Thursday, July 28, 2022

Republicans pleading nolo contedere on social issues

The Achilles heel of the modern Republican Party is its unending attempts to avoid addressing all but the most pressing social issues in favor of a focus on abstract economic issues. The party still invokes the name of Ronald Reagan, but it has knocked off the third leg of the Reagan stool, which is one of the reasons it keeps tipping over.

Reagan emphasized three things: Smaller government, a strong national defense, and traditional values. Since the Reagan administration, Republicans haven't particularly distinguished themselves in any of these, but they at least give lip service to the first two. The third has been largely eliminated from their agenda.

The most egregious example of this tendency was in the 2012 election when Mitt Romney, the poster child for this type of Republican, would try to change the subject every time a social issue was mentioned. Abortion? Change the subject to economics. Marriage? Change the subject to economics.

If you want a good example of this, you can look at how the party is now responding to the same-sex marriage issue that has reasserted itself since the Dobbs decision. Republican senators are either voting in favor the so-called "Respect for Marriage Act," or remaining mum about it altogether. The "Respect for Marriage Act" (I call attention to the quotation marks) would basically enshrine same-sex marriage in federal law.

What can you say about a supposedly conservative party that cannot trouble itself to defend basic conservative institutions like marriage? In fact, some have pointed out that, if you can't defend the traditional view of marriage, there is little traditional you can be expected to defend.

The party notoriously bailed on the marriage issue when it really would have mattered in the two years leading up to the 2014 Obergefell decision. And now their reprising their cowardly performance of eight years ago.

When asked what their positions are on the "Respect for Marriage Act," they respond, in frightened tones, "I haven't read the bill." Haven't read the bill? Since when did that ever stop a lawmaker from voting for or against anything? I doubt if any lawmaker reads any bill he votes for, including the ones he has supposedly written.

This is why Republicans lose--because they deny what Democrats know all too well: that social issues provide the gut-level motivation for their voters to go to the polls. Economic issues only work when there is an economic crisis that the reigning party can't fix. We have one of those now of course, so Republicans will pick up seats in the midterms even as they avoid issues of the heart. But when the economy improves, they will need social issues to motivate their voters, and they will choose, once again to avoid them.

World without end, amen.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The Five Central Books

There are five books that everyone who wants to become classically educated should aspire to read and understand. I have called them the "central" books because they seem to stand, historically, at the literary center of the learning of educated people in the English world. Here they are:

Homer: by which we mean the Iliad and Odyssey, the book (they originally formed a diptych) that told the story of Achilles (in the Iliad) and Odysseus (in the Odyssey), and in doing so, articulated the ideals and values of the Greeks, whose culture stands at the headwaters of our own. Homer's stories served as the national myth of the Greeks, the narrative through which they saw themselves as the masters of strength and intelligence.

The Aeneid, by Virgil. This is the story of Aeneas, the Trojan prince who flees the burning city of Troy and founds Rome on the banks of the Tiber River. It articulated the ideals and values of the Romans, who saw themselves as masters of the world. It is the national myth of Rome and articulated the twin virtues of order and piety.

The Divine Comedy, by Dante. Dante's story of his journey through Hell, Purgatory, and finally Heaven is the story of every man's spiritual journey in life. It articulates the values of Christian civilization, the baptized cultural offspring of Athens, Rome and Jerusalem.

The King James Bible. There are other versions, of course, but this is the original and greatest of all the Bible translations, and the translation whose phrasings have permeated English literature and thought for centuries. Long passages from it were memorized by generations of English and American people. Whatever the various views on which Biblical translation is the most accurate (the only really accurate version is in Hebrew and Greek), many consider the King James Bible as the greatest work in English.

The Plays of William Shakespeare. Shakespeare's plays are second in literary influence only to the Bible itself. It's variety of distinct characters and their insights into human character and society have dominated the thought of generations of English and Americans. It has also influenced European cultures in a way that no non-English modern work has influenced the English.