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Fifty Years After a Dream

Much has changed since Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of Lincoln Memorial, and the 50th anniversary observance held on Wednesday demonstrates how very much.
The original “March on Washington” drew an estimated million people to the city, with more than 100,000 of them packed into the National Mall to hear King and a distinguished roster of other speakers and performers, but despite the best efforts of the racial grievance industry only 20,000 or so showed up for a commemoration featuring the likes of the buffoonish Rev. Al Sharpton and the crackpot socialist priest Rev. Michael Fleger, who bravely suggested that young black men refrain from shooting one another for a day. Such glaring disparities reflect the difference between 1963, when racism was widely accepted by American society, codified in its laws, and enforced with frequent brutality, and today.
Although it would be an overstatement to say that King’s dream of a country where men and women are judged by the content of their characters rather than the color of their skin, even the most aggrieved speakers were forced to concede that things have gotten better. Indeed, even the injustices they cited with an old-fashioned fervor proved the point. In 1963 an exceptional young scholar named Medger Evers was assassinated for attempting to enroll in such an unexceptional institution as the University of Mississippi, and fifty years later the only civil rights “martyr” they could cite was Trayvon Martin, a young thug who was shot while slamming a neighborhood watch volunteer’s head against the pavement. In 1963 blacks were routinely denied the right to vote by a variety of rules enforced throughout the southern states, and fifty years later the oft-repeated complaint was that many states throughout the country now require the same sorts of photo identification that are needed to cash a check, buy a beer, or get into the Justice Department to see the black Attorney General. In 1963 a hard-working and underpaid black woman was barred entry to American many stores, and fifty years later the speakers included a billionaire television celebrity who has recently groused that a store clerk was suspiciously reluctant to show her a $38,000 handbag during her recent trip to Sweden.
Fifty years after King’s dream is arguably the best of times and the worst of times in black America, as the brightest and most industrious of race have availed themselves of the opportunities created by the civil rights revolution to move into positions of power and affluent neighborhoods while leaving behind an underclass trapped in slums more brutal and dilapidated and hopeless than any of the segregated black s of the early ‘60s, but what’s left of the civil rights revolution is ill-positioned to comment on either. Any acknowledgement of the progress that has been made weakens the movement’s claim to victimhood, which is the source of its power, and any acknowledgement of the real problems that remain calls into question the most revered assumptions about the government’s role in setting things right.
President Barack Obama, a black man who has moved into the world’s most powerful position and most affluent neighborhood, cited the sobering statistics about black unemployment and family income as if he had been a hapless observer rather than the nation’s chief executive for the past five years. He didn’t mention the gap in educational achievement between blacks and whites, or the former group’s much higher rate of illegitimacy, even though both are the reasons for the disparities in employment and income, but the peculiar politics of race make those topics unmentionable. Fixing the public school that has spectacularly failed black America would require confronting the teachers and embracing such radical notions as the voucher programs that Obama has dutifully opposed, decrying out-of-wedlock births would lead to charges of racial insensitivity and theocratic moralizing, either would entail a criticism of the hip-hop culture that has been such a stalwart Democratic Party constituency, and starting such a discussion might lead people to realize that government policies he has long championed are largely responsible for both problems.
The world will little note nor long remember anything that was said at Wednesday’s rally, a nostalgic celebration of a time when liberalism occupied the moral high ground and didn’t have to confront the complex problems of today, but at least King’s speech still resonates.

— Bud Norman

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The Power of Stigma

Stigma is back in style, but like so many other revived fashions it’s not quite the same the second time around.
For many millennia societies around the world successfully used widespread social disapproval rather than the law to discourage certain behaviors deemed harmful to a society, such as bearing children out of wedlock, but sometime in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s America stopped doing that. An ascendant counter-culture deemed such informal social prohibitions judgmental and intolerant, and in its collective judgment that could not be tolerated.
Now that the counter-culture has completely supplanted the culture, however, it has become quite comfortable stigmatizing various behaviors. The new rules are often complicated and inconsistent, but are somehow widely understood. All of the words once considered unfit for prime time are now bandied about at all hours as a sign of linguistic liberation, but racial slurs are strictly forbidden to all but the slurred groups, and previously respectable terms such as “merit,” “responsibility,” and “liberty” are shunned as racist code words. Smoking marijuana is tolerated, but smoking tobacco is not. All manner of sexual behavior is to be celebrated, but the cheesecake calendar hanging in the mechanic’s garage is considered unforgivably sexist.
New rules are being added rapidly, sometimes replacing contradictory rules just recently adopted. Bullying the obese has lately been considered uncouth, for instance, but now a former senior lecturer at Harvard’s medical school is insisting that overweight people be “shamed and beat upon socially.” It will come as a surprise to fat kids everywhere that there is a lack of stigmatization against them, but Daniel Callahan, now the president emeritus of the Hastings Center think tank, states that “Only a carefully calibrated effort of public social pressure is likely to awaken them to the reality of their condition.” Others are going so far as to say that obese people should be denied medical care for any health problems that might result from their extra pounds, arguing that the country’s newly collectivized health care system makes a person’s weight and other matters previously considered his own business a matter of public interest. This strikes us as an argument against collectivized health care, but we are not au courant on the current values.
There is also a concerted effort afoot to make gun ownership socially unacceptable, if not outright illegal. Attorney General Eric Holder was at it as far back as 1995, when he gave a speech urging the use of “brainwashing” to convince young people that any possession of a weapon is “not cool,” and in recent weeks the campaign has become something of a national frenzy. This effort will likely face more than the usual resistance, however, partly because gun owners tend to be the sort of people who are unusually immune to social fads, partly because the same Hollywood stars demanding gun control have done such a fine job of glamorizing gun violence, and mainly because so many Americans still have the common sense to know that being defenseless against a criminal element with little regard for social custom is also quite uncool.
The push stigmatize gun is part of a larger effort to render any opinions contrary to modern liberalism as socially unacceptable. President Obama took the opportunity of pushing his gun control agenda to take yet another verbal shot at the Fox News channel and radio pundit Rush Limbaugh’s program, two of the few widely consulted media that dare criticize his policies and publicize the results, and we have already noticed that in polite society both are already considered an affront to good taste. The new rules were apparently neatly explained by a recent episode of painstakingly politically correct television show “Girls” on HBO, where the lead character reportedly engaged in a previously stigmatized and currently celebrated inter-racial sexual relationship but was forced to dump the poor fellow after finding out that he’s a Republican.
One needn’t be O. Henry to appreciate the irony of a counter-culture that so giddily rebelled against any form of social restraint learning to love wielding the power of stigma. It would be nicely ironic, too, if these ever more restrictive rules inspire a counter-counter-culture and the squares get the satisfying frisson of bravely defying convention.

— Bud Norman

Politics and the Single Woman

Like so many of us, the Republican party seems to have a problem wooing single women.
Although the “gender gap” that has allowed the Democrats to win strong majorities of the distaff vote is so widely acknowledged it has become a quadrennial cliché, a closer look at the data reveals that the GOP’s more specific problem is with the unmarried variety of women. According to the almighty exit polling Mitt Romney won the votes of women with husbands by the same 11 point margin that he lost the overall female vote, and similar disparities have occurred for the past several elections.
A widely believed theory attributes this phenomenon to the Republican party’s well-known opposition to abortion, and this seems plausible enough. Some polls show that women are split almost evenly on the issue, as is the country at large, but it is a reasonable assumption that the single women are more likely to favor abortion rights than their married counterparts. Still, given the apparent permanency of Roe v. Wade and the abundance of other issues that are of importance to even the most avid abortion enthusiasts, there must be more to the problem.
We suspect that that the economic insecurity that comes with being single is a more important factor. Without the a spouse to rely on during times of unemployment, or even during the times of less-than-affluent employment, women are more likely to look to the government and its varied entitlement programs for support. Obama’s never-ending re-election campaign seems to have reached the same conclusion, as it made a specific appeal to such anxieties with its much-ridiculed “Life of Julia” web site and countless speeches that also enumerated all the government-bought goodies that Democrats are in business to provide.
This notion is bolstered by the fact that single men are also more likely to vote for Democrats than their married counterparts. Indeed, in the last election Obama won the single voters by a whopping 62 to 35 percent while Romney won the married folks by a slightly less whopping 56 to 42 percent. Single men are still somewhat less likely than single women to vote Democrat, which we would chalk up to a persistent if diminished desire for self-sufficiency that tradition has inculcated in the male of the species, but the financial worries that also afflict single men apparently makes the welfare state ever more attractive to menfolk as well.
The problem with single women wouldn’t be so severe if there weren’t so many of them. Unmarried American women now outnumber the married ones, a fact that would have been thought unthinkable just a few short generations ago, and the disappearing stigma against illegitimacy and the decline of other old-fashioned notions about marriage make it unlikely that the trend will soon abate. Indeed, a widespread belief we’ve noted among the single women of our acquaintance that the mores of a few short generations ago were somehow oppressive is probably another reason that a Republican party that is proudly associated with the old-fashioned values of that lost era is probably yet another reason for the gender gap.
It is not at all clear what the Republican party can do it about, short of giving up on its reason for being and trying to outbid the Democrats for the votes of single men and women. The government could stop the numerous welfare policies that encourage single motherhood, revise divorce laws that make marriage a less attractive option for men, and otherwise stop discouraging people from getting married, as well as emphasizing the social costs of illegitimacy, but that would require the Democrats to act their self-interest and thus is unlikely to happen. Republicans could also try to explain that their economic policies make it more likely for both men and women to get jobs that would free them from dependence on the government, but they’ve been doing that for the past many years with desultory results.
The Republicans still have many exceptional single women in their ranks, and should give them a more prominent role in shaming their liberal sisters into the self-sufficiency that feminism once claimed to stand to for. As many a single man has unhappily discovered, though, those women are exceptional.

— Bud Norman

Illegitimacy and Inequality

The New York Times has finally found a reason to be concerned about the rising rate of out-of-wedlock births in America.

It’s not traditional Judeo-Christian morality, of course, nor even the voluminous evidence from the social sciences supporting the venerable and commonsensical belief that children raised in old-fashioned nuclear families tend to fare better in life than those raised by baby mommas. What worries the Times, rather, is the alarming possibility that illegitimacy is causing income inequality.

The argument has infuriated many of the paper’s readers, predictably enough, and the “comments” section of the internet edition is brimming with indignation. Feminist writer Katie Roiphe even took to the internet pages of Slate Magazine to demand that the Times “Stop Moralizing About Single Mothers,” decrying the paper’s “puritanical and alarmist rumination on the decline of the American family” and accusing it of “recycling truly retrograde and ugly moral judgements. [sic]”

Much of the criticism seems to reflect a fear that the secular left’s beloved issue of income inequality might somehow be co-opted by the religious right. Capitalism and the Republican party are apparently the only acceptable explanations for any unfairness that might occur in life, and perish the thought that the decisions made by individuals might have anything to do with it, so many of the commenters labor strenuously to argue that society can somehow be reconfigured along lines that will obviate mothers and fathers. Some commenters claim that it’s just a matter of tax breaks and a bit more federal funding, others seem to acknowledge that more radical reforms will be required, but none bother to attempt a refutation of the article’s facts and reasoning that show nuclear families are by and large the most successful.

There’s also the usual repulsion to moral judgments, which are “retrograde and ugly” even when they provably result in better outcomes for individuals as well as the country at large. The left isn’t averse to rendering judgments, and indeed they’re about as judgmental a bunch of busy-bodies as you’re ever likely to endure, they just don’t like it when anything akin to traditional morality is involved.

The Judeo-Christian tradition isn’t the only one that insists on marriage as a condition for parenthood, however, and every functioning nation in history has also done so because humankind’s long experience of organizing itself into societies has found no effective alternative. Couching the argument for traditional families in such secular terms, and especially when evoking the holy cause of income equality, is therefore a vexing challenge to those who intent of remaking society along the lines of a Soviet collective farm or hippie commune.

Even more annoying, as far as the enraged commenters are concerned, is the Times’ unsubtle suggestion that having children out of wedlock is an increasingly lower-class phenomenon. The Times’ readers don’t mind being called immoral, but they won’t stand for being called lower-class.

— Bud Norman