Why Is Norman Lear Sounding More Like Archie Bunker?

Bill Evans head shot

I’ve been involved in the education of millennials for a good deal of my academic career, and for what it’s worth, I’ve long thought that a great lacuna in the education of most millennials is training in what used to be called “civics”—the once ubiquitous high-school introduction to founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, to the American constitutional and federal tradition of limited government with its separation of powers, and the resulting protections for freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of the press, etc.

Veteran television producer Norman Lear, the creative force of nature behind the delightfully dysfunctional Bunker family (with its memorable characters Archie and Edith, Meathead and Gloria) on the 1971-79 CBS sitcom “All in the Family,” and who has long been identified with left-of-center causes, seems to agree in this lively interview with Entertainment Weekly:

Everybody knows me to be a progressive or a liberal or lefty or whatever. I think of myself as a bleeding-heart conservative. You will not f— with my Bill of Rights, my Constitution, my guarantees of political justice for all. But does my heart bleed for those who need help and aren’t getting the justice that the country promises them and the equal opportunity the country promises? Yes. I’m a bleeding heart, but I think myself to be a total social conservative. The people who are running just don’t seem to have America on their minds, not the America I think about. When I was a kid we were in love with America. As early as I can remember, there was a civics class in my public school. And I was in love with those things that guaranteed freedom before I learned that there were people who hated me because I was Jewish. I had a Bill of Rights and a Constitution, those words out of the Declaration that protected me. And I knew about that because we had civics in class. We don’t have that much in the country anymore. So before World War II or shortly after, we were in love with America because we understood what it was about and that’s what we were in love with. I believe everybody’s patriotic today. Everybody loves America. But I don’t need their flag plans to prove it. I’d like to go back to civics lessons.

Norman Lear a self-professed “total social conservative”! Who woulda thunk it?

Civics courses were an early casualty of an educational establishment that increasingly regarded America as the great problem in the world and the fountainhead of all things evil—racism, sexism, and homophobia, not to mention the misuse of the environment, and the killing of Cecil the lion. Formerly, it was thought that there is something distinctive and worth perpetuating about America to which immigrants should conform, but now the traditional metaphor of the “melting pot” is widely seen as repressive of minorities.  And the baneful influence of Christianity is identified as close to the center of all these problems and therefore as something to be escaped at all costs. Ever wonder why it is that many progressives cannot seem to summon up even a modicum of concern about the large-scale, brutal persecution of Christians elsewhere in the world? The answer seems to be that since Christians are proponents of repressive traditional morality they deserve it.

Now, deprived by their “educations” of any transcendent moral framework (e.g., that inconvenient business about being “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights” in the Declaration of Independence) and of any appreciation for the historical and practical significance of the American experiment (which, of course, presupposed that transcendent moral context), many millennials seem quite willing to jettison all these great liberties in a quixotic and ever-changing emotivist/therapeutic quest for newly minted “rights” to do whatever they please, unconstrained by the wisdom of the ages, previous human history, divine revelation, the givens of biology, and simple common sense.

Lear’s comments on politics implicitly raise another interesting, and potentially highly significant, angle on this larger issue. It is precisely rather conservative, letter-of-the-law interpretations of the Constitution that historically have protected ethnic and religious minorities, such as Lear’s own Jewish community, against the tyranny of the majority. Culturally conservative Christians are a convenient (and relatively low-cost and risk-free) target for today’s secular progressive bullies. After all, that line in the Sermon on the Mount about “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” means that conservative Christians are, on balance, unlikely to mount a jihad against overreaching militant secularism.

But the elastic, Humpty-Dumpty jurisprudence of Anthony Kennedy and his ilk on the Supreme Court ultimately places in danger any minority whose religious, cultural, or political views don’t match up with evolving secular, egalitarian, sexuality-obsessed elite perspectives. And anyone who doesn’t think that Jewish support for the “racist” and “oppressive” state of Israel is high on the progressive list of targets needs to wake up and smell the coffee.