Friday, June 17, 2005

Father's Day is upon us, and I still don't know what to get my dads.

It's a sorry world, I know. Check the ads for Father's Day, and apparently dads love ties and golf balls. Well, both my dads are retired, so they don't wear ties much anymore, and they don't play golf. The pressure is on.

Kathleen Parker doesn't help. Each year about this time she saddles up her Father's Day clydesdale, a horse about twelve feet tall at the shoulders, to drag a fair dozen strawmen around the block a couple times. To hear her tell it, fathers are an endangered species, and we should all worship the few men who condescend to this most maligned post.

"... the diminution of Father in our culture may be the single stupidest turn in human history yet," she writes in her editorial. That fathers have been diminished in our culture came as a surprise to me. I considered the possibility that this is Parker's personal problem, but then I realized that this drivel was yet another example of the Orwellian poison that conservatives have been spewing for the past few years. It's a remarkably effective technique, and consists of about four steps.

First, you declare a social ill. It doesn't matter if it exists or not, nor if it really is an ill. In Parker's case, she's suggesting that fatherhood and fathers no longer matter in our society. Others will lament the lack of patriotism, the demise of marriage, the loss of our children's innocence, or declining test scores.

Second, trot out the evidence. Typically these are mere bald assertions, but, as does Parker, you might toss out some numbers and imply that they mean something, like "40 percent of children live in homes without their fathers," or "studies show that women file the majority of divorces." Note that actual citations are pretty rare, though you can make your bald assertions sound supportable by adding that "studies show."

Third, leave the reasoning that connects the evidence to your argument to your reader, because if you try to put it in words it'll just sound specious. For example, 40 percent of children live in homes without their fathers is evidence that our society does not value fathers because, um, well we have to assume that there are no fathers in those homes, and that the father's absence is the fault of society, and not of, say, the father's misbehavior, or of the father's demise in some ill-advised military adventure, or perhaps in a traffic accident, or of a family torn apart by the stress of job loss to globalization, etc. (There are lots more like this in Parker's editorial.) Conservatives call this "getting picky." Ronald Reagan blazed the way when his response to a difficult question was, "there you go again."

Fourth, blame it all on liberals. This last step is essential, because by defining as a liberal anyone who does something bad or something silly, you create the dichotomous conclusion that conservatives are those people who don't do bad or silly things. Parker's editorial is clever in that she pretends to stay above the mudslinging of partisanism by hiding her accusations in codewords, like traditional marriage, or old-fashioned masculinity.

And that's all there's to it. Using this technique conservative commentators are currently busy blaming on liberals everything from global warming to ugly children. Even though it appears innocuous at first glance, Parker's editorial on fatherhood is just another example of this Orwellian tidal wave.

It's not that I don't appreciate both my step-dad and my father. Each man worked hard to support his family. Each man, in his way, has passed on to me qualities of which I'm proud. The point is that Parker's assertion that in our liberal society fatherhood no longer matters is just not true. Not only is American society one of the most conservative societies of all first-world nations, but fatherhood is by no means maligned or denigrated.

None of which gets me any closer to finding Father's Day presents for my dads, of course.