Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale


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Right Quick: The Gun Bills

In the midst of the many hot-button issues facing America right now, the gun control debate is still producing its fair share of interesting developments. We’ve had Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s disturbing attempt to publically infringe upon the rights of private corporations that refused to bow to the liberal political agenda. We’ve also had freshman Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s winning response against government bullying. Meanwhile, Vice President Biden has tripled and quadrupled down on his peculiar insistence on shotguns being more easily handled than more popular AR-15s.

The last few months have seen much left-of-center focus on having fewer guns forms and a right-of-center focus on the many problems with “reasonable, common sense” fixes that fix little or nothing. As I’ve already written quite a bit on this topic, I won’t rehash old arguments. Rather, as more liberal-leaning media outlets take pains to highlight protests for gun control, it seems expedient to note a development unlikely to receive much attention in the mainstream media. Namely, victims of gun violence—like law enforcement officers—do not uniformly back the full package of the Obama-Feinstein proposals.

Since witnessing her parents’ death in a Texas mass shooting in 1991, Dr. Suzanna Hupp has been advocating for gun rights around the country. She considers herself a victim not of “gun violence” but of legislative malpractice. In Connecticut, grieving Newtown father Mark Mattioli testified that new gun laws are not the answer to the kind of tragedies his family suffered. Most recently, Columbine survivor Evan M. Todd penned an open letter to President Obama rejecting the administration’s gun control push.

He argues in part:

“Gun ownership is at an all time high. And although tragedies like Columbine and Newtown are exploited by ideologues and special-interest lobbying groups, crime is at an all time low. The people have spoken. Gun store shelves have been emptied. Gun shows are breaking attendance records. Gun manufacturers are sold out and back ordered. Shortages on ammo and firearms are countrywide. The American people have spoken and are telling you that our Second Amendment shall not be infringed.

Virginia Tech was the site of the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. Seung-Hui Cho used two of the smallest caliber hand guns manufactured and a handful of ten round magazines. There are no substantial facts that prove that limited magazines would make any difference at all.

Mr. President, in theory, your initiatives and proposals sound warm and fuzzy — but in reality they are far from what we need. Your initiatives seem to punish law-abiding American citizens and enable the murderers, thugs, and other lowlifes who wish to do harm to others.

Let me be clear: These ideas are the worst possible initiatives if you seriously care about saving lives and also upholding your oath of office.”

Whether you agree with everything these different people have to say, it would certainly add some useful substance to the gun control debate to hear more from the inconvenient holders of perspectives unfashionable in various “mainstream” quarters. As the Senate opts to split its key proposals into separate bills for separate votes, let’s hope sound policy and good governance prevail in the end.

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The Tradition of Ink and Wood

“To recognize that there is a need to distinguish…between the good and the evil in tradition, requires recognition of the preeminent role (not, lest I be misunderstood, the sole role) of reason in distinguishing among the possibilities which have been open to men since the serpent tempted Eve and Adam…” –Frank S. Meyer

“Some people aren’t books, they’re poems.” –A Softer World, 680

“Some people aren’t books, they’re poems.” –A Softer World, 680

Mom used to take me to bookstores on occasional trips to the mall or en route to some all-day set of errands. Barnes & Noble, Borders, some local community shop—I cared less for the name on the door than for the promises teased on back covers and inside flaps. She and I have long been avid readers, so these little sojourns to outposts of the empire of narrative were often my favorite part of an entire week. It’s a shame there were no frequent-traveler miles for wandering by print.

Years after our last trip together to whatever manuscript emporium, Mom bought me an eReader for Christmas. She asked me if I would use it. I told her I would, and I sincerely meant it. I have read a few books since that day. Not a one has lacked the tree-born pages so amenable to dog ears and annotation. It turns out that for all the time absorbed by the many screens in my life, I remained a reactionary on books. It was never even a conscious choice but simply a fact of me.

But the more I think on it, the more I find myself an unrepentant partisan of the traditional, battery-free book. The reason is not that I hate eReaders, want them to go away, or somehow associate them with civilizational decline—to the contrary, ebooks and other digital goods are the latest children of the mind, as worthy of celebration and use as their elder siblings. But in the end, the experience of a natural book is to the LED script of an ebook as the sound of your voice is to the lines of a text or as getting lost under the sky is to clicking through Google Maps Satellite.

It’s a bit like the ongoing conservation of conservatism.

On the one hand, you have traditionalists clinging to such antiquated values as family, honor, duty, loyalty, and transcendence because they speak holistically to the disparate and unified condition of humanity. Tradition, after all, is as much a project of aesthetics as of truth, as much for the heart as for the mind. It is the anchor of the eternally silent majority in cold, cosmic seas—the balance of agency and cupidity in the present by the democracy of the dead.

An eReader battery dies or “digital rights” management prevents you from sharing your ebook with a friend. But at any time you can read a paperback and give it to anyone as readily as your community imparts the peculiar stamp of its wisdom and flaws. A dog-eared page can trigger memories or fantasies as poignantly as a photograph in a loved one’s home. The annotations on paper are as stories told across decades, iced tea, pecan pie, and the background sound of children playing. There is something ineffably raw about a book that is lost in translation to yet another screen between you and the escalating abstractions of a rapidly digitizing world. There’s something about the way the markings and the mass carry separate, wordless stories of joy and pain, vulnerability and hope.

On the other hand, you have libertarians beating the drums of pragmatism, efficiency, liberty, idiosyncrasy, and autonomy. Denying sentiment, they offer function. Against reaction, they demand solutions. No longer impressed either by tradition—and underlying assumptions of old authority and static truth—or establishment—and its atrophic will to complacency—they seek above all freedom from imposed shackles and entrenched stupidity.

A book is a tool to impart knowledge or provide entertainment. Where we progressed from vinyl to cassette tapes to CDs to iPods, we have evolved from oral tradition to manuscript to paperbacks to ebooks. Our lives are more efficient, our opportunities more plausible, our tools more expansively useful when technology captures libraries in the palms of our hands. There is something uniquely enabling about the power to construct and define your own domain in an increasingly automated society.

Where these perspectives meet is in the question central to the whole project of free society, and the narratives it keeps—what is freedom for?

Is it really convenient to have a universe in a Kindle if you no longer know the spontaneous pleasure of glancing at a shelf, grabbing an inviting title, and reclining into a place where the smells of wood, paper, and earth create worlds within worlds of imagining? Are you really better off if you no longer find reason to flip through an old favorite and reminisce over highlighted passages that once breathed clarity into vast labyrinths of mystery? Are you freer if your autonomy comes in automated packaging that will wipe away its every memory of you under the commands of a stranger? Under all the paeans for progress and efficiency, are you any less of a hopeful machine wanting pieces of the world to retain some piece of you when you’re gone? Or will we have people autograph our eReaders now?

I’m not saying abandon your Nook and your smartphone and read only through disposable media. I rarely read print news anymore at home, but I would be remiss to deny preferring the touch of an express paper to my smartphone on the morning Metro. I would never want to live in any dimension where the expanse of human knowledge is beyond reach of my hand. And I would not care to endure an era where all simple joys of old pleasures were ever abandoned for newer toys. What I cherish is knowing that the convenient genius of an eReader is always within reach, even as I freely choose to seek my stories elsewhere.

There should be a word for the things we do, not because they’re sensible, but because we want to.

This post was written in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge from The Daily Post.


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The Self-Made Legend

Update: This post was adapted by The Daily Caller. You can find that article here.

“Life’s great, life’s grand
Future, all planned
No more, clouds in the sky
…I’m ridin’ high” –Cole Porter

“I see myself as a huge fiery comet, a shooting star. Everyone stops, points up and gasps, ‘Oh look at that!’ Then—whoosh—and I’m gone… and they’ll never see anything like it ever again… and they won’t be able to forget me—ever.” –Barack Obama Jim Morrison

“A top official with the National Skeet Shooting Association said the photo suggests Obama is a novice shooter.”

I remember what it was like to get into Yale. At seventeen, that mildly sunny Friday afternoon in December opened into an oceanic river yawning into a skyline of vague but destined brilliance. All the sacrifices I’d made, compromises I’d swallowed, and hardships I’d weathered had suddenly yielded the finest dividends I could have hoped for. By the time May rolled around and I had conquered my International Baccalaureate exams, I was incorrigible. My star was rising, and the idea that anything this side of matriculation mattered was a nigh impossible sell.

And yet, the real world tumbled on. I needed money for college, so I had to get a job for the summer between high school and pre-orientation. For only the second time in my life—and first in the private industry—my time was suddenly a facet of other people’s bottom line, and they cared not one whit for my imaginations of grandeur. My Jeep sputtered and demanded service like a petulant millennial. I had to lose a Saturday changing out a flat tire and buying a new one. Gas prices were suddenly my concern, rather than just my parents’. Beyond all that, I finally got to New Haven only to find my star not quite as bright as I had let myself believe. I learned a lot about humility from age 18 to 22.

I don’t know what, exactly, President Obama learned over the four years of his first term. I notice that second-term Obama inherited quite a mess—underemployment is higher, more people are out of work, racial disparity is wider, and labor participation is lower than when first-term Obama moved into the White House. Not surprisingly, the economy, jobs, and the debt are the top issues for most Americans. More bafflingly, however, none of these issues appears on the short list of a second-term agenda that reads more like a progressive manifesto than a disciplined contract with America.

What’s most striking, however, is not the fact of the shameless liberalism—most of us expected that much—but meteoric boldness divorced from what should by now be intuitive political understanding. Assuming the Democrats believe their own mythology, Team Obama must posit that his aggressive interjection on any sensitive issue is likely to complicate, if not derail, consensus-building. So in light of a bipartisan Senate outline for immigration reform, what on Earth did President Republicans-All-Hate-Me expect to accomplish with his immigration speech? Does he honestly believe including immigration provisions for same-sex spouses will be more feasible because of his public grandstanding?  Is it all of a sudden the case that his front-and-center presence will grease over the wheels of political action? Did his perceived failings in his first term really come down to not enough sternly-worded speeches?

Ronald Reagan was fond of saying, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” The corollary, of course, is that it is amazing how much you can obstruct your own stated goals when your primary concern is husbanding your own legacy. (But if Obama is going to cultivate part of that legacy on the rocky, urban soil of gun control, at least he had the forethought to have a camera ready for that one time he went skeet shooting.)

So let’s not mince words. In the late push to enshrine the progressive revolt against the prosperity of Reagan’s free-markets and the Clinton-Gingrich balanced budgets, Obama has all but sidelined the once central push for jobs and a robust economy. In doubling down on the creeping expansion of the welfare state, he is expected to ignore the advice of his own jobs council in favor of an expansive regulatory regime. Never mind that free enterprise and some attendant inequality are vital to a climate of robust innovation. With a contracting economy and unemployment eking upward, the unemployment of the jobs council certainly clarifies priorities.

Notwithstanding the stagnant economic promise of Barack Obama’s America, the president’s left flank remains determined to see in him the same singular greatness he doubtlessly sees in himself. All flaws, failings, and ambitions unrealized are the fault of maleficent Republicans tilting bitterly at the windmills of Hope & Change™ because they hate minorities or something. The president’s approval ratings are impressively high on the afterglow of his reelection, and liberals have already carved his place in the 21st Century Pantheon of the “post-Rushmore Rushmore”. While the media remain complicit in the impression of progress on jobless “hot button” issues, this polling advantage might persist for a time. But eventually, the ultimate questions will crescendo—where is the progress? Where are the (good) jobs?

The flying unicorn mythology of Obama’s legend—a hodgepodge of truth, legerdemain, and outright fantasy—was a problem evident in that early rebuke of Eric Cantor: “Elections have consequences, and at the end of the day, I won.” It continued in a pattern of unanimous rejections at the Supreme Court through the recent judicial rebuke of the unprecedented expansion of executive authority to declare when the Senate is not in session—a step even George W. Bush did not take. Most recently it emerges in the fantastic notion that a skeet-shooting photo has any more relevance to a discussion on the right to self-defense than American Idol balloting has to the right to suffrage.

Obama’s cool hubris is a fascinating extension of the atmospheric self-infatuation that characterizes his young American bulwark of support. It’s small wonder that a generation raised on social promotion—as opposed to demonstrable merit—and feel-good pop moralism—as opposed to substantive ethics and results—would increasingly rate itself “above average” while clinging to a Commander-in-Chief who simultaneously embodies and enables the party of lip-service responsibility amid spiraling insolvency.

The sad irony is that Obama’s governance is in many ways the instantiation of the America of my generation. The staggering self-absorption prevents the kind of raw but earnest self-reflection that would reveal a rather inconvenient but obvious truth: we would rather convince ourselves and others that we love and represent humanity than undergo the hard, unflattering work of ensuring that anyone but ourselves is substantively better off. Thus the focus on “hot button” issues to the neglect of a broader, practicable vision of the world. As William Kremer put it, “Narcissists may say all the right things, but their actions eventually reveal them to be self-serving.”

To the degree that young America is the Obama demographic, we are The Posteverything Generation of internet activists, community organizers, and It Gets Better. Our leaders are terrified of civilian weaponry they don’t bother to understand and are yet comfortable deriding a prince in active military service. They borrow endlessly with no regard for our future or our children, and we dutifully enable them with paeans to “intersectionality” and “kyriarchy” (neither of which, according to Windows and Chrome, are even words). Our philosophy is post-reality, our metric post-results, and our outlook post-narcissism. We are a cesspool of vanities anathema to pride or consequence. We are the generation of the reified wind of Hope.

But nothing is forever. One day soon, Obama’s colossal pride will stumble in the ever quaking rumble of reality, and my generation will discover its liberalism at odds with its entitlement. In the end, we all just want to do right by our convictions. As my eighteen-year-old self discovered the world wouldn’t change my ruined tire, no matter how much I valued and deserved my weekend, there will be a day of reckoning for the Big Government activism of the Obama coalition.

I’ll see you tomorrow.