One nation, under Obama?
Hidden assumptions abound in the front-page Week in Review piece, "We Agreed To Agree, And Forgot To Notice," from reporter Kirk Johnson, (a Midwest-based reporter who often frets about signs of racismin "white"states like Colorado).
Johnston began by linking a 40-year anecdote about racism to Barack Obama's run for the presidency, and pondered by wondering if many political issues are being resolved as people come to consensus. Strangely, the issues are almost all being settled in favor of the liberal viewpoint, with Sen. Barack Obama as the guiding light toward the new consensus.
"As Martin Bunzl was getting on a plane in 1966, something happened that would stick in his head for the next four decades. A man taking his seat looked around and announced, loudly enough for all to hear: 'Oh, geez, not a Negro stewardess.'
"The remark stuck because it came at a threshold moment when culture and politics and norms of behavior were all in flux, said Dr. Bunzl, a professor of philosophy at Rutgers University. A few years earlier, a comment like that might have been unremarkable, and a few years later it would be intolerable. The man on the plane was shouting through an open window between worlds.
"Whether the results of the Iowa caucuses on Thursday will be seen by future generations as a threshold moment of change or a footnote to a story yet unwritten is anyone's guess, of course. The victories by Barack Obama, the Democratic senator from Illinois, and former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, a Republican not in the traditional mold, are tiny steps on a long road that may not lead to the White House for either man."
"But there's no doubt that for one night, in one state, Americans dramatically changed the subject. Race didn't matter - even though Mr. Obama was an African-American running in a nearly all-white state - but talk of unity and common ground did, as Mr. Obama galvanized his supporters by promising to toss historical and political division aside."
"But if you listen closely, you might hear something - a faint but persistent tapping at the window that economists, criminologists and biologists say is the sound of change arriving anyway. From capital punishment to global warming to homosexuality to abortion, many of the social issues that divide us are shifting and evolving - perhaps even in some instances into a new consensus, or at least, and no less profoundly, toward a reframing of the old debates.
"On the equally tangled landscape of capital punishment, there have been legal challenges to the injected drug cocktail in use since the 1970s, as well as front-page exposés from all over the country about death-row inmates cleared through DNA analysis. Both are forcing a reconsideration of the death penalty in state legislatures and courts at a time when crime is far less a front-burner anxiety than it was a generation ago.
"In the marketplace, consumer choices and social goals have melded, once again bypassing the political system. Though some of the efforts are probably no more than public relations and pandering to the latest fad, others cannot be so easily dismissed. Those include hybrid vehicles, which are carving out a kind of middle-brow fuel efficiency: not an all-electric car or a bicycle, but not a Hummer, either.
Johnson saw abortion trends going in ways favoring both pro-choice and pro-life forces.
"As for abortion, the divisions are probably as deep as ever, but the underlying terrain has shifted. If human stem cells, which can be used to grow new organs, can be made from skin cells rather than embryonic cells, as a recent study suggests, then a whole corner of the abortion debate fades away: There's no prospect of a global industry in destroying embryos for medical harvest.
"And while concerns over privacy will persist no matter what happens to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's landmark case legalizing abortion in 1973, the threat of the back-alley abortionist with a coat-hanger that haunted society before Roe perhaps has been muted too by the abortion pill, RU486, which would presumably still be available (if in some cases illegally) no matter what."
Johnson saw the death penalty, global warming and gay marriage as issues that are becoming settled in the public mind - in ways that make liberals happy.
"And so the winds shift. The most recent Gallup poll on crime, in May 2006, found that only 34 percent of people thought the death penalty helped lower the murder rate, down from 62 percent in 1985. In 19 states, from California to Mississippi, executions have been put on hold pending a resolution to a Supreme Court case challenging lethal injection in Kentucky. And New Jersey tossed out the death penalty altogether late last year.
"In such an environment, the real challenge for politicians, whatever their party, is how to transcend partisanship not just in thought but in deed.
"In a New York Times-CBS News poll last April, 43 percent of the respondents who thought the weather had become stranger lately volunteered that global warming was the probable cause, up from only 5 percent a decade ago. But asked in the same survey whether they'd support an increase in gasoline taxes if that might help fight the climate problem, a resounding 58 percent said no."
At least this paragraph is balanced with two limited-government ideas:
"In the 1960s, the demographics of black migration from the South, charismatic leadership and televised images of the racist backlash combined to jar a nation and a Congress to consciousness. In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton stepped away from Democratic Party orthodoxy on welfare and broke the logjam, leading to a historic rethinking of the subject. In 2005, a decision by the Supreme Court affirming the right of the government of New London, Conn., to take property, pay the owners compensation, and give it to someone else for development led to an instant uprising against the practice in statehouses and city halls all over the nation."
"Today, pop entertainment, sophisticated marketing and the Internet can shift public thinking and taste as fast as a Britney Spears news cycle. Are the evolving attitudes that poll takers find about homosexuality, for example, a reflection of new science and genetics, or 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,' or simply the fact that young people are more comfortable with gay friends who are acknowledging their sexuality earlier and more openly?
Johnson ended as he began, with Obama the inspiration.
"Indeed, in his Iowa speech, Mr. Obama seemed to suggest that even having a conversation about healing and coming together was outdated, and that it's what you do next, with a consensus and a community made real through action, that matters.
"'We are one nation, we are one people,' he said. 'And our time for change has come.'"