Hobby Lobby: Not About Religious Freedom

Jill FilipovicI always thought that Cosmopolitan was just a silly fashion magazine. But I’ll admit, I have never so much as looked inside an issue. Then today, Digby linked to an article by Jill Filipovic, Hobby Lobby Supporters Insist Decision Isn’t Sexist, Tell Women to Close Their Legs. It’s one of the best things I’ve read yet in the aftermath of Burwell v Hobby Lobby. (See my discussion: SCOTUS Says Not All Religions Are Equal.)

Primarily, the article is about the reaction of people on the right to women who had the audacity to be angry or disappointed with the decision in the case. It includes some real gems from Twitter. Filipovic made the infinitely reasonable observation, “Really glad the same #prolife folks who oppose abortion rights are making it harder for women to prevent unintended pregnancy.” AmericaWoman responded, “@JillFilipovic be accountable for your own blood I’ll keep your legs closed.” (I know, it doesn’t exactly make sense, but you get the idea.) There was a whole lot of discussion about keeping legs closed and using aspirin tablets. In fact, #CloseYourLegs was very big for a while.

Hobby LobbyOf course, when it was a man writing, the tweets normally used the word “whore.” The unalterably vile and stupid Patrick Dollard tweeted, “MSNBC Whore Irin Carmon: Hobby Lobby Ruling Is Nothing But An ‘All-Out Assault’ On Contraceptives.” Ssgt. Richard Davis tweeted, “IF YOU WANT TO BE A WHORE & SLEEP W/ EVERY MAN YOU FIND PAY FOR YOUR OWN BIRTH CONTROL. 10 BUCKS AT WALGREENS. SO GO BE WHORE’S.” And Tim Gradous was a total winner, seemingly believing that God is dead or has changed his mind, “Two Aspirin between knees is 100% effective, God knew. If you can’t pay don’t Play…” Note also how Mr Gradous seems to think that pregnancy is solely the concern of the woman.

What’s especially terrible about all of this is that I figure that these are just conservatives without enough control of the ids. The five men on the Court who made up the majority probably think these same things. They just know better than to communicate their thoughts in such a raw form. I don’t say this lightly. We know that the brain works that way. With all due respect to Stephen Colbert’s satire, we do pretty much decide with our “guts” and then use our higher brain functions to justify those primal “thoughts.” As smart as he may be, I think the fact that 24 was once Antonin Scalia’s favorite television show demonstrates that there is more gut than brain on the court. If the five conservatives on the court had been women, at least some of them would have dissented and the case would have been struck down. There is no doubt of that.

Jill Filipovic also noted what I think is going to be the lasting legacy of this decision:

Hobby Lobby isn’t the first time religious employers tried to assert their beliefs as a justification for denying services or discriminating. In her Hobby Lobby dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg notes other cases where religious company owners objected to generally applicable laws because of their religious beliefs: a restaurant owner who did not want to serve black customers, since his religious beliefs included racial segregation; health care club owners who refused to hire any single women who didn’t have their fathers’ permission to work, any married women who didn’t have their husbands’ permission, anyone living with a member of the opposite sex outside of marriage, and anyone “antagonistic to the Bible,” including “fornicators and homosexuals.”

In the long run, I think that Burwell v Hobby Lobby will turn into one of those historical embarrassments for the Supreme Court like Dred Scott v Sandford and Plessy v Ferguson. It’s like the Court has opened a wound in the law that conservatives will claw away at. And I would go further than Ginsburg. At least there is a Biblical case to be made for segregation. There is no biblical case to be made against birth control. And, in fact, until the mid-1970s, protestants didn’t have a problem with abortion, much less birth control.

The only really important thing I learned from the racist Ayn Rand was how totalitarian regimes oppress their people. They don’t rigorously enforce all kinds of laws. They just have all kinds of laws laying around that they apply to anyone who becomes a problem. Well, going forward, the Supreme Court has set up a similar situation. Companies (I’m sure the “closely held” part will go away soon enough—especially if we get any more conservatives on the court.) will have all kinds of religious rights—as long as those religious rights go along with what the conservatives on the court believe.

The point that Filpovic makes is that this case isn’t about religious freedom at all. It is about conservatives who have never made peace with the slipping power of patriarchy. Of course, it’s interesting that the same conservatives who want women to stay at home with a Duggar-style family are not so interested as to allow union rights and minimum wage laws that might make a single-earner household possible. The overall conservative agenda isn’t just to keep women down. The whole thing is about keeping everyone but the power elites down. One thing that many people seem to forget is that birth control doesn’t just free women; if anything, it frees men more. And the power elite don’t like the poorer classes to have freedom. Corporations are people because they are owned by the rich. A zygote’s rights trump those of the host mother because she’s poor.

This is modern America.

Reps Need Good Ideas Not New Ones

Paul KrugmanEarlier today, Paul Krugman wrote a very interesting article, Trick or Tweak. It’s basically about the new Republican policy book Room to Grow, although it isn’t mentioned by name. As he noted, “More specifically, the ‘reform conservatives’ seem mainly to be offering supposedly new ideas for the sake of being seen to offer new ideas.” To me, this gets to the fundamental problem with the current Republican Party. It isn’t that they don’t have “new ideas.” In general, the issue is not new ideas. It is rare to have new ideas in politics. The problem with the Republican Party is that in terms of its politics, it has ossified. They have become the party of “all or nothing.” They are unwilling to compromise.

Krugman rightly notes that the two parties are pretty much the same as they ever were, “Liberals want a strong social safety net, financed with relatively high taxes, especially on high incomes.” Meanwhile, “Conservatives want much less of a safety net, and much lower taxes on the affluent.” The problem is that conservatives have become delusional. When Reagan came into power, he offered up the belief that by shoveling money to the rich, it would make everyone better off. And to people not paying attention, that seemed to work. The economy did well under him. But we know that this had nothing to do with these policies and everything to do with the Federal Reserve.

But even if you gave the Reagan tax cut credit for the economic recovery of the 1980s, the recovery was not terribly robust, especially after the deep recession the country was coming out of. The economy did not grow as fast as it did under Johnson before him. And it did not grow as fast as it did under Clinton after him. And then there is the issue that I discussed in, Reagan’s Legacy: Tax Cuts for Rich, Tax Hikes for the Rest. So not only did we get only a modest economic boom under Reagan, the middle class actually ended up paying more in taxes. Krugman was right when he noted specifically that conservatives want lower taxes on the affluent. That’s all they care about; note that they had no problem with the payroll tax holiday ending.

What really drives the Republicans, however, is not any false lessons they learned from Reagan. What drives them is the false lesson they learned from Bush the Elder. The lesson is that you can never raise taxes. Actually, if there is a lesson that should have been learned from Bush, it is this: don’t make ostentatious political promises you don’t know you can keep. (In fact, at the time, some of Bush’s economic advisers tried to get the “read my lips” promise removed from his speech.) But what Republicans have learned is not about winning general elections; it’s about winning primaries.

I think where we are today is the natural result of that false lesson about never raising taxes. Because being committed to never raising taxes means that the government will never have enough money. During good economic times, the Republicans insist upon lowering taxes because it is wrong for the government to take more money than it needs (eg 2001 tax cut). And then they insist upon lowering taxes when the economy is bad because we need stimulus (eg 2003 tax cut). This ultimately leads to Grover Norquist’s idea to “shrink [the government] down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

Of course, the truth is that Republicans don’t want to drown the government in the bathtub. Neither does Norquist. The Republicans firmly believe in taking money away from the poorer classes and using it to enrich the already rich. Bush’s prescription drug benefit was partly about giving a benefit to older people who tend to vote Republican. But mostly, it was a huge giveaway to the drug companies. His War on Terror was as much about giving money to military contractors as anything else. And his attempt to privatize Social Security was about rewarding Wall Street.

What I’m saying is that the Republican Party itself is not an honest broker. The Democrats really do want to do what they say. That’s not to say they are perfect or anything. But they wanted healthcare reform and they were even willing to use the Republicans’ own plan to get it. Not only would the opposite not be true. When the Democrats did that, the Republicans abandoned their own plan. Remember: not a single congressional Republican voted for the ACA. So the only time you can get any idea of what the Republicans really want to do is when they are in power. And for that, you have to look at the years 2003-2007

So let’s go back to how Krugman described them, “Conservatives want much less of a safety net, and much lower taxes on the affluent.” They don’t want to destroy the government; they just want to destroy the parts of it that help the poorer classes. The Tea Party makes bold stands and sounds downright libertarian. But once Republicans are back in power, they will do what they always do: run up deficits that the Democrats will later sacrifice their own agenda to manage; and funnel money to their key constituents. And once out of power, Republicans will go back to the same hysterics about out of control spending.

Leave aside the fact that the ideas in Room to Grow are extremely weak tea. The fact remains that the book and the entire conservative “reform” movement does nothing but provide political cover for the Republican Party. It allows David Brooks to say, “[T]he most coherent and compelling policy agenda the American right has produced this century.” It is just apologia. Regardless, we don’t need “new” ideas; we need good ideas, and we already have a lot of those. It’s just that they don’t come from the Republicans.

Christoph Willibald Gluck

Christoph Willibald GluckOn this day in 1714, Christoph Willibald Gluck was born. We know him simply as Gluck and he was a great composer. But we remember him because he was an enormously important opera composer. Although he had many patrons who required various things of him as a composer, his output is overwhelmingly opera. And he is really the reason that opera became such a big deal to Classical and then Romantic period composers. Because Gluck fixed opera. He abandoned opera buffa and opera seria, and was critical in creating the more serious art form that we think of today.

Gluck is also interesting in that he was something of an itinerant composer. He moved all over Europe, In 1745, he became the house composer at the King’s Theatre in London. That’s notable because artistically speaking, England was an artistic backwater at that time. But Gluck came into his all in 1770s in Paris. During his time in Vienna, he was the young Marie Antoinette’s music teacher, so he was well connected when he moved to France. And he had the good sense to not only leave Paris before the revolution, but also to die before it—just to be certain. It was in Paris that Gluck created his greatest work.

There was great controversy during his time in Paris. Many people loved his new work, but many others preferred the old style. In fact, there was a public rivalry between those who loved Gluck and those who loved the Italian composer Niccolo Piccinni. Piccinni was actually quite a bit younger than Gluck, but he still composed mostly opera buffa. There was no rivalry between the two composers themselves. However, when Gluck learned that Piccinni was working on an opera of the same libretto, Gluck abandoned the project and destroyed what work he had done. I have no idea why, but in general, I think revolutionaries are often insecure and that he didn’t want to go head to head with Piccinni, even though I have little doubt that history would have favored Gluck.

It was in Paris that Gluck suffered his first stroke. After that, he pretty much retired from music, handing off to his student Antonio Salieri. In fact, there is a very sweet story about this. Gluck gave Salieri the libretto Les Danaides and when it was performed in 1784, it was announced as a collaboration between Gluck and Salieri. But when it became a huge hit, Gluck announced publicly that the music was, in fact, entirely Salieri’s. That’s what I call a mentor: protective and gracious! (For the record, despite the movie Amadeus and even letters from Mozart himself, Salieri was Italian by birth, but he was absolutely a German composer.)

The one thing I really don’t like in opera is the recitative. These are kind of talk-singing between the real musical numbers. And the more powerful the main numbers are, the more the recitatives stand out as simply bizarre. Gluck really tried to cut back on their use and I think wanted to get rid of them altogether. In addition to not being very interesting musically, they distract the listener. I hate them in Don Giovanni, for example—an opera I love. But interestingly, Gluck’s primary goal was make the music work with the libretto. Like all the great opera composers to follow him, he wanted the music to serve the drama. At that time, most opera was just an excuse for singers to go off. In Amadeus, Salieri says (unfairly) of Mozart’s opera The Abduction from the Seraglio, “Ten minutes of ghastly scales; arpeggios! Whizzing up and down like fireworks at a fairground.” Gluck is kind of the father of modern opera. There is a direct line from him to Wagner.

Here is a commercial for the Washington National Opera’s production of what is generally considered Gluck’s masterpiece, Iphigenie en Tauride:

Happy birthday Gluck!