Happy Columbus Day!

We should have a discussion for Columbus Day as we have for other holidays.

This day is also observed in Latin American countries as Dia de la Raza, a day to mark the meeting and mixing of Native American and Spanish cultures.  Many Native Americans, especially in the U.S.A., see Columbus Day as a time of mourning.  But other activists use it as a time to celebrate the Hispanic presence in the Americas and to protest what they consider to be injustices, such as restrictive  immigration laws.  Columbus, of course, was an Italian who served the monarchs of Spain.   In the United States, this day is also a time to celebrate the Italian presence!

What is the true meaning of Columbus Day?  (Besides the true meaning that  Columbus discovered America on October 12!)   Is there a Christian dimension to this holiday, or had we better just leave that alone?

Why do we even have a president?

Historian Kenneth C. Davis looks at the origin of the office of the President, something our Founders went round and round about at the Constitutional Convention.

In that steamy Philadelphia summer of 1787, as the Constitution was secretly being drafted and the plan for the presidency invented — “improvised” is more apt — the delegates weren’t sure what they wanted this new office to be. To patriots who had fought a war against a king, the thought of one person wielding great power, at the head of a standing army, gave them the willies.

Still, Hamilton asserted in the Federalist Papers that this experimental executive must have “energy” — a quality characterized by “decision, activity, secrecy and dispatch.” Hamilton knew that the times demanded bold action. Operating under the Articles of Confederation, a weak Congress had dithered through crisis and conflict, unable to collect taxes or raise an effective army. And the presidents of Congress — 14 of them from 1774 to 1788 — wielded nothing more threatening than a gavel. They couldn’t even answer a letter without congressional approval.

As the delegates to the Constitutional Convention sweltered behind closed windows, in the same Pennsylvania State House where the Declaration of Independence had been adopted 11 years earlier, they disagreed about many things. But no issue caused greater consternation than establishing an executive office to run the country.

Would this executive department be occupied by one man or a council of three? What powers would the executive have? How long would he hold office? How would the executive be chosen? And how would he be removed, if necessary? (Without an answer to this question, Ben Franklin warned, the only recourse would be assassination.)

On these questions, the record points down a tortuous path filled with uncertainty and sharp division. While some delegates feared creating a presidency that could become a “fetus of monarchy,” others called for an executive who could negotiate treaties and make appointments — or command an army if the nation was threatened. Or at least answer the mail. . . . [Read more…]

Progressivism and omnipotent government

In line with the “Obama as Messiah” post, here is another example of secularism turning into paganism.  Godless people, trying to fill the void, can also invest the state with divine power and authority.  Drawing on Charles R. Kesler’s I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism, George Will shows that progressive politics, from the beginning, has an intrinsic connection to the belief in unlimited government power that can then solve all problems:

Progress, as progressives understand it, means advancing away from, up from, something. But from what?

From the Constitution’s constricting anachronisms. In 1912, Wilson said, “The history of liberty is the history of the limitation of governmental power.” But as Kesler notes, Wilson never said the future of liberty consisted of such limitation.

Instead, he said, “every means . . . by which society may be perfected through the instrumentality of government” should be used so that “individual rights can be fitly adjusted and harmonized with public duties.” Rights “adjusted and harmonized” by government necessarily are defined and apportioned by it. Wilson, the first transformative progressive, called this the “New Freedom.” The old kind was the Founders’ kind — government existing to “secure” natural rights (see the Declaration) that preexist government. Wilson thought this had become an impediment to progress. The pedigree of Obama’s thought runs straight to Wilson.

And through the second transformative progressive, Franklin Roosevelt, who counseled against the Founders’ sober practicality and fear of government power: “We are beginning to wipe out the line that divides the practical from the ideal” and are making government “an instrument of unimagined power” for social improvement. The only thing we have to fear is fear of a government of unimagined power:

“Government is a relation of give and take.” The “rulers” — FDR’s word — take power from the people, who in turn are given “certain rights.”

This, says Kesler, is “the First Law of Big Government: the more power we give the government, the more rights it will give us.” It also is the ultimate American radicalism, striking at the roots of the American regime, the doctrine of natural rights. . . . [Read more…]

The era of black-and-white TV

President Obama dismissed the Republican convention in these terms:

“Despite all the challenges that we face … what they offered over those three days was more often than not an agenda that was better suited for the last century. It was a re-run. We’ve seen it before. You might as well have watched it on a black-and-white TV.”

If only it were!  That was the last time anything was consistently good on television.  That was the golden age of TV, the era of Jack Benny, Gracie Allen, Rod Serling, Edward R. Murrow.

The  Eisenhower administration!  The early Elvis!  Intact families!  Route 66!

I guess the dividing line would be one’s attitude to the counter culture beginning in the late 1960s.  Liberals would generally favor that, I suppose, with Conservatives bemoaning the changes (e.g., the sexual revolution).

Though the era of black-and-white TV was a vibrant, creative, and positive time culturally for America, it was no utopia, with real problems.  For example, the institutionalized racism of the Jim Crow laws.  But compare the early Civil Rights protesters–moral, religious, dignified–with today’s Occupy Wall Street protesters (unfocused, hedonistic, squalid).  And, if you want counter culture, surely the Beatniks, reading existentialist philosophy and listening to jazz, were cooler than the Hippies, tripped out on acid and wearing flowers in their hair.

I wonder if we could date our cultural collapse from the advent of color television.  (The first all-color lineup was in 1966, which would be about right.)

via Obama: RNC fare for ‘black-and-white TV’ – POLITICO.com.

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 – WSJ.com.

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


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X