Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sometimes There Are No Words

One of my favorite bloggers and frequent commenters has suffered a terrible loss.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Why Bristol Palin Is Different

Ever since Sarah Palin revealed that her unmarried teenage daughter Bristol was pregnant, conservatives have been struggling with what liberals see as a contradiction between our fierce opposition to unwed motherhood and our support for Palin and family values. Now comes word that the wedding is off and conservatives once again are having difficulty explaining why Bristol Palin is different from other unwed mothers.

During the campaign Focus on the Family's James Dobson largely ignored the difficult unwed mother question and congratulated her on not having an abortion. Party of Death author Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out that she was not technically an unwed mother yet because she was engaged, unlike Murphy Brown, even though that didn't quite work out in the end. Others took a Kübler-Ross journey from denial to anger to acceptance.

When some liberals attacked conservatives for being hypocritical, future New York Times columnist Ross Douthat brilliantly exposed their own hypocrisy. "Suppose that social conservatives hadn't rallied around the Palin family after news of Bristol Palin's pregnancy broke," he wrote. "If anything remotely like this had happened, all we'd hear is satisfied chirping about how the response to Bristol Palin's pregnancy proves, once and for all, that social conservatives don't give two figs about the rights of the unborn; what they really care about is controlling women's sex lives and reinforcing patriarchal norms, full stop…. They're mad that religious conservatives aren't fitting neatly into the stereotypes that liberals have spent years cultivating." In other words, liberals would have attacked us even if we had responded the way they thought we would based on what we have said in the past, so by responding in a completely opposite way we proved how hypocritical they are. But although Douthat gleefully pointed out liberals' hypocrisy, he seemed reluctant to point out why conservatives were not being hypocritical even though the answer was staring him in the face.

Why is Bristol Palin different? She is different because she is a conservative.

It's different when unmarried teenage mothers come from conservative, wealthy Christian families. Although it would be preferable if her child had a father, even a white trash one, she will still be able to raise her child with the kinds of values that liberals, poor people, gays and non-Christians would not be able to give to their little bastard children who are destined to become our future criminals. Why are conservatives so reluctant to point out this obvious fact?

The problem with Murphy Brown, who was famously attacked by Dan Quayle in a speech written by Lisa Schiffren, was not just that she was an unwed mother but that she was a liberal unwed mother. As a liberal and a fictional character she would not be able to raise her child with good, conservative, Christian, nonfictional values. And the problem with Rep. Loretta Sanchez, whom Schiffren attacked for having a child before she married her fiancé, is that she is a liberal and her child is doomed to grow up without any values at all. But Schiffren, who supported Sarah Palin, seemed reluctant to point out this important difference, writing, "Being 18 and a single mother is only a little easier for a pretty, middle-class girl than it is for less well-protected girls from those parts of our society where marriage and involved fathers disappeared a couple of generations ago" and finally concluding "all I have to say is, 'poor girl.'" Instead of appearing so tentative, which just made many readers why she hadn't gone after Bristol with the same vehemence that characterized her attacks on a liberal fictional character and a liberal congresswoman, Schiffren should say out loud what all conservatives are thinking: Being an unwed mother is different when you're a conservative.

Kathryn Jean Lopez has been one of our strongest advocates for the need for children to have two parents of the opposite sex, which is why, like Sarah Palin, she is opposed to gay marriage and supports a Constitutional amendment banning it. But instead of noting that Bristol Palin's child will grow up without a father, she wrote, "Let the girl live in peace with her child." Her reaction was similar to the response she had when the Vice President's lesbian daughter Mary Cheney decided to have a baby: "Unless Mary Cheney asks to be a spokeswoman on the issue, folks ought to leave her alone." And yet when she wrote about lesbian Rosie O'Donnell's efforts to adopt a child, Lopez felt compelled to point out her "concerns about instability, sexual-orientation confusion, and emotional problems." What is the difference between Mary Cheney and Rosie O'Donnell? Again, it's obvious. Mary Cheney is a good conservative woman who will no doubt teach her children that they shouldn't become lesbians like their mother and Rosie O'Donnell is a foul-mouthed liberal who will teach her children that homosexuality and bestiality are acceptable lifestyle choices.

Some conservatives have attacked Bristol. Debbie Schlussel claims that conservatives should be "intellectually honest," and expresses the bizarre notion that we should apply the exact same standards to conservatives that we apply to liberals. "If one of Barack Obama's daughters was a single mother, we conservatives would be legitimately all over it. Or if her name was Sha'niqua," she writes. (I'm not sure why she believes the situation would have been different if Sarah Palin had given her daughter a black-sounding name.) Schlussel then blames the fact that Sarah Palin is a working mother for her daughter's pregnancy, which is absurd because Palin supporter Phyllis Schlafly proved long ago that you can work and still be a good mother as long as you are a conservative. Robert Stacy McCain also condemned Bristol harshly, writing, "A child's misconduct always reflects poorly on the family" and then went on to denounce girls who would not date him when he was single because they were "snooty, stuck-up, cliqueish, insufferable demanding, with a high-handed and disdainful way of dealing with people beneath her status, having a self-important attitude," which is of course understandable because what girl from a good family wouldn't have wanted to date McCain when he was single, but again I'm not sure what the relevance is to Bristol Palin although it might be something he would want to explore in therapy.

Although some Palin supporters have expressed disappointment with such views, many conservatives seem to be reluctant to write about this subject at all. Why aren't more conservatives standing up and defending Bristol Palin? Why can't we unequivocally state there should be different standards for liberals and conservatives? One of the problems with liberalism is that they believe everyone is the same and that all morality is relative. But if there is anything that conservatives reject it is the idea of moral equivalency. When America tortures a terrorist suspect that is not the same as when a terrorist tortures someone. Killing civilians in a war or accidentally executing the innocent is not the same as abortion. Denying gays the right to marry is not the same as outlawing miscegenation. Giving corporations tax cuts is not the same as welfare. David Vitter and Larry Craig are not the same as Bill Clinton. Liberals are always trying to confuse us by making false analogies but conservative ideology is based on rejecting false equivalencies and making important distinctions. So we shouldn't be reluctant to say that indeed it is different when a conservative teenager has a child out of wedlock and an inner-city liberal teenager does. We should have the courage of our convictions and not play the liberal game of moral equivalency. Instead of trying to explain away Bristol's pregnancy we should be defending it, holding her up as an example of the difference between liberal teenage unwed mothers and conservative teenage unwed mothers. Because just as it is true that, as Richard Nixon once said, "When the President does it, that means it is not illegal." when a good Christian conservative has a child out of wedlock, that means it's not immoral.

Update: Lisa Schiffren responds with a very thoughtful email: "I see this a little differently than you do. I agree with Kathryn that there is a difference between a grown woman in a position of power (Rosie, Murphy (fictional, but..) and Sanchez), and a private citizen, like Cheney, and even more so like Bristol Palin who got pregnant at 17. If she had committed a felony she would have been punished lightly. As it is, she is a kid who made a mistake and will pay a lot for it -- in the public eye for reasons not of her creation. The other women are role models, who exert cultural influence -- and the first three made a big point of rationalizing and justifying their actions. I don't know about the liberal/conservative divide. I think it matters some, but not ultimately. Religion matters more. And personal grit more still. A large, supportive family helps. If I sounded tentative, it is because I think that we, as a society, have so screwed this up that it is hard to see a way back to a norm of marriage before babies."

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Rod Dreher Finds the Subtle Nuances in Mass Murder

Rod Dreher was shocked by the story of a Texas man whose wife and children were slaughtered by his daughter and her friends. But he wasn't shocked by the brutal murder itself. Murders happen all the time. Big deal. What shocked him was a passing remark by the father who survived the attack by Erin, his little murderess. After he moved his family from the small Texas town of Celeste (pop. 800) to the liberal Emory (pop. 1200) his daughter was subject to the horrors of big city debauchery. "Emory has a lot of bisexual kids; it's like it was almost cool to be bisexual. One of the first things that happened was some girl wanted to be Erin's little girlfriend. And I was like, 'That ain't happenin'.' "

Dreher was understandably shocked by this revelation. "This is a tiny East Texas town -- and there's a bisexual culture in one of them, among the teenagers?" he wrote. "WTF? What do I not get about teenage life these days? What do I not get about the cultural air kids breathe? I am so not going to give my children over to this culture, if I can help it." If for some reason Dreher's children decide to murder him, though I can't think of any reason why they would off the top of my head, at least he'll go to his grave comforted by the thought that he saved them from the evils of bisexuality.

But as horrifying as this story of bisexuality is, it does have a silver lining. As soon as Erin's parents realized that the public schools in Emory were cesspools of bisexual Bacchanalia, they took their kids out of school and started home schooling them. When they re-enrolled Erin in public school three years later, she was armed with the values she learned from being home schooled and didn't fall back into a lesbian lifestyle. Instead, started dating an 18-year-old boy, which must have been a big relief to her parents. Unfortunately, it was this boy who then helped her murder her family. But if you look past the murders, this story actually has a happy ending because it shows that it is possible to save our kids from homosexuality and that should give Dreher some solace when he gets over his shock.

Unfortunately, some people willfully misread Dreher's column and claimed that Dreher was saying that bisexuality caused the murders when in fact he was just focusing on the most horrific aspect of the story. Dreher is used to being willfully misread like this and having his values and priorities questioned. Recently, for example, he wrote a column pointing out that our "social decline" did not begin with the Sixties but back in that dark period known as the Enlightenment. "The question, though, is not whether the Sixties (or the Enlightenment) were good or bad, but whether on balance the Sixties (or the Enlightenment) were good or bad. I answer in the negative," he wrote. Again, some people misread his column to mean that he thinks we should revive slavery or the Inquisition. But if you read his column carefully, you see that he is just saying that on the whole things were better before we had homosexuality, abortion, feminism and horseless carriages even when you balance those things against slavery and torturing heretics.

But Dreher is not the only conservative intellectual who is sadly misunderstood. Unfortunately, a lot of liberals just don't get the subtle nuances of some of Rush Limbaugh's thinking either. Some conservatives, like David Frum, are saying that Rush does not help our cause when he says, for example, that he wants President Obama to fail. Others even claim that we should be disingenuous and talk down to people instead. "The problem is, Americans have short attention spans and don’t always do nuance well," says one of our most nuanced thinkers, Paterico.

But I agree with Jeff Goldstein who says, "I don’t want to have to measure every word I say with the thought in mind that somebody is going to take me out of context. Instead, I’d like to be free to say what I mean." Goldstein is tired of pandering to people who think "it’s just too damn difficult to demand that what we mean be presented honestly, and so rather than fight that kind of complicated battle, it’s best just to learn to self-edit in a way that placates those who don’t do nuance well."

Although I often don't understand what Goldstein is trying to say, it would be a tragedy if he tried to pander to people like me and write things that people can actually comprehend. And I don't think Dreher should worry if people believe that he cares more about bisexuality than murder or that he wants us to return to a time when people who were not Catholics like him were burned at the stake when that is not what he is saying at all. And if some people cannot understand the subtle difference between wanting Obama to fail, plunging America into a Great Depression or wanting Obama's policies to fail, plunging America into a Great Depression, then is it really worth the energy to try to explain to them what Rush really meant?

So I hope that conservatives will say more things that can be taken out of context by the liberal media and continue to make subtle distinctions that can't be understood in 30-second sound bites. It is time for us to gird our loins (whatever that means) and fight complicated battles. Sure, we might lose a few elections and we might give people the false impression that we are homophobic or racist or misogynist or that we want America to fail and be punished for its decadence, but that's a small price to pay to hold on to our integrity, which is what is really important. Instead of making compromises, the way to get back into the good graces of the American people and start winning elections again is to stick to our guns and not be afraid to call Americans who don't understand what we mean "idiots." And if you don't think this is a winning strategy, then you're an idiot.

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Let's Make Poverty Less Enticing

The other day a shocking picture emerged when Michelle Obama went to a soup kitchen in Washington, DC. It wasn't a picture of her bulging biceps, which were mercifully covered, so David Brooks can rest easy and not have to worry about any more nightmares where the First Lady challenges him to arm wrestle. What was shocking was a photo of one of the homeless men she was serving taking a picture of her with his cellphone. Conservatives were outraged. At a time when Wall Street executives are being forced to give up their private planes, limousines, bathroom renovations and multimillion dollar bonuses, the idea that a homeless man has been allowed to hold on to his cellphone while others are making sacrifices is more than we can take.

"If this unidentified meal recipient is too poor to buy his own food, how does he afford a cellphone?" wrote the Los Angeles Times' Andrew Malcolm. "And if he is homeless, where do they send the cellphone bills?" Kathryn Jean Lopez pointed out that contrary to what many people think, the poor are actually very rich, which explains a lot. Michelle Malkin castigated the homeless man for "ruining what was supposed to be a sob story photo op of the compassionate Mrs. O catering to the downtrodden" and speculated that his phone bills are probably sent to Acorn.

Although some people pointed out that he may have recently come upon bad times and that he may need a cellphone, which could be of the cheap, prepaid variety, so that prospective employers can call him back, or that he may have been a worker at the shelter and not homeless at all, this is all just speculation. Kathy Shaidle, whose blog is aptly named Five Feet of Fury, has a more likely explanation, which she was able to extrapolate from this photo with a perspicacity that would have made the late traitor and On Photography author Susan Sontag proud. "Today's 'poor' are the rich Jesus warned you about: fat, slovenly, wasteful of their money and other people's," she wrote. "He spends all his (our) money on cellphones and, most likely, tattoos and drugs and booze and other crap, and has no money left for a home and food. And why should he bother? We pay for his shelter and food anyhow."

This is not the first time Ms. Shaidle, has taken on the menace of the poor. "The so-called poor have cars and cable tv and free medical," she wrote last year. "They live in America in the 21st century, where school is free and libraries are free and a bus ticket to a better town costs less than a bag of crack. If they're 'poor' it's because they were too lazy and stupid to a) finish high school and/or b) keep their pants on. Jesus had something to say about folks who didn't properly manage their money or other people's." Although I am not familiar with Jesus' admonitions against poor accounting practices, she has a point. Instead of waging class war against the wealthy who worked hard for their money, we should be attacking the poor. After a lot of unsuspecting investors were lured by the poor into putting their hard-earned money into credit defaults swaps and tricked into giving deadbeats subprime mortgages, which ruined our entire economy, haven't poor people done enough harm to this country?

I can't tell you how angry it makes me to think about extremely rude poor people all across this country talking very loudly on their cellphones in soup kitchens and unemployment offices, whining about all their financial problems so everyone can hear. I'm glad someone is finally speaking out about it. And while these poor people were rudely broadcasting their tales of woe to everyone within earshot, guess what they were eating? Mushroom risotto and Broccoli! Isn't gruel good enough for poor people anymore? Those poor people are eating better than I am. Is it really fair that I should have to eat the Pork Brains in Milk Gravy Mrs. Swift served up the other night to cut down on grocery bills and reduce my cholesterol intake, while these poor people are eating like kings?

And who is paying for poor people to live high on the hog while I am reduced to eating hog brains? Rich people like we might be some day if we work hard and win the lottery. Why should someone like Jim Cramer, who deserves to make more than $250,000 for all the great financial advice he has given the last few years, have to "take a pay cut for doing the same job." Shouldn't he in fact get a raise for telling people to continue plowing their money into the stock market as it was plunging downward, which probably helped slow the decline and prop it up long enough to help his friends get out without losing too much?

I think it's time we made the poor do their fair share and stop trying to soak the rich. Before we give the poor one cent more, they should be forced to prove that they have really hit rock bottom by selling everything they have, including their cellphones, flat-screen TVs, fancy clothes, cars and furniture. I know that if I became poor, the first thing I would do after putting the cat to sleep and pawning Mrs. Swift's wedding ring would be to sell my cellphone at the very least. And I certainly wouldn't expect to eat mushroom risotto. If we stopped making it so enjoyable to be poor, maybe we would have fewer lazy, greedy people who are just dying to live in poverty and leech off of the rest of us. Indeed, the reason for our economic decline may be that so many people want the benefits of being poor that they are dragging the economy down with them. We need to stop this rush to be poor before it is too late. So the First Lady should stop visiting soup kitchens and serving them gourmet food, which just encourages them. Only by making poverty less enticing can we hope to to save our economy.

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