Last week was a watershed point in American history. And no, I'm not talking about Miley Cyrus at the VMAs.
As America prepared for yet another military intervention in the Middle East, the Obama administration made a couple of quiet but incredibly crucial domestic policy moves, with huge ramifications.
These moves will have much more influence on our lives than whatever happens to the Assad regime in Syria. While individually neither decision is particularly radical, in tandem they represent an enormous sea change in social policy at the highest level — however reluctantly the administration arrived at them.
First, the Obama administration announced that the government will recognize federal benefits of same-sex married couples as they cross state lines, regardless of which state the couple moves to.
In other words, a gay couple married in a state where gay marriage is legal, Connecticut for example, who then move to Charleston, S.C., will continue to receive whatever federal benefits they're entitled to regardless of what the Tea Party nimrods in Columbia have to say about it.
I'm not giving the administration too much credit. Obama continues to lead from behind on the issue of gay marriage.
The decision is a no-brainer after the Supreme Court recently struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. And it's also true, as most of us hopefully learned in grade school, that since 1865 federal law trumps state law when the two are in conflict.
But nonetheless the decision to uphold federal benefits across state lines is perhaps the final nail in the coffin for officially sanctioned homophobia.
As we've seen time and time again the past few years, it's just a matter of time before there is complete acceptance of same-sex marriage throughout the U.S, legally as well as societally. It's inevitable.
The other big announcement from the feds last week was that the U.S. Justice Department, despite prior assurances to the contrary, won't fight the recent legalization of marijuana by Colorado and Washington.
As the website Talking Points Memo says:
"This is the federal government acknowledging that, within a specific set of parameters, a Schedule I narcotic under the 1978 Controlled Substances Act... can be fully legalized. That's a complete reversal of federal policy since 1971, when President Richard Nixon first declared war on drugs."
Yes, it may seem a bit contradictory. On one hand, with gay marriage, the feds are giving some states the finger. With weed, they're waving a white flag.
In both instances, we see a president essentially bowing to the will of the people — which isn't a bad thing at all.
But here's the elephant in the room:
One other huge thing came to light last week: The documents Edward Snowden gave to the Washington Post detailing the mind-boggling extent of the so-called "black budget" for U.S. intelligence activities.
In the Post's words, the docs reveal "an espionage empire with resources and a reach beyond those of any adversary, sustained even now by spending that rivals or exceeds the levels at the height of the Cold War."
To some younger readers, that statement may not mean much. But the extent and expense of the U.S. military/industrial/intelligence complex during the Cold War almost defies comprehension. And we spend more on it today, two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union.
It almost defied President Dwight D. Eisenhower's own comprehension as far back as 1961, when during his farewell speech to the nation he explicitly warned Americans of the threat of a growing and out-of-control "military/industrial complex," the first time that phrase was used.
Think about it: A five-star general, the overseer of the flippin' Normandy invasion, warned us about the dangers of the military/industrial complex. In 1961.
I don't think Ike himself could have foreseen how massive the military/industrial complex would become, and how massively ignored his warning would be.
Future generations will rightly learn that during the Obama administration, enormous and long-overdue strides were taken to overcome longstanding inequalities in American society.
They will learn that during his two terms in office, many of the most stubbornly intractable and retrograde elements of American society were finally beaten back and made irrelevant.
Good on him for that.
But if those future generations are given the straight story, they'll also learn that no administration before Obama's has been so invested in an oppressive, overwrought national security state.
The administration's bumbling approach to Syria — an issue they clearly haven't thought through to anyone's satisfaction, including their own — should in no way dissuade you from understanding that since World War II there has been no bigger backer of a huge national security complex than the presidency of Barack Obama.
I urge you to go to washingtonpost.com and read more from the Snowden documents and how profoundly American society is now built around the modern intelligence community.
Black budgets, drone surveillance, collecting all of your emails, texts, and IMs, paying communications companies with your tax dollars to have this full and complete access to every single one of your communications.
Every single one.
So by all means enjoy the fruits of an increasingly progressive and enlightened America.
But Ike said it best:
"We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."
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