Token Dissonance

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


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Guest Post: In Defense of Tone Policing

The following is guest post from a friend who has opted to remain anonymous for professional reasons. If you’re interested in adding your own voice and perspective to Token Dissonance, get in touch with my by email, and we can chat.

“Even rich, privileged people need and can learn good manners.” –Noddy

By Billy Goat
People who who are wrong about things matter, too, I guess.

People who who are wrong about things matter, too, I guess.

Left-wing twitter has been in a tizzy recently after New York Magazine‘s Jonathan Chait published this piece, in which he contemplated the possibility that political correctness was doing real harm to liberalism. It was not the best writing I’ve seen on the subject, and I don’t think it’s a must-read; conservatives have been saying things like it for years. But it made a stir because Chait is a widely read liberal writer. Predictably, people like Vox’s Amanda Taub disagreed strongly. People like Gawker’s Alex Pareene disagreed much less politely.
If anything, the less polite critics probably proved Chait’s point. But a better-written critique of political correctness on the Left came a few days later, from Fredrik DeBoer, a left-wing blogger who is genuinely concerned that his movement drives too many people away. Two paragraphs stood out to me.

I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 20 year old black man, a track athlete who tried to fit organizing meetings around classes and his ridiculous practice schedule (for which he received a scholarship worth a quarter of tuition), be told not to return to those meetings because he said he thought there were such a thing as innate gender differences. He wasn’t a homophobe, or transphobic, or a misogynist. It turns out that 20 year olds from rural South Carolina aren’t born with an innate understanding of the intersectionality playbook. But those were the terms deployed against him, those and worse. So that was it; he was gone.

I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 33 year old Hispanic man, an Iraq war veteran who had served three tours and had become an outspoken critic of our presence there, be lectured about patriarchy by an affluent 22 year old white liberal arts college student, because he had said that other vets have to “man up” and speak out about the war. Because apparently we have to pretend that we don’t know how metaphorical language works or else we’re bad people. I watched his eyes glaze over as this woman with $300 shoes berated him. I saw that. Myself.

DeBoer concludes:

I want a left that can win, and there’s no way I can have that when the actually-existing left sheds potential allies at an impossible rate. But the prohibition against ever telling anyone to be friendlier and more forgiving is so powerful and calcified it’s a permanent feature of today’s progressivism. And I’m left as this sad old 33 year old teacher who no longer has the slightest fucking idea what to say to the many brilliant, passionate young people whose only crime is not already being perfect.

What this reminds me of is that ridiculous trope from old-time movie where the everyman protagonist is at an absurdly fancy dinner, and he doesn’t know which of the seven forks to use from the comically-wide place setting. That trope is silly, yes, but it tells us something about the exclusivity of cultures that have too many arbitrary-but-ironclad rules. In the cloistered communities of Wesleyan and Sarah Lawrence and Haverford and other $50,000-a-year private colleges, one of those cultures has been created. It is a a class marker. A patois, a special language that only people of their cultural milieu can speak. It’s no coincidence that DeBoer’s examples above are obviously not from upper-class backgrounds. They don’t speak the language.
Here’s the thing: I do speak that language. Fluently, even. Not because I think it’s an important priority generally, but just because I went to Yale and I pick up the stuff I hear around me. I’m even fond of some aspects of that language. At times, it’s a code of manners that promotes courtesy and empathy for certain kinds of people—like black Americans, or transgender individuals—who are frequently starved for empathy and courtesy. I’m a conservative; I love manners. But the radical left has made the code of etiquette so complex and so exclusive that one needs to take a critical theory course just to understand it. And the left reacts with vituperation towards anyone—no matter how well-meaning—who transgresses that code.
There’s an old story (almost certainly apocryphal) about Queen Victoria. She was hosting a colonial dignitary in London for one of the fancy dinners I described above. The dignitary had never seen a finger bowl before, and instead of washing his hands with it, he drank the contents of the bowl. Most of of the dinner attendees were aghast at the awkwardness of the situation. The Queen simply lifted her own bowl, and also drank its contents.
Yes, there are plenty of race and class undertones to this story to interest the Left, but that’s not what it’s about. It isn’t about how cisgendered white women should react to persons of color. This is a story about manners. And yes, manners are important. But in a proper, well-adjusted understanding of empathy and courtesy, we react kindly to honest, well-meaning transgressions of manners. DeBoer’s point is that the Left does not react that way – and that it should. It often lacks the principle of charity even among people who should be allies.
DeBoer is concerned by “the prohibition against ever telling anyone to be friendlier and more forgiving” because he wants “a left that can win.” To be honest, I don’t really want that, but I see where he’s coming from. But I think he fails to make an additional, broader appeal: friendliness and forgiveness aren’t tools to get what we want. They are what we want. Holding to the principle of charity isn’t a means to an end. It is an end in itself. Charity is literally a virtue. Now go read some Aquinas, and stop being mean to each other.

About the author:

By day, I’m a spokesperson for fiscal conservatism. Some issues I don’t cover in my writing; they’re not part of my job description. But I do spend a lot of time reading, and sometimes I feel compelled to comment on things outside of my area of professional work. This is one of those things.
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Ezra Klein and The Ones Who Stay in Omelas

“They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.” –Ursula K. Le Guin

"Necessary" evils never looked more necessary than when they never hurt me.

“Necessary” evils never looked more necessary than when they never hurt me.

Zero-tolerance policies in schools have a funny way of producing the kind of terrible results that are difficult to imagine any reasonable person intended when the policies were enacted. Just recently, honors student Atiya Haynes of Detroit found her promising academic career upended when a knife given to her by her grandfather for protection in a dangerous neighborhood was accidentally left in her purse. While this situation is certainly infuriating, it should hardly be surprising. Students from poorer or ethnic minority backgrounds have a long history of affliction from well-intentioned “zero tolerance” rules purportedly designed to help and protect them, though they are by no means the only victims.

When I was in high school nearly a decade ago, I almost fell victim to a zero-tolerance policy for a (not weapon-, drug-, or harm-related) mistake in which county policy would have required me to fail the relevant class that I actually wound up acing. (More ordinary repercussions for this genre of mistake usually escalate little further than detention.) Fortunately for me, my thoughtful teacher—well aware of the difference in consequences—kindly overlooked the classroom error in question, and I was able to remain an honor student, eventually go to Yale, and begin a promising, upwardly mobile professional life. Many other people from could-be-more-privileged backgrounds, especially those whose infractions involve things like accidental weapons or self-defense after being bullied, are not so lucky.

All of this brings us to the ostensibly unrelated case of Vox’s Ezra Klein and his alarming, if not altogether surprising, willingness to retreat from liberalism in difficult situations—specifically, his support for California’s deeply problematic “affirmative consent” law. The commonality, it turns out, is the determination to condemn good people to bad consequences for the sake of achieving some greater good that might not actually obtain.

In Klein’s own words:

“SB 697, California’s ‘Yes Means Yes’ law, is a terrible bill. But it’s a necessary one… the law is only worth the paper it’s written on if some of the critics’ fears come true. Critics worry that colleges will fill with cases in which campus boards convict young men (and, occasionally, young women) of sexual assault for genuinely ambiguous situations. Sadly, that’s necessary for the law’s success. It’s those cases — particularly the ones that feel genuinely unclear and maybe even unfair, the ones that become lore in frats and cautionary tales that fathers e-mail to their sons — that will convince men that they better Be Pretty Damn Sure.

[…]

The Yes Means Yes laws creates an equilibrium where too much counts as sexual assault. Bad as it is, that’s a necessary change.”

Pause for a moment to reflect on that line of thought.

Seriously, take a moment.

Read it again.

I’ll wait.

Ezra Klein’s willingness to embrace what is accurately described as illiberal persecution of the innocent for the sake of noble goals is precisely the kind of ethically disturbing consequentialism that underlies the kind of policies, like “zero tolerance,” that disproportionately afflict those already poor and disadvantaged. It’s all well and good—and altogether predictable—for the wealthy and well-connected to perennially wax sententious about “necessary” evils from which they seldom suffer much. The rest of us live in the real world of administrative self-interest, systemic incompetence, political cowardice necessity, police brutality, and limited influence on or recourse for wrongs against non-elites who are less well-off than Klein’s socioeconomically cocooned friends. For us real-world folks, legitimate concerns about fairness and injustice in an invidiously ill-conceived system are not idle abstractions to whitewash away in the pursuit of utopian dreams.

And make no mistake; it is vituperatively utopian to imagine that the crimes of an admittedly unfair system will be justified by some larger social good. Most insultingly, there is little evidence that sexual assaults will decrease—they certainly won’t be eliminated—as a result of this policy change, and Klein uncharacteristically presents no evidence to support this critical premise. (This omission is particularly curious given that many schools, like the University of California system, most of the Ivy League—including my alma mater—and a number of other institutions, already have such a standard and could presumably provide supportive data.) There is ample evidence, however, of colleges already expelling accused students for what would charitably (to the colleges) be considered dubious circumstances.

Over at The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf well encapsulates the enormity of Klein’s moral decrepitude (emphasis in original):

“Extreme problems require extreme solutions. When wrongdoers are going unpunished, intrusive countermeasures are justified, even if they create new victims. Innocent-until-proven-guilty is nice in theory, but untenable in practice. The state should strike fear into innocents if it leads to fewer victims of violent crime.

Ugly problems don’t always have pretty solutions.

These are the sorts of value judgments one expects from supporters of Stop and Frisk, ‘three strikes’ laws, the prison at Gitmo, and racial profiling to stop illegal immigration. They’re also the value judgments that Ezra Klein invokes in his endorsement of a California law requiring affirmative consent for sex on the state’s college campuses. As he puts it, ‘Ugly problems don’t always have pretty solutions.’

[…]

To understand California’s law as Klein does and to favor it anyway is appalling, if admirably forthright. It is akin to asserting that, to fight sexual assault, we must operate on the dark side. It is a declaration that liberal values aren’t adequate after all, using logic Klein rejects when it is applied to other policy areas.”

I cannot stress enough that Klein—like the left-leaning crowd inclined to take his opinions seriously in forming their own—rejects this very line of thinking when it is applied to almost anything they dislike else. The difference is perhaps explained by who Klein and company imagine the targets of this particular form of aggravated illiberalism to be—i.e., rich, white frat boys, rather than poorly represented minorities from poor neighborhoods—but whatever the case, the reasoning for accepting injustice remains hollow, given our purported national commitment to such concepts as fairness and civil rights. As Friedersdorf puts it:

“Long experience shows that drastic measures are best shunned when they violate liberal values, an insight that does not imply an insufficient commitment to reducing sexual assault on campus any more than opposition to Stop and Frisk means one doesn’t care about gun violence in New York City, or opposition to adopting a ‘preponderance of the evidence’ standard for terrorists would imply an underestimation of the problem terrorism poses or the devastation of its victims.”

Returning to the zero-tolerance comparison, Klein’s explicit admission—supported by evidence—that innocent people will be required to wallow in the filth of our social and cultural sins in order to build and sustain the Omelas of a world without campus rape begs us to ask: Who does Ezra Klein think will bear the brunt of these unjust prosecutions when ambiguous or nonverbal sexual enthusiasm is legally prescribed cause for expulsion?

When gun control laws get stricter, poor people and minority communities are disproportionately ruined by the prison-industrial complex. When zero-tolerance policies proliferate in schools, underprivileged people of color disproportionately find their dreams deferred by circumstances all but unfathomable to many a Vox reader. When students are consigned to a regime that encourages abuse, it would be odd to assume those same marginalized members of the so-called “coalition of the ascendant” will not find themselves disproportionately at risk of life-altering social and academic sanctions for allegedly not having procured and adhered to an explicitly detailed legal contract—which seems to be the only reliable way to meet the “affirmative consent” standard—governing every conceivable minutiae of sexual interaction.

Would it matter to Klein if men (or women) of underprivileged demographics are more likely to be accused of and rightly or wrongly punished (and punished more harshly) for—but not necessarily more likely to actually commit—sexual assault, which familiar disparity we see in other legal matters? Should it matter to his readers that he never even bothers to ask the question? (For the record, I do not know the answer to this, but it and many other good questions occurred to me because I prefer to seriously consider my neighbor before throwing him or her under the bus.) It should not be too much to ask those in Klein’s camp who these sacrificial lambs are likely to be—and not be—and what, if anything, we should think about that.

One of the things professional leftists prefer to elide, in the perpetual indignation of their dubious policy initiatives, is that the people who bear the costs of progressively intrusive policy disasters are the disadvantaged communities progressives purport to represent. And again, there is not even much (if any) evidence that California-style “affirmative consent” laws will improve campus sexual culture—a laudable and vital goal—any more than “zero tolerance” has improved the life of Atiya Haynes or countless kids like her. We owe it to victims of assault—and confused kids sincerely looking for guidance—to do better than this.

But at least we know one thing more clearly than before: when faced with prospect of thriving at the parasitic expense of those cursed with a lesser lot in life, Ezra Klein would not be among the ones who walk away from Omelas. I suppose, in the end, privilege is too comfortable and rewarding a perch for the progressives who get to enjoy it.


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War, Peace, & Rockets

“They blame the irresponsible dolts who started the war for all the consequences of the war and they admire Israel’s strength and its resolve for dealing with the appalling blood lust of the unhinged loons who start a war they can’t win, and then cower behind the corpses of the children their foolishness has killed.” –Walter Russell Mead

Terrorism has consequences.

Hamas had launched nearly 1,600 missiles into Israel this year and already over a thousand in the last week. It is largely thanks to Israel’s American-funded Iron Dome that hundreds of these deathly probes were prevented from striking civilians. Unfortunately, this small solace is somewhat mitigated by an expanded target range that now puts densely-populated Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in sight of rockets.

Given that Hamas hasn’t yet figured out how to direct the missiles, you might think the Palestinian leaders in Gaza would avoid the possibility of striking Palestinian children or Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. You would be mistaken. The Israel Defense Forces indicate that roughly a hundred Hamas rockets have already exploded in Gaza, for which casualties Hamas conveniently blames Israel. Moreover, the ongoing belligerence is preventing Israel from delivering humanitarian aid to the strip. There is also, of course, the matter of Hamas hiding behind the civilians they claim to protect. It’s almost like they’re ideological fanatics or something.

It would seem a question-begging exercise to argue over the origins of the chicken-and-egg cycle of violence at this point, so it might be more useful to focus on more pragmatic concerns. Shockingly (to nobody), Hamas instantiates its violence through the largesse of Iran. Put another way, a government that dreams of wiping Israel from the map is arming a terrorist regime that denies the Israeli right to exist. It would be arguably suicidal for the only stably liberal democracy in the Middle East to appease a genocidal neighbor seeking freedom to arm, especially at a time when Iran aggressively pursues nuclear power and Islamists have replaced erstwhile partners in Egypt and Turkey.

The majority of Americans believe, as President Obama argued, that Israel is in the right to defend herself against the rain (and reign) of terror. It should perhaps be expected that most civilized people would agree that perennial rocket-fire makes for rather unsavory ambient conditions. As it happens, however, the numbers tell another interesting story: conservatives, moderates, Republicans, and Independents overwhelmingly support Israel’s measures of self-defense. Among liberals and Democrats, however, the yes-no split on whether military action is justified falls within the margin of error.

The finding is consistent with posts from my left-of-center Facebook feed (four years at Yale will have that effect, and I should add that some who disagree with me have already accused me of calling them anti-Semites). Opinions range from deranged dismissal of rigorous self-defense to predictably tendentious “fact checks” in favor of a terrorist organization to more well-intentioned if impractical paeans for “proportionality”. To the first two sentiments, I have neither interest nor patience. To the last, it is worth remembering that war is not an old gentleman’s game but an elemental struggle between peoples:

“Certainly if some kind of terrorist organization were to set up missile factories across the frontier in Canada and Mexico and start attacking targets in the United States, the American people would demand that their President use all necessary force without stint or limit until the resistance had been completely, utterly and pitilessly crushed. Those Americans who share this view of war might feel sorrow at the loss of innocent life, of the children and non-combatants killed when overwhelming American power was used to take the terrorists out, but they would feel no moral guilt. The guilt would be on the shoulders of those who started the whole thing by launching the missiles.”

At the crux of it, calls for Israeli proportionality privilege a willingness to succumb to slow but constant bleeding over attempts, however imperfectly aggressive, to heal the wound. This is not to say Israel has committed no atrocities or is otherwise free of blame. Such a situation is rarely the case for any side in any hostility. As a certain American general once famously observed and argued, “War is hell.” But there are worse hells than a flawed defense of the liberal democratic union of liberty and security.

Pacifism—the “principled” refusal to prosecute a worthwhile cause—is a beast from the pit, and its advocacy is a false prophecy inscribed with malice or idle nihilism in the blood of innocents seen and unseen. In the first place, it reifies concepts like “justice”, “freedom”, and “peace”, while denuding the moral universe of the resources to maintain such lofty ideals. In the second place, appeasement—or idly negligent “humanitarianism”—is the apotheosis of the Last Man, breeding contempt for the resolve to reckon with a dark and vicious world that will never care either for intentions or proportions.

This is not a game. A constitutional republic of the Free World is at war with a terrorist regime abetted by a den of Islamists on the one hand and clerical autocrats on the other. Every drop of blood spilt in eliminating senseless violence is upon the hands from which that evil came.

My sympathy is with the Palestinians. I hope their leaders will think of them, too.


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The Requiem of Change

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

“Voting is the best revenge” –Barack Obama

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

I was a Democrat once. At various stages of my intellectual development, I even thought I was a liberal. I was never particularly good at it, being liberal, so it required some impressive feats of ideological gymnastics. But my stubbornly innate conservatism wouldn’t allow me to shy away from a project simply because it required hard work. That should have been the first sign.

As an Army brat, I grew up with tales of bureaucratic hells and special interests entrenched beyond merit or conviction like inoperable cancer. I ruefully loved and understood that bumper sticker in my high school parking lot that read, “Government Philosophy: If it ain’t broke, fix it til it is!” I don’t recall my first encounter with the phrase “mugged by reality”, but I knew viscerally what it meant that first week at Yale when the Party of the Left promoted a debate on whether the United States should submit to the United Nations.

I had heard tell of such extreme leftism before, and I even had a few left-of-Lenin friends in my youth. They were neither representative of the world I knew nor taken particularly seriously on politics, but every community has its diversity of thought. However, between you and me, I had always thought the kind of effete, cerebral, and utopian liberalism of the Northeast was a partisan invention of Fox News. Surely, there were no worlds where such thinking was normal, let alone encouraged with extreme prejudice by serious people.

But lo and behold, Fox News had undersold the enormity of a liberalism perennially agitated by fashionable outrage—always in the politically correct argot of the tolerant classes—that comes light on solutions and heavy on unintended consequences. It opposes welfare reform for “punishing the poor”, clings to tax increases with false regard for economy, finds moral integrity in pacifism and appeasement, and is more allergic to gun rights than to preventing crime. Moreover, for the sectarians of progressivism, there seemed to be an answer for everything in government—but only with the kind of administration acceptable in Upper Manhattan coffee shops. God forbid our leaders appeal more to the kind of folks who can change a tire, have a driver’s license, or would recognize a military ID.

Still, I remember what it was like to think the world might finally change for the better after the era of George W. Bush. After all, the 43rd President of the United States came to represent everything I hated in government—fiscal irresponsibility, dishonest administration, mishandling of war, disregard for civil liberties, excessive meddling into local affairs, Katrina, spiraling debt, economic collapse—and he seemed to embody an anti-intellectual ethos that I went to Yale to escape. Not to mention how he wounded my great pride in Southern values and leadership like no commander-in-chief since Jimmy Carter.

Barack Obama was supposed to change all of this, putting the country on the path to healing and recovery and bidding the oceans to recede. I’ll admit I was highly skeptical of him from the beginning—a reticence apparently shared by the oceans—but so many of my friends, Democrat and Republican, were excited about him, that I couldn’t help but want to believe. It is such a glorious experience to be a cynical realist proven wrong.

That didn’t happen with President Obama.

The president and his allies promised a deficit halved, substantially lower unemployment, and $2500 in family savings on healthcare premiums. Instead, the deficit has skyrocketed, unemployment remains higher than when Obama took office, and the healthcare reform bill that so gluttonously ravished our political resources has seen costs rise by $3000 for American families. Adding insult to injury, the Left is still scratching at the phantom limb of W nearly half a decade after winning unprecedented majorities in Congress and cavalierly dismissing the opposition. Whereas the Dream began with soaring rhetoric and nigh messianic purpose, Hope and Change™ has collapsed into the churlish indignation of entitled mediocrity, like an apologist for “social promotion” railing against illiteracy.

Behold the legacy of the welfare state and its Pyrrhic war on want at the small cost of a civilization of prosperity. Gone are the grand visions and celebration of success and possibility; we have traded them for the petty gripes and anodyne lies of a perpetual challenger whose only answer—beyond, Save the Muppets!—is Forward! with more time, taxes, and spending, with occasional race-baiting for good measure. Just as “Romnesia” is but the howling projection of a left-wing conscience unhinged by so many promises broken—drones, Gitmo, civil liberties, better lives for black people—so is the liberalism of Barack Obama a god drowned by the volume of its own entitlement.

Our economy is not dead yet, but it will take a steady hand with the right perspective to right this ship of state. Barack Obama is not that man. I wish liberalism had succeeded and that we all were reaping the wondrous benefits of a healthy economy and solvent entitlement apparatus. I would happily vote to reelect the president under such circumstances. But that is not reality. Mitt Romney is not perfect, for either the Right or the Left, on all kinds of issues. But the mantel of Change We Can Believe In has fallen, and he is the only man there to pick it up.

Living well is the best revenge against heartache and betrayal. Voting right is the best revenge against failure and disappointment. I believe in America. We have always been the ones we have been waiting for, and it’s time to move forward.

Onward to tomorrow.


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The Inheritance

“It has always been my belief that people who spend too much time with my work end up as lost souls, drained of reason, who lead lives of raving emptiness and occasional lunatic violence.  What a relief it is to see this documented.” – Liberalism Lemony Snicket

Turns out the gates of civilization are more fragile than we thought.

When I was growing up, Mom encouraged me to read a lot. She brought home encyclopedias, dictionaries, Bibles, and thesauruses so I could learn facts about the world. She took my siblings and me to local libraries on weekends in the summer, so we could exercise our minds during the dog days of bare feet, sweet tea, mosquitos, and moon pies. Dad kept saying, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it”, and “A mind is terrible thing to waste.” I certainly didn’t want to lose my mind.

When I think about my success in school and getting into Yale, I think first and foremost of my parents encouraging me to read. I think of books and all they taught me. For inasmuch as learning is sacred, books are acolytes of the divine. The idea of hurting them is somehow…sinful. They are, after all, a singular inheritance. If all society were lost tomorrow, and we had to start from scratch, we would rediscover writing, electricity, industry, astronomy, and all the gifts of science and math. But the lessons of our books would have gone the way of the nephilim and Atlantis. All those windows into vast tapestries of imagining and experience would never be more than half-remembered dreams from too many lifetimes ago.

So imagine my horror at discovering that some postmodern industrialist smilingly murdered a series of books to decorate storage space. The barbarians are inside the gates, indeed. I always imagined there was an abyss at the heart of civilization, the analog of the supermassive black holes within all the galaxies in heaven. I never thought I would catch of glimpse of what it might be like to see that void, that negation of all sapience—that ultimate nihilism. It’s enough to make you wonder—or cry or plea—is anything sacred?

One of the things that struck me in places like Yale—where a certain kind of liberalism is the smog you have to breathe—was how often the answer to that question seemed to be: “What does that even mean?”

Dear Reader, I cannot tell you what that means. If you have never felt anything like transcendence, purpose, or calling to rise above yourself, I cannot talk to you of Honor. If you have never believed anything worth fighting or dying for, even when the stakes seem impossibly trivial and the potential reward more spiritual than effable, I cannot speak to you of Sacred. If you have never met something so beautiful that the experience of it could only be a testament to Truth, I cannot convey to you Beauty. And if you have never fallen in love across a bridge of pulp and ink, I cannot explain to you why a book is more precious than a mockingbird.

I can’t make you care about or understand anything. I can only show you the little pieces of the world that I see. And through words across the cloud, you’ll learn something true or not. If you believe that something substantial would be lost forever if every book were ruined, then we are at least as far as the foothills of tradition, with its many idiosyncrasies.

If you cannot fathom freedom without this precious inheritance, then you have another portrait of why I am a conservative.


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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.