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11.4.06

A Regressive Distribution of Rights

One of the most frustrating aspects of the current conservative dominance in politics is the way it has turned the various facets of the progressive movement against each other. In order to position oneself as a hard-headed realist, various leaders on the left have proposed jettisoning other parts of the left in a bid to reclaim power. Ordinarily I'm easily frustrated with people who deny that tradeoffs are inevitable. But in much of this intra-progressive discussion, it becomes clear that the jettisoning is not truly a tough sacrifice in the name of pragmatism, but rather something that the person proposing it was in favor of all along, and pragmatism just provides a handy excuse. I'll own up to doing a bit of it myself -- I'd happily advocate the Brian Schweitzer path of discarding the gun control plank, because I never thought that gun control was all that important an issue.

The latest example is Jasmyne Cannick's proposal (via Pandagon) that we forget about fighting to preserve immigrants' rights until gay and lesbian citizens have full rights. Despite her lip service to the importance of immigrants' issues, it's clear from her rhetoric -- such as the "but they're here illegally* whine popular among nativists -- that she doesn't really care much for the immigration cause.

Her logic seems to go like this: Gay and lesbian citizens have some rights, but not a full set. Illegal immigrants have almost no rights. Therefore we should make sure that gays and lesbians have a full set of rights before we go handing out any rights to immigrants (or even defending the few they already have). The more rights you have, the more additional rights you deserve.

If we have to ration rights (not that we should), or at least ration the resources we use to fight for rights (not that they're as fungible as the tradeoff-mongers think), shouldn't we look first to the people who have the most need? I suppose she'd also advocate forgetting about food stamps until we make sure every middle class family has a swimming pool in their backyard.

* I wonder whether she thinks gay and lesbian groups should have stopped pursuing Texas v. Johnson until full racial equality (which still eludes us) was achieved -- since, prior to that final decision, gay sex was illegal in many areas.

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