12

Bush, Orthodoxy, & Damon Linker

From the always insightful and provocative Daniel Larison:

As I noted long ago, and as Ross has suggested again this week, it makes no sense to blame Christian orthodoxy or traditional Christianity for the religiously-tinged ideology of the Bush administration and the resulting failures of this ideology’s optimistic and hubristic approach to the world. It is no accident that the most strident and early critics of the Bush administration hailed from traditionalist Catholic and Orthodox circles that make Linker’s bete noire of First Things look like the relatively liberal, ecumenist forum that it is. Mr. Bush espoused a horrifyingly heterodox religious vision, one far more akin to the messianic Americanism that forms part of what Bacevich has called national security ideology than it is to anything that could fairly be called orthodoxy.

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52

Obama to Push Immigration Reform

This is good news, and probably smart politics:

While acknowledging that the recession makes the political battle more difficult, President Obama plans to begin addressing the country’s immigration system this year, including looking for a path for illegal immigrants to become legal, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.

Mr. Obama plans to speak publicly about the issue in May, administration officials said, and over the summer he will convene working groups, including lawmakers from both parties and a range of immigration groups, to begin discussing possible legislation for as early as this fall.

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1

God or Government Spending: Choose One?

Correlation isn’t causation. That said, I thought this from the Wall Street Journal was interesting:

A recent study of 33 countries by Anthony Gill and Erik Lundsgaarde found an inverse relationship between religious observance and welfare spending. Countries with larger welfare states, such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark, had markedly lower levels of religious attendance, affiliation and trust in God than countries with a history of limited government, such as the U.S., the Philippines and Brazil. Public spending amounts to more than one half of the GDP in Sweden, where only 4% of the population regularly attends church. By contrast, public spending amounts to 18% of the Philippines’ GDP, and 68% of Filipinos regularly attend church.

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7

Marci Hamilton's Crusade

Several weeks ago there was a rather unpleasant exchange in First Things, between Marci Hamilton of the Cardozo School of Law, and Martin and Melissa Nussbaum of the Diocese of Colorado. Ms. Hamilton supports lifting the statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims, while the Nussbaums are decidedly against the idea. There are reasonable arguments on both sides, and, in this particular discussion, unreasonable arguments on both sides. But I think removing the statute of limitations, as Ms. Hamilton proposes, is likely to provide little benefit in terms of deterring abuse, and myriad opportunities for malicious or frivolous litigation. Furthermore, Ms. Hamilton’s professed concern for children has been rather morbidly focused on the Catholic Church rather than, for instance, public schools, where abuse problems are far more rampant.

I thought at the time I read the exchange that Ms. Hamilton’s name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. And then I remembered: Ms. Hamilton was the author of a rather incautiously written book entitled God v. the Gavel, in which she made a case against many traditional religious liberties (noticing a theme in her oeuvre?). I say incautiously because the book contained enough errors and sloppy argumentation to elicit a legendarily harsh book review from Douglas Laycock, one of the field’s most distinguished scholars. The whole review is worth reading if the topic is of interest to you (or if, like me, you enjoy reading rigorous criticism), but here is the conclusion:

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43

Bishop Olmsted Accuses President Jenkins of Disobedience

Here is the text of Bishop Olmsted’s letter to President Jenkins (h/t American Papist):

olmsted

While I am disappointed by President Jenkin’s decision to invite President Obama to speak at commencement, particularly the decision to confer an honorary law degree, I have several questions about this letter:

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7

Religion, Culture, & Politics

R.R. Reno reflecting on Fr. Neuhaus:

I have many fond memories of him, but many important and influential ones, as well. During the fall of 2006, I was in his office, expressing my anxious agitation about the upcoming congressional elections. I worried over the loss of  a Republican majority, linking my political concerns to the future of the pro-life cause, the dangers of unfettered bioengineering, and so forth. He sat back in his chair, puffing on his cigar while I prattled on. Then, with a wave of his hand, he dismissed my anxieties with a simple observation:

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15

Palin, Steele, & Populism

Daniel Larison on why conservatives have been critical of Michael Steele, but defended Sarah Palin:

Steele does not have the benefit of a verbose, mistake-prone counterpart to distract us [like Palin did with Biden], but even if he did the reaction to Steele would have been nothing like the response to Palin. In other words, Steele’s blunders on substance are treated as badly damaging and activists insist that they require immediate correction, while Palin’s blunders were spun as imaginatively and desperately as any politician’s answers have ever been spun. This is a bigger problem than pushing unprepared leaders into the spotlight–it is a clear preference for one kind of style, namely the combative pseudo-populist act, over whatever style Steele has at the expense of any consideration of the merits of what these leaders say. The takeaway is that Steele is being ripped apart for making statements that are not terribly different from Palin’s campaign statements on the very same issues, and somehow she is still considered a rising star by the very activists who are ripping Steele.

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3

Congress Kills DC School Choice Program

Obama’s pledges to reform schools and stand up to teacher’s unions are sounding pretty hollow. Via MOJ:

In the spending bill that President Obama will sign today, the D.C. voucher program will be effectively killed, as Democratic leaders in the House had desired.  A proposed amendment in the Senate to strip this measure from the bill was defeated on a vote of 39-58 (you can check here to see how your Senators voted on school choice for the disadvantaged in Washington, D.C.).  This is not an auspicious beginning for educational reform and opportunity in the new administration.

5

Religion in the U.S.

According to a recent study, the percentage of Americans who profess no religion has been increasing over the last 20 years:

The Catholic population of the United States has shifted away from the Northeast and towards the Southwest, while secularity continues to grow in strength in all regions of the country, according to a new study by the Program on Public Values at Trinity College. “The decline of Catholicism in the Northeast is nothing short of stunning,” said Barry Kosmin, a principal investigator for the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS). “Thanks to immigration and natural increase among Latinos, California now has a higher proportion of Catholics than New England.”

In broad terms, ARIS 2008 found a consolidation and strengthening of shifts signaled in the 2001 survey. The percentage of Americans claiming no religion, which jumped from 8.2 in 1990 to 14.2 in 2001, has now increased to 15 percent. Given the estimated growth of the American adult population since the last census from 207 million to 228 million, that reflects an additional 4.7 million “Nones.” Northern New England has now taken over from the Pacific Northwest as the least religious section of the country, with Vermont, at 34 percent “Nones,” leading all other states by a full 9 points.

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4

Christian Hipsters: A Tool For Self-Diagnosis

This has already been making the rounds, but the weekend is almost here, and I thought it would be an opportunity to focus more on the culture part of AC. Per Brett McCracken, here is a partial list of the common traits of Christian hipsters:

Things they don’t like:
Christian hipsters don’t like megachurches, altar calls, and door-to-door evangelism. They don’t really like John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart or youth pastors who talk too much about Braveheart. In general, they tend not to like Mel Gibson and have come to really dislike The Passion for being overly bloody and maybe a little sadistic. They don’t like people like Pat Robertson, who on The 700 Club famously said that America should “take Hugo Chavez out”; and they don’t particularly like The 700 Club either, except to make fun of it. They don’t like evangelical leaders who get too involved in politics, such as James Dobson or Jerry Falwell, who once said of terrorists that America should “blow them all away in the name of the Lord.” They don’t like TBN, PAX, or Joel Osteen. They do have a wry fondness for Benny Hinn, however.

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7

Lessons of the Financial Crisis

While I’m on the topic of narratives, Matthew Boudway at dotCommonweal has a post up entitled “They Cannot Fathom Their Failure”.* The post is based on a George Packer column, which basically makes the argument that conservatives “cannot fathom the failure of their philosophy” after the recent financial crisis, and that to deny they have been discredited is a form of self-delusion. This is a charge, I suppose, to be approached with trepidation; false consciousness is notoriously difficult to disprove. That said, it may be worthwhile to offer some thoughts in response. Here is an excerpt from the post:

…“[T]hey cannot fathom the failure of their philosophy.” Not “they will not fathom” it. They cannot. Sure, the response of many conservatives to the bailout and the stimulus package has been opportunistic and cynical. Many of them, though, simply cannot imagine what it would mean — what it now does mean — for the premises of their policy agenda, and indeed of their entire political philosophy, to have failed.  Not even the most spectacular failure can force anyone to learn a lesson he desperately wishes not to learn. Historical events are always complicated and contingent enough to admit of more than one interpretation, and the most plausible interpretation is often not the most attractive.

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13

Econ 101

While most of our recent public debates have centered around topics on which economist’s disagree, Harvard Economist Greg Mankiw recently posted a list of fourteen propositions that most economists accept, which is an excerpt from his popular macroeconomics textbook. I thought it might be of interest to some of our readers, as discussions of the common good and public policy often touch on these subjects:

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35

George Weigel on Narratives & 'Bush Derangement Syndrome'

In an essay entitled A Campaign of Narratives in the March issue of First Things (currently behind a firewall for non-subscribers), George Weigel writes:

Yet it is also true that the 2008 campaign, which actually began in the late fall of 2006, was a disturbing one—not because it coincided with what is usually described in the hyperbole of our day as “the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression” but because of how it revealed some serious flaws in our political culture. Prominent among those flaws is our seeming inability to discuss, publicly, the transformation of American liberalism into an amalgam of lifestyle libertinism, moral relativism, and soft multilateralism, all flavored by the identity politics of race and gender. Why can’t we talk sensibly about these things? For the past eight years, no small part of the reason why had to do with what my friend Charles Krauthammer, in a nod to his former incarnation as a psychiatrist, famously dubbed “Bush Derangement Syndrome.”

Raising this point is not a matter of electoral sour grapes. Given an unpopular war that had been misreported from the beginning, plus President Bush’s unwillingness to use the presidential bully pulpit to help the American people comprehend the stakes in Iraq, plus conservative aggravation over a spendthrift Republican Congress and administration, plus that administration’s failure to enforce discipline on its putative congressional allies, plus public exhaustion with a familiar cast of characters after seven years in office, plus an economic meltdown—well, given all that, it seems unlikely that any Republican candidate could have beaten any Democrat in 2008. Indeed, the surprise at the presidential level may have been that Obama didn’t enjoy a success of the magnitude of Eisenhower’s in 1952, Johnson’s in 1964, Nixon’s in 1972, or Reagan’s in 1984.

Still, I would argue that the basic dynamics of the 2008 campaign, evident in the passions that drove Obama supporters to seize control of the Democratic party and then of the presidency, were not set in motion by the failures and missed opportunities of the previous seven years but by Bush Derangement Syndrome, which emerged as a powerful force in American public life on December 12, 2000: the day American liberalism’s preferred instrument of social and political change, the Supreme Court, determined that George W. Bush (the candidate with fewer popular votes nationally) had, in fact, won Florida and with it a narrow majority in the Electoral College. Here was the cup dashed from the lips—and by a court assumed to be primed to deliver the expected and desired liberal result yet again. Here was the beginning of a new, millennial politics of emotivism (displayed in an astonishing degree of publicly manifested loathing for a sitting president) and hysteria (fed by the new demands of a 24/7 news cycle).

[Emphasis Mine]

I think this analysis gets things exactly backwards.

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6

Res Ipsa Loquitur (II)

I posted last week about the negative reception to Geithner’s bank plan. Here, for instance, was Paul Krugman’s take:

It’s really not clear what the plan means; there’s an interpretation that makes it not too bad, but it’s not clear if that’s the right interpretation….So what is the plan? I really don’t know, at least based on what we’ve seen today. But maybe, maybe, it’s a Trojan horse that smuggles the right policy into place.

Not exactly an enthusiastic endorsement. Today’s Washington Post has some of the back story:

Just days before Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner was scheduled to lay out his much-anticipated plan to deal with the toxic assets imperiling the financial system, he and his team made a sudden about-face.

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3

Political Philosophy or Ideology?

While we’re discussing libertarianism and its derivations, Randy Barnett at The Volokh Conspiracy recently flagged a post by a libertarian that I found interesting:

I’ve always found libertarianism to be an attractive political philospohy. But…the libertarian perspective has a couple of traps. The trap Barnett describes is a particularly tough one to get out of: once seduced by a libertarian idea, like “goods and services are produced & distributed more effectively when markets are not interefered with by coercive agents like government”, its apparently obvious correctness turns it into a sort of semantic stop sign.

I went through a phase where if, say, education or healthcare policy came up in conversation, I’d say “Markets! Markets markets markets! MARKETS!” I found these conversations astonishingly unproductive, but I didn’t think to blame myself.

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14

An Audit for the Legionnaires & Regnum Christi?

George Weigel argues that a papal delegate should be appointed to audit the Legionnaires and Regnum Christi. This is a rather drastic step, but, I think, a necessary one. An excerpt:

Assuming, as we can and must, that this remains the Holy See’s intention, it must now move without delay to address the accelerating train-wreck-heading-toward-the-cliff that the Legion and Regnum Christi have become over the past ten days, as credible reports appeared in the blogosphere that Fr. Maciel had lived a life of sexual and financial scandal, probably for decades.

The reports have emanated from those who had been advised of the Legion’s own investigation of Maciel, but there is still no formal statement from the leadership of the Legion as to what its internal investigations have uncovered. There has been no full disclosure of what is known about Fr. Maciel’s corruptions. There has been no disclosure as to the nature and extent of the web of deceit he must have spun within the Legion of Christ, and beyond. And there has been no public recognition of what faithful, orthodox, morally upright Legionary priests believe have been grave corruptions of the institutional culture of their community.

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7

Sad Days For the Legionnaires & Regnum Christi

Via Amy Welborn:

A year ago last week – January 30 – Legionary of Christ founder Marcial Maciel died in Houston and was, a few days later, buried in Mexico, rather than the tomb that had been constructed for him in Rome.

Over the past week, with more intensity over the weekends, rumblings have been heard about the Legionaries of Christ and their founder, Maciel. The rumblings have now reached the level of blogs, so here we go.

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37

Democrats "For Life"

In many ways, I am a natural Democrat. I do not have a problem, in principle, with large government or higher taxes that increase wealth distribution. I was against the War in Iraq. I favor amnesty for illegal immigrants (or at least I favored many of the plans we were assured were  ‘not amnesty,’ which looked a lot like amnesty). I favor health care reform, including higher taxes, as long as the policies in question have a strong empirical foundation. While I have concerns about taking on large amounts of debt, I do not have a principled objection to the recent stimulus package (provided it actually is a stimulus package).

But I can’t call myself a Democrat.

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30

Let's Change the Subject? Catholics on the Left

One of the most frequently voiced criticisms of right-leaning Catholics is that they were insufficiently critical of the Bush Administration over the past eight years. According to this criticism, conservative Catholics were too eager to paper over the faults of the Bush Administration, and they failed to object at critical points to the Administration’s policies. While such generalizations can be problematic, I agree with this critique in broad outline. One of the lessons I’ve taken from the past eight years is that this is a temptation that must be consciously resisted.

It’s hard to express my disappointment, then, at the recent post entitled Mexico City? Try Gaza Instead…over at Vox Nova. Here’s the post:

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30

Generations & American Catholicism

There have been some refreshingly candid (if not entirely harmonious) conversations over at Mirror of Justice recently about the blog’s mission as it approaches its fifth anniversary. Mirror of Justice is a great resource for Catholic legal scholarship, and it has a diverse set of contributors with different perspectives on Catholic legal theory.

I have thoughts about many of the issues that have come up, but one topic that I found especially interesting was the discussion of generational differences.

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6

Fr. Neuhaus Update

Kathryn Lopez at the Corner reports that Fr. Neuhaus, editor in chief of First Things, received Annointing of the Sick last night, and is not doing well:

His friends and family are keeping vigil and he was administered last rites shortly after midnight. Fr. George Rutler, who gave him the Catholic Sacrament, says that “he is not expected to live long” and suggests “that it is appropriate that prayers be offered for a holy death.”

Please keep Fr. Neuhaus and his friends and family in your prayers.

4

Another Day, Another Kmiec 180

Apparently Doug Kmiec’s change of heart last year was not limited to topics pro-life. As noted at the Volokh Conspiracy, he also reversed his position on the recent Heller decision, which overturned the DC handgun ban, in a span of about five months.

In February, Prof. Kmiec joined an amicus brief to the Court which argued “the [Second] Amendment secures to individuals a personal right to keep and bear arms and that the decision below correctly interpreted and applied the Amendment in this case.” When the Court affirmed the lower court decision overturning the ban as the amicus brief he joined suggested, Kmiec took to the pages of Slate to criticize the decision, arguing that the Heller majority misconstrued the Second Amendment, and their ruling had no basis in “Constitutional text, history, and precedent”. Here is Kmiec’s explanation for the switch as provided to the popular Volokh Conspiracy legal blog:

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3

To The "Traitor," Go The Spoils? Kmiec & The Ambassadorship

kmiec

There has been some talk in Catholic circles recently of Douglas Kmiec being appointed U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican. Many American Catholic contributors have expressed their opinions of Mr. Kmiec during the recent election. To be clear, the problem with Kmiec was not that he supported Obama, it was that he consistently advanced disingenuous or highly questionable arguments, arguably distorting Catholic teaching, to make the case. Apparently, rumors have surfaced that many in the Vatican are similarly displeased with Mr. Kmiec, and that the Vatican might take the unusual step of vetoing Mr. Kmiec’s nomination should he be appointed.

John Allen, one of the best reporters on Church matters, argues here both that vetoing the appointment of Mr. Kmiec would be unwise, and that President-elect Obama would be unwise to appoint Kmiec:

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33

It Is Better That One Man Should Stand In For The People

Morning’s Minion:

And You Wonder Why I Criticize Evangelicals So Often…

During the election season, I made frequent references to the kinds of evangelical leaders who publicly supported McCain, people like Hagee and Parsely who believe that the US is the instrument of God against evil in the world, actively condoning bloody war. Rick Warren is supposed to be a moderate. And yet when Sean Hannity called for the US to “take out” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Warren had this to say in response:

“Well, actually, the Bible says that evil cannot be negotiated with. It has to just be stopped…. In fact, that is the legitimate role of government. The Bible says that God puts government on earth to punish evildoers. Not good-doers. Evildoers.”

God help us.

What interests me about the post above is the title. I have no interest in defending Mr. Warren’s wrong-headed exegesis, but I think this method of indictment is problematic.

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42

Intelligent Design: Science, Philosophy, Neither?

Intelligent design came up in a classroom discussion the other day, and it occurred to me that I have never gotten around to reading much about it. My uneducated impression is that it is a sort of plug-in-God approach to explaining any current limitations in evolutionary theory. I find this unappealing at first glance, but I should probably remedy my ignorance before passing judgment.

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15

Asking the Wrong Question

M.Z. over at Vox Nova has a post up entitled “No you can’t wash your hands” about voting for flawed candidates. He makes a fair point insofar as both parties support policies that are in tension, if not contradiction, with Catholic Social Teaching. Voting is basically a binary choice in American politics, and in many cases voting for either candidate constitutes material cooperation with evil. However, his description of the choice facing Catholics this past election was very puzzling. Here it is:

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5

Is the Country Moving Left? St. Thomas style….

Thanks to commenter Tim for the question, and my sincere apologies to St. Thomas Aquinas:

Objection 1: It seems that the country is moving to the left. In the recent election, the Democratic party picked up seats in both houses of Congress and won the Presidency.

Objection 2: A disproportionate number of younger voters voted for the Democratic party in the recent election.

Objection 3: The polling on social issues such as same-sex marriage has moved dramatically leftward over the past thirty years.

Objection 4: The recent bailouts will result in expanded government intervention in the economy.

On the contrary,

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6

Cutting the Leg Off a Stool?

The Republican Party is often described as a three-legged stool consisting of social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and foreign policy hawks. I had recently been encouraged by the moderate nature of some of Obama’s early appointments (e.g. retaining Joe Lieberman as Chair of Homeland Security, appointing Clinton for Secretary of State, talk of retaining Gates as Secretary of Defense). My thought was that these moves indicated a moderate streak in President-elect Obama that might translate into opposition to radical measures like the Freedom of Choice Act. Ross Douthat, in a characteristically smart
post, has caused me to reconsider, highlighting the dangers of Obama-the-foreign-policy-centrist for social conservatives:

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3

How To Argue About Roe

One of the most common complaints directed at pro-lifers is that they are trying to overturn a Supreme Court decision that is popular with the American public. In one respect, this is a fair point. Roughly sixty percent of the country, when asked, says that they would not support overturning Roe. At the same time, roughly 2/3 of people say they would prefer the type of ‘stricter limits’ on abortion that are barred by Roe and Casey.

Noting this disconnect, Peter Suderman recently suggested that pro-lifers should focus on framing Roe as a barrier to compromise on abortion.

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Rescue Packages & the Automobile Industry (II)

Last week, I questioned the wisdom of Congress making investments investors are unwilling to make in the automobile industry. Responding to similar arguments by smarter people, Jonathan Cohn suggested (citing a report showing productivity improvements in Big 3 factories) that the Big 3 are in the process of turning around, and that the bailout would help these companies complete the transition to profitability. Jim Manzi has posted a fairly devastating rebuttal to Cohn’s arguments. Here is an excerpt from Manzi’s response:

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23

Rescue Packages & the Automobile Industry

Smart takes from Manzi and McArdle. A question: I understand the political argument for an automobile industry bail-out. Unions are a valued Democratic constituency, and many of the potentially affected employees and suppliers live in swing states.

But is there a good argument for the bail-out on policy grounds? If GM can’t convince investors to buy additional equity or debt in the corporation, why should the U.S. government tax other companies (struggling in the same economy) to make an investment the market is unwilling to make? Is Congress better at spotting good investments?

Update I: See also Ryan’s comment on the National Money Hole” thread.

Update II: Blackadder has a good post up about the administration of the bailout.

28

A Coalition For Me, But Not For Thee

Morning’s Minion over at Vox Nova, recently argued that the pro-life movement should disentangle itself from the Republican party. I think a fairly good argument can be made for this position, although I don’t find it entirely convincing. As anyone familiar with the blogosphere is aware, however, the fact that a good argument can be made for a position does not mean that a good argument currently is being made. Here’s the post:

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15

Narrative of a Defeat: Why the Republicans Lost (It Wasn't Pro-Lifers)

One of the primary tasks of a historian, as I understand it, is to craft a coherent narrative out of the available facts. These narratives are important, as people are often suspicious to the point of irrationality when presented with information that contradicts their preconceptions. For this reason, I think it is worthwhile to push back on a few of the narratives that have been circulating over the past week about the reasons for the Republican defeat. A number of commentators have suggested that the Republican party’s anti-abortion position is hurting the party with social moderates, and that the party going forward needs to distance itself from pro-lifers.

One way to evaluate this advice is to identify the primary causes of the recent Republican loss. Why did 53% of voters choose Barack Obama, when 51% had voted for George Bush four years ago? It seems to me that the three primary reasons were Iraq, the economy, and the McCain campaign, in that order.

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21

Are Pro-Lifers Stuck With the Republican Party?

Every election cycle, the New York Times and similar publications run op-eds or features discussing the ’emerging trend’ (always emerging, never quite emerged) of pro-lifers reconciling themselves to voting for the Democratic party. These articles vary widely in quality, and range from intelligent and provocative (if flawed) to embarrassing, but the most common feature is disenchantment with the current state of the Republican party. I will grant that the case has been easier to make this year given the widespread dissatisfaction with the Republican party (particularly among the chattering classes).

Nevertheless, I think the answer to the title of this post is that, yes, pro-lifers are stuck with, or at least would be best served by, support for the Republican party. Some points for consideration:

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