Archive for November, 2012

29
Nov

The Importance of Engaging

   Posted by: Robert    in Philosophy

Shortly after the election, a reader sent me a link to a piece by Ann Coulter which discusses how changes in American demographics played a role in changing and shaping the election.  Her article is an important explanation of why having conservative conversations about liberal topics matters in a post-2012 America, why it mattered in a pre-2012 America, and why conservatives who continue to remain distant from minority groups at their own peril.  The answer, in short, is demographics.

Without getting into actual numbers, it is a well known fact that the ratio of “majority” voters to other voters has narrowed in recent decades, including a headline after the most recent census noting that total minorities outnumber whites when we cast our gaze at people less than two years old.  While it’s still about fifteen years before those people will cast their first ballot, that statistic is merely one among many which should raise concern for a party which has failed to substantively expand its reach beyond its base of white voters.  Careful observers will also notice that women make up approximately half of the electorate and there is a long-term trend of women increasingly favoring Democrats during elections.  The effects of immigration are also more pronounced among non-white immigrants, whose perceived needs have become an important part of the Democrat platform.

None of these groups are immune from conservatism.  In fact, as Ms. Coulter points out, many of these groups share a significant number of conservative beliefs.  Conservatives, however, have failed to make significant inroads with these groups even though the need for success only grows.  Worse still, Republicans have allowed a form of political discrimination to fester which associates voting Democrat with  part of the group identity.  The Republican response has been neither an appeal to the undercurrent of conservative beliefs these groups hold nor an attempt to show how conservative principles can address each group’s unique problems, but to a willingness to jump on board with the Democrat agenda.

But jumping on board the Democrat platform doesn’t show that we care.  Instead, it says, “We’d sooner roll over at the hands of our enemy than come have a conversation with you.”

Demographics matter, and they will matter more in the years and decades to come.  We have a lot of catching up to do, but we may have a chance to make up some ground.

26
Nov

Racism, Sexism, Classism, etc.

   Posted by: Robert    in Philosophy

Racism.  Few words in the English language have the power to destroy all chance at intelligent conversation between the left and the right.  In too many places at too many times, charges of racism have been used as weapons by the left to silence the right about a myriad of subjects about which the two sides might disagree.  Weaponized charges of racism, however, are not what this post is about.  What this post is about is how racism, sexism, classism, and so forth (let’s group those under the word “identityism”) remain viable topics for discussion about which conservatives need to become more engaged.

Identityism comes in two basic forms.  The overt form of identityism is the type that most people are familiar with and is what conservatives typically think about when we hear the term.  Overt identityism is slavery, it’s Jim Crow, it’s women being unable to vote, and it’s the invectives that get spewed at people who look or act differently.  Overt identityism, in other words, is the awful stuff that we more or less knowingly do to people because of some identifiable difference.  The systemic form of identityism is less known, particularly in conservative circles.  Systemic identityism is girls staying out of science and math, it’s black people sitting as a group at lunch, it’s inner city poverty, and it’s the difficulty people who have been laid off have finding another job.    In other words, systemic identityism is any condition in our society which causes harm to an identifiable group of people and which perpetuates itself with little or no conscious effort from anybody.

As a society, we’ve made great strides against identityism during the past 60 years.  The landscape of racism, in particular, has changed dramatically since the 195os.  Overt racism has been largely eradicated and has become so stigmatized that whatever is left stays hidden mostly out of the public eye.  Success has varied with the other identityisms, but overt identityism in most of its forms is routinely discouraged.  Make no mistake, these are victories.

But while overt identityism is on the retreat, systemic identityism remains largely unaffected.  Systemic identityism is much harder to address because there is no particular individual, or even a particular group, which is responsible for its continuation.  The systemic problem includes a lot of inertia, where particular groups get trapped in situations because they simply don’t have the tools or experience to know how to get themselves out.  What’s more, some of the things that we see as problems may not actually be problems at all, but merely different outcomes than the ones that we are conditioned from birth to believe in.

The greatest problem that conservatives have with identityism is the belief that being identity blind is enough to create true equality.  Systemic identityism doesn’t work that way.  It doesn’t matter, for instance, how sex-blind NASA is; NASA will have trouble hiring women because women won’t apply to NASA, because they never learned math or science, because their teachers didn’t teach them math or science, because we “know” women aren’t good at math or science, because NASA has trouble finding women to hire.  The only way out is to notice the closed logic loop and to then actively do something about it.

Of course, what must be actively done is a complicated subject for many other days.  The key for now is to realize that identityism, particularly in its systemic form, remains alive and well in America.  We have an opportunity to offer real solutions — the left offers only to replace one oppressive system with another, but they have at least noticed that there’s a conversation going on that they need to be a part of.  It’s time for conservatives to join in.

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22
Nov

Thanksgiving

   Posted by: Robert    in Philosophy

Thanksgiving in America has got to be one of the most classically American holidays.  It combines into one so many of our greatest national traditions.

Coming in the fall at the end of the harvest, the story of Thanksgiving is born out of what could have been a great American tragedy.  In the classic telling, the Pilgrims found themselves dangerously unable to provide for themselves in the new pre-colonial America.  With the assistance of Native Americans, the poor fortune of the Pilgrims was turned neatly around, and by the end of the harvest season the Pilgrims found themselves with much to celebrate.  Their harvest festival would eventually become our modern Thanksgiving holiday.

Encapsulated in even this brief telling of the Thanksgiving story are many American values.  Hard work and perseverance kept the Pilgrims pushing forward away from what could have been an awful ending.  The coming together of two different groups — the Pilgrims and the Native Americans — would bring about a mutual alliance which bound the two groups together in peace for nearly two decades.1  A willingness to listen and learn set the tone for how we as Americans ought to live our lives today.  By taking risks, these early settlers were able to overcome hardship in a grand way.

Despite our current economic calamity, we still have much to be thankful for today.  Whether we celebrate in a restaurant, in our homes, out with family, or in a soup kitchen, very few of us face the impending death from starvation that loomed large over the head of the Pilgrims.  Whether we fund our feast from jobs, food stamps, or both, we at least have the chance to slow down and spend time with our friends and family.

Although most of us are a few steps removed from anything like the Pilgrim harvest, we should all take a moment to be thankful for living in America.  Our country, to be sure, isn’t perfect; and for many, our individual hardships may be great.  But this country remains a great land of opportunity and charity where everyone can find something for which to be thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving~

  1. Some would argue that all that was actually brought about was a genocide against Native Americans, and so Thanksgiving is a celebration of genocide.  But it was actually a different group, the Puritans, who were responsible for that chain of events which wouldn’t begin for a full 16 years after the harvest which inspires our modern Thanksgiving. []
18
Nov

A Tale of Two Workforces

   Posted by: Robert    in News

In the news for the past few days have been some interesting stories about labor in America.  In news that has been making many headlines, Hostess, the company which famously makes Twinkies and Wonder Bread, is going out of business after a protracted labor dispute.  Meanwhile, Wal-Mart workers are threatening to strike over the Thanksgiving holiday, protesting low pay and benefits for store workers as well as the company forcing people to work on Thanksgiving day.  Both of these stories provide great illustrations of the relationship between labor and corporations in America.

At the hands of “evil corporate overlords” and “big labor bosses” throughout the country, America’s relationship between business and labor can sometimes seem fairly well strained.  In the classic tale from the left, dastardly corporations exist to systematically exploit a large number of people to generate extreme wealth for a small oligarchy of elites at the top.  In the classic tale from the right, labor unions promote a culture of laziness in which uncaring employees seek only to receive large paychecks for performing almost no work.  Each side is presented as hostile to the other, fighting against each other at every turn, in a battle which only the strongest will ultimately be able to win.

As the Hostess case reminds us, however, it’s often the case that nobody wins.  Leading up to their announced liquidation, Hostess had spent most of the past year working its way through Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  As a result of their effort, the company won significant concessions from the Teamsters and a court-ordered settlement with the Bakers’ union, but couldn’t reach a permanent agreement with the latter.  In the end, Hostess and the Bakers played a game of chicken, and when neither side blinked, the lights went out.  By not finding a way to work together, an 80 year old business is gone and 19,000 people are suddenly in need of new jobs.

While it’s insane to think that a company that filed bankruptcy twice within seven years before ultimately closing its doors was milking its workers to line executives’ pockets with gold, other cases are a great deal less clear.  In still other cases, the disdain executives seem to feel toward their employees is on full display for all the world to see.  Such is the case with Wal-Mart.

A job at Wal-Mart is one of those things that seems best suited for high school kids, people who want a second job, and people who can’t find anything better.  Workers at Wal-Mart make at or near minimum wage, and from what I’ve been told, opportunities for advancement are quite limited.  The overall atmosphere is one where employees don’t feel valued; an environment which is a historic breeding ground for labor movements.  If it actually comes about, a Black Friday strike could give union the toe-hold they need to unionize the Wal-Mart workforce.  For the moment, however, the Black Friday strike seems a great deal closer to the sort of free market labor response that took place in the early days of modern labor organization than the labor bureaucracy that’s become common today.

The history of organized labor is a complicated one, which is like most human stories in being filled with heroes and villains, the greedy and downtrodden, money and power.  However, on a personal level, the lesson from both Hostess and Wal-Mart is the importance of respect.  The Bakers’ union held out in part because they had felt abused by Hostess.  Meanwhile, Hostess was destroyed because the union’s demands were more than the company could survive.  The essence of what Wal-Mart employees desire is to be treated like people, rather than as one of the cheap commodities found on the store’s shelves.

Companies built on a foundation of respect are capable of doing great things.  Many industries in America remain largely non-union by choice.  In the tech sector, large companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft thrive on innovation and modern work practices without the need for organized work practices.

Treating people like people…  There’s a conservative value if ever I saw one.

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15
Nov

Shoot the Messenger

   Posted by: Robert    in Philosophy

Messaging is key to the success of any political movement.  For at least as long as I’ve been paying attention, conservative messaging has been a disaster.  We’ve spent years in conflict with ourselves, being incoherent, and failing to project conservative values in a positive and uplifting way.  There are a great many reasons for our failure at messaging, but the most important all boil down to one common root cause.  Conservative messaging is a disaster because it isn’t conservatives who are carrying the message.

Ever since the Tea Party developed, there has been an expanding realization that conservatives and Republicans are two distinct breeds.  Although this is well recognized in conservative circles, it seems less well understood by traditional Republicans, and seems to be a fact largely lost on the left.  Unfortunately for conservatives, the Republican Party is the closest thing that we have to a meaningful conservative political party in America, which puts them front and center for carrying our political message.  This hasn’t worked out very well for either of us.

As if having our message distorted by Republicans wasn’t bad enough, our message gets further mangled by the media.  The traditional media — newspaper, radio, and television — has a well known bias for liberalism.  Republicans, for some reason, still believe that looking good in the media is a desirable messaging objective.  The media, of course, does Republicans no favors.  A pat on the head for being “bipartisan” is about the best that Republicans can hope for.  Conservatives, who see “bipartisan” as “giving in to liberal demands”, can’t catch a break in the media at all.

Fortunately for conservatives, the traditional media isn’t the oligopoly on information that it once was.  New social media, transmitted raw and live over the Internet, expands opportunities for conservatives to bring out a message directly.  A strong conservative Internet presence would allow us to connect directly with people in a way that working through traditional media doesn’t.  We have to be careful, because direct messaging forces us to own our stupidity, but it’s a risk that we have little choice but to take.

In the hands of articulate conservatives who can speak directly to America, the glow of our principles shimmers like starlight.  Conservatism is uplifting; it’s a philosophy of love, strength, and achievement; and it should never be used to tear anyone down.  Neither the Republicans, nor especially the media, have any interest in telling that story.

So let’s shoot the messengers.  They don’t deliver our message right anyway.

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11
Nov

Conservative Conversations on the Left’s Terms

   Posted by: Robert    in Philosophy

Among the problems facing conservatives is an ongoing failure to be able to connect with or have meaningful conversations with minority groups.  During this last election, conservatives had significant problems with racial and ethnic minorities, women, the LGBT community, and pretty much everyone else who wasn’t a white Christian male.  There’s been a conventional wisdom developed on the right that this is because of liberal pandering to those groups; buying their votes with government programs, affirmative action handouts, amnesty, and all manner of other ways in which the left gives these groups something for free, implicitly in exchange for their votes.  This seems to work even though these groups mostly don’t appear better off despite the aid of their liberal benefactors.

If we assume that these groups are after actual improvement — not just free stuff — then that means there is something the left is doing that conservatives have missed.    One possibility which I think is likely is that liberals can connect with minority groups in a way that has, so far, eluded the right.  In fact, the left seems to have an entire vocabulary for having discussions with and about minorities; a vocabulary which conservatives either don’t know or are actually hostile toward.

This linguistic purity has left conservatives out of important conversations and has left the branding of conservatism entirely in the hands of its enemies.  It’s time for conservatives to engage.  If it’s safe to assume (as I think it is) that members of minority groups want the same things as the rest of us — liberty and freedom, fair pay for an honest day’s work, love, family, and above all to simply be treated aspeople — then conservatism surely has plenty to offer.

The first step in this journey is listening, and understanding what these people mean by their own words.  In the coming weeks, I’ll be offering up an encyclopedia, of sorts, to help break down what’s being said.  The key is to separate descriptive terms from prescriptive policies; we need to understand and use the former in order to influence and change the latter.  Making the separation won’t be easy, because the left has done a good job of blending them together, but the goal is essential.  A whole new conversation is about to begin.

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7
Nov

2012 is Over, and Here We Are Again

   Posted by: Robert    in Philosophy, Politics

Four years later and and once again Republicans fall in defeat.  The good news is that this should be the last time either Obama or Romney appear on the Presidential ballot, and this should be Obama’s last election victory ever.  There are plenty of platitudes about how this isn’t as bad as it may feel and how conservatives should push forward as we always do: Chin up and confident in our beliefs.  But let’s face it, what we’re doing isn’t working.  It’s time to take a look at what’s happening and draw some lessons for change.

It’s clear now that class warfare, divide and conquer politics works.  What’s less clear is which divisions are actually important.  My sense of the election is that it wasn’t about wealth, despite the Democrats’ attempt to paint Romney as rich and out of touch.  The more important divisions, I think, are social rather than economic.  Republicans have been successfully branded as a party exclusive to white, Christian, middle aged males, but there simply aren’t enough of those around to carry an election to office.  It’s time for conservatives to reach out to other groups and find ways to address their particular problems in ways that are consistent with conservative principles, but which don’t rely on forms of privilege which may not be quite as irrelevant as conservatives would like to believe.

Equally clear is that Republican messaging needs an upgrade to the 21st century.  Republicans were caught flat footed in 2008 by the rise of the Internet and the then-new social media.  Romney and Ryan were competent this time, but competency isn’t enough.  Republicans need to dominate the “new media” not just as a platform for getting out their message to voters (although they absolutely must do that), but as a tool for truly connecting with voters in order to earn their trust.  New media will only become more important with time and conservatives need to get in the lead or risk losing yet one more communication platform to the left.

Even more fundamentally, however, is the need for conservatives develop a narrative for their role in America.  A narrative goes beyond policy positions or even guiding principles; it tells the story of what conservatism brings to the trajectory of American history.  The narrative for liberalism is “the march of equality and civil rights.”  I have no idea what the conservative narrative might be, but finding one is going to be crucial for achieving the broader social changes necessary to make conservatism viable further into the future.

The Tea Party won huge gains in 2010 by focusing on taxes and economic policy while allowing most other issues to fall by the wayside.  Romney, I think wisely, did much the same in his bid to win the White House.  Economics alone clearly aren’t enough.  It’s time for conservatives to look outside themselves for a broader audience, and do everything possible to take control of their message, if there is to be any hope at all.

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