Letter to a responsible conservative

At the following site, you can find Prof. Schuck’s presentation


I respond to it below. He asks us to resolve as far as possible the deep divisions in our society via attention to facts and the use of “hard-nosed social science.” His pov exemplifies the sort of conservative pov we can argue with, which I do here. If we can get the far left and far right to step back (ha!), perhaps we could work out a reasonable approach to maintaining the good and taming the destructive in our country. Perhaps Trump has driven enough Republicans and conservatives (George Will, Jeff Flake…..) out of the Info Wars and Rush Limbaugh orbit to begin such a reconciliation. His book is One Nation Undecided and is the basis of this talk.

Dear Dr. Schuck
Your talk on C-SPAN was well received by me. It amazes me that when people find out I am a Liberal Democrat, they assume I listen only to MSNBC (I do, a lot) and have no idea what conservatives think. In your case I was pleased to jot down some notes. This is an intellectual exercise for me as I doubt you will ever read this. I’ll put it on my blog and some 400 pound person sitting on his bed will read it. It’s disjointed to keep it short and to address specific items in your C-SPAN talk (found here: https://www.c-span.org/video/?425962-2/peter-schuck-discusses-one-nation-undecided).

Recognizing deep divisions – I’ve recommended the resurrection of the Confederate States of America – Kevin Baker suggests a milder form of disengagement. Your approach, even less drastic, demands clear thinking, which you propose involve factual matter, relevant if conflicting values, consequences (arrived at through hard- nosed social sciences), identity distinctions and trade-offs, and cost effective measures. I had to delete the C-SPAN program so I will have to get your book to clearly understand my notes, but I was intrigued by your combination of straight-on acceptance of social science and a conservative pov that does not seem to derive from the society I know despite the fact that you say that that process is important. Rarely do conservatives speak with the surety of fact you possess.

You describe affirmative action as a failed policy. And yet I attended a Black Pentecostal church 1960-63 and have maintained intimate contact with the congregation over the years (my wife was raised in the church). The 50s congregation was made up of very poor people who held menial jobs as my wife’s parents did (domestic and janitor), but by maintaining those jobs they raised the level of their children (my wife has a masters), who in turn raised the level of the third generation. Now when we go to the church we see people pretty high up on the socioeconomic scale. Now, unlike most White conservatives, I watched that happen in detail as Nixon’s affirmative action program kicked in in the late 60s. I was working in social services (classic Liberal here – social worker to teacher), job programs, etc. I can tell you close up how those programs worked or didn’t and why. But I saw people in the church get those city jobs closed to them earlier (I looked over my wife’s shoulder as she searched for work to get her through her last year of college and saw White Only on most ads) and find work with SkyChef and other corporations working with affirmative action programs. I saw lots of people fail and many others move up. Again, I point to what happened in that little Black church in South Phoenix over the last 55 years. That may be anecdotal but it’s nonetheless powerful evidence.

You turn to poverty. My wife was raised in poverty, my family didn’t have any money; big difference. She went to segregated schools; so did I 🙂 (Actually, in Port Clinton, O. [profiled in Robert Putnam’s Our Kids] we had a couple of Black kids; the school in Dothan, Alabama where I lived briefly was segregated as was the town in 1956). More anon on that topic. Working for 20 years with people in poverty and knowing many personally as part of the African-American community via my marriage into a Black family, there are indeed factors that militate against success in the way the society establishes roads to success. Ruby Payne’s book for educators, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, describes well some of these factors, though presenting them as if the people are museum exhibits who need to be freed. Even people raised in poverty often do not look at why those factors arise and persist, they just dismiss them as counter-productive. A young man may be scheduled for a tutoring session with his math teacher, but if his aunt has been evicted and needs to move that night, he’ll skip the tutoring, convincing the teacher “he just doesn’t care”. What he cares about is that the math teacher lasts a year, his aunt for life.

Regarding poverty, you speak of non-cash transfers, etc. but, as I find typical of the conservative pov, omit mention of what is popularly called corporate welfare. The latter takes many forms. I would even add government support of higher education; I laugh at the person who declares he worked his way through college and owes nothing to anybody, yet went to a state school. There are so many ways for those gaining privilege in the society to disguise the fact in order to defend their position of privilege, including hearty denials of any such privilege. The poor and even ethnic minorities who are not poor are derided in so many ways, from declaring any accomplishments as due only to affirmative action – think Obama’s degrees – to vague references to cash payments for just being Black (I tell people that after 53 years of marriage to a Black woman, I am still waiting for my Negro check).

Why do so many people come to this country even if they are poor or belong to a so-called despised minority? Economics. As you state, a poor person in America is rich elsewhere. But, as my wife says, we aren’t living in Honduras, we’re living in the U.S., which has standards. When those standards are violated, we, as citizens, have a right and a duty to protest and correct such violations. The Constitution states “for the general welfare”; how does keeping people from walking around with contagious diseases not constitute part of the general welfare? The conservative approach to public health is to identify a particular group as diseased (think Lou Dobbs: Mexicans, gays, Haitians, poor people, etc.) and then take draconian action to isolate them.

People will do anything to put food on the table for their kids. Borders have always been porous. Contributions of immigrants, legal and otherwise, have been enormous, but none of that gets past the Fox bullhorn, which trumpets, “What with thousands of Mexicans flowing over the border infiltrated by ISIS operatives and well over a million fraudulent voters voting and thousands of journalists in a cabal to not report on all these things, it’s no wonder the “average” (= White male Christian) American can’t catch a break. If he goes out of his house a Black thug will mug him and if the police try to stop him it’s the police who will go to jail. The immigrants are all going on welfare, which explains why they have all the jobs. The anchor babies are all Mexicans disguised as Chinese born with applications to Harvard in their bassinets.” Really, the so-called conservative nonsense never stops. My neighbor is my age and a high school drop-out, a man of integrity who votes against the hated Democrats. My cousin, an evangelical minister for 65 years and the nicest guy you’d ever meet thinks the Democrats will destroy the country. The common link? Lack of knowledge. And both of them admit it. The arc from the New Deal through the Southern Strategy and anti-Communism to today’s wild divides is unknown to them. So we blame immigrants for disease, resolve nothing, and protect nobody.

So why don’t Republicans like the Mainstreet Partnership and why don’t sane conservatives like yourself challenge the GOP for its shameless and cynical abuse of citizens? Why not insist on smaller government, low taxes, a pro-business stance and muscular foreign policy? Those are morally defensible positions; after all, if it hadn’t been for abuses like segregation, there would have been no need for the federal government to step in. Someone on TV said the other day that it was the federal government we had to turn to when the states were in the hands of those trying to screw us over. Have you studied the Arizona State Legislature? One member of the Chandler Chamber of Commerce referred to them as the tin hat brigade. Remember Ev “Pickaninny” Mecham? We turn to the feds for Constitutional protection; otherwise, we don’t need them.

The theme of personal responsibility to me means that “lazy Blacks” and “illegal aliens” is about to come up next. And then there are “bad choices”. Anyone who doesn’t do well is morally at fault. When do fairly well-off people fail to recover from “bad choices”? A similar mistake for a poor person results in a chain of events leading to impoverishment, even homelessness. My wife’s nephew’s wife is about to be homeless because she was paid by one of those Liberal programs to stay home and care for him rather than put him in a much more expensive nursing home. When he died in June, that put her out on the street. She has done well in the past but has been out of work for some time. Now what? It’s us Liberals who claim we need to look at what sort of nurturing a person had (in the nephew’s case, not good) in order to account for their problems. Existentially, such victims of abuse do have to take personal responsibility, but it is not up to taxpayers to lecture them, especially taxpayers who themselves do not struggle under such burdens.

Not only do conservatives make up straw men like Reagan’s “strapping young buck” (gee, who do we call bucks?), but they also stereotype social workers and teachers as weak and unrealistic, the sort of people who want to hold everyone’s hand. You talked about hard-nosed social science. Let’s inject that into our discussion instead of this blather about personal responsibility, Black thugs, and Mexican rapists.

Two examples: Sarah Huckabee Sanders, when asked about the shootings in certain neighborhoods of Chicago, said, with a sly grin, that to her it seemed to be a question of morals, thus dispensing with one hundred years of social science research. A fervent Pat Buchanan for President supporter praised almost all of Buchanan’s positions except the one on the border. Why not support that? Because he lived on the border and knew Buchanan was full of it. (I wonder if he had learned about the other issues he would have judged Buchanan to be full of it on those, too.)

The segregation in Dothan, Al. was so complete in 1956 that living there 3 months, including school attendance and summer roaming, I saw only one Black person. When I learned that Al Sharpton’s mother lived there, it helped me understand him better. I recall telling one critic of Sharpton’s that if it weren’t for him and others like him, I’d still be living in South Phoenix and my wife would never have got a job as a teacher north of McDowell Road. Them’s were the rules in the good old days. But one of those government programs designed to promote successful integration, the NDEA, put my wife into a graduate program in counseling and then into a school with no other Black employees but a growing Black student body. She went on to provide a bit of color in a number of different schools around the Valley of the Sun. Was that good? Maybe, maybe not (long story there), but it was an example of the gummint interfering in God’s natural order of keeping the races separate – or did you forget those people?

Respecting the myriad cultures in this country is hard for some folks to swallow, those who think they own this country because they stole it fair and square. Culture and race are not inseparable. We were in Eureka, CA, not a hotbed of Black culture. We walked into a coffee bar and heard a kickin’ band in the adjoining room. My wife went nuts while I took care of my priority, coffee, and found one lone Black guy in there exhausted from dancing with all the women. My wife’s turn came and she went into her ecstasy dance as I passed through the door looking for this Black band in redneck Eureka. All White guys – absolutely amazing. They could have played for any Black Holiness church anywhere. But there was my wife’s culture, not race, represented.

One time I had a class with a coterie of Black boys whom I had monitored the previous year on test day. I knew they were a handful. Yet all their teachers admired their intelligence if not their behavior. I knew all were African-American and came from fairly traditional homes. So I set about my job of corralling them and turning them into assets to the class. One day one of them sidled up to me at the lectern and asked me if my wife was Black…. out of the blue. Surprised, I said yes, why do you ask? He replied, “It’s the way you discipline us.” Ha! So I had adjusted culturally to these boys. I had many teachers come to me over the years to ask me about the many Hispanic kids we had, Native American, African-American…. how to work with them instead of against them in classroom management. The education of teachers in the area of cultural appropriateness is very poor.

To bring home how recent outright racism is, we tell people that our marriage was illegal in AZ a couple of years before we got married and still illegal then in 18 other states. My wife’s great-grandfather had been a slave for over 20 years. So much for all that being “a lo-o-o-ong time ago”. You seem to grasp the blocks to progress for many minorities, but when it’s personal, it is no longer a statistic: when my mom could get a mortgage loan on her house to help me through school, I wondered why my father-in-law had lost several houses and my wife had had to work several jobs in order to get through school. Years later I read that Blacks could not get mortgages back then, only contracts, thus no equity. Not someone in 1834…. my father-in-law.

So this moral hazard you speak of seems to apply only to poor people and ethnic minorities; well-off people can be bailed out over and over, slipped into college on all sorts of specious and spurious subterfuges, and helped out when people perceive them as like themselves; but when that is done for the poor, it becomes a moral hazard. Economic redistribution is a fancy word for leveling things out. If I pay for a corporation’s transportation services by having my neighborhood destroyed for a new freeway, that is my contribution to the corporation. When I pay more taxes than people well-off enough to hire a tax attorney, that’s my contribution upward. The evidence on how American transportation shattered the integrity of neighborhoods is documented. I recall working in a neighborhood known as Cuatro Milpas, Golden Gate, and Berney Park. I went house to house in the neighborhood and knew a number of the people there. Then the airport expanded and scattered these residences all over, ripping age-old alliances of a Latino community. Some old people spoke poor English, many could not work or drive and depended on their network, which was destroyed. Was that their contribution to redistribution?

You mentioned several efforts to repair and heal as having mixed results – Section 8 housing, Head Start. How many Section 8 houses have those who study the program been in, I mean, like, you know, as a relative or friend and maybe stayed a while? Having followed little kids to their grave, literally, I can say that those who had that support I spoke of earlier maintained some of the head start Head Start conferred. I can also describe in detail what happened to others to wipe out the gains. I believe you mentioned context; yes, meaning if you keep someone in the environment that generated pathological behavior, they most likely will be impervious to intervention. I’ve focused on African-Americans because that is where most of my personal experience lies. I do not want to belie the concerns of those who, like Ruby Payne, pay attention to the deficits and rely on stereotypes; they want to see people succeed or they wouldn’t be concerned. But as you put it, we must use facts, like we controlled the border by generating a bad economy. We must keep within the guidelines of the Constitution (thus depriving me of my secession remedy), keeping control as local as possible but recognizing where the feds come in. Implementation should be cost effective but realistic; you cannot pour money into a besieged school without correcting pathologies in the feeder community (my son’s school donated food to the surrounding community rather than that community providing for the school. My son-in-law’s school is located in a town where the richest man makes $40,000 a year).

All that is a tall order but I’d like to see more conservatives get behind solving inherent and historical contradictions in our society instead of denying them. Small government, low taxes, strong defense, pro business…. what’s not to like?

Patrick Barrett

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