Saturday, June 29, 2013

Massive resistance

After the Supreme Court's Brown decision in 1954, segregationist politicians developed a strategy of massive resistance to the ruling. Even though integration was now the law of the land, these resisters developed a variety of clever means to try to stem the tide of history. One by one, these efforts mostly failed in the courts, but they succeeded in delaying implementation of desegregation for many years.  Even now, patterns of segregation and discrimination still persist in many areas. But no respectable politician would ever proclaim, as they did in the 1950's and 1960's, that discrimination is acceptable or that re-introducing segregation would be a good idea. To that extent at least, the strategy of massive resistance was futile.

Congress is now refusing to authorize appropriations to educate the public and promote implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Many states are refusing to help their citizens learn about their benefits and responsibilities under the law. So the administration has reached out to private enterprise to help with this task. Rather than embracing this resourceful effort to save public funds and enlist private enterprise to help make people aware of the benefits and requirements of the health care law, Congressional leaders went on the attack. This week, Senate Minority Leader McConnell and Senator Cornyn wrote letters to six professional sports leagues warning them not to get involved with any campaign to promote public awareness of Obamacare.

There are lots of outrageous statements in these letters, such as calling Obamacare a "bill," when in fact it is the law of the land; treating the requirements of health insurance as subject to debate; and trying to distinguish Obamacare from Romneycare (because the state of Massachusetts had obtained help from the Boston Red Sox to educate the public about the benefits of the state's health insurance law) on the ground that Romneycare was bi-partisan. (Isn't it the definition of chutzpah to refuse to participate in health care reform and then attack the end product on the grounds that it is partisan?) It's also fair to ask these opponents of Obamacare why, if you are counting on public disapproval of the law to repeal or scale it back, you would want to deprive people of the opportunity to learn what is in the law. Are you afraid that people might actually like it once they understood it?

What this resistance campaign ultimately fails to recognize is that it is on the wrong side of history. Those who seek to delay and obstruct implementation of the law are likely to suffer the same fate as those who championed the cause of racial discrimination during the Civil Rights era. They will likely live to have to embrace the values they once fought against, and they will eventually try to re-write history to downplay their own ignominious role in it. Strangely enough it is senators of McConnell's and Cornyn's region and political persuasion who have ended up on the wrong side in both battles, proving that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

The same fate is likely to await those who resist recognition of gay marriage across the land. An article in the New York Times this morning talks about the difficulties facing legally married same-sex couples who move to states where their marriages are not recognized. The logical response to this problem would be gradually to harmonize the states' approaches to this issue, and provide legal protections to couples in this situation. And for congregations opposed to gay marriage, the rational response should be to refuse to perform such services in their churches, something they have every right to do. The denialist, anti-historical approach, on the other hand, would be massive resistance. Resistance, and even rollback. The president of the National Organization for Marriage, Brian Brown, promised to “roll back gay marriage” wherever it exists. Ironically, he went on to quote Abraham Lincoln's statement that the country cannot persist half slave and half free, seemingly unaware that the anti-freedom position did not ultimately prevail in Lincoln's time.  It would run counter to the tides of history to expect that laws that recognize the equal dignity of gay couples, and that make health care affordable for all are ultimately going to rolled back by a campaign of massive resistance. History has a way of rolling over those who try to stand in its way.

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