"A Good Year for the Roses" - George Jones
One of the more maddening things about so-called thinkers of the right is the degree to which their purported concerns about certain issues never actually lead to them advocating public policies that might alleviate the problem in question. Thus, for instance, despite their long time obsession with births out of wedlock, right wing intellectuals virtually never voice support for policies that would make contraception cheaper and more readily available or practical sexual education for young people that would enhance its use. And God forbid that abortion be seen as something that should be accessible, covered by insurance, and not stigmatized. But then again, right wing intellectuals aren't really interested in solving problems, they are interested in being able to fulminate against people's failings and to make sure that there are votes enough to perpetuate the interest of the wealthy in the halls of power.
The area where one sees this disingenuousness in perpetually full flower is the treatment of the white working class by the intellectual right. Time and again, one reads about the identification of the Republican Party with working class whites -- a vital element of the base after all -- and yet one struggles in vain to think of a single policy advocated by the right which would have the practical effect of improving working class life. I seriously could not sit here at the moment and come up with one thing on the conservative agenda that would help working people. Instead, the loyalty of white working class voters is sought through appeals to tribalism, ressentiment, bigotry, and attempts to make the white working class feel victimized by so-called liberal elites.
One gets the sense as well that certain elements within the right wing intelligentsia find the white working class to be something of an embarrassment, a disappointing people who are failing to uphold their rightful position as exemplars of American values, the good patriotic, God-fearing, hard-working yemonanry that campaign commercials love. It has dawned on at least a few of these thinkers that the working class of Red State America is a place where divorce and unwed births are far more common than in the decadent liberal enclaves of the coasts, a fact that causes them no small amount of discomfort.
Charles Murray of Bell Curve infamy is one such thinker and he has recently published an article in the Wall Street Journal (and a book Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010) devoted to this subject, in which he blames the break down of working class family life on liberals. It is a classic of the genre, one which Roy (twice), TBogg, and Tom Levenson at Balloon Juice have already taken a crack at, leaving pretty much nothing but a dead body for me to kick around -- but I can't pass up even that chance.
Murray looks at the differences in marriage and divorce rates, out of wedlock births, participation in the labor force, and crime rates in 1960 compared to those of the recent past and pronounces white working class communities to be in trouble, especially when compared to how these numbers look in communities in which white professional congregate. (Murray omits brown people from his book -- they are hopeless after all.) Murray uses two communities to illustrate his claims -- Belmont Massachusetts, an affluent bedroom community of Boston, and Fishtown, a working class section of Philadelphia -- and finds that the people in Fishtown are crime-prone shirkers who don't go to church, fornicate promiscuously and either don't get married when having children or marry but divorce. This, of course, is the fault of people in Belmont who between striving all day at their high paying jobs and drinking imported beer in the evening, have no time to lecture the people of Fishtown on their moral failings. (Read the article and tell me that this is not an accurate summary.)
So deindustrialization is not the problem, nor is the decline of unions*, the degree to which the tax code has become skewed in favor of the very wealthy (the non-working wealthy, by the way, like Mitt), and a rapacious capitalism that treats working class people like expendable cogs in a machine. (Incidentally, in 1960, 28.6% of the American work force belonged to a union. This was before the rise of big public employee and service unions and when women constituted a far smaller percentage of the work force. I think it is fair to say that probably half of American working class white men in 1960 belonged to a union.) No, the problem is the morality of the 1960s, coupled with the degree to which snooty liberal professionals have isolated themselves from these real Americans, depriving them in the process of their superior moral example. No government programs are necessary to arrest the state of moral decay in working class America -- instead, we who live in the "super zip codes" need to leave them and our Belgian ales and endive salads behind, move into neighborhoods where we would find our blue collar brethren -- perhaps we could be bused in -- and lecture them about their moral deficiencies. How could such a plan not succeed?
[*One would think that unions would be an institution that "small c" conservatives (who actually don't exist) would enthusiastically support. They are decentralized, democratic organizations that help give people a sense of identity and belonging in their communities, they promote economic stability, and they undertake the kind of private charitable efforts -- passing the hat for members in distress is a common occurrence at meetings -- that conservatives claim to value.]
**"More Brandy Please" is the intellectual property of Charles Pierce. but I am sure he wouldn't mind me borrowing it, even if it is not being used to describe David Brooks.