More than 40 years ago, the 1968 Democratic National Convention was the scene of chaos and vandalism that will remain etched in the minds of all those who witnessed it. The events in Chicago at that time were a catastrophe for American liberalism and progressivism. The ideological and political left destroyed each other’s chances of success for years to come. For the 40 years following those events, a Republican occupied the White House for 28 of them. Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan capitalized on the fears and backlash of the “silent” or “moral” majority to ensure conservative dominance for more than a generation.
Why did this happen as it did? While we may agree with many of the beliefs of the protesters of the 1960s, it is important to remember how radical many of them must have been for their time. What is the norm now was too extreme for a sufficient number of Americans. The proof is in the overwhelming support for the conservative party for the next two decades.
Fortunately, some of the most important changes from the 1960s have remained with us to this day. However, we have also seen a resurgence of the right on issues such as a woman’s right to choose in states such as Mississippi, Arkansas, North Dakota, etc.
Whether or not you agree with the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, it is impossible to argue that there wasn’t a backlash and that some groups and states have manifested that backlash into policy. In the above-mentioned states, there are scarce providers of what the Supreme Court declared to be a woman’s right. This was a policy imposed from above by Washington, something that often doesn’t go over well. Observe any documentary about the Civil War or Civil Rights Era for further evidence.
That is not to say that Washington was not right in those cases, but it is nearly impossible to get all 50 states in lockstep over issues such as these; regions that have as much a differing degree of society and culture that you sometimes see between separate countries. There is a reason that nearly every large nation that has at least a semblance of a democratic system is a federation; the central government can’t manage all of the affairs in every part of the country. Even a country as old as the United Kingdom has learned that not everything can be dealt with in London and therefore has delegated powers to more local parliaments.
The point of all of that is to say that Washington faces the social conflict that it does because varying parts of the country are trying to insert their cultural values into the national government and are, unsurprisingly, drawing a reaction or backlash. Some day, the cultural values of the entire nation may resemble those of New York or any other state, but that will not be accomplished just through national policy unless the national government is willing to enforce those policies with unmitigated force. Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy had to deploy federal officers to ensure that African American students would be able to attend segregated schools. This was a beautiful instance of the federal government taking a stand for what is right, but it is doubtful that this nation wants Washington to deploy its forces to make sure that every policy becomes a reality. It wouldn’t exactly look like a democracy, would it?
Returning to the present and the approaching Supreme Court cases, it is hopeful that the highest legal institution in the land will strike down Congress’ unconstitutional breach into defining what is and isn’t a marriage and uphold the ruling the California court that ruled against Proposition 8. However, even if it does, that does not merit an open invitation to liberals to put through their own marriage law in Congress unless they want to go through all the fun aspects of passing a constitutional amendment giving the federal government the power to do so. There are some places in this country where you won’t guarantee proper homosexual rights unless you literally forced their inhabitants to respect them.
Only one state (California) that formerly granted marriage licenses to same-sex couples has discontinued the practice, and it is expectedly that that decision to stop doing so will be overturned. It is far better to secure full equality for homosexuals in those states where it’s possible rather than some watered-down, unsatisfactory pseudo-equality from a deal in Washington that is not more certain to last.
One day, same-sex marriage will be universally legal in this country, and it will be another step towards a better democratic society, but there is another fact that you is nearly impossible to force people if not entire regions to embrace that as quickly as you’d hope. Even the Civil War, probably the largest federal intervention in state affairs, did not fully guarantee African-American equality in this country. It took another century for races to be at least legally equal. It should not have taken that long, and it is a travesty that it did. However, as horrible and unsatisfactory as it may sound, lasting equality never becomes the law as quickly as we’d like. Coming from someone whose ancestors only had to stop hearing “Irish need not apply” a half-century ago when Kennedy was elected, it is challenging to declare your own legitimate place in the American melting pot, but the trials of achieving true equality secure peace and justice not only for your descendants for but for all Americans.