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A Vote For True Diversity
The Supreme Court reinvigorates federalism.


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Jonah Goldberg

The Supreme Court has just ruled — 5 to 4 — that the Boy Scouts can ban openly gay scoutmasters from their ranks. They also ruled — 5 to 4 — that states can’t ban certain kinds of infanticide. (Hey, I may not be rock solid on the life-begins-at-conception argument, but I’m fairly rigid on killing live healthy babies that are three-quarters-fully delivered. Call me crazy.)

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In short, this was a mixed day for the Supreme Court and for the Republic. This also demonstrates the incredibly high stakes of this presidential election, when you consider that the next President will in all likelihood appoint up to three new Justices. But that’s not the point of today’s column. Instead, I’d like to talk about freedom and diversity.

I just reviewed The Patriot for National Review On paper. Alas, the editors will not hesitate to activate my pain collar if I attempt to review it here first. Still, I can talk about it in general terms.

One of the reasons I was disappointed by the movie is that it doesn’t reprise the best theme of Braveheart: the old definition of freedom. When William Wallace bellows, “They can never take away our Freedom!” he has a different kind of freedom in mind. The freedom of Braveheart — and, in large part, of the original US Constitution — refers to the ability of communities to govern themselves as they see fit. Conversely, the current definition of freedom on college campuses and in ACLU conference rooms is the ability to publicly insert gerbils where no gerbil wants to go — and to get a government check for doing it.

In many ways, the cultural richness of America was irrevocably damaged by the civil-rights movement. I don’t mean to say that it wasn’t an absolute moral imperative to welcome African-Americans into American life; it was. The problem is that the moral logic of eradicating segregation was so powerful that it has left an afterglow that has lit the way for every other group in America. Everyone seems to think they’re the moral equivalent of blacks or Jews in Nazi Germany. Overly politicized gays, transgendereds, Scientologists, obese people, deaf people, mentally handicapped people, women (or I should say “womyn,” since it is only the silly set of feminists who make these comparisons) and on and on have taken to adopting the language of civil-rights struggle. It shouldn’t be controversial to point out that these comparisons are pretty weak. Denying two women the right to marry is not the same as denying a black man and a white woman the right to marry. Refusing to hire a woman as a firefighter because she isn’t strong enough to carry a body out of a fire isn’t the same as denying an able-bodied black man the job because of the color of his skin. Telling an obese man that he can’t have a job as a thong model is not Jim Crow-style bigotry (though I will keep auditioning for that gig). Treating Scientologists like the cult they are is not the same as rounding up Jews in Warsaw.

Those who call for the “mainstreaming” of these and many other groups are determined to instill a fetid sameness on society. Their definition of “diversity” is a rich ethnic cocktail of people who all think alike but look a bit different. When Bill Clinton appointed his cabinet that “looked like America,” it was largely made up of a coterie of like-minded, Democratic, semi-corrupt rent-seeking lawyers. But hey, they could check off different “ethnicity boxes” on their census forms! What a triumph for the melting pot.

What I want is a different kind of diversity: one in which the federal government has a few clear interests in how society organizes itself — and defends those interests jealously — but otherwise stays out of the way. In this diverse nation, some towns would ban books, films, and music that offended the community. And some cities would permit a level of licentiousness that would border on Sodom and Gomorrah or even the Clinton White House on roofie and wine coolers. Some states would permit abortion; others would ban it. Some states would permit all-male institutions like the former VMI, and others would rule that same-sex education is unlawful. Driving along the interstate, you could pass through dry towns and boozy towns; places where gays rule the roost and places where gays voted with their feet a long time ago. You could drive through Catholic hamlets and Protestant burghs; Wal-Mart-free zones and commercial-enterprise zones; drug-free areas and hemp-drenched paradises. There would still be a mainstream culture, it would just have a lot more interesting eddies feeding it.

Last month in the Morrison decision the Supreme Court brought us closer to that kind of society. The court ruled that the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution no longer permits an overreaching federal legislature to rewrite the story of this nation as it pleases. The court actually said this a few years ago in the Lopez decision, but nobody seemed to believe they meant it. The Court has rediscovered the concept of Federalism just in time. For recognizing federalism is the first step to a truly diverse America.

Of course, my kind of America would be a horror show to those who live by the gerbil-insertion notion of freedom. For, after all, some people would have their feelings hurt at not being invited to the lodge, the club, the parade, the school. But they would be free to run their own parades, their own clubs, their own schools as they saw fit. Or, they could move to places where they were welcome in every parade and school. They would be, in a word, “free” to do as they please.

Gays, for example, need to understand that they’ve won their freedom. There are thriving, affluent gay communities all across America. It is okay to be gay in America, it’s just not okay to be gay everywhere in America. So what? It’s not okay to be a lot of things in America. It’s not okay to be heterosexual everywhere in America. It’s not okay to be white everywhere in America. I for example wouldn’t expect to be welcomed in the ranks of the Nation of Islam. Sure it hurts my feelings they won’t let me sacrifice a goat to the number 6, but I can live with it. The Scientologists can’t come to my synagogue and ramble on about the perfidy of the planet Teegeeack and demand to see my tax returns. Ellen DeGeneres won’t be going to an Amish party any time soon and Pat Buchanan shouldn’t wait up for his lifetime membership badge from People For the American Way. That’s as it should be.

A few years ago Gallaudet University — a school for deaf people — was rocked by protests by students and faculty who demanded that their new president be deaf. The guy they hired who could hear felt mighty aggrieved. That’s life and that’s too bad. A few hours ago the Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts don’t have to accept openly gay men as scoutmasters because endorsing homosexuality is antithetical to the organization’s ideals. No doubt the New York Times will tomorrow muster great sympathy for the half-dozen openly gay men whose aspirations were crushed because they can’t be scoutmasters (and I have no doubt that some would make excellent ones). But I, for one, am cheering for a more diverse America.



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