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Movin' On Up | The Nation

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Diary of a Mad Law Professor

Movin' On Up

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Super Tuesday was, according to one radio commentator, "the Super Bowl of politics." Now that we've crested the mountaintop, transcended race, trounced gender stereotypes and broken through the old glass ceiling, I guess there's nothing left to do. Yawn. What's left to dream, after all? Time for a nap.

About the Author

Patricia J. Williams
Patricia J. Williams
Patricia J. Williams, a professor of law at Columbia University, was born in Boston in 1951 and holds a BA from...

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Dream No. 1: The doctrine of pre-emptive war is tackled by the doctrine of pre-emptive peace. Pandora appears out of nowhere, but she's all over the gridiron. She blocks the evil twins, Torture and Guantánamo--she's got them by the legs! She head- butts them back into the box! And the crowd goes wild.

Dream No. 2: Barack Obama is extolling the love, fortitude and courage of the woman who raised him "as a single mother." At first, the crowd imagines he's said "black single mother." There is a pause, then a quick reconfiguration. Oh, yeah, his single mother was white. It startles. As the throngs look at one another in wonder, they begin to see Lebanese-American single mothers and Taiwanese-American single mothers and Irish-American single mothers. They see that black single mothers--even the ones on welfare!--have a lot in common with all kinds of other mothers. Working mothers of all stripes are magically gilded with halos around their heads, illuminated as those who perform the hardest juggling acts, whose devotion is tested every minute of every day and who still don't earn but seventy cents for every dollar a man earns. Close-up of awe-struck faces as this realization hits a broad swath of the population. Voters decide not enough is trickling down from Enron and the oil companies. They join to revise the distribution of tax benefits; they join unions; they lobby for quality daycare. Eyes spill tears of appreciation and contrition. All boats start to rise.

Dream No. 3: Bill Clinton's hospital bill for coronary bypass surgery is accidentally sent to Gill Clinton of 96 Rocky Road, Red State, USA. Gill Clinton's insurance company has refused to pay, and before he realizes that it's a case of mistaken identity, Gill takes a look at the sum and his heart skips more than a few beats. When he revives, he begins to wonder what on earth he would have done if his moment of hyperventilation had been a real heart attack. He Googles the British and French healthcare systems to find out how much such an operation would cost there. Suddenly he doesn't care whether "Hillarycare" is "socialism": he wants to know the specifics. He takes a look at each candidate's proposals. He begins to fear Mexicans crossing into the United States less than what might happen if Canada were to stop US citizens from slipping over the border in search of low-cost prescription meds. He decides to sneak in a little cardiovascular exercise by canvassing the neighborhood on behalf of universal coverage.

Dream No. 4: Slate columnist Richard Kahlenberg insists that Barack Obama is the embodiment of why race-based affirmative action is no longer needed. As the words spill from Kahlenberg's pen, a glorious parallel universe opens up. Young black men are suddenly able to hail cabs with ease. Real estate agents cannot keep up with the demand for dee-lux apartments in the sky. Swedish models apply for welfare as Vogue publishes its first all-Chadian issue. People stop speaking exclusively of the "white-black gap" in educational achievement and become concerned about the general state of American education when they realize that less than half the students in any racial group--Asian, white, black or Latino--perform at or above the level of "proficient" by the time they reach twelfth grade. James Watson declares that black people have bigger feet and bigger brains. Trees and houses and the harmony of true integration bloom in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. White people throw down their saxophones in biologically determined frustration.

Dream No. 5: Britney Spears is still speaking in tongues, but after Super Bowl Tuesday, we are all able to understand her. She says that were she not a celebrity, not rich, not really-really talented and not white, she'd be doing hard time as a drug offender--and that the average federal sentence for drug felonies is around five years. She points out that the United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, inching toward the rate at which Stalin threw people into the gulag. She points out that around a quarter of the more than 2 million people in the correctional system are there for drug offenses and that nearly 75 percent of those are black or brown. She says that in California, where she lives, twenty-one prisons were built from 1984 to 1996, but only one new university. She admits that she is a very sick person. She says that there are a lot of sick citizens like her, a lot of depressed, addicted, overwrought, less-than-rational decision-makers, but that they shouldn't be jailed. She expostulates that it costs billions a year to incarcerate drug offenders. She thinks we should spend more of that money on mental healthcare. Because these words flow from Britney while she is wearing a pink wig, a Dooney & Bourke Metallic Mambo handbag and little else, the whole country listens with unusual attentiveness. And lo, there is a roar of political pressure to re-examine the legalization and medicalization of addictive drug use, to rethink determinate sentencing, to stop arresting minorities in numbers disproportionate to the number of passes given Lindsay Lohan, as well as to start a forced re-education camp for the parents of child stars.

Dream No. 6: John McCain is laughing in triumph. Lightly mocking Senator Obama's inspirational rhetoric, he says his victory means that "children in Arizona will be inspired to hope that they can be President of the United States." Somewhere beyond the ballroom of the Phoenix Hilton, little Navaho, Apache, Yaqui, Hopi, Paiute and Mohave children listen to his words. Visions of Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed and Republican bosses with their pockets stuffed with stolen tribal money dance through their heads. The children are inspired to run for President. They turn their young faces to the horizon and see a great horse named Irony trotting across the desert toward them, saddled up. The horse is smiling kindly. Music swells to fade.

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