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.


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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.