Snatching defeat from the jaws of (conservative) victory

The odd stance of the conservatives vis a vis college crops up its head in this recent post from Rod Dreher. What catches his eye is this proposal

New Mexico’s high school juniors would be required to apply to at least one college or show they have committed to other post-high school plans as part of a new high school graduation requirement being pushed by two state lawmakers

An anonymous reader in higher education goes on to complain in the post about the inflation, the bubble of the four-year school, thereby reading the proposal as a sort of inflator for the higher education industry.

To say such, is to ignore what actually is said, or rather to limit it only to the four-year school. Look again, is that what New Mexico is asking?

The New Mexico plan specifically includes attendance at a two-year college — a great source for gaining the tech skills and credentialing for getting on with life. As report notes, this is a move especially desired by those in STEM fields. This is not really that surprising. After all, it is the presence of an educated workforce (skilled trade and college grad) that fuels an economy and supports entrepreneurs.

The New Mexico proposal sets up two policy extensions. The first, is that of cost. It is a cruel mockery to have students prepare for a four-year program if that further entails debt. In Michigan, at least, the increase in tuition is substantially driven by the shift of state funds away from the universities, thereby transferring more of the economic burden to the student. Skilled and professional workforces are not commanded as if by magic, but are the stuff of real investment. And second, to push for students to make a plan also means that the universities and colleges accepting those students likewise deliver on that plan; far from sanctioning the presence of liberal arts (oh no, the dreaded SJW) this measure is the premise for the State to demand further accountability of curriculum and outcomes, not less.

Finally, to return to the high school level, asking a student to consider what comes next, asking them to think and not drift — to be responsible — is hardly a burden. The surprising thing (evidently) is that only some schools do this. Talk about building a culture of (cultural) poverty! The New Mexico proposal fights the fight that you want to win; the grief-making is little more than a snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory.

Universities: Too Big To Fail?

Conservatives and racism

Rod Dreher gives voice to an understandable opinion, this in his continuing discussion of shitholes, domestic and foreign.

It really ticks me off how many (but not all) liberals insist on inserting race into these discussions and calling conservatives racist (or at least implying that we are racially insensitive). As if people of all races and classes are not capable of living virtuously, and to believe that they are is a sign of bigotry.

What Dreher appears to be seeking is a middle ground, one that is difficult to get at (or more properly, to hear). Is there a center right view on race that can be heard, or must it all devolve into thinly veiled contempt?

Let’s just say the conservative political class does not make it easy.

At both the national and certainly at the state level, this is a group that at its best comes across as indifferent, or silent all the while framing policies questions with “dog whistles.” At worst, of course, this class doesn’t advance the dog whistle legislation, but something worse, something that can be seen as actually harming minorities. Our state house dockets are filled with both approaches. So really, one cannot blame those outside from looking and wondering if in fact this political class actually sees minorities.

And what is the alternative? The left often offers a politics of performing, of posturing — a reaction noted by Sam Murrell.  The twin posturing can easily become a sort of shadow dance, where real the performance (or the glee of not recognizing) mirror each other, in a word, a profoundly white conversation. What goes missing between these two political posturings are the voices of conservative and middle of the road blacks. It’s not that there exists a valid conservative take on the problems of race, but rather that it so rarely gets heard amid the noise. This productive middle gets obscured, or pigeon-holed, or dismissed.This is the class that goes to church, the educators and entrepreneurs, a natural conservative class and yet the political conservatives? Too rarely do they cross the line to engage, or to let these voices impact theirs. Too often they choose their own rhetoric, drop the ball, and  too often, prove unreliable.

Why I No Longer Participate in Racial Reconciliation Services
Povety as Culture


On Shitholes

Rock_Bluff_School_outhouse_1In the remarks of the President, in the now notorious comments by Dreher about Sec 8 housing (here and here), the idea of “shithole” comes across as a place to avoid. But were we to take the measure from  public health initiatives, we might give it another frame. Across the developing world one of the most important, most practical programs is that of toilets, sanitation, and so clean water —  — that’s a direct solution to shit, and a metaphor for what we also can do. The so called  “shithole” is not a place to avoid, but one to redeem.  How then do we overcome a culture of poverty? Certainly not by running away to the suburbs, or physically or metaphorically washing our hands. Instead, the problem invites us to use imagination, to apply skills, to get in an work, not just in the neighborhood, but in the corporate suite, and at City Hall.

It’s still the problem of the color line.

Rod Dreher spent a day sputtering about Sarah Jones’ exploration of Dreher’s stance on race. Her essay in The New Republic pushes on the tacit racial nature of Dreher’s words.

The blog post was classic Dreher, … (he) did not specifically refer to people of color, but he didn’t need to; he just invoked their ghostly outlines and let the reader fill them in. His defense of Trump’s remarks are damning, not only for him personally, but for a certain kind of conservative intellectual who believes he is better than the vulgar ethno-nationalists at Breitbart. It is the logical end of a train of thought that often trails off and goes unspoken, just as those minorities in Dreher’s post are not directly identified but targeted under broad euphemisms like “the poor.” It is a conspicuous silence that has been there all along.

Is Dreher an enabler of the racist alt-right? or the victim of one more over zealous  SJW (our Social Justice Warriors). Or could it be, as he argues, that her stance is basically one of privilege?

I don’t know Sarah Jones and her crowd, but I have a strong suspicion that a lot of them are lashing out so strongly at me over the “shitholes” stuff, and wildly distorting my words, because in their heart of hearts, they know that they would never live in impoverished neighborhoods marked by violence and chaos. Where in the DC area does Sarah Jones live? If she doesn’t live in a poor, violent neighborhood, why not? She could save money if she did. Where does Jonathan Merritt live in Brooklyn? Where does Jemar Tisby live in Jackson, Miss.? And so on.

This is deflection (Jones her self does not live in Washington, but in Roanoke, at some distance). Some part of Dreher’s discussion in fact lies with the question of race and what is at best, an indifference to race. DuBois observation for the 20th C is still pertinent, as policies and tweets of the administration have shown. I would suggest that this larger context, this cultural shift underway provides a frame for understanding conservative commentary. So what appears to a conservative as benign or even obvious, may be read in quite different ways elsewhere. To this we can also add the geographical frame. Think about it: Louisiana has a history, an approach to race; so does Appalachia; and for that matter in my case, so does growing up in a university town in the Midwest.

Now the case in point: it is difficult to read the paragraph from the perspective of Michigan without thinking of race; it’s the stuff of our region’s history. When Jones says “fill in…” — ah, we do this a lot, especially over by Detroit. Likewise, the question Jones asks of the Benedict Option — did it really only mention race a handful of times? That seems like a valid, if awkward critique, not in making Dreher a racist, but in pointing to a blind spot, itself the creature of a particular and local setting.

But before we mount that high horse, we should note, we all suffer from the same disease, simultaneously better than and yet worse than our words. It happens.


Sarah Jones: SJW Propagandist
Rod Dreher’s Race Problem

Purity culture

Rod Dreher sticks his foot in it

Let’s think about Section 8 housing. If word got out that the government was planning to build a housing project for the poor in your neighborhood, how would you feel about it? Be honest with yourself. Nobody would consider this good news. You wouldn’t consider it good news because you don’t want the destructive culture of the poor imported into your neighborhood. Drive over to the poor part of town, and see what a shithole it is. Do you want the people who turned their neighborhood a shithole to bring the shithole to your street?

No, you don’t. Be honest, you don’t.

I don’t recognize these places, existing as they do in Dreher’s mind. The reality? the poor neighborhoods of our city are filled with families working hard to get by.

What is perhaps most irritating about the entire comment is the notion of separation, that of course, we don’t want these folks with their “destructive culture” living next door to us. We are offered a NIMBY response, a repetition of red-lining only with slightly better tools. The consequences are not simply for the poor, but for us as well. Separation, distance makes it possible to tacitly allow injustice to grow in our society, and hardness of heart in ourselves.

At another level, when the talk turns to “shithole” countries or places we are in the realm of a purity culture, a topic that Jonathan Haidt has explored. We must separate from “dirt”, “dirt is to be rejected. It is easy in all this to move from the physical descriptions which Dreher provides, to its metaphorical or political dimension: those from shithole neighborhoods don’t deserve the same respect, protection etc. The American language of race lurks just below the surface, as do any number of anti-homosexual screeds.

And spiritually, what is this concern about purity, but a crossing on the other side of the road? The Kingdom, the good city, this place will be built by mercy, by seeing the neighbor even in the shithole, by recognizing  that what is proclaimed in Word, what is seen at the Table, can be shown working together.

Of Sh*tholes And Second Thoughts


Pyrrhic Victory?

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The twentieth century struggle in American Protestantism was defined along the Fundamentalist/Modernist front. While the mainline reigned at mid-century, by the closing decade the conservatives had the upper hand, at least in professed believers. Some part of this growth was a Boomer phenomenon and the shift of population to the Sun Belt. One can mix in a bit of sexual anxiety that was the subtext of the 80s and90s — the prime family years of  the Boomers.

This religious growth was widely spread but it came with a catch: the growing conservative wing of Protestantism was also the wing for But something else was in the wind. Thsomething of a puritan movement had taken place.

these forces had been part of the fundamentalist community, particularly those in S California (see Darren Dochuk’s From Bible Belt to Sun Belt). It was a potent stew: highly separatist adherents, a militant anti-communism, a Plain Folk distrust of elites; this was the gift of Orange County to the world.

But once you get past Reagan, what was the impact of this religious nationalism? More respectability, yes, and a new name (Religious Right) but still largely a failure argues George Hawley

(The Religious Right) was an effective fundraising tool for Republican politicians, but its lasting victories in terms of social policies are difficult to name. Stopping the Equal Rights Amendment in the late 1970s was perhaps the movement’s sole permanent achievement. And that victory occurred before most of the major institutions of the Christian Right were even established. On abortion, gay marriage, prayer in school, and other social issues, conservative victories were typically fleeting.

But if it was a failure politically, it was worse for Christianity as a whole. The very political energy of the movement drove out the moderate  and liberals, not simply sending some to the mainline congregations, but completely out of the religious game. To the sidelines. As Hawley notes, “the finding that it expedited the decline of Christian identification and affiliation is a damning indictment.”




That Old Time Politics

Having come of political age in the 60s, I remember the transition from the traditional Republicanism of the Midwest (Rockefellerian, as it was) to the emergent New Right, with its fevered anti-Communism and its New Deal rejectionism. This was long before Ronald Reagan parted the waters in 1980.

Rod Dreher responds to an article outlining this New Right, aka “fusionism” and how the current moment differs. It does. Part of the difficulty of the moment, as of the lament is that the path out, this other moderate, decent path, was destroyed. The victory and subsequent purification of the Republican party robbed them of the resources now so desperately needed.

In a comment I wrote:

The impact of fusionism was the war against RINOs which displaced a deep, honorable traditional conservativism with something more ideological. Throughout the Midwest  this older, displaced form of traditional conservatism held main street values, but also championed common good solutions. These were men (few women in politics in those days) who enacted environmental law, who spoke out on civil rights, who built roads and infrastructure, who sought social programs that uplifted. They were found on Sundays in your mainline churches.

That generation of politicians of course, has largely disappeared.

Rather than seek a fusionism, I would submit that the better work is to promote the deeper traditionalist thinking of common good. Where we care about each other (and yes, this must mean the liberal and all the rest), we can then craft social solutions — political policies — that build a common life together. The best values in the BO nurture this; Deneen’s plea for a counterculture likewise points in this direction, albeit, that he wants to excoriate “liberals”. At its core, fusionism represents a shrinking of the moral base for conservative action, a replacing of what is Good and True for all (and so worthy of acceptance and action) with what is good and true for Some, a replacement of the polis for the merely political.

Can I Get a Whiteness?

The notion of white guilt as a felt need apparently is not supported by the surveys. At least according to George Hawley, in The American Conservative. He comments

even if there is a powerful, coordinated effort to shame and demoralize whites, it does not appear to be working. The self-flagellating whites so derided by the alt-right and even many conservatives are a tiny fraction of white Americans.

What is also clear is that the impact of race as a forensic item and to a lesser extent in the carried assumptions of whites remains. While whites may not have the “feeling” they certainly gain the benefit of the racial doubt. A century later, the problem continues to be the colored line.

Arms, Rebellion and Autonomy

At The American Conservative, Samuel Goldman brings a skeptical eye to the current common place in gun discussion, that the bearing of arms and militias are there to secure the community against tyranny. The short answer: well meant, but ineffective.

What often goes missing is one other condition, that of civil rebellion itself.

Bearing arms in resistance can only be legitimate to the extent that it is just. Theologically, this is a tough nut; the standing rule is go with even unjust kings. The religious violence of the post Reformation era undercut such an easy answer. For those in the Reformed tradition, obedience is conditioned by obedience to God. Even here, there is a social element.  Calvin lays out the conditions in The Institutes  Book IV.xx.31: the just rebellion against the king is done by the righteous magistrate.

The Second Amendment discussions of arms as a deterrent to tyranny broadly omit the discussion of when it is just (treating it in Frontier fashion as self-evident), and even less who then becomes the summoning authority.  To the degree that individual arms bearing is understood as a formal protection against the central State, it remains one bounded by collective decision making, something I think can be seen in the notion of “militia” itself.

(What I find that further confuses  this discussion is the role of individual arms bearing not as a protection against political tyranny, but as an assertion of individual autonomy against cultural “tyrannies.” In this, the language of resistance to a tyrannical state, a language often conveyed with great emotional vehemence, is more a kind of political theatre for what is finally a more interior sensibility. As a lover of theatre, I don’t doubt the legitimacy of the gun as a sign of autonomy.)

On Minimum Wage

Noah Millman points to some basics about the role of the minimum wage as part of a conservative approach to a more just society.

In principle, any kind of “one-nation” conservatism has to care about inequality as such, and particularly about the weakness of labor’s bargaining power in most of contemporary America. Right-wing individualism is often conflated with a conservative approach to governance in contemporary American politics, but that conflation is a profound error. As a practical matter, I’m convinced that wage stagnation is the deep reason for the financial crisis. The Bush-era answer to stagnating wages was cheaper credit. That papered over the problem for a while, but it teed America up for a terrible crash. … Avoiding a repeat requires fixing the structural drivers of widening inequality, and particularly means raising wages at the low end of the scale. In that context, a legislated rise in the minimum wage should absolutely be on the table for discussion.

He concludes,

Wage stagnation is a serious economic and social problem with far-reaching consequences. You don’t get to say “I don’t care about that problem” because your ideology doesn’t have a ready-made answer. That applies to free-market-oriented conservatives and client-service-oriented neo-liberals alike, because solving the problem is going to require solutions from the “left” and “right” side of the policy box, and these solutions may be more complementary than contradictory.

In short, there’s something for everyone to contribute.