Sunday, August 07, 2005

Frustrated with Intellectual Absolutism and Isolationism

“It Takes a Village!” No, “It Takes a Family!”

“We must use Phonics!” “No, don’t be a fool, Whole Language!”

“Global warming is natural, so leave my Hummer out of it!” “You damn SUV drivers are the Devil himself!”

“It’s your diet, duh!” “All you need is exercise, so get off your lazy ass!”

“Pepsi!” “No, Coke!” OK, I won’t even go there.

I need to vent some frustration after reaching a breaking point with the publication of Senator Rick Santorum’s book, “It Takes a Family.” No, I have not read it yet but have seen excerpts and have heard bits of interviews with this right-wing nut. I also have read comments from many true conservatives, including one of my very best friends Zenpundit, who has taken a stance that has hit me harder than shock and awe: he is willing to support Santorum’s Democratic opponent.

Like Rick Santorum who exists apparently to provide evidence for Leftists everywhere that membership in the Republican Party is not incompatible with complete intellectual incoherence and a fascistic mindset. You sir, represent a weird, right-wing bizarro world version of everything I categorically reject in Left-wing authoritarianism.In the next election cycle I will do something I have never done before which is cross party lines and donate to Santorum's opponent ( naturally, I'm sure the Democrats will take the opportunity to nominate a true extremist kook of their own to make this decision as unpalatable as is humanly possible).”

That is how bad off our world is. The stars must not be aligned correctly or something like that (I haven’t seen my astrologer recently). It is easy (and sort of fun) to use Santorum as the poster-boy of, for lack of a better phrase, intellectual absolutism, but it exists everywhere and in all fields. Partisan politics, of course, is a power game that is played for keeps, regardless of who is correct and what is best for most citizens. It is also the most familiar example of seeing extremism and absolutism in action because we get to watch it every day on the news.

Hillary Clinton’s book, “It Takes a Village,” is a dissertation of her take on society. She puts her opinions out there, she backs much of it up with research studies, and she concludes sometimes parents need assistance with their children. She really does state that ideally and primarily, family is the core to a child’s well-being, so after I read her book I agreed with many, but certainly not all, of her conclusions. The ‘village’ is not a substitute for government necessarily, because she does conclude schools, churches, community organizations, and so on, are vitally important in our society, and she praises all of them. Government can play a role as well, to help those who cannot be helped by community services and so on, but of course there are huge limitations that need to be considered. Thinking of your own situation, which of the following excerpts make more sense to your life:

“After decades of assault upon what made America great, upon supposedly obsolete values, what have we reaped, what have we created, what do we have? What we have, in the opinion of millions of Americans, is crime, drugs, illegitimacy, abortion, the abdication of duty, and the abandonment of children.

And after the virtual devastation of the American family, the rock upon which this country was founded, we are told that it takes a village -- that is, the collective, and thus, the state -- to raise a child.

The state is now more involved than it has ever been in the raising of children, and children are now more neglected, abused, and mistreated than they have been in our time.
This is not a coincidence, and, with all due respect, I am here to tell you: it does not take a village to raise a child.

It takes a family. (Sound familiar - my addition)

If I could by magic restore to every child who lacks a father or a mother, that father or that mother, I would.

And though I cannot, I would never turn my back on them, and I shall, as president, promote measures that keep families whole.

I am here to tell you that permissive and destructive behavior must be opposed, that honor and liberty must be restored, and that individual accountability must replace collective excuse. I am here to say to America, do not abandon the great traditions that stretch to the dawn of our history, do not topple the pillars of those below.”


“I want to talk about what matters most in our lives and in our nation—children and families. I wish — I wish we could be sitting around a kitchen table, just us, talking about our hopes and fears, about our children’s futures. For Bill and me, family has been the center of our lives.
But we also know that our family, like your family, is part of a larger community that can help or hurt our best efforts to raise our child.

Right now, in our biggest cities and our smallest towns, there are boys and girls being tucked gently into bed, and there are boys and girls who have no one to call mom or dad, and no place to call home.

Right now there are mothers and fathers just finishing a long day’s work. And there are mothers and fathers just going to work, some to their second or third jobs of the day.

Right now there are parents worrying: “What if the baby sitter is sick tomorrow?” Or: “How can we pay for college this fall?” And right now there are parents despairing about gang members and drug pushers on the corners in their neighborhoods.

Right now there are parents questioning a popular culture that glamorizes sex and violence, smoking and drinking, and teaches children that the logos on their clothes are more valued than the generosity in their hearts.

But also right now there are dedicated teachers preparing their lessons for the new school year. There are volunteers tutoring and coaching children. There are doctors and nurses caring for sick children, police officers working to help kids stay out of trouble and off drugs.
Of course, parents, first and foremost, are responsible for their children.”

The first was from Bob Dole’s acceptance speech at the 1996 Republican National Convention, the second from Hillary Clinton’s speech at the 1996 Democratic National Convention. Who is correct? Well, at the core they are saying the same thing. Family is (or at least should be in an ideal world) the most important part of a child’s life. Dole is correct that our society is lacking individual responsibility in many instances, and this is in part responsible for our ‘take you to court,’ make excuses-happy culture. But with complete families now in the minority, obviously this is an ideal view that is disconnected from reality. Many on the Right talk about faith-based everything, but now you are talking in Hillary-speak, are you not?! Ouch, that has got to hurt and I’ll likely hear about it from certain people.

As part of the Right’s grand plans to bring back traditional family values, “promote measures that keep families whole” (hey, Bob is talking about doing this through, gulp, government policy), etc, they are in Hillary’s worldview but cannot and will not realize it and/or admit it. After all, on paper two parents are better than one for a child. Without thinking about it, I agree. But simplistic, absolute answers have trouble when one considers complexity of real life. Let me modify the two parent concept like this: Two parents who give a damn about the child are better than one. (Just like two heads are better than one for solving, say, social problems….unless one of those heads belongs to a Hitler or Stalin) I just cannot help but think too many on the Right don’t think in these terms, such as a Dole or Santorum, and yet they go on to constantly contradict their own arguments by talking about government incentives to promote family and get faith-based, community service organizations involved in helping with education, the drug war, and countless other aspects of a child’s life. It is also hard to be lectured on what’s best for my kids by rich white guys whose children were likely raised in part by the nanny…

My guess is most people will relate with the everyday situations described by Hillary. Any parent asks these same questions. To say absolutely that the family unit can survive on its own and that a child is only affected by his or her family is, of course, ridiculous because we all are influenced by society. To say absolutely that government can solve all family and social ills through policy and regulation is, of course, ridiculous because no policy or regulation exists that will work for all individuals, let alone be constitutional or American, where freedom is king. This is what I mean by ‘intellectual absolutism.’ It is the lack of ability to recognize complexity and that real, working solutions are combinations of the extreme views. Is the Left correct? Is the Right correct? Both are correct, both are wrong. Partisanship within the two party system is in theory a good thing, and having some small number of extremists on each side is a good thing because it broadens the spectrum of ideas. But having said that, the danger lies in the inability of leaders to listen to each other and argue about things simply for the sake of partisanship, rather than solving real problems. In addition, getting personal is currently a problem of such great magnitude that it clouds rational, logical debate with emotion, and we all know how well human beings think when caught up in emotion. I’ve seen the same thing countless times in teacher meetings when discussing teaching methodologies or theories of learning. Certain individuals become consumed absolutely with Piaget, others absolutely with Skinner, to the point where they cannot identify that there are some good points from each theory, so why not take pieces of each. It seems our culture is more consumed with the notion of absolutes more than I can ever remember, and I, for one, am frustrated with so many walking around and arguing with blinders on. So, going back to the beginning:

“It Takes a Village!” “It Takes a Family!” Hey, it takes both!

“Phonics!” “Whole Language!” Hey, each has its strengths, so we need both!

“Global warming is natural!” “We are causing global warming!” Hey, there is evidence for both
(so it would help if we did try to do something about the portion we can control).

“It’s your diet!” “All you need is exercise!” Hey, it is both, so eat less and, yes, get your lazy ass off the couch.

“Pepsi!” “No, Coke!” OK, I still won’t go there (but just so you know, it absolutely is Pepsi).


mark said...

Hey Dr.Von

What Santorum does not seem to realize is that you do not protect children from adults by having the government treat all adults as if they were children.

The last century stands as a testament that running a society on the premise that individuals should be at the disposal of the group quickly leads to very, very, bad things happening to a lot of individuals. Neither myself nor my children are Rick Santorum's to " shape" in his proposed " national family". Not that I think Santorum will get much further politically as a younger, more handsome, less anti-semitic, Pat Buchanan - there just aren't enough Opus Dei voters out there to swing the primaries.

But you would think a U.S. Senator could find more important priorities for his limited time in the middle of a war.

vonny said...

Hi mark,

The whole Santorum episode in effect crystallizes my belief that a large subset of the GOP has lost its way when it comes to self-identity. I don't know how to define 'conservative' any more, just as most Democrats have been led to believe 'liberal' is a four letter word and cannot find its modern identity.

It used to be that Democrats/liberals drove conservatives crazy with government influence and control via the welfare state. As you say, the 'national family' is simply a religious parallel that implies a lack of individual emphasis. And what else do we have under a 'conservative' controlled government? Big government, big spending, big deficits, stepping on state's rights on a host of issues, and a replacement of east coast academic elitism with east coast (i.e. Wall Street) corporate elitism.

Again, I am at a loss as to how to define modern conservatism. And I know how this drives a traditional conservative such as yourself up the wall. I agree that, luckily, Santorum does not seem to be a threat for President (although this is an attempt to build a national base with the religious right).

mark said...

Hey Von

The Right was never as unified as the Left; the latter accepted a lot of the same premises from the center all the way to Democratic Socialists, and in the thirties, Communists ( Liberals did not completely split with Communists until 1948 when Wallace ran against Truman).

The Right was formed from disparate groups united in their oposition to Communism abroad and the New Deal at home. Only much later, the 1980's, did the Right add tax cuts as something to be for. Complicating matters, American conservatism and European conservatism are distinctly different brands of political thought.

A quick American Conservative taxonomy:

Big Business/Corporate:

These are the Business Roundtable guys - relatively moderate, focused on fiscal and monetary policy, trade policy, corporate tax breaks and favorable regulatory exemptions.

Religious Right & Social Conservatives:

Populist, authoritarian, interested in promoting public morality. Abortion is number # 1 issue. School Choice is a distant second. Now branching into humanitarian intervention aspects of foreign policy.

Social Conservatives like George Will differ from the Religious Right only in overt religiousity . They construct secular rationales for the same policy goals.


Free-marketeers, supply-siders, free-traders, tax-cutters, anti-gun control, pro-personal liberties, deeply suspicious of the government's competence in all areas. Currently lacking in influence, high point was 1995.


Primarily interested in a strategic interventionist foreign policy which they see through a moralist lens. First generation Neocons were former ( or remained) Democrats who supported anti-Soviet policies. Second Generation neocons never were Left. Strong support of Israel and Democracy.


The Old Right from the Pre-WWII isolationist, nativist, tradition. Anti-Israel, anti-Iraq War, pessimistic and given at the edges to conspiracy theories and nostalgia for the Confederacy. Sort of exiled from the GOP since Pat Buchanan stomped out of the primaries. Some cross-over with Social Conservatives.

James said...

Doc V, have you taken the test at

vonny said...

Hi james,

Just did...I am almost exactly where Ghandi is on their plot. Interesting!

mark said...

Somehow I come out less than Gandhian ;o)