Friday, June 26, dawned like many recent June days; gray clouds hung in, and an unexpected rain had dampened the ground over the night.
When that day ended, the world had shifted, moved by two stunning events.
The United States Supreme Court affirmed that same-sex marriage is legal in every state, and later, President Obama gave a powerful eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine people killed in the massacre at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The ability of gays and lesbians to marry is a profound shift in this country, and a benchmark for social change. For those gays and lesbians who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, the prospect of marriage was not visible, and that reality is now different for today’s young people.
After praising the marriage decision Friday morning, Obama traveled to Charleston to deliver a stunning eulogy for Pinckney, a minister and South Carolina state senator.
Pinckney, Obama said, “embodied a politics neither mean nor small. He was full of empathy and fellow feeling, able to walk in somebody else’s shoes and see through their eyes.”
The president spoke of the need for change, the need to fight racism and rid ourselves of the racist symbols like the Confederate flag; to grant a job interview to a Jamal as quickly as we do to Johnny.
But more important, he said, was the need for an “open heart.”
“That, more than any particular policy or analysis, is what’s called upon right now, I think,” Obama said. “It’s what a friend of mine, the writer Marilyn Robinson, calls ‘that reservoir of goodness beyond and of another kind …'” Obama gave a call to grace before singing the first verse of the famous hymn, “Amazing Grace.”
Since those shocking murders, the nation seems ready to move on the issue of race. The grace and generosity of the people of Charleston, the willingness of the victims’ families to forgive, has combined with an insistence that the symbols of racism be dismantled.
South Carolina State Sen. Peter Thurmond, the grandson of one of the South’s most virulent segregationists, drew strong support after his senate speech calling for the Confederate flag to come down. That is an amazing shift.
The mind reels a bit when we shift our gaze to Maine politics, where a fierce political battle is brewing in the Legislature’s final days. The threats from Gov. Paul LePage to withhold state funds to force a private school to terminate an employment contract with House Speaker Mark Eves has brought calls for an investigation from legislators. LePage has been accused of blackmail, and may also face a lawsuit.
It is an unprecedented finish to a legislative session that started in a relatively benign atmosphere. Back in February, LePage proposed a budget with some new ideas. Many observers saw merit in LePage’s ideas to reduce income taxes and expand the sales tax base.
But the parties soon dug in their heels; Republican legislators would not get on board for any sales tax increase, and Democrats dialed back the governor’s proposed income tax cut. The final budget document protects basic state services and education and local funding, without strong initiatives in any direction.
Angered by the budget, and legislators’ refusal to send the income tax issue to voters, LePage then promised to veto every bill. Vowing to “waste (legislators) time,” he has cost Maine taxpayers at least $100,000 for the extra legislative work days.
Meanwhile, Maine’s painful problems remain. These include a rampant drug epidemic that has killed scores of young people, and a lagging economy that ranks near the bottom among states. We are not making progress.
But the call to grace, as the President urged in Charleston, requires us to see the bright side in the present picture.
That is found in the emerging bipartisan strength of the Legislature that has stood firm against many LePage initiatives. Lawmakers prevented weak mining rules from causing environmental damage at Bald Mountain in Aroostook County, they fought an attempt to weaken Maine’s bottle bill, and restored a previously passed energy bill that had been snagged due to a typographical error. And they will likely avoid a government shutdown.
Crucial to these successes are the Republican senators who have bucked the governor. Sen. Roger Katz, Senate President Michael Thibodeau and others have reached across the aisle on key issues. Their leadership should set the tone for the remainder of this session and the next one.