Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Alan Wolfe writing about something he doesn't understand

Alan Wolfe, writing in The New Republic's The Plank today, on the Bristol Palin situation. Last week, Wolfe charged that Palin had named her children after witches. Hmmm. He does apologize for the mistake in this article, but his arguments against the religious right here are not much more convincing. I'll be commenting on them later.

His first point is that he thinks the Palin nomination will split the conservatives:
The conservative triumph in this country is frequently attributed to "fusionism," the ability of a politicians such as Ronald Reagan to bring together traditionalists, libertarians, and cold warriors into one movement. The cold warriors went the way of the cold war, and even if they had not, the neoconservative impetus to which it gave birth has lost all intellectual credibility. Now Sarah Palin's life has already begun to render asunder the remaining two elements of the coalition.
Trouble is, he offers no evidence for this. In fact, the two elements of the party seem to be coming together over Palin. The social conservatives are solidly for her, and anyone who thinks the more socially liberal wing of the party is against her needs to listen to the Hannity and Colmes interview of Rudy Giuliani last night in which the former New York Mayor excoriated the media for its treatment of Palin.

There is opposition to the Palin nomination within the Party, but to say that it is splitting the Party over ideological lines is, at best, a drastic overstatement.

But Wolfe skirts the evidence for his assertion because he is on his way to the more important job of adding his two cents to the case that, in defending Palin, social conservatives are hypocrites:

It may seem like ages ago but during the Clinton administration, conservative traditionalists were everywhere. The nuclear family is sacrosanct. Women should shun the workforce and become full-time moms. Kids should obey their parents and, if they choose not to, discipline, including harsh measures, ought to be applied. Sex outside of marriage is strictly forbidden. Our culture is spinning wildly out of control, and sexual liberation, the worst byproduct of the God-awful 1960s, is the cause. And, by the way, abortion is murder and should be forbidden.

All that is left, if the Palin controversy is any indication, is abortion. Palin's defenders, far from being traditionalists, are moral relativists. We should not rush to judgment. It is important to understand the pressures that families face. Love is all you need. Forgive in order to forget. People are entitled to their privacy, even, if not especially, in the bedroom. The state should not be in the business of telling people what to do. It sounds like the language of the left, but it has also had long resonance on the libertarian right. When the McCain campaign said that Bristol Palin had a choice, it was correct. These days we all have choices. The fact that we do has always bothered conservative traditionalists.

Look, as a social conservative myself, I readily admit that there are plenty of things social conservatives do to invite ridicule--but defending Palin isn't one of them. Wolfe's analysis betrays a basic misunderstanding of how social conservatives think about these issues. His basic mistake is he thinks that the belief in sin and the belief in forgiveness are somehow inconsistent, and that the act of understanding and forgiving sin are evidence of moral relativism.

Wolfe can't seem to distinguish between the forgiveness of sin, an act which has apparently gone on in the Palin household, and the disbelief in sin altogether, which is the habit of modern liberal secularists.

Palin isn't acting as if her daughter's pregnancy wasn't the result of sin. We don't have any basis upon which to say exactly what happened within the confines of Palin's home over this, but there is no reason to believe that she and her husband did anything other than help their daughter understand that she did something wrong and forgive her for it. Wolfe, apparently mystified over how such a process works, somehow views this--and the acknowledgment of it by her supporters--as relativism.

Go figure.

Wolfe's basic problem is that he violates the first rule of criticism: understand what you are criticizing. Of course there are those, whether Wolfe is one of them I don't know, who would fault the Palins for not giving their daughter a preachy sermon on using contraceptives and telling her not to forget next time.

I assume Wolfe would probably be equally puzzled if he pondered the prevalence of crisis pregnancy centers all over the country who are doing exactly the same thing: dealing with people who made mistakes and giving them help and compassion.
Sarah Palin's nomination is a public service. No longer will we hear lectures from the likes of Newt Gingrich telling poor women on welfare how to conduct their sex lives. Focus on the Family will have to focus on a different kind of family. William Bennett has no virtues left to write about. At long last our national nightmare over sexual hypocrisy has come to an end, and we can all thank John McCain for that.
This kind of rhetoric doesn't even rise to the level of criticism. It is the employment of crude stereotypes for the purpose of petty politics, an art in which Wolfe has proved himself a skilled practitioner.
But it is a charge that has a long pedigree. It is dignifying the charge too much to cast it in terms of a legitimate argument, but for purposes of illustration here it is:
People who believe in sin sin themselves
Therefore, they must not really believe in sin
The flaw should be obvious. In fact, the way you become a Believer in Sin is to acknowledge you commit it yourself and that the only way you get rid of it is to admit you do and try not to do it again at which point other people should back off.

This is in contrast to the Opposing Belief that there is no such thing as sin, and therefore no such thing as forgiveness. There is only hypocrisy, which, despite their professed disbelief in it, this school of thought treats as sin.

It appears Wolfe is squarely in the latter camp.


Anonymous said...


Could you correct the missing URL in the link in the beginning of the article? Currently it's http:///.

Martin Cothran said...

Hannah J,

Got it. Thanks.