A Weekend at Bernie’s? Maybe we should hit the Jim, instead

Rarely am I one to read either Daily Kos or that most eminent economist of the Grey Lady’s, but a Facebook friend shared this, and I went for it like a bluegill for bacon fat.

Here’s the original Krugman column, which starts with a brilliant bit of humor from the author: “The 2016 campaign should be almost entirely about issues. The parties are far apart on everything…”

This post isn’t about Hillary Clinton directly, but it’s worth considering something risible noted by Krugman and echoed by DK:

The press, I’m sorry to say, tends to punish open-mindedness, because gotcha journalism is easier and safer than policy analysis. Hillary Clinton supported trade agreements in the 1990s, but now she’s critical. It’s a flip-flop! Or, possibly, a case of learning from experience, which is something we should praise, not deride.

(My emphasis. — TGFI)

Krugman, ever the good liberal, declines to convey the nuance of the cited article.

We looked into Clinton’s past remarks on NAFTA and concluded that she has changed her tune, from once speaking favorably about it to now saying the agreement needs “fixing.”

[…]

Today, Clinton’s campaign Web site says plainly, “NAFTA was negotiated more than 14 years ago, and Hillary believes it has not lived up to its promises.”

Semantics? Maybe. Clearly, though, Mrs. Clinton isn’t critical of NAFTA per se, but only to the extent that it has not delivered as promised — something about which wiser men, like Pat Buchanan, forewarned twenty-one years ago. That Mrs. Clinton has come out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership is heartening, but, pace Krugman, the cynic is compelled to question the political motivation for such opposition from the spouse of Bill “Free Trade” Clinton. It’s all about running to the left. Duh.

President Obama has proven himself to be a centrist — an actual liberal, in the mold of — Wait for it! — President Clinton, the “New Democrats”, and the DLC. As he has followed the same inclinations toward unnecessary and disastrous foreign engagements and capitalism-über-alles, he has brought the Evil Party closer to the Stupid Party, creating a gap that previously caught the eyes of Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, and now draws into the race Senators Bernie Sanders and Jim Webb — and, purportedly, the good First Lady/Senator/Secretary/Wal-Mart board member/Wall Street harlot.

Needless to say, I’m skeptical that Mrs. Clinton is any less a liberal than President Obama, her husband, or the right-wing liberals of the Grand Old Party. I am willing, however, to entertain the possibility, as displayed in Krugman’s column, and as hoped for by the more socially democratically inclined members of the Democratic Party and the American electorate, that, politics being the art of expedience, Lady Hillary will be forced to campaign further to the left, especially with the entrance of Senator Sanders into the race, and this is all the more reason for those (not voting Republican) to reject the Green Mountaineer in favor of the Hillbilly.

Okay, so, excessive prefatory remarks out of the way, I am compelled to add a few more. Anyone who knows me or has read NathanContraMundi in the past knows that I’m either a right-winger or a conservative (though not both; I’m not sure which is the more appropriate term, but I am certain that “right-wing conservative” suggests something that I ain’t). My ideal candidate is a softer version of Pat Buchanan meets a saner version of Ron Paul meets a milder version of Ralph Nader. Oh, hell, just give me Bill Kauffman, please — or Andrew Bacevich  In the meantime, I’m tepidly (more so than I was with his father) supportive of Rand Paul.

That said, being skeptical of both libertarian capitalism (I really ought to discourse on why I’m not a libertarianwhy I am, nonetheless, so sympathetic to the libertarian conservatism of the Doctors Paul; and where I draw the line.) and the Republican Party’s tendency to choose Bob Dole over Pat Buchanan, as well as, you know, thinking that it’d be swell were “both” of our part”ies” to offer some kind of big-tent variety, what happens in the Democratic primaries is of great interest and concern to me.

So, here we go, the meat of the article, which, in characteristically Nathan-ish fashion, likely will be far shorter than the preface. (I can’t say for certain because most of this is stream-of-consciousness, and I’ve not exactly outlined what’s to follow.) Also, it’ll likely be a pretty superficial analysis, because, well, it’s midnight, this is the first time that I’ve posted at NCM in more than four years, and, well, I’ve reached the point at which I’m even inserting this soliloquy. (I aver that, should I get back into the habit of updating this Weblog with any frequency, the writing and arguments will improve — presumably good rationale for not redoubling my efforts!)

However much I’ve come to prioritize, at least short-term, concerns about foreign-policy recklessness and the concentration of economic power in the hands of relatively few, I am, undeniably, a cultural conservative who is typically politically “socially conservative” (though perhaps less so at the federal level than at the state and local).  This makes any contending Democrat less than appealing to me off the bat,  Senator Sanders more so than his Virginian counterpart, who, though certainly a “social” moderate-to-liberal, is arguably a cultural conservative. For me, though, this is as much a matter of practicality as it is a personal concern: there may be a certain attractiveness about Sen. Sanders to the fairly small cohort of Americans who embrace social democracy, and even to a number of more-liberal progressives, not to mention some of us despondent conservatives, but Jim Webb is likelier to have a broader appeal, while still drawing Her Majesty toward the left during primary season.

I truly believe that Sanders-ites are right to be excited that HRC will be compelled to campaign to the left as long as the soi-disant socialist of Vermont is in the race. I also believe that thinking that this sinister pull matters is rather deluded: expecting Mrs. Clinton, I fear, to live up to the faux-populism that she’s already been displaying on the campaign trail is akin, in retrospect, to expecting George W. Bush to keep his promise of a “humble foreign policy” (in the wake of the hawkish presidency of none other than Mr. Clinton!) or thinking that Barack Obama would really be delivering any substantive hope or change.

It’s nice to see a real progressive challenger compel HRC to do some work before her coronation, but, ultimately, it’s just a delay. With her gender, her name, her perversely embraced reputation, and her being a Wall Street harlot all in her favor, she has too good of an opportunity to grab the nomination as long as a kook (And I say this not to reflect my own opinion of Senator Sanders, but to suggest that this is what a social democrat from Vermont is going to be appear to be in the eyes of Joe Middle America.) is her leading opponent. That’s not to say that Jim Webb is going to perform any miracles, but he has a better chance both of playing the role of dark horse and of having any kind of impact on the party of Jefferson and Jackson (purportedly) than his further-left colleague. Why?

1. He’s a Hillbilly. Seriously, he comes from “real America”, born in Missouri, traveling across “real America” as his father was transferred from one base to another, ending up in swing-state Virginia, and proudly and publicly embracing his Scotch-Irish roots. The guy is, simply, more relatable to more Americans than a Jewish socialist who grew up in New York City.

2. He’s a veteran. This matters not merely because of the weird American fetishization of veterans that occurs even as our idea of “support[ing] the troops” constitutes, mainly, smearing anyone who criticizes the wars in which our service personnel fight or the civilian leaders who send them to God-knows-where unnecessarily, but because he is a veteran, like the aforementioned Bacevich, who has not been shy about his opposition to some of our stupider forays.

If someone’s going to challenge Mrs. Clinton on the foreign-policy front (and someone needs to), and if someone’s going to try to move the Democratic Party (which, we need to remember, has always been the war party, the GOP being something of a Johnny-come-lately in the Twentieth Century), Sanders may have the benefit of having opposed the Viet Nam conflict at the time (unlike Webb, who served in said conflagration and seems to be less opposed, retrospectively, than fellow veteran Bacevich), but Webb has the street cred afforded to someone who’s been there and knows from personal experience (Remember, not only is he a veteran, but he served as SecDef under the Republican Reagan. In 1990, out of office, he warned against escalation in Saudi Arabia and against a permanent presence in the Middle East (and he was insisting upon Congressional declarations of war before it was cool).)

Nine years ago, Scott McConnell reminded us, at The American Conservative, of Webb’s prescient words in the Washington Post at the outset of the Second Bush’s Mesopotamian Massacre:

Webb questioned whether an overthrow of Saddam would “actually increase our ability to win the war against international terrorism” and pointed out that the measure of military success can be preventing wars and well as fighting them. He charged, “those who are pushing for a unilateral war in Iraq know full well that there is no exit strategy if we invade.” He concluded, “the Iraqis are a multiethnic people filled with competing factions who in many cases would view a U.S. occupation as infidels invading the cradle of Islam. … In Japan, American occupation forces quickly became 50,000 friends. In Iraq, they would quickly become 50,000 terrorist targets.” If any major senators were thinking like this long before the invasion, not many Americans heard of it.

3. He’s not as “extreme”. In terms of both voting records and perceptions, Webb is the moderate, the guy who gets it wrong on X, but gets it right on Y — and even may have a decent reason for his wrong view on X. (I speak from the conservative perspective, of course, in using ‘wrong’ and ‘right’.) Bernie Sanders isn’t. And winning elections is about securing the strongest in-party base during the primaries without turning off independents and dissatisfied voters who generally support the other party. Jim Webb is likelier to attract, I think, progressives than Sanders is to get the attention of Blue Dogs (if any still remain); in November, Webb is absolutely likelier to attract Republicans than Sanders is.

Sanders may well be the “better” candidate — certainly for the real progressives, social democrats, and fellow-travelers, to say nothing of those of us communitarian conservatives troubled by the hyper-individualism guiding economic policy and practice today. Practically speaking, though, backing Bernie, however nicely principled, is an onanistic act of futility that will leave the Democratic Party securely in the hands of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Jim Webb’s chances may not be significantly better than Bernie Sanders’s, but they are better, and he’s the candidate likelier to have a measurable, propitious impact on the Democratic Party and, we can hope, American electoral politics.

Besides, Jim Webb vs. Rand Paul sounds like one helluva race, right?

An Indiana Governor Worth Emulating

From The White Hat — Henry Frederick Schricker: A Political Biography (Charles Francis Fleming, 1966), in a Nineteen-hundred-and-eight editorial in the Starke County Democrat, self-described Jeffersonian and, later, two-time governor of Indiana Henry F. Schricker, the best-known man ever to come out of North Judson:

Why not help those who help you? Did you ever ask yourself this question and then formulate a definite answer before passing on to another perhaps of less importance? Most of us would “go straight up,” in the language of the street, if we were accused of being selfish and something would surely happen if someone would label us an ingrate. Yet it can be truthfully said of most of us that we are not entirely free from these unmanly characteristics. No, the thing uppermost in our mind when we commenced this article was the business relations existing between us all in our little community. We are largely dependent on each other for our existence. Our interests are in common and as taxpayers we all contribute our share to the maintenance of our local government and educational institutions.

Many of us seem to forget our neighbors—in a business way. When some of us have a few dollars in cash and are in need of some commodity, we seem to forget about our taxpaying neighbors who are in business at home. We unconsciously pass their place of business and via the varnished cars enter the markets of Chicago, Fort Wayne, or South Bend and deposit our home-made dollars into the pockets of strangers who do not contribute one cent toward the maintenance of our local government or schools, and who never befriend us when we need a friend.

[My emphasis. – NPO]

Our current governor, Mitch Daniels, previously President Bush’s OMB’s director, a potential 2012 presidential-nomination candidate, and of that party purportedly dedicated to federalism, supported the recently approved-by-voters State-Constitutional amendment to cap property-tax rates, thus cutting off significant local-government funding. Mitch Daniels, a Republican; Henry F. Schricker, a Democrat, but much more of a front-porch republican. “My Man Mitch” would do well to learn the lessons of the German-Lutheran Jeffersonian from Starke County.

The South, Progressivism, and Historic Revisionism

Over at Humane Pursuits, Brian Brown, in an exceedingly verbose disquisition (Yes, please do insert your pot-and-kettle joke here.), makes the novel assertion that

The South is certainly highly conservative in temperament (disliking change), but it is actually oddly Progressive in the values it wishes to conserve. Whether its detractors realize it or not, The South represents a chapter in Progressivism’s past, and a chapter in its present. Progressives hate the sight of it. But like it or not, The South (as a movement) is actually a form of half-grown Progressivism that couldn’t quite get the hang of it.”

Novel, and absurd. To a degree, Brown is correct in noting that some of “the values [The South] wishes to conserve” coincide with certain Progressive values, just as he is when he posits that the founders of the Religious Right — Falwell, Robertson, and Dobson — acted Progressively insofar as they “made [social issues] into national crises demanding coercive, national legislative and judicial measures.” But in his continued obsession with Progressivism, Brown errs grossly on at least three points.

First, there is something peculiar — even incoherent — about his claiming that they wish conservatively to preserve Progressive values, only then to cite abortion and gay marriage as the issues that they wish to combat — very conservative values, it seems to me — through Progressive means. (Only later does he make the partially correct contention that The South has adopted the earlier Progressive value of militant nationalism.) Toward the end of the essay, he hedges his claim, noting,

The counter to all this, of course, is that Progressivism tends to be anti-tradition, anti-family, and anti-religious, while The South is the proud preserver of all of the above. But just as the initial description of The South was a pejorative generalization, so this is a pejorative generalization of Progressivism. Many of Progressivism’s early leading men were deeply religious (Wilson is an example); only comparatively recently have the atheistic sects of the movement gained control of its policies. And the significance of The South’s upholding of tradition and family, while real, has been diluted by its adoption of the Progressive moral tradition of nationalism and material tradition of massive strip malls, chain stores, and Wal Marts over many local institutions.

I am right with Brian in condemning the “adoption of … material tradition of … Wal Marts over many local institutions”, but, again, he proceeds a leap too far in accusing The South of seeking to conserve Progressive values, when they’ve actually been guilty of using Progressive tactics to conserve their values. Moreover, he borders on equivocation with the suggestion that because Wilson was deeply religious, he was also a “proud preserver” of tradition, family, and religion. Few things so impressively rout all of the above as does engaging in a war — with a draft no less! — on another continent — to say nothing of post-war policies — when the United States traditionally had observed the Monroe Doctrine (itself a disturbing innovation). Add to that the list of federal accomplishments under Wilson — the Federal Reserve Act, the Revenue Act of 1913 —, and we see, however unintentionally, an enemy certainly of family and tradition, both moral and American-political.

Second, simply to suggest that the leaders of the Religious Right, and, following them, The South, adopted “Progressive ideas [as] the best way to solve social problems” while remaining “highly conservative in temperament (disliking change)” fails to place matters in proper context: To wit, the Religious Right and The South have not simply chosen to play by Progressive rules, but have had Progressivism forced upon them. Certainly, they could (possibly!) have chosen something of a Benedict Option, or a more ardently localist front-porch approach, rather than having adopted tricks from the Progressive playbook, but given the ramifications, for example, of Roe (Brown, recall, specifically mentions abortion.), such tactics would have offered little opportunity for undoing the atrociously Progressive act of legalizing infanticide. (I have argued, and intend to do so here at NCM later, that culturally conservative localism and a repudiation of “social conservatism” is necessary if we ever seek to develop a meaningful, strong Culture of Life, so I’ll concede to Brown slightly, but this is decidedly not the same thing as overcoming entrenched Progressivism in the chambers of government; that is, our building a Culture of Life from the ground up does not mean that we necessarily can afford to stop fighting the game on the Progressives’ terms simultaneously, given that they still rule the roost.) Just as Herbert Croly, as Brian notes, determined that the conditions of his time “demand[ed] as a counterpoise a more effective body of national opinion, and a more powerful organization of the national interest”, the Religious Right and The South recognized that Croly’s desired “more effective body” had ascended to dominance, and they had to form their own counterpoise thereto.

But, alas, I’m a Soul-Proprietor

Those few parts of the Realm of the Weblogs that I still visit have thus far been pretty quiet regarding yesterday’s significant, if not already-blown-out-of-proportion, SCotUS decision in Citizens United v. FEC. (The Extraordinary Mark, unsurprisingly, comes down in favor of it.) Consequently, I haven’t found too many outlets for expressing my opinion (save Facebook conversations), so here I am, after a too-long hiatus, engaging in all the self-absorption that the personal Weblog permits.

Perhaps needless to say, despite my occasional libertarian leanings and rule-of-law-based reluctant Constitutionalism, the predominant front-porch republican strain in me immediately anathematizes the Court’s decision. Given the ease with which corporations ably circumvent what restrictions heretofore existed (as ably noted in an unsettlingly almost-persuasive defense of the decision by Glenn Greenwald), fears that this decision in any way really changes matters in practice are probably exaggerated, but I, nonetheless, worry about to what the messages that this decision send, however quietly they will reverberate in a nation of acquiescent sycophants and myopic, long-term-memory-challenged “activists”, will amount.

First, it is a First-Amendment issue, at least as “freedom of speech” has come to be understood and to be applied to “corporate persons” as well as to ensouled people. Accepting this — and further acknowledging that the wording of the First Amendment says nothing about to whom the freedom of speech belongs (“Originalism”, I suspect, provides an answer, but not one that “conservative” “originalists” presently on the Court would likely wish to entertain. See below.) —, I have to raise the predictable question about equating money with speech, or, rather, designating spending money as a form of speech. Specifically, my concern lies with equality, the equality of liberty. (Greenwald, again, makes a discomfortingly almost-persuasive case for money as speech.)

The reality is that “the average corporation” — “the small business: the dentist, daycare operator, or grocery store owner who has incorporated due to the nature of our litigious society”, as asserted by an ardently Republican good friend of mine — is not the average corporation financially able to “say” anything loudly enough and frequently enough to get things done. That being the case, doesn’t this still decision still warp freedom of speech, subjecting it to the market? That is, instead of an equally possessed right, the freedom of corporate (political) speech is something afforded more to those who have money than to those who lack it. (Problematically, we must address this same issue when we consider individual expenditures comprising political “speech”(; more on this, as a matter of principle, below). Practically speaking, the decisive factor seems to me to be that corporate influence tends, as a matter of finances, to be much more effective than individual campaign contributions, and that matters relating to economy of scale permit the large corporate entity to out”speak” the small businessmen more effectively than the wealthy individual can the small-money campaign donor. (Also, money-bombing seems to have shown that en masse, small-time donors can make a big splash, even if their recipients ultimately fail to gain sufficient traction to upend the political Establishment.) This seems to be either a rejection of soi-disant conservatives’ preference for “equality of opportunity”, or one hell of a reductionist stretch of said principle.

Now, on to a meatier point, returning to the more foundational question of corporate personhood. I have a serious problem with the precedent set, directly or not, by Santa Clara, fully detesting the very notion that anything other than an ensouled, free-will-possessing human is a person. But even accepting that, I am troubled by the theoretical threat to federalism that rulings of this nature — and, admittedly, the very notion of corporate personhood that I’m begrudgingly accepting as precedent — present. Allow me, no Constitutional-law scholar (and thus willing to be corrected, or supported, by someone better versed in the field) to demonstrate.

A corporation exists because it is chartered by a State government. That is, it is a beast of the State’s creation, which intuitively suggests that the State ought to be able to regulate it as it sees fit. So perhaps the Citizens United decision is the right one, prima facie, because it’s stripping the federal government of regulatory power properly left to the States(; we’ll leave aside implicit questions about inter-State commerce). However, by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment (regarding which the SCotUS originally granted personhood to corporations (“Judicial legislation”?)), the State loses the right to regulate what it has created because the federal court has deemed this chartered — rather than incarnate — “person” to be worthy of Constitutional protections that, through the Incorporation Doctrine, the State must now honor. It may not be an obviously direct ramification of Santa Clara, Citizens United, et cetera, but it seems to me to be a legitimate cause for concern.

Then again, the Constitution was our first, worst mistake, an inherently centralizing document for the large, commercial republic, endorsed by the sorts for whom talk of the States was mere pretense.

In the comment section of an exceptional post of his at Front Porch Republic, John Médaille has this to say:

[T]he Supremes were merely recognizing an established fact: that the government of the United States is a wholly owned and operated subsidary of corporate America. Why should the plutocracy be limited in the amount of money they spend in supporting their employees? What the Supremes did was to reveal how little they cared for “original intent,” since the founders never intended to give corporations the rights of natural persons.

And via Ted Chan, this:

Today’s structure of law gives corporations a spectrum of legal and constitutional rights which they routinely wield against people, communities, and nature. Corporations have more rights, for example, than the communities in which they seek to do business. They can and do use those rights to lobby Congress, impact elections, and to decide for us what we eat, whether mountaintops are blown off or not, whether there are fish in the oceans, and on and on. Their constitutional and other legal rights, together with their wealth, guarantee that they can define the debates that lead to the adoption of new laws—and often write the laws themselves.

Update: John Médaille offers his thoughts here:


All CU wanted was for the court to bless their end-run around the campaign laws. Corporate contributions were not an issue in the case, and not part of the relief that plaintiffs were seeking. But for some unknown reasons, the court decided to re-hear the case on grounds that had nothing to do with the plaintiffs plea. The rehearing was peculiar, not only in widening the grounds of the case beyond the issues that were placed before it, but in ordering the rehearing for September 9th, a full month before the court’s session normally began. This seems to indicate some undue haste in deciding so pivotal an issue. One is tempted to think that the majority wanted this issue decided in time to dismantle the current laws in advance of the coming congressional elections. One is permitted to ask here whether the court’s agenda is judicial or political.

In ruling on the issues presented to it, the court upheld the FEC against CU. But on the issues that were no part of the original case, they voluntarily threw out restrictions against corporate funding of campaigns, restrictions that date back to 1907 and have been upheld by every court since then, in test after test. They have, at a stroke, undone 100 years of legislation and judicial precedent. This is not evolution, but revolution, and a revolution predicated on some very peculiar grounds.

The majority of the court treated this as a “free speech” case. Yet, this is somewhat perplexing. As far as I know, CEOs have always had the right to say whatever they liked, to support whatever candidate they wanted, to go to whatever rallies they wished, and to write letters to the editor whenever they felt the need. That is, they enjoyed all the rights of free speech that every other citizen has. As far as I can recall, there are very few corporate executives in prison for expressing their opinions. The court, however, was not interested in the rights of the executives, but in the rights of the corporations as “legal persons” endowed with all the rights of natural persons. This is a rather peculiar doctrine that originated in another example of legislating from the bench, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific (1886), which granted “personhood” to corporations. This rule was a complete overturning not only of the court’s previous rulings, but of the long history of corporation law dating back to the Middle Ages.

Confessions of Front-Porch Realist


Ardent localist am I! This much is obvious, I am sure, to anyone who has followed this Weblog or read my contributions at Post Right. Although I have recently been absent from the comment boxes at Front Porch Republic (not to mention from blogging, as well as most other intellectual pursuits), I remain one of the firmest believers in the front-porch ethos around. Nonetheless, I am aware that FPR is not immune to mistakes, many of which PoMoCons, inter alios — including Front Porchers calling out their own — have aired. Perhaps, however, the most damning criticism of the localist ethos is neither “We can’t pretend that the Enlightenment didn’t happen” nor “Markets, markets, markets!” (Besides, what matter are marketplaces, not abstractions known as “markets”, but I digress.) Rather, it is reality that besmirches most effectively the glowing visage of the front-porch republic: Not the reality of lattes, Target, and LCD-television comfort, but the reality of brain drains, blinkered bumpkinism, and economic evisceration, of low-brow, low-church culture illiteracy. Neither the sages of the porch nor their combatants would deny this, but I fear that, too often, this is glossed over amidst much of the very important head-butting held over Bourbon and banjoes on the rickety veranda.

Since late May, I’ve been living — again, at age twenty-five and possessing a master’s degree, yes — with my parents in rural North Judson, Indiana. In theory, this place is the apotheosis of the front-porch republic: a small, fairly compact town with an obvious central business district that still has some businesses left facing it; houses positioned fairly close to the street (often, though not always, with sidewalks betwixt the two, and with garages off of alleys, rather than facing the street); people who know each other well, and so on. One of my greatest joys these days is ambling down the street (really, along the right-of-way of the non-existent alley, behind my immediate neighbor’s fence) to neighbors Mike and Becky’s place. I divide my time there between drinking beer (usually, I lamentably note, mass-produced, canned swill, but, hey, it’s Mike’s beer, it’s free, and de gustibus non est disputandum — and it’s beer!) and watching football with Mike and assisting him (in, for instance, the effort to turn his garage into a “Mancave”), and entertaining their four absolutely wonderful children. A good number of people in town and the surrounding area know me — either because I worked at the grocery store years, or because they know one or both of my parents —, and most think fairly highly of me. One member of the town council, knowing that I have my degree in planning, has spoken to me about working on a master plan for the town, and some years ago, the then-president of the council implored me to run for the open seat in my district. (I apologize for the self-aggrandizing digression; I aim merely to emphasize the Mayberry-esque side of my humble hamlet.)

Alas, for the educated, community-oriented, twenty-something localist, the dark side of small-town life rears its ugly head ferociously and frequently. Living on my own, in suburban Maryland, I had to feed myself, and when I did so, I ate much healthier — more conscientiously and consistently — than I ever had or have since coming home. Granted, now, Mommy does most of the grocery shopping, and does so at a number of stores, independent and chain, locally and regionally, but when I do buy for myself, I prefer to give business to my former employer out of persistent gratitude, because he’s (one of the) local grocer(s), and because the store has historical familial significance to me — and because I rarely have the time or desire to travel just for food. This makes eating well difficult: most problematically, the variety and quality of fresh fruits and vegetables leave so much to be desired; finding diet or low-calorie anything to drink (other than pop, or “soda”) is typically just as troublesome. And that’s to say nothing of eating well: To be even a novice epicure is unfathomably difficult here. (And our humble liquor store, reliable as it is for a decent surprise six-pack and your typical booze fare, keeps in stock neither a one single-malt Scotch nor a bottle of wine that costs more than ten bucks!) Get me started not on other retail options: The day I can find a book (other than some trashy used romance novel!) in town, or a c.d., let alone clothing or accessories in North Judson, oh, happy day!

Ah, but I complain too trivially.

Right now, my pittance comes to me for a half-time internship that I hold thirty miles away. Now, nothing compelled me to take the internship, but getting my feet wet, so to speak, in my field has been good for me, and although I received my degree without fulfilling the internship requirement, I felt something of an obligation to uphold a gentlemen’s agreement made with my program’s director. Moreover, I wanted, at least for the time, to remain (close to) home: Despite the entire point of this disquisition, I am quite fond of this little burg, and I felt, and still feel, the tugs of familial obligation. And there just ain’t a lot of good work in these parts. One evening, out for my post meridiem perambulation, I stopped at the grocery store to visit. The cashier that night, who had worked under me during my tenure as night manager, remarked, “Everybody’s on food stamps.” Apparently, we Americans have escaped the recession, but in North Judson we’ve been enduring a depression for quite some time. I am fortunate to have the options afforded to me by a bachelor’s degree from a top-tier university and a master’s degree in a field in which demand for drones still exists, so I’m not doomed to remain here, as others are. However, as is the case for some others, I should like to remain here. But money, I hear, talks, and slowly, but surely, it has been speaking more loudly. I have student loans to repay; someday I hope to raise a family; and we have a wonderful Sears Catalog Home on the farm, built in 1913, in which my grandfather was born and raised, that I should positively love to restore.

Notwithstanding one beer-and-Bourbon-fueled night at Brantwood with one of my best friends since elementary school, intellectual stimulation has excused itself from my real, social life in North Judson. Multiple stacks of books line my bedroom, and I read — too slowly, too infrequently —, but reading loses its luster when I’ve no one with whom to discuss what I’ve ingested. So, it is the Internet that is my solace: Weblogs and instant-messenger conversations constitute the bulk of my mental activity these days. Although this is far better than nothing, and often truly enjoyable, it lacks something. I hate the dependence on technology that it demands, but I also bewail the incompleteness of the conversations. Tenor, timbre, pitch, tone — these are all lost in the flatness of typed discourse. I travel to Chicago every weekend for a Latin class, the only social intellectual stimulation upon which I can count regularly. I have to drive ninety miles to make muh brain wurk. Exercises such as this posting help, but, even if I have the pleasure of replying to a dozen comments, from a dozen people (Not holding my breath!), it will not be the same as if I were discussing this topic with only one person over coffee.

Presently, Nisbet’s The Quest for Community has my all-too-easily distracted attention; I sincerely doubt that anyone else in North Judson has even heard of this work. How am I to venture into the local coffee shop hoping to discuss Nisbet under such circumstances? Perhaps I am too harsh in making this point: Folk needn’t all to be intellectually oriented as I am, but this total isolation become impoverishing.

Regrettably, perhaps it is spiritually that the reality of the front-porch-with-holes-in-the-floor life most deeply impoverishes. As I noted above, every Sunday morning (save the Friday evening when I headed up early to attend a debate held by a fantastic conservative student organization at the University of Chicago — talk about stimulation!) I drive to Chicago for an hour-long beginners’ Latin course. A parish, St. John Cantius, offers the course, and I remain at the church for Mass, usually spending seventy-five minutes reading between class and the twelve-thirty Mass. That I have not attended Mass at my home parish in more than a month saddens me: This is the parish in which I was welcome into the Church through all of the Sacraments of Initiation, where my parents were married, and where my paternal grandmother played the organ for sixty-five years. It’s my parish, in my hometown, where I was an altar boy for years, a church to which I can walk in a few minutes.

And yet, despite the very un-front-porchiness of it all, I cannot really regret eschewing the local Mass for that offered by Cantius. Excluding the occasion rendering of the “Gloria”, I recall no point since 2002 at which a parish priest has uttered a word of Latin; at Cantius, I attend Latin Masses exclusively, sometimes the Novus Ordo, but generally the Tridentine High Mass. At Ss. Cyril & Methodious, altar girls (and, on rare occasion, boys) wear sandals while serving the altar! At Cantius, only males serve, and the sense of reverence and decorum that they show is impeccable. The æsthetic grandeur of St. John Cantius is truly awe-inspiring and spiritually uplifting. Despite a respectable attempt to improve the church’s interior appearance a few years ago, by and large, Ss. S&M remains the mutilated victim of post-Vatican II whitewashing. Lastly, Ss. C&M is a parish; Cantius is a community of faith (and I mean this in the best way possible). It’s vibrant, with families of four and five children, classes, reading groups, a schola cantorum, the church-basement café where I do my reading, and the Canons Regular. And orthodoxy! My home parish, yes, has the Knights and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, but it just isn’t the vigorous stronghold of faith that encourages the flourishing of the Faith.

Again, the localists at FPR are hardly ignorant of these issues, but these concerns receive far too little attention, except, perchance, as a criticism of those of us who raise high the small-is-beautiful banner. North Judson needs front-porch republicans: The free-market social conservative, however much he sympathizes, ultimately gives in to the forces of Progress, pronouncing the inevitability of the desiccation of Middle America, embracing his suburban lifestyles, and taking comfort in the absence of government meddling in economic affairs, consequences be damned. I decidedly do not believe that small-town America is doomed, but it needs help. I’m not ready to abandon it; as I said, I want to raise a family in that restored farmhouse (on to which I shall make one addition: a real front porch), and I have much interest in doing whatever I can to help to devise a master plan for this town that guides it on the path to rebirth. But the front-porch right has to reconsider a few things. When industrialized agriculture and what remains of heavy industry in the Gary area are two of the more lucrative sources of employment for people here, our caterwauling against big, ugly, and mechanized — however on-target it generally be — needs to be tempered. Our highfalutin talk ‘bout Aristotle and Wendell Berry and Christopher Lasch and the Anti-Federalists — as great as all them folk are — means very little to the great bulk of citizens of the crumbling republics; sometimes, we need to get into the nitty gritty of it all, realizing that, as much as we idealize the agrarian way, it is so far off of these people’s radars that to speak of it when trying to act meaningfully is almost pointless.

I love my front-porch republic; I can only hope that, someday, it is truly worthy of the mostly unconditional love that I shower on it. I hope that its loveliness becomes such that people choose to stay here — can choose to remain —, rather than be compelled to do so.

I’m still alive — and I’ve written something.

Job plus life plus corrupting neighborhood children = too little writing. I have some fairly well thought-out ideas in the mind and should be getting posts online, here and at Post Right soon. For now, my super-long screed on localism and economic liberalism is here.

Congratulations to the Postmodern Conservative

James Poulos is now a father: wife Courtney gave birth to Nikos James yesterday evening. Warm, heartfelt congratulations to them!

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