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There Is A Progressive Agenda, And It’s Pressing


As a follow up to my initial response to the question of whether the progressive agenda is exhausted, I have a longer piece up about the major issues progressives are fighting for at various levels.

In addition to the problems that are widely recognized about unsolved, I argue that we shouldn’t be complacent about same-sex marriage:

Last Wednesday’s Supreme Court opinions striking down DOMA and denying the standing of California’s ban same-sex marriage ban are a reason to celebrate. But, the decisions are cause for a nice mid-priced New York Riesling more than a bottle of Dom Pérignon. We shouldn’t forget that, as of now, most Americans live in states where same-sex marriage is illegal. The strong trend in public opinion favoring same-sex marriage is important, but it doesn’t mean that a national right to same-sex marriage is at all inevitable. Many transformations that seem inevitable turn out to be anything but. Chief Justice Warren Burger thought that the Supreme Court had permanently ended the American death penalty by striking down existing statues in 1972; by 1976, a majority of states had them again, with Supreme Court approval. American politics favors inertia—not only can many states can hold out against trends in national opinion, but public opinion majorities don’t guarantee legislative results. The Republican fundraisers who pressured marginal Republican legislators to pass same-sex marriage legislation in New York aren’t going to be similarly pressuring lawmakers in Utah and Alabama anytime soon. The Supreme Court might create a national right to same-sex marriage, but it might not (and has already passed on one opportunity to do so.) Until it does, we should be clear that extending same-sex marriage rights is going to be a long struggle that will experience a lot of setbacks. Liberals who live in more progressive jurisdictions shouldn’t be complacent about the greater number of Americans whose rights go unrecognized. To paraphrase the sportswriter Bill James, if a national right to same-sex marriage comes, it will be not as day follows night but as a marriage follows a wedding. A lot of work is ahead, and nothing is inevitable.

I suppose I should also note that I intentionally avoided drawing distinctions between “liberal” and “left” agendas, largely because in my experience this leads to exceedingly unproductive and unilluminating leftier-than-thou and/or more-respectable-than-thou ideological positioning contests.

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