Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Let's Drink to the Salt of the Earth

I should write about the Susan G. Komen Foundation debacle, especially since RWA1 weighed in about it on Facebook today, but for now this could be a teaser.

IOZ wrote a post today mocking a David Brooks column about poverty or something, and quoted these poignant lines from it:
Let's say there is a 14-year-old girl who, for perfectly understandable reasons, wants to experience the love and sense of purpose that go with motherhood, rather than stay in school in the hopes of someday earning a middle-class wage.
The first thought that popped into my mind was: wait a minute -- isn't that what a good conservative thinks a fourteen-year-old girl should want, and would want if the feminazis hadn't gotten to her? Of course a good conservative won't think that a fourteen-year-old should try to be a mother unless she's married; if she isn't, she should offer up her baby for adoption to some wonderful childless couple that is just waiting for it to be born so that they can be fulfilled with that love and sense of purpose that go with motherhood. And fatherhood. Why should she even be interested in earning a middle-class wage? Her husband will do that, while she stays at home with the children.

My second thought was that a high-school education is highly unlikely to get her a job that will pay her a living wage, let alone middle-class one. Ditto for a bachelor's degree in most fields. That was true even before the 2008 crash, for those who are delicately known as "inner-city" or "at-risk" kids. And my third thought is that there's a good chance that fourteen-year-old girl knows it.

I was taken slightly aback when I clicked through to Brooks's column, because at first blush he said some arguably good things.

You have no idea what factors have caused her to make this decision, and you have no way of knowing what will dissuade her. But you want her, from morning until night, to be enveloped by a thick ecosystem of positive influences. You want lefty social justice groups, righty evangelical groups, Muslim groups, sports clubs, government social workers, Boys and Girls Clubs and a hundred other diverse institutions. If you surround her with a different culture and a web of relationships, maybe she will absorb new habits of thought, find a sense of belonging and change her path.

To build this thick ecosystem, you have to include religious institutions and you have to give them broad leeway. Religious faith is quirky, and doesn’t always conform to contemporary norms. But faith motivates people to serve. Faith turns lives around. You want to do everything possible to give these faithful servants room and support so they can improve the spiritual, economic and social ecology in poor neighborhoods.

None of these will do the fourteen-year-old girls of America any good if there are aren't enough middle-class jobs waiting for them at the end of their long march. And again, some of those religious institutions, which as Brooks cautiously concedes don't "always conform to contemporary norms" but it's okay because "faith motivates people to serve", will not encourage young girls to get on the career track.

Besides, the frame of the column gives it away: Obama, being a "technocrat," has abolished vouchers in the District of Columbia, and is forcing "Catholic social service providers to support contraception and other practices that violate their creed," like letting adulteresses and fornicators and homosexuals to work for them." This is "demoralizing"; it will cause "the faithful to distrust government, to segregate themselves from bureaucratic overreach, to pull inward." Vouchers are not popular with voters or the public generally, though of course they are popular with "religious institutions" that like to divert public funds into their coffers; ditto for refusing to include contraception in their employees' health plans -- in fact, most Catholics favor including contraception in Catholic employees' health plans, which isn't that surprising since most American Catholics use contraception themselves. (Notice that in this BBC report, "US Catholics angry at contraception rule" mainly seems to refer to Bill Donohue of the Catholic League and "key bishops," not the laity. Once again we're seeing a small band of ideologues at the top trying to impose their dogmas on the overwhelming majority of the public.)

So don't imagine that Brooks gives a damn about that notional fourteen-year-old girl. "[Y]ou have to include religious institutions and you have to give them broad leeway." Obama hasn't done anything to exclude religious institutions or to narrow their leeway. The American system gives religion a great deal of freedom, but that doesn't necessitate subsidizing them with taxpayers' money to operate their programs, especially when they run roughshod over their workers and congregations. We've seen this kind of chutzpah before, in Bush's (and later Obama's) support for "faith-based" charities: they want our tax dollars, and they want it with no strings attached. But that's not how the world works, nor should it.