From citizens to clients

George Will sums up Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic by Jay Cost, who argues “that the party has succumbed to ‘clientelism,’ the process of purchasing cohorts of voters with federal favors.”

Before Franklin Roosevelt, “liberal” described policies emphasizing liberty and individual rights. He, however, pioneered the politics of collective rights — of group entitlements. And his liberalism systematically developed policies not just to buy the allegiance of existing groups but to create groups that henceforth would be dependent on government.

Under FDR, liberalism became the politics of creating an electoral majority from a mosaic of client groups. Labor unions got special legal standing, farmers got crop supports, business people got tariff protection and other subsidies, the elderly got pensions, and so on and on.

Government no longer existed to protect natural rights but to confer special rights on favored cohorts. As Irving Kristol said, the New Deal preached not equal rights for all but equal privileges for all — for all, that is, who banded together to become wards of the government.

In the 1960s, public-employee unions were expanded to feast from quantitative liberalism (favors measured in quantities of money). And qualitative liberalism was born as environmentalists, feminists and others got government to regulate behavior in the service of social “diversity,” “meaningful” work, etc. Cost notes that with the 1982 amendments to the Voting Rights Act, a few government-approved minorities were given an entitlement to public offices: About 40 “majority-minority” congressional districts would henceforth be guaranteed to elect minority members.

Walter Mondale, conceding to Ronald Reagan after the 1984 election, listed the groups he thought government should assist: “the poor, the unemployed, the elderly, the handicapped, the helpless and the sad.” Yes, the sad.

Republicans also practice clientelism, but with a (sometimes) uneasy conscience. Both parties have narrowed their appeals as they have broadened their search for clients to cosset.

via George Will: An election to call voters’ bluff – The Washington Post.

America’s culture gap

Democrats are often citing a widening economic gap between the affluent and those barely scraping by.  The controversial social scientist Charles Murray, who is more on the conservative side, says that’s just the half of it.  There is a growing cultural gap between the affluent (who still, usually, get educated, get married, and go to church) and the working class (who increasingly raise children without marriage and are becoming more and more secular).

Note how this flies in the face of conventional wisdom, that religion is for the poor and uneducated, and the upper crust lives a hedonistic, permissive lifestyle.  It’s actually the reverse!  And this isn’t a racial thing:  Murray is looking specifically at the demographics of white people. (Lower-income blacks, for example, tend to be very religious, unlike lower-income whites.)

Murray, drawing from his new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 explains his findings in the Wall Street Journal from earlier in the year.  He describes  two fictional-but-based-in-fact cities, the upper-income suburb of Belmont and the lower-income community of Fishtown (both predominately white):

In Belmont and Fishtown, here’s what happened to America’s common culture between 1960 and 2010.

Marriage: In 1960, extremely high proportions of whites in both Belmont and Fishtown were married—94% in Belmont and 84% in Fishtown. In the 1970s, those percentages declined about equally in both places. Then came the great divergence. In Belmont, marriage stabilized during the mid-1980s, standing at 83% in 2010. In Fishtown, however, marriage continued to slide; as of 2010, a minority (just 48%) were married. The gap in marriage between Belmont and Fishtown grew to 35 percentage points, from just 10.

Single parenthood: Another aspect of marriage—the percentage of children born to unmarried women—showed just as great a divergence. Though politicians and media eminences are too frightened to say so, nonmarital births are problematic. On just about any measure of development you can think of, children who are born to unmarried women fare worse than the children of divorce and far worse than children raised in intact families. This unwelcome reality persists even after controlling for the income and education of the parents.

In 1960, just 2% of all white births were nonmarital. When we first started recording the education level of mothers in 1970, 6% of births to white women with no more than a high-school education—women, that is, with a Fishtown education—were out of wedlock. By 2008, 44% were nonmarital. Among the college-educated women of Belmont, less than 6% of all births were out of wedlock as of 2008, up from 1% in 1970.

Industriousness: The norms for work and women were revolutionized after 1960, but the norm for men putatively has remained the same: Healthy men are supposed to work. In practice, though, that norm has eroded everywhere. In Fishtown, the change has been drastic. (To avoid conflating this phenomenon with the latest recession, I use data collected in March 2008 as the end point for the trends.)

The primary indicator of the erosion of industriousness in the working class is the increase of prime-age males with no more than a high school education who say they are not available for work—they are “out of the labor force.” That percentage went from a low of 3% in 1968 to 12% in 2008. Twelve percent may not sound like much until you think about the men we’re talking about: in the prime of their working lives, their 30s and 40s, when, according to hallowed American tradition, every American man is working or looking for work. Almost one out of eight now aren’t. Meanwhile, not much has changed among males with college educations. Only 3% were out of the labor force in 2008.There’s also been a notable change in the rates of less-than-full-time work. Of the men in Fishtown who had jobs, 10% worked fewer than 40 hours a week in 1960, a figure that grew to 20% by 2008. In Belmont, the number rose from 9% in 1960 to 12% in 2008.

Crime: The surge in crime that began in the mid-1960s and continued through the 1980s left Belmont almost untouched and ravaged Fishtown. From 1960 to 1995, the violent crime rate in Fishtown more than sextupled while remaining nearly flat in Belmont. The reductions in crime since the mid-1990s that have benefited the nation as a whole have been smaller in Fishtown, leaving it today with a violent crime rate that is still 4.7 times the 1960 rate.

Religiosity: Whatever your personal religious views, you need to realize that about half of American philanthropy, volunteering and associational memberships is directly church-related, and that religious Americans also account for much more nonreligious social capital than their secular neighbors. In that context, it is worrisome for the culture that the U.S. as a whole has become markedly more secular since 1960, and especially worrisome that Fishtown has become much more secular than Belmont. It runs against the prevailing narrative of secular elites versus a working class still clinging to religion, but the evidence from the General Social Survey, the most widely used database on American attitudes and values, does not leave much room for argument.

For example, suppose we define “de facto secular” as someone who either professes no religion at all or who attends a worship service no more than once a year. For the early GSS surveys conducted from 1972 to 1976, 29% of Belmont and 38% of Fishtown fell into that category. Over the next three decades, secularization did indeed grow in Belmont, from 29% in the 1970s to 40% in the GSS surveys taken from 2006 to 2010. But it grew even more in Fishtown, from 38% to 59%.

It can be said without hyperbole that these divergences put Belmont and Fishtown into different cultures.

via Charles Murray on the New American Divide –

What are the implications of  this cultural divide?  I would think it means, for one thing, that churches should concentrate their evangelistic efforts in working class areas rather than the current target of affluent suburbs.  (Working class folks used to be the backbone of the church.  What would be necessary to make that happen again?)

HT:  Roberta Bayer

Is the President our national pastor?

No, the president is most emphatically NOT a national pastor, such an understanding betraying a deadly confusion of God’s Two Kingdoms and completely distorting the nature of the pastoral office.  But the normally circumspect Christianity Today has two articles that say, yes, the president kind of is a national pastor.

See Owen Strachan,“Our American President: The ‘Almost Pastor’ of an ‘Almost Chosen’ Land” and  Judd Birdsall, “Is the President America’s Pastor in Chief?“.  A sample from the latter:

Ironically, the curious American integration of piety and the presidency largely stems from our separation of church and state. Without an established religion led by an archbishop, ecumenical patriarch, or grand mufti, the President acts, for better or worse, as the nation’s senior religious figure.

Cambridge University professor Andrew Preston makes this point in his massive, 815-page work Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy: “There is no official hierarchy in the American civil religion, but as the nation’s head of state as well as its chief executive … the president has acted as its de facto pope.”

What exactly are the President’s papal duties? Preston explains: “Since George Washington, the president has been the interpreter of rites, symbols, and meanings of the civil religion, with some—particularly Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman—significantly recasting it under the pressure of war.”

Obama’s and Romney’s faith-infused interpretations of the Aurora shooting are case in point, and the most recent chapter in the long history of the presidential pastorate. Both politicians denounced the killing as “evil,” and both turned to the Bible for meaning, solace, and hope.

In his public statement after meeting with victims’ families in Aurora, Obama quoted the famous eschatological promise found in Revelation 21:4: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more. Neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Focusing on the here and now, Romney encouraged his audience to “mourn with those who mourn,” a reference to Romans 12:15. In poignant remarks packed with Christian language, Romney expressed his prayer that “the grieving will know the nearness of God” and “the comfort of a living God.” Citing the apostle Paul by name, Romney quoted from 2 Corinthians 1:3–4, “blessed be God, who comforteth us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble.”

Many commentators applauded Romney for sounding “presidential.” Especially in times of tribulation, Americans expect their President to be their pastor—not in any formal sense as a leader of a church but in the general sense as a provider of spiritual care and theological perspective for the nation.

The president as our archbishop, since we’re not allowed to have a state church?  Our pope?  A provider of our spiritual care?  These writers, of course, are speaking by way of analogy.  The workings of the “civil religion,” not to be confused (though it often is) with Christianity, though I’m not sure these articles finish that point.  They describe how the presidency functions and how the public responds, not how things should be.  But still. . . .

What is wrong with this picture?

HT:  Paul McCain

Poverty rate is highest in 50 years

New data shows that the poverty rate has climbed to the highest levels since the 1960s:

The ranks of America’s poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century, erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s amid a weak economy and fraying government safety net. . . .

The official poverty rate will rise from 15.1 percent in 2010, climbing as high as 15.7 percent. Several predicted a more modest gain, but even a 0.1 percentage point increase would put poverty at the highest level since 1965. . . .

Even after strong economic growth in the 1990s, poverty never fell below a 1973 low of 11.1 percent. That low point came after President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty, launched in 1964, that created Medicaid, Medicare and other social welfare programs. . . .

The analysts’ estimates suggest that some 47 million people in the U.S., or 1 in 6, were poor last year. An increase of one-tenth of a percentage point to 15.2 percent would tie the 1983 rate, the highest since 1965. The highest level on record was 22.4 percent in 1959, when the government began calculating poverty figures. . . .

Analysts also believe that the poorest poor, defined as those at 50 percent or less of the poverty level, will remain near its peak level of 6.7 percent. . . .

The 2010 poverty level was $22,314 for a family of four, and $11,139 for an individual, based on an official government calculation that includes only cash income, before tax deductions. It excludes capital gains or accumulated wealth, such as home ownership, as well as noncash aid such as food stamps and tax credits, which were expanded substantially under President Barack Obama’s stimulus package.

An additional 9 million people in 2010 would have been counted above the poverty line if food stamps and tax credits were taken into account.

So, by these definitions, out of every six Americans you see on the streets, one will be poor.  One in twelve (if I’m figuring that right) will be really poor.

An explication of “The Star Spangled Banner”

David P. Goldman offers a close reading of our national anthem, which is not just a hard-to-sing-song but a striking and meaningful poem, one that connects the survival of Ft. McHenry during the War of 1812 to the survival of the nation in every generation:

. . .It behooves us to sing a national anthem that begins and ends with questions. In this respect, “The Star-Spangled Banner” is an unusual poem. To begin a poem with a rhetorical question is a common enough device (“Why! Who makes much of a miracle?,” “What is so rare as a day in June?” or “Who rides in the night through wind and wild?”). Key’s opening question, though, is not rhetorical, but existential. The hearer from whom the poet demands a response has kept the poet’s company in an anxious vigil. The question itself thus places the hearer alongside the poet in that vigil.

The poet withholds the name of the object we are trying to espy in the first light: It is “what so proudly we hailed,” “whose broad stripes and bright stars” streamed valiantly over the rampart as the poet and his interlocutor watched through the perilous night. And this precious thing could be glimpsed intermittently only by the light of the enemy’s munitions, through the glare of rockets and the flash of exploding bombs: these, the missiles of the foe, gave proof through the night that the our flag — at last the object is named — was still there.

But now the first light of the dawn has come. The bombardment has ceased. The poet asks that the listener say whether, in the dim sunrise, he still can see the flag above the ramparts. It is an anxious moment; the hearer has watched through the night to see if the US position has held or fallen; in a few moments he will see in the first light of day whether the flag is still there. All the fears of the nightly vigil are bound up in this moments of anticipation. Even more: the hopes and fears of generations hang upon what the hearer will see as day breaks..

And then the poet repeats the injunction “Say!” and changes the question. The opening question — can you still see our flag? — is a synecdoche of sorts for a bigger question — does that flag “yet wave/O’er the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”? The second question refers not only to the battle at hand, but to the destiny of the country. The question is not only whether the flag of freedom still flies over America but also whether America itself is still brave and free.

The fearful vigil through the nocturnal bombardment, the fleeting glimpse of the national colors, the moment of truth in the gathering light of dawn — these are a metaphor for the national condition. The flag enduring the enemy bombardment is only a symbol for the true subject of the poem, namely the reaction of the hearer himself. The opening “Say!” placed us at the poet’s side at dawn; the second “Say!” makes this a metaphor for the national condition. Key addresses the second “Say!” to all generations of Americans: Are you still brave enough to be free? Your national existence, implies the poet, will be a long vigil, in which America’s true character will be glimpsed sporadically in the reflection of enemy attacks.

Again, Key’s question is not rhetorical, but existential: the answer to the question depends on the response of we who hear it. There are few instances of the second person in poetry with which to compare this, although the device is very ancient. A few come to mind. One is the Song of Deborah in Judges 5:2. Another is Simonides’ epitaph for the three hundred Spartans who held the pass against the Persians at Thermopylae in 480 BC. “O passer-by: tell the men of Lacedaemon that we died doing our duty.” The poignancy of the epitaph is that these dead men must ask a passer-by to bring the news to their homeland. The reader of the epitaph figuratively becomes the messenger. In John Donne’s familiar “Ask not for whom the bell tolls/It tolls for thee,” the subject becomes not death in general, but the very personal death of the hearer. And the second-person address in Francis Scott Key’s anthem asks each of us: “Are you good enough to be an American?” It is a question we should ask ourselves every day.

via Spengler » A National Anthem that Begins and Ends with a Question.


Happy Fourth of July!

I remember growing up in a culture of patriotism.  Community events would feature patriotic speeches.  Politicians of all parties would wax eloquent about the greatness of America.  In school we actually had classes on “Americanism” in which we learned about American heroes, studied the principles of democracy, analyzed the virtues of free market capitalism, and lauded the distinct American ideology of liberty, equality, and individualism.  We also learned all about flag etiquette.

I now see that much of that was a reaction to the Cold War and to the ideological conflict with Communism.  (This was in the late 1950s and early 1960s.)  I also see quite a bit of idolatrous civil religion.  Still, there is a virtue in loving one’s country, and I remember the thrill I experienced upon first seeing the monuments and historic buildings of Washington, D.C.

Does any of that kind of patriotism still exist any more?

Of course then came the Viet Nam war.  The nation was split generationally and culturally more than politically, at least at first.  (The president who presided over that war was arguably the most liberal of them all, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and most Democrats, such as those in my hometown–we had never met a Republican–were all for him.)  But, by the time I was in college, my peers mostly opposed the war and grew cynical about America, to the point of out-and-out anti-Americanism.

The other side with its patriotism turned kind of nasty too, with its “America, Love It or Leave It” bumper stickers and its “My Country, Right or Wrong” loyalties.

Then came further disillusionment with Nixon, then Carter’s “malaise.”  But Ronald Reagan made  it possible to “feel good about America again.”  The end of the Cold War with the decisive victory of American ideals over those of Communism made us giddy with patriotism.

Today, though, I don’t see much of that.  The left is still cynical about America, but now that can increasingly be said also of the right.  The anti-government fervor is so strong that it sometimes bleeds over to complaints about our institutions, our history, and our culture.

When some of these folks do praise America, they do so because they say it gives them freedom.  But that’s a love of freedom, rather than a love of country per se, with America treated as an instrumental good, rather than as something good in itself.

Does any of the old-style patriotism still exist?  Should it exist, or is its passing a good thing?  Is nationalism too atavistic, too potentially war-like, to be encouraged too much?  Or is there a love of country that needs to be preserved and possibly even taught in schools?