Edge of Chaos is a political podcast starring Joe Ryan and Neurotoxin. Its aim is to have a free-flowing discussion of news and current events that also examines the empirical outcomes of public policy, avoiding biases based on ideology and policy intentions. Listener discretion is both advised and encouraged.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Word On ENDA

There seems to be a rising concern among liberals and Progressives about the latest piece of Senate legislation that has stalled hopelessly in the House - the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. This legislation adds homosexuals and transgender individuals to the list of protected classes under existing Federal anti-discrimination statutes (many States have already done so). I have 2 comments on this, one on the bill itself and one on its political importance.

I'm a fervent supporter of equality for the minorities in question. I incessantly challenge those who advocate their persecution and segregation to provide some sort of evidence for their beliefs; and no one has yet come up with anything other than selective theological rhetoric and a general outlook that said minorities are 'icky'. Neither comes close to passing the test of empirical rationale for public policy. As a social worker, I also realize discrimination is real and rampant, and not just of these minorities nor just in the workplace. However, each time my colleagues celebrate a new law aimed to protect them, I'm insulted at how naively domesticated my profession has become. To put it simply - THESE LAWS DON'T WORK. Their intent is not to ban the use of slurs and personal harassment, although they succeed at producing heaps of costly litigation on these grounds - much of it frivolous where someone well-deserving of disciplinary action HAPPENS to be a minority abuses them in retaliation. Their intent is to preclude discrimination in hiring, retention, and promotion decisions, as well as in real estate, administration of loans, justice and law enforcement, and so forth. They're supposed to reduce minority disparities in economic status, incarceration, and other measures, and one look at THOSE statistics for the US shows we are no closer to that objective than we were 50 years ago when the first such laws were passed. I have seen the sociology studies that indicate bigoted attitudes are also just as rampant as they were then - they just aren't stated out loud. The reason for these dismal outcomes is obviously that it's nearly impossible to prove discriminatory sentiment in the decisions in question. In passing them we don't address discrimination, we drive it into the closet and create a very dangerous illusion that it no longer exists; as well as a public sentiment of complacency where these problems are for the government and not for the community to solve. We also create a useless and costly bureaucracy whose intrusions into the operations of private affairs we are expected to accept for this purpose.

On the bill's political importance, Progressives are overestimating it ever more grievously than they did the effects of the shutdown on Tea Party popularity. It is true that most Americans endorse ENDA and even that a plurality of independents associate opposition to it with bigotry. However, in political importance polling, these issues fall well below the economy, foreign policy, and government overreach via the surveillance state - all domains where Tea Party elements are consistently rated better than Democrats and Progressives by swing voters. Derailing ENDA, even if it's framed as bigotry, is not going to outweigh those domains in the modern political climate, and if Democrats continue to put their eggs in that basket the Tea Party will again run roughshod over them at the ballot box.