Strange Bedfellows – Sequester and Marriage Equality Edition

Posted on May 9th, 2013 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Politics by EngineerBoy
The Birth of a New Political World?

The Birth of a New Political World?

Disclaimer: the article below represents the noodlings of a dumbass who is talking about things way over his head, but which he nonetheless found interesting as a mental exercise.

There’s an old saying that ‘politics makes strange bedfellows’, meaning that the alliances and enmities that occur in politics are often highly situational and transient, resulting in kaleidoscopic political theater where it’s difficult to tell the players without a constantly updated program.

When you add money to the mix, it tends to accelerate the wackiness even further.  I think that two recent political theater productions are both ultimately being driven by economics. There’s another old saying that if you want to understand something in the political (or business) world, your best bet is to ‘follow the money’, so here’s my decode based on that precept of two recent omnipresent political issues:

Issue #1: The Sequester
Remember a couple of years ago when the US faced a debt-ceiling crisis, and ultimately the compromise was to extend the debt ceiling, with the proviso that a ‘poison pill’ called the ‘sequester’ would kick in if the Executive and Legislative branches couldn’t come up with a mutually agreeable budget by 2013? Good times.

The sequester was essentially a set of automatic spending cuts that hit at the sacred cows of all the players, meaning the Republicans put the defense budget on the table, while the Democrats put entitlements on the chopping block, etc, and if the two sides couldn’t agree on a more rational budget, these automatic cuts would trigger. The goal was for the cuts to be so painful for both sides that they’d be forced to put aside partisan bickering and actually cooperate for the good of the country.

Well, that didn’t happen, and the sequester has begun to kick in, causing budgetary pain throughout the government. Each side is loudly blaming the other, but nobody seems to be doing anything meaningful to fix things.

But stop for a moment and consider, what if this was the exact goal from the outset? Think about it – we (the United States) needed to drastically reshape our governmental spending, and it needed to cause pain for areas which are staunchly defended by either the Democrats or the Republicans (or both).

If the two sides had cooperated and jointly passed a bipartisan budget that instantiated these sweeping cuts, they could be vilified by challengers in the upcoming elections because they were ‘soft’, and ‘compromised’, and ‘sold out’ the ‘core values’ of their own constituency.

But with the sequester, the cuts are getting made by some mysterious ‘automatic’ process, while both sides get to blame the other for being obstinate. So in the upcoming elections, the incumbents can say, hey, put me back in the ring to go another 15 rounds against those evil other guys who forced the sequester by being big dummies and hating everything that *we* stand for! I’ll show ’em this time!!

That’s a pretty good story. I bet it will be very useful in fundraising and electioneering. It also allows the incumbents to have done two (and likely three) things:

  1. Enact deep, painful, but necessary spending cuts.
  2. Blame the other guys for the whole thing.
  3. Keep your key donors, raise a war chest, and get re-elected?

I have to say, this explanation fits the facts very well. It would not surprise me if there had been backroom deals where both sides said, look, we agree we need to make cuts to these programs, but neither of us can be seen as agreeing to not protect our turf, so let’s set up this automatic sequester to do the dirty work, and then blame each other…all in favor? Ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay…

My guess is that it is very likely that this was both political theater and political judo of the first caliber. First, the staged production of fighting the good fight, while secretly supporting the automatic cuts, then the judo of using the appearance of righteous battle against an evil enemy to raise funds and get re-elected. It’s beautiful, from a certain perspective, if true.

I’m not a betting man, but if I were my money’d be on this scenario being closest to the truth in regards to the sequester.

Issue #2: Marriage Equality
The second issue that I think is being decided, in the final analysis, by political economics is marriage equality.  At the end of the day the objections to gay marriage have primary basis – the teachings of the Bible, or more specifically, currently popular interpretations of the Scriptures.  All the other arguments (gays shouldn’t marry because they can’t produce children, gays are more likely to be child predators, etc) are only held by nincompoops (sorry, ya’ll), but the one that can’t be dismissed out of hand as idiocy is the *moral* objection, the one that says gays shouldn’t marry because it’s *wrong*.

However, “wrong” is defined by society.  Yes, some members of society are also religious and bring their beliefs and faiths to the equation, but at the end of the day the “rightness” and “wrongness” of something is decided through the accumulated opinions of the entire society.  When I was a kid in my church it was a mortal sin to eat meat on Fridays, and now nobody even thinks about as a serious transgression (if they think about it at all).  Similarly, people regularly work on Sundays and aren’t presumed to be hell-bound.

So, over time, long-held beliefs change, even those that are thought to be indelible by those who believe them.  There comes a tipping point when the changes and advances of society topple old ways of thinking.  I’m not saying that every case of this is for the better, but overall it is the nature of progress.  I think that Thomas Jefferson said it best:

I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” – Thomas Jefferson, also inscribed on his memorial

And I think we are now at a tipping point on gay rights in this country, particularly in relation to marriage equality.  It has been a long discussion, and when I look for reasons that *now* seems to be the watershed moment I think it comes down to political economics.

First and foremost, the majority of the US population now supports marriage equality, according to almost all non-partisan surveys.  In and of itself, that doesn’t make something right.  I’m sure there was a time when the majority of Americans were against mixed-race marriages, for example, and that didn’t make that belief ‘right’.  However, it did make it politically expedient to be on the same side as the majority of Americans, because to get elected you have to have a constituency that will vote for you over the other person, and being a societal windsock is part of being a politician.

Secondly, and most importantly in my opinion, I think that those with the deep pockets have changed their outlook on this issue.  The few businesses where leaders have espoused anti-marriage-equality sound bites have found themselves mercilessly skewered for their positions, to the point where even the most vocal proponents of ‘traditional marriage’ have to be feeling the need to keep it to themselves lest they be cast as backwards-thinking, bigoted theocrats to the point that it impacts their bottom line.

Additionally, businesses want to get on with the business of business, and part of business is being able to be a competitive employer who can attract and keep talent.  Being able to legally provide full recognition of benefits to same-sex spouses allows businesses to draw from a larger pool of talent, and to retain key employees who may be tempted to leave for more rainbow-colored pastures.

In addition, in today’s economy it frequently takes two stable incomes that are joined by the legal bonds of marriage to support a typical American lifestyle.  Big things like buying a house, financing a car, planning for retirement, etc make for better business when dealing with a legally married couple, where both incomes are considered and can be held accountable for debts and/or contribute to financial nest eggs that are jointly shared by marriage.  The same is true for the littler things, like building up a household that’s based on both the emotional *and* the legal commitment that is ‘marriage’.

Lastly, I think that the engine of government can see that providing full recognition to same-sex couples allows for the kind of societal stability that it is in the interest of government to cultivate.  The business aspects described above are not only good for business, but are also a good foundation for society.  Those of us who today are part of husband-and-wife couples know that maintaining a household is work, raising a family is work, balancing work and life is, well, work, and having a dependable emotional, logistical, and financial partner can make all the difference in the stability of life by helping to share and balance the risks inherent in living.

Stable, prosperous, and happy households create a more stable, prosperous, and happy society.  Isn’t that what we all want?  Some of you may be offended by the lifestyles of your neighbors, but are you really un-offended by all your current neighbors?  Doesn’t one of them drink too much and one of them doesn’t take care of their yard and another one can’t hold down a job and another one dates women who are much too young for him and another one never pays attention to her poor kids who just want to be loved and another one’s family always has downcast eyes from the emotional abuse and another one is old and alone and sick and essentially abandoned by his family and another one is always glassy-eyed with a plastic smile from the overuse of prescription medications and on and and on and on.

Meaning, there are sinners all around every neighborhood who aren’t breaking the law and have the full rights of marriage despite their sins.  Why is this one case different?  I think that society, as a whole, has realized that it is in the best interests of society to allow the stabilizing construct of marriage to be undertaken by same-sex couples.  I also think that this has become the new reality, and the politicians who want to be re-elected are having to recognize that fact if they want to stay relevant (meaning stay in office).

There will be a few holdouts who may have some temporary success in speaking to and for the large but diminishing pool of voters who still care enough to try to obstruct marriage equality, but that’s ultimately a losing game, I think, and the money is now on the other, more fabulous, side of the fence.

Ultimately, what I write here will have little to no impact on the turning of societal events.  However, I wanted to take the time to point out what feels to be a tipping point on some major issues of our time.  Usually these are only seen clearly in hindsight, but with the acceleration of information flow brought about by the internet, it’s getting to where we can see these watershed moments after shorter and shorter intervals, to the point that we can reasonably discern when we are in the middle of an upheaval that will introduce profound changes to our society in this country, and I think that’s the case on these two issues.

For those who think I’ve extrapolated too much, too far, and/or too wrongly, you should try reading what I had to say about the potential coming coalition between Muslims and Christians.  🙂

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