The Shift to Common Decency

It’s still sinking in. After Charleston, all that Republican and Fox News talk about black “thugs” and black folks with no sense of personal responsibility had to stop, and they had to give up on the Confederate flag too. Then things got worse. The Supreme Court ruled that four misplaced words in the massive Affordable Care Act didn’t negate the whole thing. The Supreme Court also saved the Fair Housing Act of 1968 – Texas cannot use its tax subsidies for housing development to keep “those people” (blacks and Hispanics) out of the “good” parts of town, claiming they meant no harm. Intention doesn’t matter – and this was the same Supreme Court that gave them Citizens United and two years ago gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, allowing them to make sure none of “those people” ever voted again. This didn’t seem fair, and all this was capped off with the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage. That’s fine. Let them get married. What’s it to you, after all? Get over it.

That was hard to process. America had been listening to the conservatives, assuming they made some sort of sense, since the Reagan years. Then, in one short week, the whole nation woke up. Obama woke up too. He let it rip in Charleston. In that eulogy for the pastor, and state senator and by all accounts an all-round good guy, who was gunned down in his own church, Obama burst into song – and it was “Amazing Grace” no less. Our long national nightmare was over.

Gerald Ford said that on August 9, 1974 – Nixon was gone. Nixon had been the nightmare. Ford acknowledged that he himself hadn’t been elected – Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, had pled no contest to felony extortion charges and had resigned, Nixon had appointed Ford to replace him, and then Nixon had resigned. Ford knew he was somewhat of an accidental president, but that day he seemed to stress that at least he was fairly normal and eminently sensible. He smoked a pipe. That was somewhat comforting. Paranoid ideologues don’t smoke pipes. Ford was a decent man – boring, but decent.

Forty-one years later the same thing happened again. Common sense and common decency won out over impassioned rants that were mostly nonsense – or at least that was the narrative that those on the left side of things offered. The Republicans hadn’t come up with another Gerald Ford, but they would, sooner or later. They had no choice. Everything they had been yammering about for years had been rejected, by the courts and by the people.

Those on the left side of things would say that. Those on the other side of things weren’t so sure. Maybe the Supreme Court was out of touch with what Sarah Palin had once called Real Americans. On the gay marriage issue, Justice Scalia had said that:

“Today’s decree says that my ruler, and the ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact – and the furthest extension one can even imagine – of the court’s claimed power to create ‘liberties’ that the Constitution and its amendments neglect to mention.”

In what seems like an attack on the very institution of the court, Scalia derides its makeup, including where the justices studied, where they go to church, where they come from – all by way of saying they have no right to make social decisions for the population.

“Take, for example, this court, which consists of only nine men and women, all of them successful lawyers who studied at Harvard or Yale Law School. Four of the nine are natives of New York City. Eight of them grew up in east- and west-coast States. Only one hails from the vast expanse in-between. Not a single south-westerner or even, to tell the truth, a genuine Westerner (California [where Kennedy hails from] does not count). Not a single evangelical Christian (a group that comprises about one quarter of Americans), or even a Protestant of any denomination. The strikingly unrepresentative character of the body voting on today’s social upheaval would be irrelevant if they were functioning as judges…” …

“To allow the policy question of same-sex marriage to be considered and resolved by a select, patrician, highly unrepresentative panel of nine is to violate a principle even more fundamental than no taxation without representation: no social transformation without representation,” Scalia wrote.

Scalia might be onto something there or maybe not:

A majority of Americans support the Supreme Court’s decisions last week on Obamacare and same-sex marriage, according to a new CNN/ORC poll released Tuesday. But at the same time, nearly 4 in 10 say the nation’s highest court is too liberal.

That’s ambiguous, but predictably so:

More than 6 in 10 Americans – 63 percent – said they support the Court’s ruling that upheld government subsidies for Americans buying health insurance through federally-run exchanges in states where no such program would otherwise exist. Asked about same-sex marriage, 59 percent said they agreed with the decision to legalize it in all 50 states.

The results break down a predictably partisan line, with most self-identified Democrats and independents backing both rulings and Republicans opposed to both. Nearly 8 in 10 Democrats (79 percent) support the health-care ruling, while slightly fewer (70 percent) favor the gay-marriage decision.

Most self-identified Democrats and independents, and on gay marriage, most young Republicans under thirty, are on one side of things – they are sixty percent of everyone. The other forty percent are being left behind. Scalia’s rant about his fellow justices at the Supreme Court being out of touch with America seems to be pure applesauce. Common sense and common decency are, well, common.

This has left Republicans with a choice. They can say that they too are decent people, and prove it, or they can rant about how everyone else is indecent and only they are decent. Christian evangelicals have preferred the latter for the last several decades, but that’s not the only option. Maybe they can do both, and the New York Times’ David Brooks tries to thread that needle:

These conservatives are enmeshed in a decades-long culture war that has been fought over issues arising from the sexual revolution. Most of the conservative commentators I’ve read over the past few days are resolved to keep fighting that war.

I am to the left of the people I have been describing on almost all of these social issues. But I hope they regard me as a friend and admirer. And from that vantage point, I would just ask them to consider a change in course….

Put aside a culture war that has alienated large parts of three generations from any consideration of religion or belief. Put aside an effort that has been a communications disaster, reducing a rich, complex and beautiful faith into a public obsession with sex. Put aside a culture war that, at least over the near term, you are destined to lose.

Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog counters with this:

I’d argue that the War on Sex not only makes religion look stifling and awful, it’s done the same thing to conservatism, which was going great guns in the 1980s, and might have won an overwhelming, decades-long victory if righties hadn’t been so obsessed with unwed mothers and gay people and porn.

What Brooks is trying to do is futile, because these folks aren’t going to listen to his recommendation for an alternative course.

That would be this from Brooks:

Social conservatives could be the people who help reweave the sinews of society. They already subscribe to a faith built on selfless love….

The defining face of social conservatism could be this: Those are the people who go into underprivileged areas and form organizations to help nurture stable families. Those are the people who build community institutions in places where they are sparse. Those are the people who can help us think about how economic joblessness and spiritual poverty reinforce each other. Those are the people who converse with us about the transcendent in everyday life. …

The sexual revolution will not be undone anytime soon. The more practical struggle is to repair a society rendered atomized, unforgiving and inhospitable. Social conservatives are well equipped to repair this fabric, and to serve as messengers of love, dignity, commitment, communion and grace.

Steve M is not impressed:

These social conservatives aren’t remotely interested in “selfless love.” They’re interested in God’s wrath. More specifically, they’re interested in being the broken-windows cops enforcing God’s wrath. They want to scold. They want to ban. They want to identify sinners and declare them unworthy unless they repent, while society, in unison, chants, “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

And, failing that, they want to regard themselves as the culture’s most long-suffering martyrs. Here’s Rod Dreher, one of the conservatives Brooks mentions by name in his column, responding to what Brooks wrote- “I am recommending a strategy for resisting, enduring and thriving under the reality of occupation.”

Yeah, there’s a guy you want ministering to those in need, right?

Read the Dreher item here and then consider Steve M:

The sense of being under siege feeds Dreher’s sense of self-righteousness. He knows he stands for good. He knows that the society we live in is evil – and that those of us who share the values of this society are deranged destroyers of civilization…

“The point is, there is no way for Christians to undertake the task of nurturing stable families, as David correctly wishes for, without making the teaching of Christian chastity part of the mission. This is the one thing the world cannot accept…”

Stop trying to reason with these people, David. Stop trying to be one of these people – we’ve read the rumors and we know you can’t live according to their moral code. I’m sure most of these clowns can’t do it themselves, either. But that won’t stop them from lecturing us. David, please realize that what they want most for society is to be its morality cops. They don’t really give a crap about Christ’s love.

Everyone knows these people. If the choice is between asserting that they too are decent people, and proving it, or ranting about how everyone else is indecent and only they are decent, and then slapping the sinners around, they’ll do the latter. That’s why the news of the day was this:

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie launched an uphill run for the Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday with his trademark brashness, offering up his blunt talk and willingness to tackle tough issues as the cure for Washington dysfunction.

Christie, once seen as a leading 2016 White House contender but now viewed as a long shot, said his dose of New Jersey straight talk could help span the partisan divide to solve difficult political problems.

“I mean what I say and I say what I mean, and that’s what America needs right now,” Christie told friends, family and supporters at the campaign launch at his old high school in suburban Livingston, New Jersey. “Truth and hard decisions today will lead to growth and opportunity tomorrow.”

The 52-year-old, two-term governor criticized the “bickering” leaders of both parties, and derided what he called Democratic President Barack Obama’s “hand-wringing and indecisiveness and weakness in the Oval Office.”

He’ll slap some people around, and that does appeal to the holier-than-though base, out to shame those who disagree with them, although this is an uphill battle:

He has seen his standing in national polls in the Republican race dip to the low single digits. His approval ratings in his home state have fallen to new lows amid a series of credit downgrades and weak job growth.

Conservatives, a key force in the early Republican primaries, have been suspicious of his record of working at times with Democrats in Democratic-leaning New Jersey. They still resent his hug and warm words for Obama after superstorm Sandy in the final days of the 2012 presidential race.

He has an answer to that:

As governor, Christie has cultivated an in-your-face image, once telling a heckler to “sit down and shut up” and getting into frequent shouting matches with New Jersey residents who challenge him.

“You’re going to get what I think whether you like it or not, or whether it makes you cringe every once in a while,” Christie said during his launch rally.

Christie promised to wage a spin-free race that “will not worry about what is popular but what is right, because what is right is what will fix America.”

He also took a verbal swing at Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, who was Obama’s first secretary of state.

“After seven years of a weak and feckless foreign policy run by Barack Obama, we better not turn it over to his second mate, Hillary Clinton,” he said.

This is going to be nasty and no fun for him:

New Jersey Democrats, however, have challenged Christie’s claims of bipartisanship, pointing to incidents like the “Bridgegate” scandal. In September 2013, aides orchestrated the closing of approach lanes for the George Washington Bridge connecting New Jersey and New York City, the busiest bridge in the country. Critics said the closings were retribution against a Democratic New Jersey mayor who turned down a request that he endorse Christie’s re-election campaign. Christie has disavowed knowledge of the closures.

“His version of compromise is more combative than the word implies. It’s more of an assault. He assaults the other side in a compromise and calls it an agreement,” said John Wisniewski, the deputy speaker of the Democratic-led state assembly.

But that’s why the Republican base might turn to him. He doesn’t take shit from anyone. He shits on them. That’s what he’s selling, because he knows the base always buys that sort of thing.

Salon’s Simon Maloy understands that:

This message appeals to what has been Christie’s most enduring constituency up to this point: dull-witted pundits who believe that every political fight and policy snarl can be overcome by “leadership.” They see Christie bark insults and schoolteachers and tell hecklers to “sit down and shut up” and they confuse that theatrical excess with political competence. “Telling it like it is” is little different from the “Straight Talk Express” nonsense that John McCain charmed the political press corps with during his own presidential campaigns. But there are several reasons to suspect that Christie won’t achieve the same level of success that McCain did.

First off, running on his own tough-guy, no-nonsense personality is pretty much the only option available Christie, given that his policy record has left him wildly unpopular in his own state. In his announcement speech this morning, Christie promised to campaign “without spin or pandering” and immediately broke that promise as he danced carefully around the fact that the New Jersey economy is beset by high unemployment and slow growth. Over the past few months, his approval rating has skidded to a series of all-time lows. Christie is facing the same problem as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal: his ambition extends far beyond his accomplishments, and so he’s reframing his unpopular and ineffective policies as “hard choices” that he had the “courage” to pursue.

That gets to another problem: the 2016 campaign is already stuffed with candidates who embody the “principled truth-teller” persona. Candidates like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul present themselves as unflinchingly honest men who will publicly break with their party (or join with the opposition) when their beliefs demand it. Ben Carson’s campaign is based entirely around his oft-stated refusal to be “politically correct” and to say things that everyone else is supposedly afraid to. Really there’s nothing unique or special about a candidate who promises to be the One Honest Man on the campaign trail, but with so many candidates pitching that message, Christie will have to make the case that he can be trusted over everyone else.

Good luck with that:

There’s literally no reason to trust anything Chris Christie says. Tom Moran, the editorial page editor of the New Jersey Star-Ledger, greeted the Christie 2016 candidacy with a brutal column dissecting the governor’s distasteful habit of earnestly giving you his word, and then enthusiastically breaking his promise. It’s not just Christie lies, he writes, it’s the lengths that he goes to in trying to convince you that he’s not lying. There are a wealth of examples to cite demonstrating this character flaw, but my favorite is immigration.

Christie, in the early days of his governorship, was relatively liberal on immigration issues – he bullishly endorsed a path to citizenship and signed a state-level version of the DREAM Act into law. Then his party soured on immigration reform and Christie, when asked to comment on immigration, would dodge the issue entirely and refuse to say anything because “I’m not a candidate for president.” A few months later he announced that he’d changed his mind and no longer backed citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Look out, America: you’ve been told like it is.

Maloy is not impressed:

Wafting through all of this is the unmistakable scent of desperation. Christie clearly believes he can recapture the political magic that propelled him to the top of everyone’s 2016 list before the George Washington Bridge scandal tore apart his reputation for forthrightness and turned his tough-guy persona into a toxic liability. He so badly wants to be president but won’t allow that he missed his moment. And so Christie’s promising to tell us like it is as he busily deludes himself.

Yes, but this is marketable, and Christie is not alone:

Donald J. Trump has made himself few friends lately with his inflammatory comments about Mexican immigrants, but he does have a defender in Senator Ted Cruz. The Republican from Texas told Fox and Friends on Tuesday that he had no problem with the billionaire businessman’s suggestion that those who cross the southern border illegally are “rapists” and “criminals.”

“I like Donald Trump. I think he’s terrific, I think he’s brash, I think he speaks the truth,” Mr. Cruz said.

NBC severed its relationship with Mr. Trump on Monday after criticism of his comments, canceling plans to air his Miss USA beauty pageant. Mr. Trump has threatened to sue for breach of contract.

Mr. Cruz said that Mr. Trump, who is a rival for the Republican nomination, should not have to apologize for speaking out about the problem of immigration. He suggested that NBC was being “silly” with its political correctness.

These three, and the rest of the Republican nominees, will speak the truth no one wants to hear. Good for them. Sixty percent of everyone in the country have already decided that’s not the truth at all – they’re now into that common sense and common dignity thing. Things did change at the end of June this year. It’s probably not wise to pretend they didn’t. This will not go well.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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