Noted for February 14, 2013
Thursday From the Archives: A Dozen Keepers from April 2005

A Somewhat Strange Piece from Nick Eberstadt: Motes and Beams! Weblogging

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The usually-intelligent Nicholas Eberstadt writes:

What is the future of conservatism?: The “clear and present danger” for the United States today is domestic… subverting… the American way of life…. [T]he collapse of the nation’s family structure…. By 2010, a child was more likely to grow up in a broken home in America than in practically any other Western society, including the Scandinavian ones…. America’s… retirement from religion…. [O]ur citizenry’s steady slide into financial dependence on the government… healthy, able-bodied, and relatively well-to-do Americans plead[ing] “poverty” for the purpose of handouts from Uncle Sam. These powerful, deeply entwined trends are progressively degrading both our people and our polity… an ignominious end to American exceptionalism….

For a generation, soi-disant conservatives have been failing conspicuously… never more so than when they actually gained political power… the George W. Bush administration’s toxic popular reputation… self-styled conservative thinkers have betrayed no obvious interest in analyzing or understanding what went so very wrong under Bush ’43…. [F]alse hopes [in 2012] were bolstered by millions upon millions of dollars of seemingly solid polling data purchased from partisan allies….

There seems to be a tremendous temptation nowadays for conservatives to retreat into their own alternative reality…. That temptation… spells the death of honest thinking. Our country confronts fearsome problems. It desperately needs a conservative tendency that can, for a start, call the animals by their proper names.

From my perspective, Nick Eberstadt is one of the many conservatives who has retreated into his own alternate reality. Consider his claim that "healthy, able-bodied, and relatively well-to-do Americans [are now] plead[ing] “poverty” for the purpose of handouts from Uncle Sam".

I don't see that. I see a short-term rise in UI, SNAP, Medicaid, and SSI due to the economic collapse. I see a longer-run bipartisan extension of income support to the working poor in order to partially offset the rise in the inequality of market income and to diminish the danger that a benefit cliff would create a culture of dependency. Those seem to me to be the opposite of "pleading poverty to get handouts". The first is a (hopefully temporary) rise in real poverty. The second is a successful bipartisan policy initiative to diminish any culture of dependency.

And I see, third, that medical care has become damned expensive, especially if you don't work for a large bureaucracy and have to deal with a marketplace riddled by adverse selection and moral hazard. Figuring out how much damned expensive medical care to buy and how to finance it is a damned difficult problem of institution and mechanism design. But understanding is not aided but rather hindered by seeing it as "healthy, able-bodied, and relatively well-to-do Americans plead[ing] 'poverty' for the purpose of handouts from Uncle Sam."

And his assessments of his other two "clear and present dangers"? They seem to me to miss the mark and indicate domicile on an alternate reality as well. The "collapse of the nation's family structure"--well, Naomi Cahn and June Carbone's [Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture] ( seems to nail that down: Democratic-leaning blue families seem to be doing fine. It's the Republican-leaning red families following the child-raising precepts of America's right-wing religious conservatives who are in trouble. Consider Sarah Palin: <Dr. Phil>how is that "don't teach my children about birth control" working for her?</Dr. Phil>

And as for America's retirement from religion--I don't see a retirement from religiosity, I see a partial retirement from looking at religious hierarchs as guides. And in view of the previous paragraph that looks to me like a healthy development.

Motes and beams! Motes and beams!