard Nixon. While Christie and Nixon can compete equally when it comes to ethical lapses, at least Nixon understood the need for clean air and water. The former President created the Environmental Protection Agency - the same agency the current crop of Republican presidential wanabees promises to disband. Christie, on the other hand, consistently sides with his dirty energy patrons, pulling out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and putting roadblock after roadblock in front of job-creating renewable energy projects in New Jersey.

During his tenure, Christie has never been reluctant to spend money for his self-promotion, whether its his endless stream of YouTube videos or the extra 2013 election to keep his name off the same ballot as Cory Booker. Yet, he's consistently vetoed less-expensive initiatives that would upset his patrons but benefit New Jerseyans in areas such as women's health and legal aid to the poor.

Imagine a Republican "pro-business" governor who vaulted New Jersey to the top of the list of "business-friendly" states instead of the downhill descent of the past six years. Imagine a New Jersey with an employment rate better than that of neighboring states. Imagine a New Jersey that was a leader in the renewable energy of the future instead of the dirty energy of the past. New Jersey has had good governors and bad ones. Of both parties. But under Christie, we have lost many opportunities to move our state toward a better place for all of us. The 2017 election can't come soon enough as far as Drumthwacket is concerned.

"You may say I'm a dreamer / But I'm not the only one."

Originally published at