Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ross Douthat: Blue Families Better Than Red Ones [UPDATED]

Okay, I'll admit it. Something about Ross Douthat just gets under my skin. So, I don't know if I'm reading his latest NY Times piece with an open mind or not. Probably not.

So, I ask you to please read what he has written and tell me whether I'm justified in being even more ticked off at Douthat than usual:
... This is one of the themes of “Red Families v. Blue Families,” a provocative new book by two law professors, Naomi Cahn and June Carbone. The authors depict a culturally conservative “red America” that’s stuck trying to sustain an outdated social model. By insisting (unrealistically) on chastity before marriage, Cahn and Carbone argue, social conservatives guarantee that their children will get pregnant early and often (see Palin, Bristol), [ED.: Just had to drag Sarah Palin and her kids into this, didn't you? As if the children of liberals and/or those living in "blue" families don't get knocked up young and out of wedlock? More on this in a moment.] leading to teen childbirth, shotgun marriages and high divorce rates.

This self-defeating cycle could explain why socially conservative states have more family instability than, say, the culturally liberal Northeast. If you’re looking for solid marriages, head to Massachusetts, not Alabama.


Liberals sometimes
argue that their preferred approach to family life reduces the need for abortion. In reality, it may depend on abortion to succeed. The teen pregnancy rate in blue Connecticut, for instance, is roughly identical to the teen pregnancy rate in red Montana. [ED.: STOP RIGHT THERE! Okay, then, so what was the point of dragging up Bristol Palin's name? Oh, that's right, you're writing for an audience in which you get extra "reasonable" points as the house "conservative" every time you hit on all the correct left-wing Pavlovian stimuli, such as attacking certain hated conservative figures and their family members. Jerk.] But in Connecticut, those pregnancies are half as likely to be carried to term. Over all, the abortion rate is twice as high in New York as in Texas and three times as high in Massachusetts as in Utah.


Whether it’s attainable for most Americans or not, the “blue family” model clearly works: it leads to marital success and material prosperity, and it’s well suited to our mobile, globalized society.

By comparison, the “red family” model can look dysfunctional — an uneasy mix of rigor and permissiveness, whose ideals don’t always match up with the facts of contemporary life.

But it reflects something else as well: an attempt, however compromised, to navigate post-sexual revolution America without relying on abortion.

(emphasis and editorial commentary added)

The irony is that my disagreement with Douthat is generally over style and tone - which, as is often the case for the house "conservative" at left-leaning media organs like the NY Times, is all apologetic for not being more liberal, aches to be liked and respected by the leftists he sees as his intellectual peers, and self-aggrandizes into a bash-as-an-extremist-any-conservative-to-the-right-of-me schtick. On the substance, I rarely ever disagree with Douthat (in fact, I've stated on many occasions that he is one of the political pundits whose ideology most closely resembles my own).

However, with respect to this latest piece, I couldn't disagree with him more on the substance. Oh yes, he plays his usual little "but, on the other hand" game of equivocation and moral equivalency, where he tries to play both sides against the middle (in, as one email correspondent and friend puts it, "an impressive attempt to say nothing whatsoever") and makes noise about how so-called "red" families are more pro-life than "blue" families. But, in the end, Douthtat, at best, puts up not so much as a half-hearted defense of the virtues his Church professes, and, at worst, unmistakably identifies the "blue" family model as superior. As my email-corresponding friend put it:
Douthat makes no attempt to critically engage the book, but seems to accept the thesis and moves on. That was a pretty poor job from someone who at least is fairly solid when it comes to social issues.
In fact, this is the lazy effort of a man not terribly interested in defending against the onslaught of the cultural left in the seemingly neverending so-called "culture wars", and who so wants the clash of cultures to be over that he is willing to surrender the moral high ground to achieve that end. Not surprising coming from someone so obviously embarassed to be saddled with a conservative movement that includes all those Jesusland yokels.

See also the Cranky Con's take here. (After doing so, you'll probably be able to guess who my email correspondent was.)

I've amended some of my language in this post to make it a little more family friendly.

UPDATE #3 (12 May 2010)
See the Cranky Con's second post on this subject, "So Just Say It", which addresses Darwin Catholic's post at The American Catholic and some of the comments thereto.

For me, here's the key paragraph:
Here’s the thing. Why couldn’t Ross Douthat just write that himself? Instead of holding up a philosopher’s stone in order to gauge the deeper meaning of his column, wouldn’t it have been more worthwhile for Douthat to clearly spell out his objections?

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At 5/11/2010 4:37 PM, Blogger Phillip said...

I guess there is the tendency among the "house conservatives" or even some Catholic bloggers to claim that the left and right are "equally evil" and "a pox upon both houses." Makes one seem balanced.
There are evils on both sides but I don't think it works when one equates the evil of abortion with out of wedlock births. One is intrinsically evil, the other the best response to an intrinsic evil. Same as when one might equate differences in prudential judgments on national security with abortion. Just doesn't work.

At 5/11/2010 10:05 PM, Blogger John Henry said...

I think it's fairly obvious in context that Douthat is presenting the perspective of the authors of the book:

By insisting (unrealistically) on chastity before marriage, Cahn and Carbone argue, social conservatives guarantee that their children will get pregnant early and often (see Palin, Bristol)

It is quite common for lefty authors to cite Bristol (or Sarah) Palin as exhibit A exemplifying trends in red state America. I think that's unfair, obviously - and Douthat would agree, given his prior defenses of Palin. But the cited passage reflects an attempt to describe the perspective of the authors of the book - which he criticizes as overly simplistic - rather than a personal disdain for Bristol Palin.

You'll notice Douthat's conclusion is that the widespread social acceptance of abortion in blue states (and lack of acceptance in red states) accounts for most of the difference in out-of-wedlock birth statistics; and in a follow-up post he takes the purveyors of the "real pro-lifers should favor teaching more contraception in schools" nonsense to task.


He is defending social conservatives in the column and the follow-up post from the simplistic assertions and easy self-congratulation of blue state academicians. I don't really get your hostility to him. In other news, Obama: still liberal.


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