Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Club for Growth

It's funny watching conservatives agonize over their recent electoral losses (plural, because they lost more than just the presidency). They can't figure out what they did wrong. Why did so many conservative voters stay home, enough of them to have changed the outcome? Why, they wondered, can't we appeal to a broader swath of the electorate, especially to people who would seem a natural constituency, like Asian-Americans? Jonah Goldberg is among the wonderers. He points out that Obama captured "nearly three-quarters" of that Asian-American vote. This is puzzling, he says, because it

runs counter to a lot of conventional wisdom on both the left and the right. On average, family income is higher and poverty is lower among Asian Americans than among non-Latino whites. Entrepreneurship, family cohesion, and traditional values all run strong among Asian Americans, and reliance on government runs weak.

And yet Asian Americans — now the fastest-growing minority in America — are rapidly becoming a core constituency of the Democratic party.

That is a head-scratcher, isn't it? He speculates:

Perhaps the most common explanation for the GOP’s problem with Asian Americans is the party’s pronounced embrace of Christianity, which turns off many Jews as well. According to Pew studies, barely a third of Chinese Americans are Christian, and less than a fifth of Indian Americans are.

(I gather that Indian - of Asian derivation - Americans went mostly for Obama as well.) So what is it about Christianity that "turns off" all these various races and ethnicities? Those Jews, for example. What is it about evangelical (and other strains of conservative Protestant) Christianity that offends them? Is it that these sorts of Christians are the best friend that Israel ever had? Is it that they resent the Christ of Christianity for having presumed to offer a fuller revelation than that given to the Israelites? Or are God and Israel not on the radar for the sort of Jew we're talking about?

When Goldberg says that "traditional values run strong among" this mostly non-Christian Asian American cohort, what does that mean, exactly? Has anyone done a study? For example, do their traditional values include an abhorrence of abortion? I don't think so. The pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute tells us that only two far Eastern countries - Laos and the Phillipines - prohibit abortion for any reason whatsoever. As for the others, "abortion is broadly legal in the region’s two most populous countries — China and India — [and] the majority of women in Asia live under liberal abortion laws." Jonathan Last at The Weekly Standard reveals something interesting about the women of Japan: that the percentage of women "between 25 and 29 [who have] never married" is today at 60 percent. And "Gavin Jones of the National University of Singapore estimates that 'up to a quarter of all East Asian women will remain single by age 50, and up to a third will remain childless.'"

These aren't abortion statistics, but they are a likely barometer of abortion attitudes among women who see marriage and children as virtually irrelevant to their lives. It's hard to imagine they're very much against it.

So what's a Republican to do? I guess we could downplay or even radically alter the party platform's abortion plank. Then you might gain a Chinaman, but you'll lose an American: me. And millions of others. Pick your poison.

I also wonder what kind of intellectual armament these Asians bring to our shores, and what relationship it might bear to the concepts of individual liberty and just government as espoused by our Founders? As a commenter on Goldberg's article put it:

...can we stop pretending that it doesn't take a certain culture and mindset to deeply believe in the Founders' values? It took over 2,500 years of civilization to produce that culture - quite accidentally, at that - an unlikely branch of thought that passed through medieval natural theology, Anglo-Saxon proto-Liberalism and French enlightenment. A culture that has not been adopted by *any* other country, before or after, in any part of the world including Western Europe and Britain.

That culture was even in peril of being extinguished in the last 100 years, when Marx's seductive theories inflamed the brains (to different degrees) of the various Wilsons and FDRs, but although tottering from time to time, it was becoming ingrained in the American psyche. Then, we somehow decided to listen to Ted Kennedy (a pox forever on his name) and opened the doors to limitless immigration. Nothing against immigrants per se, since I am one too, but are we surprised that if we let in every Tom, Rick and Harry from all corners of the world - well, more like every Carmencita, Abdullah and Tran - these people are not natural Lockeians?

To further his case against the Christian problem in the Republican Party, Goldberg cites IndianAsian American Dinesh D'Souza: "Whenever a Gujarati or Sikh businessman comes to a Republican event, it begins with an appeal to Jesus Christ. While the Democrats are really good at making the outsider feel at home, the Republicans make little or no effort."

How do the Democrats do that? By exiling God from their platform, then forcing Him back in against the wishes of what might have been a majority? Are we to conclude that all these immigrants and descendants of immigrants are more "at home" in the absence of any mention of God, or is it just the name of Jesus Christ that gives such offense? Says Goldberg, "My friend and colleague Ramesh Ponnuru, an Indian American and devout Catholic, says the GOP has a problem with seeming like a 'club for Christians.'"

Ponnuru must be thinking of the party that nominated the Christian Romney as its presidential candidate. Well, okay, he was almost Christian. At least he knew how to pander to them. When he wasn't pandering, all he talked about was how many jobs he was going to create. The Christian stuff kind of got lost in the shuffle. Ponnuru must also be thinking of the party that heaped disdain and sometimes outright calumny on the heads of certain candidates who refused to abandon an essential element of Christian morality: thou shalt not murder the innocent. I'm thinking of Todd Akin and that Mourdock fellow in Indiana (Josh, was it?) both of whom, but especially the former, were abandoned by the Christian Club Party.

What do all these Indian Asian, Asian-asian and whatever subgroup among whom "traditional values run strong" think about "same-sex marriage?" Are they for it? Don't care? These people ought to know that there are plenty of wishy-washy Christian Clubbers, and some who are outright for it. But did the issue really weigh in their thinking? What does? Other than a desire to make money, which possesses us all, no one seems to know. Because this giant money-making machine came to be under the stewardship of a people largely Christian, you'd think they'd rejoice at the opportunity to belong to the Party of Jesus Christ. It's not working out that way, though.

In the end Goldberg admits that the Republican Party isn't really a club for Christians, "but", he says,

there’s no disputing that Christianity is a major source of strength and inspiration for many Republican activists. This is nothing new and, generally speaking, there’s nothing wrong with this. The abolitionist, progressive, and civil-rights movements were all significantly powered by Christian faith.

As someone who’s long argued for theological pluralism and moral consensus on the right, I think it’s nuts for the GOP not to do better with Asian Americans, particularly given how little religion has to do with the policy priorities of the day.

He was doing fine until he got to that last sentence. I've just mentioned two policy priorities that Republicans can't repudiate without ceasing to exist, in that, should it happen, so many people will leave the party that it really will not exist. Or (I ask again) is it just the name of Jesus that offends, and not any policy priorities that might be seen as finding their origin in the doctrine depending from that name? For is there any doubt that if that fairly large segment of the party that clings to its guns and religion were to abandon its public witness to, and reliance on, that name, the party would not swiftly abandon likewise its defense of the unborn? A general rule of my experience has been that when we decide to downplay or ignore a doctrine because of embarrassment or shame, we will eventually repudiate it.

Goldberg mentions another matter almost in passing, although it is the thing that ultimately gives rise to his article, and is the source of all the Republican hand-wringing:

A few years ago, Robert Putnam, a liberal sociologist, reported this finding: As racial and ethnic diversity increases, social trust and cohesion plummets. "Trust (even of one’s own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer."...The villain isn’t racism or bigotry or anything so simple. The phenomenon is much more complex. Indeed, it’s not clear why this happens, but it’s clear that it does. Economic inequality and cultural attitudes do not matter much. "Americans raised in the 1970s," Putnam writes, "seem fully as unnerved by diversity as those raised in the 1920s."

Part of the explanation stems from the fact that people with shared experiences and cultures draw strength from working together, whereas with strangers, language often becomes guarded, intentions questioned.

Which reminds me of a student I mentioned in a long ago post, who today serves in the United States Air Force. Possessed of a big smile and a gregarious personality to match, she was an energetic bundle of patriotic fervor. She was also Puerto Rican. Her friends ran the racial gamut: Black, Asian, Hispanic. When asked in a group one day for whom she was going to vote, she said, "McCain." Her "friends" started shouting at her that she was betraying her race. "My race?" she said. "I'm not even black." Well, they retorted, you're not white either. She told me this story, and was badly hurt by it. Unlike our current president and many millions who voted for him, she really was post-racial.

Can someone tell me why over 95 percent of black voters went for Obama? Less than 30% (if I recall) of Hispanics for Romney? Three-quarters of Asians for Obama?

The Christian civilization built by white Europeans, who also built America, was the greatest thing both culturally and economically that the world has ever seen. Whatever faults you would attribute to it, like slavery (hardly invented by Christians, but certainly ended by them), this remains a fact and everyone knows it even if they don't like it. It seems likely that the distrust and lack of social cohesion Putnam refers to are very real things, but is it possible that they might also be in the company of something more powerful, something like racial envy or resentment? Because at the polls these socially diverse groups, however much they distrust each other, were rather cohesive, voting almost as a bloc.

My student's story, given as evidence above, is of the kind called anecdotal, supposedly the least persuasive in an argument's arsenal. But I find it very persuasive indeed because I know human nature. It's more complex than that, of course, especially now that we've surrendered our organs of public education to the propagandists of the liberal elite, but it plays its part. Envy is a terrible sin, and to combat it we'd best not downplay the Christianity which is our only weapon against it. It asks us to become born after the spirit, not the flesh, and I have a feeling I know which prevailed in November.


TS said...

Excellent post Bill. Ol' Goldberg just had his hat handed to him.

William Luse said...

I actually like a lot of what he writes, TS. And he may be correct that the Christian element among Republicans is a barrier to many. But I doubt he's thought out the price to be paid for relegating that element to the back of the bus. His article has a groping feel to it, as though he wants an answer he can't quite come up with. It was Buckley himself who pointed out many years ago that turning talk of God, and especially of Christianity, into a thing not to be mentioned in polite society is a manifest feature of liberalism, not conservatism. If Christianity is the problem, then what's to be done? Gain a voting bloc, lose your soul? He needs to spell it out.

Lydia McGrew said...

It wouldn't gain them a voting bloc even if they abandoned Christianity. As usual, the devil doesn't play fair. Goldberg is no thinker.

If Ponnuru really implied that there is somehow too much Christianity in evidence at Republican events, I'm disappointed in him. Back when I read a lot of those guys (I just got really tired of Goldberg eventually, because he was shallow) Ponnuru seemed to have more depth to him.

Btw, if I recall correctly, the Republican Party made much of the fact that the invocation at its convention this year was given by a rabbi. I can't recall his name, but he's a pretty well-known right-leaning rabbi from a famous lineage of rabbis. The Republicans have been trying like crazy not to appear too narrowly Christian, not to mention too narrowly white, and it's gotten them very little. It's extremely ominous, foolish, and wrong-headed for Goldberg, much less Ponnuru, to be implying that Christianity is the problem. Creepy, in fact. Like they are looking for someone or something to blame and are saying, "Oh, let's blame Christianity."

I suppose it would be too politically incorrect for them to conclude that these various racial minorities are, contrary to their hopes and wishful thinking, _not_ the Republicans' natural constituency. The exact cultural reasons why may not be fully clear to us, but the upshot _is_ clear: Democrats have positioned themselves as *the* party of non-white constituencies, and the desire to be a faithful member of a non-white constituency and hence a faithful liberal Democrat has proven the most important thing for the people in those demographics. That's just the way it is, it is not going to change, and the sooner Republicans realize it and stop looking for new ways to attack and trample further on their own white-male-Christian-heterosexual base, the better. But I fear they never will learn.

As for Dinesh D'Souza, I admit to being a little surprised by his joining the anti-Christian fest, but at this point nothing about him shd. surprise me, given his most recent moral antics.

Lydia McGrew said...

Many of the economic structures of the countries from which immigrants come are more socialized than America's. Republicans like to think that, for example, because Mexicans personally work hard, they ought to be naturally attracted to the party of smaller government and more personal responsibility. But why think that? To no small extent what's happening here is cherry picking the cultural traits that seem to favor the Republican brand name while overlooking cultural and political background that strongly favors Democrat voting. Just because someone moves here from Mexico, it hardly follows that he is rejecting a heavily socialized economy and government corruption. If we are talking about political dissidents who escape here from Cuba, that may be one thing. But any garden variety immigrant is another.

William Luse said...

It wouldn't gain them a voting bloc even if they abandoned Christianity...I suppose it would be too politically incorrect for them to conclude that these various racial minorities are, contrary to their hopes and wishful thinking, _not_ the Republicans' natural constituency.

Yeah, I'm afraid that's the case. I wonder how uncomfortable Goldberg would be with re-conceiving his role. I'm thinking these guys need to imagine themselves less as political strategists and more as evangelists. At least then they might see as their first duty telling the truth, not hiding it.

Lydia McGrew said...

It's surprising how much the grassroots attitudes of too many racial minorities remind me of the postmodern deconstruction of everything into race/class/gender that I saw in graduate school. Foxx just said that everything is "always racial" with him and gloated over how many whites he got to "kill" in his latest movie. Just for example. The postmodernists I ran into twenty years ago in the humanities were always telling us that logic was racist and sexist, that the American founding was racist and sexist, that the canon of Western literature and more or less all of Western civilization was racist and sexist. So all the "hierarchies needed to be reversed" and all the rest of the garbage. Plain lust for destruction of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, cloaking itself fairly unsubtly in the garb of justice for the oppressed.

The funny thing is that I don't suppose a lot of Asian immigrants have been studying post-colonial literary theory. But it really does seem that among all too many minority groups, the thinking is pretty much like that of the deconstructive professors: "If it was built by white males, it's inherently racist, so TEAR IT DOWN."