Token Dissonance

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


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14 Words of the Marginalized and Insecure

“I know we talk a lot of sh*t on the Internet, right, but…our enemies just will not stop. What options do we have left? If somebody would like to inform me of that, then I would be grateful.” –Christopher Cantwell

We can secure valuable truths for all people from the “Unite the Right” tragedy.

By their posturing, rhetoric, and stated goals, white nationalists and the “alt-right” (but I repeat myself) seemed to think they were silent majority (or at least plurality) of the American polity—and that if they just burst into the scene without enough gumption and aplomb, they would find a powder keg of revolutionary support among the vast expanse of forgotten Americans.

But as it turns out, white nationalists in America are weak, isolated, and (appropriately enough) marginalized.

After weeks—if not months—of publicity and outreach to improve upon the anemic numbers at previous rallies, white nationalists’ 200-man fourth (at least) showing in Charlottesville, Virginia since late spring was embarrassingly paltry. (The torches and chants weren’t even original but retreads of May and July.) Moreover, it was tiny by standards on the ground—the local police feared at least six times as many attendees from at least four different organizations. But 200 is all they got. National rallies from Black Lives Matter to Occupy Wall Street to the Tea Party, to say nothing of recent political protests against the president, have attracted crowds so much larger as to seem different in kind rather than degree. Even the local counter-protesters to last month’s KKK rally managed at least a thousand.

Better yet, a middle-aged blues musician has redeemed about as many white nationalists from the KKK by himself as showed up at “Unite the Right” for a fourth try at “national” flailing in Charlottesville:

Fifty-eight-year-old [Daryl] Davis, who is black, has spent years traveling across the US and forging friendships with members of the Ku Klux Klan and similar hate groups, The Independent reports. Davis says that because of his efforts, 200 people have renounced their membership in the KKK. Some have even given Davis their ceremonial robes and hoods as a gesture to signify their departure from the group.

Davis’s is a deeply Christian example that seems unimaginably hard for many of us to emulate, especially now, but there are others. This article is a few months old now, but the inspiring success Davis has seen is timeless and timely in a way that the Gospels and 2 Corinthians would have us expect and embrace. And it is the sort of example any movement based on empathy, tolerance, equality, and justice ought to champion, as giants of old once did.

When it comes down to it, the core of the problem of those animated by hatred, ignorance, or fear of different people is a failure of empathy—and the charitable imagination that comes with it. This is their prize mistake. But it should not be ours.

White nationalists talk a tough and infamously nasty game online, but when pulled into the disinfecting rays of sunlight and public exposure, they wilt. When called out by conservative podcaster Michael J. Knowles, Charlottesville rallier James Allsup rambled nervously and incoherently about culture, biology, and not being a racist or white nationalist. Gay alt-righter Jack Donovan, of the white nationalist Wolves of Vinland, ran for the woods at the prospect of being labelled a white nationalist (or in his own words: “only inbred rednecks identify as ‘White Supremacists’”). In response to media attention for his torch-lit trip to the South, Unite the Right attendee Peter Cvjetanovic (who would not have fared well in the Third Reich) cried pitifully and quixotically, “I’m not the angry racist they see in that photo.” Antisemite Christopher “trying to make myself more capable of violence” Cantwell had a lachrymose meltdown over an alleged arrest warrant and receiving violent threats after proclaiming the murder of Heather Heyer “was worth it” and “more than justified.” (But he assures us that white nationalist demonstrators were “trying to be law-abiding,” other than the whole driving a car into a crowd of rival protesters thing.) And so on.

Meanwhile, Steve Bannon of “platform for the alt-right” fame went, Scaramucci-style, to a major progressive outlet to denounce white nationalists as “losers” and “clowns.” As if to add insult to injury, Bannon’s former media fiefdom, is openly bragging to the New York Times that the Breitbart news and editorial staff has “more racial and gender diversity than most American media outlets” (particularly the New York Times).

Regardless of what you think about any of these folks, their motives, or sincerity, their behavior in the sunlight gives away the game. White nationalists are but paper hyenas. They cackle maniacally in conspiratorial shadows but are ultimately fearful and powerless before the pride of a world that does not fear them or cotton to their views. Even their violence is cowardly and opportunistic—a far cry from the community-fueled mass terrorism of a white supremacy that would never imagine cowering before or hiding behind the law.

The Jim Crow bogeymen these minstrel showers wish to be did not fear the wrath of “niggers” or death by police. They did not burn tiki torches to shout and inveigh against people unafraid to shout and fight back; they burned crosses and tar to maim and kill with impunity. They did not weep on YouTube.

Without mincing words, the inimitable Kevin Williamson reads the human debris for what it is:

The angry white boys do not have a serious political agenda. They don’t have any straightforward demands like the Teamsters or PETA do, and they do not have a well-developed ideological position like the Communists do, though it would be inaccurate to say that they lack an ideology entirely. Their agenda is their anger, an anger that is difficult to understand. Middle-class white men in the United States of America in anno Domini 2017 have their problems, to be sure. Life is full of little disappointments. But their motive is not to be found in their exterior circumstances, which are pretty good.

Maybe too good: A great many of these young men have an interest in evolutionary psychology and evolutionary sociology — they like to think of themselves as “alpha males,” as though they were living in a chimpanzee troop — but it never occurs to them to consider their own status as rejects and failed men in that context. Online fantasy lives notwithstanding, random girls do not want to have sex with them. How do we know this? Because they are carrying tiki torches in a giant dork parade in Charlottesville. There’s no prom queen waiting at home. If we credit their own sociobiological model, they are the superfluous males who would have been discarded, along with their genetic material, by the pitiless state of nature. The fantasy of proving that they are something else is why they dream of violence and confrontation. They are the products of the soft liberal-democratic society they hold in contempt — and upon which they depend, utterly. James Alex Fields Jr. is angry at the world, and angry at his mother, probably for the same reason.

What does an angry white boy want? The fact that they get together to play dress-up — to engage in a large and sometimes murderous game of cowboys and Indians — may give us our answer. They want to be someone other than who they are. That’s the great irony of identity politics: They seek identity in the tribe because they are failed individuals. They are a chain composed exclusively of weak links. What they are engaged in isn’t politics, but theater: play-acting in the hopes of achieving catharsis. Their online personas — knights, Vikings, reincarnations of Charles Martel — will be familiar enough to anybody with a Dungeons and Dragons nerd in his life. But sometimes, role-playing around a card table isn’t enough: Sometimes, you need a stage and an audience. In the theater, actors and audience both can forget ourselves for an hour or two. Under the soft glow of the tiki torches, these angry white boys can be something else — for a night.

In the morning, they wake up with the same faces.

Today’s white nationalists vow to Jews and nonwhites alike, “You will not replace us.” But there’s nothing to replace. Their impotent rage can’t “defend” anyone or change anything substantial. Their raging impotence is not anywhere winning anything but attention they hardly deserve. Neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, the KKK and their fellow travelers are together a grotesque pastiche of pages turned long ago, as powerless to turn back time as we are to unbuild the pains of history. And their enemies, good and mildly-less-evil, are powerful, passionate, and omnipresent.

Like cultists of a drowned Westerosi god, white nationalists can only pirate the trappings of substance they cannot grow. And like a wayward squid who stole into Winterfell, they don’t know what to do with glaring spotlight once they have it—other than playact at cultural or political dominance that is not forthcoming, whatever clicks and clacks on Twitter. Where they are violent, they must be stopped. Where they are fearful and embarrassed, they should be coaxed back into reason. Where they are ignorant and spiteful, they can be left quietly in their own corners like so many broken souls of our society’s many ills.

The quicker we as a nation stop fueling their unquenchable thirst for the validation of public attention and reaction, the quicker they’ll lose what little purchase they are imagined to have and collapse back into shadows and dust.

If a white supremacist cries on the Internet, the sound we’re forgetting is indifference.

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A (Borrowed) Time to Build

“Because every time you see them happy you remember how sad they’re going to be. And it breaks your heart. Because what’s the point in them being happy now if they’re going to be sad later. The answer is, of course, because they are going to be sad later.” –The Eleventh Doctor

"Don't you know? The sun's setting fast!"

“Don’t you know? The sun’s setting fast!”

I was happy on Election Day. I’ve been positively elated all week, in fact, as it’s been a good time to be a Florida Republican. After all, the Gators devoured the playoff hopes of Georgia in a cathartically stunning upset on Saturday, and then our governor rallied to defeat Alcibiades Charlie Crist in a race that many suggested was lost. As a Republican in general, our candidates won the “War on Women” from Texas to Colorado, and we’ve grown and diversified our bench so enormously in the blue and purple states as to allow, as several have put it, for the GOP to essentially be America’s governing party (in the literal sense that Republicans will be doing most of the governing).

But amid all the anguish and mythomane ire arising from the emaciated dreaming of the other side, a progressive friend demanded perspective via a Yahoo article posted on Facebook. To be sure, the author’s liberal 2016 analysis is rather bullish on Democratic chances; it’s not particularly likely, for example, that a depleted Florida Democratic bench will knock off a popular GOP incumbent in a state Obama barely won. And his point about minorities skipping the midterm is belied by the evidence that 2014 featured the second-most diverse electorate in American history (ahead of 2008), and Republicans from Virginia to Nevada simply did better among various segments of minority voters.

Still, the author’s basic point, that Republicans will face daunting odds in 2016, is well taken. Indeed, I have been talking about that very concern with my tea-partying boyfriend and our conservative cohorts since Heidi Heitkamp kept the Big Sky blue in 2012. It was a reason why it was so essential for Republicans to run up the Senate score this cycle, so as to allow for as much cushion as possible ahead of the next one. (For this reason, the collapse of Terri Lynn Land in Michigan and ultimate failure of Scott Brown and Ed Gillespie to add a 55th seat makes already for bitter reflection.) Yet, oddly enough, acknowledging and contemplating the presidential-year challenges in the offing can and should afford us a curious sense of peace.

We are living on borrowed time. Every Christian—and probably many a Jew or Muslim—hears permutations of this truth from the pulpit with urgent frequency. Such grounding Solomonic perspective—that none of this will last—is an essential understanding for seeking proper order in life, and it is likewise vital a perspective for seeking proper order in politics. As former Indiana congressman and current Club for Growth president Chris Chocola noted, Democrats have poignantly demonstrated a capacity for this perspective. They made the conscientious decision that healthcare reform, among other things, was worth sacrificing their majority to the cleansing tsunami of public indignation, and we are all suffering the consequences of that fanatical conviction today.

If there is anything Republicans should learn from progressives like Nancy Pelosi (and there isn’t much), it’s that at some point you have to stop running for the next election and resolve to actually enact an agenda. Obviously, the Democratic Party will retain the White House through the duration of this Congress, and the number of moderate Democrats who can be relied upon to seek compromise has taken a hit. But for the governing party, those ought to be challenges to be met, not excuses to be doled out ahead of a perpetual chase for the next election.

That 2016 is a probable no-win game for Republican candidates is all the more reason to change the game. Conservatives have two years to develop and refine a robust governing agenda that we can take to voters for consideration. We have promising goals we can seek with President Obama on broad-based, revenue-neutral tax reform, trade negotiations, and mitigating the worst excesses of Obamacare. We also have places where Democrats will refuse to support better policy proposals that might enrage the far Left; some will be useful to enact in the many states we control, ahead of a national referendum on our functional ideas.

Over at National Review, Yuval Levin puts it this way:

“To do that well, Republicans will need to understand and to describe their efforts in these terms—to be clear that they are working to set the right agenda rather than that they are trying either to ‘prove they can govern’ from Congress alone or to ‘sketch clear contrasts’ with a president who will never be on the ballot again. Understanding their role as putting forward an agenda and pursuing it would help Republicans do both of those things while helping them avoid unrealistic expectations about either.

The key difference between the divided congress we have had and the divided government we will now have is that Republicans can now set the agenda, require Democrats to vote on the best of their ideas, and see which of them Democrats might agree with enough (or find painful enough to oppose) to actually bring them to fruition. That doesn’t mean that lots of Republican ideas get enacted, or even reach the president. The filibuster will prevent that. It means, rather, that those ideas get killed in Senate votes instead of getting killed by the Senate’s unwillingness to vote. And that’s a significant difference, because it puts both Republicans and (for the first time) Democrats on the record in a meaningful way.”

Ed Gillespie took this mindset to heart when he combined aggressive organizing and campaign discipline with the critical decision to present voters an intelligible vision of better leadership. Facing a daunting challenge that many in his own party (me included, though I did make sure to vote for him) considered essentially stillborn, the Virginia Republican was one of the few candidates on either side to present a detailed healthcare proposal that would offer better outcomes than Obamacare, along with a five-point economic plan for growth. For all this, the grossly underfunded challenger came within a point of slaying a Goliath in a race he was supposed to lose by a double-digit margin.

Whether or not we’re able to hold the Senate in 2016, our focus should be highlighting, selling, and, achieving the conservative victories that we can while we can. The conservative movement has no use for majorities that exist in perpetual obeisance to the continual, pusillanimous pursuit of electoral power for its own sake. Even if we do everything right, we might well encounter a measure of defeat in two years, because the map is simply not in our favor. But rather than fretting over what we cannot change, we should thoroughly embrace the challenge before us for the opportunity that it is. It is with such a spirit that conservative leaders like Scott Walker, Rick Scott, and Rick Snyder fought the odds for worthwhile reforms that would endure even if their tenures in office were cut short. That such leaders survived to fight another day should not undercut the key lesson of their examples—fight for conservative governance, and leave something valuable that will politically outlive you.

For the next two years, we can either play to win big or fade into the reclining opposition-party battles of the Obama years. I, for one, am happy now because we may again know frustration, disappointment and presidential petulance later. But if this cycle has shown us anything, it’s that nothing is inevitable or settled until all the votes are cast.


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Reflections on a Tempest in Arlington

“A man will be as a hiding place from the wind, and a cover from the tempest,
 as rivers of water in a dry place,
 as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. The eyes of those who see will not be dim, and the ears of those who hear will listen. Also the heart of the rash will understand knowledge… The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever. My people will dwell in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places,though hail comes down on the forest…” –Psalm 32: 2-4, 17-19

“Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.”

“Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.”

I remember, distantly, that time the Army picked my family up and moved us across the Atlantic to a land the natives still call, “Father.” The oceanic climate deep in the continent was much too cool for my liking, and the winter days far too short. The coldest nights were little eternities unto themselves, yielding all too often only to the gray coolness of monotone skies along the Neckar—skies that seemed forever pregnant, never delivering. Until they had slipped from my grasp, I hadn’t realized how much I missed the endlessly soothing cycles of thunderstorms and sunshine that marked summertime in the American Southeast. Whether among the forests of Virginia, the swamps of Georgia, or along the waters of Florida, I could sit in that solace for hours.

At another time, in another climate I hate, I heard a gentleman speak about Edmund Burke at the meeting of a debating society near the southern coast of New England. He rhapsodized about the beautiful and sublime, of flowers and storms, of men and God. I remembered then the days and nights of violent atmospheric chaos I loved so peacefully, like a lamb cuddling into the fur of a lion and feeling ineffably safe. I remember those forays, early and late, into the philosophies of transcendence and stewardship of tradition. It was a reminder that man is as much a tiller of the world as a ward of powers beyond reckoning.

It was like faith made incarnate. In the quiet of the conditioned air and with the thunder rolling outside, I could see somehow a living truth in the requiem of light and darkness at the core of the paradox by which I was soothed by the presence of nature’s destructive power. What is it to feel safe—comforted, even—by confrontation with something that you know could very well hurt you but will not?

As I sit, years later, in an eleventh-floor apartment across the river from the capital, the storm raging beyond my balcony ignores me. It quakes in a vicious symphony of light and awe and mist, and I think of that captivating thought I heard in a movie: “God is in the rain.”

I suppose God may be in all things, but if there were a particular meteorological phenomenon that touched on the awe we feel for the divine, it would be the storm. When it comes to the winds of summer: the lower the pressure, the closer to God. Somewhere at the nexus of fear, awe, and solace that comes at a window looking out into the fury of heaven is the love a child feels for his parents—and in time, perhaps, the world he inherits, with rights and duties tracing back to the Father. It is the love of that which could wring destruction but will not—the love that begets trust, and the trust that begets love—that foments a sense of place, however tempestuous, and purpose, however elusive.

It is the beginning of everything sublime in our judgment.


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The Joke of Central Virginia: What Eric Cantor could have learned from House of Cards

“So don’t you ever for a second get to thinking you’re irreplaceable.” – Beyoncé

The majority in Washington won't lead itself!

When was I supposed to think of you? This Washington majority won’t lead itself!

There is an episode in the first season of the American House of Cards (I will try to elide significant spoilers) where the show’s antihero, Democratic Congressman Frank Underwood of South Carolina, is burdened in the middle of crucial legislative negotiations—on an education bill that will boost his cache in the Democratic White House—with the oddest of interruptions.

A teenager in his district has died in a way that (notwithstanding her own irresponsibility—don’t text and drive, folks) implicates certain decisions made by the local leadership—and supported by Rep. Underwood. A certain ornery (and classless) perennial rival of Frank’s is gunning to use the incident to stir up the kind of grassroots passion that could accomplish the rare feat of unseating a member of the House Majority leadership.

When informed about the situation by his loyal aide, Doug Stamper, this key exchange occurs:

Frank: He’s after my seat again. Has he learned absolutely nothing?

Doug: It’s a full-on smear campaign, boss. He’s out to destroy you.

Frank: With this? It’s a peach, for Christ sake. Let him make a fool out of himself.

Doug: No, he will make a fool out of you. If he spins this right, gets national coverage–

Frank: National coverage? It’s a joke.

Doug: And you will be the butt of it. We can’t afford that right now, not when you’re in the spotlight with the education bill.

Frank: This thing has caused me so much damn trouble.

Doug: I know.

Frank: So who should I call: the parents?

Doug: Phone call’s not going to cut it. You need to go down there.

Frank: Can it wait until Monday?

Doug: We get on this thing right now, we can contain it. We wait until Monday, then there’s no way to know how much this is going to blow up on us.

The vital core of Doug’s argument—to which Frank ultimately succumbs—is that no matter how grand and important the backroom machinations of Washington may seem to a given politician and his elite conspirators, the foundation of the games of Congress rests on winning elections. An elected official who wishes to say in office cannot hand-waive away the “small-ball” discontent of his “two-bit” constituents. He (or she) has to be present in real-time to keep them continuously convinced that he shares their values, cares for their needs, and represents their concerns. A politician who forgets this role in the intrigues of the high politics of the Capitol is a politician on track to early retirement.

All of which brings us to the curious case of Eric Cantor, who was presumed to be the next Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Whatever might be said of his values, leadership, policy positions, ability to play well with others, or influence-peddling affinity for money-laden New York, no report of the many I read about Cantor was quite so damning as this one from Sean Trende, one of Cantor’s erstwhile constituents:

“I have yet to read anything suggesting that Cantor had a good home style.  His staff is consistently described as aloof, and his constituent service is lacking. This is consistent with my experience. Anecdotes are not data, but after passage of the Affordable Care Act, I called his office with a question about what autism therapies for my son would now be covered (I lived in Cantor’s district for six years).  I never heard back.  This surprised me, as constituent questions rarely go unanswered. I never once saw Cantor, not at county fairs, not at school board meetings, and not in the parades that would sometimes march past our house (we lived on a major thoroughfare). This isn’t to say that Cantor never did these things, only that they weren’t frequent enough to register; he wasn’t the stereotypical Southern politician whose face showed up at every event.”

I have contacted Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly, the congressman for my old high school, or his staff at different times for different reasons. I have received a prompt response every time. As a native of Florida, where I used to vote, I emailed Sen. Bill Nelson in the midst of the healthcare debate. (Full disclosure: in my college years, when I was liberal and silly, I was inclined to support the Democrats’ still-materializing healthcare reform effort. But unlike Mitt Romney, I have the decency to own up to the youthful mistake and sincerely apologize for it.) The population of Florida is more than 24 times larger than that of Cantor’s district, and Nelson was decidedly on the wrong side of a lot of voters on that issue—meaning his office was undoubtedly inundated by inquiries.  Nevertheless, I got my (somewhat less prompt) response from Nelson like I did from Connolly.

That Cantor’s office did not deign to respond to his constituent speaks volumes. Of course, a member will not cater their position on any issue to each constituent concern—nor should they be expected to—but the necessity of at least a polite, pro forma response is never so blisteringly oblivious as when erstwhile supporters begrudgingly conclude their own congressman does not regard them as worthy of even basic courtesy. That a Southern gentleman, of all congressmen, would be so rude is as inexcusable as it is terminally arrogant. (It’s also stupid, given that successful primary challenges are concentrated in the South.)

In looking at some other candidates who (often shockingly) lost winnable races, this theme of distance emerges. Republican Mike Castle barely competed in his Delaware primary, while Christine O’Donnell’s supporters played to win and did. Massachusetts Democrat Martha Coakley was uninterested in properly campaigning for the U.S. Senate; Republican Scott Brown asked a broad coalition for votes and got them. Former Sen. Dick Lugar famously did not even live in Indiana, and now he doesn’t represent Hoosier voters.

Likewise, failed presidential candidates, from Democrat Chris Dodd to Republican Michele Bachmann, have routinely fallen into expedited retirement after their constituents lost patience with the manifold downsides of their all-consuming national ambitions. In his aforementioned article in Real Clear Politics, Sean Trende notes that GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham cruised to re-nomination in deep-red South Carolina, despite the well-known hostility of the conservative base, with the help of exceptional constituent engagement.

But unlike Graham—and quite like the other electoral losers—Cantor was far too absorbed in the imagined heights of his ambition to realize that he was falling without style or a parachute.

Consider how much seething constituent anger must have slow-cooked under the aegis of Cantor’s blithe ignorance (or indifference). Consider the many reports of the outgoing Majority Leader’s disengagement from his district and increasing focus on the intrigues of the Acela Corridor’s insular game of thrones. Consider that his approval rating back home sat at just 43 percent among Republicans (within the margin of error from his 44.5 percent in the primary), disapproval of the GOP leadership was much higher, and two-thirds of all voters in the seventh district outright disapproved of the Majority Leader.

Reflect on how out of touch Cantor’s operation must have been to let his position deteriorate so far without even noticing it. Facing hardly any organized opposition, the House Majority Leader was heavily booed at his own rally when confronting a primary challenger of so little repute that even notoriously primary-challenging Tea Party organizations spent not a dime. The incumbent then went on to inspire an exceptionally large portion of his own constituents to nominate that underfunded, barely known challenger by a 10-point margin.

In the end, of course, it is difficult to isolate why exactly a given incumbent loses this or that race, especially when primary losses are so rare. Most theories are probably wrong or incomplete, but if there is a single bipartisan lesson that emerges from Leader Cantor’s catastrophic fall, it is to remember, as Frank Underwood does, the “small-ball crap” of the supposedly little people in your own backyard. After all, chances are that those “little people” will remember and someday act on that John Ruskin quote my Dad loved to invoke in my youth:

“He who can take no interest in what is small will take false interest in what is great.”


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The Silence of the Elephants

“Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further.” – Job 38:11

Is it still a majority if most folks disagree?

“I value your votes and vote your values. What more is there to say?”

Sometime last month, I was at a party full of energetic young conservatives from various parts of the country. The topic of the recent government shutdown arose. Everybody agreed that Obamacare is a nightmare and that the general public would soon come to see that liberal pipe-dream-big-government reforms are dark and full of terrors. But as the government was, at the moment, shut down, we all felt obliged to comment on that particular tactic.

In order to avoid a tedious dispute over the merits (or lack thereof) of either side—and to resist the enduring conflation of anecdotes with data—I will elide the conclusions we reached in favor of a simpler observation. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) spoke for nigh a full day to make his grand stand against the Democrats’ not-so-affordable-or-caring reform. In the process, he was joined or supported by many Republicans eager to signal their willingness to die on the hill of opposition to a bad law before God and man.

I point this out not because I mean to argue whether Cruz and his supporters accomplished anything substantial in all those 21 hours. I point it out only to compare it to Ted Cruz’s words on the Senate floor on Monday defending his opposition to a bill that would outlaw discrimination against LGBT Americans.

He said nothing.

It is remarkable to think that not even a decade ago, a bipartisan coalition opposed gay rights loudly and often in an era where prohibitions on gay unions were passed from Oregon to Virginia. Today, however, Ken Cuccinelli seems poised to lose a winnable election in a swing state with a marriage ban primarily because of his extremist reputation on “social issues” (including an inconveniently relevant attempt to eliminate LGBT employment protections at Virginia universities). And yesterday, not one of 30 Republicans who voted against cloture used floor time to speak against the Employee Non-Discrimination Act in the U.S. Senate.

Ted Cruz said nothing. Mike Lee said nothing. Marco Rubio said nothing. Jeff Sessions said nothing.

This isn’t to say that no Republicans spoke on the matter. To the contrary, Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois gave his first floor speech in the two years since his stroke to urge support for the bill. He was joined in his affirmation by other Republicans including moderate Susan Collins, staunch red-state conservative Orrin Hatch, and Tea Party favorites Kelly Ayotte and Pat Toomey (former president of the notoriously primary-challenging Club for Growth)—none of whom, for what it’s worth, have expressed support for gay marriage.

Contrast this to the House, where Speaker Boehner joined his peculiarly silent Senate colleagues by announcing his opposition to ENDA through a spokesman. While the Ohioan did not step in front of a camera to explain why the law doesn’t deserve a vote, he did take pains to lie about whether current federal law already protects an American worker from being fired for being gay, as many people think it does. (It does not.)

If one weren’t careful, one might think there was no argument to be made as to why LGBT Americans should be subject to unjust discrimination.

Of course, there are plenty of actors willing to say a great deal about why ENDA is supposedly bad law. Some are sensible. Others, less so. And I suspect at least a few Senate opponents will find their tongues, if only for a moment, before the final votes are cast. The duo from Kentucky is even offering an amendment to attach right-to-work protections to the bill. Imagine that: with the passage of a single law, American workers could be free from unjust discrimination for being who they are or for refusing union coercion. (While I do dare to dream, I won’t hold my breath on that one.) But whether or not Boehner eventually yields to a position favored by a majority of voters in every state, it is time to take stock of how the tides have broadly shifted on social politics.

If any prominent elected official is willing to make a fiery denunciation of anti-discrimination protections for our neighbors and loved ones, let them do so openly and proudly. If there are sound objections to be heard, let us hear them in both chambers, and allow the American people to reach their conclusions. Opponents of gay rights will certainly find some wizened applause in certain quarters. Those understandably leery of anti-discrimination laws more broadly will have to weigh the options and effects. But whatever happens, allies of gay Americans may at least take some solace in watching how the remnant of anti-gay politics whimpers into a resentful and weakening crouch as a new generation of conservatives moves on to modern challenges worthy of our energy and effort.

The era of anti-gay political dominance—or even parity—in the national scene is over. The silence on the floor of the ENDA opposition merely shows that, finally, everybody knows it.


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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 Future of Old Institutions

“There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people, and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help, by our own efforts, those who are unfortunate.” –Margaret Thatcher

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end…” – Semisonic on my graduating to Yale from this dear high school.

It is a fascinating experience to play the unfamiliar role of “student ambassador” to twelfth-graders in one’s former high school. Although some of those students were considering the Ivy League, none had heard of how its “need-based” financial aid policy might offer middle-class kids a better value than a state school. In fact, most were broadly unaware of basic differences between the institutions they sought to attend. It was the oddest thing, returning to a perspective where even the brightest were simultaneously unaware of the range of opportunities before them and largely oblivious to that unawareness.

Later, while wandering the distantly familiar halls, I happened across a fellow ex-cadet from our school’s popular JROTC program. Immaculately poised in his Marine Corps dress blues, Alex sat across from the cafeteria at a table decorated with promotional material. We had a good laugh for old times’ sake. He asked me about the liberals in New England, and I asked him about the Corps and his wife Amanda, who had succeeded me years ago as the notoriously ruthless executive officer of our former battalion. The soft drawl in his voice beckoned a reflexive smile, as did his unaffected style of common-sense, “real world” politics. It all reminded me how far I was from the privileged, insular urbanity of Yale.

It is incredible how things change in four years.

The dynamics Claire Vaye Watkins, now an assistant professor at Bucknell, describes in her poor, rural Nevada high school have several points in common with my majority-minority alma mater in suburban Virginia. In particular, the cozy symbiosis between M.V.H.S. and the military had no parallels among private, elite universities. Local servicemembers—like my parents—sent their children to the school; JROTC facilitated easy access to the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery and warm relationships with recruiters and military alumni. Unsurprisingly, many old classmates are in the military, where many have been married parents since before they could legally drink. (Before you gasp, my yuppie friends, this is normal where I grew up.)

Of course, myriad former classmates did go off to college. My old friends from U.S. Army bases in Germany preferred schools in whatever states they happened to graduate or somewhere they had ties. In Virginia, top-achievers went to the University of Virginia. Other promising students opted for other in-state schools, including Virginia Tech, Old Dominion, and Virginia Commonwealth. A handful departed for service academies. When it occurred to me to ask after their choices, most shrugged away the inquiry; they chased after their best interests within the realm of familiar networks.

Perhaps I am supposed to say, as Watkins suggests, that my community would be better served by more Ivy Plus attention. That may be true, and those elite institutions could certainly benefit from the infusion of more conservative, middle-class perspectives. Yet my friends seem generally to be doing well for themselves, which is more than I can say for me. So instead, I will make two observations about how the world may change—in the universities and in politics.

First: when the Supreme Court rules on marriage, it may also find race-based affirmative action unconstitutional. If so, there will be a panoply of didactic musings about post-racial mythology, insidious social trappings, blinding privilege, Asians, and so on. As a practical matter, institutions will face two options: (1) abandon diversity or (2) be more innovative in fostering it. Assuming most opt for the latter, they will have to get more creative in non-racial outreach to the underprivileged—as in, accounting for financial assets and concentrated poverty, rather than relying on income. But to get the applicants in the first place, elite universities will have to cultivate roots in places where for years the military and local schools have reaped uncontested from an enduring communal presence.

Second: Republicans for too long have been to poorer, browner, and younger Americans as Ivy League schools have been to middle-class public schools like mine: out of sight, out of mind. My being the third student in five years to matriculate from M.V.H.S. to New Haven was not enough to sustain a substantive connection between my alma maters. For that, Yale—or Harvard or MIT—would need to aggressively maintain relationships with faculty, two-way channels with administrators and parents, and a network of joint alumni who would shape the realm of possibilities for those who walk after them.

In the absence of anything resembling even an attempt at real connection with “Democratic” demographics, the GOP resembles little more than a distant collection of prejudices, most of them negative. Noises about broader inclusion are a fine start, but the game is a long one. Republicans will find limited returns in sudden “outreach” to minority neighborhoods a couple months before tough elections. A long-term investment in conversations with churches, college campuses, charitable organizations, and underprivileged career-seekers will bring conservatives into discussions where they were once despised or irrelevant. Never again should a sitting Republican congressman need to refer his unemployed kin to a functional subgroup of the Democratic caucus.

Resetting the conversation surrounding history, politics, and biases will not happen in a cycle. In the short-term, Republicans can expect rabid resistance from the Left against any attempts to expand the coalition of the Right. But poor, blue-collar, multicultural, and middle-class Americans are an abundant resource throughout this country. Any institutions that are to pass the test of time—politically, academically, or otherwise—are obliged to mine and develop that talent.