Don’t Ask Government For Love

Published January 11, 2019

National Review Online

Tucker Carlson is completely right about one thing — the decline of marriage is a great challenge of our times. I’ve written a whole book about it. So, you’d think I would rejoice that Carlson’s rant-heard-round-the-right focused on it. Sorry, no. I’ve rarely seen such a cynical and misleading use of television.

Everything that is going wrong with this country, Carlson instructed his viewers, is the consequence of “uncaring” politicians. They don’t care about your 19-year-old son who’s high on pot. Why? “It’s not an accident.” It’s because “our leaders understood that they could get rich from marijuana.” Never mind that 62 percent of voters say they want to decriminalize marijuana.

“Our ruling class,” Carlson intones, doesn’t care that firms like Bain Capital strip-mine companies and leave retirees without benefits because “it’s the way they run the country.” To the barricades, comrades!

Citing election results in France, Brazil, Sweden, the Philippines, and Germany, among others, Carlson detects “entire populations revolting against leaders who refuse to improve their lives.” Not quite. France chose a centrist by a huge margin. In Sweden, the fascist party made gains but still received less than 18 percent of parliamentary votes. In Germany, Angela Merkel is being replaced by her own hand-picked successor. Sounds like continuity. Only Brazil and the Philippines made big changes.

But focus on that word “refuse.” Governments are not misguided or simply unsuited to cure the woes of mankind. Nor are they following the will of electorates who demand lower taxes and higher benefits. No, they are lining their own pockets and laughing. Yes, Carlson actually suggests that our unhappiness results from indifferent leaders:

Dignity. Purpose. Self-control. Independence. Above all, deep relationships with other people. Those are the things that you want for your children. They’re what our leaders should want for us, and would want if they cared.

Kim Jong Un, call your office.

Carlson comes within range of some important matters — but only to shed heat rather than light. He states that “manufacturing, a male-dominated industry, all but disappeared over the course of a generation.” That’s false. As a share of total employment, manufacturing has declined steadily for three generations; from 33 percent in 1947 to 8 percent in 2015. And yet, thousands of high paying manufacturing jobs are going begging. It’s estimated that 2.4 million manufacturing jobs may go unfilled in the coming ten years due to a shortage of skilled workers. And sectors beyond manufacturing are also hurting for workers. Trucking, agriculture, hotels and restaurants, and Silicon Valley are all having trouble hiring.

When Carlson compared the situation of inner cities in places like Newark and Detroit with current strains in rural America, I hoped he was going to make a worthwhile point about what family disintegration does to communities. Instead, he made no sense. He made slashing reference to liberals not caring about high-crime, low-employment, broken-family inner cities because “they were benefiting from the disaster, in the form of reliable votes.” Conservatives, he continued, diagnosed a failure of big government. But that was not entirely true because “virtually the same thing has happened decades later to an entirely different population. In many ways, rural America now looks a lot like Detroit.”

Wait a second. If the problem was government programs that encouraged a culture of poverty, the extension of the same patterns to new populations supports, rather than undermines the case, doesn’t it?

But Carlson isn’t interested in analysis, he’s interested in incitement. For him, the demon is free-market capitalism, which he blames for “destroying families.” He doesn’t explain how it is that intact poor families so often manage to enter the middle class or above despite capitalism.

A better explanation for the troubles of inner cities as well as rural areas is that single-parent families damage people’s capacity to achieve. They cause poorer school performance, more mental illness, more crime, less employment, more drug abuse, and, yes, less overall happiness. One is tempted to say that if Tucker Carlson really cared, he would take the time to examine the families who are doing well despite economic changes. He would note that married men with only high school diplomas are more likely to be employed than unmarried men with some college.

Carlson did no more than state the obvious when he thundered that culture is linked to economics. Who has ever denied this? Describing our troubles as the result of bad faith on the part of our leaders (who do not love us, sniff), or “worship” of capitalism, is infantilizing and manipulative.

© 2018

— Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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