Our problems remain epistemological.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Whose Party Is It, Anyway? [...and I'll cry if I want to.]

Last November, this correspondent tried to warn philosophically-minded Republicans that they were taking Christian votes for granted. They're certainly the backbone of social conservatism---sympathetic to pro-life issues and the cohesion and integrity of the nuclear family---and compose the third leg of the GOP coalition along with a strong national defense and economic liberty.

But they also believe that Christian charity is a duty, caring for those who slip through the cracks of the free market system's meritocracy.

Just because some people aren't equipped to compete in it---for whatever reason, their fault or not---that doesn't mean they should be left to starve in this dog-eat-dog world. A Christian conscience cannot permit that to happen.

Jonah Goldberg picks up the theme, in a customarily excellent essay. Committed Christians, primarily the evangelical vote, represent 30% of the conservative coalition, and at least 10% of the total electorate. And Roman Catholics are also an overlooked part of the coalition, and it was their favorite philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas who argued for a "just wage." No wonder a Pew poll noted that "79 percent of self-described social conservatives" favor raising the minimum wage. Lose half of these voters, and in this 50-50 republic, the GOP loses 55%-45%.

That's a landslide, folks, and a helluva mandate for more Bigtime Bigass Government. Word up---even Adam Smith, the apostle of competition and free markets, before he wrote the capitalist bible An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations in 1776, in 1759 wrote:

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it…That we often derive sorrow from the sorrows of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous or the humane…the greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it.
—--Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments

If Marxists are brutes who trust the false god of government, and whose greatest error is ignoring human nature, so are those who worship the equally false god of the free market and ignore what's in the heart of every man, Christian and non-Christian alike.

In this here democratic republic, every one of us is a citizen-ruler, so we don't just petition the government to help out the poor and the weak. We are the government, and vote accordingly, every man a king. The just ruler is also kind, and anyone who writes kindness out of the human equation misses the whole point of being human in the first place.


Mike D'Virgilio said...

Major Tom,

What exactly is the point of this post? Is this an appeal for more or less government? Or should we appeal to Christians who care about the less fortunate with political rhetoric (a la Huckabee) if not exactly liberal statist solutions? Are you implying that conservatism as we've known it lo these past 30 years is unkind? Or perceived to be? Just confused.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, it's a reference to Huckabee, and that he touches something in the Christian [and non-Christian] spirit that the rhetoric of traditional conservatism has been lacking.

Rhetoric, mind you. There are solid arguments why conservative approaches to the problem of the human condition are the most effective; however, the dots must be connected all the way down to the family that pays 1/4 to 1/3 of its income for health insurance. And the needs of those who don't have it at all.

And although it's a canard that conservatism doesn't care, its silence on how its approach benefits the middle class and the poor creates that perception nonetheless.

I'm simply describing a very real phenomenon, Mike, and losing the caring Christian [and non-Christian] vote will spell electoral disaster for the GOP. Just as Marxism and its relatives can be a cold, theoretical, economic approach to the human condition, so too can talk of free markets.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Newt gets it.

Mike D'Virgilio said...

Tom, I can see that "sensitive" rhetoric might be important to market conservative solutions, but populist rhetoric a la Huckabee would be a disaster for conservatism. To care for the little guy doesn't mean disparaging Wall Street or rich guys. To play one off of the other is simply stupid and plays on the liberal Democrat assumptions about the nature of wealth.

Evanston2 said...

TVD, you posted some comments in September that the Republicans had missed their "Sister Soulja" moment by not capitalizing on the "Jena 6" controversy. Do you still feel the same way?

James F. Elliott said...

Tom, you're so close to getting it, and posts like these are when you are at your most eloquent.

Mike D'Virgilio said...

Oh no! Tom, you're being praised by a liberal! Yikes!!!!!

James F. Elliott said...

Yeah, how horrid. He'd better start bathing in lye.

Mike D'Virgilio said...

You mean "lie" don't you? (I just crack myself up.)

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thx for the replies, guys.

I often complain that the leftly- inclined simply don't understand the conservative language, mostly because of lack of exposure. Between higher and lower education, newspapers, CNN and Jon Stewart, it's all Greek to them.

But here we have a case where Republicans don't speak Republican, at least the language spoken by a substantial chunk of their coalition.

It would be like a Democrat not knowing the import and symbolic power of nooses, as in the Jena Six case.

So let's move on to that part too:

Yah, I hearya, Mr. Evanston. And Gov. Huckabee just exhibited the same tone-deafness defending the flying of the Confederate flag on states' rights grounds.

As a Christian, he might have noted that regardless of how much it's a symbol of Southern Pride for the white folks---mebbe he'd have appealed to the better angels of its supporters---the simple fact is that for black folk it's a symbol of the Bad Olde Days, before it was established by the Civil War and by constitutional amendment [#XIV] and by civil rights marches and the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, that all men are indeed created equal.

Republicans still aren't speaking the lingua franca of America 2008, not Huckabee in particular, who I think is toejam. Populist all the way, both in class warfare and racial insensitivity. It embarrasses me deeply that he gets 25+% of the GOP vote in any state.

This man must be stopped.

And it's always nice to see Mr. Elliott in attendance. We haven't given up on him, and he hasn't given up on us either. There is still hope for us all.

James F. Elliott said...

It would be like a Democrat not knowing the import and symbolic power of nooses, as in the Jena Six case.

I'd say it'd be more like a modern American voter than anyone of a specific party. Memories are short, and empathy lacking, these days.

Evanston2 said...

TVD, I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "Yah, I hearya, Mr. Evanston." Are you then lumping me together with Huckabee? I hope not...

To repeat my question, you wrote a post in September to the effect that the Republicans had missed their "Sister Soulja" moment by not capitalizing on the "Jena 6" controversy.

You may wish to revisit your initial recommendations in light of the latest facts -- do you believe you were correct?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, my point was that GOPers had a chance to show sensitivity about nooses, is all, not the criminal aspects of the case.

Now as a caucasian northeasterner, I wasn't really aware of it being a hot button, until a few years ago myself.

Huckabee showed a similar lack of sensitivity with the Confederate flag thing, something everybody is aware of. I'd have loved to see Christian charity used as a reason for giving black folks a break about not having to look at the damned thing.

And I don't lump you in with anyone, Mr. E.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, Fred was there on it. Alas, what might have been...

"For a great many Americans, [the flag] is a symbol of racism. I'm glad people have made a decision not to display it . . . in a state capitol."

Evanston2 said...

TVD, I have to return to MDV's comment (#1) asking "What exactly is the point of this post?"

To me it seems like you're advocating a Republican version of "the politics of meaning." Symbolism over regard for truth.

Like regarding Jena how your "point was that GOPers had a chance to show sensitivity about nooses, is all, not the criminal aspects of the case." So sure, pile on the publicity heap and let the local police, prosecutor, and people who might be just a little bothered by a 6-on-1 beatdown hang in their own metaphorical nooses...after all, a demonstration of "sensitivity" won't affect perceptions regarding "the criminal aspects of the case." Or will it? Sorry, but this smacks of the Duke lacrosse case. Eagerness to express outrage in order to score political points instead of allowing the justice system to properly investigate this matter.

Symbolism has its place. I'm with you on killing off the confederate battle flag as a governmental symbol. Southerners can fly their own personal flags if they wish but to do so at/near a statehouse is a disgrace. The war was sparked by the slavery issue and there's no way of avoiding the fact that the stars & bars is the flag of slavery. We can dump it calmly.

Conversely, to even remotely imply that 2 small hanging nooses justify a violent beating is loathsome. And I reiterate that any expression of "sympathy" would do just that -- most people cannot finely slice & dice issues as you do.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, I dunno about loathsome, Mr. E.

The facts were that the new black kid in school unwittingly sat down under the "white" tree. The next day, the noose was hanging from it.

They ended up cutting the tree down. It wasn't a tiny insignificant matter: the symbolism was great and grave.

I'd just like to see GOPers show some sign that they "get it" when it comes to these things. The biggest obstacle to the GOP competing for the black vote is culural, and indeed symbolic. It's unacceptable for a black person to speak sympathetically of Republicans in polite black company.

If you don't believe me, look at the flak Obama's taking for speaking well of Reagan, in even the most narrow sense. Might as well have said Hitler or even worse, Strom Thurmond.

Yesterday on CNN, a black congressman droned on about the established fact of how bad Reagan was for black people---without challenge or contradiction from Wolf Blitzer of course.

The GOP underestimates the symbolic value of its "colorblindness," which is read as indifference which is read as insensitivity which is read as hostility. Bill Clinton didn't do a damned thing for black folk except hug them, but that was sufficient to win their everlasting loyalty and affection.

Don't discount the power of myths and symbols. This country was built and sustains to this day on them.

Evanston2 said...

TVD, Thanks for responding to my inquiries. That said, I'm having a hard time writing anything respectful about your latest comment. No doubt you find the Jena violence objectionable, but still you find it somehow justifiable in light of the "facts."
I understand the symbolism. What matters is that when push comes to shove, you'll chose placating a voting bloc over protecting people from violence.

I take it you're a fan of Gerson? Perhaps Rod Dreher as well? Huckabee also appears to meet your "Christian charity" criteria.

Me, I know Jesus isn't flying in on Air Force One. We've had atrocious presidents in my lifetime and we'll have them again. My devotion to Christ comes first.

I'd rather stick with what the Bible actually says about charity. Uh, FYI, no one is "left to starve" in America -- the "poor" most often have TVs, cars, videogame sets, shelter, a/c and heat. The poorest Americans are living better than kings did in the time of Christ. The poor are indeed deprived: (1)of safety due to lawlessness like that in Jena. and (2) a good education...like in Jena as well. Would you send your kid to that school now? Stand by for white flight!.

But stick with your schtick. If you believe the social gospel is the wave of the future and the big uniter and vote-getter, and christianity is all about charity (not sin or judgement or hell or any of that icky stuff) it's no surprise. I find many self-described "evangelicals" don't even believe in Christ as more than a symbol, and most catholics don't know diddly about doctrine no less Thomas Aquinas or other church fathers. From another post I take it you'd vote for Obama if you had to. I find the version of christianity practiced in his favorite church to be little more than the doctrines of man, dressed up for Sunday meeting. But if that's your version of christianity, or what you feel is necessary in the compromise for the "greater good" then that's OK. At least you're up front about it.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, it seems you're risking lumping me in with a few unsavory folks yrself, Mr. E.

I think Huckabee's "take the nation back for Christ" is a bigger threat to the republic than Obama, so that's that one. Huckabee's also a bigger threat to Christianity's proper place in the public square, so I think you should consider that as well.

As for the criminality in the Jena case, I see it as totally separate from the racist atmosphere the nooses created. A sensitivity to the latter does not have to imply an excusing of the former.

As for Gerson, I've simply tried to point out that he's identifying a current that runs through a significant hunk of the GOP base, concern for the poor. The party ignores this current at its peril.

A favorite Chesterton quote is once again applicable:

"We speak of touching a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it."

Until and unless the GOP [and certain Christians] learn to speak to the heart and become less enamored of abstract arguments---no matter how worthy---they cannot move us in our humanity, which is what truly makes each of us tick.