Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Sins of the Conservative Father

A Sad Legacy of Conservative Indifference towards Minorities

by: R.J. Moeller

The prevailing lack of concern towards matters of race and ethnicity has been holding the conservative movement back from convincingly making its case to the entire American electorate for some time now. It is difficult to say it, especially in light of the fact that so much of the “racially insensitive” stigma that we on the Right remain shackled with has been purposely perpetuated and exaggerated by those who have vested interests in seeing certain opposing political parties and ideologies succeed. But where there is smoke there is fire, and our shameful track record of failing to care enough to genuinely reach across ethnic and cultural lines has been smoldering among supporters of conservative, libertarian, and Republican principles for decades


Understandably, few issues are more sensitive than those related to race. For this specific reason, my intent today is simply to offer some sober reflection on what I see as some of the root causes for the cultural and political chasm that unmistakably exists between the white religious conservative demographic (that I myself am apart of), and the black and Latino communities that exist all around this great nation of ours.

Why is it that when we agree on so many core moral and social issues with black and Latino voters, when we share so many common values, that the conservative movement has not made any serious in-roads with black and Latino voters? Why it is when people of color such as Condoleeza Rice, Thomas Sowell, or Alberto Gonzalez boldly proclaim their conservative beliefs, they are immediately lambasted by the race-obsessed media as near-traitors, or largely ignored among their own ethnic and racial ranks? Why are there no conservative think-tanks, or so few GOP offices, in the same neighborhoods where ACORN and Obama have community-organized their way to political victory?

My theory, in short: we’re suffering from the “sins of our (conservative) fathers.”

One of the best writers in history, Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, deeply believed in the biblical idea of “generational sin. In what I consider to be his finest work, The Possessed (a.k.a. The Devils), Dostoevsky goes to great detailed lengths to show how the moral decisions of one generation irrevocably alter the lives and culture of those in succeeding ones.

Through characters such as Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovensky and his son Peter we see how the offspring of intellectually and morally irresponsible people often suffer the unintended consequences of their forbearers. Stepan was a professor and intellectual who helped to promote among the youths of Russia the idea that to undermine and ignore authority, specifically in regards to the institutions of the Church and the traditional family, was an exciting and beneficial thing. Consequently his son, the depraved Peter Verhhovensky, decided to do his old man one better: He actively seeks to violently hack Russian society’s anchor away from its moral and cultural mooring in favor first of senseless and eventually atheistic communism.

Although The Possessed was a novel written in the 1860’s, Dostoyevsky correctly identified the cultural “sins” of his beloved country that would eventually, some 50 years later, lead Russia towards the devastation that is totalitarianism. He wasn’t Nostradamus; he simply saw the danger in the contemporary trends and ideologies of his time, and was discerning enough to be able to predict their consequences.

Culturally speaking, the last 50 years in America have seen some remarkable changes for the better. Civil Rights legislation in the 1960’s finally put a legal end to institutional racism. There is today a black President sitting in the Oval Office, and black celebrities from Oprah to Will Smith to Tiger Woods are appropriately in the nation’s headlines given their talents and success.

Before Tiger and Will there was a man, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who challenged the conscience of a nation with his compelling and prolific speeches and writings. He and so many others, whites and blacks, worked tirelessly to see a day when the standard for judging another human would be the “content of their character” instead of the color of their skin. The Civil Rights pioneers used deliberately, unapologetically religious terminology and understood that hatred and bigotry are written on the sinful human heart. They also understood that while it was so important for all Americans to be equal under the law, true social harmony and acceptance is an on-going process that can incrementally improve but will never be entirely completed “in this world, but the next.”

The pleas from abolitionists, from Civil Rights activists, were appeals to the distinctly American value system. They were appeals to a standard envisioned and articulated by our Founders: free men and women living in the type of true freedom that emanates from the recognition that their rights are Creator-endowed, not State-endowed.

As a Christian and a conservative, someone who identifies with the politics, faith and worldview of great men such as John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan, I look back on the racial sins of my nation, my ancestral fathers and mothers, with astonishment, grief, and even horror. I experience the same type of sorrow and moral outrage one feels when you hear of the nightmares that were the Holocaust or the more recent Rwandan genocide.

The idea that men and women could (and did) treat other human beings with such cruelty, inhumanity, and degradation, including the and lynching that took place, is repulsive to the sensibilities of any sane person. It is so at odds with the common desire for simple human decency most Americans have today that stories of past violent from -filled eras become surreal, other-worldly historical events and perhaps unavoidably little more.

This disassociation with our past, something all humans in the modern, civilized world seem to struggle against, is also a real problem among many white conservatives today. The past is either too distant from our busy, self-obsessed lives, or in many instances simply too painful to accept given how we wish to see ourselves (and our proud history as a generous, courageous nation otherwise). Therefore we so often instinctively consign all recognition of our racist legacy to a small corner of our collective and individual consciousness.

In other words, we live as if it never happened.

This emotional detachment from the shocking realities of the sins of are, I believe, perhaps the primary factor explaining the great divide specifically between white traditional, conservative Americans and their black (and Hispanic) brethren.

Few Americans in 2009, regardless their skin color, can actually claim to know what it felt like to have been a slave. But many continue to feel the enduring hurt and pain of bigotry. Many are still mistreated because of the way they look and for no other reason. Sadly, some will be refused consideration as a viable political candidate because of the perpetually destructive climate of race-infused “identity politics” that so tes our cultural landscape these days.

Yet, despite these grim present day realities, it is also wrong to paint any entire demographic, whether it is Caucasian conservatives or inner-city blacks, with one giant bigoted brush. While there are definitely still those among us who readily drink from the racial toxins of the past, the overwhelming majority of the people I know across the color spectrum are anything but racists.

In my own life, what I am far more familiar with are the loving, kind, and caring conservatives that raised me; that surround me at my church; or that write the books and articles that further inform me about my faith and brand of politics. They struggle, as I struggle, with the indisputable fact of America’s troubled racial history, but are often unsure as to how best to deal with those facts. Therefore the mainstream media’s popular script that all conservatives are bigots (or closet ones) who personally care little for blacks and Latinos is not true, any more than the erroneous claim that all liberals are innately free of .

But the fact that we’re not all bigots can by no means get “my people” off the hook when it comes to the causes of current racial tensions. As I said, the most glaring failure of (predominantly Republican-voting) white religious conservatives these past five decades has been the almost entirely hands-off approach we’ve taken to in dealing with minority groups. This separation from engagement in the lives and concerns of minority groups can be explained (not excused) by a number of potential causes.

Part of the problem is that white conservatives feel brow-beaten by the media, Hollywood, and Democratic Party strategists and end up accepting the premise that only liberals love the “little guy” and aggrieved minorities. It’s also partly because minority groups have so completely and openly aligned themselves with the liberal Democratic policies and programs that conservatives find unacceptable.

But the most serious cause of our unfortunate retreat from serious and sustained bridge-building efforts between our communities and theirs is that we simply haven’t cared enough to try.

Perhaps we have been too filled with apprehension or fear of failure, or perhaps too self-assured that we could win the political day without the support of minorities, or perhaps we have been just too absorbed in our lives and personal agendas. In any case we have failed to reach outside of our familiar voting blocks to those in other ethnic circles. One clear consequence of this sin of omission is that we conservatives have dug ourselves into a demographic pit which we may not climb out of for a generation. Not unless there is a serious, heartfelt, altruistic, and unselfish effort to build personal relationships and genuine coalitions with members of the black and Hispanic community will we see a shift in voting patterns, demographics, and big-government policies at the local, state, and federal levels.

The traditional, conservative movement is not going to change course until we as individual white conservatives change course and actively begin building individual friendships person to person – rather than only just voter to voter – with those who are different in skin color and cultural background than we are. Things won’t change until we have credibility among groups of people who largely feel white conservatives don’t care.

The fact that the Republican Party was created primarily over the moral imperative to free the slaves is one of the great historical ironies of our time. How is it that the party that stood up to such a monstrous institutional evil of slavery is today the same party identified with racial polarization and isolation? How is it that the same party which produced the first black Senators and Congressmen during Reconstruction today struggles to find candidates of color to serve as standard-bearers for the conservative movement? Why can’t the same values and principles that spurred the white conservatives who led the abolitionist movement be a force for good and truth in minority communities today?

Though we can take some solace (even pride) in our origins as conservative Republicans, the real question comes back to this: What are we doing today to connect with the lives and needs of our fellow black and Latino citizens? Sure it is historically accurate to note that it was Republicans, and not the Southern Democrats, who helped President Lyndon Johnson pass the historic Civil Rights legislation in 1964. But how many black and Hispanic families can point to white conservatives today and say, “They are genuinely interested in me as a person. They reach out to me at work, at church, in politics. They want to learn my life’s story and build a friendship for friendship’s sake.”

Let me put it another way: All of the economic or social good white conservatives may have attempted for minorities, for all Americans, in the past 50 years has been too easily negated by the failure to instill in this next generation a genuine desire to personally connect with people of different skin color and socio-economic background.

Please understand that I don’t have the audacity to think I know exactly how to best bring people together. I leave such self-important thinking to community organizers from the Southside of Chicago. In all honesty, I can only claim one black person in my life that qualifies as a true personal friend. He and I are connected not through a government cultural sensitivity training program, but through our shared values and mutual interests.

But if we’re talking about the beginnings of a real shift in the relationship between white conservative Americans, and the minority communities around us, we’re going to have to think bigger. We’ll have to do more than just sit around hoping for a black or Hispanic person to catch our eye at Starbucks and ask what our Milton Friedman book is about. I’m not entirely sure how to go about it all, but I do know this much – we need to change course and do so now. We need to start talking about this issue with a real urgency. Not primarily to regain some future political demographic high ground, for that would be using relationships simply as a utilitarian means to an end – and such bald insincerity would be sniffed out for what it is in a moment.

Rather, as conservatives we should focus on building friendships across ethnic lines and accepting others into our lives with cultural differences because it is the right (dare I say biblical) thing to do.

Yet, politics impacts people’s lives for good or ill so we must not dismiss it entirely from the issue at hand. Votes matter and in no way is it wrong or immoral to try and persuade members of any ethnic community that the conservative philosophy of life holds much more promise for lasting advancement and prosperity than does the liberal one. But again, what we truly struggle with is that the sins of indifference from our past have caught up with modern conservatives. Liberals have seized upon our largely apathetic legacy and now set the terms of the debate by being proactive with their bad ideas.

We have the better, more American ideas, ideas that could absolutely change the entire socio-economic landscape for blacks and Latinos, yet our idea on the Right of engaging minorities in the political realm is sitting back to wait and see who Colin Powell will vote for. At that point, you’ve lost the minority vote.

The tragic paradox in this is that as a white, evangelical, conservative American I likely share more in common when it comes to family values and Judeo-Christian beliefs with the typical black and Hispanic voter than does a secular-progressive liberal such as Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA). But what good does our common ground do if I choose never to set foot on it and extend my hand? In practical, political terms, when is the GOP going to set up offices in inner-city neighborhoods and go door to door with their message of genuine empowerment and hope with even half of the same zealotry that ACORN did in 2008?

The fact that our first black president was not a conservative Republican, but a far-Left, pro-choice, Euro-socialist is disappointing, but it isn’t a surprise. Ignore any group long enough and they will go elsewhere looking for friends – even if those friends prove to be radicals whose policies perpetuate the problems minorities face.

One can only wonder what would have happened if white, evangelical conservatives had reached out to Barack’s single mother and the young Obama in those difficult and lonely days they were literally on their own? What if instead of feeling that he needed to prove his black identity by joining radically Leftist activists, Barack had been attracted to the multiple organizations comprised of black and white conservatives working on the Southside of Chicago to bring messages of entrepreneurship, personal responsibility, job training, and all the other things that could really change these impoverished neighborhoods?

While there are undoubtedly other reasons I’m not aware of, reasons I intend to seek out and learn more about, I do understand in part why many black and Hispanic people feel alienated from white conservatives. We’ve not seriously pursued a relationship with them. We’ve not made our case directly to them. We’ve not been genuinely interested in being friends for friendship’s sake, nor have we attempted to get any feedback from them.

Until we do, until we change the dynamics of this largely non-existent relationship, until we begin to seriously make amends for past sins of indifference and ambivalence, and do so with the solemn intent to build lasting relationships across cultural lines, we can expect only more of the same. The economically-crippling, socially-destructive, morally-incoherent liberal worldview that currently tes our politics, media, and academia will continue to push us away from the ideals and values that the majority of Americans, regardless their skin color, still hold dear.

We can blame our parents no longer. As Civil Rights marchers in the 1960’s used to chant, “Do right, white man. Do right.” The time is now, and much more than a political election here-or-there is at stake.