Wednesday, May 18, 2005

It Takes a Village (and other lessons children teach us)

Conservatives went all foamy at the mouth when Hilary Clinton penned her book with this title. Of course conservatives went foamy at the mouth just about any time the Mr. or Mrs. Clinton opened their mouths, but in any case...

A central tenet of conservative mythology is that the success and progress of a country hinges on the strength of the family. When the family disintegrates, society goes kaput. Hence, the primary goal of public policy is to "strengthen families", a mantra that is used to buttress policies ranging from bankruptcy "reform", welfare "reform", tax "relief", the infamous "gay marriage amendment" to the Constitution, "parental notification" abortion restrictions, and an assortment of other twisted and misnomered, anti-individual initiatives cloaked in sheeps clothing to appear "family friendly".

Now, the Bulworth thesis is that, first, this conservative myth is basically bupkes, and that, second, the failure of American liberalism and the Democratic Party is that it, or they, basically accept(s) the conservative diagnosis while lamely trying to refute its policy prescriptions. Consequently we are faced with a continuing series of inane calls for Democrats to embrace the language of "values", to move to the "center" or whatever flavor of sell-out that's currently fashionable so the mechanisms and designs of the political and religious elite remain unrecognized and unchallenged.

But you're thinking, why on earth, Senator Bulworth, are you trying to peddle such heresies as this? How can you say that the need to "strengthen families" is wrong?

First, I come to politics with the assumption that societies are comprised of three classes: the high, the middle and the low.* Now, among the first items of business for the elite is to either sell the notion that this distinction doesn't exist, or that if it does, it's justified because the low are lazy and immoral. And by becoming hard working, morally upright, yada yada yada, the low can become part and parcel members of the great American class of patriots. And everyone will live happily ever after if the low and dissenting members of the middle would just shut up and sing along to God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch.

But let's return to the three classes of people and what it means for the politics of family values. First, let's get this straight. The high (whether they be Hollywood actors or the heads of family research organizations) has no interest in being told how to run their families, or in being challenged on the basis of their morality or work ethic. And in the unlikely event that policies were crafted to regulate the family functioning of the high, we can be assured that the high won't be restricted or enlightened by them, primarily because they would be designed and implemented by the high itself. So to the extent that families need to be "strengthened", those families are not to be found among the higher classes.

Which leaves us with the middle and the low. First the middle. Now, by virture of the relative economic stability and modest educational attributes of this class, and because of the fact that despite what some conservatives and even some liberals might imagine, most families of the middle are not well depicted by scandalous TV shows such as "Desperate Housewives", the more juvenile (and Fox Entertainment sponsored) "O.C.", the family structures of the middle are pretty sound, or otherwise inpervious to any of the instruments that public policy might be brought to bear on them. Are there divorces and broken families among the middle classes? Well, yes, of course. Do they essentially affect the work and behavior of their family members? Essentially, no. Eric Harris and Dylan Klybold, the protagonists of the Columbine shootings were from typical, nuclear families. Most of the children from both solid and interrupted families adapt to their circumstances, and because whatever the degree of disruption that occurs, are more than likely to end up in a household that falls within the same middle class lifestyle, and hence, their lives don't change a lot. But the important point is that even if this was not so, there are no valid instruments of public policy "for the family" that would have much effect on them anyway. Increase in the child tax credit, more restrictive abortion laws, the outlawing of gay tolerance literature in public schools, and on and on, won't do much to affect the shape or behavior of the middle classes, other than to foment conflict and fear between families and locales and focus attention away from the ruling classes and the nature of the regime it commands.

So what is, or what are, the purpose(s) of all this ranting about the need for stronger family policies by groups like Focus on the Family, The Family Research Council, etc? And what about the low classes?

First, the behaviors and habits of the low, as with Oceania's proles, are irrelevant to the needs of the superstructure. The members of the low only need be kept ignorant, imprisoned (think, War on Drugs), formally or informally segregated, or just kept convinced of their inefficacy and that their actions are unlikely to alter their conditions.

So, the morality police, like James Dobson and Bill Frist, emphasize "family values" to pit middle against middle, and middle against low. Daydreamers on the left who have fantasies about populist campaigns and the ultimate arising of the low, forget the need for a lower class upon which to pit their frustrations that has also been inherent during middle class oriented populist crusades.

So, Hilary, Evan Bayh, Mark Warner, John Edwards, and the rest of you with ambitions for 2008: stop trying to imitate conservative philosophies and placate their imagined grievances. You're hurting America.

The primary task of government, besides the need to defend itself from enemies from abroad, is to ensure that the rights of individuals are protected, and that the coercive powers of the state, hierarchical religions, and the more subtle exertions of the economic elite to pit families and regions against one another through devisive and misleading rhetoric.

Tell this to the country.

*from George Orwell's 1984.

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