Newt Gingrich, Dan Quayle…Lawrence Summers? Mean. Stupid.

Unintentionally got into a little debate (well, I’m waiting for his response, so it’s not yet a debate, but it will be) with Joe Marshall this morning, because I don’t like 18 inches of snow in my driveway, so I’m cranky.

Anyway, Joe has written (with his usual clarity and intelligence, and with his maddening habit of throwing in a lazy meme – I’m convinced he does it just to irritate me) a good essay that could have been better. How could it have been better? Well…he could have just agreed with me about everything, of course! :-)

Here is what I didn’t like. Joe wrote: It is in the Public Interest for Americans not to be unemployed or underemployed. It is not in the Public Interest for those who are, and have no way to create employment for themselves, to crowd the entrance ramps of the freeway in the driving rain or snow (as they do now and as they did through much of the Reagan/Bush One years, too) with cardboard signs reading: “Homeless, Starving, Will Work, Please Help”.

Well he’s right. But dammit, I have to take exception to the lazy, gratuitous, seemingly kneejerk swipe Joe takes by basically saying that homelessness is a phenomenon exclusive to Republican administrations. I grew up in a small blue-collar Democrat town in the 1960′s, throughout the Kennedy presidency and Johnson’s Great Society, and we had homeless and hobos and the like. I have lived in my current county for 23 years and our church’s soup kitchen and outreach office was open for business and bustling throughout the Clinton administration, just as it is today.

The difference in homelessness and need in a Democrat or Republican era is simply this: When Republicans are ascendant, the press covers the problem and points a finger. When Democrats are ascendant…”happy days are here again.” Or, of course, to put it another way, in 1996 5.4% unemployment was “the Democrat president’s full employment.” In 2004, 5.4% unemployment was “the Republican president’s shaky economy.”

There will always be poor among us. That’s a fact. Jesus even said it. We’re meant to help them. That’s a fact, too. Where so many of us conservatives and liberals, both equally concerned about helping the poor, will differ is in the means by which we help, or what we actually consider real help to be. The old Chinese chestnut may be an old chestnut, but it’s a true one: You give a man a block of government cheese and you’ve sort of fed him for a day. You teach him how to make cheese, and you’ve fed him for life.

The elimination of want and need is not a “here, have this, aren’t I compassionate, see how much I care,” instant solution. You don’t eliminate poverty by saying, “here, I took this money from that guy over there – now you can have it, good luck…” You eliminate poverty and want by placing real value on real education (not sensitivity training andn social indoctrination) and on strengthening the structure of the family unit: responsible, committed adults raising up secure children. And, of course, by allowing these educated, grounded people to enter the marketplace and begin to grow, without taxing them to death.

Joe Marshall knows this, of course. He is too smart not to. To see him simply throwing out the intellectually lazy and demonstrably false meme that homelessness only exists under Republican administrations is disappointing.

Joe also wrote: Philosophically at least, I think my Conservative friends stand for the denial of the existence of a Public Interest, however much they have a sentimental and lacrymorse fondness for things like a strong military of fine, upstanding, and brave citizen/soldiers, called upon to give “the last full measure of devotion”– which is also part of the Public Interest called “providing for the common defense”.

Show them a flag-draped coffin, and, even if they are not willing to pay more taxes for it, they are certainly willing to borrow more money on the behalf of all of us for it–as well as borrow the money for any special little projects for their own State or Congressional district.

Why is it so difficult, for example, to convince them to believe that breathing dirty air, drinking dioxin flavored water, eating mercury-laden fish, and eventually losing our great agriculture to global warming, is bad for everybody? And this despite that fact that it makes a few of us richer, and gives a large number of us the comforting illusion that, somehow, our “freedom” has increased, or at least our income has not diminished, because of it.

Ugh!!! So offensive in so many ways! We Republicans don’t understand or believe in the concept of “public interest!” We’re morbidly and sentimentally fascinated with notions of “honor” and a strong defense! And…AND…we don’t care about clean air! We like arsenic in the water! We are so mean-spirited, that we want both the children and the old people to die!

I’ll let pass (although I shouldn’t) the other incredibly lazy meme Joe has thrown out here – the “arsenic in the water” crapola…honest people know perfectly well that that whole issue was a booby trap set by an outgoing Clinton, to put incoming Bush look “mean” and “uncaring” when he rescinded Clinton’s order and reset the arsenic numbers to the exact same numbers they’d been throughout Clinton’s presidency. But I digress…

Joe and other liberals need to understand something really basic: conservatives simply have a different idea of what is in the public interest than do the liberals.

A few cases in point:Dan Quayle decried the TV sitcom Murphy Brown for portraying single parenthood as nothing but a “life-choice” with no negatives for the mother (in this case a wealthy older woman) or for the child, or for society. He correctly suggested that such a portraying sent an unrealistic message to young women, particularly teenagers, that having a child on ones own was do-able, and not fraught with difficulties. He correctly pointed out that young single mothers are the poorest of the poor, witht he least opportunities for escape from the mean cycle of poverty. Quayle suggested that the worst possibly message to put out into society is that women having children outside of marriage was perfectly fine.

For taking that stand, Quayle was roundly mocked and called all the usual names: “uncompassionate,” “intolerant,” “judgemental nazi-traditionalist” and “reactionary!” The news media went ballistic. Quayle was all but crucified for his remarks. And in a supreme irony, the Democrats, who have spent the last 8 years talking about Martin Sheen as though he rea
lly is an American President because of his work on West Wing, accused Quayle of being too stupid to understand that Murphy Brown was a television character, and not a real person…even as they dragged Candace Bergen around to parrot their talking points. The conservative idea about addressing this matter of public interest was: “let’s propose a solution, let’s hash this out.” The liberal idea was, “stop making people feel bad! Go away, you’re mean! And stupid!”

But then, in 1993, writing in The Atlantic, Barbara Defoe Whitehead dared to look into Quayle’s concerns, and she came to the startling conclusion: Dan Quayle was Right.

Single-mother families are vulnerable not just to poverty but to a particularly debilitating form of poverty: welfare dependency. The dependency takes two forms: First, single mothers, particularly unwed mothers, stay on welfare longer than other welfare recipients. Of those never-married mothers who receive welfare benefits, almost 40 percent remain on the rolls for ten years or longer. Second, welfare dependency tends to be passed on from one generation to the next. McLanahan says, “Evidence on intergenerational poverty indicates that, indeed, offspring from [single-mother] families are far more likely to be poor and to form mother-only families than are offspring who live with two parents most of their pre-adult life.” Nor is the intergenerational impact of single motherhood limited to African-Americans, as many people seem to believe. Among white families, daughters of single parents are 53 percent more likely to marry as teenagers, 111 percent more likely to have children as teenagers, 164 percent more likely to have a premarital birth, and 92 percent more likely to dissolve their own marriages. All these intergenerational consequences of single motherhood increase the likelihood of chronic welfare dependency.

In fairness to the Democrats, they didn’t listen to the mighty (and classically liberal) NY Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, either, when he said essentially the same things Quayle and Whitehead said. But they didn’t call him names, either.

Another case in point: Newt Gingrich (of whom I’m not a fan) said in 1994 that, given the really horrendous administration of foster care plans in most states, we should perhaps look into the idea of reintroducing orphanages into society. “If [teen mothers] could not support their children,” he said, “America should tell them, ‘We’ll help you with foster care. We’ll help with orphanages. We’ll help you with adoption.’”

The left, predictably, went nuts. Hillary Clinton said “the idea of putting children into orphanages because their mothers couldn’t find jobs” was “unbelievable and absurd.” The press, of course, went further, with columnists like Ellen Goodman calling Gingrich “Dickensian”

Are institutions like Boys Town perfect? Of course not. No system is. But Gingrich was attempting to raise a discussion and possibly reform a policy that is not really working. For his efforts to get the discussion going, he got not dialogue or bi-partisan brainstorming but castigation, name calling, all the usual unproductive, subject-changing misdirection. The conservative idea about addressing this matter of public interest was: “let’s propose a solution, let’s hash this out.” The liberal idea was, “stop making people feel bad! Go away, you’re mean! And stupid!”

And then, four years later, someone not named Newt essentially suggested the same thing, and the world went, “ahhh, what a great idea…”

It seems like whenever conservatives TRY to address situations in the “public interest,” the reactionary – yes reactionary – liberals don’t want to have intelligent, open discussions. They just want to name-call and shout down and preserve the status quo, public interest be damned. Or, if they’re feeling lazy, they don’t even bother with the shouting and name-calling. They just insert a lazy meme.

Our family has elderly friends who came up through some of those church-based, institutional orphanages, and they came out of them educated, socially grounded and willing to work hard to succeed and stand out. Gingrich was correct to bring it up and say “let’s explore it.” He was downshouted by the same reactionaries who downshouted Lawrence Summers last week at Harvard for daring to suggest that men and women are – gasp – differently gifted, the same reactionaries whose whole response to the idea of change is hands over the ears, “lalala, I can’t hear you….you’re mean. And stupid.”

Summers had an idea that deserved exploration, but the reactionaries on the left want no part of exploration; they want apologies and re-indoctrination – they want anyone coloring outside the lines to turn in their crayons, and anyone talking out of school to just “shaddup!” They want everyone in lockstep, obedient to the state, which knows best and doesn’t need no stinkin’ dialogues.

Because that all worked so well in the Soviet Union.

The revolutionaries of the 1960′s have become the establishment reactionaries of the 21st century, and you see them stomp their feet at every suggestion of reform or improvement, at every request to dialogue, and then say the conservatives are “resistant to change.”

Conservatives may well be resistant to change that is all about deconstruction, but they have nothing on these so-called, modern “liberals.”These modern-day “liberals” are not the champions of “public interest” they portray themselves to be. What they are, quite simply, is an entrenched establishment of power-mongering socialist elitist who would NOT be the ones standing on line for shoes and toilet paper with the rest of us should all of their policies and dreams be enacted.You and me and Joe, we’d be on line, hoping for the scraps, and the limosine liberals would applaud us for “keeping it real,” as they drove by to their next celebrity-laden state dinner.

UPDATE: Happily, I seem to have the great Mark Steyn on my side. :-)

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