It was as astonishing an argument as I had heard in a while, but I suppose I ought not to have been all that surprised. My conservative friends had been in an asymptotic arc toward the Anatole France baseline for a while. And the logic brought the famous writer to mind.
"If 50 million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing," said Anatole France more than a hundred years ago. He was contemplating various prejudices. Facts are facts regardless of popular votes.
The human temptation is to define virtue with a hidden assumption that we, and those in our circumstances, are the norm. For example, those whom the rest of us regard as wealthy often see themselves as middle class. They compare themselves to those they know, those they see every day, those who are regular people. This is not entirely theoretical, or even anecdotal. A recent Pew survey found that a "third of people earning more than $150,000 a year ... see themselves as middle class."
"We have the greatest health care system in the world," I have heard from time to time. The unmentioned completion of that sentence comes in a hidden assumption. Those who are normal share my circumstance. So there is no need to amend it to "We have the greatest health care system in the world for those who have wealth." Many people of wealth simply see themselves as unexceptional, no different than their neighbors, associates, friends, or anyone else in the local country club. Health care is available to normal folks like them.
It is completely natural for the Republican base to applaud during a televised debate the idea that an uninsured patient should be allowed to die untreated. They applaud what would not touch them or those like them, what would not affect ordinary, regular Americans. Normal folks.
We celebrate freedom of speech. We see it exercised every day on television and radio. When the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are persons, it was a bit of a precursor to Mitt Romney's "Corporations are people, too, my friend." Would he let his daughter marry one? Actually, Romney's point was that corporations are owned by real people.
We champion free speech, often with an image in mind of folks like us. Those who can manipulate large sums are no different in that respect. Freedom of speech is very rapidly devolving to freedom to control the only megaphone in town. Freedom of speech for those who can afford ink by the barrel. That is one reason freedom of speech is defined for some as the freedom not to win a debate by force of logic, but rather to shout down everyone else through the sheer power of advertising.
Most of us remember the 1962 portrayal of Atticus Finch by Gregory Peck. The fictional character makes his defense of a legal equality.
Now, gentlemen, in this country, our courts are the great levelers. In our courts, all men are created equal. I'm no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and of our jury system - that's no ideal to me. That is a living, working reality!
The Legal Services Corporation has been taking that fictional rendition a step closer to reality in neighborhoods around the nation for over 40 years. It is a federally funded nonprofit program that provides money to groups making legal advice available to ordinary folks who can't afford lawyers for such day-to-day issues as foreclosure, debt collection, or unfair and illegal service fees or interest charges. Conservatives have been quietly attacking it in Congress this year. The legal system offers liberty and justice for anyone who buys it. Equality.
Corporate freedom, regulation, health care, even legal protection, are still contentious areas of public debate. But let's not trick ourselves into believing that tilting the table toward wealth involves a stand in favor of equality.
We are not always talking about equality for the wealthy, are we?
Freedom of religion has become, for some of us, freedom to worship in whatever church or synagogue we choose. "Freedom of religion," says Joe Lieberman, "does not mean freedom from religion." We are for such freedoms for ourselves and those like us. Opposition to the building of mosques should not be considered bigotry. Muslims, Hindus, and even atheists have the same freedom I have to worship in my Christian Church. What could be more equal?
In the old days of segregation, forcible separation of the races was equality. Everyone had the freedom to associate with those of the same race. Separate but equal was the law. My loved one and I would have been subject to arrest as soon as we said "I do." But still, every adult had the same freedom to marry anyone in the same race. Why would that be considered unequal? Those who are for segregation should not be considered bigots. Change often has unintended consequences. We must resist change.
Which brings us to the argument I had once heard so often, so long ago. The fellow whom I admire actually said the words. It had been so long, I had almost forgotten that someone could say what he was saying and still deny that he was uttering anything unusual.
The subject was gay marriage. There is no discrimination, no inequality, certainly no bigotry. Everyone is already equal. "No one," he insisted, "is allowed to marry someone of the same sex."
It was that argument that brought to mind the French Nobel Laureate, Anatole France.
La majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain.
The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.
- Anatole France, 1894
In most states, the law forbids everyone, heterosexuals as well as gays, from marrying someone of the same sex.
What could be more equal?
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