The Results Are In: Nader Won

Ira Carmen, a professor at the University of Illinois, has theorized that political preference is genetic–not that there’s a genetic disposition towards liberalism or conservatism, but rather that there’s a genetic disposition towards moderation or extremism. As he noted, “a substantial number of ex-communists sat on the editorial board of the National Review. Can there be genetic antecedents linking hard-core conservatism and hard-core liberalism?” (17)

I can’t speak to the scientific soundness of his hypothesis, but I do know that in developing my own political beliefs, I passed from extreme leftism to extreme conservatism with very little time–perhaps a year or two–spent as an apolitical moderate. Several other right-wing bloggers, such as Daniel and Proph, report the same progression from one extreme to another.

I offer this observation in order to preface a statement that may seem surprising to anyone who’s been reading this blog: in the year 2000, I was a passionate supporter of Ralph Nader and a Green Party volunteer (though I didn’t actually vote Green, because I wasn’t old enough to vote). And, although much of my erstwhile support for socialism and feminism is repugnant to me now, I still do sympathize with that youthful refusal to compromise with what I thought to be intrinsically evil. That same refusal led me to write in a candidate in yesterday’s presidential election, because I simply couldn’t support Romney’s lukewarm stance on pro-life and pro-marriage issues.

As I reflect on what’s transpired between the 2000 and 2012 presidential elections, I can’t help but feel that such extremism is sometimes tactically beneficial. In the long run, didn’t Ralph Nader ultimately get much of what he supported? Sure, he had the immediate effect of aiding Bush’s election, but Bush’s reign was probably a boon to the Left. Nader himself predicted in 2000 that ”a bumbling Texas governor would galvanize the environmental community as never before.” In reality, Bush radicalized not just the environmentalists but also the feminists, the civil libertarians, the LGBT activists, etc. Hatred of Bush poured money into their coffers and provoked a lot of formerly listless supporters into action.

Meanwhile, the Naderites and their supporters, many of them now disillusioned by the Green Party, brought grassroots organizing tactics and idealistic rhetoric into the Democratic Party. They began to experiment with grassroots social media tactics, especially during Howard Dean’s ill-fated campaign. Democratic politicians who protested Bush gained powerful positions in the party–among them Barack Obama, who in 2004 was invited to speak at the Democratic National Convention because of the publicity he was gaining by speaking at antiwar rallies during his Senate campaign. The end result is that we now have a “community organizer” president who has instituted universal health care, tacitly allowed for the legalization of marijuana, promoted green energy, abolished “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and financially subsidized the sexual revolution by giving free contraception to all. Sure, he hasn’t always lived up to Nader’s ideals of participatory democracy–he prefers to make his own laws through executive orders, rather than abide by the normal constitutional channels–but not many progressives seem to mind a benevolent dictator, as long as he’s on their side.

Obama’s victory in 2008 could always be attributed to factors beyond his control, like McCain’s disastrous choice of Sarah Palin as VP and the poor state of the economy at the end of Bush’s last term. But in 2012, he won despite a persistently bad economy, despite his own lackluster debate performances, and despite savvy and well-funded opponents. Moreover, progressives prevailed in the ballot initiatives on same-sex marriage and drug legalization. It seems clear that his victory reflects genuine support for the progressive agenda.

I’m not saying there’s a direct causal connection between Ralph Nader’s presidential run in 2000 and Barack Obama’s in 2008 and 2012. Our country has been on a leftward trajectory since the 1960s, after all. But after Bush’s win in 2000, it looked like the leftward trajectory might at least be on pause. It was the Naderites and progressives who helped get it started again.

I am, it seems, perpetually out of step with the times. To be a Nader supporter in 2000 and a Rick Santorum supporter in 2012 seem like equally hopeless positions. But at least my experience as the former shows that perhaps there is hope for the latter.


Single Moms, Divorced Moms, Widows . . . One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

As Dalrock recently pointed out, feminists claim precedent for “non-traditional family structures” (single moms and same-sex parents) by pointing to widowed families. “After all,” they protest, “what about kids being raised by widows or widowers? They do just fine! Are you going to tell them they’re permanently scarred just because they didn’t have a parent of each sex?”

Dalrock argues that widowed families are an exception that become unsustainable if they become too widespread: “what is possible as an exception isn’t something we can build a society on.” However, I would also argue that the daily reality of widowed families is radically different than that of families made incomplete by divorce, illegitimacy, sperm donation, etc.

Take the example of a family that loses the father to tragic, early death. From what I’ve observed of these families, a widow with children usually ensures her late husband’s continued influence on the household. She hangs his picture on the wall, shares his life story with the children (if they never knew him), and often implores the children to respect his memory through making proper life choices. She usually tries to remain on good terms with his family so that the children will have access to the other half of their heritage. Often, the children also gain material resources from their father’s family, which prevents them from needing extensive government welfare.

In contrast, the woman who divorces or never marries her children’s father does not instill respect for him in the children. Even if the children can visit their father (usually every weekend, or every other weekend, in “joint custody” arrangements), he has been deprived of his unique paternal role through being deprived of their respect. They may also be able to visit their paternal relatives, but their holidays and vacations are already filled with visits to their mother’s and stepfather’s families. They probably receive “child support” from their father, but since maintaining two households is more costly than maintaining one, it may not be enough to meet all their needs, thus necessitating more demand for free government-paid health care, college tuition, etc.

But such comparisons between widowed and broken homes shouldn’t even be necessary, because it should be obvious that there is a tragedy at the root of every widowed family. I think that most families who have lost a parent to death would be the first to admit that their situation is not ideal. If they could bring their lost member back from the dead, they would. Therefore, adopting their situation as normative is a bit like saying that, because some people manage to live fulfilling lives after losing a leg, we ought to forcibly amputate everyone’s leg. If our society can’t understand that widowhood is a tragedy, then we are already lost.


Great Marriage Advice from a Celibate Saint

When asked in an interview about his advice to married women, St. Josemaria Escriva gave a blunt but truthful reply:

If a marriage is to preserve its initial charm and beauty, both husband and wife should try to renew their love day after day, and that is done through sacrifice, with smiles and also with ingenuity. Is it surprising that a husband who arrives home tired from work begins to lose patience when his wife keeps on and on about everything she thinks has gone wrong during the day? Disagreeable things can wait for a better moment when the husband is less tired and more disposed to listen to them.

Another important thing is personal appearance. And I would say that any priest who says the contrary is a bad adviser. As years go by a woman who lives in the world has to take more care not only of her interior life, but also of her looks. Her interior life itself requires her to be careful about her personal appearance; naturally this should always be in keeping with her age and circumstances. I often say jokingly that older facades need more restoration. It is the advice of a priest. An old Spanish saying goes: ‘A well-groomed woman keeps her husband away from other doors.’

That is why I am not afraid to say that women are responsible for eighty per cent of the infidelities of their husbands because they do not know how to win them each day and take loving and considerate care of them. A married woman’s attention should be centered on her husband and children, as a married man’s attention should be centered on his wife and children. Much time and effort is required to succeed in this, and anything which militates against it is bad and should not be tolerated.

There is no excuse for not fulfilling this lovable duty. Work outside the home is not an excuse. Not even one’s life of piety can be an excuse, because if it is incompatible with one’s daily obligations, it is not good, nor pleasing to God. A married woman’s first concern has to be her home. There is a Spanish saying which goes: ‘If through going to church to pray a woman burns the stew, she may be half an angel, but she’s half a devil too.’ I’d say she was a fully-fledged devil.

I read it to my husband and he said, “That sounds about right.” He was surprised when I told him that it spawned an epic thread on Catholic Answers, mostly from people denouncing Escriva as a sexist pig. The main argument against him seemed to be, “But people are going to age no matter what, so men shouldn’t care about their wives’ looks!” However, I think it is a mistake to define appearance as an area totally outside our control. We can make certain choices that do influence our looks–such as the choice to exercise, to eat moderately, to wear clean and flattering clothes, to take care of our skin’s health, to avoid cutting hair too short or getting tattoos. Appearance is therefore a reflection of one’s inner character, which is why Escriva links the interior and exterior life. Of course, some aspects of our appearance do escape our control, and for that reason, I’m sure no sane husband would blame his wife for getting wrinkles at age 70, or for her natural bone structure.

Some people also criticize Escriva’s expectations that women, even working women, should be the “angels of the house”: sweet, uncomplaining, always centered on home life. Again, I see nothing wrong this expectation. He doesn’t tell women to efface all their needs–he merely tells them to recognize that there is a time and place for everything. Yes, you may wish to confide your troubles in your husband, but do it at the right time, once he’s had time to relax, and you’ll find a more sympathetic ear. Yes, you need to pray, but do it at a time when you don’t have pressing household duties. Yes, you may need to get a job to help support the family, but don’t bring your career mentality into the home. (And to the women who would screech, “But men don’t have to do any of those things,” I reply: Trust me, men have their own burdens to bear).

In the same interview, the saint was also asked whether forbidding fornication is “reactionary.” He responded, “Reactionary? Who are the reactionaries? The real reactionaries are the people who go back to the jungle, recognizing no impulse other than instinct.” What a perfect skewering of the leftist impulse to adopt apes and cavemen as our models. I’ll take St. Josemaria Escriva’s Biblically-based marriage advice over theirs any day. St. Josemaria, pray for us!

Housewives: A Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous?

Whenever the “mommy wars” erupt in the blogosphere–as they do with some, though perhaps decreasing, frequency–there’s always at least one blogger or commenter who tries to shut down the discussion using the following argument: “Guys, we are talking about a TINY MINORITY of wealthy women who even have the option to stay home. Shouldn’t we instead direct our efforts towards improving the lives of working-class women, instead of squabbling about what millionaire women do with their time?”

I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment that we should care for “the least of these” (Matthew 25: 45), and that obsessing about whether Michelle Obama should keep working probably isn’t a vital part of this goal.  But are the Michelle Obamas of the world the only women who can afford to stay at home?

To the contrary, the data indicates that there are, in fact, a good number of working-class women who stay home with their children. According to the Pew Research Center’s survey on working mothers, 40% of all its female respondents do not work outside the home–a far cry from “a tiny minority.” The report states that stay-at-home mothers actually have “lower household incomes than working mothers . . . 37% of at-home moms report an annual household income of less than $30,000, [but] only 20% of working moms fall into this income category.” Stay-at-home mothers are also disproportionately non-white. Whites constitute 72.4% of the American population, but only 54% of stay-at-home mothers in the survey were white.

The survey had a small sample size, and unfortunately I can’t use Census data to get a better idea of the true scope of the issue, since it doesn’t count the number of homemakers in the population. However, sociologist Stephanie Coontz confirms that low-income women are legion in the homemaking population:

The women most likely to become stay-at-home moms today are in fact the ones whose husbands can least afford to support a family. Women whose husbands’ earnings are in the bottom 25 percent are the only sector of the population where full-time mothers outnumber those who combine paid work with parenting. Fifty-two percent of these wives are out of the paid labor force, compared with only 20 percent of wives whose husbands’ earnings are in the middle range.

Coontz argues that poor women become homemakers because they have no other options.  Without citing any data as to why the poorest women are the ones staying home, she breezily assumes: “many American women, then, are full-time homemakers because they cannot afford to work. They do not have the education or job experience to earn a salary that would cover the costs of child care or transportation, even though the family could really use a second income.” But given that poor and nonwhite women tend to be more traditionally-minded and religious, I think many of them stay home because of conviction, not lack of opportunity. Interestingly, the poor and uneducated have higher fertility rates than educated women–so if they truly hate being trapped at home with young children, why do they keep having them?

Though I can’t test my hypothesis without conducting a survey of my own, I personally think that lower-class women stay home because they believe it’s good for the children, because they find it fulfilling, and because they understand that paid work isn’t as glamorous as The Feminine Mystique portrays it. Therefore, if we really want to support lower-class women, we shouldn’t trivialize the “mommy wars” or throw universal day care and job training at the problem, but should instead work to strengthen marriage (since one can hardly be a homemaker without a supportive husband), create more jobs for men, and improve community support for mothers.

Just A Housewife

In an episode of the Donna Reed Show, Donna Reed notices that housewives tend to designate themselves as “just a housewife,” belittling the important vocation of wife and mother. She goes on a crusade to show the world that housewives are as skilled as professionals who work outside the home, since the housewife role comprises many jobs: chef, seamstress, accountant, psychologist, tutor, etc. Therefore, they shouldn’t refer to themselves as “just” a housewife any more than professionals refer to themselves as “just” astrophysicists or college professors.

Nowadays, many housewives engage in an even greater variety of tasks: running a business on Etsy, writing widely-read “mommy blogs,” homeschooling multiple children while simultaneously caring for an infant or toddler, telecommuting from home part-time. As Jennifer Fulwiler argues, this array of options has enabled women to balance family with intellectually fulfilling work and has, to a great extent, rendered the “mommy wars” obsolete.

However, I worry that people now look askance at women who don’t take advantage of these opportunities–like a woman is lazy if she “just” cares for the household and children. But as a person who wrote and defended my dissertation while also caring full-time for a baby, I can attest to the fact that there can be disadvantages to working, even inside the home. In order to get work done, I constantly tried to get my daughter to play by herself–and resented her when she wouldn’t. (She does like to play with her toys, but she lets out bloodcurdling screams if I don’t sit down on the floor playing with her, preferably no more than 2 inches away at all times. I hope this doesn’t portend future psychological issues). I was always distracted from both tasks and probably performed poorly at both. Had I maintained such a work schedule long-term, I would have either had to 1) drug my daughter with television or 2) stop talking to my husband, washing the dishes, and other little niceties of life.

I somehow got through this past year with a completed dissertation (and a modicum of sanity still intact.) My graduation has prompted many inquiries: “So what are you going to do now? Are you going to teach/go on the academic job market/publish your dissertation as a book?” I wish I could retort “Do you not see the giant toddler velcroed to my leg? I think she constitutes an 80-hour work week in and of herself,” but instead I usually mutter something about working on articles for publication and starting an academic editing business. While it’s true that I’m undertaking the latter tasks, they only constitute a tiny part of my daily life. For the most part, I really am “just a housewife.”

And I think that should be enough. A job is just a job, but being a wife and mother is a vocation.

More Evidence of Impending Pedophilia . . .

Schools are about to start distributing condoms to twelve-year-olds.  There’s a way for parents to opt out–but, of course, that doesn’t help parents who aren’t informed about the new policy.

Supporters of the policy probably say that the condoms are meant only for children having sex with each other, not with adults.  But, under the liberal worldview, what’s the moral difference between the two situations?

Movie Review: Valmont

*This review contains major spoilers of both the book and movie.*

Even though I wouldn’t call it a great book, it’s no mystery why the eighteenth-century French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liasions) remains popular. It’s a prurient tale of seduction and intrigue–but since it ends unhappily, the reader can convince himself that he read it for didactic purposes (either to see the promiscuous punished, as its eighteenth-century readers doubtless wanted, or to see the French aristocrats punished, as contemporary readers probably want). Best of all, its film adaptions allow directors to dress their actors in period costumes of corsets and breeches, which transform even the most trifling of films into Serious Oscar Bait. (A few film adaptions–most egregiously, Cruel Intentions–set the story in modern times, but the story resists successful modernization because it hinges on the assumption that seducing a virgin is really bad and will ruin her life, which nobody believes nowadays).

The novel is so popular that in the 1980s, not one but two film adaptations were released–Dangerous Liasions (1988), directed by Stephen Frears, and Valmont (1989), directed by Milos Forman. Dangerous Liasions was the one that successfully sold itself as Serious Oscar Bait, while Valmont languished under mediocre reviews and less-impressive box office earnings.

There are a few reasons why Valmont may have garnered less attention than Dangerous Liasions. It has its flaws–for instance, both Valmont’s love for Madame de Tourvel, and the nature of his relationship with Madame de Merteuil, remain ambiguous, thus leaving many of his actions unexplained. (In Dangerous Liasions, he accepts a duel because he has lost the love of his life, Madame de Tourvel, and therefore has no reason to live. In Valmont, the viewer is given little reason for why Valmont courts death in a senseless duel, since his love for Madame de Tourvel is never openly stated).

Despite its faults, I think Valmont has been unfairly overlooked. Its cast is superior to that of Dangerous Liasions. Colin Firth and Annette Benning, playing Valmont and Madame de Merteuil, are pleasantly seductive, unlike the grim and less attractive John Malkovich and Glenn Close. Cecile and Danceny are convincing as naive youths. The locations and soundtrack are also superb.

The ending is where Valmont truly exceeds Dangerous Liasions. Where Dangerous Liasions is merely a faithful adaptation of a melodrama, Valmont carries the novel’s themes to a higher level of sophistication by altering its events. Dangerous Liasions (both the book and the movie) ends with each character publicly punished for his misdeeds: Valmont dies; Madame de Tourvel dies; Cecile’s pregnancy causes her fiance to reject her; Madame de Merteuil’s evil ways are unmasked. In Valmont, however, the punishments are mostly internal (except for Valmont’s, who still dies). Cecile marries a fiance she doesn’t love, with the intention of cuckolding him with many men. Danceny, once sincerely in love with Cecile, now indifferently cavorts with other women. Madame de Tourvel reconciles with a husband she no longer loves. Madame de Merteuil has succeeded in her revenge, but her life still lacks genuine love or fulfillment. Instead of punishing its characters through deus ex machina devices such as disease, the movie shows how their corruption coarsens them, leaving them jaded and bored. Perhaps, then, Valmont was less popular because it showed the consequences of promiscuity to be more horrifying–and believable–than did Dangerous Liasions.