At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Polls and Realities

posted by Jack Kerwick

Republican activists at this year’s Values Voters Summit are perplexed that the race between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama remains tight.

According to an AP story from September 15, activist R.J. Robinson put it bluntly: Romney “ought to be killing Obama, and he’s clearly not doing that.  He should be doing better.”

Mike Garner, another attendee at this weekend’s conference, elaborated: “If Romney loses this election, the party really needs to do some soul-searching.”

Doubtless, it isn’t only those Republicans who were in attendance at the Values Voters Summit who are losing some heart. GOP voters from across the country are frustrated and anxious as well.

And this is exactly the intended effect of polls that depict this as a tight presidential contest.

The pollster, along with other journalists and politicians, has succeeded in convincing us that he is on a quest for objectivity. He would—and does—have us think that he is concerned with nothing more or less than simply revealing the will of the voter.  In reality, however, like his peers in the rest of the media and his counterparts in politics, pollsters shape the voter’s will.

This is not a new insight. The early 20th century conservative political theorist and Harvard professor Joseph Schumpeter established this long ago.

Political coverage is no different from commercial advertising, Schumpeter observed.  Consumers “are so amenable to the influence of advertising and other methods of persuasion that producers often seem to dictate to them instead of being directed by them.” Similarly, the voter’s will “is largely not a genuine but a manufactured will.”

In politics and commercial advertising, “we find the same attempts to contact the subconscious.”  Both also rely upon “the same technique of creating favorable and unfavorable associations which are the more effective the less rational they are.”  Both political and commercial advertising rely upon “the same trick of producing opinion by reiterated assertion”—not “rational argument.”

In other words, the stimuli—like polls—with which the voter is continuously fed are not designed to discover his wants.  They are designed to create them.

Yet politics and commercialism are alike in another respect: politics is a form of commercialism.

Political journalists, pundits, pollsters and the corporations that they serve have a deeply invested monetary interest in doing all that they can to arouse, as much as possible, the enthusiasms of audiences.  A presidential election season, more so than anything else, provides them that opportunity, for it is only during such times that Americans from coast to coast take at least some interest in the political life of their nation.

Since, then, it is only once every four years that a presidential race is held, it is a no brainer that media figures should use every ounce of their power and influence to render it as exciting as possible.  Like anything that excites consumers, exciting politics sells.

And a tight presidential race is more exciting politics than one that is not so tight.    

Bear all of this in mind as we make a few notes. 

First, in 2008, Obama beat John McCain by seven points.  This was a decisive victory, yes, but not anything at all like a landslide.  And this was at a juncture when the aged, debilitated McCain was as powerful a symbol of the GOP fatigue pervading the country as was the unknown, youthful, and charismatic Obama a symbol of the equally pervasive hope for a new course of direction.

Still, Obama couldn’t best McCain by more than seven points.

Second, Obama now has a record—a record of which no one who is not an Obama loyalist has anything very good to say. In truth, it is a bad record.  He and his supporters can claim all day long that Obama inherited it from his predecessor, but the reality is that the economy that Obama inherited isn’t nearly as bad as the one over which he presides.

Many people—most, I think it is fair to say—understand this.  Actually, their appreciation rivals that of their understanding—a fact born out by the enthusiasm with which voters delivered a truly landslide defeat to Democrats in 2010. 

This enthusiasm has not abated.  Not in the least.  And this brings us to our third note.

Everyone who voted for McCain in 2008 can be counted on to vote for Romney this year.  Obama, on the other hand, will not garner as much support as he received four years ago.  There are far too many disenchanted Obama voters—small business owners and entrepreneurs, some independents, some self-avowed conservatives, and even some Democrats.

Romney is not McCain.  President Obama is not the idealistic Senator Obama with whom the American public was presented.  The country is now weary of the Democrats. 

We should recall these facts the next time we are presented with polls showing this to be a tight race.     


In Defense of Ron Paul: A Reply to National Review Online

posted by Jack Kerwick

Mitt Romney’s decision to honor Ron Paul with a video tribute at this year’s Republican National Convention didn’t sit well with some on the right. 

In an article appearing in National Review Online, “The Problem with Paul,” Jamie M. Fly and Evan Moore give expression to this angst when they refer to Romney’s and the conventional planners’ decision as “ridiculous,” “regrettable,” and “a mistake.”

The authors begrudgingly acknowledge that, given Congressman Paul’s number of delegates and the vocal nature of his supporters, the “concessions” that “have already been made to them on extraneous issues during the drafting of the platform” and the allocation of a speaking slot to Kentucky Senator Rand Paul are understandable.  Still, they contend, “paying tribute to Representative Paul is a step too far.”

Moreover, as if to disabuse Paul and his supporters of any doubts regarding their fellow partisans’ feelings toward them, Fly andMoore add that “instead of honoring Paul on the way out, the delegates in Tampa should be cheering his departure.”  They explain that Paul “has left a legacy of extremism and falsehoods that need to be driven from the party, not embraced by it.”

“It’s important to remember how far outside the mainstream Paul and many of his supporters are,” the authors continue. The views of Paul on which the authors set their sights, as Paul’s supporters and their opponents have by now come to expect, pertain to foreign, not domestic, policy.

Fly and Moore are incensed specifically about Paul’s position on the issue of Iran. 

Paul views the current preoccupation with a potentially nuclear Iran with the same cool skepticism—and even ridicule—with which he greeted the talk leading up to the war inIraq.  Just as hysteria was the order of the day back in 2003, so hysteria is fueling our discussion over Iran.  We are once more “beating the war drums,” Paul has said.

Fly and Moore criticize Paul for allegedly painting “a picture of a peaceful and benevolent Islamic Republic that has never actually existed.”  They also refer to his argument as an “apologia for the ayatollahs” and judge it to be “as absurd as it is dangerous.”  Furthermore, they contend, “it is wholly irresponsible for anyone who aspires to national leadership” to take the position that Paul takes.

Paul’s objectors also allude to his “trail of similar factual errors and conspiracy-mongering on issues ranging from the defense budget to America’s position overseas, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and even the origins of the attacks of September 11, 2001 [.]”

For several reasons, Fly’s and Moore’s argument is woefully inadequate to the task of supporting their main thesis.  The primary reason, though, is that it isn’t much of an argument at all.

But there are other considerations that expose it for the cluster of aspersions and emotional appeals that it is.

First of all, neither now nor ever has Paul taken an interest in depicting Iran or any other country either as “a peaceful and benevolent Islamic Republic” or along any other lines.  He is concerned with insuring that the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and other international contracts are observed by all parties—including the United States.  His understanding of those terms may be erroneous or arguable—but this is hardly uncommon when it comes to matters of law, whether domestic or otherwise.  And his case for his position may conjure up an inaccurate image of a party in question, but this scarcely justifies the verdict that he is an “extremist.”

My second point relates to this last.  For all of the frequency with which they are used in our public discourse, t-shirt, bumper sticker terms like “extremist” are not befitting of any remotely genuine intellectual exchange.  To put it bluntly, it is a conversation-stopper.  “Extremism” is a politically or emotionally-charged word that is meaningful only insofar as it reveals how its user feels about those against whom he is leveling it.

Thirdly, Fly, Moore and all Republicans who supported and who continue to support something like George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda” in the Middle East should take care against accusing others of extremism.  In droves, war-wearied Americans flocked to the polling booths in 2006 and 2008 to relieve Republicans of power.  From this time to the present, poll after poll continues to show that Americans don’t attach nearly as much importance to foreign policy as do Fly, Moore, and their ideological ilk.  Furthermore, most Americans believe that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were mistakes, and they positively eschew the robust interventionism favored by Paul’s Republican critics.

That even Republicans know this is born out by the fact that this Republican National Convention was the first such convention in 60 years that omitted all explicit references to war.  Instead, we had euphemistic talk from the likes of John McCain of America’s leadership in the world, etc.

In short, it is not the foreign policy views of Paul, but those of Fly and Moore, that are “far outside the mainstream.”  It is their views that are “extreme.”

Finally, the criticisms of Fly and Moore are not unlike those raised by almost all of Paul’s detractors in the GOP inasmuch as they center exclusively on his foreign policy vision.  But to focus on the latter in isolation from the larger understanding of liberty that informs it is like ridiculing the Catholic sacrament of communion independently of the theological vision that makes it a sacrament. It is like commenting on a piece of a puzzle while ignoring the puzzle.

It is true that Paul regards the conventional foreign policy promoted by the likes of Fly and Moore as both disastrous and dangerous.  Yet even if he perceived it quite differently; even if he thought that it promised the most wonderful of consequences for our nation and the world, he would still oppose it with all of the passion that he opposes it now and with which he would continue to oppose the welfare-state, regardless of whether he could be convinced that the redistributive schemes of the social engineers haven’t always come to naught.  

There is one very simple reason for this: it undermines liberty. 

Liberty—not some universal abstraction, but the concrete, particular way of life to which Americans have grown accustomed over the span of centuries—consists in a wide dispersion of power.  It consists in decentralization.  In the popular parlance, liberty is comprised of a “limited”—an exceptionally limited—government, a government essentially divided against itself.

In stark contrast, the enterprise upon which Fly and Moore want to continue to embark our country and to which Paul has always been vehemently opposed, demands a gargantuan government.  There is no two ways about this.

Talk radio host Dennis Prager is no fan of Ron Paul.  But Prager has coined an expression with which Paul wholeheartedly agrees: the larger the government, the smaller the citizen, and the larger the citizen, the smaller the government. 

Paul rejects the foreign policy of Fly and Moore (and Prager) because he realizes, even if they don’t, that it can’t but have the effect of diminishing the citizen.

If this is the sort of person who Republicans want to banish from their party, then it should be honest and abandon, once and for all, all of their rhetoric of “limited government.”      




Blacks and Republicans: Revisiting George S. Schuyler

posted by Jack Kerwick

All too predictably, the left has been busy at work trying to convince Americans that opposition to President Obama is motivated by the “racist” machinations of his Republican opponents.

Last Thursday, for example, while addressing the Democratic National Convention, Congressman John Lewis informed audiences that a victory for Mitt Romney promised to turn back the hands of time to the Jim Crow era of his youth.

Recalling his days as a civil rights activist, Lewis proclaimed that “we have come to far together to ever turn back.”

We have indeed come too far. We have come so far that we have forgotten—or have been made to forget—that there was a time when the Republican Party was the home of American’s blacks.

And we have forgotten—or have been made to forget—such staunch black conservatives as George S. Schuyler.

Born in 1895 in upstate New York, Schuyler was still a young man when he became one of the most insightful—and prolific—essayists that twentieth century America had ever produced.  This, at any rate, was the judgment of many, including his one-time mentor, the iconoclastic H.L. Mencken.  Schuyler was part of “the Harlem Renaissance,” and from the 1920’s through the 1960’s, he wrote and edited The Pittsburgh Courier, one of the largest black newspaper publications in the country.

Besides being an ardent anti-communist, Schuyler also had little good to say about those of his contemporaries who lead the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Although he had been a tireless champion of racial equality for all of his life, he regarded the plans of the civil rights activists as inimical to liberty.

For instance, while it was still a bill in Congress, Schuyler argued powerfully against what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Schuyler readily concedes that the white majority’s attitude toward the black minority is “morally wrong, nonsensical, unfair, un-Christian and cruelly unjust.” Still, because “it remains the majority attitude,” the federal Civil Rights law would be but “another typically American attempt to use the force of law to compel the public to drastically change [.]”

Although race relations weren’t where Schuyler wanted for them to be at this time, he was quick to point out that they had improved markedly since slavery had ended.  He was equally quick to observe that “civil rights laws, state or federal, have had little to do with” such changes.

Speaking as a true conservative, Schuyler declared that it is “custom” that “has dictated the pace of compliance” with those civil rights laws that otherwise remained “dormant in the law books.”

The “principal case” that Schuyler makes against this proposed legislation pertains to “the dangerous purpose it may serve.”  Such a law “is still another encroachment by the central government on the federalized structure of our society.”

Schuyler is blunt:

“Armed with this law enacted to improve the lot of a tenth of the population, the way will be opened to enslave the rest of the populace.” 

In short, a federal civil rights law of the sort that was passed in 1964 strikes “a blow at the very basis of American society which is founded on state sovereignty and individual liberty and preference.”

Schuyler was critical of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and, especially, Malcolm X. 

He lauded King’s objectives but deplored his motives.  When King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Schuyler was outraged. He wrote that King deserved, not this prize, but “the Lenin Prize,” for “it is no mean feat for one so young to acquire sixty Communist-front citations [.]” 

Furthermore, King’s “incitement packed jails with Negroes and some whites, getting them beaten, bitten and firehosed, thereby bankrupting communities, raising bail and fines, to the vast enrichment of Southern Law and order.”

Schuyler debated Malcolm X on more than one occasion.  He had little regard for Malcolm, who he referred to as “one of the high priests of Black Power [.]”  Schuyler says of Malcolm that he “was a bold, outspoken, ignorant man of no occupation,” just one of the many “mediocrities, criminals, plotters, and poseurs” that had come to fill the ranks of this “past generation” of “black ‘leaders [.]’”

Some years after his death the movement to memorialize Malcolm was well under way.  Schuyler said that “we might as well call out the school children to celebrate the birthday of Benedict Arnold.”  

Schuyler added: “It is not hard to imagine the ultimate fate of a society in which a pixilated criminal like Malcolm X is almost universally praised, and has hospitals, schools, and highways named in his memory!”

There is much more that George Schuyler has said, and much more that can be said about him.  But knowing just this little bit that this distinguished black conservative of yesteryear did say, it is hard not to suspect that, sadly, we have indeed been made to forget the existence of this conservative champion of constitutional government and genuine equality.             



The Problems with “Gay Marriage”

posted by Jack Kerwick

Most right-leaning commentators oppose so-called “gay marriage.”  If we become the first society in all of human history to reshape marriage so as to accommodate homosexuals, the argument goes, we will weaken this most indispensable and venerable of institutions. 

It is hard not to have at least some sympathy for this reasoning.  After all, when we get right down to it, the partisan weighing in on this debate has but two alternatives from which to choose. 

On the one hand, he can choose to either side with the overwhelming majority of human beings who have ever populated the planet by doing his best to preserve the exclusively heterosexual character of marriage.  On the other hand, he can decide to cast his vote in favor of the preferences of a minority of his contemporaries by opening marriage to homosexuals.

When we consider the issue from this perspective, most people, I should think, will recognize that the universal experience of the human species is apt to be the most reliable of guides. 

Of course, that a guide is reliable does not mean that it is infallible.  It is possible that the proponents of “gay marriage” may be correct.  Yet this is precisely the point: the mere possibility that they are in the right implies the possibility that they are wrong.   

In our personal lives, it is not infrequently necessary—and desirable—that we should take risks in order to advance our interests.  Only by moving beyond our comfort zones can we hope to grow.  But the proponents of “gay marriage” are gambling, not with their personal lives alone, but with the future well being of a civilization.

Civilization consists of a complex chain of institutions of which marriage is a critical link.  Thus, three implications follow from this.

First, marriage does not exist to satisfy the preferences or desires of individuals.  It is, then, most decidedly not a “human right.”  Rather, marriage exists in order to create and sustain civilization.  This has been the consensus of the human race.  

Second, while the conditions of marriage have indeed varied according to place and time, it has always been understood as a heterosexual union.  That is, the species has determined that civilization hinges upon children being produced, raised, and nurtured by fathers and mothers.   

Finally, because marriage is part of a seamless whole of civilization-defining institutions, changes to marriage promise to induce changes in every other institution. Or, to put it more simply, a change in marriage is nothing less than a change in civilization.

That we don’t know for certain what these changes will be is neither here nor there.  All that matters is that we can indeed be certain that changes there will be.

The burden, then, is upon the shoulders of the proponent of “gay marriage.” Considering that there isn’t a culture or society in the annals of history that has so much as dreamt, let alone promoted, the idea of homosexuals marrying, it is up to the champion of “gay marriage” to convince the rest of us that the wisdom of the species has in fact been folly—and, to hear him tell it, much worse than this.

This is an enormous task. Actually, it is impossible.  Although the defender of “gay marriage” may be stunned to hear it, he is simply not capable of forecasting all of the ramifications that a change as radical as the proposal he favors promises to entail. 

Again, it isn’t just the changes in the institution of marriage to which he must speak. It is the changes in civilization as a whole that he must address.





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