Friday, June 12, 2009

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same.

Today is Friday June 12th and I am beginning a new weekly blog series that briefly covers the week’s major stories from my point of view.

When then candidate and Senator Barack Obama was elected President of the United States last November, people globally were in tears and proudly reflected on the significance of the change moment. However, as I have stated in previous posts, expecting checks in the mail because of the watershed victory is another story.

To my dismay we still live in a country where change occurs in a push and pull vacuum. In other words, like the story of sociopolitical electoral progress in many cities nationwide, while we can proudly continue to cheer the advancement of Black elected officials, the tenor of the country’s comfort with all that entails still tries to pull us back from the pushing progress many continue to fight for.

This push and pull phenomenon arguably has even affected President Obama’s judicial nominee. Sotomayor, while clearly competent, skilled, experienced, and a near-perfect mirage of someone who would fill race and gender holes on the bench - her record on key issues of Democratic interest remains unknown. Given that her confirmation is only subject to a near filibuster proof Democratic majority, the silent nature of her positions on many Democratic issues remains unfortunate.

Sadly, though, her racial and gender make-up do not shed light on that mystery either. Clearly identifying as a woman does not suggest one is progressive and one’s racial background does not indicate that either (e.g., Clarence Thomas, Ward Connerly, Michael Steele, etc). While scholars stress her wealth of experience, all of that experience still leaves unanswered why she does not possess a clear record on liberal issues. She largely remains unknown on issues like abortion and gay marriage, in part because the 2nd Circuit, based in NYC handles mostly commercial cases, not social issues.

Hence, President Obama’s choice to nominate a skilled, competent, experienced justice without a clear record on some of the major hot-button issues of the era only reflects his own role in the yin and yang or boomerang effect of change vs. maintaining the status quo. Arguably with a near filibuster proof majority, President Obama, who is comfortable with tackling big issues like health care and climate change in his first year in office, should have been equally comfortable with nominating a jurist with a clear record on social issues that will forever dictate the path this country takes in the future.

In either event, I am comfortable with the nomination and believe she will be confirmed. Her nomination is a departure from the last several nominations from Republican Presidents. Whether or not the departure is strong enough, we will soon find out.

In the end, though, President Obama’s moderate approach toward his first Supreme Court nomination can be characterized as an example of appeasing or maintaining the status quo. Think of it this way - President Obama’s choice to be more moderate in his governance than in his electoral campaign rhetoric suggests he believes re-election would best position him to make substantive change that has long effects on this country. While a strong argument, the question remains if a moderate approach will help him achieve that 2012 goal. More significantly, at what cost will a moderate governing approach delay the change he spoke so eloquently about on the campaign trail?

The tamely, yet significant Sotomayor nomination paints a larger picture that change occurs in the context of the status quo, and as a result, often means will be slower than imagined, previously thought, or for some, desired. A moderate governing approach also suggests that there is a political need to appease more conservative elements. Hence, that suggests for the sake of politics, progressive change cannot be too aggressive. Apparently, it must not march ahead of the tenor of millions who hold more conservative views. It’s like a theorist, who often may claim changing the discourse will result in the public policy change desired. However, getting the tone of the conversation to change and the opinions of others to change is often a task too difficult, and unnecessary when history suggests waiting for the majority’s opinion to change in favor of a particular issue may lead to the issue never changing. Moreover, a public policy change may require changing the discourse for the politicians or decision makers voting or deciding the issue, but that is arguably easier than getting the whole country to do the same.

The push and pull factors of change vs. the status quo could not have been more evident in this week’s news. I recall reading an article where the author noted how Alabama still had a law banning interracial marriage in the state in October 2000 and that 40 percent of the Alabama electorate wanted to keep it that way. Comparable sodomy laws still exist in some states throughout the country.

The presence of laws that enforce socially conservative views that legislate citizens’ private affairs perhaps is an endorsement for some of the moderate approach toward governance. However, while it demonstrates an interest and willingness to get as much support as possible for particular issues, it also validates and gives voice to many of the conservative views and laws that discriminate against citizens of this country.

Luckily, some bold politicians are willing, at least in the electoral arena, to challenge those norms. For example, 41-year-old Black Alabama Congressman Artur Davis, last week announced he is running for governor of a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat in that office in over ten years and of the same state where a famous former governor declared “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” in his inaugural address.

While much later in life Wallace changed his views, the contemporary story of a serious Black contender for the Democratic Party’s nomination for Governor in 2010 in Alabama is another example of the pushing of change taking place simultaneously with the pulling of the status quo..

Take, for example, the deathly violence in the lobby of the Holocaust Museum this week by an eighty-eight year old gunman was a well-known white supremacist. The rise in pride for the election of a Black president also coincided with a rise in hate groups according to the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. Unfortunately, while the relation of the two events is not surprising it does reference my point that an uncritical lens toward change simply because we have a Black president is misguided. Change will come, we just may need to be more patient, pragmatic, and realistic toward that end.

It will take many a long time to get used to seeing a Black family in the White House and that family’s leader, for the sake of all of us, and himself, will cautiously tread the road toward change as a result.

This week’s news reminds us that change is a product of the status quo environment, both in terms of sociopolitical goals and governance related actions. Hence, progressive change always occurs along side status quo appeasement for some, deeper retrenchment for many, and aggressive forms of resistance for others.

1 comment:

Erinhowardlaw said...

So are you suggesting that Obama does not know what Sotomayor's views on those hot button issues are? I think in this instance you also have to take note of the confirmation problems Obama has had with numerous Cabinet posts; I think he knew that it was important for him to diversify the Supreme Court, but also to pick someone that was squeaky clean. To me, just because Sotomayor does not have anything on the books as a jurist on some of these issue does not mean that she is not a bulwark of liberalism or that Obama has not vetted her on what her feelings are. Obama being a Constitutional Law professor is also important to note; he views the Constitution as a living, document which, in constitutional terms, encompasses the great divide between the liberal and conservative jurists on the Supreme Court. Hence, I would be surpirsed to think that Obama would elevate to an already conservative leaning, constitutionally literalist Supreme Court, a jurist that did not share that view.