TIME LGBT

Oregon Becomes Third State to Ban Conversion Therapy on Minors

OR: Kate Brown Attends Oregon Statehood Day Event
Alex Milan Tracy—Sipa USA/AP Then Secretary of State Kate Brown, who is currently Governor, attends a Statehood Day celebration at the Oregon Historical Society, in Portland, Ore., on Feb. 14, 2015.

The Beaver State is the third to pass such a prohbition

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown made her state the third to outlaw the use of conversion therapy on minors on Monday, eliminating the controversial practice that President Barack Obama called to ban in early April. Oregon joins California, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., in prohibiting licensed therapists from attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a child.

“We hope Oregon will prove to be just [one] of many states to ban this harmful and discredited practice that uses rejection, shame and psychological abuse,” said Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, which supports LGBT youth. Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association and the American Psychiatric Association have all come out against the practice, also known as reparative therapy.

Oregon’s new law comes at a time when there is some movement in Washington responding to Obama’s call. On Tuesday, California Rep. Ted Lieu introduced a bill that would classify commercial conversion therapy—and advertising claims that promise changes to one’s sexual orientation or gender identity—as fraud. This could essentially ban the practice for all ages nationwide.

“The truth is that being LGBT cannot be and does not need to be cured,” said Lieu, who authored the California state ban on conversion therapy for minors. “It’s a dangerous scam, and the government must act to protect LGBT Americans from fraudsters who take their money and lie to them.”

In April, California Rep. Jackie Speier introduced a resolution calling on states to end the practice and said she was “also pursuing the possibility of a full federal ban of the practice.”

Opponents of the new state laws, who claim they are violations of free speech and the freedom of religion, have tried and so far failed to challenge them in court. In 2014, the Supreme Court declined to hear challenges to the California law. And earlier this month the Court declined to hear a challenge to the New Jersey law, leaving a ruling that upheld the ban as the final legal word on the matter.

Obama called for an end to the practice among minors in response to a petition started in honor of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender youth who walked into oncoming traffic and was killed. She left a suicide note detailing the trauma she experienced from conversion therapy pushed by her parents. The petition started on the White House’s website gained more than 120,000 signatures.

Oregon Gov. Brown, who took office in 2015, is the country’s first openly bisexual sitting governor. She signed the law with little publicity, issuing no press release on her website or tweet on her feed. But LGBT rights groups were happy to sound the trumpets. “We all owe them an enormous debt of gratitude,” the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ Samantha Ames said of lawmakers who pushed the bill, “one we can only repay by promising we will continue this fight until the day no child knows the devastation of being told they were born anything but perfect.”

MONEY fiduciary

If Humans Can’t Offer Unbiased Financial Advice to the Middle Class, These Robots Will

Wall Street says it can't be a "fiduciary" to everyone who wants financial advice. But the new breed of "robo advisers" is happy to take the job.

Fast-growing internet-based investment services known as robo-advisers have already begun to upend many aspects of the investment business. Here’s one more: Potentially reshaping the long-standing debate in Washington over whether financial advisers need to act in their clients’ best interests.

If you work with a financial adviser you may assume he or she is legally obligated to give you unbiased advice. In fact, that’s not necessarily the case. Many advisers—the ones who are technically called brokers—in fact face a much less stringent legal and ethical standard: They’re required only to offer investments that are “suitable” for you based on factors like age and risk tolerance. That leaves room for brokers to steer clients to suitable but costly products that deliver them high commissions.

The issue is especially troubling, say many investor advocates, because research shows that most consumers don’t understand they may be getting conflicted advice. And the White House recently claimed that over-priced advice was reducing investment returns by 1% annually, ultimately costing savers $17 billion a year.

Now the Labor Department has issued a proposal that, among other things, would expand the so-called fiduciary standard to advice on one of financial advisers’ biggest market segments, Individual Retirement Accounts. A 90-day comment period ends this summer.

Seems like an easy call, right? Not so fast. Wall Street lobbyists contend that forcing all advisers to put clients first would actually hurt investors. Their argument? Because advisers who currently adhere to stricter fiduciary standards tend to work with wealthier clients, forcing all advisers to adopt it would drive those who serve less wealthy savers out of the business. In other words, according to the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a fiduciary standard would mean middle-class investors could end up without access to any advice at all.

(Why, you might ask, would anyone in Washington listen to business rather than consumer groups about what’s best for consumers? Well, that is another story.)

What’s interesting about robo-advisers, which rely on the Internet to deliver automated advice, is that they have potential to change the dynamic. Robo-advisers have been filling this gap, offering investors so-called fiduciary advice with little or no investment minimums at all. For instance, Wealthfront, one of the leading robo-advisers, has a minimum account size of just $5,000. It’s free for the first $10,000 invested and charges just 0.25% on amounts over that. Arch-rival Betterment has no account minimum at all and charges just 0.35% on accounts up to $10,000 when investors agree to direct deposit up to $100 a month.

Of course, these services mostly focus on investing—clients can expect little in the way of individual attention or holistic financial planning. But the truth is that flesh-and-blood advisers seldom deliver much of those things to clients without a lot of assets. What’s more, the dynamic is starting to change. Earlier this month, fund giant Vanguard launched Personal Advisor Services that will offer individual financial planning over the phone and Internet for investors with as little as $50,000. The fee is 0.3%.

The financial services industry says robo-advisers shouldn’t change the argument. Juli McNeely, president of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, argues that relying on robo-advisers to fill the advice gap would still deprive investors of the human touch. “It all boils down to the relationship,” she says. “It provides clients with a lot of comfort.”

But robo-adviser’s growth suggests a different story. Wealthfront and Betterment, with $2.3 billion and $2.1 billion under management, respectively, are still small but have seen assets more than double in the past year.

And Vanguard’s service, meanwhile, which had been in a pilot program for two years before it’s recent launch, already has $17 billion under management.

Vanguard chief executive William McNabb told me last week that, although Vanguard had reservations about the specific legal details of past proposals, his company supports a fiduciary standard in principle. Small investors, he says, are precisely the niche that robo-advisers are “looking to fill.”

 

 

 

 

 

TIME Saudi Arabia

Saudi King’s Absence at Obama Summit Moves Spotlight to Mysterious Son

An undated handout file photograph made available by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) shows the then newly-appointed Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.
EPA An undated handout file photograph made available by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) shows the then newly appointed Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.

With King Salman set to miss Obama's summit of Gulf nations, U.S. officials can size up his powerful son

On one hand, the announcement that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman will not attend President Obama’s Camp David summit of Gulf Arab monarchs on Thursday, despite having earlier accepted the invitation, highlights all over again the considerable strains between Washington and Riyadh. In the four months since Salman came to power, the Kingdom has defied the U.S. by starting one war in Yemen and reviving the most problematical elements in another, sending new support to the Syrian opposition forces that include the Nusra Front, an affiliate of al-Qaeda.

On the other hand, the king’s absence—ostensibly to deal with a brief cease-fire in Yemen, but widely viewed as a snub—will give U.S. officials a chance to size up the young fellow who the monarch has invested with immense new powers: His son, also known as the Minister of Defense, as well as president of the royal court. Mohammad bin Salman may be 29, as some accounts have it, or 34, the age offered in other reports. Or somewhere in between. The uncertainty speaks volumes about how little is known of the fresh-faced young prince, derided by the Supreme Leader of arch-rival Iran as “an inexperienced youngster.”

“I don’t think anybody knows who he is,” says F. Gregory Gause III, head of the international affairs department of the Texas A&M University Bush School of Government and Public Service. “He’s never had a job where he had a counterpart with Americans in bilateral talks. I think there’ll be plenty of people looking to size him up.”

The jobs that young bin Salman holds are known well enough. Defense is a ministry awash in money. “That’s where the rake-offs occur in the system,” says Charles A. Freeman, who was U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. And head of the royal court is basically chief of staff, putting the king’s son in daily charge of the ruling apparatus.

But the lack of information about bin Salman himself says a great deal about how fast the ground is shifting in the Middle East—and especially in the House of Saud, the family that has ruled the Kingdom since it appeared on the sands of the Arabian Peninsula in 1932. Saudi-watchers used to be the Middle East’s version of the Kremlinologists who studied the Soviet Union. The players in both places moved at processional speed and change, should it occur, was glacial. But then Salman took power following the January death of his brother Abdullah, who ruled for 10 years.

“Basically what’s happened in Saudi Arabia since the death of Abdullah is a series of political coup d’etats,” says Freeman. “In Arabia, genealogy is ideology and lineage really is faction. In any one-party system you have factions, and in a one-family system you have factions.” Despite Salman’s reputation as a conciliator between branches of the family, since ascending to the throne, Freeman says, “he’s basically cut them all out.”

Salman, 79, was expected to be the Saudi ruler who prepared for the inevitable transfer of power to a younger generation of Saudi princes. But rather than casting the net wide, he designated his nephew as the new Crown Prince—the first grandson of the founding King, Abdulaziz, to be so named—and his own young son Mohammad as Deputy Crown Prince, or second in line. The nephew is already well known in Washington: Mohammad bin Nayef, 55, has long been Interior Minister and run the Saudis’ counter-terror operations; he has twice met with President Obama in the Oval Office. But in selecting him, the king reached past hundreds of waiting princes.

“The model was kind of corporate leadership within a number of senior members of the older generation, and they didn’t always get along and they didn’t always agree, but they had a general corporate sense of where they wanted the country to go and it worked well for more than 50 years,” says Gause. “I thought the new king would try to recreate that kind of corporate responsibility across a number of people in the new generation, but that’s obviously not what Salman wanted. He’s privileged a couple of people and cut out a large number. And how that affects family cohesion down the line will be interesting to watch.”

For now, the war in Yemen, aimed at a Shi’ite rebel group advancing in the neighboring state, has provided a rallying effect at home. It also had the effect of forcing the U.S. to provide battlefield intelligence and targeting information (“not to support them would leave the relationship with no content,” says Freeman). But the fundamental problem remains Iran, the Saudis’ great regional rival. Riyadh feels threatened not only by Tehran’s gains in Iraq and Yemen, and continued support for the Assad regime in Syria, but—even more—by Obama’s engagement with the Iranians. Along with fellow members of the Sunni-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council, they feel threatened by the attention Washington is paying to Iran, in a region where attention equals prestige, or even license. Already almost wholly reliant on the U.S. for their defense, the Gulf Arab monarchs are asking for a formal treating with Washington guaranteeing their protection, something Obama officials say they cannot provide.

“I think their fears that we are going to just throw them over and that Iran will be our big ally in the region are greatly exaggerated,” says Gause. But those are the fears that prompted the Obama administration to convene the Camp David summit. And if King Salman cannot make it, Freeman says, he may have sussed it out as a “pseudo-event.”

“The Saudis and others have learned from Israel that you can give the United States the bird,” says Freeman. But that, the former ambassador adds, may work out for the best at Camp David. “Having the two Mohammads—bin Nayef and bin Salman—in this thing puts the two people who are actually running things in there. So if there’s something that’s actually going on in Saudi Arabia, these are the two who can make things happen.”

TIME Economy

Obama Makes Case for Trade Deal at Nike Headquarters

President Barack Obama speaks to Nike Employees and other Oregonians at Nike Headquarters May 8, 2015 in Beaverton, Oregon.
Natalie Behring—Getty Images President Barack Obama speaks to Nike Employees and other Oregonians at Nike Headquarters May 8, 2015 in Beaverton, Oregon.

"Some of my dearest friends are wrong. They're just wrong"

(BEAVERTON, Ore.) — President Barack Obama argued forcefully Friday for a pending international trade agreement, saying the U.S. must write the rules for global commerce now, while it’s in a position of economic strength, or lose out.

“If we don’t write the rules for trade around the world, guess what? China will,” Obama said, making his case at the Oregon headquarters of the athletic apparel and footwear company Nike. “And they’ll write those rules in a way that gives Chinese workers and Chinese businesses the upper hand.”

Nike was a curious choice for the president’s speech, given criticism of its labor practices over the years.

But the company pledged Friday to create up to 10,000 jobs in the U.S. over the next decade with its manufacturing partners if Congress gives Obama “fast-track” trade negotiating authority that ultimately leads to the 12-country Trans-Pacific trade deal.

Nike said the trade deal would allow it to take advantage of lower tariffs on shoes and speed up investments in footwear manufacturing in the U.S.

Negotiations over the deal have put Obama in the awkward position of publicly battling with Democratic allies who normally would support him, including many lawmakers, labor unions and environmentalists.

Opponents fear the deal would lead to jobs being shifted overseas.

Obama argued that the current system doesn’t benefit American workers, particularly those in the small businesses that he said create two out of every three jobs in the U.S. He said those businesses need easier access to the fast-growing Asian markets.

Obama acknowledged getting a “whupping” from his own party on the issue, but he said the pending deal includes enforceable provisions on the environment, child labor and other issues. Participating countries have to raise labor standards and pass other laws to protect workers, he said.

“Some of my dearest friends are wrong. They’re just wrong,” Obama said.

TIME Gadgets

You’d Never Guess the Wearable Device President Obama Uses

Sorry, Apple

Though he’s still attached to his BlackBerry, Barack Obama is hopping on the wearable device bandwagon as well.

The President was spotted wearing a Fitbit Surge during a Wall Street Journal interview this week:

The newly released Surge, which includes a built-in GPS and call and text alerts, is a direct competitor to the Apple Watch. Seems President Obama is continuing to show love to lots of gadgets outside of Apple’s product line. We’ll have to keep an eye out for the Surge next time the President is on the basketball court.

Read more: Review: The Surge Is the Most Powerful Fitbit Ever

TIME White House

Watch the Funniest Jokes From the White House Correspondents’ Dinner

President Obama and Cecily Strong crack wise in Washington

For 364 days of the year, Washington, D.C. is about as funny as daytime C-SPAN.

But for just one night, the White House and the journalists who cover it put aside their differences, put on their tuxes and gowns, and come together for the White House Correspondent’s Dinner.

Celebrities, journalists, and politicians gathered Saturday night for the annual dinner sometimes known as “nerd prom”—an event so popular there’s even a documentary on Washington’s biggest night.

It’s a chance for the President to relax and crack a few jokes of his own. And in case they fall flat, he is followed by a bit from an actual comedian (this year it was Saturday Night Live cast member Cecily Strong, in the past it’s been other big names like Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers.) And Keegan-Michael Key made a surprise appearance as Luther, Obama’s anger translator, a character from his Comedy Central show Key & Peele.

Here are the funniest moments from the night.

Obama’s best jokes:

1) On Joe Biden: “The fact is, I feel more loose and relaxed than ever. Those Joe Biden shoulder massages are like magic. You should try one. … Oh, you have?”

2) “Advisers asked me, ‘do you have a bucket list?’ And I said, well, I have something that rhymes with ‘bucket list.’ … Take executive action on immigration? Bucket. New Climate regulations? Bucket.”

3) On how tough it is to be president: “It’s no wonder people keep pointing out how the presidency has aged me… John Boehner’s already invited Netanyahu to speak at my funeral.”

4) On Obamacare: “Today, thanks to Obamacare, you no longer have to worry about losing your insurance if you lose your job. You’re welcome, Senate Democrats.”

5) On the Republicans: “Dick Cheney says I’m the worst president of his life time. Which is interesting, because I think Dick Cheney is the worst president of my lifetime. What a coincidence.”

6) On Hillary Clinton: “I have one friend—just a few weeks ago, she was making millions of dollars a year, and now she’s living out of a van in Iowa.”

7) On his bro-mance with Biden: “We’ve gotten so close that in some places in Indiana they won’t serve us pizza anymore”

8) On the weather and the media: “The polar vortex caused so many record lows they named it MSNBC.”

9) On the possibility of a Bernie Sanders campaign: “Apparently some people want to see a pot-smoking socialist in the White House. We could get a third Obama term after all.”

10) Luther, Obama’s anger translator (played by Keegan-Michael Key) on Hillary Clinton’s campaign: “Khaleesi is coming to Westeros”

Cecily Strong’s best jokes:

1) On the mood in the room: This is “a chance for all of you to unwind, relax, and laugh as soon as you notice someone slightly more powerful than you is laughing.”

2) On C-SPAN: “To some viewers watching at home on C-SPAN, hello! To most viewers watching at home on c-span: meow!”

3) On the location: “‘It is great to be here at the Washington Hilton’—is something a prostitute might say to a congressman.”

4) On the media guest list: “BuzzFeed is here, but I can give you a listicle of 17 reasons why they shouldn’t be.”

5) On Brian Williams: “What can I say about Brian Williams? Nothing, because I work for NBC.”

6) On Serial and The Jinx: “Sarah Koenig must be so pissed about the Jinx—its like Serial, but with an ending.”

7) On the President’s absence from Paris after the Charlie Hebdo attack: “Paris is so beautiful—Mr. President, you should really think about going there sometime.”

8) On Sen. Tom Cotton: “Tom Cotton is a Senator, and not a rabbit from an old racist Disney cartoon.”

9) On the 2016 Republican race: “Marco Rubio makes Mitt Romney seem relaxed on the air. I just hope he gets comfortable in front of a camera before he has to go on to endorse Jeb Bush.”

10) On Rand Paul: “Rand Paul announced he’s taking over the family’s not-being-president business.”

11) On Obama’s graying hair: “Your hair is so white now, it can talk back to the police.”

12) On what Obama and Madonna have in common: “You’ve both given this country so much, but in a year-and-a-half you gotta stop.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 20

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. America loves to take sides in regional conflicts. In Yemen, we shouldn’t.

By Paul R. Pillar in the National Interest

2. Here’s why Congress should drop the ban on federal funds for needle exchanges. (It’s because they work.)

By Kevin Robert Frost at CNN

3. Cheap coal is a lie.

By Al Gore and David Blood in the Guardian

4. How small-batch distilling could save family farms.

By Andrew Amelinckx in Modern Farmer

5. Can you fix city management with data? Mike Bloomberg is betting $42 million you can.

By Jim Tankersley at the Washington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Iran

The 3 Things the Ayatullah Wanted to Achieve in His Defiant Speech

Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speaking to crowds during a ceremony in Tehran on April 9, 2015.
Official Supreme Leader Website/EPA Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speaking to crowds during a ceremony in Tehran on April 9, 2015.

The Supreme Leader appealed to hard-liners while leaving the door open to the U.S.

Ayatullah Ali Khamenei broke his silence on the outline of a nuclear deal with the West on April 9, in a speech widely understood to be a buzzkill. “I have told the officials to not trust the opposing side,” he said, “to not be fooled by their smiles, to not trust their promises because when they have achieved their objectives they will laugh at you.”

But was it really a nail in the coffin for the negotiations? There’s no one answer, not least because over the week that followed it has become clear Iran’s Supreme Leader was trying to do several things at once:

1. Take control of the narrative.

By the time Khamenei, 75 and ailing, took the stage in Tehran in April, it was clear Iran’s right-wingers needed to be let out of their cage. At that point, all the skepticism toward the outline agreement seemed to be coming from the U.S. Congress, and in these negotiations, skepticism back home serves to improve one’s bargaining position. Every harsh appraisal from the Hill — which appears poised to demand review of any final deal — arms Western negotiators with new leverage to push even harder for Iranian concessions, as the two sides seek to nail down specifics before the June 30 deadline for a final pact.

But American politicians outshouting Iranians in opposition to a nuclear deal is a strange and rare dynamic, like McDonald’s hawking the Whopper, with Iran in the role of Burger King. The Leader set out to right the universe. Three times in his speech Khamenei called on negotiators to heed or answer “critics,” conspicuously lifting the ban on smack talk. He also directed them to address two specific points that apparently remain outstanding: the timing of lifting all sanctions, which Khamenei said should be immediate, and access of U.N. inspectors to Iranian military facilities, which he at least appeared to forbid.

2. Quiet the crowds.

Iran’s theocratic government is not a monolith, and the unpleasant political reality was that the factions least identified with Khamenei received all the acclaim for the prospective deal announced on April 2. Cheering reformist Foreign Minister Javad Zarif upon arrival from Switzerland, the crowd at the airport chanted, “Kayhan, Israel, our condolences,” naming a hard-line newspaper (whose editor Khamenei appoints) as a loser. Khamenei used his speech to declare that there’s nothing to cheer yet. “Nothing has yet been done and no binding topic has been brought up between the two sides,” he said, in the transcript posted on his personal website, www.leader.ir. “Therefore, extending congratulations is pointless.”

Abbas Milani, who runs the Iranian studies program at Stanford, tells TIME that while President Hassan Rouhani was elected on the platform of striking a deal, Khamenei “doesn’t want Rouhani to get too much credit. He’s very clear: If there’s a deal, it’s because I wanted it. And if there’s not, it’s because these guys were too frivolous to understand they were giving away too much.”

3. Keep the door open.

Khamenei may well loathe and distrust America, but along with the usual name-calling (“obstinate, unreliable, dishonest and into backstabbing”), his speech made clear his willingness to seal a deal — and even work with Washington on future projects, should this one end well. “Of course, the negotiations on the nuclear issue are an experience,” he said. “If the opposite side gives up its misconduct, we can continue this experience in other issues.” He even raised the possibility of extending the talks beyond the June 30 deadline, one more measure of how badly Iran needs a final pact. The regime Khamenei inherited in 1989 from Grand Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini may or may not want a nuclear weapon, but without relief from economic sanctions it will be in continuing danger. It’s not only a matter of the hardship born by ordinary Iranians, but by the state itself. Iran’s public sector accounts for perhaps three-quarters of the national economy, directly employing 80% of the Iranian workforce. Small wonder that Khamanei authorized the nuclear negotiations with a call for “heroic flexibility.”

The Supreme Leader’s speech can be seen as a kind of “Rorschach test,” Karim Sadjadpour, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who has written extensively on Khamenei, tells TIME. “He throws a lot of red meat to his hard-line base to reassure them he’s still an anti-American revolutionary. But careful readers also notice that underneath all the vitriol, he leaves the door of compromise with the U.S. slightly ajar. Given how badly the Iranian people want this deal to happen, Khamenei doesn’t want to be seen in their eyes as the obstacle.”

All of which, when the dust has cleared, looks like a stronger position for the West as the next round.

TIME Opinion

Another Similarity Between Lincoln and Obama: They Polarized the Nation

Abraham Lincoln portrait
Stock Montage / Getty Images Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) posed for a formal portrait, mid-19th century.

Lincoln was a lightning rod—and Obama is too

Americans yearn for an end to political polarization and partisanship, and many today fault President Obama for failing to achieve consensus on his major initiatives: health care, immigration reform, foreign policy and so on. But consider Abraham Lincoln. From their state of origin to their legal backgrounds, the two presidents have drawn many comparisons, and here’s another: Despite his various efforts at outreach, our sixteenth president was, in life, an intensely polarizing and partisan figure, every bit as polarizing and partisan as our current president.

Lincoln’s presidency, which ended exactly 150 years ago today, sharply differed from the experience of his predecessors. Before Lincoln, five presidents had won a second term: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and Andrew Jackson. Each had carried both North and South in at least one of his presidential bids. By contrast, Lincoln was purely a regional candidate, despised by intense majorities in a large chunk of the country. In 1860, he received zero popular votes south of Virginia, and in 1864, none of the 11 states in Dixie held a valid presidential election, thanks to sectional war precipitated by Lincoln’s prior election. Even Lincoln’s assassination was related to regional differences: John Wilkes Booth was an intense southern partisan.

In the ensuing century and a half, many of America’s most successful presidents have managed to achieve considerable popularity in both North and South. Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton all outdid Lincoln in this regard. But our current president won, twice, by following a more emphatically Lincolnian path to power—that is, a distinctly northern route: Of the 11 states in the former confederacy, Obama lost eight twice, and lost a ninth (North Carolina) once, prevailing twice only in Virginia and Florida.

In our era, as in Lincoln’s, regional polarization is on the upswing. Prior to 1850, the winning presidential candidate typically carried both North and South. But that pattern broke down in the 1850s, even before Lincoln rose to national prominence; and a similar fate has befallen Obama. At the presidential level the North and the South have backed different candidates in every one of the six most recent elections; and many states are becoming increasingly red or blue, presidentially. In 2012, only four swing states—Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia—were close enough to be decided by fewer than five points.

If we shift gears from regional polarization to political polarization, Lincoln and Obama once again appear as political doubles. Both made efforts to reach across the aisle. For example, Lincoln, a Republican, chose a former Democrat, Edwin Stanton, to serve as Secretary of War. Democrat Obama has symmetrically chosen Republicans Robert Gates and Chuck Hagel to fill the same slot, now renamed the Secretary of Defense. Still, Lincoln’s signature executive accomplishments were at risk in a judiciary dominated by appointees of the opposite political party; the same remains true for Obama. Shortly after Lincoln’s death, every single congressional Democrat voted against the Fourteenth Amendment, which codified Lincoln’s dream of birthright equality of all citizens; almost never before had America seen such 100% polarization. In our era, every single congressional Republican likewise opposed Obama’s signature health care plan.

But even on the topics where his proposals were most radical, Lincoln’s opponents’ arguments have not aged well. Shortly before his death, he signed a proposed constitutional amendment providing for an end to American slavery—immediately and with no financial compensation to slaveholders. Nothing like this had ever happened in any American jurisdiction where slavery was widespread. In 1860, less than 1% of America’s black population voted on equal terms. In 1870, all racial disfranchisement was constitutionally forbidden, building on another suggestion made by Lincoln himself in his last public speech, just days before he died.

That level of equality had been a new public stance for Lincoln, a break from his more cautious early views, much as Obama has only recently evolved to a position of open embrace of same-sex marriage. If the Supreme Court later this year constitutionalizes this egalitarian vision, following the lead of the latest lanky lawyer from Illinois to occupy the Oval Office, the decision will likely trigger howls of protest. These howls are likely to be loudest in those regions that hated Lincoln and all that he stood for when he was still standing. But Lincoln’s example should remind us that contemporary controversy does not necessarily mean that the judgment of history will be equivocal. Lincoln’s vision of racial equality has been vindicated by posterity; and the same seems highly likely for Obama’ vision of sexual-orientation equality. As Mark Twain is said to have noted, history never repeats itself—but it sometimes rhymes.

The Long ViewHistorians explain how the past informs the present

Akhil Reed Amar is a professor of law at Yale and author of the newly released book, The Law of the Land: A Grand Tour of our Constitutional Republic.

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