From Palestine to Anaheim: culture matters

When Mitt Romney dropped by Israel a couple of week ago, he made an observation that the American media all-too-eagerly interpreted as a gaffe.  Drawing from a scholar’s work, the former governor contended that Israel’s relative economic success was a matter of “culture.”

In public conversation, this term has sadly become a stop word for latent prejudice.  And like a good student of the Western Academy, Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erekat demonstrated his fluency in the language of victimhood by calling Romney “racist.”

Back in America, progressives have been busy applying racial spin to a local governance conflict.  In Anaheim, California, activists–with help from the Southern California ACLU–are trying to budge the city council from it’s longstanding at-large representation system to a geographic, district-based one.  They reason that minorities, such as Latinos, have been been effectively disenfranchised by the current regime.  A spate of controversial police actions, including the recent killing of an unarmed man, have helped to propel the campaign.

Two years ago, a small New York village made headlines for a similar move.  After its existing system of staggered elections was ruled illegal, a federal judge bequeathed cumulative voting to Port Chester.  The village council went from being all white to having its first Hispanic, all thanks to elections that allow each voter six votes per office.  Yes, six votes!

The idea behind Port Chester’s civic miracle is degrading to the voter and the candidate.  An individual who identifies with an underrepresented group is supposed to gain representation by voting for the same person six times.  Meanwhile, the majority-status voters would presumably split their vote among several contenders.  Like affirmative action, cumulative voting robs the winning candidate of the confidence that he won on his own merit.  Rather, he can be sure the system was crafted specifically to boost him into office.

The proposal for Anaheim is scarcely better.  Activists have the implicit goal of changing the racial/ethnic makeup of the council.  It may be well intentioned, but it is unprincipled and works against the meritocratic ideal.  And like affirmative action, it is by definition racist.

Sometimes plans that play with racial demographics backfire.  This past primary election season, Redlands Democrat Pete Aguilar was expected to come into a newly crafted U.S. House seat, but was squeezed out by two Republicans thanks California’s new top-two runoff system.

Who is to say if Anaheim switched to district representation, that a Latino would accede to the city council?  Maybe the downtrodden denizens would opt for a Ted Cruz-like Hispanic conservative.  Given the root of the problem, gangs and crime, it would not be surprising if a law-and-order type won.  Not exactly the result progressive activists were aiming for.

Rather than spend sums on lawsuits and campaigns that are ultimately uncertain, progressives should just come out and move a well-connected, rising star Latino Democrat into the city before the next election.  It’s not like they are serious about the underlying issue: culture.

Plenty of smart, reasonable voices tell us culture matters.  Charles Murray has put decades of research into his latest tome, calling on America’s privileged to spark anew in their working-class neighbors the values that drive success.  And Richard Landes backs up Governor Romney’s recent observations on Israel.  But these folks just don’t get play in the liberal world.  Mainstream journalists thrives off of the sensational, but talk of culture upsets their own sensibilities.

As human beings, we are not merely members of our own little tribes, but individuals who reason.  We all are agents that react to incentive, and culture is the framework that shapes our agency.  It’s upsetting to some, but well-meaning government aid programs can breed dependency.  Obscuring your face with a hoodie as a fashion statement can inculcate mistrust.  A Hollywood actress who elects to become a single mom can sanction for some poor, distant child a difficult upbringing.

The values we choose make a difference.  Culture matters.


About Lewis W
I earned an M.A. in Christian apologetics at Biola University, and occasionally write on ethics, truth, science and politics.

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