Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Decoding David Brooks

His most recent column reminds me of a fish-head soup.  You look for the floating heads because you try to avoid eating them. Brooks doesn't look for fish-heads but for new stars who might jump-start the wingnut movement by capturing certain working-class groups.  This is the head I saw most clearly:

Lower-Middle Reformists. Reihan Salam, a writer for National Review, E21 and others, recently pointed out that there are two stories about where the Republican Party should go next. There is the upper-middle reform story: Republicans should soften their tone on the social issues to win over suburban voters along the coasts. Then there is a lower-middle reform story: Republicans should focus on the specific economic concerns of the multiethnic working class.
Salam promotes the latter. This means acknowledging that working-class concerns are not what they were in the 1980s. The income tax is less burdensome than the payroll tax. Family disruption undermines social mobility. Republicans, he argues, should keep the social conservatism, which reinforces families, and supplement it with an agenda that supports upward mobility and social capital.

Bolds are mine.

In short, keep the patriarchy but let some of the men in that group share in the monetary benefits of the so-called free markets!  This approach has been in the works for some time now.

It's salutary to be reminded of the fact that "family" is code for people like Brooks.   It's not just any old family, however loving, nope.  It's a traditional family, consisting of two parents of different sexes, children (preferably many)  and the female-sex parent should be at home.   All the costs of that family should be borne by the parents and many of the less obvious economic costs by the mother who will end up with less retirement earnings and lower lifetime earnings and so on.

From this angle "social conservatism" means making it harder for women not to be in that role.  Hence the need to reduce access to contraception and abortions and hence also the need to make sure that parental leave is very short and that divorce is made difficult.   It helps if labor market discrimination by gender is allowed, too.

It's all whip and no carrot for us wimminfolk in those scenarios. 

Brooks brings out  the worst in me because he disguises these horrors under all those tiny euphemisms.  Real support for American families actually takes money.  It would mean good and affordable daycare and health care, family friendly policies at work and in general societal arrangements which would let the parents of young children participate in at least some adult life.  It would mean a real discussion about what causes divorces, a discussion about the stresses of working-class lives and a discussion about what was wrong with that traditional patriarchal marriage.

It's not enough to define "family" in such a vague manner that it no longer means anything.  Why should anyone want to support an institution which is presented to us as cipher to be decoded?