Token Dissonance

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


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The Faith Americana

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

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

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

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

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

It comes down to little things, really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Twilight of Family Values

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

This congressman-elect brought you by Values Voters USA.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Ethnic Strategy, Part 1: Racism & American History

“Nixon, for political reasons, wooed the white South…but he did not…exchange civil rights for white Southern votes.” –Dean Kotlowski

Look at all those racists pandering to minorities by supporting a black man apologizing for racism! The scoundrels.

Given that we have a black president, and some of his supporters conveniently discovered that criticizing him is tantamount to racism, it’s hardly surprising that I’m responding to an article—in a mainstream publication, no less—entitled “Is the Republican Party Racist?

Why is it that the Left is so obsessed with the spectacle of Republican racism? Is it unease with a dark racial history, from the social tensions and racial violence in the North to the governmental Jim Crow activism of Progressive Democrats in the Wilson Administration? Is it the compulsion to rationalize the atrophic effects of welfare and other leftist policy on black families, or that minorities are more likely to have jobs, live in better-off neighborhoods and attend better-performing schools in the Sun Belt than the Frost Belt? Or does this obsession spring from simple, unbridled contempt for the dissidents who give the lie to the Left’s hallowed illusions? Whatever the reasons, the accusation is worth addressing head-on.

So let’s talk about history.

The tale of Republicans and Democrats swapping philosophies or constituencies immediately after the Civil Rights Movement is, to paraphrase Obi-Wan Kenobi, more mythology than fact. Ike captured four states from the former Confederacy (six, if you include bellwether Missouri and reliably conservative Oklahoma) in 1952—before Rosa Parks, Brown v. Board, or the Southern Strategy. The 1952 GOP platform for Eisenhower-Nixon included a Civil Rights plank that condemned “bigots who inject class, racial and religious prejudice into public and political matters”; opposed “discrimination against race, religion or national origin”; and supported federal “action toward the elimination of” lynching, poll taxes, and segregation in D.C. In 1953, President Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10479, creating the President’s Committee on Government Contracts, to enforce equal employment opportunity against discrimination within the federal government. He won half of Dixie in 1956.

For all the talk of Richard Nixon’s racist strategy (some of which was probably warranted), the 1968 Republican platform specifically mentions “the black community, the Mexican-American, the American Indian [who] suffer disproportionately” in inner cities (this being the era of “white flight”) and then goes on to list proposals for cleaning up those cities. (All of which may have contributed to his losing much of the then-recalcitrant Deep South to Wallace.) Granted, none of this helped him win the black or Hispanic vote in the face of the Democratic Party championing civil rights legislation (overwhelming Republican support, notwithstanding) and having put Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court. But it’s worth remembering that the only black U.S. senator at the time was a Republican.

In office, President Nixon’s conservative approach to integration brought the percentage of Southern blacks in all-black schools down from 70% to 18%, as he strengthened anti-discriminatory laws, increased funding for civil rights enforcement, and developed minority business initiatives. (I should note that some liberals are curiously inclined to see this as some sort of closet progressivism in the Nixon Administration, but that’s another discussion.) Perhaps most noticeably, Nixon enacted “the most far-reaching federal expansion of affirmative action” in 1969 and 1970. Thus he won Dixie, and most of the country, in 1972.

On the subject of racial antagonisms and regional realignments, Democrat Jimmy “the time for racial discrimination is over” Carter nearly swept the South in 1976 (he narrowly lost Virginia), while losing most of New England and the bulk of the West en route to a narrow victory overall. Likewise, Republican presidents weren’t shut out in the Northeast and California until 1992. Presumably, all those yankees weren’t just palling around with racists until Bill Clinton (and another bad economy) came along with his charming liberal drawl.

To be sure, there was plenty of active racism in the South (and elsewhere in America) in the 60s and 70s, and varying degrees of subtle racism persisted afterward. Moreover, there are racist Republicans today, some of whom get elected to public office. There are also racist Democrats today. Some of them get elected to public office. But the question here is whether racial dynamics meaningfully define Republican policy or electoral success.

As ingrained as the racial narrative may be in certain quarters, the evidence admits of greater nuance. At the risk of inviting neo-Confederate aspersions, let’s consider economics (which usually factor so strongly in liberal worldviews):

[T]he shift in the South from Democratic to Republican was overwhelmingly a question not of race but of economic growth. In the postwar era, they note, the South transformed itself from a backward region to an engine of the national economy, giving rise to a sizable new wealthy suburban class. This class, not surprisingly, began to vote for the party that best represented its economic interests: the G.O.P. Working-class whites, however — and here’s the surprise — even those in areas with large black populations, stayed loyal to the Democrats. (This was true until the 90s, when the nation as a whole turned rightward in Congressional voting. [My emphasis])

The two scholars support their claim with an extensive survey of election returns and voter surveys. To give just one example: in the 50s, among Southerners in the low-income tercile, 43 percent voted for Republican Presidential candidates, while in the high-income tercile, 53 percent voted Republican; by the 80s, those figures were 51 percent and 77 percent, respectively. Wealthy Southerners shifted rightward in droves but poorer ones didn’t.

To be sure, Shafer says, many whites in the South aggressively opposed liberal Democrats on race issues. “But when folks went to the polling booths,” he says, “they didn’t shoot off their own toes. They voted by their economic preferences, not racial preferences.”

Racists, just like everyone else, vote their interests. If Woodrow Wilson could find time in his Progressive agenda of segregating the federal government to wage a Great War, promote human rights, and launch the precursors to the U.N., then presumably more modern racists can walk and chew gum. Thus it is unsurprising that racists do not, in fact, strongly favor any one party. There may be reason to suspect negative impressions of minorities might correlate somewhat with Republican voting habits (we will ignore, for simplicity’s sake, the question of racial friction from and between minorities), but that is a far cry from demonstrating the persistence of a “Grand Racist Party” that owes its electoral success and philosophical direction to ethnic antagonisms.

What does all this mean for more recent and current politics, from welfare reform to the rise of the Tea Party to conservative opposition to President Barack Obama? We’ll get into that in Part Two. Stay tuned.

This post is part of a series on racism and identity politics in America. Find the full series hereFind The Daily Caller adaptation here.