Saturday, October 25, 2014

Kansas: 10-Day Predictions

Taping an episode of This Week in Kansas last Thursday, our host Tim Brown asked us assembled commentators: what do we predict for November 4, only a week and a half away? Well, I hauled up my predictions from 10 days ago--but with one alteration. So here's my latest on the three big state-wide races here in Kansas, again going from, in my view, the least likely to flip to the most:

Incumbent Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach vs. Republican-turned-Democrat Jean Schodorf. There's a serious lack of polling available for public consumption for this race; the most recent serious poll to include the race for Kansas Secretary of State showed Schodorf down by six points, which showed little change from what other occasional polls have suggested ever since the end of September. And the "debates" (more like opportunities for the candidates to stand and recite their talking points, but you know what I mean) which these two have held haven't helped Schodorf much: Kobach is a real political animal, a superb and utterly unhesitant communicator, confidently throwing out highly questionable claims about voter fraud and red-meat-for-the-base insinuations about Schodorf being soft on illegal immigration, all of which makes his opponent seem, it unfortunately must be said, old and unfocused and a little whinny by comparison. I remain deeply impressed by the ground game which Hispanic groups, African-American churches, and other social organizations in Kansas's major cities have put together, registering and informing and motivating voters against Kobach's policies, but I can't deny any longer that this race is looks increasingly unlikely to result in an upset.

Independent newcomer Greg Orman vs. incumbent Republican Senator Pat Roberts. Since I last wrote, various facts have become clear to me about this race. First, the number of Tea Party conservatives and others who backed Milton Wolf during the Republican primary, and were incensed at Roberts's lazy dismissal of his challenger, and as a result can't see themselves voting for Roberts in 10 days time, does not appear to be shrinking. Second, Orman's strategic choice to not directly engage the tremendous amounts of negative advertising being directed against him--at rates of, depending on how you count the money and television ads, anywhere from 4 to 1 to as much as 8 to 1--is paying off. Orman obviously couldn't really directly challenge many of these accusations without undermining his own determination not to be placed on the political map (which of course would only play directly into Roberts's hands), and as a result his public presentations have kept themselves focused on the distasteful dysfunction of Congress and the pragmatic appeal of a genuinely independent candidate. And there is evidence that's working for him, being able to hold his own despite an onslaught of Republican opposition. Roberts still obviously still has all the advantage of incumbency, of a state where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats and others by almost 2 to 1, and most of all of a narrative which puts the highly-unpopular-in-Kansas President Obama at the center, but I have to move this one up, with a greater chance of the incumbent losing than I'd long thought likely. It's definitely not "likely," but it strikes me as much more possible than it did previously.

(Incidentally, my predictions for the Senate overall? Well, 10 days out, I'd say that I think Nunn will win in Georgia outright, and Landrieu will pull out a win in the December 6th run-off in Louisiana. I can't bet on Udall in Colorado, as much as I'd like too, nor Pryor in Arkansas, nor Weiland in South Dakota. Shaheen will hold on to her seat in New Hampshire, and McConnell will hold on to his in Kentucky. And then, on top of all that, let's say Orman wins here in Kansas. That means, for whatever it's worth, that I'm imagining, come November 5th, the Republicans holding 50 seats in the Senate and the Democrats (with two Independents) holding 48, and looking forward to the run-off in Louisiana. The pressure on Orman to declare he'll caucus with the Republicans--whatever their party flunkies may say--and, by thus giving the Republicans 51 in their caucus, simply end the waiting over who will be in the majority will be immense. But by the same token, I could imagine the Democrats, assuming they similarly smell a Landrieu win awaiting them in a month's time, moving heaven and earth--perhaps Reid offering to step down as majority leader?--to capture Orman's vote, thus giving them a Biden-tie-breaking 50-50 breakdown in the Senate. Hey, it's possible.)

And now finally, incumbent Republican Governor Sam Brownback vs. Democrat state representative Paul Davis. It's really not looking good for our governor. Not in absolute terms, to be sure: on paper, Brownback still has all the advantages of incumbency, all the advantages of being the flag-bearer for the state Republican party, not to mention enjoying tremendous levels of support from dozens of conservative groups outside Kansas. But maybe you can have too much of a good thing; among other concerns, there is real reason to believe that some of the more outrageous ads flooding airwaves and filling mailboxes aren't so much reminding wavering Republicans of reasons to stick with their party as just increasing their dislike for the incumbent. The very latest polls show Davis leading by five points (and, perhaps even more crucially, shows Brownback as having the support of less than 40%  of female Kansas voters and only 77% of his own party). Some tracking polls suggest that Brownback still maintains a tiny lead over Davis, but others disagree. Either way, though, I can only reiterate what I wrote before: while this is still (as with both of the above races) the Republican incumbent's race to lose, it seems pretty clear that, if there is any place where your typical disappointed Kansas Republican voter is likely to switch their allegiance, it's going to be in choosing their next governor. I trust Sam Brownback has some back-up plans in mind for his post-governorship, because that is by no means a merely intellectual possibility any longer. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Cone of Shame Just Took On an Entirely New Meaning



(Via Accordion Guy, taken from this collection of rejected New Yorker cartoons.)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Saturday Night Live Music: "Better Than a Hallelujah"

I've listened to Amy Grant on and off ever since my church to mission to South Korea a quarter-century ago. Christian pop never penetrated American Mormonism the way it did Protestant churches, but I somehow came across a tape of her stuff in a missionary apartment way back when, and that was one of the best discoveries I made in my whole two years there. Here's a sharp, spare performance of a recent, and very wise ballad of her.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"I Just Started the Paleo Diet Yesterday, and I’m Wondering If There’s a Way to Make This Without The Ingredients.”

Via Samuel Brown, via The Toast, comes "All The Comments on Every Recipe Blog." Enjoy.

“I didn’t have any eggs, so I replaced them with a banana-chia-flaxseed pulse. It turned out terrible; this recipe is terrible.”

“I don’t have any of these ingredients at home. Could you rewrite this based on the food I do have in my house? I’m not going to tell you what food I have. You have to guess.”

“I don’t eat white flour, so I tried making it with raw almonds that I’d activated by chewing them with my mouth open to receive direct sunlight, and it turned out terrible. This recipe is terrible.”

“Could you please give the metric weight measurements, and sometime in the next twenty minutes; I’m making this for a dinner party and my guests are already here.”

“i dont have an oven, can i still make this? please reply immediately”

“Does anyone know if you can make this ahead of time and freeze it?”

“Have you thought about making a sugar-free version of this?”

“Can you give us a calorie breakdown for this?”

“I followed this to the letter, except I substituted walnuts and tofu for the skirt steak, ditched the cheese entirely, and replaced the starch with a turnip salad. Turned out great. My seven-year-old boys have never seen a dessert and I’ve convinced them that walnut-and-turnip salad is 'cake.' Thanks for the recipe!”

“I’m having a lot of trouble signing up for your newsletter. Can you please assist?”

“a warning that if you cook this at 275°F for three hours instead of at 400°F for twenty-five minutes its completely ruined. do you have any suggestions?”

“I didn’t have buttermilk, so I just poured baking soda into a container of raspberry yogurt. It tasted terrible.”

“I love this recipe! I added garlic powder, Italian seasoning, a few flakes of nutritional yeast, half a bottle of kombucha, za’atar, dried onion, and biscuit mix to mine. Great idea!”

“Due to dietary restrictions, I am only able to eat Yatzhee dice. I made the necessary substitutions, and it turned out great.”

“If you use olive oil for any recipe that’s cooked over 450°F, the oil will denature and you will get cancer. This post is irresponsible. You should only use grapeseed oil you’ve pressed yourself in a very cold room.”

“[600-word description of what they ate today] so this will make a great addition!”

“I just started Paleo yesterday, and I’m wondering if there’s a way to make this without the ingredients.”

“I was all out of cake flour, so I transfigured my hands into puffer fish, which worked pretty well.”

“Have you considered making a version of this margherita pizza for your readers who are trying to avoid gluten, dairy and nightshades? What if I shoved a roll of basil leaves in my mouth, do you think that would taste good?”

“this was a very good post for your recipe you made, i made a similar recipe over at my blog last month, please consider linking back.”

“I’m actually a supertaster, so I can’t eat anything that isn’t licking the salt off the top of saltines; will this recipe work for me?”

heal your body through food

“If you don’t soak the seeds for at least fourteen hours before using, the phytic acid will give you cancer. Just thought you should know.”

Kansas: 20-Day Predictions

Walking out from a Wal-Mart this morning, someone approached me, and asked if he'd seen me before. Since I've been doing quite a bit of television work on local stations in connection with the current election here in Kansas, I told him that he'd probably seen me giving commentary for one or another news story. Then he asked me the big question: who did I think was going to win?

Well, I told him my answers, and now I'm telling you. We're exactly 20 days out from Election Day, so this seems like as good as time as any to put my thoughts out there. Maybe I'll revisit these predictions when we're down to 10 days, or 5. But for now, here's what I think about the three main statewide races taking place in Kansas. (Note: obviously I'm leaving lot out here, but honestly there is almost no point in talking about, for example, any of the House district contests, since there is essentially no indication that any of our four Republican incumbents are at all threatened, nor any local Kansas legislative races, since there is similarly almost no indication that the discontent with the Republicans at the top of the ballot will translate into changes in voting habits--registered Republicans in Kansas outnumber Democrats by almost 2-to-1--further on down. Also, I'm ignoring the Libertarian party candidates. Sorry.)

Independent newcomer Greg Orman vs. incumbent Republican Senator Pat Roberts. This is the race that, with all the sound and fury which has surrounded it over the past month or so, is to my mind the least likely to change hands. I've thought this from the beginning, and the ups and downs of the polls haven't changed my mind. Roberts has all the advantages of incumbency, of a partisan playing field which favors him, and--most important to my mind, given the high "unfavorable" ratings which leading state Republicans are currently operating under--the ability to tap into a national narrative (STOP HARRY REID AND BARACK OBAMA) which a great many of Republicans, even those of a moderate bent who are deeply frustrated with the direction their party has taken both nationally and here in Kansas, will have a very hard time resisting. Also, don't forget that, as wealthy as Orman is, he can't compete with the funds rolling into Kansas from Americans for Prosperity, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Republican National Committee--Roberts has been all over the television and the internet of late, while Orman hasn't been nearly as visible. A month ago, the obviously unpopular and basically unimpressive Roberts was 10 points down in the polls against Orman, but now that has closed to within the margin of error, and most (though not all) of the latest polls have him pulling slightly ahead, and I think it's clear that change is almost entirely due to his ability to flood the airwaves with ads that associate Orman, who rates as still unfamiliar with most voters, with the "Obama agenda." Of these three races, the senate race, while it may well be very close, is the one where I'd say, three weeks out, that the Republican incumbent is safest.

Incumbent Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach vs. Republican-turned-Democrat Jean Schodorf. This down-ticket race doesn't receive nearly the attention which the higher profile races do, nor has it really ever been nearly as close or attracted nearly as much outside money (which frankly has been a bit of surprise to many of us watching Kansas politics from the inside), but it is by far, amongst those who pay attention to politics, the most polarizing race in the state. There is essentially no middle ground when it comes to Kobach; either you're not interested enough in political affairs to know what the Kansas Secretary of State has been up to, or you're a huge fan, or you detest the man. (The latter feeling was expressed unprompted by the shopper I spoke to this morning; when mentioned Kobach's name he blurted out "I can't stand that guy.") One might assume that the discontent so many moderate Republicans throughout the state feel for the ideological purity and uncompromising conservative experimentation in Topeka that the past four years has brought us would crystallize around Kobach, but in fact, while some polls have suggested better news, Schodorf has mostly lagged behind. The enormous disparity in their ability to campaign statewide is obviously a factor there (Schodorf is a former state senator who lost in a primary contest to a young Brownback-backed Republican challenger, and thus has never had a state-wide base before); I suspect, though, that the passionate ground game which opponents of Kobach have put together amongst minority and poorer voters is going to make this even closer than the Orman-Roberts race. Still, Kobach is probably going to pull it out, if only because the moderate Republicans which the Democrats need to win this race show little evidence of switching their votes down the ballot, harnessing the courage it takes to change for the big enchilada:

Incumbent Republican Governor Sam Brownback vs. Democrat state representative Paul Davis. For Kansas voters, and particularly for dissatisfied moderate Kansas Republicans and desperate Kansas Democrats, this is the big one. The polls have shown it to be a tight race ever since Davis announced last year, and Brownback only held a lead in match-up polls during last summer, a lead which only lasted up until Brownback's comparatively embarrassing performance in the Republican party primaries, after which his support crashed, and only in the past week or so has seemed to recover. The very latest polls put it in the margin of error between the two candidates. So why do I think, of these three statewide races, that the governor's race is the one where a Republican incumbent really may actually lose in the state of Kansas? Two main reasons. First, because on the basis of the polls and many conversations with insiders it seems pretty clear to me that, however fair or unfair it may be, Governor Brownback is catching the ire of moderate Republicans in a way which Republicans in the state legislature and other state-wide Republican officials are not. Many moderate Republicans who won't switch for Orman, or for Schodorf, may still be tempted to switch to Davis, if only because the governor, as the chief executive of the state, gets held responsible for all the discontent voters feel for multiple other reasons. And second, because a race this close puts enormous pressure on the few remaining late October undecided voters--and while the traditional wisdom that says undecideds break for the challenger has itself been challenged, I think that in the case of Kansas in 2014, the very few genuine independent and undecided voters out there will see themselves as potentially having real race-deciding significance, and that will tip them into the challenger's basket.

So, my 20-day predictions: Roberts re-elected (narrowly), Kobach re-elected (very narrowly), and Brownback defeated (also narrowly, but not so much as either of the above). Check back in 10 days or so to see if I've changed my mind.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saturday Night Live Music: "Rough Boys"

Scholars and sociologists and historians of sexuality can talk all they want about fluid gender orientations, the gay sub-culture of the 1960s and 70s, leather fetishisms and their overlap with punk and mod styles, and the unpredictable erotics of blue-collar English masculinity. Pete Townshend, by contrast, will just write a ripping pub rock song about all that, and more.

Friday, October 10, 2014

My Favorite Live (Single) Albums

My old friend David Jenkins challenged me to provide some Friday night discussion by listing my five favorite live albums. Well, I'm sorry Dave: I can't. I can't because I can't just choose five. I tried this once before, years ago; back then I restricted myself solely to live double albums, and I ended up listing fifteen anyway, and even with that I missed some (Eric Clapton's 24 Nights, Bob Dylan's "Royal Albert Hall" Concert, Joe Jackson's Big World, Rush's Different Stages, and now the recent addition of The Rolling Stones's Brussels Affair). Still, I'll do my best. So herewith, my top 15 live single albums. (Note: I'm excluding my jazz recordings, because if I threw in those it would just be impossible.) In alphabetical order, beginning with probably the best of them all:

1) Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison. Essential track: "Cocaine Blues."
2) Johnny Cash, At Sen Quentin. Essential track: "Starkville City Jail."
3) Shawn Colvin, Live. Essential track: her marvelous, haunting cover of David Byrne's "This Must Be the Place."
4) Bob Dylan, MTV Unplugged. Essential track: despite all the countless bootlegs and live recordings, I can't think of a better recording of his singing "With God On Our Side."
5) Joe Ely, Live at Liberty Lunch. Essential track: "Me and Billy the Kid."
6) Joe Ely, Live Shots. Essential track: the Buddy Holly classic "Not Fade Away" (which, despite the many long years he's been playing this song, he still makes absolutely his own).
7) Robyn Hitchcock, I Often Dream of Trains (in New York). Essential track: "That's Fantastic, Mother Church."
8) The Hollies, Greatest Hits...Live! Essential track: a barn-burning, 11-minute version of "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress," which I have forced my children to listen to all the way through far too many times to possibly justify.
9) Elton John, Live in Australia with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Essential track: "Burn Down the Mission."
10) The Red Clay Ramblers, Live. Bland Simpson was never more than just a part-time member of this little-known bluegrass-folk-comic outfit, but his charming piano composition "Pictures for You" is, for this son of Washington state, one of the most nostalgic and joyous songs I've ever heard.
11) The Rolling Stones, Some Girls: Live in Texas. Essential track: "Honky Tonk Women."
12) The Rolling Stones, Stripped. Essential track: their furious, rocking, and very nearly (but probably not quite) definitive take on Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone."
13) Sting, ...All This Time. Essential track: "If You Love Someone Set Them Free."
14) Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense. Essential track: good grief--"Life During Wartime," of course.
15) 10,000 Maniacs, MTV Unplugged. Essential track: "Hey Jack Kerouac."

All right Dave (and everyone else), tell me what I got wrong.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

"This Bald Chick; What's With Her Head?"

The news of the death of Jan Hooks, a delightfully funny woman whose tenure on Saturday Night Live and Primetime Glick gave me many a laugh, put me in mind of this skit, which I think has to be one of the SNL's best. It's obviously mostly a Phil Hartman routine, but Hook's slow burn as Sinead O'Connor is delightful. RIP.

The Settled and the Strange: Seven Thoughts for Sukkot

[Cross-posted to By Common Consent]

Today is the first full day of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles, one of several Jewish holidays that I have long felt a certain amount of holy envy for. I love it for several reasons: because it is, at heart, a harvest festival, associated with the "ingathering" of crops and taking comfort in the bounties of the land; because it focuses our attention on the element of "place" in those rituals (both divine and mundane) that attend our building of our own homes and lives; but mostly, I think, because it conveys a permanent sense of the transitional in those very same bounties and that same sense of hominess and belonging. All Israel was commanded, during the days of the feast, to build booths or temporary shelters for themselves out in the fields, to leave their homes and beds and sleep and eat their meals inside them for seven days, to remind them of their special--but also always perilous--dependent relationship with God, who led them out of Egypt and made possible everything they were or had. Anyway, herewith, seven thoughts:

1) I embarked on a reading of the Old Testament some months ago, using the Revised English Bible and Robert Alter's translations. I've worked my way through Genesis, which fascinated me as I became reacquainted with myths and miracles and folklore that, centuries after they were first recorded, would become the foundation of both Judaism and Christianity; and through Exodus, which fascinated me even more as an ancient narrative which depicted a people who recorded through their lives the slow, inconsistent realization of a monotheistic and genuinely moral God. Right now I'm in Leviticus--amazing enough, right around the announcement of the Feast of Tabernacles--and the concept that rings through the words of the Pentateuch most strongly, as God is presented as revealing to Moses in exhausting detail the proper way to slaughter animal sacrifices and perform rituals of purification and expiation, is just how important it is for God's people to understand themselves as divided from the rest of the world. Sometimes it seems that all of creation which is not under God's covenant is subject to His judgment and condemnation, whereas other times God appears wholly unconcerned with, even basically accepting of, the actions and practices of the non-Jewish world--but either way, always Israel is to remain apart, keeping themselves clean and separate and distinct.

2) There is, predictably, a complication with that maintenance of ritual distance. Unless you are a self-sufficient farmer (and honestly, I think it's quite arguable that we all should be) then you will necessarily have to interact with others in pursuit of ones livelihood--and for all of those of us who live in a social and economic world which has been historically defined by the way Christianity appropriated and transformed the implications of God's revelations in the Old Testament, that interaction will be a commercial and secular one, in which attempting to abide entirely by the terms of God's separation is basically impossible.

3) It is for that reason, I suppose, that for some groups and individuals, traditions and rituals and conventions become so important. Dressing in a particular way, consuming (or not consuming) a particular food or drink, honoring a particular holiday, building a sukkah in one's backyard or one's living room and living in it for a week every year--these become ways of being in the world but not of the world, of remembering that which makes one distinct even as one lives a life which is, otherwise, entirely

4) I've long believed that God wants us to be settled, in and through our families and communities, because it is through membership that we are most likely to obtain the kind of local knowledge and trust which enables us to truly love and serve one another as we (selfishly, instinctively) do for ourselves. Real gratitude, and thus real charity, comes with a feeling of familiarity and dependence, I think. When we live lives that are transient, self-motivated, and essentially independent, it is easier to forget or set aside traditions, and harder to experience that feeling of obligation and connection which lies at the heart of God's commandments--the greatest of any such sense of obligation and connection being with God Himself, of course.

5) But another complication: God Himself frequently upsets our experience of being settled, forcing us to make due with change in the midst of multiple abiding responsibilities. God in the Old Testament argues with Abraham and Moses, putting them on the spot, obliging them to engage in (or at least tolerate) human actions and sometimes even divine responses that seem tragic and strange. (In Leviticus 10, God announces Himself glorified through the ritual deaths of Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu, because they brought coals rather than a proper fire before God's altar, and Moses and Aaron have to work out how to properly mourn but also provide atonement for these two unthinking men.)

6) But that strangeness has its uses. The perplexity of the Old Testament record of God's actions and the responses of those who covenanted with Him, I've come to realize, is one important contributor to the way in which God's call for His people to become separate and holy became, over the centuries, especially as the world that Jews and Christians moved through became individualized and cosmopolitan and commercial, characterized by an irony, a rueful openness, a contradictory kind of mournful joy. We are strangers and exiles, says Paul, as he paradoxically (yet confidently!) traveled the world, presenting himself and his message to courts and priests throughout Roman empire. The Gospels themselves demonstrate, again and again, the value of being estranged, confused, and frightened by what God may do.

7) And so it seems that we are localize and settle ourselves, but also be conscious of--and perhaps even always be ready to engage with--the multitude of ways in God and the bountiful, but also tragic, and perhaps fundamentally strange, world He made can alienate us from (that is, make us see our separation as something which sets us as individuals against) our own traditions, our conventions, our communities, and our homes...which might include both literal and ideological ones. The distance from God's commands to ancient Israel to a recital in St. Louis last Sunday is immense, but in another one of her wonderfully careful and thoughtful essays, Rosalynde Welch demonstrated exactly the kind of ambivalent celebration that I think lays at the heart of this powerful holiday. Reflecting on a protest which interrupted a concert she attended, she wrote:

The next morning, naturally, I looked for coverage of the event online. Second-hand reactions crossed the gamut, from those who found the protest to be a powerful and moving indictment of injustice to those who found it a pointless or disrespectful intrusion.

I fall somewhere in the middle. I did not find the protest rude or inappropriate. On the contrary, it seemed tailored to match the nature of the event: it was organized, peaceful, musical in nature and indeed related specifically to the theme of the program, death and remembrance. There was something undeniably beautiful about the moment, about inviting the death and loss that shadows the neighborhoods surrounding Powell Hall inside its exclusive walls to make meaning in duet with the most beautiful Requiem ever written.

Nevertheless, the experience ultimately left me unsatisfied, and I’ve spent some time trying to understand why. An insightful friend of mine made the observation that peaceful public actions share much in common with religious ritual: both are cooperative, choreographed symbolic behaviors that use the human body to represent a larger meaning. Ideally, both ritual and public actions invite our souls to commit to a shared moral vision of justice and compassion. This struck me as both true and profound.

But there’s one important difference, and it made all the difference for me. Religious ritual is inherently participatory: the individual is ceremonially invited to partake, to immerse, to covenant, to pray....By contrast, public actions are, it seems to me, primarily meant to be observed by onlookers. Why else stage them in public settings?

In the best of circumstances, public actions meant to be visually consumed by the public can indeed change hearts and minds. But...[the] element of surprise and shock, of deep social rupture of convention--perhaps necessary to jolt the audience out of its complacency--made it impossible for us to join in, precisely because we did not know the governing conventions of the action.


Again, the distance between Rosalynde's experience and that of a 21st-century Jewish family moving temporarily into a plywood booth in their living is huge, materially speaking. Symbolically speaking, though, perhaps they're both capturing something of the same ambivalence which I read in Leviticus. God has graced us with this wonderful (though also violent and unjust and often simply strange) world, in which we are called to act in accordance with His commands; we are to build understandings and communities, to engage in rituals that settle us in our duties and joys...but we are also in a public world, and there we find our acts of settlement always challenged, potentially disrupted, perhaps turned against it, sometimes even by those who themselves are acting in accordance with God's commands as well.

In the end, I think, every act of making a home and bringing in the harvest must be understood as an act of celebration, if we are to take God's words seriously. He wants us to be at home. But every such act reminds us how perilous, how demanding, how abiding, how ungovernable and unsettling God's call to separation, even in our contented, conventional homemaking, always remains. God wants us to join Him, but that joining may never be complete. It took Israel 40 years, of course--but ultimately, even those four decades were only a start.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Three Ways Sam Brownback Could Keep Gay Marriage Illegal in Kansas: Some Free Advice

In the few days since the Supreme Court declined to review the decision of the 10th Circuit Court that Utah’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional, there has been a great deal of talk about how Kansas’s own same-sex marriage ban must fall, since we are under the 10th Circuit’s jurisdiction.

Governor Brownback is, at present, resisting that talk. Referencing the popular vote back in 2005 which defined marriage in the Kansas state constitution so as to exclude gay and lesbian couples, the governor said: “I don't know how much more you can bolster it than to have a vote of the people to put in the constitution that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.”

Well, I’m here to help. I know of three strategies that could bolster Brownback’s insistence on standing metaphorically before county clerks’ offices across the state, refusing entrance to both the interpretations of the federal judiciary, and the gay and lesbians citizens of Kansas who hope their way of life, or at least the domestic side of it, has finally achieved some legal recognition.

1) Invoke the 10th Amendment! This would be the constitutionalist/Tea Party approach. The 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Many legal scholars argue that, with a few notable exceptions, this amendment is mostly a dead letter, especially ever since the American people supported legislation during the Civil Rights movement that empowered the national government to stop individual states from discriminating in education, public accommodations, housing, voting, and–yes–marriage.

Still, that doesn’t mean it can’t be tried. The preferred response by many to the Affordable Care Act–namely, to call for the creation of a multi-state “health care compact” that would operate without federal involvement–already borders on embracing state sovereignty, so it would be interesting to see the Brownback administration pursue that option fully.

2) Abolish marriage! This would be the libertarian approach. Complete the separation of church and state by ending all legal marriage entanglements with all religious bodies in Kansas. If churches want to offer something which they call “marriage” to their followers, they can do so, entirely on their own terms, without any state recognition whatsoever. On the other side of things, if the national or state constitution requires (or if individual legislatures decide) that some provision be made for recognizing any number of different types of couples for tax purposes or reasons of inheritance, custody, etc., the secretary of state’s office can issue a bunch of unceremonious licenses to that effect.

Given the rising influence of libertarian-inclined conservatives, I imagine this approach might result some surprising left-right alliances being formed here in Kansas. But unfortunately for the governor, embracing it would also probably scandalize the social conservatives upon which his re-election probably depends.

3) Secede from the union! This would be the ultimate combination of both the above two approaches. You would shrink the federal government’s influence–and thus the reach of the federal judiciary’s constitutional interpretations--by escaping it entirely, and follow through on the principle of state sovereignty be declaring independence–thus allowing Kansas to define citizenship and marriage as it sees fit. Texas would be so jealous of us getting there first.

I suppose I should note that, as a (late but now firm) supporter of the recognition of same-sex marriages, I am personally opposed to pursuing any of the above responses to the legal actions surely waiting in the wake of the 10th Circuit’s decision--and, more importantly, in the wake of United States v. Windsor. Also, I strongly doubt any of them would be successful anyway. But as a political scientist who enjoys a good argument, and--more importantly--as someone who overall thinks our increasing dysfunctional democratic system needs a serious constitutional challenge, I say: bring them on.