Cultural disagreements on National Review Online elevate the Duck Dynasty affair to a political battle between creative free expression and totalitarian evolution.
Glenn Reynolds puts today’s national culture-war controversy (revelations that the Duck Dynasty cast is… wait for it… Christian) in the context of a much greater scandal that isn’t being treated as such, quoting a commenter who wrote:
I suspect this is an attempt to get Obamacare off the front pages and I suspect that we are all falling for it.
Here in Rhode Island, we’ve been seeing our share of the phenomenon.
The two examples that come immediately to mind are the Union-Left attack on radio talker John DePetro and the liberal-Catholic petition for an apology from Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin, who didn’t wait as long as the mainstream hagiographers would have liked before pointing out that Nelson Mandela could use a bit of prayer for forgiveness for his support of killing unborn children.
It’s possible that it’s all a coordinated, top-down effort to create a distracting narrative. Progressives, after all, are the real practitioners of “astroturf.” It’s also possible that the reality-lite community is in a state of heightened stress owing to across-the-board failure of its preferred policies (see: Rhode Island) and is lashing around for targets, spreading distractions that make its members feel as if they’re ideologically safe, not unlike a squid squirting ink.
Either way, we’re being presented with a fantastic lesson in Progressives’ use of social issues. They aren’t really a “wedge” for the right, in the sense that substantial numbers of conservatives disagree about the fundamentals and will throw away all common ground because of them. Rather, they are uncomfortable issues, and mixed up with people’s (often inadequately reconciled) senses of morality, on the one hand, and liberty, on the other.
The goal is, therefore, not to highlight an area of disagreement, but to make people who want to avoid aggression step back a bit from those who aren’t so timid.
Conservatives’ long record of advocating the same economic problems is not an indication that they don’t know what to do about recessions, but of the underlying problem that they believe must be solved.
Nobody in Kate Nagle’s GoLocalProv article about the First Amendment makes the most important point. Like Ethics Commission rulings the First Amendment sets the limits beyond which government officials simply cannot go. It does not mean that everything they can think to do up to that point is appropriate or should be tolerated by the electorate.
That means there’s no counterbalance to this, the most interesting statement in the article:
“As a first amendment scholar, I certainly would protect anyone’s right to free speech. Our right to speak freely its what buttresses our democracy,” said Dr. Paola Prado, Assistant Professor of Communication at Roger Williams University. “On another level, the world has changed. This kind of misogyny has no place in a progressive society, and an economy where women are an integral part of making our country move forward for our joint prosperity.”
The first thing that jumps out is the word “progressive.” What’s that doing in there? Even in deep-blue Rhode Island, the progressives are a distinct bloc in the legislature, and they aren’t yet controlling. To call our entire society “progressive” is to reveal one’s self to be more of an activist and ideologue than a “scholar.” Similarly, her nuanced view of freedom of speech is not matched by a rational view of what constitutes “misogyny.”
She’s also got things backwards. I’d argue that women have always been “an integral part of making our country move forward,” but as the limits on their opportunities expand, it becomes less critical to beat down male chauvinism, not more. It becomes less about relative power and more about imprudent statements between equals.
Of course, that’s Progressivism: All things immoral by their lights should be made illegal, and conversely, anything legal must be moral. Moreover, equality is achieved by empowering favored groups at the expense of disfavored ones.
Look, I get the public debate and enjoy it. So, while I’m inclined to chortle that the RI Humanists put up a banner presenting a guy who named his colony in homage to God as if he’s the symbol of a secular state, their sign struck a fair balance between making a statement and respecting neighbors.
That fits in reasonably well with a policy that allows groups with differing religious views each to put up some sort of display illustrating what they, in particular, celebrate during this time of year. It also can be seen as serving, rather than detracting from, the message that we are alike in our dignity and good fortune for our position in the universe — whether by the graces of God or the good sense of our forebears.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), by contrast, has placed this message in the Rhode Island State House:
At this Season of the Winter Solstice,
Let Reason Prevail
There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no
heaven or hell. There is only our natural world.
Religion is but a myth & superstition that
hardens hearts & enslaves minds.
That message is different in kind, not just content. It’s an overt (indeed, hard-hearted) attack on what others believe and a short-circuit of a sense of community and spirit of public discourse.* It does, in fact, what atheists wrongly insist religious displays do, by inference. It belongs in the category of the Westboro Baptist Church.
In the spirit of the season, though, we should pray for such folks. How horrible it must be to construct one’s worldview so thoroughly in terms of negation as to form an organization that travels to other people’s communities for the purpose of insulting them.
* Note that venue is important; seasonal decorations merit a different standard than policy debates.
Tiverton has single-payer curbside garbage collection. Some of my tax-hawk friends like it because it’s a service they actually use, and (they argue) they couldn’t get as good a price as the town is able to negotiate. Me, I hate it and would gladly make other arrangements.
The smaller part of my reason is that the town has for decades failed to prepare for the filling of its dump, so it’s instituted a “pay as you throw” program that charges us $1 or $2 per garbage bag that’s collected… in addition to the taxes that were previously considered to be the whole cost of trash pickup. (That represents at least a doubling of the price, to my household.) There’s no escaping the per-bag fee, because we have to use the same bags if we bring the trash to the dump ourselves, and there’s no escaping the tax, which we would pay even if we found some way to live without generating any trash at all.
But my bigger objection is that we’ve got next to no recourse if we’re unhappy with the service. Since I’ve lived in town, I’ve had two garbage barrels destroyed, and the current one limps along with a monthly repair. Today, a barrel that I bought for our recycling is gone, and it appears very likely that it was thrown in the truck, rather than emptied into it.
What’s the recourse? Call the town? Call the contractor? Why should any of them care? The fact that people in town are effectively required to hire this particular garbage company means that the protests of a single resident amount to very little. Even if many were dissatisfied, we’d have to be so upset as to deliberately organize in order to force a change of town policy.
Can’t wait for single-payer government healthcare!
UPDATE 12/17/13 12:54 p.m.
By way of a follow-up: The head of the town department of public works responded to an email that I’d sent him last night, and he offered to replace the missing one, although the rubbish contractor said no barrels were taken. Immediately after reading his email, I was on my way to run an errand and spotted the recycle barrel a good distance down the street. How it got there I don’t know.
That reduces the immediate reason for my post, but my frustrations have been long building, and I’d still prefer not to have curbside pickup through the town.
Rep. Mike Chippendale (R, Coventry, Foster, Glocester) writes to request that I note his position on the total boycott of WPRO as identical to Allan Fung’s — namely, that he’s not going to appear on John DePetro’s morning show, but is not going to shun the other hosts. According to Chippendale, his name was on the list of politicians who’ve signed on to the whole-station boycott, but it appears to have been removed, at least on the For Our Daughters site.
Simply because of the proximity of this morning’s reading, as I skimmed the list, the names of Rep. John Edwards (D, Portsmouth, Tiverton) and Sen. Louis DiPalma (D, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton) stand out. Earlier, I noted their confidence that they can sway the legislature to eliminate the tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge, and the two issues seem to sit together uncomfortably.
Do Edwards and DiPalma mean to say that if the push to eliminate the tolls comes to a head — hits one of those points in politics at which every Rhode Islander who can be reached with a message could be critical — they’ll refuse to reach out to the audiences of Gene Valecenti, Dan Yorke, Buddy Cianci, Matt Allen, Tara Granahan, Steve Klamkin, John Loughlin, the station’s news reporters, and even Rep. Deborah Ruggerio (D, Jamestown, Middletown), who has a Sunday show called “Amazing Women”?
That says a great deal not only about the general civic blindness of Rhode Island’s governing class, but also the specific priorities of the people on that list.
Senators David Bates (R, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence) and Edward O’Neill (I, Lincoln, North Providence, North Smithfield) illustrate exactly what I was talking about, the other day:
[General Assembly spokespeople] also said that Bates and Sen. Edward O’Neill, an independent from Lincoln, contacted the state Ethics Commission prior to the event and, based on what they learned, believed they had a green light.
As I suggested, the Ethics Commission is supposed to set a line beyond which unethical behavior will not be tolerated. Instead, it’s become a referee giving a “green light” to all unethical behavior up to that line. Consider that there are no gradations; the Commission has no mechanism to label things “unethical, but not illegal,” for example. (Although, it mightn’t be a good idea to consider it qualified to do so.)
We’re to the point, I’d say, that voters should not only set their own — much higher — standards for what’s ethical for an elected official, but give additional marks against a politician who cites the Ethics Commission as justification for violating them.
Thanks to Kathy Gregg for illustrating the point I was trying to make yesterday on Twitter about how the local media is covering the unions’ push to get John DePetro off the WPRO airwaves.
In her Providence Journal article, today, she reports on the politicians who have pledged to boycott all WPRO shows until DePetro is fired, but the one she singles out for additional questioning is Cranston Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung… who was the only one (to his credit) to limit his boycott to just the host whom he finds objectionable.
That is the position that the local media finds to be in need of additional defense.
Based on commentary and private emails, yesterday, it’s clear to me that members of Rhode Island’s governing class do not understand the gravity of their positions. Their personal dislike of DePetro overwhelms their sense of responsibility to the people of Rhode Island — for many of whom WPRO is an important medium to learn the news, gain insight into government, and interact with politicians. Avoiding a single host is a comment on him and his show; boycotting an entire media outlet is a guilt-by-association effort to limit the ability of an organization to perform its function in our community, holding it hostage to political demands.
The local media should be outraged by that, and the lack of outrage raises questions about how well they fill their own roles. It shows an accedence to the principle that the news media must stay within government’s good graces.
Incidentally, Gregg notes the prominence of the AFL-CIO labor union behind the group that’s stoking this controversy, but without disclosing that she and her fellow Providence Journal reporters are members of the Providence Newspaper Guild, which falls under the umbrella of the AFL-CIO.
Looking at Objectivism in the context of God, Coleridge, and RI-STAMP.
I’m a bookish sort who’s frequently leaped and been thrown into subordinance to people who were less adept at filling in circles on test sheets, giving me a humbling appreciation for the raw difference between and parity of human skillsets. A fish salesman better knew the dignity and power of hard work; a finish carpenter better understood the value of each step in a process… to organize, to clean, to prepare.
These experiences came to mind upon reading George Will’s column, yesterday, about President Obama’s losing his progressive fantasies about government:
Obama, startled that components of government behave as interest groups, seems utterly unfamiliar with public choice theory. It demystifies and de-romanticizes politics by applying economic analysis — how incentives influence behavior … how elected officials and bureaucrats pursue personal aggrandizement as much as people do in the private sector. …
… He [still] thinks [big government] serves equality. Actually, big government inevitably drives an upward distribution of wealth to those whose wealth, confidence and sophistication enable them to manipulate government.
It’s not implausible to believe that the machinations of government are critical to society, but from the point of view of my former co-workers, the tasks involved look a lot like make-work. And yet, the government’s powers to tax and arrest tend to prioritize them, not only as people strive to build their lives, but also as an area of focus for businesses and other organizations. There’s a reason Washington is a puddle of prosperity in a nation of unemployment.
The task of making sure things are done according to rules ought to be subordinate to the task of getting them done. This is a matter not only of economic necessity, but also of human equality. Being able to manipulate politics and a bureaucracy should not be the sine qua non of individual worth.
An Anchor Rising commenter used to proclaim that collegiate right-wingers had it easy. All they had to do was mouth the right ideas, and the giant udder of the conservative cash cow would descend upon them.
The notion is laughable. Rhetoric consistent with a mainstream New England liberalism is the ticket to the front of the line around here.
Consider Felice Freyer’s column on the front page of the Sunday Rhode Island section, about an idea to pay for HealthSource RI, the state’s ObamaCare site.
Ted Almon “concedes he hasn’t done the math,” but he thinks if government claims a monopoly on medical billing, then all problems will be solved. Of course, government control would be better for this or that stakeholder, but the question is whether it’s better systemwide… for customers, taxpayers, the people who ultimately have to live with and pay for it.
You can’t ignore the cost to them. Handling some financial tasks doesn’t make it free for HealthSource to scale activities to process all healthcare transactions.
And people already have jobs in medical billing. Some work for providers; some are independent contractors. All of the medical-billing contractors I’ve met have been middle-aged women doing the work from home for supplemental income.
Are state workers likely to be more cost-effective? If the whole idea is to pay for HealthSource, they’d have to be tens of millions of dollars more cost-effective per year.
In short, the math is the idea.
But Almon is an advocate for a single-payer (i.e., totally government run) healthcare system. He says he used to prefer free-market solutions, but he “figured out that none of them would work.”
I wonder if he did the math on that. I wonder if anybody at the Providence Journal has… or even wants to find somebody who has.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if America stopped viewing everything through the lens of race? That was my primary reaction to Ed Fitzpatrick’s column, today. It thwarts any balanced understanding of what’s actually going on in the world, but explains quite a lot about the economic and civic problems that grip Rhode Island and the nation.
I’m thinking, in particular, about this paragraph:
… the main reason for the low unemployment rate [in Vermont] is “the diversity issue,” [University of Vermont economics Prof. Arthur] Woolf said. “Vermont doesn’t look like the rest of the nation or even the rest of New England” because “it’s pretty much devoid of minority populations” that have higher-than-average unemployment rates nationwide.
So if we were to switch out some portion of Vermont’s white population with an average proportion of blacks and Hispanics, its unemployment rate would go up?
Consider this map of Vermont’s population density. Most of the state has fewer than 40 people per square mile. Its average is 68. Fitzpatrick makes much of the contrast between more-socialist Vermont and low-tax New Hampshire, but New Hampshire’s population is more than twice as large in about the same area, with 147 people per square mile. Roughly speaking, New Hampshire’s economy, with almost the same percentage of farm employment and college education, keeps twice as many people working… with a 21% higher median income.
Rhode Island, by the way, has 1,018 people per square mile. That might, maybe, perhaps, be a more significant “demographic” consideration than the color of their skin.
As to the political theory, just like an absolute monarch meant something different in an era of slow communication, socialism means something different when everybody’s spread out. More than half of Vermonters, for example, supply their own drinking water.
Favoring centralized government is quite a different thing when government doesn’t — can’t — control very much.
In voting for the March 11 resolution to remove firearms permitting authority from the town of Exeter, the Town Council majority chose the path that comes all too easily to Rhode Island officials: passing serious decisions to someone else. But just because many Rhode Island politicians accept this as normal doesn’t mean the citizens of Exeter have to — and it is healthy that they haven’t.
A central concept in need of exploration within Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium is that of autonomy, and the responsibilities that it imposes and allows on all people, regardless of position.
Capitalism (aka “the market”) is not adequate for setting a society’s rules and direction, but neither is government, which is why the American Founders sought to make broad use of government for that purpose illegal.
Justin and Bob discuss taxes and wealth on NBC 10 Wingmen, with some afterthoughts from Justin.
The Providence Journal article on RIPEC’s annual business-climate event focuses almost entirely on the presentation of “urban analyst” Aaron Renn, who had this frustrating, unnecessary, and probably counterproductive advice:
New businesses, he advised, generally don’t spring up from nowhere, but instead come from what’s already here. …
“I think the challenge for us is to create plans that are culturally resonant with the state,” Renn said. “I do think there’s an element of advancing the culture, evolving the culture, but the reality is: Cultural change is so difficult. We have to work with the culture and place, and I say the ‘deep history’ because the founding ethos of a place stamps the culture permanently.”
That first line is worth a chuckle, because I agree with it completely. Only, I don’t think it’s within the competency or, frankly, the moral role of a bunch of ruling-class manipulators to leverage the regulatory, tax, and police powers of the government in order to go about “evolving the culture” of the people to conform with their idea of “best practices.”
We do not need “to create plans that are culturally resonant with the state”; we need to get government out of the way to allow the people to make their own plans. Only the population, which has absorbed the state’s culture and which defines where it is right now, has the competence and the right to determine what economic investments and activities accord with the interests, dreams, and advantages of our communities.
The government shouldn’t be in the business of “graft[ing] on stuff from outside,” as Renn says. Rather, new ideas and inputs must be invited in by the people or generated internally through the freedom of Rhode Islanders to determine what would work best for them.
Call it an uber-example of regulation, or an example of uber-regulation, or just the regulation of Uber; it illustrates the core ideology of Rhode Island’s governing class; 1) that there is no such thing as an economic right and 2) that all of society is a single collective managed by government.
Optional Sub-Title: Why you don’t find me writing that government should be run like a business.
Lots of things happen when an incompetent administration bullies, lies, and buys off a nation into a breath-takingly complex experiment in government power grabbing in a critical area of every citizen’s life. Most of them are bad — catastrophic, even, especially for individuals — but one small positive thing we can salvage is the lesson.
So, let’s pause to thank the narcissistic head of that administration for the clarity. According to Obama voter Walter Russell Mead, “the most shocking ObamaCare revelation” is that “the President of the United States didn’t know that his major domestic priority wasn’t ready for prime time — and he thinks that sharing this news with us will somehow make it better.”
Adjusting for the attributes of this administration that give the impression of cosmic hyperbolism, that shocking fact actually may derive from a commonplace error of progressive thought… a sort of infant peek-a-boo game for politics… the notion that if one cannot see a harm, it does not exist.
This came up during the Wingmen segment on minimum wage. It might feel good to force employers to give employees more money, but advocates can’t see the people downstream in the chain of consequences whose lives become more difficult when case-by-case decisions are forbidden. The sympathetic target of the altruism may actually be the collateral damage from some prior decision that helped somebody else.
With ObamaCare, the administration allowed the consequences to come too quickly and the lines from handout to hindered to be too direct. They’re unmistakable.
Maybe Obama didn’t think he needed to pay attention to details because in every other progressive rewriting of reality, the consequences never stain the original good intentions. Like the Joshua computer in War Games, Americans should learn from Obama’s Tic-Tac-Toe that the game of central planning cannot be won.