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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.

Gender Distractions in Leadership

Per Jessica Sparks, in the Wall Street Journal, reporting on Gallup poll results, Americans believe the country would be better governed with more women in office.  The first thing to note is the distance between the poll question and the headline.  Here’s the question:

Do you think this country would be governed better or governed worse if more [women] were in political office?

And here’s the headline (with ellipses excluding other categories of answers):

Americans Think Women… Govern Better

That’s not an accurate summary of the results.  One could believe that having more women in government office at this point in history (when they are underrepresented) would take advantage of the sexes’ complementary qualities and bring broader perspective to government. If the dominance simply flipped from men to women, then that would decrease the advantage of diversity.

I do think, however, that a question asked the way the headline implies would still find a large number of people saying “better,” rather than “worse.”

Before the summer began, and I was doubling as daytime caretaker of our newest child, I’d sometimes watch the Fox News show Outnumbered while feeding her.  (Put it in the category of simply not having interest in seeking out some other source of background noise.)

On one episode, the four women and one man (Geraldo, I think, that day) discussed exactly this question, with unanimous belief that, yes, women would govern better if they dominated our politics.  I thought then, as I think now, that such a belief is mainly a testament to the success of cultural propaganda.  From every commercial and sitcom in which the woman is a calm, collected mastermind while the man is a bumbling doofus (especially if he’s a husband) to the monomaniacal focus of variations-of-Marx college curricula, tarring “the patriarchy” with every problem in human history (and sometimes in quantum physics, too), it’d be surprising if the poll results were any different.

The increasing tilt of the propagandists helps to explain this curve, from the Gallup poll:

The size of the gaps is telling, with dramatic drops in the “govern better” category as one’s education and cultural formation was during periods of lighter progressive hegemony.  It’s also interesting that the “govern worse” percentage doesn’t go up in kind.  The real growth is in “no difference” and/or “no opinion,” which were the other two options.  This isn’t a fading patriarchy; it’s a fading of true tolerance and rationality.

The Mission of Government Labor Unions

When Rhode Island’s government-sector labor unions — organizations that engage in politics to elect people who will negotiate employees’ contracts with kid gloves so that more taxpayer dollars can be funneled to the unions and then back into politics — came out against a constitutional convention in Rhode Island, many observers thought it might be out of concern that a surprise wave of good-government interest in the Ocean State would usher in policies that make it harder for their racket to continue.  Now, an activist group has emerged, funded almost exclusively with government-sector labor money (which is to say, with taxpayer money), and its emphasis does not fit those observers’ assumption at all:

The group has warned that such a gathering will open the door to actions that could impede women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights and rights for minorities and immigrants.

In brief: social issues, not labor issues.  The organization’s Web site lists more labor unions and also a broader array of groups, but they have a particular bent, such as the Economic Progress Institute (aka the Poverty Institute), Humanists of RI, Jobs with Justice, RI NOW, RI Pride, RI Progressive Democrats, and the Secular Coalition for Rhode Island.

It’s possible that the unions are carrying the financial weight of this organization because they don’t want a convention based on their own self interest and just feel that trumpeting the social-issues angle will stoke the public’s fears more effectively.  If that’s the case, then Rhode Islanders should question whether it’s appropriate for the labor organizations representing taxpayers’ employees to be using their money to carry far-left free riders.  Even the most strident believer in the right of workers to organize can admit that the process shouldn’t distort our system of government on so many issues that have nothing to do with contracts and working conditions.

After years of observation, however, I’d suggest that the real lesson is that labor services are just the way in which the unions raise money for themselves.  Their real mission is far-left progressive politics.  If that’s the case, union members should ask themselves whether they really to gain such tremendous benefits that it’s worth so much destruction of our rights and our society.

Profit as Theft from the Collective

Disdain for “for profit” companies is an indication that progressives believe all property actually belongs to the government, and taking extra is a type of theft.

Steve Ahlquist, the Oppressors’ Heir

In attacking Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement, Steve Ahlquist gives reason to believe he’d have been a different kind of oppressor in a different time.

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 36 (Hobby Lobby, Freedom, & Health Care)

Justin and Bob Plain discuss the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision and the underlying issues of freedom and health care.