Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Working Class Hero Is Something to Be

Kevin Drum, as is his wont, applies an equanimous eye to the newly released Grand New Party by Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam. However, in the middle of a solid review, Drum squints a bit too hard in the effort to give credit to the authors' ideas:

...Douthat and Salam argue [that] maintenance of traditional social values has more economic value to the working class than it does to the college-educated middle class. In the well-off suburbs, divorce is rare, crime is low, and kids mostly don’t have children out of wedlock. What’s more, when those things do happen, the better-off classes have the resources to deal with them. To the upper middle class, then, the constellation of issues revolving around the breakdown of the traditional family seems a distant concern.

But what about working class communities? Liberals tend to poke fun at the fact that the very communities that complain most about divorce and crime and single parenthood are the same ones that have the highest divorce rate, the most crime, and the greatest incidence of single parenthood. Hypocrites! If they’re so worried about this stuff, why not lead by example?

But as Douthat and Salam point out, doesn’t it make sense that the people who are most often face-to-face with these problems are also the ones who are most concerned about them? Put that way, of course it does. What’s more, things like divorce, single-parent families, and teen pregnancy incur costs that are harder to deal with the poorer you are, so to a large extent, when working class whites vote for socially conservative Republicans they’re also voting their economic self-interest.

Drum, Douthat and Salam get this wrong on multiple levels. Liberals, to use the broad generalization already in play, do not criticize as hypocrites those that support the conservative "family values" agenda simply because the so-called Red States tend to show higher incidence of the supposed immoral or broken-family phenomena. Nor is there a liberal call for the Red Staters to lead by example, necessarily (though self-righteous/opportunistic judgmentalism on, say, aldutery is worthy of criticism when the speaker is an alduterer - especially when this is used as a political weapon).

Few deny that "family values" issues should be important to working class families, nor is the economic impact disregarded or ignored. Quite the opposite. It is precisely because liberals appreciate how important these issues are to working families that we put aside moralistic preening in favor of constructing pragmatic, evidence-based solutions.

The real liberal critique is that the conservative policies designed to address these "family values" issues are often ineffectual if not outright counterproductive. For example, the conservative stance against family planning, contraception, AIDS education and comprehensive sex education (abstinence only!) exacerbates problems associated with teen pregnancies, out of wedlock births, unwanted pregnancies and STDs. By highlighting the disparaties in the rates of these social ills in Red States vs. Blue States, liberals are making an argument about the comparative efficacy of the two approaches. Or at the very least, showing that the current approach in the Red States isn't working.

So, no, this is not true:

"[W]hen working class whites vote for socially conservative Republicans they’re also voting their economic self-interest."

They may be voting their economic insecurity, but not self-interest.

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