History will remember this month of seismic social change

June 27, 2015
A Pride flag held by Michael Harrington of Berea is backlit by the sun during the Decision Day Rally, celebrating Friday's marriage equality ruling, at Robert Stephens Courthouse Plaza in Lexington. Photo by Matt Goins

Michael Harrington of Berea holds a pride flag during the Decision Day Rally, celebrating Friday’s marriage equality ruling, at Courthouse Plaza in Lexington. Photo by Matt Goins


Social progress can seem painfully slow. And then, almost out of nowhere, events bring public opinion and the law together to produce head-spinning change.

This month will go down in history as one of those epic tipping points on several issues that have simmered below the surface of American society for generations.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Friday that same-sex couples in all 50 states have a constitutional right to marry. It was a landmark decision against discrimination that followed a seismic shift in public opinion toward gay rights.

Just a few years ago, gay marriage would have seemed unthinkable to most Americans. It was contrary to tradition and conservative religious beliefs, which were reflected in federal and state law.

But when the legal question finally reached the nation’s highest court, there was little doubt about the outcome. The legal arguments against same-sex marriage were almost laughably lame.

Equal protection under the law is one of this nation’s most cherished values. The Supreme Court majority correctly decided that gay people should not have their freedom to marry blocked by other people’s religious beliefs.

It was public opinion, not a court ruling, that swiftly turned the tide on another issue: state-sponsored veneration of the Confederacy, which has disrespected black people and fueled racial tensions since the Civil War.

Protests Tuesday at the South Carolina Capitol in Columbia. Associated Press photo.

Protests Tuesday at the South Carolina Capitol in Columbia. Associated Press photo.

Conservative politicians across the South were tripping over each other last week to call for removing Confederate flags from their state capitols, Confederate emblems from their state flag and license plates and statues of Confederate heroes from places of honor.

It was a stunning reversal. Many of these politicians, and others like them, had resisted this for years. Their predecessors helped erect these symbols, either to memorialize a mythical “Lost Cause” or to express defiance against federal civil rights legislation and court-ordered integration.

Then, suddenly, a heinous crime exposed these excuses and rationalizations for what they really were. A 21-year-old white man murdered nine black worshipers in a Charleston, S.C., church after touting his racism online with pictures of himself holding the Confederate flag.

Many white people defend Confederate symbols as expressions of “Southern heritage.” They view them as honoring the sacrifices of ancestors, most of whom did not own slaves and were fighting out of loyalty to their home states.

But these symbols have always had a different meaning for black people. Confederate leaders considered their ancestors to be less-than-human property, and they went to war to try to keep them enslaved.

Since the Civil War, white supremacists have often used Confederate imagery as a tool for trying to keep black people “in their place.” Celebrating the Confederacy for other reasons does not change that bitter fact.

That doesn’t mean every Confederate relic should be banished to a museum. But government, which serves all people in this increasingly diverse country, should be careful about how and where the Confederate legacy is enshrined.

Should Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ statue be moved from the state Capitol rotunda to a museum? Should statues of Lexington’s most prominent Confederate leaders, John C. Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan, be removed from the old courthouse lawn and Cheapside?

A monument honoring the hundreds of slaves sold on the auction block at Cheapside or whipped on that courthouse lawn now seems more appropriate.

How do we preserve, acknowledge and learn from our complex history, while at the same time honoring values we want to shape our future? It is a delicate balance.

Pope Francis. Photo by Andrew Medichini / Associated Press.

Pope Francis. Photo by Andrew Medichini / Associated Press.

The last major tipping point this month has received less attention, but it was a watershed nonetheless.

Pope Francis issued a strongly worded encyclical to the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics that clearly framed environmental stewardship, climate change and related topics of social justice and economic inequality as moral issues.

But the leader of the world’s largest Christian denomination will have a fight on his hands. His views are well-grounded in Christian theology, but they run counter to the way the world works.

Many powerful people worship a God found in bank vaults rather than Heaven. By shifting the moral conversation from sex to money, Pope Francis has made a lot of people nervous. It will be interesting to see what difference his leadership makes.

As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Can Biden’s Danville performance give Obama campaign a rebound?

October 7, 2012

Who could have guessed that President Barack Obama would suddenly be depending on Vice President Joe Biden’s communications skills to get his re-election campaign back on track? That’s right, the same Joe Biden who has an uncanny ability to say the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But that’s the way it is as Centre College in Danville plays host Thursday to Campaign 2012’s next big event: the only vice presidential debate between Biden and his Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Centre was already feeling good about having been chosen to host the veep debate for the second time in a dozen years. Now, thanks to Obama’s feeble performance last Wednesday in his first debate with Republican nominee Mitt Romney, even more attention will be focused on Danville.

“The interest and the contacts have really picked up in the past few days,” said Centre spokesman Michael Strysick.

More than 3,200 media credentials have been issued for the debate, including 600 to international journalists and broadcast technicians from 40 countries.

Credentialing closed a couple of weeks ago, but interest was already strong because of Ryan’s selection for the GOP ticket. It raised hopes that this would be more than the usual vice presidential debate — a sparring match between two people whose election is of no real consequence unless something happens to the president.

When Biden faced off four years ago in St. Louis against Sarah Palin, much of the anticipation focused on whether she would be able to convey a coherent thought.

But Ryan is the anti-Palin: smart and articulate, with a strong command of policy and data. He is one of conservatism’s rising intellectuals. Among many GOP faithful, especially Tea Party types, Ryan is more popular and respected than Romney.

During 14 years in the House, Ryan has become a leader in developing and proposing conservative fiscal policies. He is most famous for his draconian budget plan that would cut $5 trillion in government spending over a decade.

While Biden is an experienced legislator who campaigns with a man-of-the-people folksiness, he has never been considered a thought leader. House Speaker John Boehner predicted this summer that the Ryan-Biden debate could be “the greatest show on the planet.”

“With these two on the same stage,” Village Voice political blogger John Surico wrote last week, “we have a situation that is akin to a Thanksgiving Dinner where the dorky cousin is trying to outsmart the drunken uncle.”

But if Biden can avoid his gift of gaffe, he has a chance do well on Centre’s stage. That is because televised debates are more about performance than policy. They favor showmen over wonks, which is a big reason that Romney came off looking so much better than Obama did last Wednesday night.

Obama didn’t make mistakes; he just missed opportunities. He rambled while Romney was crisp. He was passive while Romney was assertive. Romney’s sudden shift from right-wing rhetoric to moderate reason seemed to throw Obama off balance. Romney looked straight into the camera when he spoke; Obama’s eyes were too often focused elsewhere.

The single vice presidential debate is particularly well-suited for sharp elbows. The debaters often can get away with saying meaner things than the top guys on the ticket. Both Ryan and Biden are likely to spend more time going after the presidential candidate who isn’t there than the guy across the stage.

Debates tend to favor challengers, because incumbents have a record to defend. But, in this case, Biden has an opportunity to make hay by attacking Ryan’s radical proposals for reshaping the federal budget and Medicare.

Ryan is coming to Danville to attack the Obama administration’s record, but also to try to sell his and Romney’s ideas.

Biden’s challenge will be to defend the administration’s record and explain why Romney and Ryan are wrong. He must show more passion and energy than Obama did last week. But here’s the question: Can Biden go on the offensive without being offensive?

Kentucky’s moment in the campaign spotlight should be a good show.


Bookends to a great week ahead in Lexington

January 16, 2011

Tired of cabin fever? Want to get out of the house, meet people and learn something new? There are some great opportunities to do that in Lexington at the beginning and end of this week.

The annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration begins downtown Sunday with a nondenominational service  at 6 p.m. at Central Christian Church. There are a full morning of activities downtown Monday  — a breakfast, a program, a march and service opportunities. Click here for details.

On Friday evening, Debra’s Social Stimulus kicks off 2011 with a gathering on Delaware Avenue to highlight an east Lexington neighborhood many people don’t even know is there. The festivities, which are free and open to the public, are from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Barnhill Chimney Co., 1123 Delaware Ave. The street runs between Winchester Road and Henry Clay Boulevard. Here’s a map.

Debra Hensley, an insurance agent and former Urban County Council member, started these gatherings in 2009 to help people in Lexington get to know each other and become more involved in their city. If you haven’t been to one, you are really missing something. I try never to miss. Click here for information.

Interesting reading on a cold, rainy Sunday

April 13, 2008

After I finished reading the Herald-Leader and went to church, I had some time on this cold and rainy Sunday. So I went in search of more good reading. Here’s what I found:

As if airline passengers and employees didn’t have enough to worry about, the long-discussed merger of Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines could be getting closer. The Financial Times is reporting that a deal could come as early as Monday. The merger could have a big impact on Kentucky as the airlines try to merge operations to cut costs. Some aviation consultants think Delta’s Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky hub may take a hit. Fasten your seatbelts; it could be a bumpy ride.

Casino promoters may have come up with a losing hand in this legislative session, but they’re sure to return, especially with a state budget like this one. Christopher Caldwell has an interesting piece In the New York Times Magazine about the economics of state-sponsored gambling.

In The Courier-Journal, Erik Reece, the UK writing professor and anti-strip mining author, draws his own analysis from the industry publication Kentucky Coal Facts.

The Bowling Green Daily News follows up on that city’s worst storm, which caused a half-billion dollars worth of damage 10 years ago this week.

In the Truth is Stranger than Fiction Department, this report comes from Pikeville, which will host its annual Hillbilly Days festival Thursday through Sunday. The Appalachian News-Express reports that federal officials have recalled 26,000 sets of plastic “Hillbilly Teeth.”

Preserve Lexington: Let’s look for common ground

April 4, 2008

I enjoy your blog very much. I feel like I am strolling through a virtual Forum listening to engaged citizens debate the future of their city.

After reading through the many interesting comments on your site, I had a few thoughts that I wanted to share.

We can spend a great deal of time debating what happened in the past, or what didn’t happen in the past, or what should have happened in the past. And perhaps that is a debate that should happen, and could be useful, down the road. But now, all that is likely to result is the sort of finger-pointing unlikely to move us forward.

I expect that within a week a number of parties to this debate will have a chance to sit down and discuss the possibilities for compromise. Preserve Lexington has committed to a good faith conversation with Mr. Webb. And I believe that Mr. Webb will approach these discussions with the same good faith.

So, for the next week, it might be best to focus on what we have in common, rather than what separates us. We all respect and applaud the considerable accomplishments of Mr. Webb and of the Webb Companies, we all want what is best for our city, we all welcome a significant development on this block. I think that we can even agree in principle that significant new development can co-exist with, and more important, can complement existing historic architecture. To illustrate this, Preserve Lexington has compiled a considerable portfolio of major developments across the U.S. that successfully marry the historic with the new.

Let us all take a deep breath.

Let us reflect upon these commonalities.

Let us see if conversation can lead to compromise.


Hayward Wilkirson
President of the Board of Directors
Preserve Lexington

This week: Spring break and CentrePointe

March 29, 2008

Lexington usually slows to a crawl during the week Fayette County Public Schools close for spring break. Half the town, it seems, heads for warmer climes.

But things should be plenty hot around here, thanks to developer Dudley Webb’s controversial proposal to build CentrePointe. It would be a 35-story hotel, condo and retail tower in the center of the city, a block bounded by West Main, South Upper, West Vine and South Limestone streets.

The warmup started Saturday, when more than 400 people rallied to argue for changes in CentrePointe’s design. Things will get even hotter Wednesday at 2 p.m. in the Urban County Council chambers, when Webb’s team make its case before the Courthouse Design Review Board. The board must approve any changes to the buildings that are near the old courthouse square. Eventually, the Urban County Council and state officials also must approve the project, because Webb is seeking $70 million in tax breaks.

Follow the news each day in the Herald-Leader and on kentucky.com. And return to this blog often for additional reporting, analysis, commentary — plus the chance to have your say about CentrePointe and discuss it with others.

I’m sure there will be other things we’ll want to discuss as well before Friday, when we head out to Keeneland for opening day. At least those of us who are still in town.