The Long View 2006-03-25: A Barrage of Trial Balloons


In an aside on Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam's Grand New Party, John Reilly casually mentions that the predecessor to the National Organization for Women was primarily funded by Republican industrialists, and the New Deal was conspicuously pro-natalist. Each one of these political movements considered itself feminist. Which tells us that feminism became a floating signifier a really long time ago.

A Barrage of Trial Balloons

Please forgive this rambling recital; I am trying to clarify what may be a trend, or may be just a minor coincidence of publication.

I am old enough to recognize that I don't have original ideas, so I cannot say that it was with much surprise that I read Allan Carlson's piece in The Weekly Standard, Indentured Families Social conservatives and the GOP: Can this marriage be saved?, which tied together a number of points I have been making over the past few years. Dr. Carlson is the Director of the Howard Center for Family, Religion, & Society, which is based in Rockford, Illinois. (And why are so many organizations like this based in Rockford? I should know the answer but I don't.) His argument is that the Republican Party uses social conservatives as electoral cannon-fodder, while promoting an economic policy that is in effect, and to some degree by intent, anti-natalist.

The centerpiece example he gives is the new bankruptcy law. As he observes, and as I have remarked here and here, the law prevents the victims of predatory lending, which includes a large fraction of credit-card debtors, from ever discharging their liabilities. Rather, they become indentured workers for the finance companies, which receive an almost unbreakable lock on 20% of their income.

This argument is not so different from the one that Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam made in the "The Party of Sam's Club," a piece which also appeared in The Weekly Standard, and I commented on last November. The focus of their particular ire was the Republican Party's indifference to the increasingly uncertain access to health care for the party's most important constituencies. The burden of Carlson's article, however, is that so many Republican policies have the effect of preventing people from having children.

As he points out, this was explicitly the case through the two middle quarters of the 20th century. The predecessor to the National Organization of Women was funded in large part by Republican industrialist groups with an interest in encouraging women to enter the workplace. The Democratic New Deal, in contrast, was consciously pronatalist. However, it's not really a partisan issue. Laws aiming at gender-equality in the workplace, usually considered a liberal phenomenon, had had the effect of outlawing the "family wage" for families with just one working spouse.

A few weeks ago, I made a throwaway remark at the end of one of these entries to the effect that college loans so overburden young adults that they prevent family formation; Carlson takes the point up at length. Note, by the way, that the same piece in which I make the throwaway remark also discussed "The Return of Patriarchy," an article by Phillip Longman (of the New America Foundation), which appeared in Foreign Affairs. That one argued that cultural liberalism is doomed for simple Darwinian reasons.

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Do these articles prove there is Something in the Works? If this is all being orchestrated from the Presidium of the Neo-Conservative Central Committee, no one thought to send me the memo. Typical. Be that as it may, we should be focusing on Carlson's conclusion:

If the Democratic party remains the party of the sexual revolution, as its open yearning for same-sex marriage suggests it may, such dreams [or recapturing Red State America] will remain just that. However, if a Democratic leader can ever shake that monkey off his--or her--back, and if this occurs in conjunction with an economic downturn, the prospects for another broad political realignment are fairly high. A new economic populism, delivering child-sensitive benefits and skewering predatory banks and bureaucrats, could work politically for a clever Democrat.

I find this acute.

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And what about this Howard Center for Family, Religion, & Society? To a large extent, it seems to be doing ordinary advocacy-social-science. It is connected to the Sutherland Institute of Salt Lake City. And it promotes The Natural Family: A Manifesto. You have to provide an email address to read the Manifesto, and yes, they do send you email thereafter. It is written in a kind of strange purple prose, quite different from the text of the Howard Center site. I also note that Manifesto is available in just three languages: English, Portuguese, and Russian. What's that all about?

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The end to mass immigration is the other factor that goes into this new 21st-century politics, if that's what we see gelling here. That is partly because, both in Europe and the United States, immigrants were substitutes for people who were never born locally. There have been significant demonstrations in the last few days by Latino groups against legislation now before Congress that would make undocumented status in the United States a felony (or at least that's one version of what it would so; I have not seen the text of the bills in the House and Senate).

Readers will know that I fully agree that immigration needs to end for a few decades. Once the borders are secure, though, there would be no reason not to regularize the status of illegals already in the US, with an eye either to citizenship or to eventual repatriation. Criminalizing the matter, except perhaps for employers who have most egregiously facilitated violations of the immigration laws, would overwhelm the legal system.

These demonstrations, though, calling for "immigration rights," often in Spanish, may make a rational reform of the current situation impossible. The nitwit attempts to foist gay marriage on the country by judicial fiat provoked a popular and legislative "No!" The attempt to recast open borders as a rights issue will have much the same effect.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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