Saturday, February 15, 2014

Gay Rights, Unions, and the Direction of American Politics

Two kinds of news this week in political issues dear to the left: a string of legal victories for gay marriage across the country, but a stinging defeat for the UAW's attempt to unionize the Volkswagen plant in Tennessee.

Freedom, it seems, is still on the march, its old sister equality lagging ever farther behind.

Conservatives are having no luck slowing the gay marriage bandwagon. They have no answer to the legal argument that the government cannot discriminate between different sorts of people without a "compelling" reason, in an America that no longer finds revulsion against homosexuality very compelling. (I was at a company lunch yesterday in a Thai restaurant where the tv behind the bar was showing a daytime soap opera, and once when I glanced at the screen two men were kissing passionately.) Legal discrimination is pretty much dead, in part because conservatives have been banging this drum incessantly when they oppose affirmative action, school busing and so on.

But attempts to help poor and working people are another matter. Conservatives have blocked Obama's Medicare expansion in two dozen states -- that this would help struggling people in their states is an argument that cuts no ice with them. Unemployment benefits are being cut off for more than a million people. Unions, the instrument that lifted tens of millions of people into the middle class worldwide, are withering. Even auto workers find the rhetoric of freedom more compelling than the promise of higher wages and more secure jobs.

We are headed, it seems to me, toward a future that neither conservatives nor liberals wanted, a libertarian world in which markets thrive while workers struggle and there are no commandments left but They Shalt Get Ahead, by Any Means Necessary. And as Lao-tze said, "If you don't change direction, you will end up where you are heading."

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