Thursday, February 27, 2014

Governor Brewer, Justice, and Coercion

Back when my kids were tiny little spuds, getting them to clean their rooms on a Saturday could take For. Ever.  Little creatures that they were, they'd drift about, picking up one thing and putting it away.  And then, ooh!  Look!  Lego!  And they'd start playing with the thing they were cleaning, right up until the point when Daddy would return to goad them back into semi-purposeful motion.

This pattern would repeat, over and over again.  Even though they had skin in the game, in the form of their allowance, it could take hours.  Hours.  It was crazy-making.

And so I instituted a new Daddy Room Cleaning Policy.  It was called Twenty Minute Panic, and represented a modification of the Terms and Conditions of their allowance.  In order to get allowance for the week, they had to clean their rooms in twenty minutes.  In a panic.  Failure to comply meant no allowance.  Period.  A timer would be set, and I would stay on them the entire time, shouting out times, pointing out uncleaned objects, shouting out more times, preferably in a dramatic voice.  Every once in a while, I'd throw in a line from the end of Alien.  "Auto-destruct sequence initiated.  Your allowance will detonate in Tee-Minus ten minutes. The option to override is no longer valid."

Parenting really can be entertaining, if you let yourself get creative with it.

Tiny people would scamper about, frantically doing what they needed to have been doing in the first place.  After the rooms got cleaned, I'd strut about like Mussolini, carefully inspecting and critiquing. It was a show, of course, to reinforce next week's Twenty Minute Panic.

Sure, it got things done.  The trains ran on time.  And it was a little fun.  But it also wasn't really cause for celebration.

What's cause for celebration is when they clean their rooms without you making them do it.   And with two teen boys, I don't know that I'm there yet.

I think, in part, that's why I'm not quite overjoyed at yesterday's decision in Arizona.  Oh, sure, it's great that this utterly pointless and destructive law was stillborn.

But the "why" of the decision strikes me.

Analyzing the rhetorical structure of Governor Brewer's carefully written full statement, and tracking the evolution of the arguments over the last few days, what was evident was that this was not a decision made willingly.  It was an economically coerced decision.

In setting the stage for her veto of the bill, she took five paragraphs to tiptoe up to the issue.  And tiptoeing rhetorically makes sense here, just as it does whenever you're negotiating a minefield.  She...or her speechwriter... only got around to establishing the rationale for her decision in the sixth paragraph.  "My priority is the business agenda," she says, clearly.

It was at that moment, if you knew the context of the influences and pressures on her, that you knew the veto was coming.

Because bias against same-sex relationships is increasingly anathema in the broader business community.   The loudest voices in Governor Brewer's ears, the ones she was hearing?  They were not the voices of advocates for the LGBT community.  Those voices came from large corporations and from within the Arizona business community, who were realizing that if...for example...the NFL were to pull the SuperBowl from Arizona...they'd lose a whole bunch of money.  If major corporations refused to locate in Arizona because of the potential embarrassment and/or legal exposure that might come if one of your employees used this law to justify bigoted actions, that wouldn't help either.

So the decision was clear, as was her basis for making it.

What is less clear, for me, is how much a coerced decision like this one is cause for celebration.  It is, unquestionably, better than the alternative.  Without a doubt.  But when someone does the right thing for the wrong reason, it's a relief, but it is not time to break out the champagne.

Grudgingly acquiescing to the rights of a long-oppressed minority out of economic self-interest is not a deep victory for equality.  Just a shallow one.

Because coerced justice is not yet true justice.  It does not represent...not yet...the heart-change that is the ground of real transformation.

And that, or so an old friend tells me, is what really matters.