The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Gary Grossman

June 28, 2013

No more tomatoes with gams

SUNBURY — From affirmative action and voting rights to traditional marriage, the week started with a range of possibilities for the Supremes to set new rules in the name of love. The week ended with both Paula Deen and Al Sharpton wondering if their minutes upon the stage were ticking down.

For reasons that now escape me, I once found myself on a pilgrimage to Chelsea Market, the shrine of the Food Network, when Ms. Deen was still frying up butter and mayonnaise sandwiches. It seemed the least imaginable place on earth to preserve the once and still awful unreconstructed notions from the Solid South.

As Ms. Deen made suicidal TV appearances last week inviting a Biblical end to her career over long-past or recently-expressed cultural cluelessness, our constitutionally established college of cardinals dispensed with other old heresies while, perhaps, giving birth to new ones.  

Judgment of affirmative action, the unfathomably race-based solution attached to an avowed national commitment to colorblindness, was avoided when the High Court punted on a challenge to college admissions at the University of Texas.

The case was brought by Abigail Fisher, a 23-year-old white woman who did not win admission in Austin despite its two-tiered admissions approach, which was to first accept students graduating in the top 10 percent of their classes and then to take into account race among other factors.

Race should be used in admissions only if “no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity,” Justice Anthony Kennedy opined for the majority, effectively deflecting the subject back to a lower court to test the university policy in a more strenuous way.

With less ambiguity, the Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, ruling that intervening decades and banks of electoral data had sufficiently unhinged the Solid South’s provable racist past so that facts no longer supported the presumption of a racist present or an inevitably racist future.

Going forward, the shamed and redeemed seven southern states — along with merely shamed Alaska and Arizona — would no longer need federal pre-clearance to change their election laws. The justices left intact a general prohibition against race-based electoral discrimination, meaning that the law turned from a presumption of guilt to a more current burden of proof. It was, in its way, an end to prejudice about prejudice.

The decision outraged champions of the traditional civil rights struggle who, sometimes correctly, see state-based electoral reform as more or less exclusionary to demographic subsets of the voting population.

Modern impediments are not as blatantly race-specific, however, targeting, instead, cultural and behavioral patterns like photo identification and Sunday voting that emerged and coalesced from an imposed or self-selected segregated past.

Next up, and more definitively batted down, was the Defense of Marriage Act, which one opinion in the majority characterized as a law intentionally enacted by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton for political purposes even though its thrust was essentially to demean Americans with a same-sex orientation.

That, the court said, was unconstitutional.

In a somewhat associated decision, the Court didn’t actually rule on an appeal to restore California’s Proposition 8, which was a referendum in that state to overturn a law allowing same-sex marriages. The Supreme Court merely said that those bringing the case had no business appealing the matter because their rights were not infringed upon by anyone else’s marriage.

In our family code, I sometimes facetiously identify “old think” with a phrase found in black and white films from before the middle of the last century when one character observed to another, “Those are some gams on that tomato.”

It has nothing to do with the Food Network. You can look it up. The fact that you might need to is a mark in your favor. It is a purposefully obscure reference to who we once were and the distance we have come.

While the old thinkers in America had reason to cheer or jeer the Supreme Court last week, to the rising generations, it must have looked like the fogies on both ends of the less and less relevant spectrum were deciding if was time to hit delete on “tomatoes with gams”.

Let’s hope so.

Gary Grossman is the publisher of The Daily Item and The Danville News

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