Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Where I stand on the family

Since I have not yet decided whether I will seek the Republican nomination for President of the United States, I thought it would only be fair to let my many supporters know where I stand on the issues. Over the last few days, there has been quite a bit of talk about a pledge that FAMiLY LEADER, a religious right group in Iowa, has been sending out to candidates. They will not endorse anyone who does not take a vow to support every point in the document. So far, only Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum have signed the vow and Tim Pawlenty's campaign has said they are looking at. Considering the controversies that have begin to develop around the vow, Pawleniy's people are probably patting each other on the back for taking their time. Two points are currently getting most of the commentary: a pledge to ban pornography and the implication that black kids had a better family life during slavery. That's a shame, because the whole document is a worth a close look. Let's start with the title.
A Declaration of Dependence upon MARRIAGE and FAMiLY

The lowercase "i" in the group's name symbolizes individual submission. By using that spelling as the subject of their vow, are they asking presidential candidates to swear fealty to their group? for the most part, FAMiLY LEADER takes some pretty standard positions as found in any right-wing group with "family" in its name. They spell it out in the first few sentences of the vow's introduction.
Faithful monogamy is at the very heart of a designed and purposeful order – as conveyed by Jewish and Christian Scripture, by Classical Philosophers, by Natural Law, and by the American Founders – upon which our concepts of Creator-endowed human rights, racial justice and gender equality all depend. Enduring marital fidelity between one man and one woman protects innocent children, vulnerable women, the rights of fathers, the stability of families, and the liberties of all American citizens under our republican form of government.

Got that? All human rights, racial justice, and all the liberties enjoyed by Americans come from the Judeo-Christian concept of marriage as practiced during the last few centuries (but not by Mormons). The free press and no free room and board for King George's troops come to you courtesy of marriage. The second sentence is quite interesting. It's a good demonstration of the patriarchal mindset of the religious right. Fathers' rights need to be protected; mothers' rights do not. Women are vulnerable creatures that need to be protected, presumably by being subject to the rightful power of a father/husband. This treatment of women is scattered throughout the document.

Moving right along, a little ways down the first page, we come to the slavery statement that has raised a few eyebrows. It is the fist bullet point in list of background points before the vow itself.
Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African American baby born after the election of the USA's first African-American President.

It's nice of them to acknowledge that slavery was "disastrous," but to argue that it was better for families than living in the twenty-first century is, at best, ignorant and, at worst, disgustingly dishonest. Under slavery, blacks were forbidden by law from marrying and subject to different members of the family being sold off at any time by their owners. Rape of slaves by whites was common and not a crime. And why mention Obama? Are they saying that he is to blame for the sad state (according to them) of African-American families? Not in so many words, but they are engaging in a very old propaganda practice of placing a person they oppose (Obama) in close association with ideas that they assume their audience will also oppose (slavery and weak families).

On Sunday, FAMiLY leader Bob Vander Plaats announced they would be pulling that paragraph from the document. The announcement came with the usual political non-apology apology, "After careful deliberation and wise insight and input from valued colleagues we deeply respect, we agree that the statement referencing children born into slavery can be misconstrued, and such misconstruction can detract from the core message of the Marriage Vow." He is saying, in effect, he doesn't he was wrong, he just thinks this was the wrong time to say it. Santorum's campaign issued a short statement saying he was pleased to sign the document (when it still included the slavery statement) but also thinks Vander Plaats did the right thing in removing that part. Bachmann's campaign says that just because she signed the vow she doesn't mean she agreed with the introduction to the vow. Good golly, no! They added, "In no uncertain terms, Congresswoman Bachmann believe[s] that slavery was horrible and economic enslavement is also horrible." Bachmann is actually quite fond of inappropriate slavery metaphors. She has called gay relationships slavery. She called the healthcare reform bill slavery. In recent days she has been calling the national debt slavery. Just for the record, I too think slavery was bad, I think Vander Plaats was an idiot for thinking or saying that, and that Bachmann and Santoum do not get a pass for signing such a thing.

The last item in the introduction lists various things that have "debased the currency" of marriage. These include adultery, "quickie divorce," bad examples by celebrities, tolerance of gays, and the "anti-scientific bias which holds, against all empirical evidence, that homosexual behavior in particular, and sexual promiscuity in general, optimizes individual or public health." Who out there is arguing that promiscuity "optimizes individual or public health?" I don't know, they don't name any names. This isn't the only straw man they bring up. The bullet point on the forces undermining marriage comes with a huge footnote that tells us "No peer-reviewed empirical science or rational demonstration has ever definitively proven" that growing up in a nuclear family isn't good for kids, that increasing the population is best increased by undermining the family, that "practices such as adultery, bisexuality, homosexuality, anal intercourse, group sex, promiscuity, serial marriage, polygamy, polyandry and extramarital sex, individually or collectively, lead to general improvements in" public health. The last is followed by a long list of venereal diseases, "anal incontinence," and abortion-related complications. None of these things has ever been proven because no one has ever tried to prove them and no one has ever made those claims.

Page two gives us the vow itself.
The Candidate Vow:

Therefore, in any elected or appointed capacity by which I may have the honor of serving our fellow citizens in these United States, I the undersigned do hereby solemnly vow [I can also attest, according to the footnotes] to honor and to cherish, to defend and to uphold, the Institution of Marriage as only between one man and one woman.

Just like King Solomon did. Okay, I'm probably disqualified from getting their endorsement right now because I don't like all those promiscuous gays having premarital sex. I think they should get married like the rest of us. Did you know gays had much better family life when they were slaves? It's true.
I vow [or attest] to do so through my:
  • Personal fidelity to my spouse.
  • Respect for the marital bonds of others.
  • Official fidelity to the U.S. Constitution...

Maybe I'm not out of the running yet. I love my wife. I respect other people's marriages, even the gay ones. I like the Constitution.
...supporting the elevation of none but faithful constitutionalists as judges or justices.

Um, do I get to define what constitutes a "constitutionalist"? According to the footnotes, a "constitutionalist" hates gay marriage, so I'm probably out again.
  • Vigorous opposition to any redefinition of the Institution of Marriage – faithful monogamy between one man and one woman – through statutory-, bureaucratic-, or court-imposed recognition of intimate unions which are bigamous, polygamous, polyandrous, same-sex, etc.

Here's the thing, kids. The word "marriage" defines two completely different types of agreements in the United States. The first is best defined in anthropological terms. It is an agreement made in public, before a community, by members of that community, regarding a change in the household arrangements and kinship of two of its members. It establishes legitimacy and inheritance rights for any children (previous or future) of the two getting married. It can signify an alliance between the kinship groups of the two. It usually involves and exchange of move able property and an elaborate ceremony. The other kind of marriage is a legal contract, registered with a local government. Legal marriage covers much of the same ground as communal marriage and puts the force of law behind many of its agreements, plus some agreements not usually mentioned in communal marriage. To engage in one type of marriage, it is not necessary to engage in the other. And, importantly, the institutions involved in one type of marriage cannot dictate to the other institutions what is or isn't allowable. Churches that do not allow divorce cannot tell the state to enforce that that by not allowing divorce in legal marriages. The state cannot tell churches who they can and cannot marry. The existence of the two as separate marriage agreements is a recent historical development. Both types of marriage have evolved and been redefined many times through history. To say otherwise is just plain wrong. I think the state can and should redefine marriage to respond to changes in the social and legal realities of our culture. This one is going to lose me a lot of points.
  • Recognition of the overwhelming statistical evidence that married people enjoy better health, better sex, longer lives, greater financial stability, and that children raised by a mother and a father together experience better learning, less addiction, less legal trouble, and less extramarital pregnancy.

Um, okay.
  • Support for prompt reform of uneconomic, anti-marriage aspects of welfare policy, tax policy, and marital/divorce law, and extended "second chance" or "cooling-off:" periods for those seeking a "quickie divorce."

I do not support the government telling people when they can and cannot get a divorce from legal marriage. Divorce is a private decision. If the couple getting divorced wants to involve their church or any other community, that is their decision, but it is not the government's business. The government telling people they have to give their spouse a second chance is an intolerable intrusion into peoples' private lives. As to the "anti-marriage aspects" of the law are, I'd need to know what those are. I doubt that I would define those things as widely as FAMiLY does.

Is this a good place to mention that Newt Gingrich won't sign the pledge until some changes have been made. He hasn't publicly said what those changes are. My bet is on either fidelity to your spouse or quickie divorce.
  • Earnest, bona fide legal advocacy for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) at the federal and state levels.

This is an easy one. No.
  • Steadfast embrace of a federal Marriage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which protects the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman in all of the United States.

See Previous answer.
  • Humane protection of women and the innocent fruit of conjugal intimacy – our next generation of American children – from human trafficking, sexual slavery, seduction into promiscuity, and all forms of pornography and prostitution, infanticide, abortion and other types of coercion or stolen innocence.

"The innocent fruit of conjugal intimacy?" Who talks that way? Besides, what's this innocence business? I thought we were all born into sin. This is another straw man. Is there a politician anywhere in America who is in favor of human trafficking, sexual slavery, or infanticide? Of course not. The footnote on this point is mostly a rant against abortion. I'm in favor of legal abortion. As any medical procedure carries with it a risk of complications or death, I favor policies that help as many women as possible avoid being put in the position of having to consider getting an abortion. Those policies include broad access to affordable contraception along with early and comprehensive sex education. This probably loses me some more points.

This is the point in the pledge has drawn the most controversy, but only for its mention of pornography. Vander Plaats appeared surprised by the controversy. "We are not calling for a nationwide ban on pornography," he told Talk Radio News, "The bullet point doesn’t even come close to calling for that." He explained that the point was a promise to oppose women being forced into pornography or prostitution. That doesn't really clarify things. The usual way to oppose women being forced into prostitution is to ban prostitution. Are we to assume he's not against prostitution as long as there is no force involved? And why should he not be in favor of banning pornography? I would think that would be a winner among his constituency.
  • Support for the enactment of safeguards for all married and unmarried U.S. Military and National Guard personnel, especially our combat troops, from inappropriate same-gender or opposite-gender sexual harassment, adultery or intrusively intimate commingling among attracteds (restrooms, showers, barracks, tents, etc.); plus prompt termination of military policymakers who would expose American wives and daughters to rape or sexual harassment, torture, enslavement or sexual leveraging by the enemy in forward combat roles.

There are a couple of points and at least one straw man in this rather tortured sentence. First, who is in favor of sexual harassment? Only the harassers. As to safeguards, sexual harassment is already illegal in the military. The problem, today, is a lack of enforcement and a culture of looking the other direction. It is also almost entirely a problem of heterosexual men harassing women. I'm not sure how you protect troops from adultery. Is he asking for a ban on adultery or is just opposed to soldiers being forced into it? The last part of the sentence is a call for a complete ban on letting women serve in or near combat. Once again, women are frail things that need to be protected.
  • Rejection of Sharia Islam and all other anti-woman, anti-human rights forms of totalitarian control.

I'm against "anti-woman, anti-human rights forms of totalitarian control" including Old Testament law and Christian Dominionism.
  • Recognition that robust childbearing and reproduction is beneficial to U.S. demographic, economic, strategic and actuarial health and security.

I'm not a big fan of bloating the population to serve some agenda, or even just for the hell of it. I'm more of a ZPG kind of guy. However, I have some questions about the specific benefits you call out. Economic. I get it. More workers means a bigger economy. But we have fifteen million unemployed right now and the pundit class is talking about massive unemployment becoming a permanent fact of life. The only way we can employ many millions more, especially if they get Texas-style educations, is if we drive wages so low that they can be competitive with third world sweat shops. Think Ireland before the potato famine. Strategic--more kids means a bigger army. this kind of natalist policy is very popular in totalitarian states. Actuarial--I assume that means those tens of millions of good, Christian sweatshop laborers will be paying into yours and my Social Security. Finally, demographic--what does than mean? What is demographic security? Again, I can only assume. Most writers who fret adout the demographic future of America are worried about white Protestants losing their dominanace. The message is "we must breed more so they don't bury us." Vander Plaats says it very gently, but the message is blood and land nationalism and it is very ugly. That makes me a very emphatic no on this one.
  • Commitment to downsizing government and the enormous burden upon American families of the USA's $14.3 trillion public debt, its $77 trillion in unfunded liabilities, its $1.5 trillion federal deficit, and its $3.5 trillion federal budget.

I'm against reducing the size of the government just for the sake of reduction. I believe there a number of functions that the government performs that are good and necessary and that the government does well. I want a government big enough to continue doing those things, but no larger. The idea of a big-government liberal is nonsense. I don't know of any liberal who wants a bigger government just for the sake of bigness. We wouldn't have a $14.3 trillion public debt if the last Republican president and his Republican allies in congress hadn't insisted on massive tax cuts without paying for them, on waging two overseas wars without paying for them, and on continuing to waste money providing corporate welfare to massive businesses that don't need it.

A bigger issue than Vander Plaats questionable numbers is this: why is it so important to deal with the debt and deficit--and they are two different things--why is it so important to do it right now? The debt does need to paid for at some point, but why is it so important to do it in the middle of a recession? I'm a dyed in the wool Keynesian. I believe that the government should spend money as a stimulus during hard times and pay those bills off during good times. It's easy to rant against "the government" and "bureaucrats" as abstract nouns. But the government is we the people and bureaucrats are civil servants, our neighbors who earn good middle class paychecks that they bring home and spend in our communities. Downsizing government means firing people, taking paychecks away from their families and their communities. Downsizing government also means the government stops buying things and stops hiring contractors with a domino effect throughout the entire economy. And that means more families lose their paychecks. I am too much of a pro-family person to support that.
  • Fierce defense of the First Amendment's rights of Religious Liberty and Freedom of Speech, especially against the intolerance of any who would undermine law-abiding American citizens and institutions of faith and conscience for their adherence to, and defense of, faithful heterosexual monogamy.

Another strawman position, this time with extra added paranoia. Is there someone out there who wants to prevent religious people from adhering to "faithful heterosexual monogamy?" Forced gay marriages for all? If so I haven't heard of them. Almost everyone supports religious liberty and the ones who don't are almost always fundamentalists of one religion or another who want to shut down other religions. Freedom of speech allows people like Vander Plaats to make any verbal defense of "faithful heterosexual monogamy" that they want, but it doesn't exempt them from criticism, even rude intolerant criticism. The same freedom of speech that Vander Plaats wants is given to those who oppose him. Even if they wanted to, no one has the right to shut mister Vander Plaats up or to stop him from practing "faithful heterosexual monogamy." Paranoid fantasies of thought police criminalizing Christianity for standing up for their version of marriage are just that, paranoid fantasies. There are no thought police. I consider myself a fierce defender of the first amendment, both for Vander Plaats' type of Christians and for his opponents. Freedom of speech and religious conscience are only real if they extend to all opinions and beliefs.

I'm all for families, marriage, and conjugal fruits, but I don't think I'm going to get FAMiLY LEADER's endorsement. I can live with that.

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