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Archive for the month “February, 2014”

Another Personal Attack on Clarence Thomas

To state the obvious, the left has never liked Clarence Thomas. What’s interesting is how often they train their sites on his personal behavior rather than his judicial rulings.

Jeffrey Toobin provides the latest example in a disgracefully titled New Yorker piece, “Clarence Thomas’ Disgraceful Silence.” Justice Thomas hasn’t asked a question during oral arguments at the Supreme Court since Feb. 22, 2006, so today is the eighth anniversary of his vow of silence. Toobin is not breaking ground. This story has become an annual ritual the last few years for those who’ve never forgiven Thomas for not withdrawing his nomination when Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment.

Since then he has suffered countless insults to his personal character. Funnily enough, it was Jeffery Toobin who came to his rescue a few years ago with a New Yorker piece noting his profound influence on the Court.

Toobin’s latest piece seems like an excuse to run a nasty headline about Thomas. In it he substitutes projection for evidence. Instead of provide insight into the dark world of the court, he is content to launch more attacks on the left’s favorite whipping boy.

Toobin writes that during arguments, “Thomas only reclines; his leather chair is pitched so that he can stare at the ceiling, which he does at length. He strokes his chin. His eyelids look heavy. Every schoolteacher knows this look. It’s called ‘not paying attention.’ ” Glad to know teachers are mind readers.

If Thomas truly is not paying attention, this should be easy enough to demonstrate by quoting his sloppy opinions. Not only does Toobin fail to provide such support, he doesn’t event hint at it. The bottom line question is not whether he seems to be listening but whether his work product – the laws of the land he is fashioning – is shows care.

Toobin also fails to make the case that oral arguments really matter. Given that Justices have lengthy, well-prepared briefs on the cases, one has to wonder how much of a difference these short discussions make. Perhaps they are largely theater and Thomas is the only one unwilling to further the charade. If Toobin disagrees, he should have provided a few examples where questions raised during oral argument turned the tide of history.

The best he can come up with is the comically obtuse charge that Thomas is failing the Court and America by keeping silent because oral arguments “are, in fact, the public’s only windows onto the Justices’ thought processes.”

What then are the opinions?

Cultural Cowardice

In his Feb. 18 column, David Brooks uses the story of the Prodigal Son to explore contemporary social dynamics. He writes:

“We live in a divided society in which many of us in the middle- and upper-middle classes are like the older brother and many of the people who drop out of school, commit crimes and abandon their children are like the younger brother. In many cases, we have a governing class of elder brothers legislating programs on behalf of the younger brothers. The great danger in this situation is that we in the elder brother class will end up self-righteously lecturing the poor: ‘You need to be more like us: graduate from school, practice a little sexual discipline, work harder.’

“But the father in this parable exposes the truth that people in the elder brother class are stained, too. The elder brother is self-righteous, smug, cold and shrewd. The elder brother wasn’t really working to honor his father; he was working for material reward and out of a fear-based moralism. The father reminds us of the old truth that the line between good and evil doesn’t run between people or classes; it runs straight through every human heart.”

What a load of nonsense. To begin, the qualities that enable one to become a contributing member of society – working hard, playing by the rules – have nothing to do with questions of good and evil.

I agree that one group should not self-righteously lecture another but only because this is a poor strategy for persuasion. On the other hand, a group that is taxed to the hilt to support their fellow citizens should have some right to expect certain conduct from their beneficiaries. If a goal of society to help people not just reach their potential but stand on their own two feet then it seems appropriate to hold up folks who have accomplished that as role models.

The main problem here is the pervasive moral relativism and cultural cowardice that Brooks’ views represent. One of the great problems in America is that successful people tend to live by traditional values – they work hard, have children after marriage, stay married, and even go to church at higher rates – yet they are afraid to trumpet them. This does more harm to the poor than any budget cut. The one exception is identity politics; there the powers that be are eager to punish those who stray from their orthodoxy (eg. Paula Deen and Phil Roberts). I wish they would exhibit the same confidence in regards to other values issues.

Can the rich cover the poor?

I have begun wondering if one result of the inequality developing in America is that the highly educated people who get paid to diagnose the country’s problems have precious little knowledge about the poor. That is, whenever they describe the poor, they tend to ascribe to them the values of the upper middle class. In their minds, the poor want to work hard, have 2.5 children, a house with a white picket fence, drink wine with their book club friends, etc. My questions have been prompted by Charles Murray’s book, “Coming Apart,” which suggests that many poor Americans have different values than their richer countrymen.

I was thinking about that while reading a Sunday Review piece in today’s Times on modern marriage. About 90 percent of it charted broad changes in marriage over time. The basic idea was that poor, middle and rich – we were all governed by these general trends. Briefly, since the 1960s we have become much more selfish about marriage looking it as a means of personal fulfillment rather than a partnership.

At the end, we get this:

“Though this is not a specifically socioeconomic phenomenon, it does have a socioeconomic dimension. One of the most disturbing facts about American marriage today is that while divorce increased at similar rates for the wealthy and the poor in the 1960s and ’70s, those rates diverged sharply starting around 1980. According to the sociologist Steven P. Martin, among Americans who married between 1975 and 1979, the 10-year divorce rate was 28 percent among people without a high school education and 18 percent among people with at least a college degree: a 10 percentage point difference. But among Americans who married between 1990 and 1994, the parallel divorce rates were 46 percent and 16 percent: an astonishing 30 percentage point difference.

“The problem is not that poor people fail to appreciate the importance of marriage, nor is it that poor and wealthy Americans differ in which factors they believe are important in a good marriage. The problem is that the same trends that have exacerbated inequality since 1980 — unemployment, juggling multiple jobs and so on — have also made it increasingly difficult for less wealthy Americans to invest the time and other resources needed to sustain a strong marital bond.”

I drew three things from this. First, here was an entire piece about marriage that didn’t get to the startling news until the end. You can bet that if the numbers were reversed and the rich were far more likely to get divorced, that stat would have been in the lede.

Second, is the assumption that the poor want exactly the same things from marriage that the better off do. This seems logical – why shouldn’t they want all the good things I do? But I would love to see some evidence. These are scholars, after all! Is it possible that the life experience of many of the poor has led them to see marriage differently?

Third, I love the conflation of unemployment and juggling many jobs. In my experience these facts often produce very different results. People who are working many jobs are not bone tired and unable to meet their commitments but highly effective people who are far more likely to find the time to invest in their relationships – and help their kids with their homework – than the chronically unemployed. I don’t have stats to back that up and maybe I’m wrong. But lumping all poor people together doesn’t seem right.

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