The cover of the current issue of The New Yorker shows Hillary Clinton looking in on a locker room in which a group of Republican presidential candidates, looking very white and very male, are suiting up and doing their stretches. This obviously misses some of those running, and some of the differences among them — specifically in terms of sex and color. In a sense, though, it’s a perfect cover for a campaign season: It captures the spirit of missing the point and staying at surface level in ideological silos. It is also in stark contrast to another cover that hit the newsstands a few days later. With the title “The Weaker Sex,” The Economist’s cover features a man in blue jeans, boots, sweatshirt, and cap — as if ready to work — but just sitting there with his chin resting on his hands, under a subtitle: “No jobs, no family, no prospects.”
I first saw the latter image on the Twitter feed of Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. Wilcox does a lot of work studying what’s going wrong in our society and how to help men and women and families flourish. I asked him for his reaction to the cover, and he said: “Around much of the world, we’re seeing working-class men disconnected from the key institutions that give their lives meaning, purpose, and money — work, civil society, and marriage. This is an ominous development, both because it puts them and their communities at risk, and also because it can pave the way for real political instability. Large numbers of unmoored men are not a good thing for any nation.”
I thought of books in recent years by Helen Smith and Kay Hymowitz delving into what is plaguing the hearts of men. I thought of the shocking numbers of men who take their own lives, which Smith, a forensic psychologist, highlights. And I thought of the women, too. The work of Helen Alvaré, family-law professor at George Mason University, has brought into play the term “immiseration,” which is what has become of women in a world where sexual-revolutionary values have led to a confused sense of freedom and dignity. This is not a tried-and-true road to happiness for women or the men they know and may want to marry. The work of Wilcox, Smith, Hymowitz, Alvaré, and others helps us see more clearly.
Carly Fiorina, missing from The New Yorker cover, is, as you may have heard, running for president.
Carly Fiorina, missing from The New Yorker cover, is, as you may have heard, running for president. She has made it her strategy to shadow Hillary Clinton, presenting herself as a contrast. But while drawing this contrast, she is not at all simply giving an “anti”-message; she is opening the conduit to a different vision. In Rising to the Challenge: My Leadership Journey, which she published to coincide with her announcement that she was entering the Republican primary field, she writes about “The look of hopelessness. The look of potential unfulfilled.” She begins with the story of her stepdaughter, Lori, and her gradual decline as she fell into addiction and despair, and finally death.
“Lori’s potential was never fulfilled but death is not the only thing that crushes potential,” Fiorina writes. “Too many people lose hope for themselves. Too many lack the opportunity to use their God-given gifts. Like Lori, every person has far more potential than they realize. Every person has the capacity to live a life of meaning, dignity, and purpose.”
Fiorina continues: “What I also know is that Americans are failing to achieve that potential today. One in six Americans lives in poverty. More Americans are on food stamps than at any time in our history. Record numbers of Americans remain unemployed. Underemployment is a growing problem. Labor force participation rates are at historic lows. Reversing over 200 years of belief in the American Dream, most Americans now believe their children’s futures will be diminished.”
She goes on to write: “Some survey this bleak landscape and see the signposts on the road of the inevitable decline of America. Some see a nation of ‘takers.’ Many see victims in need of care by benevolent big government.
“Me? I think of Lori, and I see an ocean of untapped potential.” I rather like that reframe.
It’s a vision that conjures up images of the immigrant past of my New York City, the storied history of hopes and hardship, struggles and faith. Occasionally, before or after a morning Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I think of what wisdom those earlier generations might download to us now.
Fiorina writes and speaks a lot about potential, and about America as a seedbed for flourishing from its start. She describes the United States as a nation with tales to tell of “every dreamer, ever striver, every law school dropout and medieval history major who ever realized her potential in America.”
#related#That dreaming and striving has stopped for many, and another presidential season of false narratives that divide and defeat isn’t going to help them hear the tune of “life, liberty, and happiness” that has been our — albeit imperfect — national refrain.
In response to some observations of Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam, Brad Wilcox has written: “The fragility of contemporary religious life in working-class and poor communities in America is rooted not only in the ‘economic hammer blows’ dealt to communities by the new economy, but also in the technological and cultural changes that have undercut the virtues, values and institutions that sustain churches, synagogues and mosques — including strong and stable marriages and families.”
Articulating policies that seek to avoid undercutting these pillars of American democracy must be the task of a presidential-election season. Everything else is a harmful distraction. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness cannot be just rhetorical flourishes; they must be rigorously protected as achievable goals. Politics isn’t a savior; it isn’t the dispenser of hope. But a campaign season can revive dreams; it can help hope float to the surface of our public discourse by highlighting what works and how political leadership can help, not hurt. It might even make for an uplifting magazine cover for a change.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.