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If Not on the Ballot, Where?

Jim Vincent, of the Providence NAACP, quotes the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity in a recent Providence Journal op-ed.  (Naturally, he fails to name his source, because progressive activists aren’t about public debate, they’re about confusing public debate for political reasons.)

Supporters have also suggested that a Constitutional Convention would be a good opportunity to “resolve some thorny cultural issues — one way or another.” Cultural issues have no place on the ballot.

He’s referring to a line, way toward the end of this analysis from the Center, in a section about ways in which Rhode Islanders might use a constitutional convention to “take issues off the table” of the General Assembly, where they come up regularly to distract the public and distort the legislative process.  Most of the points have to do with the operation of government, but here’s the final bullet point:

Resolve some thorny cultural issues — one way or another — though the mechanism that most clearly represents the will of the people

Look, cultural issues have to be resolved.  When the government begins dabbling in them (which it inevitably will do if we let it become as large and invasive as it has become), lines must be drawn by somebody concerning the appropriate scope and, if government is going to take a side, which side it will take.  To people with Vincent’s political philosophy, it’s not a question of whether cultural issues should be resolved within government, but how government should assert authority and make decisions.

In March, Vincent told Bob Plain, of RI Future, that “he will lobby legislative leaders this session to pass a bill that would tax and regulate rather than criminalize pot.”

In other words, the “thorny cultural issues” — which are at the core of defining our society and directing its course for generations — ”have no place on the ballot” because he wants them decided in back rooms by insiders and special interests.  He doesn’t trust the people — black, white, male, female, gay, straight, liberal, conservative — to come to the right decisions, so it’s imperative that their betters — the elite power brokers who’ve manipulated their way into positions of influence — control the system to tell the people what to do and who to be.

“I Am the Conservative; I Speak for the People”

The cartoon version of The Lorax takes Seussian propaganda to the next level, most objectionably by vilifying poor and working class people who become upwardly mobile through enterprise.

The Cultural Disconnect on Abortion

Gina Raimondo’s pro-abortion radicalism and District Court Judge Ronald Lagueux’s ruling making partial-birth abortion legal suggest a disconnect between the general public and the ruling elite.

Yet Another Difficulty of Writing

An article about writers’ Curse of Knowledge lays out a challenge of which we ought to be aware, especially those of us who write and read about politics and social matters.

What They Do, Not What They Say

I’ve long argued that the liberal elites of today would have been the reactionaries seeking to perpetuate social structures that helped them keep their place in prior eras.  Views on particular issues are highly related to a person’s immediate context.  In contrast, the prioritization of self-interest and the degree of concern about and respect for others seems like it speaks more to the essence of a person.

So, it isn’t surprising to come across an post like one in The American Interest titled “Puritanical Elites Limit Their Kids’ Use of Tech They Create“:

These parents are, of course, more successful in protecting their children from the harmful side-effects of technology overuse than lower class parents working two jobs are. This is a classically American phenomenon in some ways: We don’t really hide the important stuff, we just don’t make it easy to find. In this way, the successful upper middle class just quietly teaches their kids not to listen to all the hedonistic crap pumped out into the culture. Ross Douthat has chronicled this phenomenon well: the well-off preach social libertinism but are conservative in their private lives. Whether they are exporters of technology or ideology, the elites are able to profit by encouraging one set of behaviors while they teach their children another.

The elite — or, if you prefer, the people who have benefited from advantages in life — should help the disadvantaged to improve their own lots.  That doesn’t mean passing laws to forbid things that the upper-crust types don’t like.  It does mean encouraging behavior that they know to be beneficial.  It also means making sure that public policy doesn’t favor self-destructive behaviors over healthy ones (welfare and marriage being two examples).

In the not-too-distant past, the more-primitive state of transportation, among other technologies, helped minimize this effect.  The upper crust still lived within walking distance from everybody else; they attended the same churches; they shopped at many of the same stores for necessities.

It’s definitely one of the great unsolved (because ignored) puzzles of recent history how a society can benefit from the mobility and cornucopia of choices that technology and prosperity have produced while maintaining a sense of community that encourages healthy behavior.  A good start would be to discard the harmful ethos that conflates permissiveness with compassion and a lack of guidance with freedom.

What Came First, the Apathy or the Corruption?

Which is the dominant characteristic of the Rhode Island electorate: apathy or corruption?

As I’ve pondered Urbanophile Aaron Renn’s suggestion that the Ocean State’s problem is that its people are corrupted, this shade of a difference has calcified as my main agreement.  Writes Renn:

The fact that Cianci is considered a viable candidate for mayor despite being notoriously corrupt shows something that tends to happen in communities where corruption is the norm. Namely that the people themselves become corrupted in the process.

I’d argue the specific point.  It hasn’t seemed to me that Rhode Islanders are eager to support somebody who’s “notoriously corrupt,” but rather that we’re so discouraged by the available alternatives that corruption is reduced to just one variable to consider, not a disqualifier.  What’s worse: corruption, complete managerial inexperience, or ideological naiveté?  When one ideal goes up against another, the balance ceases to be a matter of principle, but a practical question.

Buddy Cianci has proven content with personal excesses; is that really worse than a leader who’ll leave the city in ruins and/or one who’ll seek to transform our representative democracy into a socialistic patronage scheme?  (N.B. — The three categories/possibilities aren’t intended to align with particular candidates in this race, but to be general characterizations of the Rhode Island political scene.)

Of course, we can’t argue that some of the electorate is corrupted in Rhode Island, but is it so many as to characterize the whole?  Or is it more the case that a characteristic apathy allows the corrupt to define Rhode Island politics and governance?  On first expression, it might not seem to make all that much of a difference.

But it makes a world of difference for the solution and the ability to hope.

If Rhode Islanders are corrupted, then the only chance for the state is if it exports the corrupt and imports people who’ll go about insisting on clean, straightforward government.  The people who hold the levers of power in the state aren’t about to let that happen.  In fact, stopping such trends may be the reason (or a reason) that we hear so much talk about the importance of jobs and investment in our state, but so little willingness to take anything but fully controlled half steps.

On the other hand, if the apathetic and ignorant are still the majority, then they can be awoken and educated.  It’s still a long shot, but it’s possible.

Fung’s Pro-Life Endorsement

Being a conservative or traditionalist in New England means being attacked for zealotry if you’re uncompromising and attacked for hypocrisy (or something) when you think strategically.  Such is the case with GoLocalProv’s page-leading primary-day swipe at Rhode Island Right to Life.  (If nothing else, the article illustrates why campaign finance laws should make no distinction between official media and mere pamphleteers when it comes to unconstitutional restrictions of free speech during election time.)

Critics are questioning why a Rhode Island pro-life group is endorsing candidates who a pro-choice — including Republican gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung.

Fung, who has been on the record saying he is an abortion-rights advocate, was endorsed by the group Rhode Island Right to Life, who also endorsed 13 other candidates for statewide and General Assembly seats

The evidence of Fung as an “advocate” is apparently his statement that he’s pro-choice during a recent debate.  Right to Life’s explanation for its endorsement suggests the term might be a bit strong when applied to Fung:

The mailer, which calls Fung the “Pro-Life Choice,” says that Fung “opposes using your taxpayer dollars to pay for abortion-on-demand, opposes late-term abortion, and supports our efforts to make pro-life options available through HealthSource RI.”

I have no insights into the endorsement or Fung’s positions beyond what’s reported, but having gone through the exercise of endorsing candidates in the past, I know it can be a difficult call. In this case, I wouldn’t even call it difficult.

Imagine you’re involved with a single-issue group, and you’re faced with a field of six candidates.  One of them supports every near-term, plausible legislative goal that you have but says that he would be on the other side if your state somehow became the unlikely battleground of a rebellion against an opposing and activist federal government.  All of the other candidates would range from passive support of your opposition in every particular to active advocacy of the opposition’s most extreme positions.

Should it be a scandal if you endorse the first candidate?

Immature Radicalism Versus Society’s Coming to Fruition

Lamenting a loss of decency points toward (perhaps) the fundamental error that modern society has made over the last century or more.

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 42 (Providence Mayoral Primary and Church/State)

Justin and Bob Plain argue over the Democrat primary for Providence mayor and its implications for the separation of church and state.

Why Politics Matter (Mostly from the Left)

It’s fascinating to observe why people on the Left think “politics matter,” because it illustrates how their rhetoric is completely opposite of their end results.

Elorza: Your Rights End at My Understanding of Reality

Mayoral Candidate and former Rhode Island judge Jorge Elorza illustrates the progressive faith (and its weakness) in his argument that public schools can and should teach the non-existence of God.

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 40 (Public Funding of Art)

Justin and Bob Plain discuss the morality and economics of funding art through the government.

Don’t Abort a Constitutional Convention Over Scare Tactics

Government insiders want to do to the constitutional convention what they do to any opposition that comes their way — kill it before it can be born.

Making a Stand Far from the Cliff

Why stand our ground in Rhode Island? Because somewhere in the world, the easier decision is to throw your children to their merciful death.

Americans in Different Worlds

Peggy Noonan gets it right with the general sentiment of her latest column:

My fear is that the issues mount, increase and are experienced as a daily harassment by more and more people who, public education being the spotty thing it’s been, are less held together than in the past by a unified patriotic theory of America, and consequently less keen on—and protective of—our political traditions. And things begin to fray very badly, even, down the road, to breaking points.

I think she misidentifies the cause, though, or at least stops too short, with the effect amounting to the same thing:

… I had always assumed that America was uniquely able to tolerate division. Shared patriotic feeling and respect for our political traditions left us, as a nation, with a lot of give. We could tug this way or that, correct and overcorrect, and do fine.

My concern the past few decades has been that we’ve lost or are losing some of that give, that divisions are sharper and deeper now in part because many of the issues that separate us are so piercing and personal. Vietnam and Watergate were outer issues. Many questions now speak of our essence as human beings.

The implication is that the slot machine of socio-politics has spun and given us a challenging collection of issues.  To the contrary, the underlying problem is one that virtually ensures that such issues will come to the fore:  Government’s growth and centralization is what’s made “our essence as human beings” a matter that must be settled at the federal level.

Our “tug” as a nation was allowed by the fact that knotty questions weren’t considered the purview of government, and to the extent that they were, we pushed them down locally.  Over the past century-plus, progressives and other statists have been erasing that critical feature of our civic system.

One thing on which I think Noonan’s absolutely correct is this, which might be the defining hubris of our era:

… people grow up in a certain environment and tend to think that environment, and its assumptions, are continuing and will always continue.

This applies not just to the ability of America’s “financial strength” to “absorb any blow,” but to culture, too.  People assume the principles supporting and reinforced by marriage will simply remain in place if we change the nature of the institution.  People assume entrepreneurs will simply continue to work and produce no matter how much disincentive we layer on top of them, as if the fancy name indicates a genetic driver.

In a nutshell, our social system used to leave space for people to accommodate their own beliefs about life and reality.  In the name of equality, we’ve moved to implement one worldview as truth, and calling it “objective,” we treat it as natural to impose it on everybody else.

Wait, what? (Freedom of Religion)

Religious Americans need to start paying attention to the intolerance that’s sneaking in with the progressive ideology that now defines liberalism and is almost entirely directing the policies supported by the Democrat Party.  Consider:

A lawsuit filed by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) asserted that the Internal Revenue Service ignored complaints about churches’ violating their tax-exempt status by routinely promoting political issues, legislation and candidates from the pulpit.

The FFRF has temporarily withdrawn its suit in return for the IRS’s agreement to monitor sermons and homilies for proscribed speech that the foundation believes includes things like condemnation of gay marriage and criticism of ObamaCare for its contraceptive mandate.

In the perverted definition of “separation of church and state” currently being promoted as tolerance, churches are forbidden from trying to protect themselves from encroachment by the state, or else they’ll be discriminated against in such things as eligibility for tax exemptions, licensing (e.g., for adoption services), and awards of contracts (for such things as humanitarian activities).  On the other side, “separation” is said to allow (even to require) the government to dictate employee benefits and enforce redefined social mores for religious groups.

The saddest part is that religious people, and especially religious organizations, have brought this on themselves by going along with the ideology that insists that government’s fingers belong in everybody’s business as the ultimate supporter and hub of charitable activity.

The Resonance of Rape and Prostitution Findings

A story on an academic study finding a decrease in rape corresponding with a period of decriminalized prostitution in Rhode Island received a news report on the second page of the Providence Journal on July 15.  Folks who comb the Internet for news on a daily basis have seen the study mentioned with some frequency in the weeks since.

A critical response suggesting that the study misused data pretty dramatically has thus far been relegated to the opinion pages.

First, their claim that the sex industry didn’t start expanding until 2003 is incorrect. …

Second, Cunningham and Shah claim that the rate of reported rapes in Rhode Island decreased from 2003 until 2009. Yet statistics from the FBI Uniform Crime Report show there had already been a general decline in the rate of rape at the national level since the early 1990s, with continuing declines until 2012, the last year for which data is available.

Rhode Island’s decrease in the rate of reported rape is similar to that seen at the national level. …

Also, for an unknown reason, Rhode Island had an exceptionally high rate of reported rape for 2003 (46.9 rapes per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 36.9 in 2002 and 29.6 in 2004).

In brief, the national-news-headlining finding may have been based entirely on an arbitrarily chosen comparison year that happened to make the trend look substantial.

Unfortunately, it’s in the nature of news and cultural commentary that the response won’t get nearly the splash that the initial story received.  Consequently, thousands of people will simply file away the truism that legalized prostitution reduces rape.

Whether any of them will even try to reconcile that belief with the long-trumpeted alternate truism that rape is not about sex, but about control and violence, is impossible to know.

Rule of Law as Guarantor of Freedom

The other day, I noted Dinesh D’Souza’s suggestion that freedom is a mechanism to guarantee justice.  Admittedly, the text of the post drifted a bit from the intention for which I crafted the title.  The bottom-line point that might have gotten lost was that a free nation, in which the government’s role is constrained, limits the opportunity of the government to manipulate the public.  (It also limits the incentive, since gaining control of government doesn’t gain one as much.)  It’s furthermore incompatible with a free nation for the government to be spying on its people or for the chief executive’s campaign to be setting up secretive organizations to manipulate the electorate.

Kevin Williamson brings in a consideration that is interwoven with the topic.  Writing about the Supreme Court’s Halbig decision, “that the law says what the law says” when it comes to ObamaCare subsidies, Williamson goes on:

The Hammurabic Code, along with its presumptive predecessors, represented something radical and new in human history. With the law written down — with the law fixed — a man who had committed no transgression no longer had reason to tremble before princes and potentates. If the driver of oxen had been paid his statutory wage, if a man’s contractual obligations had been satisfied, and if his life was unsullied by violations of the law, handily carved upon slabs of igneous rock for all to see and ingest, then that man was, within the limits of his law, free. …

… We write laws down in order that citizens may know what is permissible under the generally promulgated rules of the polity. The writing down of laws was the first step on the road from subject to citizen, and to reverse that is to do violence to more than grammatical propriety …

As I noted imperfectly the other day, freedom from tyranny is a guarantor of justice, and we cannot have freedom if the tyrant is able to change the rules and laws on a whim.  If the ground might dissolve beneath you once you’ve stepped off the tyrant’s path, you aren’t actually free to step from the path.  In other words, the rule of law is a guarantor of freedom and a prerequisite if freedom is to guarantee justice.

That’s why Americans must insist on the rules, and that the language of the law means what it says.  Rhode Island is an excellent example of the insider-dominated wasteland to which a failure to do so inevitably leads, and even we in the Ocean State have much farther to fall.