Mandates and The Help

Sarah Palin’s twisted family vacation (“Let’s load up the PAC-sponsored, ‘Restore America: Sarah Palin’ luxury bus, kids!”)has taken her from Washington, DC, up to New Hampshire, where she attended a barbeque the same day that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney announced his run for the White House a few towns over. It was on that day that she said:

"In my opinion, any mandate coming from government is not a good thing, so obviously ... there will be more the explanation coming from former governor, Romney, on his support for government mandates ... Even on a state level and even a local level, mandates coming from a governing body, it's tough for a lot of us independent Americans to accept, because we have great faith in the private sectors and our own families ... and our own businessmen and women making decisions for ourselves. Not any level of government telling us what to do."

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The HelpYesterday I finished reading Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, a book I picked up at an airport newsstand last week (the movie version is to be released this summer). The novel is set in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, and it examines the relationship between black maids and the white families they serve. Miss Skeeter, an unsettled white twenty-something, returns home from college and seeks more than the domestic life her friends, perhaps reluctantly, have embraced. With the fond memories of her own family’s maid in her mind, and her inexplicable dismissal, Miss Skeeter sets out to capture the stories of maids across the city. She is not drawn in by the simmering civil rights movement, but because, unlike her friends and even her family, she is able to see these women as people, not the help. She sets out to tell the stories of love, abuse, racism, joy, and desperation that animate so many of the women’s lives.

The novel is told from many viewpoints, including insight from two maids, Abilene and Minny. The two friends approach life with vastly different outlooks, but both seethe at the injustice they read about in newspapers and experience on a very personal level, often at the hands of the women whose children they raise. Both women, seasoned by age and experience, marvel at the gains that black people begin to achieve in the sixties. In particular, the women talk at length about the federal order to integrate the state’s university and the dissolving barriers keeping blacks and whites from sharing the same restaurants and toilets. 

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The small government crowd can present compelling arguments and sometimes highlights troubling municipal, state, and federal waste. But the Tea Party infused rhetoric from a certain breed of Republicans in Congress and some who are running for the GOP nomination is a different sort of animal entirely. “Any mandate coming from government is not a good thing,” Palin says.

Government mandates have made our air and water safer. They have improved our transportation systems. Even today, jobs are created, workers are protected, and industries are saved.

To an entire class of marginalized, repressed, discriminated, and abused people, personalized by the characters of Minny and Abililene and several other maids in The Help, government mandates helped to make life a bit better, however slowly, small step by small step. Would the mandates alone have pushed society along a path toward fairness and justice? Of course not. The civil rights movement was largely a product of private citizens fighting injustice and changing the hearts and minds of their fellow citizens. But mandates from the government helped to codify those advances, and help to set the bar of acceptable attitudes and behaviors a bit higer. 

Surely Sarah Palin was hyperbolizing (really, though, who knows?) when she dismissed any value that government mandates could offer society, but her rhetoric, and the rhetoric she inspires, is troubling. Seeking to make government efficient and effective is an admirable goal. Trying to demonize the legitimate role it plays in promoting the common good is quite another.

(h/t to Andrew Sullivan for the Quote of the Day).

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Mary Sweeney
6 years 6 months ago
This is an excellent article. It is very helpful to examine ideas through the lens of another time and location to see their full implications.

Only one problem - what appears to be the last sentence of the 2nd last paragraph is incomplete: ''But mandates from the government helped to codify those advances, and help to set the bar of'' Can that be fixed? Thanks so much.
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 6 months ago
I agree, Michael.

For those who are oppressed - and there are many, many oppressed, marginalized, forgotten among us - government intervention is the only hope that they have.  You said it very well: the mandates from the government CODIFIED these societal struggles toward justice to the good of all of us.

I would like to give Ms. Palin (I refuse to call her "Governor") a copy of Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States of America" which tells America's story from the point of view of - and in the words of - America's women, factory workers, African-Americans, Native Americans, working poor, and immigrant laborers.

THIS is what America has to be proud of and what constitutes its "exceptionalism".
Frank Gibbons
6 years 6 months ago
Mr.  O' Laughlin,

Did you have to say "twisted family vacation"?  If you've put on the character of Christ, there's no need for this type of scurrility.

Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 6 months ago
Are you sure that you want to make this comparison between government assistance and government mandates, Mr. Mattingly?

If I remember correctly, PRECIOUS was the story of an extremely overweight African American girl who was the victim of horrendous abuse by her mother who took advantage of government welfare programs.  The woundedness of the family dynamic went back generations - probably all the way back to the time that they were brought, as slaves, to this country from Africa in the bowels of a ship.

Government mandates that restore the dignity of oppressed peoples, giving them the rights adn responsibilities of every one else, begin the healing.  Would you rather that this justice not happen?
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 6 months ago
And, Mr. Gibbons, it is indeed a twisted family vacation.  I'm not putting on the character of Christ or speaking scurrilously.  This charade of a "family vacation" is just obviously twisted.
Mary Sweeney
6 years 6 months ago
Thanks for completing the last sentence in the second-last paragraph.
Tom Maher
6 years 6 months ago
Here we go again.  Catholic scholarship in America magazine is having another bad day. Another ad hominem attack of a politcal leader.  This time its Sarah Palin and her family's  turn to be personally attacked as if she and her family are unworthy of civil, fair and respectful treatment of her arguments that all people should be given.  The author  distorts Palin's words and their meaning and then sets her up for the grand conclusion "...  but her rhetoric, and the rhetoric she inspires, is troubling." 

The author's conclusion on Sarah Palin's rhetoric "Seeking to make government efficient and effective is an admirable goal. Trying to demonize the legitimate role it plays in promoting the common good is quite another ."  

In ot?????h?e?r? ?w?o?r?d?s? political leaders ?are not allowed to spe?ak ?t?heir own political ideas cr?i?ticial of the goivernment or government programs ?.?- a f?antastic assertion completely ?contrary to ?all expectations of A?merican political life.  ?Robust p?olitcal spee?c?h? ?is ?the ?essen?ce of A?merican civil and political life?.  Why should a political leader such as Sarah Palin be expected to do anything less???
Stanley Kopacz
6 years 6 months ago
Sarah Palin is not a political leader.  When she was governor of a state, she resigned her position of responsibility.  She is a self-promoting performance artist like Donald Trump and does not deserve serious attention. But she fits in with media's love of cheap infotainment.  She and Trump mock the presidency by using it for their own narrow purposes.  
david power
6 years 6 months ago
Summing up "Why can't we all just be democrats?". 
Stanley Kopacz
6 years 6 months ago
Summing up, I wouldn't ask anybody to vote for Al Sharpton.  Conservatives seem to have a problem with their buffoon filter.  ANd I know people who would have voted for John McCain but thought he'd lost it when he took Palin on as a partner.
6 years 6 months ago

I suggest that the editors of this blog pull this article.  It is an example of hate speech and twisted logic and should not be part of anything associated with the Jesuits.
 
It is hate speech because it very overtly assoicates Sarah Palin with racism which is no way supported by anything in the article.  It is an attempt to malign another with an association that does not exist.  What other purpose could this association have then to disparage another and to falsely do so.  There was no necessity to bring up racism with the comment by Sarah Palin.  It is an ad hominem attack.
 
It is twisted logic from not only what I just indicated but because it confuses the word mandate with prevention in the area of racism.  The word mandate means coercion to do a specific thing.  Most of the laws by the government relevant to racism were preventive in nature, that is outlawing certain actions, not prescribing certain actions.  Ms. Palin as governor of a state witnessed the federal government levying mandates on the state to spend large amounts of money and thus having to tax their citizens to accomplish these mandates.  This is an indirect form of taxation that the federal government could say they are not imposing but in reality the tax comes from Washington not the state capitals.  She is exposing the hypocrisy of such situations.
 
The article is also twisted in the sense that small government would have prevented such civil rights laws from happening.  Sarah Palin, the Tea Party and many other Republicans are not against government, just the scope of it and I doubt that any reputable Republican endorses any racist action.  So Mr. O'Laughlin continues his association of racism with anyone who supports Ms. Palin or the Tea Party or the Republican Party.  So in that sense Mr. O'Laughlin continues his hate speech by trying to associate others with this false  comparison.
 
To the editors of In All Things, I highly recommend that this piece be withdrawn and Mr. O'Laughlin be instructed as to what is constructive dialogue.
6 years 6 months ago
Despite the snarky opening (and tiresome subject of Sarah Palin who is, I think, playing us all the way to the bank), this is a thought-provoking article.  THere is a problem with the analogy of the civil rights legislation to more recent government interventions, including the health care bill, in my opinion.  I think it is Jon Meacham who has correctly said that far-sweeping social legislation or change is most successful when it is presented as growing organically from the American ideals and ethos.  In other words, the civil rights legislation was MOST successful when MLK, Jr. and others made claims on the American concsience AS Americans, that the American ideal required the break down of social institutions like segregation, etc.  I think he has called this "conservative reform".  When the civil rights movement broke with this rhetorical tradition, and adopted the more explicitly Marxist analysis of the '70s (exemplified by Howard Zinn's ridiculous book noted above) it began to lose credibility in the eyes of many Americans.  Today, I think this is partly why the Democrats' attacks on the Ryan plan have been somewhat successful - they have appealed to basic American values, etc. (although I disagree with the substance of their argument).  Likewise, I think this is why the President's health care plan remains so deeply unpopular - it was not grounded in this rhetorical tradition, and seems to ignore the basic American ethos.  Just a thought.
Helena Loflin
6 years 6 months ago
Leader + Palin = oxymoron

Well stated, Mr. O'Loughlin.

Mr. Kopacz nailed it.  Both times.

Colleen Baker
6 years 6 months ago
''Self promoting performance artist'' is the best description I have ever read when it comes to Sarah Palin.  Ms Palin only has problems with democratic party mandates.  She has no problem with the Christian cultural mandates she herself proposes.  To consider Sarah Palin a libertarian is a hoot.  She's an Evangelical Christian supremacist as well as self promoting performance artist who loves Catholics only as far as she can use them.
Tom Maher
6 years 6 months ago
JS Cosgrove (#12)

The law of the jungle is being used in this article.   Ideas that do not agree with the author's moral and political vison of how society should be ordered are attacked by attacking the person speaking those ideas rather than attacking the merits of the ideas themselves.   In an uncivil  jungle atmosphere bad ideas are though to come from bad people.   The rules of the jungle justify attacking bad people so their bad ideas will not casues harm.  Word and ideas are dangerous and threatening and must be controlled by more moral people such as the author. 

Tolearacne of people and their ideas are badly missing in this article.  America magazine should not be a jungle. 

The concept of free speech and open discussion are not certain at America magazine and that is very unfortunate and destructive.  

The author's intolerance of Sarah Palin and her ideas is destructive of the aim of free speech and open discussion of all ideas.  But ideas need to be heard, fairly presented and fairly represented.   The reader is ill served by the author's intolerance.  The author's  intolerance has encourage commentors to vent their own intolerance and ad hominem attacks in a meaningless frenzy of hostility, void of  facts or rational argumentation.

The ends do not justify the means.  It is wrong to use ad hominem attacks in a public forum.  It is also wrong for the public forum to allow  ad-hominem attacks.  America magazine must not be a jungle of insults and uncivil personal attacks.    
Stanley Kopacz
6 years 6 months ago
An american manufacturer of gym equipment and a czech exile of the 1968 troubles told me it was amazing that one could call the president of the US a %$&#$$%&* and not be arrested.  Welcome to America, Mr. Maher, the country and the magazine.  Well, I won't call anybody a %$&#$$%&*.
6 years 6 months ago
Tom,

This blog is a site for a lot of malcontents in our Church and our society against the Church and our society.  It is a shame that such should appear under the auspices of the Jesuits.  Which means it must be permeating other areas that the Jesuits control.  I couldn't have imagined such a thing when I was being taught by them.  My problem is that do the parents of the students and the students that are being taught at Jesuit schools know that such is going on.  They teach a lot of Catholic kids.


There is still a lot of good stuff here but the intolerance is amazing.  And more amazing is the lack of coherent thought that is being tolerated under what used to be the shining light of rationality in the Church.
Stanley Kopacz
6 years 6 months ago
There are always malcontents.  The revolutionary war was full of them.  Tiananmen Square was filled with them.  Let's shut them up and turn on Fox News.  Don't worry, be happy.
Tom Maher
6 years 6 months ago
Stanley P. Kopacz (# 19)  

I'm not in favor of shuting up anyone but especially Sarah Palin who is a major political leader as shown by polling results.  She has a political following of tens of millions of people as shown by political polling.  This is not Latin America or Africa where  political opposition are shown no respect and are physically and verbally abused, attaked, threatened  jailed and even killed   America society expects and toleates different political views and their expression.  One  wonders were on earth did the author get his concluding statement that Sarah Palin's rhetoric "is troubling" from.  

But free speech is expected in Anerican politics contrary to the author. And no we do not personally attack the speaker becasue we not agree with their ideas,  We disagree civilly with rational arguments. 

I agree with JR Cosgrove their is some kind of serious educational difficiency in failing to respect Palin's right to political speech.   Agreement is not the point here but the right to speak is fundemental.       

One of the criticism I have of Catholic culture in the United States ( and I should know my family has been American Catholics forever on every side of the family) is Catholics do not fully understand the importance of free speech as an individual right and as a critically important social and politcal mechanism for gathering and distributing accurate information of all types that informs our society.  Sadly Catholic education has failed to free many Catholics from the ignorance of their peasant origins from autocratic foreign lands where dissent or free expression of one's ideas was strickly forbidden. Why should Sarah Palin be allowed free speech when they themsleve do not know they have this right and its importance?  They remain culturally dependant and subservient to the state and expect eveyone else to be also.  How sad it is to hear the story told here of Ellis Island which has been closed since early 1950s is still a social reality to some more than a half century later.  Catholics need to be woken up form their bad dreams.  This is not reality.  Some Catholics including the author badly need remedial civics lessons on what Amerrican politics and political expression is all about. 

 Ad hominem attacks in  public forums is not what the American culure expects or does.  So why do Catholic persist in this nasty habit?    Let's accept the blessing of free speech and open society and not attack people we do not agree with.  In America in the 21 st centruy Sarah Palin or anyone else are expected to be able to speak without being personally attacked verbally or physically.   ? ? ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 6 months ago
Open discussion which critiques of the words and actions of public people who profess to want to "lead" are essential in a country which chooses its leaders. 

Sarah Palin disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words.  She goes on a propaganda bus trip with a media following and calls it a "family vacation".  When Michael O'Laughlin calls this "twisted", he, and the magazine for which is writes, is condemned for being "intolerant".

Sounding more and more like 1984 every day.


6 years 6 months ago
''Open discussion which critiques of the words and actions of public people who profess to want to ''lead'' are essential in a country which chooses its leaders.  

_______ disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words.''


Insert, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards and now Anthony Weiner and all would make sense. 


What Mr. O'laughlin did was reprehensible and then tying racism immediately afterward was over the top. 
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 6 months ago
I don't get it, JR.

O'Laughlin's artlicle is about government mandates, not racism.

And since you are willing to point out distortions of Democratic political leaders - and I welcome this when it is specific and valid - why is it a problem when O'Laughlin does it with Sarah Palin?
6 years 6 months ago
Mr. O'Laughlin immediately followed the comment about mandates with a discussion on racism.  That was not by chance.  There was possibly a thousand other topics on government actions that could have been chosen, but he chose racism.  And the comparison was not a similar one in the sense of what the term mandate is used for now.  So why pick out an irrelevant non sequitur and juxtapose it with Sarah Palin.


Also I did not ''point out distortions of Democratic political leaders.''  I was just saying that your point could be applied to many others and gave some examples.  I was not trying to justify Mr. O'Lauglin's ad hominem attack.  You were and you used your own ad hominems.

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