Token Dissonance

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

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The Soft Bigotry of Progressive Intentions

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” ―Frederick Douglass

http://www.asofterworld.com/index.php?id=970

“I wish being a good person was as easy as wanting to help the children.”

 

In the heated summer of the 2000 presidential campaign, Texas Gov. George W. Bush went to the NAACP Convention in Baltimore and championed education reform, economic opportunity, and racial equality. In reflecting on demographic achievement gaps, the future president famously declared, to applause, “I will confront another form of bias: the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

This was a callback to a September 1999 speech Bush gave to the Latin Business Association in which he addressed academic underachievement among black and Latino students: “Now some say it is unfair to hold disadvantaged children to rigorous standards. I say it is discrimination to require anything less—the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

It is a tragic irony of Shakespearean cruelty that, in 2016, the NAACP opposes education reforms that are already helping black children and families. In its hostility to charter school and school choice, the NAACP (along with Black Lives Matter) is fighting against black communities and undermining black progress. Given the chthonic horrors of public education (if the intergenerational afflictions of that socioeconomic Tartarus can be so called) in too many lower-income neighborhoods, it surprises nobody paying attention that black voters in several states overwhelmingly support school choice, including charter schools.

Unfortunately, the NAACP has opted to subordinate the needs of the black community to the political interests of another core donor constituency of progressive politics—teachers unions—even though the facts indicate that those progressive donors would rather leave black kids incarcerated in poverty and ignorance than let them be free of union control. In this way, the NAACP has—much like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who forsook her once strident support for school choice to kneel before the teachers unions—melded smoothly into a social justice establishment that exalts the interests of its donor class over those of the people it purports to serve and represent.

Jason Riley sums up the breadth of the maddening reality quite well over in the Wall Street Journal:

Numerous studies employing gold-standard random-assignment methodologies have shown that underprivileged black children with access to charter schools are much better off than their peers in traditional public schools. They not only learn more but are also more likely to finish high school, attend college and avoid drug abuse and teen pregnancy. Inner-city black students with access to the best charter schools regularly outperformed their white peers from the richest suburbs on standardized tests.

Charter-school students with disabilities outperform traditional public-school students without disabilities. The Black Lives Matter activists who fret about racial disparities in incarceration rates and support the NAACP’s anti-school-choice posturing might consider the fact that our jails and prisons are not full of high-school and college graduates.

Blacks are 16% of the public-school population in the U.S. but 27% of charter students. The NAACP is faulting charter-school proponents for targeting the very communities where the demand for school choice is most acute. According to the civil-rights activists, whether black students are learning anything matters less than whether they are sitting next to white students. Never mind the empirical data showing that black children need good teachers and safe learning environments far more than they need white classmates.

This theme of exalting demographics over results hearkens back to an education reform struggle, half a decade ago, in Wake County, North Carolina. In that case, a well-intentioned integration policy aimed at closing racial gaps in academic achievement had the actual effect of masking the ongoing problem while geographically separating underperforming kids from the support structures of their families and communities. When Republicans gained control of school policy in 2010, they understandably moved to allow parents to keep their kids in their own communities while improving those local schools.

This effort had the side-effect of ostensibly “resegregating” some schools—because different areas had higher concentrations of white and nonwhite families—and the allusions to Jim Crow and Brown v. Board came like clockwork. This slander could only work insofar as the self-proclaimed champions of “equality” and “racial justice” ignored or prestidigitated away the most essential fact: the progressive policy ended because it failed to do anything but hide its own failures. In truth, the Wake County reformers gave the lie to progressive assumptions about the realities of the substantive progress due to underprivileged Americans. So of course the warriors of social justice—and those who profit from its failings—cried, “Bigots!” and let slip the whistles of slander.

As I wrote at the time:

Accepting that diversity is valuable and progress is not painless, the benefits of the program were dubious at best—schools were increasingly overcrowded, most black and Latino students were not proficient in reading or math, and only 54% of poor kids were graduating. As a biracial mother of two Wake County students put it, “right now, it’s as if the best we can do is dilute these kids out so they don’t cause problems. It sickens me.”

Even the Republicans-abolish-integration article inadvertently makes a case for what Paul Fitts, a Republican candidate for Wake County Commissioner, would describe as achievement-oriented schools grounded in communal involvement. Namely, qualified poor and/or minority students were underenrolled in advanced math classes under the previous “integration” policy. The kicker: school officials say they’ve known about this problem for years, but many parents were left in the dark. In other words, sending kids to faraway schools stifles parental involvement and allows ongoing systemic problems to fester under the negligent eyes of self-interested bureaucrats.

This is the mettle of structural oppression: A constellation of social justice do-gooders fretting over race relations and “the children” while consigning underprivileged (mostly black and Latino) children and their families to mediocrity and malign neglect. This is how intergenerational poverty and underachievement are reinforced through the doublespeak of talking a good game about equality.

The war on black children extends all the way to the White House. The Obama administration fought tooth and nail to undercut school choice, from Louisiana to Washington, D.C. The government ignored the objections of black parents, who overwhelmingly benefit from and attest to the profound benefits of having options already available to the wealthy.

In the exceptionally odious Louisiana episode, Eric Holder’s Justice Department argued explicitly in a court of law that empowering black students to escape dangerous, failing schools—and the dependent cycle of poverty and ruin—would “impede the desegregation progress” from the Civil Rights Movement. This is how the administration chose to misrepresent the fact that the state’s vouchers, available only to low-income kids assigned to low-performing schools, overwhelmingly go to poor blacks who manage to beat the growing wait-list for limited spots.

It takes a special kind of legalistic depravity to invoke the hard-fought, blood-soaked triumphs of civil lights leaders to secure the best educations for black children as a vehicle to drive today’s black children back into a stultifying ocean of despair. (It’s worth noting that Bobby Jindal, the then-Governor of Louisiana who vigorously championed the academic emancipation of black youth against a hostile federal government, was the first nonwhite person ever elected to that office. Likewise, the Mayor of Washington is black, as is a large chunk of the city council.) This depravity is no less damning for carrying the imprimatur of America’s first black attorney general in service of the first black President of the United States.

By contrast, Gov. Jindal won reelection amid his campaign for education reform with a historic two-thirds of the vote, sweeping every parish in the Pelican State. It’s not clear if any data exist on the demographic breakdown of the 2011 electorate, but Jindal won a majority of the vote in several majority-black parishes, including MadisonSt. JamesSt. John the Baptist, and Tensas, even as 80 percent of black voters are registered Democrats.

Down the Gulf, Florida Gov. Rick Scott championed school choice, merit pay, and other academic reforms, and he campaigned heavily on them in his reelection bid to win over black voters. Subsequently, he managed to grow his support from among the black vote to 12 percent. That may seem paltry, but it amounts to double his showing among black voters compared to 2010, while black turnout increased by three points. That’s a difference of 61,000 black votes in an election Scott only won by 66,000 votes.

But that actually undersells it. Had Scott’s 2014 black vote total languished at the six-percent share he won in 2010, with the Democrat’s share holding anywhere near 2010’s 92 percent, the final tally would have been 95,000 votes more Democratic. That means Rick Scott’s margin of victory was entirely contained within his improved share of the black vote. I repeat: the Republican Governor of Florida is only in office today because a growing black electorate decided to grant him reelection after he gave them good reason to do so.

Since then, Scott’s continued fight for education opportunity for the underprivileged has kept him at odds with the state teachers union and NAACP chapter. But the governor retains a solid core of support within the black community. In January, Martin Luther King III came to Tallahassee after the holiday for his father to stand with black families and Gov. Scott against the regressive machinations of the progressive establishment.

This dynamic of Republicans pushing for education reform and winning support from black voters but hostility from progressive activists is by no means restricted to the South. In the Northeast, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie expanded school choice his very first year in office. Democrats who buck the progressive establishment on education even credited him with “launching the school-reform movement throughout the Northeast,” as he fought for vouchers in an election year. Thereafter, Christie won reelection with double his previous share of the black vote (from 10 to 2o percent) and nearly half of Latino voters.

These stories abound, and they provide a robust array of evidence that black voters value expansive education reform more than progressive donors can pay to stifle it. But that is a precarious equilibrium that can fail at any time. Fortunately, in Florida as in Louisiana and Washington, school choice for underprivileged children is winning, for now, and progressive opposition to progress seems to be collapsing.

That’s not to say all charter or private school options are fantastic or even better than all traditional public schools. Some programs are struggling and bad schools have been or will be shuttered, as the system rightly demands. Other reforms are propelling kids to the once-inconceivable heights of college and upward mobility. Ultimately, a system that gives families workable options encourages the kind of policies that can provide life-changing benefits to disadvantaged kids. But in any case, school choice options ought to be measured by the results, not by how staunchly the progressive donor class finds them contrary to its political and financial interests.

I mightily doubt President Obama, his black attorneys general, or well-meaning BLM activists mean any harm to lower-income families who just want a fair chance at success. (If you insist on the utmost charity, we can add teachers unions to that list.) But at some point, the progressive establishment must be made to understand that good intentions do not substitute for good result and cannot balance out actual harm. The pernicious effects of structural bigotry are not any less asphyxiating because those who sustain them practice the correct platitudes about social justice.

As things stand, today’s leaders must choose between the actual welfare of the downtrodden and the union-funded oppression of the  Elizabeth WarrenBernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party.

May they choose right and true.


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Sexual Politics in the Grand Old Dominion

“The only question is, whose vision of moral rectitude does it reflect?” –Bishop E.W. Jackson

How could this guy not appeal to Democrats and swing voters?

There are several different narratives percolating on the intersection between religious faith and homosexuality in America.

We have 61 percent of the Boy Scouts voting to drop both a ban on gay scouts and an institutional condemnation of homosexuality. This is particularly interesting in that the largest sponsor of the Boy Scouts—ahead of the United Methodist, Roman Catholic, and Southern Baptist congregations—is the Mormon Church. Not only did the Latter-Day Saints support the change, but their church has been pointedly moving away from the gay front of the culture wars toward a more libertarian consensus on the role of government and institutions in private life.

From Ralph Hallow in The Washington Times:

“The behind-the-scenes effectiveness of the Mormon Church, which sponsors more than a third of all Scout troops in America, is becoming more visible and appears to be nudging the GOP a bit toward a more libertarian stand on some social and cultural issues. Up to a point, Mormons and evangelicals think that the more libertarian the nation’s political center of gravity, the lower the risk of government meddling in religious matters.

But overall, it’s Mormonism that may be on the ascendancy. The nation’s best-known Mormon politician — Mitt Romney — unequivocally endorsed gay equality in Scouting in 1994, long before his 2012 presidential race.”

Representing a different set of priorities, we have legacy scout alum and RedState editor Erick Erickson announcing his acceptance of the Boy Scouts’ decision and rejection of further involvement from his family with the institution. As Erickson puts it, it’s fine to welcome gay people—and he has gay friends!—but it must be maintained that gay behavior, which presumably includes those committed, monogamous relationships that some call love, is sinful. Eve Tushnet, a gay Catholic and a friend-of-friends from Yale, would agree. This position on gay love is, blessedly, a minority and declining view in America, but we have little reason to believe it will die quietly.

And then there are people like Bishop E.W. Jackson Sr., the Republican Party of Virginia’s convention-chosen candidate for lieutenant governor. Jackson’s contribution to the discussion: LGBT people make him “feel ikky all over.” That is among his least objectionable statements. (We are supposed to be comforted by the fact that “he wouldn’t support any sort of ban on gay sex”—not that Lawrence v. Texas is constitutional precedent or anything.) Of course, he also spends his free time promoting discrimination against Muslim Americans (because obviously most of them are, like, terrorists and stuff) and warning people about the dangers of Satanic possession inherent in yoga.

As a conservative with libertarian leanings, I’m an independent at heart. I’m willing to entertain diverging views even on such sacred cows as gun control (use both hands and stand your ground) and the freedom to marry (Yes). I do have friends and family who oppose me on either and other positions, and I have and will support and vote for candidates who disagree with me on major issues if I am persuaded that their overall vision is superior to that of their opponent.

So I would vote for Chris Christie were I a New Jersey voter, despite lip-curling disdain for his positions on gun rights, pork-free relief bills, and gay marriage (which is as benign—if still annoying—as opposition can get), and against a Democrat whose policies would be great for gay rights (i.e., extending the invaluable word, “marriage”) but otherwise abhorrent. Likewise, I would support Mark Kirk in Illinois, despite his unsettling antipathy to gun rights, for essentially the same reasons unabashedly gun-grabbing progressives would support Brian Schweitzer over a Republican in Montana. That said, I would probably support neither (as first, second, or even third choices) in a Republican presidential primary, which would presumably be full of better (overall) options.

But however certain I may be that the progressive vision of America should be regarded as a call to arms against the equalizing asphyxiation of a prosperous civilization, there are bridges too far in that fight. With Jackson, even in areas where we agree, he manages to make me uncomfortable. For instance, I would find it difficult to support at-will abortion (i.e., pregnancies terminated for reasons other than rape, incest, or health considerations). However, I must draw a line well before comparing Planned Parenthood—which, in many cases is the only viable non-abortion health option for poor women—to the KKK. I also agree that liberal policies are disastrous for minorities (and most people), but I don’t see how expressing unmitigated contempt for minority voters wins any converts.

So to put it bluntly: I am not terribly inclined to support E.W. Jackson. (Yes, I suppose there may be worse options, but I am a zealous opponent of invoking Godwin’s Law.) That is not to say I will vote for the Democrat rather than just skip that race altogether, but barring a sudden and convincing change of heart from Jackson, the Virginia lieutenant governorship is all but certainly the Left’s race to lose. These things do happen when party bosses opt for conventions over primaries so as to limit the input of voters—the same voters who will decide the general election.

Fortunately, my political and moral revulsion toward Jackson has not yet translated into opposition to GOP gubernatorial candidate and current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. To be sure, I have qualms with Cuccinelli—not the least of which his opposition to Gov. McDonnell’s bipartisan transportation bill and less-than-enthusiastic regard for workforce protections for LGBT employees—but I will allow his campaign to convince me that his governance will hold the pragmatic conservative line set by his predecessor. Besides, the prospect of a Democratic Party hack like Terry McAuliffe as Governor of the Commonwealth is downright unconscionable.

We all have to compromise somewhere.

For some closing thoughts, allow me to make a general point on sexual politics that pertains to Erickson and Tushnet as much as to Jackson and other Virginia Republicans like Robert G. Marshall. The sexual revolution is over. In fact, it was so long ago settled that before I was ever dreamt of, my parents grew up in a world where birth control, casual sex, and divorce were already culturally ingrained, and gay relatives and friends were already finding the precursors of modern acceptance. It is all well and good for the holdouts of the erstwhile “Moral Majority” to solemnly distinguish their values from the philosophical incoherence of the Boy Scouts on the one hand and the rabid bigotry of E.W. Jackson on the other. However, that is a conversation that no longer has any more resonance in 2013—when 72 percent of Americans believe gay marriage will happen eventually—than a debate over the validity of absentee voting.

Accordingly, the conversation ahead of 2016 is whether and how potential Republican presidential nominees will downplay any opposition to gay marriage. I fully expect influential contingents of the conservative base to demand full-throated opposition to gay rights, and I suspect they will get some bone or other (e.g. nominal but express opposition to the freedom to marry). I also expect a growing mainstream contingent of pro-gay Republican and Independent voters will be unusually eager to kick that bone away in the face of popular Democratic grandstanding for gay rights.

This tension is not sustainable. Conservatives, as a movement, will have to learn to articulate a set of values that is inclusive to gay Americans—and the voters who support them. Otherwise, the Republican Party, along with the values of strong families and free enterprise it espouses, will buckle under the weight of escalating political liabilities like an aging welfare state over an overtaxed population.

Whatever happens in Virginia this November, the need to relate timeless values to evolving cultural trends will continue.


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The Marriage Parties

Two rings to bind the Culture Wars

In breaking news that should surprise no one, the Democratic Party has expressed its intention to support gay marriage in its Party Platform. For several years now, prominent Democrats have been calling for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (now accomplished), the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, and the enactment of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. But the final pieces had fallen into place once Vice President Biden and finally President Obama went on the record supporting gay marriage.

Internecine Democrat struggles and short-term political calculations aside, the conservative movement has neither a moral nor political future in a blanket objection to gay marriage. Gay people have already been living together in committed relationships, raising kids, and participating in their communities for years. They are not going to abandon their families, go back into the closet, and consign their lives en masse to loneliness or celibacy.

In this vein, many conservatives are already coming around to support gay marriage. Many who oppose it are at least calling for some other legal recognition, as President Bush did back in 2004. Some leaders, like Chris Christie, support strong civil unions. Others, like Governor Romney, favor something more limited. But in all cases these conservatives are in line with data showing most Americans favor some legal recognition of gay unions. After all, no family is helped when another struggles needlessly.

Some conservatives have written off gays as just another special-interest barnacle on a bloated Democrat agenda. But many gay Americans voted more Republican in 2010 than in previous years, and while gays may be a minority, the people who know and support them are not. This trend of more conservative gay votes can continue, if conservatives go for those votes.

If Mitt Romney wants to play the long game for every vote possible, he needs to stop talking up constitutional amendments that won’t help anyone’s marriage and start advocating for proposals to support American families—gay and straight. I don’t expect him to embrace full-on gay marriage before this election, but he needs to present a vision for why all families and communities will thrive best under Republican leadership.

When Americans—gay and straight—no longer have to worry about politicians opposing or undermining the integrity of their families, many will naturally appreciate what conservative governance has to offer. Gay couples, no longer fighting for recognition, will want their taxes low and spent wisely. Gay parents, freed from endless worrying over bullying, will advocate for better schools and accountable teachers. A gay entrepreneur or worker will demand policies that promote strong businesses—with or without unions—when he no longer has to worry about being fired for having a picture of his family on his desk.

American families and the communities they live in will be naturally stronger, more committed, and more conservative when the law and order of their country support them. There will always be folks on the Left who see their opponents on these issues as bigots, and they will say so loudly. But the barb only stings while the GOP lacks an answer that resonates.

Gay marriage is only a “distraction,” if we make it one.