Token Dissonance

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

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Across Two Aprils

“Winter just wasn’t my season.” –Anna Nalick

"Ain't no party like a grand old party party, cuz a grand old party party...stops at a reasonable time in order to avoid fiscal irresponsibility." - Mike Giaquinto (props to the Log Cabin Republicans for grabbing the image)

“Ain’t no party like a grand old party party, cuz a grand old party party…stops at a reasonable time in order to avoid fiscal irresponsibility.” – Mike Giaquinto (props to the Log Cabin Republicans for grabbing the image)

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog consistently, and I can imagine that even some of you, my more faithful readers, may be on the verge of giving up on me. If I may beseech you, don’t lose faith just yet; I will come back for you!

Today’s post is as much political as it is about the joys and opportunities of life, which for me, is something of an ode to April. In April of last year, I started my new job with a wonderful online media consulting firm that has proven as challenging as the experience has been rewarding. My boss Liz Mair (whose opinions are not necessarily reflected in anything I write on this blog or elsewhere) is a young conservative rockstar, and her offer was a fitting postscript to the unemployment saga I wrote about for my friend Danielle Crittenden Frum at The Huffington Post (whom I must also thank for providing me a broader platform to promote a conservative perspective in that famously liberal medium).

Last April, it seemed my life was finally kicking off from the prolonged turbulence of restive stagnation that seemed to strike too early (I hadn’t even reached quarter-life crisis age) and too late (Who’s still trying to figure out their life at 24?). It turned out last April was the beginning of quite the adventure, and for that I suspect Joy and Triumph may be good neighbors on my block, rather than strangers from a town where I might never be welcome.

Now, here we are in April 2014, and a new round of investments from the aforementioned good neighbors is coming in. In the first place, I’ve been promoted to the mercurial and ubiquitous ranks of the “strategists” of the media-industrial complex. I suppose that means somebody somewhere thinks I have useful insights to offer on political and media happenings. Of course you, my dear readers, assuredly know better, but I trust you all will keep that between us. Secondly, I made my first cable news appearance yesterday to discuss same-sex marriage and the Republican Party with a panel on MSNBC (I know, I know). I was there representing Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry (an excellent group doing excellent work), and I’m starting to think this whole pretend-to-be-an-interesting-person-with-thoughtful-opinions thing is getting out of control.

But while we’re on the subject of personal and political evolution, let’s emphasize something critical to the push for a more inclusive conservative movement. As I told the liberals of MSNBC, the reforms many of us young conservatives are pushing for are not about alienating or replacing any part of our grand old coalition. We are not Democrats, and we will not play the games of identity politics and demographic resentments. Ours is a mission of individual liberty, personal responsibility, constitutional government, strong national (and self-) defense, and protecting God-given liberty. For all the talk of a Democratic “coalition of the ascendant,” it’s an exciting time to be a conservative and a Republican because we have inspiring leaders (like Rand Paul, Tim Scott, Mike Lee, Pat Toomey, etc.), bold ideas (see: National Review, Cato, Reason, Commentary, RedState, The Washington Examiner, etc.) and indefatigable drive to better this great nation and the sovereign constituent states in which we invest our lives and values.

Finding and developing innovative ways to expand our coalition to better involve the growing segment of Americans who are young, nonwhite, LGBT-friendly, and mightily disaffected will not be a task we can accomplish overnight. Nor is it something we can achieve by papering over divisive issues that function as much as a fortress of power for the Democratic Party as a prison of dependency for those who believe, for whatever reasons, that the GOP would actively harm them or their loved ones. We as Republicans will continue to keep and encourage a Big Tent that welcomes opponents of same-sex marriage and whatever other issues are at odds with the popular views of Millennials and minorities. But we cannot keep to litmus tests that undermine our support and undercut our ability to promote conservative governance .

We do not advance conservative principles by losing battles or clinging to tactics that do not persuade. I suffer no delusion that my appearance on MSNBC will move the needle of that outfit’s liberal bias in any discernibly rightward direction. But I do believe that by engaging “traditionally Democrat” people on their terms and at their level, we’ll find more interest, reflection, and even support than the GOP platform’s marriage plank will ever see again. As some thoughtful sage opined long ago, we owe it to our philosophy to learn how to win.

I hope the view from next April is roses all the way down.


We Passed the Law—and the Law Won

“I was all for Obamacare until I found out I was paying for it.” –Anthem Blue Cross customer in California


“I don’t understand. Why did Democrats vote for this?” – A young liberal Democrat in DC

One of the neat things about living and working inside the Capital Beltway is that politics tends to be a personal matter. And no, I don’t mean “the personal is the political,” in that bizarre wing-nut way in which self-described progressives never deign to suffer friends of differing views, or in which abortion activists (on either side) cast aspersions against the humanity of their friends with sententious yet genial aplomb. The sense I mean is much simpler than that: the professional class tends to be intimately involved in political matters, and so political matters to some degree or other make for as expedient a topic for casual conversation as any other.

As such, it was hardly a surprise when the effects of the Affordable Care Act arose in leisurely discussion at a Halloween party in Friendship Heights. After all, the exchanges went live less than a month ago, and many Americans, including me, have already received notice from insurance providers about impending, legally required cancellations to healthcare plans somebody promised we could keep.

I was not surprised to hear my friends’ exasperated testimony of how their premiums were tripling or how once affordable healthcare options had been forcibly bloated with “benefits” their anatomy could never use. I was not surprised to hear that my friends’ new individual plans demanded higher deductibles and copays, making once routine offerings suddenly less economical. Nor was I shocked to hear that friends insured by their employers were suddenly facing higher employee contributions to plans that were not more generous. Like a child of a Republican legion named Cassandra, I could only nod with grim commiseration at the plight of Democratic friends who were now deprived of any health plan because the colossal wreck of did not allow them to replace the coverage the healthcare law had ended.

And now is the fall of our discontent.

While Republicans and more centrist Democrats have been warning the country about spiraling costs, crippling dysfunction, and escalating disaster in the peculiarly titled “Affordable” Care Act for years, the critics-come-lately are a bemused and distraught cast of hope-and-change-minded liberal Democrats.

Yes, you read that right.

The aforementioned complaints about Obamacare’s shenanigans from that Halloween party came from proud liberal Democrats who voted for—and still support—President Obama, the Democratic Party, and the liberal promise of healthcare reform. Yet these hopeful liberals are now at a loss as to how their progressive leadership sold them out to a healthcare system threatening to cannibalize what little financial security they’ve managed to accrue in the few short years since college. Like many of their peers, young and old, black and white, male and female, from California to D.C., my friends are realizing the disorienting truth that, to paraphrase Doug Stamper, the “Affordable” Care Act is a joke, and we will be the butt of it.

Sue Klinkhamer, a 60-year-old ex-congressional staffer who diligently supported Obamacare—even after her former boss, Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), lost his seat to the vaunted overhaul—expresses succinctly the peculiar sense of betrayal in an open question to fellow Democrats:

“Someone please tell me why my premium in January will be $356 more than in December?”

It would be easy for (some) conservatives to recline into a bath of schadenfreude and reflect with idle glee upon old GOP proposals that Democrats rejected in 2009. After all, prominent liberal economists acknowledged as far back as 2007 that mandating higher costs for young people is essential to progressive reform. It might likewise be tempting to allow House Republicans’ latest plan to salutarily reform healthcare law to fade into the volatile din of hostility between (and among) those seeking to undo Obamacare and those—like President Obama—determined to maintain it. But such vindictiveness would never match the injury the Democrats’ own agenda is inflicting upon liberals and middle-Americans of all persuasions, nor will short-sighted partisanship undo that damage.

As should surprise nobody now, the Obama administration and the insurance industry are colluding to ensure the healthcare law takes effect without delay. Various liberal bloggers and pundits are already making excuses for “glitches” in the law or downplaying their effects. (Some are even blaming Republicans for a failed approach many conservatives have fervently opposed for decades.) As ever, these forces are all playing what they perceive to be a long game, which is why Democratic acknowledgement of Obamacare’s evident and metastasizing harm to millions of Americans has been muted.

Let me be clear, there are many losers in Obamacare, whether the White House admits or not.

But whatever the spin, from any and all sides, healthcare costs will still be higher with Obamacare, and ordinary citizens will bear that weight tomorrow—in numb resignation or in stiff resentment—as we do today.

If the administration was wrong (or dishonest or misunderstood) about our ability to keep our plans, save money on healthcare, or even to have enrolled for new plans by now, it should surprise nobody that many earnest, well-meaning people will be deeply leery of even more rhetoric or promises with due dates ever in the offing. For all who are serious in Washington, the time for vainglory and grandstanding is over.

If I could give advice to pragmatist Republican and centrist Democratic leaders about how to help Obamacare-plagued people like my friends, Sue Klinkhamer, and me, I would suggest, for now, that they not lose the forest through the trees. is a mess, to be sure, but anybody who has worked with technology knows that new programs usually sputter and break before they get up and run. It would not be a stretch to assume the government’s website will eventually function as intended—and my friends robbed of coverage by Obamacare will eventually find new plans, however more costly. But when the technical difficulties pass, the broader problems with the law will endure, and therein lies a new saga of pain for much of Middle America.

The current plan that I would like to keep will die by the end of 2014. I hope the thoughtful leaders in Washington will have delivered us from Obamacare into truly better options by then.

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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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Fear and Trembling and Bombs

Update: Versions of this post were adapted by The Daily Caller and The Huffington Post. You can find those respective articles here and here.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…” Psalm 23:4

Hours ago, explosions went off in Boston at the end of that city’s well-televised marathon. Legions of runners and spectators were flung into panic as emergency workers mobilized to secure people and information, and the media scrambled for angles to connect eyes around the world. The JFK Library was set on fire. (That incident was apparently not related to the bombing, but that detail is easy to miss.)

It has been over a decade since 9/11 burned away post-Cold War illusions of American impregnability. Arguably, most people had finally moved past the old iron grip of terror that reshaped the political universe. But nothing lasts forever.

America is in many ways a nation under siege. Nobody knows how many people enter the country illegally or who, exactly, they are. Nobody knows how much contraband is spirited past TSA by whom or to what ends. Nobody knows what calculating evil lurks in the shadows or, worse, in plain sight. Nobody knows what tools will next be used against which innocent victims. Nobody knows when the center will fold to the chaos scratching at the gates of this project called civil society. Nobody knows when and why the bells of our finale will toll.

One important thing to remember is not to panic. Medical staff and firemen will save lives, police and federal officials will conduct investigations, and ordinary people will hold their loved ones a little bit tighter for a while. At some point, lawmakers will be pushed to consider some kind of action, because there is the perennial expectation that something must be done after a tragedy. In fear and trembling, all manner of ideas may be put forward and all manner of associations will be floated to push action on other issues. But contrary to what might be said tomorrow—and what has been said in the aftermath of other tragedies—there should be no rush to action. Too many problems today were born of well-intentioned fixes dreamt up yesterday.

Bombings are a unique kind of terror. A gunman has to reveal himself and direct his weapons, allowing for a potential response. A recklessly driven automobile has limited options for surprise and can be blocked off and trapped. Hostile aircraft can be shot down or evaded. Ample protections are in place to keep most benign planes from crashing and most passenger ships from sinking. Muggings and robberies are generally not expected to result in death. But a bomb can wipe out 100,000 lives in the time it takes to turn a key, brandish a weapon, or pull a trigger. It can be almost anywhere and anything at nearly any time. And a bomb, unlike a car or a gun, can be made in a kitchen or bathroom.

In fall 2003, I was a 14-year-old freshman in an American high school in Europe. Not yet a year had gone by since our military parents and their fellow servicemembers had invaded Iraq. Already, the venture was controversial, especially in Europe, but controversies are a dime a dozen in politics. What I did not see coming was the summer of 2004. By then, I was 15 and a few months away from returning to America after three years living abroad. By then, I had begun to establish myself as an honor student with budding athletic potential. By then, I had completed a year of JROTC and discovered myself a decently able marksman. By  then, I was starting to think that growing up on Army bases in wartime might not be so injurious after all.

And by then, I had already endured more bomb threats than I have ever known in all the time I have spent on this Earth before and since that school year.

I am not really sure what happens to teenagers when communities are no longer assumed to be safe. When bus routes have to be changed because hostile agents have marked the stops and registered their threats. When bombs are rumored to appear on train tracks that run across the barbed wire fence behind the gym. When trained military dogs and uniformed men with fully automatic rifles are among the most familiar—and perhaps even comforting—fixtures of your universe. When the line between fortress and prison begins to slip and you no longer remember how you saw the world before that time.

On the one hand, I don’t remember being all that terrified in ninth grade, nor could I understand what all the fuss was about when, years later, my suburban Virginia high school had a solitary bomb scare. (It turned out to be a false alarm.) On the other hand, something about the televised projection of the explosions, dust, screams, and searing images from the Boston Marathon bombing left a grown man in Virginia shuddering in the panicked throes of a lachrymose breakdown.

Terror, born of the sentient abyss of panic, is both insidious and resilient. It has an odd way of luring you into the eye of a hurricane raging in patient silence. For however long it pleases, you may remain insouciant and comfortably unmolested by devils as real as they are unseen. But at any moment, a shift in the wind may reveal some inkling of the hellish precipice that lingers closer than you ever dared to imagine.

The veil of civil society has always been as thin as the drywall behind which we hide from the wild things in the dark. There were potential bombers, shooters, infanticidal maniacs, and murderers of all kinds walking among us yesterday, and they will still be smiling in our faces and bidding us faux salutations tomorrow. The thing to remember is to defeat the urge to panic.

Our forebears did not build civilization as an altar to the throne of terror.


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.


Community Conservatism

“Power, Liberalism still has beyond doubt; but power has only tile next to the last word in the affairs of men-not the last word. Power is wielded by men, controlled by men, divided by men, limited by men, as they are guided and inspired by their intellectual and spiritual understanding.” –Frank S. Meyer

We’re all this excited to vote Republican in 2016!

A narrative is steadily ossifying that holds the GOP as the atrophic Party of bitterly contemptuous and self-absorbed plutocrats whose increasingly fringe rhetoric alienates the majority of American voters who care about other people. That unsavory image is not exactly ameliorated by curmudgeonly talk of “moochers” and “gifts” for Obama-voting blue-collar and professional workers who do, in fact, pay all their taxes. Yet for all their alleged hatred for—or, more charitably, indifference to—the poor, elderly, and otherwise disadvantaged, Republicans still give more to charity and community than the gentry voters of the Blue States.

Why does it seem that liberals care so much less about providing for others when it comes to committing their own resources?

You could say I’m kidding on the square with that quip, but it introduces a key element about the core dynamics of the right side of our two-party coalitions. Conservatism, at its core, is as much about free enterprise, private industry, and individual liberty as it is about community and the transcendent power of relationships to ground atomized persons into coherent tapestries of purpose and vision. We are citizens before we are businessmen, patriots before we are laborers or collared professionals. In defending the well-being of every citizen qua citizen, conservatives are properly skeptical of organized power and its insidious tendency to foment entrenched narcissism and lethargic mediocrity. Thus, a conservative is no more properly a partisan of Big Business (not that business is monolithic) as of Big Government.

Yet this message has been somewhat lost in the weeds of the 47%. Of the panoply of major players in the Republican primary, it was primarily Rick Santorum who acknowledged, however imperfectly, the all too human question of how to care for the least among us without sacrificing the long-term prosperity that allows us to do so—and makes the task worthwhile. In truth, many people drown in a rising tide, and the invisible hand will not save everybody. The liberal answer to this frostbiting reality has been to outsource the worry of such things to the gangrenous pity of alienating bureaucracy and pretend all costs can be met with more taxes.

We know this does not work. The expansive welfare state exacerbates the costs of poverty while weakening the overall social and economic health of the nation. But when the Left can successfully caricature the Right, for all the community activism of conservative families, as a privileged world of people devoid of empathy or understanding—and the electorate votes more on whether a candidate “cares” than whether he or she “has vision”, is a “strong leader” or “shares  my values”—necessary reforms become that much harder.

But even as the Democratic Party clings with reactionary zeal to the progressivism of yesteryear, some liberals have grown innovative in seeking independence from Big Institutions. When the famously trusted Red Cross and infamously inept FEMA could not satisfy the escalating needs faced in wake of Superstorm Sandy, the scions of Occupy Wall Street—now styled, Occupy Sandy—stepped in to do what smaller, more nimble communities do best when unshackled from overhead and invasive regulation. They helped people:

“Maligned for months for its purported ineffectiveness, Occupy Wall Street has managed through its storm-related efforts not only to renew the impromptu passions of Zuccotti, but also to tap into an unfulfilled desire among the residents of the city to assist in the recovery. This altruistic urge was initially unmet by larger, more established charity groups, which seemed slow to deliver aid and turned away potential volunteers in droves during the early days of the disaster.

In the past two weeks, Occupy Sandy has set up distribution sites at a pair of Brooklyn churches where hundreds of New Yorkers muster daily to cook hot meals for the afflicted and to sort through a medieval marketplace of donated blankets, clothes and food. There is an Occupy motor pool of borrowed cars and pickup trucks that ferries volunteers to ravaged areas. An Occupy weatherman sits at his computer and issues regular forecasts. Occupy construction teams and medical committees have been formed.” (Emphasis added)

If a movement borne of self-aggrandized loiterers, bargain-basement philosophizers, and scatological revolutionaries can instantiate such a robustly human argument for the conservative will to limited, community-oriented governance—to the benefit of people over institutions—imagine how much stronger this message could resound through the broad and deep resources of political movement committed to such a project. After all, Americans still believe government does too much, and the Occupy movement is hardly any kind of model for the future.

Skepticism of the welfare state, like Occupy Sandy’s skepticism of FEMA and the Red Cross, is not tantamount to apathy for the least of us. But we have work to do to demonstrate why and how a new approach will mitigate the failures of current policy for ordinary people. An improved approach might include copyright reform to aid young entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, more efficient local-federal disaster relief partnership that cuts down on bureaucratic red tape, revisions to ObamaCare that minimize the damage to small businesses, revisions to NCLB (put bluntly: neither this nor ObamaCare are getting repealed) that encourage more local innovation and less federal invasion, immigration policy that rewards capital investment and job creation in the U.S, means-testing and other reforms for Medicare so relatively wealthy retirees don’t strangle their poorer descendants, etc.

None of these proposals are particularly easy to caricature as “for the rich” (although I trust Alan Grayson will manage something) but are markedly accessible, in various ways, to an increasingly diverse American electorate. Further, these conservative solutions all have the benefit of encourage a community-focused message that speaks across such boundaries as race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, class, and national origin. There is no guarantee that Democrats will cooperate, but while he control the House, we need to use that leverage to promote much-needed political growth for the nation. Nobody is interested in our whining. They want our solutions.

There are certainly conservatives who disdain the poor, just as there are progressives who disdain the economically successful. But whatever the prior and remaining flaws of the GOP, Republicans are by no means the Party of the Rich; we are and should be the Party of the People, and we have the principles to back that up.

The 2012 election was in many ways a major setback, but it’s also an opportunity, however costly, for growth. It’s up to us to show all Americans our thoughtful and enduring solutions, with conviction and longsuffering, that they may yet see and believe.


The Grand New Republic

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

“What’s happened with the Republicans is they are, the Republican Party, is a ‘Mad Men’ party in a ‘Modern Family’ America. And it just doesn’t fit anymore.” –Matthew Dowd

“We’ve lost the country.” –Rush Limbaugh

Some voters just want to watch the world burn.

Watching Fox News on the day after the election, you saw a fascinating dynamic at play. A number of pundits spoke sympathetically of amnesty and openly criticized Arizona SB 1070 amid discussion of how to appeal to the growing Hispanic population. The O’Reilly Factor featured the unflinching admonition “to stop this Bible-based bashing of gay people,” while other segments noted the unprecedented 4 for 4 sweep gay marriage advocates won at the ballot box. The telling sentiment of the day, however, was that conservatives cannot and will not compromise on principles. So where do we go from here?

For starters, we must recognize the historic nature of this election. Barack Obama won reelection despite disastrous unemployment and a dubious economic outlook. (We’ll set aside the matter of the murdered U.S. ambassador.) Decisive electoral failure under such extraordinary circumstances, even as the country overall shifted right, certainly merits some existential panic, despite modest gubernatorial gains and a reelected House majority. But whether you think the president won without a mandate by small and divisive tactics or prevailed largely on the rote inertia of incumbency, he undeniably did so while playing heavily to the demographic strengths of the Democratic coalition—women, Latinos, blacks, millennials, gays—and everybody knows that everybody knows this.

Somewhere along the way, the Party of Lincoln became, in the eyes of an ever growing segment of America, the Party of Aging, White (Straight), Embittered Men given to fits of delusion. There are many ways, reasons, and heated denials about how this happened, but in the end, Mitt Romney lost, Barack Obama will have his second term, and the Democratic majority in the Senate will grow, as will its presence in the House. Speaking of the incoming Congress, white men will make up less than half of the House Democratic caucus for the first time in history. But for all the rekindled talk of the perpetual dominance of the jackass, even the largest political majorities are, in the grander scheme, fleeting. Louisiana, Tennessee, and Arkansas were solidly blue in the 90s. Now they are deep red. Maine voted down gay marriage in 2009 and voted it up in 2012.

Assuming you noticed the tagline on my blog or on Twitter, you may have wondered how I could feel comfortable being Republican. After all, only 6% of blacks voted for Romney, and the GOP is understandably anathema to many gay Americans and their disproportionately young and professional allies. But I’ll let you in on a secret: I don’t expect the Party to look as it does now in ten years, or even by 2016. For one, there are many tough but necessary choices ahead that will strain the special-interest-driven coalition of the Left, whatever happens with white voters, and anything is possible over the next two to four years.

The conservative movement and its values of liberty, discipline, personal responsibility, virtue, family, community, duty, and free enterprise are objectively superior to the creeping statism and obdurate collectivism of the Left. The setback of this election notwithstanding, conservatism is far from dead or even moribund. It is merely in the process of doing what all successful life does—namely, to quote the president, evolving. The matter of adjusting tone and approach to such hot-button issues as immigration, abortion, and gay equality is not one of abandoning core principles. Rather, the project before the Party of Ronald Reagan and Condoleezza Rice is to apply those values to new circumstances and new audiences.

To this end, Republican willingness to engage on comprehensive immigration reform is a great start. While Marco Rubio may or may not appeal to Hispanics outside Florida, prominent Southwestern Republicans—e.g. Sandoval, Martinez, and Cruz—are well positioned to bring diversity into the conservative electorate. I doubt embracing open borders would win the Latino vote for the GOP. However, many conservatively inclined Latino voters may be more receptive when not worrying, fairly or not, that “driving while brown” will warrant harassment under Republican governance.

The question of gays is about much more than 5% of the electorate. Young Americans, including many young Republicans, overwhelmingly understand that gay families are valid American families of people who just want to live their lives and participate in their communities like anyone else. We live in a world where voters in West Virginia, Ohio, Arizona, and both Dakotas elected gay legislators at various levels of government and where Wisconsin sent the first openly gay U.S. Senator to Washington. (Did I mention that voters just approved gay marriage in three states and defeated a constitutional ban in another?)

Put bluntly, a movement identified with and defined by opposition to anti-bullying measures, anti-discrimination laws, gay couples adopting, and, yes, same-sex marriage, will bear witness to the leftward drift of millennials toward the political event horizon of liberalism—and the world will suffer accordingly. Fortunately, once these things are accomplished, they will cease to be issues, and gay families and the people who love them can focus on other things. In the meantime, for the good of the country and everybody who loves her, it’s time for opponents of gay rights to move on.

And so we come to abortion. Many millions of Americans, particularly among Republicans, identify as pro-life. There is nothing wrong with this. Indeed, I suspect we’re moving toward a national consensus on reasonable limits to abortion that vary somewhat by state. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock did not lose once safe GOP Senate seats because they were pro-life. They lost because they were inanely self-indulgent purists who found a mawkish virtue in needlessly alienating most of the electorate. In so doing, they have achieved nothing beyond setting back the causes of restricting abortion and promoting conservative government by feeding into a tendentious narrative of a conservative “war on women.”

You should not interpret any of this as a move to eject anyone from the coalition or spark a Republican civil war. The voices and contributions of social conservatives will remain prominent and valuable. The focus on family values translates into policies that aim to benefit communities, such as school choice and more local control of education. Upon the rock of piety conservatives build institutions that provide education and social services to millions. For the sake of stewardship, Republicans of all stripes devote their resources to sound fiscal policy and good governance. Concern for life promotes charity and community service that change lives around the world.

The Republican Party, like America, is designed for the inclusion of the big tent. Our core principles are not tied to race, creed, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, or national origin. They are divined from the foundation of a diverse republic whose self-understanding is rendered, “Out of Many, One”. As I’ve noted before, the Party of Frederick Douglass, Calvin Coolidge, Oscar de Priest, and Barry Goldwater will continue to produce and hone partisans of free enterprise and limited government for as long as the American people seek prosperity. And we will welcome all comers.

As a certain young Republican congressman and vice presidential hopeful once said:

“If you believe in freedom, liberty, self-determination, free enterprise, I don’t care if you’re a Muslim, Jewish, Agnostic, Christian, gay, straight, Latino, black, white, Irish, whatever. Join us.”

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We Built This City

“It all started off with stirring speeches, Greek columns, the thrill of something new. Now all that’s left is a presidency adrift, surviving on slogans that already seem tired, grasping at a moment that has already passed, like a ship trying to sail on yesterday’s wind.” –Paul Ryan

“Tell them this: ‘These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.'” -Jeremiah 10:11

Day Three of the Republican National Convention is over but my goosebumps tingle on. Paul Ryan’s speech was one of the most amazing I have ever heard, and I was paying attention in 2008. From channeling President Reagan on moral clarity and spiritual conviction to reminding Young America that he gets where we’re coming from, I witnessed a meteor rising in the aspiring Republican veep. My ears are still ringing.

Of course, Ryan was only the finale—a dessert transformed into a full meal. For our appetizers, Condi Rice waxed professorial in her edifying policy proposals and musings on America’s place in a rapidly changing world. Her paean to the transcendent promise of American Exceptionalism rang a glorious note only the woman born in a segregated world could hold. And the phenomenal reach of her vision shines brighter against the backdrop of a sitting administration long depleted of even the hope for new ideas. Rice’s understanding of education as the civil rights struggle of our time hearkens back to Chris Christie’s valiant charge against the teacher’s unions and the need to be respected before we can be loved. Hers is the lifted voice of a life testifying to the ultimate truth that all conservatism begins with loss and the will to rise and wrestle with the faceless gods of atrophy, grievance, and entitlement for control of our destiny.

As a chaser for Rice, Governor Susana Martinez offered up the simple truths of American conservatism. That welfare is a brace meant to heal, not a lifestyle. That a state expands on the backs of its citizens until their promise is consumed in its service—a new master-slave dialectic for a society deformed into Lost Boys and Last Men. That the wages of dependency are decay and oblivion. That these are the stakes. This election is not ultimately about budgets, healthcare, Medicare, unemployment rates, or tax minutiae. To be sure, these issues matter and must be dealt with. But in the end, our takeaway is that ideas and the visions built upon them matter. We should be wary of leaders who explain more than they govern.

From the rapturous reception of Condi Rice to the Martinez homage to the conservative story to Scott Walker’s enraptured tears at the Ryan oration, we see the promise of America at this Republican convention. These are what leaders look like. This is how they sound, how they resonate, how they cut through passé talking points about tax returns, murdered seniors, and the siren song of identity politics.

Take note, Mr. President. These are the bearers of the vision that will bury you. Like Atlantis and all the vainglory of its imagined pomp and circumstance, your empty promises will go the way of your squandered mandate and the broken promises of yesteryear.

“They’ve run out of ideas. Their moment came and went. Fear and division are all they’ve got left.”

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Young America: Obama That I Used To Know

While President Obama’s overall lead among young voters is likely insurmountable, that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of room for conservatives to make inroads. After all, general unemployment is still above 8%, with the youth rate as high as 16%. And of course, neither number takes into account the dispiriting circumstances of underemployment, which has been rising these past few months. (But hey, at least we’re doing better than Europe! Well, except Germany.)

As a sign of the changing (and perhaps hopeless) times, some young voters have put out this spectacular anthem of the youth assessment of the Obama presidency to date. Republican Party, take note; there are a lot of grievances here with which to gain ground:

Disclaimer: I regrettably had no part in this. Lyrics below.

Now and then I think of that election day, November
When you won I felt so happy I could die
Chugged a fifth, paraded in the street
And I thanked God that Palin wasn’t Veep
It felt like change and it’s a hope I still remember

You can get addicted to a certain kind of message
Like this is change we can believe in, yes we can
But college ended, had to pay my rent
At least you’re the first gay president
But the change I got was that I moved in with my mother

Because you won and then you cut me off
Now your speeches never soar as high as unemployment
You took Obamacare so far
But you left me like a dog strapped on Romney’s car
Even the shirt that was on my back
Is owned by China or being arbitraged by Goldman Sachs
Just send in a Predator Drone
‘Cause now you’re not Obama that I used to know

Now you’re not Obama that I used to know
Now I need Obama that I used to know

Sometimes I think that Peace Prize winners shouldn’t have a kill list
But you dumped Bin Laden in the sea so maybe it’s all good
Said you’d rouse my economy
Your big package didn’t stimulate me
Still my American Idol, though
When you sang, “I’m so in love with you”…Obama that I used to know

But you won and then you cut me off
Made out like you’d close Guantanamo and we got nothing
Relocation shouldn’t be that hard
Just strap the prisoners in on top of Romney’s car
No, I don’t need you to legalize
Just keep the feds away from folks like you when you were younger
There’s nothing that you didn’t toke
But now that’s just Obama that I used to know

That I used to know
That I used to know
That I used to know

In 2012 I need Obama that I used to know
[He’s a jackass]

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Liberalism and Conservatism in Young America

What with demographic trends, immigration fights, and the culture wars, many folks across the political spectrum are pondering the long-term viability of the Republican Party. With such proposals as gay marriage and the Dream Act steadily amassing popularity, particularly among the young, many conservatives are indeed increasingly estranged from the forward march of modernity. As such, it seems only natural to dismiss the GOP and its conniptions as the violently hopeless screech of a reactionary swan at war with its own mortality. Why would anyone—especially a young non-straight-male-WASP—be conservative today? What does the Grand Old Party have to offer young Americans, of any color or creed?

The answer isn’t easy, but we’re talking about the future of our country and the world it leads, so any easy answers are probably useless, or worse, wrong. Like any people, we Americans tell stories about ourselves—

“We are a nation of immigrants!”

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

“The era of big government is over.”

            —and reach deeply into wells of tradition to grapple with our evolving place in an ever-changing world. Like any people, we face crises—terrorism, debt, unemployment—and we have to decide how best to honor our heritage and values in setting priorities, making commitments, and embracing necessary sacrifice to overcome setbacks.

America is a contest of ideas as well as a community dedicated to sublimating the foreign and exotic to the familiar. From every reach of the earth, America aims to erect a living, shining monument to the industry, liberty, and creativity of human freedom. For whatever reason, these struggles have generally played out in a field between two partisan posts built from many and shifting factions of interests and values. But while George Washington warned against factionalism, the Federalist Papers extolled its ability to check the tyrannies of majorities. So we come to our two camps.

In liberalism, we find a profound concern for fairness and equality. The moral foundations of the welfare state are well at home here, for the world is unequal, unfair, and often unjust. We have the means to counteract, if not eliminate, these evils, and we are compelled by our concern for human rights and basic decency to do so. Thus we see welfare, Medicaid, Medicare, public education, and humanitarian relief from the state. The liberal goal is justice, however understood, above everything.

In conservatism, we find less focus on either fairness or equality. The welfare state is expensive and must be paid for. The long reach of government is already too intrusive and must be retracted; everywhere the “Nanny State” is out of control, eroding our rights and self-reliance. People and their businesses are being oppressed by high taxes. Won’t somebody please think of the businesses!?!

Conservatism is easily less attractive to anyone who walks down the street in New York or Boston, sees the homeless everywhere, and wonders why the government doesn’t enact some program or redirect some spending to provide more food and shelter for those so much less fortunate. Conservatives, by and large, don’t want the state to obsess over any of that. Indeed, if other needs are not being met, conservatives demand the state pull back, to account for everything. On its face, this approach looks quite heartless.

When conservatives see a homeless woman on the street, they want and demand that she be able to get a job and provide for herself. Conservatives see dignity in self-reliance and the ability to be a full player in the communal game of interdependence. We are indignant that the state has sacrificed an economy that might employ her for one that reduces her to an indentured client. We have been led to believe that love is sweet, charitable, and forgiving. And it is all of those things. But love is also longsuffering, devoted to truth, and fundamentally opposed to whatever forms in which we find evil in the human condition.

A conservative doesn’t oppose endless welfare because she hates or is indifferent to those less fortunate. To the contrary, she wants her neighbor to eat, have good shelter, and be a full member of her community. But not everything that accomplishes any one of these things—say, ensuring the homeless can eat—accomplishes everything a person needs to live well.

That homeless woman wants a job so she can see that her energy and effort are worth as much as anyone else’s, particularly those yuppie masses that ignored her on the street when she was destitute. Thus she needs the conditions that allow for economic growth and broad prosperity. She wants to be able to contribute to society and help others, for she is a moral being. Thus she needs freedom from the indomitable web of well-intended but narrowly-focused social programs that stifle the market, which might otherwise empower her to make her own choices. She abhors the notion of dependence upon the largess of strangers, or worse, the reality of being a leech upon a community she loves. Thus she needs a welfare system that will not incentivize brokenness or encourage the decay of her neighborhood. She wants no one else to languish in the fate that she escapes.

And finally, our less fortunate neighbor wants assurance that her life in prosperity—and she believes she will be prosperous—will be as free and fulfilling as possible. Thus she needs a government that will never sacrifice the integrity of the middle class in an endless expansion of the state into the lives of its citizens.

Honoring the diverse and conflicting elements that comprise the richness of the human experience—along with the complexity of the relationship between people, their communities, and their government—is precisely the aim of the conservative movement. In short, conservatism considers the fullness of man as he is and aspires to be, as opposed to how we might wish or imagine him to be—or what he might need in the moment.

None of this is to say that the Republican Party has everything—or even most things—right. Like most young voters, I certainly look forward to the day when marriage equally is a universal reality and women no longer feel the state is imposing on their private affairs. But if anything should give you pause about the Democratic Party and its allies on the left, look no farther than the “Buffet Rule” charade in the Senate.

By all accounts, it was a symbolic gesture to highlight Republican opposition to tax hikes. In what universe is there any inherent virtue, political or otherwise, in the desire to raise taxes? We occasionally do so if we must, as have Republican presidents past, but with solemnly deliberated, practical ends—not for “symbolism.” Add to this the administration’s abject refusal to push for tax reform, pass a budget, or offer serious debt-reduction when the Democrats had large majorities, and to the student loan gimmicks masquerading as serious proposals in this Congress, and we have to wonder what the Democratic Party really has to offer us.

My fellow young Americans, the culture wars are waning. However, the mock-serious gimmicks of the Democratic Party will continue and should concern anyone—young, old, black, white, Latino, gay, straight, urban, rural, etc.—interested in the resilience and example of the American project. I do not need to be a partisan Republican to stand against failed leadership and for the middle class. Young America, we would all do well to put down the Democratic Kool-Aid and take a shot of skepticism, on the rocks.