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CLARENCE PAGE: Sen. Josh Hawley's blame campaign makes much ado about us dudes
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CLARENCE PAGE: Sen. Josh Hawley's blame campaign makes much ado about us dudes

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Sen. Josh Hawley speaks at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Senate Rules and Administration joint hearing on Capitol Hill in February.

Too many men are stuck in a cycle of “idleness and pornography and video games.”

So says Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, one of the Grand Old Party’s brightest right-wing rising stars these days, and who can argue with his statement? Certainly not me, in my grumpy old “Get your nose out of so many blankety-blank video screens” stage of fatherhood.

The more important question to me is, what can or should be done about it?

On that score, Hawley’s recent widely discussed keynote speech to the National Conservatism Conference in Orlando seemed to be aimed less at finding solutions than placing blame.

His number one target: “the left.”

What else should we expect from a senator who, along with Texas Republican Ted Cruz, vocally objected to the certification of President Joe Biden’s election, led efforts to overturn the Electoral College vote count and raised an encouraging fist to the Jan. 6 protesters just before they stormed the Capitol?

“The left wants to define traditional masculinity as toxic,” he said. “They want to define the traditional masculine virtues — things like courage, and independence, and assertiveness — as a danger to society.”

Actually, the T-word, popularized in some social sciences and men’s movements, refers to pressures that drive some men to spousal abuse and other harmful behavior out of a badly distorted view of what manhood should be all about.

But confusion about such academic terms (“Critical Race Theory” anyone?) makes great fodder for political attack ads campaigns. As strategists often say, when you’re explaining, you’re losing.”

The marginalization of men, in Hawley’s view, “is an effort the left has been at for years now. And they have had alarming success,” he said. “American men are working less, getting married in fewer numbers; they’re fathering fewer children. They are suffering more anxiety and depression. They are engaging in more substance abuse.”

And despite the media habit of virtually equating the problems of poverty and race relations, books as varied as Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” and J.D. Vance’s memoir “Hillbilly Elegy” have discussed the widening rich-poor gap among working-class white Americans, Hawley’s base, that followed post-1970s industrial decline in my beloved Rust Belt.

Of course, it’s absurd to say the left or, for that matter, the right deliberately set out to make life miserable for their voters. But the social problems Hawley cites are very real and painful — and, more than ever before, across racial and regional lines.

Fortunately, near the end of his list of ills, Hawley hit a prescriptive note.

As an example of how men can step up and perform wonders for their communities, he offered the recent “CBS Evening News” story of predominantly Black Southwood High School in Shreveport, Louisiana.

After three days of on-campus violence and 23 students arrested, a group of 40 fathers stepped up in T-shirts saying “Dads on Duty,” positioned themselves as friendly hall monitors — and in just one day, the violence stopped.

This happy self-help story sounded familiar.

“It was the fathers who decided they had enough and after just one day order was restored,” recalled Robert Woodson, founder of the Washington-based Woodson Center, who has shown me similar grassroots self-help successes in troubled low-income neighborhoods over the past three decades.

At Benning Terrace, a Washington public housing development that had seen 53 homicides in two years, he recalled, his organization helped seven parents who called themselves the Alliance of Concerned Men to bring warring gangs to the peace table. For 12 years, they reduced the homicide rate to zero.

“As a consequence of just one person stepping forward, 40 more responded,” he said. “It takes somebody to break the ice and say that the responsibility for taking care of our children belongs with us.”

Woodson, a well-known conservative and MacArthur “genius” Award honoree, agrees with Hawley that masculinity is under assault on many fronts. But “the people who are suffering the problem need to be heard. The children are desperate for leadership.”

Indeed, we don’t always need to wait for government to come in and solve our problems and countless single women have done a heroic job of parenting alone. But, more often than not, a few good men can make a big difference.

Email Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.

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