Monday, October 24, 2011

Buchanan's Bucolic America

It has been noted that conservative pundits who talk about "the good old days" in which everything was sunshine and lollipops are writing about their childhood years.
I don’t mean to pick on this one randomly selected citizen. But this is something we hear all the time: that back in my day, things were simpler and better, and the America I remember from my youth is being destroyed. The best answer I’ve seen to this repeated complaint came from The Daily Show’s John Oliver. In the clip below, he makes what ought to have been an obvious point: “So just when was the simpler, better time that all these great Americans want us to return to? … They were children! … It was a better, simpler time because they were all 6 years old! For children, the world is always a happy, uncomplicated place!”
With that in mind it is perhaps not surprising that Pat Buchanan, who turned 12 in 1950, believes that the 1950's were an age of bliss and wonder. Buchanan can wax nostalgic about the age of legal segregation because he was and is blind to its realities, and can comfortably obsess on what he sees as bad hyphenation - black Americans self-identifying as "African-American" instead of simply "American".

I've previously commented on "good multiculturalism" versus "bad multiculturalism". I have never seen Pat Buchanan, or anybody like him, complain that there are 122,000,000 'hits' on Google for "Irish-American", that individuals and groups celebrate their Irish heritage, or that we as a nation celebrate St. Patrick's Day. I have never heard him complain that a person self-identified as Catholic instead of the more inclusive "Christian". That's all "good multiculturalism". Similarly, Buchanan erases episodes of multiculturalism from our nation's history and from world history. He complains,
No more will we all speak the same language. We will be bilingual and bi-national. Spanish radio and TV stations are already the fastest growing. In Los Angeles, half the people speak a language other than English in their own homes.
Never mind that we have always had ethnic communities in the United States, under such names as Chinatown and Little Italy, in which it was anything but unusual to find immigrants who spoke little to no English. Overlooking the fact that it's pretty easy to find television programming and even newspapers in any given language these days, do you doubt that markets would have responded with a greater number of media choices? Capitalism in action.
The old Christian churches — Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran and especially Episcopalian — are splitting, shrinking and dying.
When, at least since the early Sixteenth Century, has the Christian faith been immune from fragmentation and evolution? There's an irony here: many of the churches that are at the biggest risk of dying out are those associated with specific ethnicities. The Episcopal Church is the American offshoot of the Anglican Church - the Church of England. It was strongest when large numbers of Americans felt a strong ethnic affinity with England, and has declined as that connection has faded.

Buchanan's synopsis of the decline of American culture comes first with the lament that only 75 percent of Americans self-identify as Christian (down from 85% in 1990), and the hollow man:
What was morally repellent — promiscuity, homosexuality, abortion — is now seen by perhaps half the nation as natural, normal, healthy and progressive.
While acceptance of homosexuality has increased to the point that a majority now supports gay marriage, no significant number of Americans would describe either promiscuity or abortion as "natural, normal, healthy and progressive". Under Buchanan's thesis, even if the number is lower than in the past, having 75% of Americans self-identify as Christian should be seen as a good thing. Instead, that 75% consensus is said to mean that "The moral consensus and moral code Christianity gave to us has collapsed."

Buchanan complains,
In California’s prisons and among her proliferating ethnic gangs, a black-brown civil war has broken out.
That's quite unlike the "good gangs" of the 1950's - those boys could harmonize.

Buchanan presents an interesting statistical claim,
Where out-of-wedlock births in the 1950s were rare, today, 41 percent of all American children are born out of wedlock. Among Hispanics, it is 51 percent; among blacks, 71 percent. And the correlation between the illegitimacy rate, the drug rate, the dropout rate, the crime rate and the incarceration rate is absolute.
In regard to out-of-wedlock births, it should be noted that there were more teen births in the 1950's than in the present, and more "shotgun weddings". One could make a case that the rising acceptance of divorce and reproductive freedom, and the trend away from compelling young pregnant girls to marry, is a direct response to the societal coercion to which Buchanan would have us return.

But let's take Buchanan at face value. He tells us that the illegitimacy rate is up, and that correlation with the "drug rate" is absolute. But illicit drug usage peaked in the late 1970's, and both alcohol and cigarette consumption have also declined in recent decades. There is a strong correlation between age and illicit drug use, as younger people are more likely to use illicit drugs than are older people, and I suspect that Buchanan is disregarding that correlation in order to try to tie higher drug usage rates to specific ethnicities without regard to average and median age. He tells us that the correlation with the crime rate is absolute, but despite a sharp increase between 1960 and 1970, the crime rate leveled off, with peaks in 1980 and 1991 and a subsequent decline. (There's a stronger correlation between the crime rate and Pat Buchanan's political career than there is with illegitimacy.)

There is nothing talismanic about illegitimacy that raises the incarceration rate - being born to an unmarried mother doesn't change your genome - but it is fair to observe that the children of single parents are more likely to live in economically distressed homes and communities and poverty, an issue that does not seem to be on Buchanan's radar, is associated with a higher crime rate. It is reasonable to argue that marriage is a good way to stabilize households, increasing the chance that a child will have a better lifestyle, better parenting and more opportunity than a child raised by a single parent; it's an imperfect solution, but it is probably the most cost-effective to society.
Neocons says not to worry, the Constitution holds us together.
Which neocons are saying that... and who listens to neocons any more?
How can we be the “one nation, under God” of the Pledge of Allegiance, or the people “endowed by their Creator” with inalienable rights, if we cannot even identify or discuss or mention that God and that Creator in the schools of America?
What prevents classroom discussion of our founding documents, the religious beliefs of the founding fathers and the manner in which those beliefs are reflected in our founding documents? That is, other than the fact that some of the founding fathers had views on religion that would make Pat Buchanan very uncomfortable, perhaps to the point of accusing them of trying to destroy our common Christian heritage and values. Buchanan knows that discussion is possible in the classroom - for goodness sake, many school children open the day by reciting The Pledge of Allegiance - so why the hyperbolic deception?

Buchanan complains,
Do we agree on what the Ninth Amendment says about right to life? What about what the 14th Amendment says about affirmative action? What the Second Amendment says about the right to carry a concealed gun?
Buchanan would have us return to 1950's, when the consensus among those whose opinions mattered were that the Second Amendment did not protect an individual's right to bear arms, that "separate but equal" and segregation were good ways to deal with ethnic minorities, and it was difficult to get a safe abortion unless you were somewhat wealthy? Yeah, that would make everything better.


  1. Crazy stuff. On segregation,

    "...Back then, black and white lived apart, went to different schools and churches, played on different playgrounds, and went to different restaurants, bars, theaters, and soda fountains. But we shared a country and a culture. We were one nation. We were Americans...."

    On the Civil Rights Era,

    "...Before the 1960s, equality meant every citizen enjoyed the same constitutional rights and the equal protection of existing laws. Nothing in the Constitution or federal law mandated social, racial, or gender equality...."

    In terms of federal law it is reasonable to admit that before the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed it did not exist. It's also fair to say that the original text of the Constitution allowed for the continuation of slavery and the treatment of women as second-class citizens - how far back do we go to find Buchanan's version of utopia?

    "...The object of the amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but, in the nature of things, it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either. Laws permitting, and even requiring, their separation in places where they are liable to be brought into contact do not necessarily imply the inferiority of either race to the other, and have been generally, if not universally, recognized as within the competency of the state legislatures in the exercise of their police power. The most common instance of this is connected with the establishment of separate schools for white and colored children, which has been held to be a valid exercise of the legislative power even by courts of States where the political rights of the colored race have been longest and most earnestly enforced...."

    That's not Buchanan, it's Plessy v Ferguson, the Supreme Court case that formally embraced "separate but equal" as consistent with the law of the land. But as I read that passage, the difference between what it says and what Buchanan argues is a matter of style, not substance. Buchanan gives every impression that he would happily live in a segregated America, and would have his white American enclave delude itself into believing that the racial minorities they saw only in menial service roles, if that, were deeply devoted to a unified, Christian concept of America.

  2. One of the many things Buchanan misses in the history of segregation is the fact that the court would prohibit certain forms of unequal treatment. The Court rejected the argument that "the same argument that will justify the state legislature in requiring railways to provide separate accommodations for the two races will also authorize them to require separate cars to be provided for people whose hair is of a certain color, or who are aliens, or who belong to certain nationalities, or to enact laws requiring colored people to walk upon one side of the street and white people upon the other, or requiring white men's houses to be painted white and colored men's black, or their vehicles or business signs to be of different colors" based on the argument that "every exercise of the police power must be reasonable, and extend only to such laws as are enacted in good faith for the promotion for the public good, and not for the annoyance or oppression of a particular class."

    In other words, the segregation that Buchanan believed to be good for America could only constitutionally survive in an era in which the idea that having the races mix in a train car was extended "in good faith for the promotion for the public good". That is, it could only survive if the law recognized a material distinction between citizens based upon the color of their skin - as if the Court were able to see past skin color it would have been forced to conclude that there was no basis for the differential treatment and segregation of the races.

  3. He's probably learning his history from Robert Bork.

  4. Buchanan is an unrepentant racist and anti-Semite, and if I am not misremembering, his own sister was a poster child for unwed motherhood.