The Fix
This was the best week of Obama’s presidency

By Chris Cillizza June 26 at 4:38 PM

When President Obama neared the end of his eulogy Friday for the late South Carolina state Sen. Clementa Pinckney (D), a victim of the shootings at a Charleston church last week, he paused. A long pause. It was a moment of genuine drama. Had he lost his place? Were his emotions getting to him?

Then, he started to sing — the opening bars to “Amazing Grace.” Soon, the entire congregation at the AME Emanuel Church joined him in song.

President Obama brought mourners to their feet during his eulogy of South Carolina state Sen. Clementa Pinckney as he sang a verse from the song “Amazing Grace.”

It was a moment of considerable weight and significance: A black president leading a congregation in song at a place where nine black people were murdered by a man with the apparent goal of starting a race war.

And, it served as the coda to Obama’s single best week as president — a week filled with developments, both practical and symbolic, that will reverberate well beyond not only this week or month but his entire presidency.

The week began with Obama winning a trade fight over fast-track negotiating authority that looked to be on thin ice even a week ago. He did so by pulling off something even more remarkable and unlikely: successfully collaborating with Republican congressional leaders to find a path to passage of a rare shared priority.

While fast-track authority for Obama is not the same thing as a successfully negotiated Trans Pacific Partnership (get smart on all the trade deals here) it preserves the possibility of that 12-nation deal coming to fruition and provides Obama a bit of momentum stateside as well. If Obama is able to help make TPP happen, that will be a major foreign policy achievement with consequences lasting well beyond his presidency.

Then came the Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday that upheld the subsidies for low- and middle-income Americans using the federal marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. That judgment, the second time the court had upheld a provision of Obamacare, ended perhaps the last major hope of anti-ACA forces to defund or discredit the bill.

Obama did everything he could to avoid spiking the football in a statement following the court’s decision. But whether he came out and said it or not, the court’s ruling on Obamacare validated what is, without question, the defining policy accomplishment of Obama’s time in office. Had the court decided the other way, the legacy of Obamacare would have been deeply muddled — and it might not have even survived in anything close to a recognizable form. Given how much Obama and his party had lost in the fight for the law, that would have been disastrous. Winning, on the other hand, was a massive affirmation.

Twenty four hours later, the court was back at it — legalizing same sex marriage nationwide. Obama was a late-arriver on the issue, without question. He supported only civil unions during his 2008 campaign and it wasn’t until May 2012 — as his race for reelection neared — that Obama finally came out in support of gay marriage.

But even prior to Obama’s own public statement in support of same-sex marriage, his administration was taking actions that led to Friday’s ruling. In 2011, the Justice Department announced it would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act; in June 2013, the Court struck DOMA — a decision that set things in motion for Friday’s ruling.

And Obama carved out time in his second inaugural address to express his belief that allowing gays and lesbians to marry was part of the greater American movement to freedom and equality. “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” he said that day.

On Friday, in remarks delivered after the marriage ruling, Obama returned to that theme. “Today we can say, in no uncertain terms, that we have made our union a little more perfect,” Obama declared.

Then Obama got on a plane bound for Charleston where, nine days earlier, the latest in a string of mass shooting during his time in office had been committed in the basement of a famous African American church.

The speech Obama delivered, easily one of his best few as president, was a stirring appeal to the redemptive power of grace. It was about how finding grace — even in tragedies like those visited on the church where he spoke — was at the essence of who we all are. Obama touched on gun control, on race relations, on how what divides us is dwarfed by what unites us.

And then be broke into song. It was a genuine moment that will be remembered long after the 2016 election decides who will follow Obama into office. The most powerful person in the country, singing the words “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…that saved a wretch like me” with the eyes of the country on him. It was deeply stirring and emotional — not just for Democrats or African Americans but for Americans, period.

This was a week that will define not only Obama’s second term and his presidency. This is a week that will leave profound implications on our society, setting off ripples that we may not fully grasp for years if not decades.

Obama ran as a change agent. For better or worse, this is the week he realized that destiny most fully during his time in office.

eulogy obama

President Obama’s Eulogy:

GIVING ALL PRAISE AND HONOR TO GOD.

THE BIBLE CALLS US TO HOPE, TO PERSEVERE AND HAVE FAITH IN THINGS NOT SEEN. “THEY WERE STILL LIVING BY FAITH WHEN THEY DIED”, SCRIPTURE TELLS US. “THEY DID NOT RECEIVE THE THINGS PROMISED; THEY ONLY SAW THEM AND WELCOMED THEM FROM A DISTANCE, ADMITTING THAT THEY WERE FOREIGNERS AND STRANGERS ON EARTH.

WE ARE HERE TODAY TO REMEMBER A MAN OF GOD WHO LIVED BY FAITH. A MAN WHO BELIEVED IN THINGS NOT SEEN. A MAN WHO BELIEVED THERE WERE BETTER DAYS AHEAD, OFF IN THE DISTANCE. A MAN OF SERVICE WHO PERSEVERED, KNOWING FULL WELL, HE WOULD NOT RECEIVE ALL THOSE THINGS HE WAS PROMISED BECAUSE HE BELIEVED HIS EFFORTS WOULD DELIVER A BETTER LIFE FOR THOSE WHO FOLLOWED.

TO JENNIFER, HIS BELOVED WIFE, ELIANA, AND MALANA, HIS BEAUTIFUL AND WONDERFUL DAUGHTERS TO THE MOTHER EMANUEL FAMILY, THE PEOPLE OF CHARLESTON, AND THE PEOPLE OF SOUTH CAROLINA.

I CANNOT CLAIM TO HAVE THE GOOD FORTUNE TO KNOW REVEREND PINCKNEY WELL, BUT I DID HAVE THE PLEASURE OF KNOWING HIM. AND MEETING HIM HERE IN SOUTH CAROLINA — BACK WHEN WE WERE BOTH A LITTLE BIT YOUNG. [LAUGHTER] BACK WHEN I DIDN’T HAVE VISIBLE GRAY HAIR.  THE FIRST THING I NOTICED WAS HIS GRACIOUSNESS, HIS SMILE, HIS REASSURING BARITONE, HIS DECEPTIVE SENSE OF HUMOR–ALL QUALITIES THAT HELPED HIM WEAR SO EFFORTLESSLY A HEAVY BURDEN OF EXPECTATION.

FRIENDS OF HIS REMARKED THIS WEEK THAT WHEN CLEMENTA PINCKNEY ENTERED A ROOM, IT WAS LIKE THE FUTURE ARRIVED. THAT EVEN FROM A YOUNG AGE, FOLKS KNEW HE WAS SPECIAL. ANNOINTED. HE WAS THE PROGENY OF A LONG LINE OF THE FAITHFUL, A FAMILY OF PREACHERS WHO SPREAD GOD’S WORDS, A FAMILY OF PROTESTORS WHO SO CHANGED TO EXPAND VOTING RIGHTS AND DESEGREGATE THE SOUTH. CLEM HEARD THEIR INSTRUCTION AND HE DID NOT FORSAKE THEIR TEACHING.

HE WAS IN THE PULPIT BY 13. PASTOR BY 18. PUBLIC SERVANT BY 23. HE DID NOT EXHIBIT ANY OF THE COCKINESS OF YOUTH NOR YOUTH”S INSECURITIES. INSTEAD, HE SET AN EXAMPLE WORTHY OF HIS POSITION, WISE BEYOND HIS YEARS. IN HIS SPEECH, IN HIS CONDUCT, IN HIS LOVE, FAITH, AND PURITY.

AS A SENATOR, HE REPRESENTED A SPRAWLING SWAB OF THE LOW COUNTRY, A PLACE THAT HAS LONG BEEN ONE OF THE MOST NEGLECTED IN AMERICA. A PLACE STILL RACKED BY POVERTY AND INADEQUATE SCHOOLS. A PLACE WHERE CHILDREN CAN STILL GO HUNGRY. AND THE SICK CAN GO WITHOUT TREATMENT. A PLACE THAT NEEDED SOMEBODY LIKE CLEM. HIS POSITION IN THE MINORITY PARTY MEANT THE ODDS OF WINNING MORE RESOURCES FOR HIS CONSTITUENTS WERE OFTEN LONG. HIS CALLS FOR GREATER EQUITY WERE TOO OFTEN UNHEEDED. THE VOTES HE CAST WERE SOMETIMES LONELY. BUT HE NEVER GAVE UP. HE STAYED TRUE TO HIS CONVICTIONS. HE WOULD NOT GROW DISCOURAGED.

AFTER A FULL DAY AT THE CAPITOL, HE’D CLIMB INTO HIS CAR AND HEAD TO THE CHURCH TO DRAW SUSTENANCE FROM HIS FAMILY, FROM HIS MINISTRY, FROM THE COMMUNITY THAT LOVED AND NEEDED HIM. THERE, HE WOULD FORTIFY HIS FAITH AND IMAGINE WHAT MIGHT BE.

REVEREND PINCKNEY EMBODIED A POLITICS THAT WAS NEITHER MEAN NOR SMALL. HE CONDUCTED HIMSELF QUIETLY AND KINDLY AND DILIGENTLY. HE ENCOURAGED PROGRESS NOT BY PUSHING HIS IDEAS ALONE, BUT BY SEEKING OUT YOUR IDEAS. PARTNERING WITH YOU, TO MAKE THINGS HAPPEN. HE WAS FULL OF EMPATHY AND FELLOW FEELING. ABLE TO WALK IN SOMEBODY ELSE’S SHOES AND SEE THROUGH THEIR EYES. NO WONDER ONE OF HIS SENATE COLLEAGUES REMEMBERS SENATOR PINCKNEY AS “THE MOST GENTLE OF THE 46 OF US. THE BEST OF THE 46 OF US.”

CLEM WAS OFTEN ASKED WHY HE CHOSE TO BE A PASTOR AND A PUBLIC SERVANT. BUT THE PERSON WHO ASKED PROBABLY DIDN’T KNOW THE HISTORY OF THE A.M.E. CHURCH. AS OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN THE A.M.E. CHURCH KNOW, WE DON’T MAKE THOSE DISTINCTIONS. OUR CALLING, CLEM ONCE SAID IS NOT JUST WITHIN THE WALLS OF THE CONGREGATION, BUT THE LIFE AND COMMUNITY IN WHICH OUR CONGREGATION RESIDES.

HE EMBODIED THE IDEA THAT OUR CHRISTIAN FAITH DEMANDS DEEDS, AND NOT JUST WORDS. THAT THE SWEET HOUR OF PRAYER ACTUALLY LASTS THE WHOLE WEEK LONG. THAT TO PUT OUR FAITH IN ACTION IS MORE THAN JUST INDIVIDUAL SALVATION– IT’S ABOUT OUR COLLECTIVE SALVATION. AND TO FEED THE HUNGER AND CLOTHE THE NAKED AND HOUSE THE HOMELESS IS NOT JUST A CALL FOR ISOLATED CHARITY, BUT THE IMPERATIVE OF A JUST SOCIETY. WHAT A GOOD MAN.

SOMETIMES I THINK THAT’S THE BEST THING TO HOPE FOR WHEN YOU’RE EULOGIZED. AFTER ALL THE WORDS AND RECITATIONS AND RESUMES ARE READ, TO JUST SAY SOMEBODY WAS “A GOOD MAN.” YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE OF HIGH STATION TO BE A GOOD MAN.

PREACHER BY 13. PASTOR BY 18. PUBLIC SERVANT BY 23. WHAT A LIFE CLEMENTA PINCKNEY LIVED. WHAT AN EXAMPLE HE SET. WHAT A MODEL FOR HIS FAITH. AND THEN TO LOSE HIM AT 41, SLAIN IN HIS SANCTUARY WITH EIGHT WONDERFUL MEMBERS OF HIS FLOCK, EACH AT DIFFERENT STAGES OF LIFE BUT BOUND TOGETHER BY A COMMON COMMITMENT TO GOD.

CYNTHIA HURD, SUZY JACKSON, ETHEL LANCE, DEPAYNE MIDDLETON-DOCTOR, TWANZA SANDERS, DANIEL L. SIMMONS, SHARONDA COLEMAN SINGLETON AND MYRA THOMPSON. GOOD PEOPLE. DECENT PEOPLE. GOD-FEARING PEOPLE.

PEOPLE SO FULL OF LIFE AND SO FULL OF KINDNESS, PEOPLE WHO RAN THE RACE, AND PERSEVERED. PEOPLE OF GREAT FAITH.

TO THE FAMILIES OF THE FALLEN, THE NATION SHARES IN YOUR GRIEF. OUR PAIN CUTS THAT MUCH DEEPER BECAUSE IT HAPPENED IN A CHURCH.

THE CHURCH IS AND ALWAYS HAS BEEN THE CENTER OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN LIFE: A PLACE TO CALL OUR OWN IN A TOO OFTEN HOSTILE WORLD, A SANCTUARY FROM SO MANY HARDSHIPS.

OVER THE COURSE OF CENTURIES, BLACK CHURCHES SERVED AS HUSH HARBOURS WHERE SLAVES COULD WORSHIP IN SAFETY. PRAISE HOUSES WHERE THEIR FREE DESCENDENTS COULD GATHER AND SHOUT “HALLELUJAH.” [LAUGHTER] REST STOPS FOR THE WEARY ALONG THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD. BUNKERS FOR THE FOOT SOLDIERS OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT. THEY HAVE BEEN AND CONTINUE TO BE COMMUNITY CENTERS WHERE WE ORGANIZE FOR JOBS AND JUSTICE, PLACES OF SCHOLARSHIP AND NETWORK, PLACES WHERE CHILDREN ARE LOVED AND FED AND KEPT OUT OF HARM’S WAY AND TOLD THEY ARE BEAUTIFUL AND SMART AND TAUGHT THAT THEY MATTER. [APPLAUSE] THAT IS WHAT HAPPENS IN CHURCH.

THAT’S WHAT THE BLACK CHURCH MEANS. OUR BEATING HEART. THE PLACE WHERE OUR DIGNITY AS A PEOPLE IS INVIOLATE. AND THERE IS NO BETTER EXAMPLE OF THIS TRADITION THAN MOTHER EMANUEL–A CHURCH BUILT BY BLACKS SEEKING LIBERTY, BURNED TO THE GROUND BECAUSE ITS FOUNDERS FOUGHT TO END SLAVERY ONLY TO RISE UP AGAIN, A PHOENIX FROM THESE ASHES.

WHEN THERE WERE LAWS BANNING BLACK CHURCH GATHERINGS, SERVICES HAPPENED HERE ANYWAY IN DEFIANCE OF UNJUST LAWS. WHEN THERE WAS A RIGHTEOUS MOVEMENT TO DISMANTLE JIM CROW, DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. PREACHED FROM ITS PULPIT AND MARCHES BEGAN FROM ITS STEPS. A SACRED PLACE, THIS CHURCH.

NOT JUST FOR BLACKS, NOT JUST FOR CHRISTIANS, BUT FOR EVERY AMERICAN WHO CARES ABOUT THE STEADY EXPANSION OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND HUMAN DIGNITY IN THIS COUNTRY: A FOUNDATION STONE FOR LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL–[APPLAUSE] THAT IS WHAT THE CHURCH MEANT.

WE DO NOT KNOW WHETHER THE KILLER OF REVEREND PINCKNEY AND EIGHT OTHERS KNEW ALL OF THIS HISTORY BUT HE SURELY SENSED THE MEANING OF HIS VIOLENT ACT. IT WAS AN ACT THAT DREW ON A LONG HISTORY OF BOMBS, AND ARSON, AND SHOTS FIRED AT CHURCHES. AND NOT RANDOM, BUT AS A MEANS OF CONTROL, A WAY TO TERRORIZE AND A OPPRESS.

AN ACT THAT HE IMAGINED WOULD INCITE FEAR AND RECRIMINATION, VIOLENCE, AND SUSPICION. AN ACT THAT HE PRESUMED WOULD DEEPEN DIVISIONS THAT TRACE BACK TO OUR NATION’S ORIGINAL SIN.

OH, BUT GOD WORKS IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS. (APPLAUSE) GOD HAS DIFFERENT IDEAS. : HE DIDN’T KNOW HE WAS BEING USED BY GOD. (MUCH APPLAUSE, LAUGHTER, MANY AMENS)  BLINDED BY HATRED, THE ALLEGED KILLER COULD NOT SEE THE GRACE SURROUNDING REVEREND PINCKNEY AND THAT BIBLE STUDY GROUP. THE LIGHT OF LOVE THAT SHOWN AS THEY OPENED THE CHURCH DOORS AND INVITED A STRANGER TO JOIN IN THEIR PRAYER CIRCLE.

THE ALLEGED KILLER COULD HAVE NEVER ANTICIPATED THE WAY THE FAMILIES OF THE FALLEN WOULD RESPOND WHEN THEY SAW HIM IN COURT IN THE MIDST OF UNSPEAKABLE GRIEF WITH WORDS OF FORGIVENESS. HE COULDN’T IMAGINE THAT.

THE ALLEGED KILLER COULD NOT IMAGINE HOW THE CITY OF CHARLESTON UNDER THE GOOD AND WISE LEADERSHIP OF THE MAYOR RILEY, HOW THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA, HOW THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA WOULD RESPOND NOT MERELY WITH REVULSION AT HIS EVIL ACT, BUT BIG-HEARTED GENEROSITY AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, WITH A THOUGHTFUL INTROSPECTION AND SELF-EXAMINATION THAT WE SO RARELY SEE IN PUBLIC LIFE.

BLINDED BY HATRED HE FAILED TO COMPREHEND WHAT REVEREND PINCKNEY SO WELL UNDERSTOOD: THE POWER OF GOD’S GRACE.

THIS WHOLE WEEK, I HAVE BEEN REFLECTING ON THE IDEA OF GRACE–THE GRACE OF THE FAMILIES WHO LOST LOVED ONES, THE GRACE THAT REVEREND PINCKNEY WOULD PREACH ABOUT IN HIS SERMONS, THE GRACE DESCRIBED IN ONE OF MY FAVORITE HYMNALS, THE ONE WE ALL KNOW. “AMAZING GRACE”. HOW SWEET THE SOUND THAT SAVED A WRETCH LIKE ME. I ONCE WAS LOST, BUT NOW I’M FOUND, WAS BLIND BUT NOW I SEE.

ACCORDING TO THE CHRISTIAN TRADITION, GRACE IS NOT EARNED — GRACE IS NOT MERITED, IS NOT SOMETHING WE DESERVE. RATHER, GRACE IS THE FREE AND BENEVOLENT FAVOR OF GOD AS MANIFESTED IN THE SALVATION OF SINNERS AND THE BESTOWAL OF BLESSINGS. GRACE.

AS A NATION OUT OF THIS TERRIBLE TRAGEDY, GOD HAS VISITED GRACE UPON US, FOR HE HAS ALLOWED US TO SEE WHERE WE HAVE BEEN BLIND. HE HAS GIVEN US THE CHANCE, WHERE WE HAVE BEEN LOST, TO FIND OUR BEST SELVES. WE MAY NOT HAVE EARNED IT, THIS GRACE, WITH OUR RANCOR COMPLACENCY AND SHORTSIGHTEDNESS AND FEAR OF EACH OTHER. BUT WE GOT IT ALL THE SAME. HE GAVE IT TO US ANYWAY. [APPLAUSE] HE HAS ONCE MORE GIVEN US GRACE. BUT IT IS UP TO US NOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF IT. TO RECEIVE IT WITH GRATITUDE AND TO PROVE OURSELVES WORTHY OF THIS GIFT.

FOR TOO LONG WE WERE BLIND TO THE PAIN THAT THE CONFEDERATE FLAG STIRRED IN TOO MANY OF OUR CITIZENS: IT’S TRUE, A FLAG DID NOT CAUSE THESE MURDERS. BUT AS PEOPLE FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE, REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS NOW ACKNOWLEDGE, INCLUDING GOVERNOR HALEY, WHOSE RECENT ELOQUENCE ON THE SUBJECT IS WORTHY OF PRAISE–(APPLAUSE)–AS WE ALL HAVE TO HAVE KNOWLEDGE THE FLAG HAS ALWAYS REPRESENTED MORE THAN JUST ANCESTRAL PRIDE. FOR MANY, BLACK AND WHITE, THAT FLAG WAS A REMINDER OF SYSTEMIC OPPRESSION. AND RACIAL SUBJUGATION. WE SEE THAT NOW.

REMOVING THE FLAG FROM THIS STATE’S CAPITAL WOULD NOT BE AN ACT OF POLITICAL CORRECTNESS, IT WOULD NOT BE AN INSULT TO THE VALOR OF CONFEDERATE SOLDIERS. IT WOULD SIMPLY BE AN ACKNOWLEDGEMENT THAT THE CAUSE FOR WHICH THEY FOUGHT — THE CAUSE OF SLAVERY — WAS WRONG —THE IMPOSITION OF JIM CROW AFTER THE CIVIL WAR — THE RESISTANCE TO CIVIL RIGHTS FOR ALL PEOPLE WAS WRONG.

IT WOULD BE ONE STEP IN AN HONEST ACCOUNTING OF AMERICA’S HISTORY. A MODEST BUT MEANINGFUL BALM FOR SO MANY UNHEALED WINDS. IT WOULD BE THE EXPRESSION OF THE AMAZING CHANGES THAT HAVE TRANSFORMED THIS STATE AND THIS COUNTRY FOR THE BETTER. BECAUSE OF THE WORK OF SO MANY PEOPLE OF GOODWILL, PEOPLE OF ALL RACES STRIVING TO FORM A MORE PERFECT UNION.  BY TAKING DOWN THAT FLAG, WE EXPRESS GOD’S GRACE.

BUT I DON’T THINK GOD WANTS US TO STOP THERE.  FOR TOO LONG, WE HAVE BEEN BLIND TO BE WAY PAST INJUSTICES CONTINUE TO SHAKE THE PRESENT. PERHAPS WE SEE THAT NOW. PERHAPS THIS TRAGEDY CAUSES US TO ASK SOME TOUGH QUESTIONS ABOUT HOW WE CAN PERMIT SO MANY OF OUR CHILDREN TO LANGUISH IN POVERTY OR TO ATTEND DILAPIDATED SCHOOLS OR GROW UP WITHOUT PROSPECTS FOR A JOB OR FOR CAREER.

PERHAPS IT CAUSES US TO EXAMINE WHAT WE ARE DOING TO CAUSE SOME OF OUR CHILDREN TO HATE. [APPLAUSE]   PERHAPS IT SOFTENS HEARTS TOWARDS THOSE LOST YOUNG MEN, TENS AND TENS OF THOUSANDS. CAUGHT UP IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM AND LEADS US TO MAKE SURE THAT SYSTEM IS NOT INFECTED WITH BIAS. THAT WE EMBRACE CHANGES IN HOW WE TRAIN AND EQUIP OUR POLICE SO THAT THE BONDS OF TRUST BETWEEN LAW ENFORCEMENT AND THE COMMUNITIES THEY SERVE MAKES US ALL SAFER AND MORE SECURE.

MAYBE WE NOW REALIZE THE WAY A RACIAL BIAS CAN INFECT US EVEN WHEN WE DON’T REALIZE IT. SO THAT WE ARE GUARDING AGAINST NOT JUST RACIAL SLURS BUT WE’RE ALSO GUARDING AGAINST THE SUBTLE IMPULSE TO CALL JOHNNY BACK FOR A JOB INTERVIEW BUT NOT JAMAL.

SO THAT WE SEARCH OUR HEARTS WHEN WE CONSIDER LAWS TO MAKE IT HARDER FOR SOME OF OUR FELLOW CITIZENS TO VOTE. BY RECOGNIZING OUR COMMON HUMANITY, BY TREATING EVERY CHILD AS IMPORTANT REGARDLESS OF THE COLOR OF THEIR SKIN OR THE STATION INTO WHICH THEY WERE BORN AND TO DO WHAT IS NECESSARY TO MAKE OPPORTUNITY REAL FOR EVERY AMERICAN—.BY DOING THAT–WE EXPRESS GOD’S GRACE.

FOR TOO LONG — [APPLAUSE] FOR TOO LONG, WE’VE BEEN BLIND TO THE UNIQUE MAYHEM THAT GUN VIOLENCE AFFLICTS UPON THIS NATION.

SPORADICALLY, OUR EYES ARE OPENED WHEN EIGHT OF OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS ARE CUT DOWN IN A CHURCH BASEMENT, 12 IN A MOVIE THEATER, 26 IN AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. BUT I HOPE WE ALSO SEE THE 30 PRECIOUS LIVES CUT SHORT BY GUN VIOLENCE IN THIS COUNTRY EVERY SINGLE DAY, THE COUNTLESS MORE WHOSE LIVES ARE FOREVER CHANGED, THE SURVIVORS CRIPPLED, THE CHILDREN TRAUMATIZED AND FEARFUL AS THEY WALK TO SCHOOL. THE HUSBAND WHO WILL NEVER FEEL HIS WIFE’S WARM TOUCH. THE ENTIRE COMMUNITIES WHOSE GRIEF OVERFLOWS EVERY TIME THEY HAVE TO WATCH WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM HAPPEN TO SOME OTHER PLACE.

THE VAST MAJORITY OF AMERICANS, THE MAJORITY OF GUN OWNERS WANT TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS. WE SEE THAT NOW. AND I AM CONVINCED BY ACKNOWLEDGING THE PAIN AND LOSS OF OTHERS EVEN AS WE RESPECT THE TRADITIONS AND WAYS OF LIFE THAT MAKE UP THIS BELOVED COUNTRY, BY MAKING THE MORAL CHOICE TO CHANGE, WE EXPRESS GOD’S GRACE.

WE DON’T EARN GRACE. WE’RE ALL SINNERS. WE DON’T DESERVE IT. BUT GOD GIVES IT TO US ANYWAY AND WE CHOOSE HOW TO RECEIVE IT. IT’S OUR DECISION HOW TO HONOR IT.

NONE OF US CAN OR SHOULD EXPECT A TRANSFORMATION IN RACE RELATIONS OVERNIGHT. EVERY TIME SOMETHING LIKE THIS HAPPENS, SOMEONE SAYS WE HAVE TO HAVE A CONVERSATION ABOUT RACE. WE TALK A LOT ABOUT RACE.  THERE IS NO SHORTCUT. WE DON’T NEED MORE TALK. NONE OF US SHOULD BELIEVE THAT A HANDFUL OF GUN SAFETY MEASURES WILL PREVENT EVERY TRAGEDY. IT WILL NOT.

PEOPLE OF GOODWILL WILL CONTINUE TO DEBATE THE MERITS OF VARIOUS POLICIES AS OUR DEMOCRACY REQUIRES. WE ARE ARE A BIG RAUCOUS PLACE, AMERICA IS. AND THERE ARE GOOD PEOPLE ON BOTH SIDES OF THESE DEBATES. WHATEVER SOLUTIONS WE FIND WILL NECESSARILY BE INCOMPLETE.

BUT IT WOULD BE A BETRAYAL OF EVERYTHING REVEREND PINCKNEY STOOD FOR, I BELIEVE, IF WE ALLOW OURSELVES TO SLIP INTO A COMFORTABLE SILENCE AGAIN.

ONCE THE EULOGIES HAVE BEEN DELIVERED, ONCE THE TV CAMERAS MOVE ON, TO GO BACK TO BUSINESS AS USUAL. THAT IS WHAT WE SO OFTEN DO. TO AVOID UNCOMFORTABLE TRUTHS ABOUT THE PREJUDICE THAT STILL INFECTS OUR SOCIETY.  TO SETTLE FOR SYMBOLIC GESTURES WITHOUT FOLLOWING UP WITH THE HARD WORK OF MORE LASTING CHANGE. THAT’S HOW WE LOSE OUR WAY AGAIN.

IT WOULD BE A REFUTATION OF THE FORGIVENESS EXPRESSED BY THOSE FAMILIES IF WE MERELY SLIPPED INTO OLD HABITS WHEREBY THOSE WHO DISAGREE WITH US ARE NOT MERELY WRONG BUT BAD. WHERE WE SHOUT INSTEAD OF LISTEN. WHERE WE BARRICADE OURSELVES BEHIND PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS OR WELL PRACTICED CYNICISM.

REVEREND PINCKNEY ONCE SAID “ACROSS THE SOUTH, WE HAVE A DEEP APPRECIATION OF HISTORY. WE HAVE NOT ALWAYS HAD A DEEP APPRECIATION OF EACH OTHER’S HISTORY.”

WHAT IS TRUE IN THE SOUTH IS TRUE FOR AMERICA. CLEM UNDERSTOOD THAT JUSTICE GROWS OUT OF RECOGNITION. OF OURSELVES IN EACH OTHER.–THAT MY LIBERTY DEPENDS ON YOU BEING FREE TOO.

THAT HISTORY CAN’T BE A SWORD TO JUSTIFY INJUSTICE OR A SHIELD AGAINST PROGRESS. IT MUST BE A MANUAL FOR HOW TO AVOID REPEATING THE MISTAKES OF THE PAST, HOW TO BREAK THE CYCLE. A ROADWAY FOR A BETTER WORLD. HE KNEW THAT THE PATH OF GRACE INVOLVES AN OPEN MIND. BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, AN OPEN HEART.

THAT’S WHAT I FELT THIS WEEK: AN OPEN HEART. THAT, MORE THAN ANY PARTICULAR POLICY OR ANALYSIS IS WHAT IS CALLED UPON RIGHT NOW, I THINK. WHAT A FRIEND OF MINE, THE WRITER MARILYN ROBINSON, CALLS “THAT RESERVOIR OF GOODNESS BEYOND AND OF ANOTHER KIND, THAT WE ARE ABLE TO DO EACH OTHER IN THE ORDINARY CAUSE OF THINGS.

THAT RESERVOIR OF GOODNESS. IF WE CAN FIND THAT GRACE, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

IF WE CAN TAP THAT GRACE — EVERYTHING CAN CHANGE.

AMAZING GRACE. AMAZING GRACE. (SINGS HYMN)

“Clementa Pinckney found that grace. Cynthia Hurd found that grace. Susie Jackson found that grace. Ethel Lance found that grace. DePayne Middleton-Doctor found that grace. Tywanza Sanders found that grace. Daniel L. Simmons Sr. found that grace. Sharonda Singleton found that grace. Myra Thompson found that grace,” he said. “Through the example of their lives, they’ve now passed it on to us. May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift, as long as our lives endure.”

MAY GRACE NOW LEAD THEM HOME. MAY GOD CONTINUE TO SHED HIS GRACE ON THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

Our Love Is Equal: Justice Kennedy and Civil Rights

Posted: 06/26/2015 1:54 pm EDT Updated: 18 minutes ago

A Landmark Decision
The United States Supreme Court in a landmark ruling held today that the right of gays and lesbians to marry within their gender is protected by the Constitution. Today’s 5-4 decision, in Obergefell v. Hodges, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy mandates every state to legally sanction same sex marriage, including those from other states. Four other justices who were Clinton and Obama appointees joined Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Catholic Reagan appointee, who has previously written opinions supporting the rights of gays and lesbians. Three other Republican appointees joined the dissent authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee.

Our Love Is Equal
Lead litigant James Obergefell, in a composed but emotional statement outside the Court spoke of his over two decade relationship to his husband who he married in a medically equipped plane on a Maryland airport tarmac shortly before his death from ALS, because Ohio barred same sex marriage there. “Our love is equal… No American should have to suffer that indignity,” he proclaimed. In a congratulatory phone call to Obergefell, President Obama said, “Your leadership on this changed the country.” In a Rose Garden address the President, whose views have changed on the topic, applauded the High Court decision, “People should be treated equally regardless of who they are or who they love.” He continued, “Shifts in hearts and minds are possible.” Polls show that the nation has shifted in recent decades on the issue of marriage equality, with 61% of Americans in favor of legal status for same sex marriages.

Kennedy’s Decision: A Fundamental Right Entitled to Equal Protection
Kennedy’s majority decision focused on two parts of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment. He cited the Due Process Clause, which protects “personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices defining personal identity and beliefs.” He also cited the Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, which guarantees equal treatment of citizens before the law.

The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868 after the civil war, had the legal effect of granting citizenship rights to newly freed slaves, who were also entitled to equal protection of the laws:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.

No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The Court relied on the 14th Amendment in a previous landmark 1967 ruling, Loving v. Virginia, which overturned, bans on interracial marriage in over one dozen states, mostly in the South. Kennedy acknowledged changing societal shifts on marriage: “Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations.”

In other decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the government may not unduly interfere with fundamental rights, like marriage, absent a compelling governmental interest that is enforced narrowly by authorities. The decision noted that even deadbeat divorced parents and prisoners could not be denied the right to marriage. Kennedy cited four reasons that marriage is a fundamental right under the Constitution: individual autonomy, intimate association, stability for families and children, and the central position of rights and status that marriage holds in our legal and social order.

Kennedy wrote about the discrimination and stigma that gays and lesbians faced in recent American history before recounting cases dealing with gays rights:

This Court first gave detailed consideration to the legal status of homosexuals in Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U. S. 186 (1986). There it upheld the constitutionality of a Georgia law deemed to criminalize certain homosexual acts. Ten years later, in Romer v. Evans, 517 U. S. 620 (1996), the Court invalidated an amendment to Colorado’s Constitution that sought to foreclose any branch or political subdivision of the State from protecting persons against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Then, in 2003, the Court overruled Bowers, holding that laws making same-sex intimacy a crime “demea[n] the lives of homosexual persons.” Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U. S. 558, 575.

Two previous gay marriage Supreme Court victories from 2103, Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor addressed more narrow issues without addressing the main question of the right of gays and lesbians having a constitutional right to marry within their gender. Hollingsworth narrowly applied to California on technical legal grounds, while Windsor overturned the denial of federal benefits to those who were married in places where gay marriage was legal.

Justice Kennedy, who was President Reagan’s third choice after two other nominations failed or withdrew, has become an important swing vote on the court on issues of civil liberties such as abortion rights and free speech. In particular, he has also emerged as the most prominent defender of gay rights since he assumed his position as Associate Justice in February 1988, after serving for twelve years on the West Coast’s U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The father of three was born in Sacramento in 1936 and studied at both Stanford and the London School of Economics, and has a law degree from Harvard. Of Kennedy’s role as defender of gay rights legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin wrote: “…Kennedy knew many gay people-but he was also a conservative man… A devout and observant Catholic, he needed no instruction in the religious and moral prohibitions on homosexual conduct. He was simply a man transformed by the changing world around him.”

His prominent role in protecting the rights of gay people has frequently been rebuked by his Conservative colleagues on the court. Today, Chief Justice condemned the ruling:

Today, however, the Court takes the extraordinary step of ordering every State to license and recognize same-sex marriage. Many people will rejoice at this decision, and I begrudge none their celebration.

But for those who believe in a government of laws, not of men, the majority’s approach is deeply disheartening. Supporters of same-sex marriage have achieved considerable success persuading their fellow citizens — through the democratic process — to adopt their view.

That ends today. Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law. Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who like Kennedy is a Catholic Reagan appointee, offered harsh criticism on the sweep of judicial power to impart liberties not clearly detailed in the actual text:

Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact — and the furthest extension one can even imagine — of the Court’s claimed power to create “liberties” that the Constitution and its Amendments neglect to mention…

When the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868, every State limited marriage to one man and one woman, and no one doubted the constitutionality of doing so. That resolves these cases. When it comes to determining the meaning of a vague constitutional provision — such as “due process of law” or “equal protection of the laws” — it is unquestionable that the People who ratified that provision did not understand it to prohibit a practice that remained both universal and uncontroversial in the years after ratification.

No basis for striking down a practice that is not expressly prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment’s text, and that bears the endorsement of a long tradition of open, widespread and unchallenged use dating back to the Amendment’s ratification.

For many Conservatives, the decision is a judicial power grab from the states that redefines a right that is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution. However, for marriage equality advocates, the decision is a reasoned one that protects equal rights, dignity and personal autonomy implicitly protected by Constitutional texts, irrespective of whether local politics approve. What the Court did not do today was offer the LGBT a heightened protection for their status in other circumstances as it has done with race and gender. That victory remains for another day. Whatever happens later, however, history will remember Justice Kennedy’s words, and his role as a key proponent for the rights of the LGBT community, as well as for individual liberties as a whole:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.

As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves.

Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

Editor’s note: The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism joined an amici brief in this case supporting Mr. James Obergefell

love and scotus

It Is Accomplished

JUN 26 2015 @ 1:21PM

weddingaisle

As Gandhi never quite said,

First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win.

I remember one of the first TV debates I had on the then-strange question of civil marriage for gay couples. It was Crossfire, as I recall, and Gary Bauer’s response to my rather earnest argument after my TNR cover-story on the matter was laughter. “This is the loopiest idea ever to come down the pike,” he joked. “Why are we even discussing it?”

Those were isolating  days. A young fellow named Evan Wolfson who had written a dissertation on the subject in 1983 got in touch, and the world immediately felt less lonely. Then a breakthrough in Hawaii, where the state supreme court ruled for marriage equality on gender equality grounds. No gay group had agreed to support the case, which was regarded at best as hopeless and at worst, a recipe for a massive backlash. A local straight attorney from the ACLU, Dan Foley, took it up instead, one of many straight men and women who helped make this happen. And when we won, and got our first fact on the ground, we indeed faced exactly that backlash and all the major gay rights groups refused to spend a dime on protecting the breakthrough … and we lost.

In fact, we lost and lost and lost again. Much of the gay left was deeply suspicious of this conservative-sounding reform; two thirds of the country were opposed; the religious right saw in the issue a unique opportunity for political leverage – and over time, they put state constitutional amendments against marriage equality on the ballot in countless states, and won every time. Our allies deserted us. The Clintons embraced the Defense of Marriage Act, and their Justice Department declared that DOMA was in no way unconstitutional the morning some of us were testifying against it on Capitol Hill. For his part, president George W. Bush subsequently went even further and embraced the Federal Marriage Amendment to permanently ensure second-class citizenship for gay people in America. Those were dark, dark days.

I recall all this now simply to rebut the entire line of being “on the right side of history.” History does not have such straight lines. Movements do not move relentlessly forward; progress comes and, just as swiftly, goes. For many years, it felt like one step forward, two steps back. History is a miasma of contingency, and courage, and conviction, and chance.

But some things you know deep in your heart: that all human beings are made in the image of God; that their loves and lives are equally precious; that the pursuit of happiness promised in the Declaration of Independence has no meaning if it does not include the right to marry the person you love; and has no force if it denies that fundamental human freedom to a portion of its citizens. In the words of Hannah Arendt:

“The right to marry whoever one wishes is an elementary human right compared to which ‘the right to attend an integrated school, the right to sit where one pleases on a bus, the right to go into any hotel or recreation area or place of amusement, regardless of one’s skin or color or race’ are minor indeed. Even political rights, like the right to vote, and nearly all other rights enumerated in the Constitution, are secondary to the inalienable human rights to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence; and to this category the right to home and marriage unquestionably belongs.”

This core truth is what Justice Kennedy affirmed today, for the majority: that gay people are human. I wrote the following in 1996:

Homosexuality, at its core, is about the emotional connection between two adult human beings. And what public institution is more central—more definitive—of that connection than marriage? The denial of marriage to gay people is therefore not a minor issue. It is the entire issue. It is the most profound statement our society can make that homosexual love is simply not as good as heterosexual love; that gay lives and commitments and hopes are simply worth less. It cuts gay people off not merely from civic respect, but from the rituals and history of their own families and friends. It erases them not merely as citizens, but as human beings.

We are not disordered or sick or defective or evil – at least no more than our fellow humans in this vale of tears. We are born into family; we love; we marry; we take care of our children; we die. No civil institution is related to these deep human experiences more than civil marriage and the exclusion of gay people from this institution was a statement of our core inferiority not just as citizens but as human beings. It took courage to embrace this fact the way the Supreme Court did today. In that 1996 essay, I analogized to the slow end to the state bans on inter-racial marriage:

The process of integration—like today’s process of “coming out”—introduced the minority to the majority, and humanized them. Slowly, white people came to look at interracial couples and see love rather than sex, stability rather than breakdown. And black people came to see interracial couples not as a threat to their identity, but as a symbol of their humanity behind the falsifying carapace of race.

It could happen again. But it is not inevitable; and it won’t happen by itself. And, maybe sooner rather than later, the people who insist upon the centrality of gay marriage to every American’s equality will come to seem less marginal, or troublemaking, or “cultural,” or bent on ghettoizing themselves. They will seem merely like people who have been allowed to see the possibility of a larger human dignity and who cannot wait to achieve it.

I think of the gay kids in the future who, when they figure out they are different, will never know the deep psychic wound my generation – and every one before mine – lived through: the pain of knowing they could never be fully part of their own family, never befully a citizen of their own country. I think, more acutely, of the decades and centuries of human shame and darkness and waste and terror that defined gay people’s lives for so long. And I think of all those who supported this movement who never lived to see this day., who died in the ashes from which this phoenix of a movement emerged. This momentous achievement is their victory too – for marriage, as Kennedy argued, endures past death.

I never believed this would happen in my lifetime when I wrote my first several TNR essays and then my book, Virtually Normal, and then the anthology and the hundreds and hundreds of talks and lectures and talk-shows and call-ins and blog-posts and articles in the 1990s and 2000s. I thought the book, at least, would be something I would have to leave behind me – secure in the knowledge that its arguments were, in fact, logically irrefutable, and would endure past my own death, at least somewhere. I never for a millisecond thought I would live to be married myself. Or that it would be possible for everyone, everyone in America.

But it has come to pass. All of it. In one fell, final swoop.

Know hope.

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I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. And then it is gone. But to sacrifice what you are and live without belief, that's more terrible than dying.--

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Beannacht

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory

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