Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Former Presidents

How does it happen that as soon as somebody stops being a President he immediately grows much more progressive?

Let's look at Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, for example. Recently, Bill Clinton revealed that his position on gay marriage is "evolving." He also expressed hope that the military’s 'don’t ask, don’t tell policy' (which as we all remember he helped institute) would be abolished and gay members of the military would be able to serve openly. It sounds great, of course, but one can't help wondering why he didn't have this epiphany while he was still in office and could do something about it.

Now, thanks to Echidne's blog, I have discovered I great article by the former President Jimmy Carter who comes out as a great champion of women's rights in "The words of God do not justify cruelty to women" published in UK's Guardian. In the article, Carter states that he decided to leave the Southern Baptist Convention because of its chauvinistic rhetoric: "My decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service. This was in conflict with my belief - confirmed in the holy scriptures - that we are all equal in the eyes of God." If only we could have more political leaders saying and doing the same. So many of our politicians give pretty speeches about their support of the feminist agenda while beelining for the church to listen to a sermon that presents women as inferior by nature.

The best thing about Carter's article is that he isn't afraid of making a direct connection between religion and violations of women's rights: "Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women's equal rights across the world for centuries. The male interpretations of religious texts and the way they interact with, and reinforce, traditional practices justify some of the most pervasive, persistent, flagrant and damaging examples of human rights abuses." Carter even recognizes that the gender gap in pay in the US has a lot to do with the discriminatory thinking instilled by religious teachings. All in all, Carter's article is a beautiful and inspirational piece of writing.

When I look at the recent statements by these former presidents, I have to ask myself why they didn't do more (or at least something) about these issues when they were in office. In spite of our constant hopes that Clinton would do something for gay rights, he never delivered. As for Carter, as far as I remember, his record on women's rights was always pretty poor. He used to say that he opposed abortion and after he was elected President failed to support increased federal funding for abortion services.

Still, it's great to know that it's possible for former presidents to evolve and adopt more progressive ways of thinking. Who knows, maybe one day we'll see George W. promoting comprehensive sex ed classes, campaigning against the death penalty, or supporting a woman's right to her own body.

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