Heading South

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Photo Credit: Business Insider

The sudden fall of Paula Deen is, if anything, breath-taking.  And to fall because of a an ancient racial slur — surely injustice is at work?  Bill Vis comments

Paula Deen is older than me and was born and raised in the south.  The furor by younger people shows a profound lack of understanding of the world she and I grew up in.  Was it right?  Something I am proud of?  Of course not!  But to condemn someone in her mid-sixties for being a product of the society in which she was a child is grossly unfair.

Was it unfair what happened to Paula Deen? In a sense, absolutely, the same way it was unfair what happened to Detroit autoworkers. She got caught in an ebbing tide.

Her problem is not that she was brought up a certain way, but that she could not adapt to the present rapidly changing make-up of US society.  David Brooks’ column , A Nation of Mutts captures much of the new dynamic, about the shift from Euro-America to a New America. In this landscape, the older folkways are now peculiar, particular to the individual. And perhaps especially those of the South,with its own complicated history on race. To participate in cultural leadership or take a culturally visible role such as Deen had done requires that one be able to present oneself as culturally open. Her inarticulateness — her real sin —  then doomed her.

But it may not have been just a few ill-chosen words.

Adding to the conflagration may be our own politics. The national political scene is dominated not only by an open hostility to a representative of this new America, President Obama, but also by a retrenchment of conservative ideals.  There’s a dynamic there between the political and cultural concerns of the conservative base so firmly anchored in the white Baby Boom generation and the New American mixed identity of the President. In this mix, Deen’s comments however old, even her southern identity give her the appearance of some one on that conservative side. There’s already enough heat in the politics, her misstep provided the oxygen that consumed her.

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A culture of work?

Meanwhile at Get Religion, George Conger picks up Mitt Romney’s comments in Israel the other day.

The Romney campaign appears to have been unhelpful and their man comes off badly from their actions. Yet what is also missing is an inquiry by the Post into Prof. David Landes and his book — which would go a long way toward answering the question of “what is culture?”.
And it is here was have the ethical and religious ghosts to this story for Landes’ book places great stress on the role of religion in economic development.

To be fair, Conger is also quite explicit that he’s not trying to diminish the role of the Israeli security state with respect to the Palestinians. Still…

Certainly part of the difficulty about the culture critique would be its implicit assumption that both sides are starting at roughly the same point. The problem of Israel’s security efforts (and settlement building) basically precludes making that assumption.

As a test case, one might ask how Christian refugees from the region have fared. Apparently, in a land of freedom they do quite well, becoming political leaders, industrial leaders and the like. If they succeed here, then the assumption that the differences in outcomes between Israelis and Palestinians derives from culture would not particularly stand. (A more cynical mind might even think that the turn to culture is more a function of American political rhetoric than deriving from analysis of the actual situation on the ground).

Additional Note

Marc Tracy at The New Republic anchors Romney’s remarks in richer, ongoing political context.

This has all been beneath the surface—until now. With Israeli “culture” out in the open, Romney has laid the groundwork to use Israel as merely the beachhead for a full frontal attack on Obama’s values and even Americanness. While Israel remains relatively parochial as a political issue, this link between culture and economics is anything but. And, as James Fallows reminds us, it’s been nearly 50 years since Daniel Patrick Moynihan pointed out, “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society.” Moynihan was a Democrat, but through the early neoconservatives this “conservative truth” became a Republican talking point, one that evolved into such a winner that the only Democratic president to win re-election since its advent first had to sign a welfare reform law that was in many ways the fullest realization of that conservative truth.

 

A Cast of Thousands

Bill Vis posted a link to an ad, wondering if it is”the best ad in 30 years?” As Bill would say, you decide. The ad is  part of the conservative push back against President Obama’s words the other day, that no one builds a business by themselves. A truism, one would think. It certainly brought to mind this quote from Adam Smith:

Were we to examine, in the same manner, all the different parts of his dress and household furniture, the coarse linen shirt which he wears next his skin, the shoes which cover his feet, the bed which he lies on, and all the different parts which compose it, the kitchen-grate at which he prepares his victuals, the coals which he makes use of for that purpose, dug from the bowels of the earth, and brought to him perhaps by a long sea and a long land carriage, all the other utensils of his kitchen, all the furniture of his table, the knives and forks, the earthen or pewter plates upon which he serves up and divides his victuals, the different hands employed in preparing his bread and his beer, the glass window which lets in the heat and the light, and keeps out the wind and the rain, with all the knowledge and art requisite for preparing that beautiful and happy invention, without which these northern parts of the world could scarce have afforded a very comfortable habitation, together with the tools of all the different workmen employed in producing those different conveniencies; if we examine, I say, all these things, and consider what a variety of labour is employed about each of them, we shall be sensible that without the assistance and co-operation of many thousands, the very meanest person in a civilized country could not be provided, even according to what we very falsely imagine, the easy and simple manner in which he is commonly accommodated.

Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter 1, “Division of Labour”

Fortnight for Freedom

Charles Honey’s column last Sunday sets the conflict between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church over the mandate to provide contraception in certain employment settings. Honey is skeptical, but he does point to the bishops report, and that is worth some comment.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, head of the bishops’ committee on religious liberty, recently told the U.S. Bishops Conference meeting in Atlanta the liberty campaign is no “walk in the park,” either. He said some reaction had been “hostile, sometimes unfair and inaccurate and sometimes derisive.”
He also said bishops’ concerns go beyond the health-care mandate. His committee’s report, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” also cited state immigration measures, such as an Alabama law prohibiting priests from baptizing or preaching to illegal immigrants.

It is an odd thing  to engage in the public square by refusing to provide either references to or third party provisions for contraception, yet such is the Church’s stance.  Odder yet,  to treat the federal mandate as an “unjust law” thereby requiring acts of conscience, similar to the unjust laws protested during the Civil Rights era — this is a case of intellectual (one is tempted to say “jesuitical”) abuse. It doesn’t fly.

Of course, it might fly were the core social teachings of the Church focused on sex. But they are not. These are emanations of emanations from the great teachings on social duty, in the Bible, in the Fathers, and in the actual practice of the Church. The voice and witness on these matters is a gift to not only others who make a Christian confession, but to society as a whole.

Bluntly, the hostility to artificial contraception is a product deriving from the manner of the Church’s reasoning, and so is something less ecumenical and more particular, even sectarian. Sectarian beliefs ought to be guarded within the bounds of a religious body, but when that body is employing non-adherents, hired on basis of secular merit — say like Mercy Health, the sole provider of healthcare in Muskegon County — then the case for making those beliefs integral to the institution seem strained.

The Bishops are right to be concerned about maintaining the integrity of their witness. they subvert it with the turn to the sectarian with their non-adherent, secular employees.

Update: The discussion continues on in an engaging dialogue with Kevin Rahe, an articulate lay Catholic. Continue reading “Fortnight for Freedom”

Throwing Away the Future

Monday, the Washington Post told the story about Heydi  Meija, who was to be deported to Guatemala days after her high school graduation.  As the paper noted

In Mejia’s case, what should be done with an illegal immigrant who came to the country at age 4; who speaks better English than Spanish; who wants to attend Randolph-Macon College in Virginia and become a nurse; whose knowledge about modern Guatemala comes in part from what she’s read on Wikipedia?

The claim that it was a matter of law as the Homeland Security memo put it only reveals the odd wonderland we have stumbled into.

One of the things I do is work with high achieving kids, the sort who take AP classes and lead in their school. No doubt that some of the kids I’ve met at school may have been here illegally, but it is simply too important to turn our back on kids like this. If nothing else, the promise of school is that hard work and commitment is a tool for advancement. This sort of ham-handed response violates the basic promise of the school.

And of course, at a different level it is utterly, economically idiotic: our economy needs skilled, well-educated workers and what do we do? Toss them back into the pool. This makes no sense whatsoever.

The all too obvious point is that there needs to be a way to honor and respect these young lives. It is a foolishness to throw away promise for the sake of legal requirements. And really, Democrat that I am, the President should know better.

Obama and the Evangelicals

In a blog post the other day, Sarah Pulliam Bailey took the Los Angeles Times to task for conveying a set of cliches about evangelicals. As she does her fisk, she opens with

The piece suggests that evangelicals aren’t necessarily in line with the Republican Party (shocking, right?) or as the headline puts it, “Obama could have a prayer among Ohio’s white evangelicals.”
The fault here may be less that of assumptions than how the story peddles a false hope about the political inclinations of Evangelicals. From the distance of Ohio to LA, who can blame them? The story uses the figure of a Rev. Beard to put a face on the story, and its suggestion that times might be changing for Evangelicals.
Well, maybe.

The Rev. Beard may be a Pentecostal, but his church is distinctly different with its wider diversity. From a sociological perspective it’s not surprising that the congregation has more Democrats (Rev. Bard estimates perhaps a third). You would expect it. Here, the article wants to make him a stand-in for Evangelicals, but doing so only underscores the the distance of the readers from Evangelicals. the atypical nature of the church comes up missing. After all for them, an Evangelical is an Evangelical. So this could be read as a sign of “how they’re coming around.”

Here, I thought the article was rather good about deflating such such views, or at least in putting them into perspective. First, there was the poll data. The facts about white evangelical behavior are rather widely known and reported: 74% GOP. Exit polls from 2008 confirm the same rough numbers. These numbers are approaching the minority/Dem identification, and pretty close to lock-step.

Second was the use of “bemused” — a facial/body expression — a use surely the result of direct reporting and observation. That word too, indicates the gap between readers’ hopes and the reality on the ground.

The one point the article did not really develop was this question of nuance. The new nuance, less politicized approach to social issues appears to be more of a generational shift, witness the extensive blogging around Rachel Held Evans, as young millennial evangelicals battle it out as to how to be or whether to be politically engaged. And again, this is the sort of difference that a general reader of the LA Times would probably not pick up. Then again, this millennial battle is not taking place in Ohio, so perhaps the reporter gets a pass.

Mollie Hemingway raises some useful questions about the political handicapping of the President’s change of view on same sex marriage, highlighting a useful comments and commentary from Sarah Pulliam Bailey at Christianity Today, and Mickey Kaus.

Or as Kaus put it:
But 39% said it would–and they split two-to-one against Obama and gay marriage. Since the election is currently not two-to-one against Obama, that’s a net loss right there.
Worse, among independents, 23% said it would make them less likely to vote for Obama while only 11% said it made them more likely–a net negative for 12% in this group. Obviously, “less likely” doesn’t mean it’s going to be the deciding factor for that 12%–there are bigger issues, and gay marriage seems likely to fade in salience. But even if it’s the deciding factor for a tenth of that 12%, it’s a blow to Obama’s chances.
It goes without saying that one should correctly interpret the polls before explaining why voters are responding as they are, an area where religious views surely play a significant role.

As a practical difference, the question is whether those who say they are more (or less) likely to vote for the President in fact already have some disposition to vote for or against. It may be this is a tie-break sort of issue, but if tonite’s NYT/CBS poll is any indication, probably not the deal-breaker for most voters. At this stage, the issue seems more to be the economy. This morning’s Times, Peter Baker also got in a nice story on the damage control the White House is doing — so the concerns of Kaus et al. are at the least being heard.

As a matter of practical politics, we might want to think of it in terms of the 25 percent of Evangelicals who voted for Obama in 2008 — will the president’s decision erode that share? Perhaps, though the CT article Mollie noted picks up on the age split even among Evangelicals, so one may not be sure. And given the emergence of a Christian alternate to the standard Evangelical lines, this question is likely to remain muddied at least for now.