Token Dissonance

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


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Memento Mori

Update: This post was adapted by The Huffington Post. You can find that article here.

“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” –General George S. Patton

“Someday, perhaps, it will be pleasing to remember these things.” –Virgil

How can anything be worth anything if it lasts forever?

Valar Morghulis. Valar Dohaeris.

My great-grandfather, Arthur, was a fatherless man. He was born black and Irish in the Deep South in the eleventh hour of the 19th Century. He married Elizabeth, an immigrant from the Bahamas, and she bore them 17 children, among whom is my maternal grandfather. Although Arthur died half a dozen years before I was born, I have always been aware of his nearly seven score years of life through the tales his great family still heartily recalls well into the 21st Century. Two ghosts of those tales seem particularly relevant today.

My great-grandfather’s father, the Irishman, died in a now century-old war before his son could ever know him. Arthur did get to know his own sons, however, and one of them was a man named Earl, who went to fight in Vietnam. Not unlike the grandfather he never met, Earl left a young family behind to serve his proud country. And also akin with that late grandfather, Earl never again saw his homeland, or the wife and young daughters he left there.

Today, most of Earl and Arthur’s American family remains in Florida and Georgia, where they have lived for more decades than hardly anybody can remember. The Army brought my parents to the D.C. metro area years ago, and, occasionally, some of our kin will make the long trek up the South Atlantic coast for a visit. When the weather is glorious, or at least tolerable, my parents will take them to the National Mall to stroll through the grandeur of the Capital of the American Republic our forebears built. Although our itinerary may vary, a sense of rooted wonder always carries us to the dark marble wall that commemorates the fallen of Vietnam. We always remember to scratch Earl’s name onto pieces of paper that we bring for this familiar ritual. Granny hates being in photographs, but she always submits to a few still-frames of time on these occasions.

We usually smile.

Growing up in the military, I learned that Veterans Day was meant to celebrate peace and those who returned from service to America and her values of liberty, justice, and honor. This November, I will celebrate my father, mother, sister, and brother for their service.

As a point of distinction, Memorial Day commemorates sacrifice and loss: the ultimate cost of freedom. In reflecting on the passing of warriors like Arthur’s father and son, we remember that all men and women are born to die, and what matters is the how and why of our ineluctable departure. We remember that our free Republic was built upon the ashes of dreamers and is maintained upon the hallowed dust of sacrifices honored. We remember that our lives are never solely ours, and our deaths are no more the bookend of our stories than our loved ones will allow.

For as long as I can remember, funeral days have always nurtured times of celebration in my family. The former homes of those gone to glory become sites where the living gather to eat, drink, and merrily recall halcyon days past and grievances overcome. By celebrating life—and all that has been done so that we might freely enjoy it—we consummate the purpose for which our loved ones lived and died, whether in far-flung wars or quietly at home after untold suffering. It is for this very purpose—the enduring happiness of those whom we shall someday leave—that we now live and remember.

Happy Memorial Day!

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Recession & the City

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

“Where are the jobs?” –Middle America since 2009

Don’t live here if you can’t drive. Look at your life; look at your choices.

I left the hospital to go home for the first time in the back of a car. Thereafter, I grew up driving everywhere. After the Army took our household away from Florida, our habitual roundtrip drives stretched across the Southeast to locales as distant as Maryland. But whether I was heading down half the Eastern seaboard or simply to football practice, the mode of transport was an SUV, minivan, flatbed, or sedan—all of which were fixtures of my youth. Thus is life in suburban America.

You can imagine my bemusement when I encountered New Yorkers and other urbanites in college who had never sat behind the wheel of a car. But after college life in Greater New York, I now understand the broad restraining orders their hands hold against steering wheels. In New Haven, most amenities were within a fifteen to twenty minute walk of our residences near downtown. For greater bustle, frequent Metro North trains would take us down the Connecticut coast to New York City in less than two hours. While my friends living in nearby Hamden or Seymour had to commit to a 10-minute drive, even for a quick bite to eat, it would have been indescribably inconvenient to own a car in the Elm City.

Now that I’m in Northern Virginia—and let’s be honest, D.C. public transit, while admirably cleaner, is not remotely as functional as in New York—I confess to missing the convenience, even as I enjoy the old brand of freedom a car allows. Yet it turns out my urban friends’ peripatetic lifestyles, abetted by public transport, are becoming more normal in 2010s America, especially among my generation. Part of this shift predated the Great Recession, but the lasting effects of a staggering economy have clearly cast their shadow.

In post-recession America, many cities are now growing faster than their suburbs. Of course, rural living has been on the decline for quite a while—even the famously “country” land of Dixie has long been mostly urban-suburban. But for years, it has been a truism that the tale of Middle America is set in suburbia, which remains as distinct from downtown as from the sticks. To have “arrived,” we have always been told, is to have a spacious yard and white-picket fence, which amenities are not well suited to Manhattan or Dupont Circle. However, millennials are increasingly “arriving” to lives of perpetual internships and the soul-crushing yawn of socioeconomic uncertainty. Meanwhile, the white-picket fence and the cars that pass it are sinking into poverty as our so-called recovery breezes airily past even exceptionally talented people cursed with the trappings of ordinary living.

Cities are beating out suburbia because people are looking for more compact, economical ways to live. For many, this means concrete needs like driving less, so as to be as close as possible to the office, the store, and a respectable array of entertainment options. It’s about doing more with less, even as the flow of wealth toward downtown makes compact living ever less affordable. But that’s really just a nice way of saying that folks are increasingly stuck, and there is no clear end game in sight. What happens, after all, when a growing number of Americans cannot afford either a car or to live where public transport is actually useful?

This problem is bipartisan. For liberals, the escalating costs of alleviating suburban poverty will exacerbate the strain on a weakening welfare state, which conservatives increasingly distrust. For the Right, masses of young people stuck in unflattering college-like circumstances are not exactly the most fertile circumstances for building a robust new generation of stable families and conservative disposition from what is now an overwhelmingly liberal demographic that wants government to do more.

At some point, our political leaders will redouble the focus on jobs and broad economic growth that has so far eluded the policies of this government. Whatever one thinks about the economic effects of immigration reform, modernizing our immigration system will not alone be enough to save the American Dream. For that we’ll need to figure out how to pull the cars and white pickets back from underwater—and to set the promising interns in the cities free.


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The Probes of Castamere

“I was going to start off tonight with an Obama joke, but I don’t want to get audited by the IRS. So forget that.” –Jay Leno

“Why would you trust the bureaucracy with your health if you can’t trust the bureaucracy with your politics?” –Former Speaker Newt Gingrich

What exactly is so paranoid about distrusting government?

In science, there are two distinct terms for the twin pillars of truth. First, there are the facts. They are those basic events, reactions, and relationships that are shown to have obtained in the past or to necessarily describe facets of our view of space-time. Second, there are the theories. Contrary to what many laypeople tend to think, a theory is not less than a fact. Rather, it is the underlying narrative that makes a portrait out of puzzle pieces in the dark. It is the hand that builds a complex, stable world from raw elements of chaos, such that sapience might be possible and reflection will have foundation.

So what are the facts?

We know the IRS has admitted to improperly targeting conservative groups from 2010 to 2012. We know the first public resignation derived from with this occurrence came from a man who was not in charge during the targeting and was due to retire in weeks anyway. We know the woman who actually held his job when it mattered has since been promoted to the IRS office overseeing Obamacare. We know that, among other things, Obamacare’s financial burden is a tax on our all houses if we are not compliant. We are told that we should trust that there will be nothing improper in all this.

We know the Department of Justice invaded the privacy of the Associated Press during a broad search for leaks in the government. We know at least two months of phone records were seized in an informational grab that may have caught over a hundred reporters in its web. We know the AP had cooperated with the administration but was not informed of this surveillance until well after it occurred.

We know the government subpoenaed the email and phone records of James Rosen, a reporter from Fox News—the same Fox News that, just a few years ago, the White House memorably attacked for its critical coverage—by naming him part of a criminal conspiracy for performing the normal newsgathering duties of a journalist. We know DOJ investigators also targeted Rosen’s parents and Fox News coworkers. We know the Obama administration has pursued more leak investigations under the 1917 Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined. We know there is supposed to be a free press in the United States of America. We are told that Obama administration, which apparently regrets nothing, will not prosecute journalists.

So what are the plausible theories?

We can launch into a conversation about how a culture of cultural division, political antagonism, moral condescension, and general incivility permeated like secondhand smoke from the president’s speeches down to subordinate bureaucrats whom he probably never even met, let alone knew existed. We can ruminate on shifts in overarching political and sociocultural narratives, as Alexander Burns and John F. Harris did last week in Politico:

“The narrative is personal. The uproars over alleged politicization of the IRS and far-reaching attempts to monitor journalists and their sources have not been linked directly to Obama. But it does not strain credulity to suggest that Obama’s well-known intolerance for leaks, and his regular condemnations of conservative dark-money groups, could have filtered down to subordinates.

The narrative is ideological. For five years, this president has been making the case that a growing and activist government has good intentions and can carry these intentions out with competence. Conservatives have warned that government is dangerous, and even good intentions get bungled in the execution. In different ways, the IRS uproar, the Justice Department leak investigations, the Benghazi tragedy and the misleading attempts to explain it, and the growing problems with implementation of health care reform all bolster the conservative worldview.

In Obama’s case, the narrative emerging from this tumultuous week goes something like this: None of these messes would have happened under a president less obsessed with politics, less insulated within his own White House and less trusting of government as an institution.”

We can also isolate individual scandals—say, the IRS shenanigans—and point out how Obama has proven to be *gasp* as bad as his predecessors. Of course, there is the notable distinction that it was President Obama, not Presidents Nixon through Bush, who extended to the notoriously unsavory tax bureaucracy the powers of overseeing our healthcare decisions.

Any of those topics would allow for thousands upon thousands of words of commentary, so I will choose to make some simple observations about the future. To start with the obvious: it is difficult to fathom that the Left will be able to credibly dismiss concerns about abusive government for the foreseeable future. That is, the effects of this shift in public perspective on Obama and the intrusion of government will cast a long shadow.

As a pertinent example, consider healthcare reform. The cost of implementing Obamacare is already running as much as 10 times over budget and average healthcare premiums for ordinary Americans have risen—counter to Democratic promises—since the law passed. It is already shady enough that the Secretary of Health and Human Services is hitting up private companies for Obamacare donations. Add to that story the fact that the same IRS bureaucrat who oversaw the discriminatory targeting of the administration’s political enemies will now have a hand in every American’s pocketbook and doctor’s office, and discomfort with “reform” pulsates viscerally across the political spectrum.

A majority of Americans may like Barack Obama personally, and reporters at NPR and The New York Times may still be inclined to shield his administration from the full weight of due criticism. To be sure, there is no hard proof of direct involvement from the president in the rank malfeasance of the IRS or DOJ. But lasting narrative and policy success is not a house built merely on a foundation of pleasant sentiments. More paramount is the expectation of knowledge, control, and competence. In other words, what President Obama will need to push full implementation of and support for Obamacare and the rest of his agenda are credibility and trust. Yet, from drone strikes that killed an innocent American child—beyond presidential control, of course—to balancing the budget, a narrative of competence and control is precisely what the president now lacks.

This kind of miasmic distrust—of the federal government in particular, and this administration in particular—is precisely the kind of debilitating breech of credibility that Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) cited as the ultimate reason for the failure of his bill to expand government control of gun sales. Before Manchin-Toomey failed despite a majority vote, along with three Republican-led attempts at sensible gun reform, conservatives detailed various ways in which the law would allow the federal government to bypass the supposed ban on registration and state governments to  harass law-abiding travelers.

Back then, proponents of the bill shrugged off these criticisms as, among other things, anti-government paranoia. Now, what credible reason can be given to assure the American people that their government will not abuse its power over guns as it has elsewhere? Even staunch supporters of President Obama must seriously wonder if he would even know if such abuses were to occur. After all, his administration’s perpetual defense against misconduct is ignorance and distance from its own internal affairs.

President Obama may emerge from this feast of scandals and media rejection in better shape than the unfortunate victims of the George R.R. Martin’s haunting tune, “The Rains of Castamere.” But there is blood of broken trust in the shifting waters of Washington, and its corruption will not be cleansed by the tired breath of an outraged speech. 


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When Idols Fall

“Keep the faith with cynicism. Cut the opposition down!” –Largely Unclear

Is God in the rain…or just awkward photo ops?

In wake of the multiple scandals roiling the federal government, there have been bipartisan denunciations of heinous government actions and broad support for thorough investigations to flesh out the full extent of wrongdoing and determine means to prevent recurring malfeasance. Yet against this sober-minded harmony, a chorus of voices on the Left fringe, including in the media, is aligning to deflect narratives they rightfully interpret as ruinous to the Obama administration. Presumably, all that effort invested in promoting, electing, and defending Mr. Hope & Change™ has left them too far gone to embrace an honest assessment of a broken world with painful circumstances now.

Among these deflections is the rather odd refrain that Republicans are somehow responsible for the sins of Eric Holder’s Justice Department. (To be fair, this is a liberal step up from prevaricating on or avoiding the question of whether the DOJ was wrong to begin with.) E.J. Dionne Jr. sums up the essence of this subterfuge rather succinctly in The Washington Post:

“Isn’t it odd that many Republicans who demanded a thorough investigation a year ago are now condemning the Justice Department for doing what they asked for?”

In other words, according to the unsullied liberal defenders of the White House, the Republican Party—by pressuring Obama to properly secure sensitive information—is the real force behind the covert, internal decisions of a Democratic administration to undermine freedom of the press. If you’re already confused as to how this claim could possibly hold water, I have a confession: this impish attempt at political legerdemain will never make more sense that it does now.

Across the scandal-verse, the usual suspects of MSNBC are scurrying to shield the president from the escalating probability of disaster (to borrow from the Architect) that is the IRS fiasco. As Joe Concha reports over at Mediaite:

“I do not believe what the IRS was reported to have been doing is an outrage. I believe that the IRS agents in this case did nothing wrong. Let me say it again, you won’t hear it anywhere else: the IRS agents did nothing wrong. They were simply trying to enforce the law as the IRS has understood it since 1959.” – Lawrence O’Donnell on the IRS.

“Conservatives still want to change the subject to the fake, ginned up scandal they’ve been pushing month after month.” – Chris Hayes on Benghazi.

“So now they’re (Republicans are) viewing an actual real world abuse of power scandal (the IRS Scandal), not as its own outrage, but as a means of supporting their preexisting witch hunt on Benghazi, which they really struggled to turn into a scandal in large part because they themselves cannot seem to settle on what the scandal even is. It’s a cover-up. Just don’t ask what’s being covered up…” – Hayes on the IRS Scandal being used for political gain for Republicans on…Benghazi.

“Does this mean that the IRS is hereby forever neutered from doing what is, after all, the very important work of making sure that political fundraising groups are not making a laughingstock of the rules that are supposed to limit what they do? Will we ever really have an IRS doing that important work again, giving how badly they screwed up trying to do it over these past couple of years?” –Rachel Maddow on the IRS Scandal and its potential ramifications for the agency.

Add to this Chris Matthews bloviating about how the innate racism of criticizing Obama is somehow to blame for the federal government misbehaving. (Curiously, Matthews has offered his own criticisms of the administration—for reasons that presumably don’t include racism.) The indomitable Melissa Harris-Perry topped it all off just minutes ago (with a spirited assist from Alex Witt) by reading into the late unpleasantness a GOP plot to depress the vote by inciting blanket disgust with government.

Of course, the risibly petty last stand of the Lean Forward campaign came after The New York Times sank to infamous new lows of self-parody by running the headline (on page A11): “IRS Focus on Conservatives Gives GOP an Issue to Seize On.” You would be forgiven for thinking our national “paper of record” should be more interested in the IRS asking organizations to detail the content of their members’ prayers than in taking backhanded swipes at a political party it dislikes. Did I mention that the same IRS official—Sarah Hall—who oversaw tax-exempt organizations at the time when her unit targeted tea party groups now runs the IRS office responsible for overseeing Obamacare? I wonder if anybody will find that tidbit problematic.

Many in the media are in a rather odd place having to brutally criticize the administration of a president they have so long supported and identified with. Some pundits, columnists, and institutions are taking it all admirably in stride, as it seems the president never properly learned how to build and sustain political goodwill—a mistake that may haunt him from now on.

Others are reverberating through MSNBC and progressive echo chambers—a sadly amusing reminder that loyalties bite as fiercely as they were held, and champions fall with as much energy as they were praised. However long any of these scandals last, we would all we wise to brace ourselves for what will likely be several long lame-duck years contorted in frothy progressive fury at the perpetual injustices of a world too cruel to ever allow Barack Obama to be the great savior the Left campaigned campaigns for him to be.

As a wounded messiah wilts before the alien glare of ineluctable inquisition, and his agitated fans thrash about with in obstreperous indignation, let us all take this moment to consult the Gospel according to Flaubert:

“Never touch your idols: the gilding will stick to your fingers.”

And all taxpaying American patriots said, Amen.


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The Faith Americana

“But ye [are] a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” –1 Peter 2:9

“Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s…” –Matthew 22:21

What better signs can you think of for violent extremism and political knavery?

I took a trip down to Charlottesville a few weeks ago to spend time with friends on the picturesque grounds of the University of Virginia. Though a Yale man, I tend to find myself easily at home in a world historically referred to as the “Harvard of the South.” (We will ignore any wisecracks from Duke, Vanderbilt, or Chapel Hill affiliates in the audience.) In an academic sense, Wahoos are not terribly dissimilar from Yalies or peers at other top schools in places like the People’s Republic of Unhappy Hours, Michael Bloomberg’s Animal Urban Farm, or that turnpike Chris Christie governs (I’m told there’s a Garden State around there somewhere). Politically, there are plenty of liberals, progressives, and Democrats, as can be found in abundance at most schools, even in places like South Carolina.

Culturally, though, something is a bit different in Charlottesville. It’s often hard to put a finger on exactly, but you know you’re not in New Haven, Cambridge, or the Big Apple of Billionaire Paternalism for reasons distinct from questions of size or walkability. Yes, you’re more likely to hear country music, but the town is surrounded by the rural South. Yes, the campus is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but much of that dignity proves elusive amid the ebb and flow of inebriated masses. Yes, people drive everywhere, but so do most Americans living outside a few select megacities in the Frost Belt or D.C. So what, you might wonder, are we talking about?

It comes down to little things, really.

I remember going to weekly meetings, years ago, for an avowedly conservative organization at Yale. Among other things, this organization made a point of prominently featuring the American and British flags, while waxing passionate about the virtues of Western civilization and its literary canon. Yet for all that admirable passion, I could not help but notice that they placed the American flag on the viewer’s right. The group’s leaders did not grasp the problem.

At Virginia, I have seen flags in windows, on walls, atop polls, and every way else imaginable. Never once have I seen a single one anywhere in violation of U.S. code. I’m sure such a sin must exist somewhere down there, but the hypothetical invalid would be drowned out by a student body that displays a near preternatural understanding of proper flag etiquette.

A few weeks ago, I witnessed a bar full of people break out into patriotic songs at the end of a Friday night out. I sought after a reason from the Wahoo compatriots of my friend Edward, and they responded, with patronizing grins, “This is America.” It reminded me of that time I was driving through the richly forested hills of Prince William County with my friend Marcus from Connecticut, and the national anthem halted programming on the radio at high noon. Bemused, Marcus had inquired of me the occasion for such an event. Back then, I shrugged off the Nutmegger’s question, as Edward and the Virginians later would mine, with a simple reply. “This is America.” What more reason do we ever need for such things?

It is stories like these that come to mind when I reflect on the disturbing fact that the IRS actively abused its power to target conservative groups with “Patriot” in their names or constitutionalism as their purpose or that simply formed to make “America a better place to live.” However one feels about the Tea Party or conservative activists, there is indeed something culturally sick about the notion that identifying with and promoting the Constitution or embracing the will to patriotism reliably demarcates political opposition. Leaving aside the matter of political ethics, what does it say about us when certain elements reflexively impugn the legitimacy of wide swaths of people simply because they seem to love America too much?

Of course, those who were skeptical of Barack Obama from the beginning might remember his infamous “clinging to their guns and religion” remarks and draw a line through the Department of Homeland Security adumbrating peril in “Rightwing Extremism” to the administration’s early hostility to critical reporting from Fox News and reach a natural conclusion that a tone hostile to conservatism was set in a top-down rejection of Americana and its general unsuitability for the ideas and values of Northeastern coffee shops.

Hardly anybody would struggle to imagine Presidents Reagan or Bush, Congressmen Ryan or Cantor, or a generic movement conservative being visibly moved by the flutter of a flag or the sight of a servicemember in uniform. How naturally, one must ask, does such an image come of President Obama or Nancy Pelosi or any other prominent progressives? Today, it would strike many people as odd or disingenuous were avowed liberals like Terry McAuliffe to swell up at the mere thought of American greatness, but is anyone truly surprised—favorably or pejoratively—that a Virginia Republican would pour out a libation of tears in reflecting on America’s ongoing promise to defend freedom? To be sure, the image is not a wholly partisan one—Democrats Joe Manchin, Zell Miller, or Frances Underwood certainly fit the type—but there seems a widening rift of that nature.

There are many questions of politics, law, and general malfeasance to ponder in wake of all these scandals that may or may not derail what is left of the president’s second-term agenda. But when the media storms settle, cultural divides and questions of discordant perspectives will remain. Why is it that we have become an America where one side—or region or disposition—of politics is known to see zealous love of country as a sacred virtue, and the other is expected to scoff at and distrust what it sees as an incubator of rabid violence?

The IRS scandal merely confirms this narrative of paranoid division. Whatever staying power the story has will derive largely from the fact that the chasm has now been yawning at us for years. And it has finally found a voice.


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The Twilight of Family Values

“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” –Ramsay Bolton

This congressman-elect brought you by Values Voters USA.

Focus on the Family, the Heritage Foundation, and other old-style social conservatives lost two rather public battles this week. While each loss has direct political results in the immediate future, both portend long-term changes in American social policy and culture.

First, Delaware joined Rhode Island and nine other states (and the District of Columbia) in extending the freedom to marry to committed gay American couples. Halfway across the country, elected statesmen in Minnesota are angling to win the race with Illinois to be the second Midwestern state to embrace same-sex marriage, and the first to do so by legislation.

As an aside, one interesting thing about the Rhode Island vote—besides unanimous Republican support for gay marriage in the Ocean State senate—is that it finally consolidates New England and New York in unified recognition of marital rights for gay unions, which have been approved by every accessible metric: judicial rulings (Massachusetts and Connecticut), overridden veto (Vermont), rebuffed attempt at legislative repeal (New Hampshire), referendum (Maine), and governor-signed legislation with bipartisan support (New York and Rhode Island). With Delaware joining the marriage fold, Pennsylvania is now the only state in the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic that offers no recognition to gay unions whatsoever.

Secondly, the first district of South Carolina is sending Mark Sanford back to Congress as a conservative Republican.

While John Hayward over at RedState might imagine that liberals and Democrats are shying from the discussion on “family values”, it is abundantly clear that they—along with more libertarian Republicans and Independents—are quite willing, able, and successful in wielding traditionalist hypocrisy as a weapon for a more inclusive understanding of marriage and family. Within the next week or so, Rep.-elect Sanford will join the likes of Senator David Vitter (R-La.) in mocking the undead credibility of the “moral” opposition to gay rights.

To be sure, one cannot fault the average Sanford general-election voter for pinching their noses and thwarting Elizabeth Colbert Busch’s attempt to bolster the coalition of Nancy Pelosi. It was certainly as pragmatic a political choice, if also a repulsive instance of “dirty hands,” as the partisans of Bill Clinton holding the fort against his Republican opposition. And for what it’s worth, Lowcountry voters did, as Nate Silver notes, withhold a substantial degree of support from the disgraced ex-governor.

Yet the “lesser of two evils” analysis does not excuse the fact that Sanford won a GOP primary where more credible (if less glamorous) and family-friendly options were readily available. If abusing public funds to commit adultery on another continent does not disqualify someone from winning the Republican primary in a region more conservative than 119 Republican districts, why should anybody heed a movement that agitates for the civilizational imperative of “traditional marriage” only insofar as it makes life harder for gay people (e.g. opposition to anti-discrimination laws)?

Jennifer Rubin, a token conservative of The Washington Post, makes the point quite eloquently:

“But social conservatives should take this result seriously as an indication that even in a low-turnout race in a Republican district appeals to personal morality and approbation for sexual misconduct carry little weight. Yes, one can bemoan the voters’ values (or lack thereof), but it is a warning that the public’s willingness to accept all sorts of behavior out of some sense of “fairness” (he apologized didn’t he?) is nearly limitless. That has implications for the sorts of appeals they make on everything from “traditional marriage” to sex education. In short, Americans, including Republicans, aren’t very susceptible to appeals based purely on morality.

Whether we are becoming a more libertarian or a libertine society is a matter of debate. But the real take-away is that Republicans talk a good game on “family values” but don’t take it all that seriously.”

None of this is to say that some understanding of family-oriented traditionalism is no longer relevant or valued in modern America. To the contrary, many people support gay marriage precisely because of the prospect of shoring up conservative values—the proper ends of liberty—against libertine atomism. But if conservative stalwarts will not demand a cogent application of those values in the ruby-red land of palmettos, how can there be a national discussion about why such values must entail ongoing discrimination against the families of gay Americans?

But however the GOP determines to deal with insurmountable public support for gay people and their families, we can all take some small solace in knowing that having Ashley Madison as your running mate trumps an endorsement from Nancy Pelosi. Even Focus on the Family and friends have standards.


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Jason Collins and the Minority Report

“In our gradually shrinking world, everyone is in need of all the others. We must look for man wherever we can find him… We have many monsters to destroy.” –George Seferis

(Courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

Ball so hard, the twofer-hunters wanna find me.

It’s an interesting experience being a compound minority in America. On the one hand, people make offhanded assumptions about your politics, history, culture, preferences, and familiarity with the law based on your skin color. On the other, there are confident expectations of your tastes, mannerisms, speech patterns, and so on based on your perceived or confirmed sexual orientation. Being a black, gay man in a country that segregated my grandparents and still sanctions a broad array of legal discrimination against me produces precisely the kind of experience that most Americans—being white and straight—will never properly understand, although some do sincerely try.

Before we continue, let’s clarify a few things about me.

Politically, I lean libertarian (a popular disposition in the military community), but philosophically, I have much sympathy for traditionalism, which logically extends to committed gay families. Culturally, I love to watch football, particularly FBS, and am a zealous fanatic of the SEC (Gator denomination). I am largely ignorant of (and indifferent to) Cher or Barbra Streisand, was introduced to Lady Gaga by a straight fraternity friend, have a lukewarm appreciation for musical theater, would rather my food be fried than organic, abhor vegetarianism, prefer house music to hip hop (although the two occasionally blend magnificently), and grew up playing more soccer than basketball. I was exceptionally good at math in grade school. My teachers usually loved me.

My poison of choice is bourbon, usually on the rocks, but I will take a good Scotch. I learned how to change a tire, adjust automobile fluids, and properly handle a weapon in my youth. My Yale education notwithstanding, I feel at best a fragmented connection with those who marinate in “narratives of oppression” and are the target consumers of The New York Times (which I do occasionally read) or an ethnic studies department. I am not urban. If there is a personal hell, mine is based on New York City. Michael Bloomberg, naturally, plays the role of Beelzebub. He is too busy warring on freedom to take his Oscar.

Given how well-adjusted I sound, it may seem odd that I should care personally that a mid-30s NBA free agent has come out of the closet as a gay man in the twilight of his career. In truth, whether or not Jason Collins gets signed again is of infinitesimal relevance to my personal life. But when I see people bitterly contrasting the media treatment of Collins to that of Tim Tebow (of whom I was quite the fan) or bemoaning public confessions about private life, I am forced to remember that for all my well-to-do middle-American sub-urbanity, it still means something somewhere in America that some people are black and gay.

Christians in America are not wanting for role models. Every president and governor professes the faith, as do countless athletes, actors, media pundits, businessmen, military leaders, doctors, other prominent figures, and a nominal majority of the country. Christian freedom from persecution is written into our Constitution. Growing up on Army bases and in suburban Virginia, it was not remotely unusual for strangers to aggressively assume the Christianity of new acquaintances in casual conversation. I was frequently asked variants of, “How is your relationship with Christ?” by people whose names I never learned. It may be a while longer before we see such broadly effusive willingness to talk about being gay in public in many parts of America.

It does not occur to most heterosexuals to wonder if their sexuality might impede their life goals. At most, some people might wonder whether marriage or children would fit logistically into a desired career path or envisioned standard of living. But rarely would a straight man or woman fear for their livelihood should their preference in partners become publically known. In fact, that preference is taken for granted and often encouraged, even in the office (e.g. photographs, cards, and flowers). Hence, it is generally pointless for a straight person to announce their sexuality, as it is broadly assumed and will not be held against them.

Over time, mainstream America has rapidly become refreshingly more accepting of LGBT Americans, and there are prominent gay and Lesbian figures aplenty. But as black and other minority Americans know well, old-style prejudices can give way to new, more insidious typecasting born ironically of well-intentioned attempts to be more understanding. Just as it is not enough to have black or Hispanic role models relegated to music labels, professional sports, and goofy or chronically aggrieved media characterization, it is not enough for gay role models to be largely products of Hollywood, cable news, or the fashion industry, or to be chronically portrayed in trite stereotypes.

That Jason Collins is out and proud and receiving praise everywhere from U.S. presidents to Kobe Bryant allows for a new public face of what it means to be a multifaceted minority in America. Like millions of “gaybros” going about their lives beyond glittery bars in San Francisco and New York or successful black people who went to Stanford and are considering graduate school instead of prison, Collins is not a stereotype. He is a necessary and valuable reminder that gay people are truly no different than anyone and can do and be any- and everything their straight peers take for granted—and that there is no one way to “be black.”

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with or illegitimate about being “effeminate,” loving Madonna, or living in the Castro or Brooklyn, any more than there is anything shameful about listening to hip hop, hanging in the barber shop, or knowing dozens of Gospel hymns by heart (and on key). The people who get mocked or dismissed for conforming more to contemporary expectations of gays or other minorities are actual people with actual lives, tastes, interests, and dreams that matter. But despite the outsized representation of certain limited personas in media, there is a much richer portrait of America that needs to be seen precisely because many of us seldom see it.

In truth, Jason Collins may not matter all that much in a year or a decade. After all, he was a decent enough player to last a dozen years in the NBA, but he was hardly anything to write home about. For now, though, he is putting a new face on parts of America that are too often obscured by the blinding heat of ignorant assumptions. Someday, perhaps, the flow of new, inspiring faces will overrun the gates of our experience and broaden our imagining.

Until then, we still have many more stories to tell.