Doug Henwood wrote:
> [More madness from the WSJ. I wonder if this is a sign of things to come -
> having lost the impeachment battle, and with Clinton's approval rating
> still at 66%, will the right go completely volcanic?]
> Wall Street Journal - February 4, 1999
> PANGLOSSES OF THE RIGHT ARE WRONG
> By Gertrude Himmelfarb, a professor emeritus of history at the City
> University of New York. Her book "The Two Cultures" will be published by
> Knopf later this year.
> A spate of recent articles urge conservatives to "lighten up," to be
> cheerful. Things aren't as bad as they've been made out to be. In fact,
> they're pretty good. The economy is booming. Crime and welfare are down.
> People are quietly going about their lives in spite of the sordid mess in
> the White House--indeed, in deliberate disregard of that mess. And the most
> pressing national problem is how to spend our first budget surplus in
> What is even more cheering in all this good news, we are told, is that it
> represents a triumph for conservatism itself. The state of the economy and
> budget are surely a vindication of good old entrepreneurial capitalism. The
> decline in crime and welfare is a direct result of the application of
> conservative principles, often over the vociferous objections of liberals.
> And the great majority of the people who are giving the president such high
> approval ratings--higher and higher as the evidence of wrongdoing
> mounts--are doing what conservatives have long been preaching. They're
> attending to their families and work, their communities and churches, their
> private lives and economic well-being. They are, in fact, being good
> members of the "civil society" that conservatives have always valued so
> Yet we may also find it prudent to restrain our enthusiasm and
> self-congratulation. This is not to say that there is any merit to liberal
> caviling that the crime rate has declined "but" the incarceration rate has
> increased--as if one contradicts or vitiates the other; or that even after
> the spectacular fall in the welfare rolls, there still seems to be a
> residue of "hard-core" welfare cases--as if society has not always been
> called upon to cope with such cases.
> The people are contented, but the culture is a mess.
> But other bits of good news are in fact more ambiguous. If the rate of
> divorce has fallen, the rate of cohabitation has almost doubled in the past
> decade alone, and couples living together without benefit of marriage can
> separate (and do so more frequently) without benefit of divorce. If the
> rate of out-of-wedlock births (relative to the number of unmarried women of
> child-bearing age) has decreased, the ratio of such births (relative to all
> births) has only leveled off, and at a very high level. One-third of all
> children, two-thirds of black children and three-fourths of the children of
> teenagers are born out of wedlock. If there are fewer abortions, it is
> partly because unmarried motherhood has become more respectable. (And the
> number of single-parent households continues to increase.) If older girls
> are less sexually active, younger ones (below the age of 15) are more so.
> If fewer children are dropping out of school, it is because more failing
> children are automatically promoted.
> And so on. For almost every favorable statistic, an ornery conservative can
> cite an unfavorable one. He can even go beyond the statistics to point to
> the sorry state of the culture: the loss of parental authority and of
> discipline in the schools, the violence and vulgarity of television, the
> obscenity and sadism of rap music, the exhibitionism and narcissism of
> talk-shows, the pornography and sexual perversions on the Internet, the
> binge-drinking and "hooking up" on college campuses. Two memorable phrases
> capture the cultural mood: Daniel Patrick Moynihan's "defining deviancy
> down," which normalizes and legitimizes what was once abnormal and
> illegitimate; and Roger Shattuck's "morality of the cool," which makes sin
> and evil seem "cool" and thus acceptable.
> What is a cheerful conservative to make of all this? And what is he to make
> of all those people who, the polls assure us, are more outraged by the
> Congress that is impeaching the president than by the actions of the
> president that called forth that impeachment? These people may well be the
> same ones whose commendable concern for themselves we conservatives praise,
> yet they seem to have lost sight of larger issues affecting the moral
> character of the nation as a whole and, ultimately, of their own families
> and communities. Perhaps a conservatism overly focused on economics may
> share some responsibility for this failing.
> Cheerful conservatism, we may be discovering, is a fine philosophy for a
> period of stability and tranquillity. But it may be inappropriate (to
> borrow the delicate pejorative that epitomizes the "defining down" tendency
> of our culture) in a period of social and moral disarray. There is a time
> for cheerfulness and a time, as Bill Bennett reminds us, for outrage. And
> it is disconcerting for a conservative, even a would-be cheerful one, to
> find so little outrage when it is so amply deserved. It is even more
> distressing to find the moral language denoting outrage debased and
> disparaged. Thus to make moral judgments is to be "judgmental" and
> "moralistic," to engage in moral discourse is to "preach" and "moralize,"
> to pronounce upon moral affairs is to wage a "moral crusade" or, worse, a
> "religious crusade."
> Conservatives used to think that "the people" are "sound," that only
> occasionally are they (or more often their children) led astray by the
> "elites" in the media and academia. That confidence has now eroded. The
> polls tell us what we already knew: that most people, for the most part,
> have adapted to the dominant culture, accepting what now seems inevitable
> ("everybody does it") and thus becoming incapacitated for outrage.
> The good news is that there is a minority that resists the dominant
> culture, that abides (in principle at least, if not always in practice) by
> traditional values, and that is unembarrassed by the language of morality.
> This minority constitutes, in effect, a dissident culture. And this
> dissident culture is not confined, as some might think, to evangelicals or
> the "religious right," as they are derisively called, but includes those of
> little or no religious faith who are appalled by a dominant culture that is
> always "pushing the envelope," seeking more and more ways to shock the
> sensibility of people as they become more and more inured to such shocks.
> It is only a minority, I repeat--perhaps no more than a third of the
> people. But it may be enough to cheer up even a dour conservative.