July 23rd, 2016
Illinois lawmakers earn base salaries of nearly $68,000 for what is essentially part-time work.
The past year has been a rough one for many Illinoisans.
During the recent budget impasse, residents were inundated with stories of anguish throughout the state. And while a stopgap budget has answered some cries for help, the Land of Lincoln remains mired in sluggish growth, high taxes and low expectations.
But a select few Illinoisans have shielded themselves from the pain they’ve inflicted upon others: state politicians.
Despite failing to pass a balanced budget or any significant economic reforms for more than a year, state lawmakers the week of July 4 received paychecks and per diem money. This was the first check lawmakers had seen since Comptroller Leslie Munger temporarily threw lawmaker salaries into the state’s $8 billion pile of unpaid bills three months ago.
State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Westchester, must have breathed a sigh of relief.
On June 30, Lightford took to the floor of the Illinois Senate to complain that the state wasn’t taking sufficient care of lawmakers such as herself. https://www.facebook.com/illinoispolicy/videos/10153837391188667/
“I’m hoping the comptroller will decide and recognize that we’re not vendors, that we’re actually employees of this body and deserve to be paid,” she said.
More than 1 million people have viewed the footage of Lightford’s tone-deaf defense of a privileged political class on Facebook. The video’s popularity speaks to Illinoisans’ sense of fairness. After the mess they’ve made, Illinois politicians are lucky to receive a paycheck at all, much less cut in line.
Illinois lawmakers earn base salaries of nearly $68,000 for what is essentially part-time work. Lightford took home more than $88,000 in 2015. She also received health care benefits worth more than $9,500, and racked up $16,000 more in taxpayer-funded pension benefits for when she retires.
In the wake of Lightford’s gaffe, the question remains: Why were lawmakers getting paid without passing a budget?
Ask House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton.
In 2014, Madigan and Cullerton rammed a bill through the General Assembly ensuring lawmakers would get paid with or without a budget. They did this by exempting lawmaker salaries, operating expenses and pay increases from the annual appropriations process. In other words, these payments became “continuing appropriations.” The bill did three things.
First, it meant that those items must be specifically prohibited to stop the money from flowing to politicians. Second, those items would not be affected by the lack of a state budget. And third, year-to-year cuts to lawmaker salaries and operating expenses would be prohibited.
Then-Gov. Pat Quinn signed off.
No other office or agency of Illinois state government has these sorts of privileges. Continuing appropriations are typically reserved for things such as pension payments, debt payments and interest payments.
Not payments to politicians.
Madigan and Cullerton’s power play serves as an important case study in political priorities. Why didn’t they extend these privileges to the groups crying out for help during the budget impasse?
Simple: State politicians knew their own bottom lines could soon be on the chopping block. So they took them off the bargaining table. If only other groups, including taxpayers, had been so lucky.
But Illinoisans aren’t just being forced to pay politicians’ salaries. They’re also bailing out political pensions. In 2017, taxpayers will contribute the equivalent of nearly $123,000 per lawmaker in pension costs alone.
The average career lawmaker’s pension totals nearly $96,000 a year, and state lawmakers can retire and start drawing pension benefits from the General Assembly Retirement System, or GARS, after as few as eight years in office.
Those who have taken full advantage of Illinois’ lack of term limits will collect 85 percent of their final salary after 20 years of service. Lawmakers elected after 2011 max out at 60 percent.
As has been the case in many matters of state governance, Illinois lawmakers have proven inept at managing their own retirements. GARS has a mere 16 cents for every dollar needed to pay out future benefits, and taxpayers are bailing it out by contributing 17 times more money than lawmakers do toward GARS.
It’s not exactly a shared sacrifice.
If state lawmakers are serious about taking action to alleviate the pain facing Illinoisans, they should start by looking in the mirror.
Members of the Illinois General Assembly should end pensions for politicians once and for all. And a pay cut would send an equally powerful message. Their job performance demands as much.
Source: Will County News
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July 22nd, 2016
The progressives are ignoring two grave risks to Americans; domestic violence and Islamic terror. At the same time they want to make us more vulnerable by taking away our guns.
And who will be there to protect us? The police? Not likely, as President Barack Obama and his political allies in government are busy re-engineering American society, including eviscerating our police forces as was again made tragically evident on Sunday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
In harm’s way are American citizens kept ignorant by the propagandists in the media who report ad nauseam on a perceived growing violence between police and African Americans, as millions of black people, in permanent poverty and living in the growing ghettos, are becoming enraged.
Americans could face a catch-22 over guns. Catch-22 is a circular contradiction best explained within the bestselling novel of the same name by Joseph Heller:
Yossarian looked at him soberly and tried another approach. ‘Is Orr crazy?’
‘He sure is,’ Doc Daneeka said.
‘Can you ground him?’
‘I sure can. But first he has to ask me to. That’s part of the rule.’
‘Then why doesn’t he ask you to?’
‘Because he’s crazy,’ Doc Daneeka said. ‘He has to be crazy to keep flying combat missions after all the close calls he’s had. Sure, I can ground Orr. But first he has to ask me to.’
‘That’s all he has to do to be grounded?’
‘That’s all. Let him ask me.’
‘And then you can ground him?’ Yossarian asked.
‘No. Then I can’t ground him.’
‘You mean there’s a catch?’
‘Sure there’s a catch,’ Doc Daneeka replied. Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy’
Don’t be surprised if there is a catch-22 for gun sales.
Of course the federal government will allow the sales of guns.
In fact it has to. It’s part of the rule.
But you will have to ask to buy a gun.
Asking to buy a gun shows criminal intent.
And guns can’t be sold to criminals.
It may be that you can only buy a gun as long as you don’t ask for one.
Racism a black and white problem
Obama sees racism as a white face. He sees blacks as victims of white policies, perpetually put in their place as either servants or childlike in need of the nanny state.
It’s been evident since he first took office that Obama sees blacks as victims of white power. I was shocked by Obama’s speech at the memorial for the five slain police officers in Dallas on July 12.
As I first watched him address the grieving audience I was impressed and was thinking this is the best speech Obama has given. Then Obama’s ugly racism became painfully evident. The police officers murdered in Dallas were targeted because of their race. They are dead because they were protecting mainly black protestors, in some cases shielding blacks with their own bodies.
Even after this selfless heroism, Obama just couldn’t shut up about police brutality and spoke of the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile cases which both happened hundreds of miles away and to which the facts are not yet known. But that’s never stopped the president from forming his opinions, which too often reference the New Black Panther Party and Black Lives Matter.
But Obama wasn’t finished with his lecture on race:
We also know that centuries of racial discrimination, of slavery, and subjugation and Jim Crow; they didn’t simply vanish with the law against segregation… we know that bias remains. We know it, whether you are black, or white, or Hispanic, or Asian, or Native American, or of Middle Eastern descent, we have all seen this bigotry in our own lives at some point…
I’ve got news for the president; white people have felt it too. I did when I made a wrong turn while driving through East L.A. and made the mistake of stopping to use a washroom at a gas station. I saw the black stares of hatred and, in my case, I felt the hair on the back of my neck rise.
When I board an airplane I admit I look around and if men of Middle Eastern descent are boarding I have a reaction. Obama would say that makes me a racist. I say it is a part of the survival instinct that all humans have. How can anyone ignore the more than 400 people who have been blown up, shot or run over in Europe and the United States by Islamic Extremists in 2016?
With most prejudice there is always a kernel of truth behind it.
As the chart, based on a 2015 release by Obama’s Justice Department for 2012 through 2013, below shows that black offenders victimize whites 38 percent of the time.
During the same period whites victimized other whites 82 percent of the time and victimized blacks only 3.6 percent of the time. A statistician would say that blacks in general don’t have much to fear from whites. Whites mostly victimize other whites.
Even more interesting are the numbers compiled by The Washington Post for 2015. Using that data, social researcher Heather MacDonald found that 12 percent of white and Hispanic homicide deaths were due to police officers, while only four percent of black homicide deaths were the result of police officers.
Gunning for us
Obama’s other hobbyhorse is his outlandish claims about guns. At the Dallas police memorial Obama claimed that handguns are more readily available to teenagers than computers or books.
Charles C.W. Cooke, the editor of the National Review Online had had harsh words over Obama’s Dallas address:
It wasn’t a rally. It wasn’t a White House press conference. It wasn’t a public statement, hastily arranged on the airport tarmac. It was a funeral. Presumably, those attending had all sorts of political opinions. Presumably, some of the cops were Republicans. Presumably, there was some serious disagreement in that room as to how the country should move forward. Wouldn’t it have been better to wait until the proceedings were over to call for change?
One change that Americans don’t need in this divisive and dangerous world is restrictions on guns. I owned a 10mm Smith and Wesson, but at the time we had three small children. If someone broke into our home I would have had to ask the criminal to come back in five minutes because the gun was in the attic and the clip was beneath a floorboard. I decided my Remington 12 gauge pump shotgun was protection enough. Of course I had no protection when my wife and I went out at night except that I was young and had experience in the boxing ring.
But today I feel vulnerable because of my age and my health. If it were legal, I would buy a more practical handgun that had a good fit for my hand and have a concealed weapons permit. That is no longer an option now that I live in Canada, but I believe that lawful Americans not only have a Constitutional right to own a gun, but in many cases are prudent to purchase one.
But a handgun in itself is no panacea. Like any instrument it needs long hours of practice at the gun range.
I will leave you with this: the central character in Catch-22 is Capt. John Yossarian who was based on an old friend of mine, Frank Yohannan. His locker was next to mine for the 18 years I went to the Spokane Club.
I always wanted to ask Frank if he was somewhat like Heller’s Yossarian. But I wanted to believe if I asked him he would say, “I can tell you but only if you don’t ask.”
— John Myers
Source: Will County News
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July 22nd, 2016
As many of the followers in this FB group know, Homer Glen Village Square Facebook site is the only place where Homer residents can hold our local government accountable. Last month, we analyzed our assessor’s office and found that Homer Township pays the highest salaries in Will County. We asked the assessor for an explanation and we have yet to receive a response. I am sure she will get around to sending me the email she promised and when she does, I will post her response on the website.
Our Homer Township board is responsible for managing another fund which supports Park maintenance. The Park fund levied almost $195,000 in property tax last year. The Illinois Township Code is very clear and it states the levy is solely dedicated to parks. Specifically, the statute is 60 ILCS 1/120-20, Park Maintenance Tax, section (c) “The maintenance tax, when levied and collected, shall be kept separate and distinct from all other township funds and shall be applied exclusively to the expense of maintenance and upkeep, adornment, and development of parks acquired by the township or to the acquisition of other lands to be used for public park purposes.” Homer Township has 93 acres of park space which includes the Homer Athletic Complex as well as Sendra, Yangas, Goreham, Culver, Morris and Lamers parks.
We looked at Homer Township’s Budget vs. Actual report for the period 4/1/15 – 3/31/16 to see where the Town Board was spending our Park fund money. The first thing that jumps out on the report is the personnel expenses. The township paid $108,497 in employee costs last year. Once you add in the operating and maintenance costs, the total maintenance expenses were $177, 499 to support 93 acres of park space. Our township parks are not very complicated and maintaining the parks is basically mowing grass, taking care of the landscape and removing trash. The idea that Homer Township’s annual cost per acre is $1,908.60 ($177,499/93 acres) to maintain our parks seemed way out of line.
Last year, the village of Homer Glen used a subcontractor, R&R Yard Design, to maintain the 96 acre Heritage/Woodbine park space. R&R was responsible for mowing and trimming the grass to a 3 inch height, keeping landscape weed free, pruning trees and shrubs, removing dead shrubs and leaves, trash removal and power edging. I would expect R&R’s services to be very similar to the services that the Township Park maintenance employees deliver. According to the village’s check register from last year, Homer Glen paid R&R Yard Design $68,009.50 in service fees for the period 4/1/15 – 3/31/16. This calculates to an annual maintenance cost per acre of $708.43.
Comparison of Homer Glen and Homer Township spending link below:
It’s outrageous that Homer Township spent over $1,200 more per acre than the Village of Homer Glen to maintain our parks last year. The township paid over $109,000 more in park maintenance costs to support the same amount of park space over the same time period. Once again, the Homer Township taxpayer is overpaying for services. Homer Township should be outsourcing its park maintenance to subcontractors and reinvesting the cost savings into parks amenities. I see the posts about splash pads, new equipment, pavilions, water fountains, benches, picnic tables, etc. We can have all of these amenities in our parks WITHOUT A TAX INCREASE if the supervisor would manage our park fund correctly. Instead, we have a supervisor that treats our parks as an afterthought and 4 trustees that rubber stamp every one of her budgets with no questions asked.
So, let’s review the financial performance of our Town Board. We have a park maintenance department that costs more than twice as much as a subcontractor and we have an assessor’s department that carries the highest payroll in Will County. Elections are coming up next year. If you have ever had any interest in serving the community as a Homer Township trustee, assessor, clerk or supervisor, please send me PM. We have 40,000 people that live in Homer Township and we can do better than this. This has to stop!
Source: Will County News
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July 22nd, 2016
Every five minutes, Illinois loses a resident to another state.
Paul Kaup’s first job out of high school was tossing luggage at Midway Airport in Chicago. But he always dreamed of taking to the skies.
Kaup lives his dream now. He works as a pilot for a major airline. But Illinois isn’t home anymore.
This summer, Kaup and his family joined the thousands of Illinoisans boarding flights, renting vans and skipping town for greener pastures. The Kaups left Illinois and moved south to Arizona.
A jarring property-tax hike forced them out.
Every five minutes, Illinois loses a resident to another state. And it’s not just retired snowbirds.
Adults in their prime working years, ages 24 to 54, are leaving Illinois in droves. The Land of Lincoln suffered a net loss of 290,000 prime working age adults due to outmigration alone over the last decade, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
And U.S. Census Bureau data show that not only is the state’s total population shrinking due to outmigration, but an overwhelming majority of Illinois’ largest cities are shrinking as well.
“I know what it is like to see your family uprooted,” Kaup said. “I know what it’s like to see your friends and neighbors complain daily about the situation that the state of Illinois is in.”
Uprooting a family comes with more profound consequences than a number on a page and a “For Sale” sign. The Kaups were not only part of the fabric of their Spring Grove, Ill., community; they were the stitching.
Last summer, Paul organized a six-week basketball camp for kids in 2nd through 8th grade, and gave local high-school students $15 an hour to coach. He didn’t see a dime. Last fall, he coached two teams in a youth engineering competition called FIRST LEGO League. And this spring, he volunteered to teach aeronautics to 15 local students. The culmination of their work will be a trip to Spaceport America in New Mexico.
Paul’s wife, Karen, had a strict open-door policy for Spring Grove’s youth. While the Kaups have three children, most of the 54,000 miles on the family car came with all seven seats filled. Her Illinois home was a welcoming one.
But no longer. Lucky kids in Gilbert, Ariz., have those privileges now.
Census survey data show two-thirds of Americans moving 500 miles or more are driven to do so by employment or housing reasons. Illinois is weak on both fronts.
The Land of Lincoln is the second-worst state in the nation for putting people back to work after the Great Recession, with 111,000 fewer people working today compared to before the Great Recession began.
And homeowners face the nation’s highest property taxes.
In return for giving back to their community, the Kaups saw a $3,200 hike in their property-tax bill this year, for a total of $13,800. The eye-popping increase came after the local assessor reassessed property values within three neighborhoods in their township.
“I don’t want to pay for this disaster that politicians put us into,” Kaup said. “I have severe heartache with paying for a problem I didn’t create.”
The Kaup’s new house in Phoenix is about 900 square feet smaller than their former Illinois home, but they saved more than $10,000 on the property-tax bill alone.
Spring Grove is located in McHenry County, which is home to the highest property taxes in the state. Average property-tax bills eat up 8 percent of the typical household income there, according to research from the Illinois Policy Institute.
Illinois needs families like the Kaups. The state is dimmer without them.
But you can’t blame them for leaving.
Until major spending reforms bring down local tax bills and economic reforms bring decent jobs back to Illinois, expect thousands more like them to take flight.
Source: Will County News
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July 20th, 2016
I can’t imagine a policy more irrelevant to the problems facing our society than bathroom privileges for transgender students. The bottom half of American society is collapsing. Voters are revolting against establishment candidates, casting doubt on the economic and cultural consensus that has predominated over the last generation. And the Obama administration presses for transgender rights? This is amazing, but not surprising given the history of post-sixties liberalism.
When I was a child, my home state, Maryland, was dominated by the postwar Democratic party: white ethnic working-class voters, educated progressives in Baltimore and its suburbs, and white segregationists who still saw the party of Woodrow Wilson as their natural home. In 1966, segregationist and gubernatorial candidate George Mahoney leveraged racial animus to triumph in a bitter Democratic party primary. But times were changing, and Republican Spiro Agnew won in the general election, attracting educated progressives and helped by more than 70 percent of the black vote.
That election was the beginning of major shifts in the electorate. Riots, protests, and the general atmosphere of collapse in the late sixties unsettled working-class white voters. White flight from Baltimore and other cities accelerated, and Richard Nixon’s “law and order” rhetoric resonated with the new suburbanites who had once been reliable voters in urban machines. Meanwhile, the Democratic party renounced its segregationist past and evolved into a coalition of African-American voters, white working-class voters who remained loyal to memories of FDR, white retirees dependent on Social Security, and college-educated liberals—a pattern repeated elsewhere throughout the country.
That coalition took a while to solidify, but it made sense. It retained the pro-labor emphasis of the old left, while giving play to some conservative social themes such as tough-on-crime stances that satisfied white working- and middle-class voters. It provided patronage to African Americans, whose leaders had superseded bosses of the old white ethnic urban political machine in cities like Baltimore. And it took up enough of the cultural causes and rhetoric of the new left to satisfy college-educated liberals.
But the wheels of change kept turning. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan moved the white working class into the Republican fold. But at the same time, the children of the white men who worked at places like Bethlehem Steel at Sparrows Point outside Baltimore were going to college. As a result, the pool of educated white liberals grew, adding votes to the Democratic coalition. And not just votes, but money and cultural power.
By the time we get to Obama, the Democratic party had become home to the richest and most well-educated Americans. Close to 70 percent of professionals voted for him in 2008, as did a majority of those making $200,000 or more per year. There are more Democrats than Republicans currently representing the hundred richest congressional districts. The successful people in today’s global economy, a mostly white cohort that makes up 20 to 25 percent of the population, are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans. The party of FDR is no longer the little guy’s party. It now advances the economic and cultural interests of post-Protestant WASPs, a consolidated cultural identity that, although populated mostly by white Americans, includes others who share their elite status.
At the same time that the successful upper end of society was coming to lean Democratic, another dynamic was at work on the other end. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act dramatically increased immigration from Latin America and Asia, populating America with new vulnerable constituencies. Over time, this provided a ready population to slot into the role of the downtrodden, allowing the Democratic party to sustain a sense of itself as the defender of the weak.
These recent immigrants and children of immigrants have been replacing the Reagan Democrats, giving the Democratic party electoral muscle to support its post-Protestant WASP leadership. But there is a difference. The white working and middle class in the FDR and LBJ coalitions vied for control of American culture and politics. Immigrant populations, by contrast, enter the Democratic party coalition on the same terms as African Americans. They are clients in a millet system, benefiting from liberal patronage. Add gay people, single women, and anyone who feels himself an “outsider,” and the basic structure of today’s Democratic party comes into view. Its policy priorities are dominated by a large cohort of well-educated, well-off, mostly white liberals who justify their ascendancy with promises to promote and protect those who feel “excluded” or “marginalized.”
In this coalition, gay rights become particularly important. Environmentalism energizes upper middle-class liberals, for example, but can often run counter to the interests of those lower on the social ladder. Banning fracking won’t energize Latino or African-American voters. Gay rights, by contrast, function as an upper-middle-class liberal issue that nevertheless resonates throughout the Democratic coalition. Led by well-educated, mostly white liberals, LGBT organizations, like feminist ones and pro-abortion ones, are strongly tilted toward the problems facing successful and well-off gays and lesbians. But the civil rights rhetoric of ending discrimination and promoting inclusion matches concerns among African Americans, Hispanics, and other voter blocs that feel marginalized as well. This makes gay rights the perfect focal point for Democrats. The movement has a well-off, well-educated constituency whose goals pose no threat to the economic and cultural ascendancy of post-Protestant WASPs—and at the same time promotes a solidarity in marginality that keeps the Democratic coalition unified and motivated.
The problem, of course, is that a solidarity-in-marginality coalition capable of commanding electoral majorities has an increasingly hard time maintaining its plausibility. How long can a coalition that wins elections and exercises power pose as the party of the marginalized? At some point, political success undermines the urgency of a rainbow coalition. The tensions between the One Percent focus of feminism and the LGBT movements and the interests of immigrants and African Americans becomes more visible, to say nothing of the disconnect between the base of the Democratic party from the economic and cultural interests of those who fund and run it.
To motivate their voter base, liberals have invested a great deal in identifying ever-new patterns of discrimination. Notions such as “microaggression” and “intersectionality” reflect second-wave (or is it third-wave?) liberation politics. They gain currency because of the law of political supply and demand. The twenty-first-century Democratic solidarity-in-marginality coalition is held together by anxieties about exclusion and domination by the “other,” which is to say by Republican voters. This creates a strong political demand for narratives of oppression, which liberal intellectuals are happy to supply.
This dynamic operates most visibly at our universities, where well-off, mostly white liberals—the post-Protestant WASPs—rule. The legitimacy of this elite depends upon its commitment to “include” the “excluded.” It goes without saying that an Ivy League administrator must manage the optics very carefully to sustain “marginality” among the talented students who have gained admission. “Microaggression” and other key terms in the ever-evolving scholasticism of discrimination thus play very useful roles. They renew the threats of discrimination and exclusion, and this reinforces the power of liberal elites. Their institutional ascendancy is necessary to protect and provide patronage to the “excluded.” I’m quite certain that if political correctness succeeds in suppressing “microaggressions,” we’ll soon hear about “nano-aggressions.” The logic of solidarity in marginality requires oppression, and solidarity in marginality is necessary in order to sustain liberal power.
Outside our universities, life is less theoretical and the rhetoric more demotic. The standard approach has been to renew solidarity in marginality by demonizing conservatives as racists, xenophobes, and “haters.” To maintain loyalty, the Democratic party incites anxiety about discrimination and exclusion. A form of reverse race-baiting, perhaps best thought of as bigot-baiting, has become crucial for sustaining the Democratic coalition, which is why we hear so much about “hate” these days. At the recent gay pride parade in New York, a few weeks after the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, marchers held aloft an avenue-wide banner that read, “Republican Hate Kills!”
It’s important to remember a first law of politics for solidarity in marginality: Political success makes it harder and harder to sustain solidarity in marginality, and this leads to bigot-baiting. We’ve seen an increase of harsh denunciations, not in spite of progressive victories on issues like gay marriage, but because of them. When Obama became president, a superficial observer might have concluded that the election of a black man to the nation’s highest office would diminish the political currency of anti-racist rhetoric. But this ignores the symbolic needs of the Democratic party. Black Lives Matter and redoubled attacks on discrimination are demanded by racial progress. Solidarity in marginality needs to be renewed, especially when the marginal gain access to power.
This pattern of rhetorical escalation because of progress in the fight against discrimination is also evident in characterizations of Trump voters as racists and bigots. Leon Wieseltier says of them, “They kindle, in the myopia of their pain, to racism and nativism and xenophobia and misogyny and homophobia and anti-Semitism.” No mainstream figure talked this way when I was young—and when these descriptions were much more plausible. Incendiary, denunciatory rhetoric was characteristic of a marginal figure like George Wallace, who spoke of “sissy-britches welfare people” and called civil-rights protesters “anarchists.”
It’s commonplace now for liberals to talk this way. This is not because America has become more racially, ethnically, religiously, or sexually divided. All the indicators suggest otherwise. It’s because the Democratic party depends on a constant bombardment of denunciation to gin up fear. That someone as intelligent as Wieseltier participates in bigot-baiting in such blatant ways indicates how indispensable it has become for maintaining liberal power.
It’s in this context that transgender bathroom access becomes an issue of national import for the Obama administration. Progressives need “haters,” and flushing them out so they can be politically useful targets of denunciation requires advancing the front lines of the culture wars. The ideology of transgenderism provides a near perfect combination. It so completely contradicts common sense and any worldview tethered to reality that resistance is guaranteed. Moreover, the cause of transgender “rights” focuses on confused and troubled children and adults, individuals whose condition makes them by definition marginal. The disordered nature of their emotional lives makes them vulnerable as well. They’re ready-made victims of an oppressive conservatism, an ideal focus for another round of bigot-baiting. Denouncing the “haters” who resist transgender ideology plays to fears of exclusion and discrimination that keep the rainbow coalition together.
The Republican party establishment recognizes this dynamic, which is why many conservative leaders have been urging retreat from the culture war. In their view, religious conservatives should reposition themselves as victims of a progressive dogmatism that threatens religious liberty. This strategy makes some sense, drawing as it does on liberalism’s own rhetoric of oppression and victimhood. But it misjudges the political realities of our time. Today’s rich-oriented liberalism can only maintain power through the support of voters united in fear of discrimination and marginality—black Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, single women, gays and lesbians, and others who worry they don’t fit into what they imagine to be the “mainstream” (which hardly exists anymore). As a consequence, every retreat on the cultural front will be followed by renewed progressive attacks designed to generate politically useful “hate.” Religious liberty is redescribed as the “right to discriminate.” Here again the LGBT movement plays an especially important role. Its agenda collides with traditional religious convictions about God, creation, nature, and morality, guaranteeing the ongoing culture war that has become so essential for post-Protestant WASPs to maintain power.
Transgender activists zealously advance their cause, and they do so with the support of establishment liberals. Their activist zealotry is a political asset, not a liability. They provoke the resistance that can be described as “hate.” Even if the Republican party succeeds in organizing retreats from controversial cultural and moral issues, there’s always a Westboro Baptist Church or some other marginal group to become poster children for the enduring, supposedly powerful forces of discrimination and oppression. As we’ve seen in the aftermath of the Orlando atrocity, even a terrorist attack motivated by Islamist ideology can be transformed into an assault made possible by traditional Christianity, or even the mere existence of political conservatives. “Republican Hate Kills.” And the anti-establishment electorate that’s getting behind Donald Trump gets transformed into racists, xenophobes, homophobes, and anti-Semites.
Bigot-baiting. It’s not going to end soon, no matter what we say or do. The ever-shriller denunciations directed our way stem from the rhetorical needs of the Democratic party. Its leadership knows that its power, like the power of George Wallace and others in an earlier era, depends on an atmosphere of fear, in this case a fear of discrimination, exclusion, and oppression, a fear that Bull Connor has been resurrected. This need explains why the ideologies of multiculturalism postulate that Western culture itself is based on oppression. The threat must be infinite and everlasting.
The present crusade for transgender bathroom privileges in high schools, like so much of the progressive agenda in recent years, is not about civil rights. It’s about renewing the symbolism of oppression and finding the “haters” that rich, mostly white liberals need to sustain their political power.
Neuhaus, the Liberal
The most recent issue of National Affairs (summer 2016) features an essay about our founder, “The Liberalism of Richard John Neuhaus.” The author, Matthew Rose, currently director and senior fellow at the Berkeley Institute, was a junior fellow at First Things and worked with Neuhaus. Reading the essay, I was struck by the continuity of Neuhaus’s thought. I hope the same continuity characterizes First Things.
Rose cites a 1990 contribution Neuhaus made to a Christian Century series, “How My Mind Has Changed.” That was the year First Things got going. Already well known as a Christian neoconservative, Neuhaus had shifted from left to right in the 1970s and was active in bringing the newly powerful Christian right into conversation with a range of conservative intellectuals. But in that article, he denied any fundamental changes in his outlook. He recalled that while in seminary, he formed lasting convictions. He would be “in descending order of importance, religiously orthodox, culturally conservative, politically liberal, and economically pragmatic.” To this personal “quadrilateral” he remained loyal, even as the world around him changed, forcing him to change in order to stay true to his principles.
Does First Things remain loyal as well? It’s best to begin with the least important: economic pragmatism. Neuhaus didn’t treat free-market capitalism as the fundamental imperative. Like many of his generation, he came to see that socialism, while theoretically the morally superior option, at least in some accounts, in fact concentrates power in the hands of a few, suppresses freedom, and leads to economic stagnation. Without a free economy, it’s hard to sustain a free society, much less a prosperous one. But he didn’t suppose that market deregulation and the free flow of capital and labor would cure all social ills and automatically promote the well-being of most citizens.
By the time First Things was founded, Neuhaus belonged to the “two cheers for capitalism” camp. (Irving Kristol coined the phrase to describe Pope John Paul II’s endorsement of free markets in his encyclical most friendly to capitalism, Centesimus Annus.) In our first year of publication, Neuhaus ran an article by Paul Johnson on the moral inadequacy of capitalism as society’s sole organizing principle, another by Amy Sherman on why Christians concerned about the economic development of poor nations should acknowledge the success of market-oriented models, and still another by Christopher Lasch arguing that in contemporary American politics, cultural conservatives are mismatched with free-market proponents whose ideals of economic freedom undermine stable communities.
First Things remains economically pragmatic. When the magazine was launched, half the world was coming out from underneath the suffocating blanket of “actually existing socialism.” We were rightfully optimistic. Eastern Europe is today both prosperous and free. China and India have seen remarkable growth, lifting millions out of abject poverty. But it’s now 2016 and we face the problems of capitalism’s excesses, even its successes, not socialism’s deadening effects. Man is fallen, and our bondage to sin leads to a profoundly distorted ambition for wealth, not just for the luxury it brings, but the power as well. There are no self-regulating, self-correcting economic systems. Free enterprise may provide more safeguards against tyranny than any other system, but it too needs to be checked by our collective judgments about what best serves the common good. There was no party line on economics when First Things was founded, and that remains the case.
Which brings us to politics and Neuhaus’s liberalism. As Rose explains, Neuhaus was a great proponent of what he liked to call “the American experiment.” In his view, our free, democratic society is an open-ended project. We continue in an unbroken conversation—sometimes a bitter debate—about how to structure our common life, both formally with laws and informally through civic norms and a shared moral consensus. We don’t know the end point of this experiment in freedom. We can’t foretell what political arrangements or policies will best promote human dignity. This means we need to remain open to new ideas, new voices, and new possibilities.
I want to remain true to that kind of liberalism, one based in humility about our political judgments. When it comes to taxation, distribution of resources, campaign finance, constitutional interpretation, and many other matters of political importance, we’re conservative, by and large, as was Neuhaus during his years as editor-in-chief. But we know we hold our positions about matters of politics and public policy in a conversation rather than as non-negotiable principles. That makesFirst Things liberal in the very precise sense of enjoying a precious liberty. We enjoy the freedom to entertain different arguments about how to order public life, which is why we can be generally conservative (by today’s standards) while publishing Hadley Arkes against constitutional originalism, Patrick Deneen against corporate power, and David Bentley Hart against capitalism (among other things). Like the Church and synagogue, First Things can be ideologically diverse precisely because we don’t treat politics as the first thing.
Not everything, however, can be a matter of open-ended conversation. Rose reports that Neuhaus was influenced by Walter Lippmann’s 1955 book, The Public Philosophy. The great liberal commentator argued that core liberal commitments to majority rule, free speech, and private property require an underlying moral consensus. Without such a consensus, the free and open conversation about public life turns into a contest for power rather than a means to realize a higher vision. This marks the death of liberalism. Absent objective moral truths, rights become political and thus can be redefined—or defined away.
Here Neuhaus could be quite fierce, as I hope First Things remains. It is the very opposite of liberal to imagine that a court, however supreme, can suspend an innocent human being’s right to life. Neuhaus died before that same court got around to redefining marriage, but his response would be the same. When a court can take hold of a primordial institution and remake it at will, nothing is safe from the tyranny of those in power. They can just as well redefine what it means to be a father, mother, or child. Or what it means to be a man or woman.
What, exactly, are those indispensable moral truths that provide the stable basis for the ongoing conversation about public life that characterizes a genuinely liberal society? Lippmann argued for natural law, as do many who continue to play an important role inFirst Things. Neuhaus opted for a more rhetorical and less metaphysical approach. He liked to point to Martin Luther King’s winsome combination of a biblically inspired vision of justice and appeals to America’s founding ideals of equality. The moral consensus that grounds our liberal culture is covenantal, he argued. What this means, exactly, he never defined, but instead illustrated in the many efforts he made to connect his own Christian convictions to his political judgments, often in the pages he filled at the end of every issue. He was both sure that moral truth has objective reality and willing to entertain a variety of explanations of that reality.
We remain metaphysical realists without plunking down for any one approach. We know that our choices are not self-validating. A culture of freedom serves human dignity when freedom serves moral truth. But we’re aware that our philosophical and theological tradition is itself a debate about what moral truth is and how we know it. First Things reflects the ongoing effort by many authors to speak religiously, morally, and publically, not according to a specific formula or in accord with agreed-upon metaphysical and theological principles.
With his usual genius for quotable formulations, Neuhaus liked to reiterate a version of the following: “Politics is chiefly a function of culture, at the heart of culture is morality, and at the heart of morality is religion.” He was convinced that an ideological secularism (as opposed to a political secularism) undermines liberalism and over the long haul cannot sustain a free society. True liberalism requires acknowledging the transcendent authority of God.
Whose God? That’s a theological debate Neuhaus thought worth having. What does God command? Another debate. How does one reason from divine imperatives to public philosophies? Again, Neuhaus ran a magazine in which we could offer different answers. With so many open questions, was Neuhaus a closet relativist? No, he was a modern man aware of the open-ended character of our most important arguments about transcendence, authority, and how to organize our common life in a pluralistic society—which is to say he was a genuine liberal. And he recognized that those open questions are fruitful rather than futile only insofar as we are united in our efforts to tether our answers to something greater, something higher.
The religious impulse acknowledges and serves the divine. Neuhaus’s intuition was that this impulse anchors liberalism’s greatest achievements. I’m from a younger generation. Irving Kristol said of his generation that a neoconservative was a liberal mugged by reality. I’m conservative because I was mugged by liberals rather than reality. Many of us have felt the illiberalism of secular liberalism. This can tempt us to adopt anti-liberal and anti-modern stances. I certainly am tempted. But when I’m honest with myself, I recognize that I too am a modern man. I recognize the fact that in our pluralistic society, many questions are open, and I cherish aspects of the culture of freedom our age has encouraged. All the more reason to emphasize the upward thrust of transcendence and its commanding power. True liberality in the conversation that is public life requires a spirit of humility before God, which is quite different from a humility that stems from relativism or the conviction that there are not moral truths to be loyal to. It also requires a willingness to be surprised, even to the point of being converted. There are surely some special people who come by these qualities naturally. But for most of us, they are nurtured by the life of faith.
We often hear of open-mindedness. It’s not a bad quality. But the more important quality is serious-mindedness. Neuhaus was right in his most important intuition as a cultural critic and political commentator. Depth of conviction sustains a free society, not diversity, pluralism, tolerance, and respect for rights. They are fruits of liberalism, not its source.
Source: Will County News
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