Catching up with the news after a vacation:
The Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, giving new energy to the drive for same-sex marriage and guaranteeing that more states will legalize these marriages. This trend has economic as well as legal and romantic overtones, and the Midwest should pay attention.
The urbanologist Richard Florida has compiled a so-called Gay Index or, more accurately, a Bohemian-Gay Index, as it applies to cities. This index basically says that cities with a lot of gay or artistic residents have more vibrant economies.
There are two reasons for this, Florida says. Firsts, artists and gays are attracted to already lively places, and then add to the creative scene once they get there, making these cities even more attractive. The second reason may be more important -- a premium on “tolerance or open culture.” Cities with large artistic or gay populations are by definition open to alternative life styles. They prize open-mindedness and nurture innovation. This atmosphere draws in people, especially young people, who may not be gay or artistic themselves but who value this openness. Such people in turn are more likely to be innovative, adding more to the local economy.
Since Florida unveiled his Gay Index, same-sex marriage has become legal in 13 states and the District of Columbia. Two of these states are Midwestern, Minnesota and Iowa. Illinois seems poised to join this club. All the other Midwestern states would seem to have an economic incentive in doing the same.
Most people – including innovators, entrepreneurs, investors and others courted by economic development departments – want to marry someone they love. If a state forbids one form of this marriage, it’s unlikely that these people would invest their money or talents there. If states in the South and elsewhere want to marginalize people who could rejuvenate their economies, they’re still free to do so, but they need to know that there’s an economic price to be paid.
There are millions of American gays. Many have money or brains or talents or ideas. Wherever they go they will create jobs and make their cities more fun and more exciting. Any smart Midwestern state will let them know they’re wanted.
As I basked in the relatively mild Midwestern summer, the rest of the country seemed to be on fire. Especially Arizona, where a disastrous forest fire killed 19 firefighters, the worst calamity to hit that brave trade since 9/11.
Some people insist on moving into tinder-dry forests, just as some people still insist on living in cities like Phoenix or Las Vegas, where water supplies are rationed and temperatures get near 120 degrees. (Yes, I know this is “dry heat.” So what? I’ve been barbecuing steaks this summer at temperatures not much higher than this.) For these people, nothing can be done.
But these temperatures and fires are a reminder that, in an ever-warming and ever-drier world, the Midwest remains a future haven. We sit on the Great Lakes, which are the single greatest repository of water in the world and, despite occasional dips in water levels, aren’t going to dry up. Neither are our mighty rivers. In the very near future, anybody who wants to live or work or invest in a region with a reliable source of fresh water has got to come to the Midwest.
As I said, some like it hot. Midwestern cities and states should be actively recruiting everybody else, possibly with the slogan, “Water Works.”
The gas station near my vacation retreat carried the New York Times most days, so I kept up with politics in that city. It seems that the two hottest candidates for upcoming election are Eliot Spitzer, who’s running for city comptroller, and Anthony Weiner, who aspires to be the city’s next mayor.
Anyone with a memory will recall that both men quit their last public jobs in disgrace, Spitzer as New York governor after he was caught patronizing prostitutes, and Weiner as a Congressman after he twittered lewd photos of himself to an online girlfriend. Spitzer’s downfall came in 2006, Weiner’s barely two years ago. Whatever the morals of their respective antics, both men clearly are as dumb as compost – Weiner in particular should have realized that what goes on Twitter never stays on Twitter – and have no business being anywhere near the public welfare.
Well, here they are again and, according to the latest polls, out in front. At the same time, Mark Sanford has been elected to Congress from South Carolina, just two years after he was forced to resign as governor after admitting that a publicized hike along the Appalachian Trail was really a cover for a clandestine trip to Argentina to see a girlfriend. (Spitzer and Weiner are still married to their wives, for reasons best understood by their marriage counselors, while Mrs. Sanford divorced her husband, who is now engaged to his Argentinian.)
It may seem ungenerous for a resident of Illinois to go tut-tut about scandals in other states. But it does seem to me that Illinois’ errant governors and other miscreant statesmen, once disgraced, have the decency to stay disgraced. Some of them have complained that they were unjustly punished. But none has asked voters to sympathize with this point of view.
As a cub foreign correspondent, I covered the so-called Profumo Scandal, which forced the resignation in 1963 of the British defense minister John Profumo, an aristocratic Englishman married to a movie star. Profumo was caught sleeping with a London party girl named Christine Keeler, who counted the Soviet military attaché among her other boyfriends. (Actually, Profumo resigned because he lied to Parliament about the affair, a terminal taboo in British politics.)
Profumo quit politics cold and took a job scrubbing toilets at Toynbee Hall, a settlement house much like Chicago’s Hull House, in London’s East End. Over the years he rose to become Toynbee Hall’s chief fundraiser.
He was still there when he died, at the age of 91, in 2006, forty-three years after his disgrace. By that time, most British agreed that he’d more than paid the price. But he never again asked for their votes.