Category: Public Policy

Acton senior fellow Marvin Olasky examines the possibilities in his column.

Blog author: rnothstine
Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ronald Reagan delivers his radio commentary

When I lived in Egypt one of the Egyptian drivers for diplomats at the American Embassy in Cairo explained how people had to wait five to seven years for a phone. He proudly stated he was on the list, but poked fun at the long wait for service. Of course, he also added that you might be able to speed the process up by a few months with bribes, or as it is more affectionately knows as in Egypt, “baksheesh.”

Ronald Reagan loved to tell jokes about the former Soviet Union, especially about the stark differences between the United States and Soviet economic systems. It was a tactic he often used to take the hard edge off his criticism of the Soviets, while still drawing sharp contrasts between the competing systems. It also deftly showed his solidarity or sympathy with the Russian people.

Often to the horror of some of his top foreign policy advisers, he loved delivering the jokes directly to Mikhail Gorbachev at summit meetings. Gorbachev would politely smile or sometimes counter by adding that the joke was just a caricature of the Soviet system. But Reagan had carefully collected many of the jokes from former citizens of the Soviet Union, diplomatic officials, and some of them were passed to him by the CIA. Many of them were real jokes that had circulated inside the Soviet Union.

Many of Reagan’s jokes were a critique of the insufficiency of the Soviet system.

A Russian man goes to the official agency, puts down his money and is told that he can obtain delivery of his automobile in exactly 10 years. “Morning or afternoon,” the purchaser asks. “Ten years from now, what difference does it make?” replies the clerk. “Well,” says the car-buyer, “the plumber’s coming in the morning.”

Another joke Reagan liked to deliver summed up his thoughts well. Two Russians are walking down the street, and one says, “Comrade, have we reached the highest state of communism?” “Oh, no,” the other replies. “I think things are going to get a lot worse.” (more…)

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, January 24, 2008

Add Colorado to the list of state governments sharpening the points of the already thorny problem of church and state. Catholic News Agency reports on a kerfuffle between Archbishop Charles Chaput (on behalf of Catholic Charities of Colorado) and the state’s legislature over a pending bill that would restrict religious organizations’ ability to discriminate on the basis of religion in their hiring. (The regulation applies, of course, to groups that take government funds.) In other words, a non-profit such as Catholic Charities would not be permitted to make adherence to the Catholic faith a qualification necessary to be a manager, even a director, in the organization. Obviously this is a cause for concern for an institution claiming to have a distinctly Catholic identity.

There are at least a couple interesting angles to this story. First, this is yet another example of the spread of a terrible misunderstanding of the meaning of church-state separation in the American context. Place blame where you like: I choose the 1947 Supreme Court decision Everson v. Board of Education, which burdened the legal system with the unfortunate phrase “high wall of separation.” Creative and mendacious judges notwithstanding, the First Amendment does not prohibit any and every relationship between churches and governments, especially state governments, and including funding that has as its purpose social programs rather than church functions (as in the case of Catholic Charities). We went through this whole thing when the current president proposed his faith-based initiative, but evidently not everybody attained clarity on the issue.

Second—also a throwback to the faith-based initiative debate—there is the related but distinct question of whether it is wise, helpful, and ultimately beneficial to all parties to have state funds funneled through religious organizations such as Catholic Charities. The question has been raised with specific reference to Catholic Charities USA by, among others, Acton’s Fr. Sirico, going back at least to the mid-1990s. More recently, the issue has been forced by, for example, California’s 2004 attack on Catholic Charities over the provision of birth control in employees’ health insurance, Massachusetts’ mandate on adoption by gay couples, and now this. To their credit, the pertinent Catholic authorities have usually refused to compromise in these cases.

To be clear, I think the Colorado legislature is mistaken and this and other similar assaults on the prerogatives of Catholic (or any other religious) institutions are unjust and unconstitutional. Yet it may be time once again to make the proposal, which would solve the problem and which will doubtless be categorically rejected by Catholic leaders and government officials alike: pull back the reach of the state’s provision of social assistance and let private donations fund Catholic Charities and all such charitable groups.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Related to John’s post about “natural” capitalism (and as I previously promised in the context of the “new” evangelicalism), I’d like to point to this summary of the contemporary situation from Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, speaking of a left/right political divide:

This bifurcation is itself an important clue to the central characteristics of modern societies and one which may enable us to avoid being deceived by their own internal political debates. Those debates are often staged in terms of a supposed opposition between individualism and collectivism, each appearing in a variety of doctrinal forms. On the one side there appear the self-defined protagonists of individual liberty, on the other the self-defined protagonists of planning and regulation, of the goods which are available through bureaucratic organization. But in fact what is crucial is that on which the contending parties agree, namely that there are only two alternative modes of social life open to us, one in which the free and arbitrary choices of individuals are sovereign and one in which the bureaucracy is sovereign, precisely so that it may limit the free and arbitrary choices of individuals. Given this deep cultural agreement, it is unsurprising that the politics of modern societies oscillate between a freedom which is nothing but a lack of regulation of individual behavior and forms of collectivist control designed only to limit the anarchy of self-interest. The consequences of a victory by one side or the other are often of the highest immediate importance; but, as Solzhenitzyn has understood so well, both ways of life are in the long run intolerable. Thus the society in which we live is one in which bureaucracy and individualism are partners as well as antagonists. And it is the cultural climate of this bureaucratic individualism that the emotivist self is naturally at home.

There has been a lot of confusion over Mike Huckabee’s invocation of the term “vertical politics,” but I think it is one attempt (perhaps futile) to come to terms with this feature of modern political life. The fact that the chattering classes exist in a two-dimensional realm explains why they have trouble understanding such attempts at transcending a binary political continuum. Such attempts at transcendence seem to me to be necessary given a view that holds to a hierarchy of moral goods (perhaps a minority view, nowadays).

Blog author: rnothstine
Monday, January 21, 2008

It appears the citizens of an anti-democratic China have stood up to government authorities who are suggesting smoke free restaurants in preparation for this year’s Summer Olympics. The Beijing Disease Control and Prevention Center urged restaurants in the Chinese capital to completely ban smoking on their premises. While the smoking ban is only a suggestion, the article declares not a single restaurant has taken up the suggestion in the city of Beijing.

Even though the United States has fewer smokers by far, maybe we can send them some of our own big government anti-smoking officials to assist them in banning smoking in restaurants and bars. After all, they have been quite successful in our own country of squashing the rights of proprietors to make their own decisions about their business.

It looks like the first mistake of the Chinese government officials was in offering a mere suggestion to city eateries. The government’s tactic clearly lacked language that exudes a self-righteous and a morally superior tone. Language that assumes to know what is best for our own interest, over the interest of businesses owners to choose what is appropriate for their customers. Chinese bureaucrats have much to learn from freedom squelchers in our own country.

The attempt to diminish smoking in Beijing facilities is part of a larger public relations effort to spruce up the Chinese image across the world. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to say much for the current state of Western values when the Chinese government feels smoking is the biggest negative image maker in a country marked with notorious human rights abuses.

Whatever your personal opinion about smoking in public, I’ve always felt business owners should be able to make up their own rules about smoking in their facility. Apparently even the authoritarian government in China agrees, because after all, it was only a suggestion.

RELEVANT magazine has conducted a reader survey and has a special section on young religious voter attitudes towards politics. A summary bite from RELEVANT founder and publisher Cameron Strang:

Young Christians simply don’t seem to feel a connection to the traditional religious right. Many differ strongly on domestic policy issues, namely issues that affect the poor, and are dissatisfied with America’s foreign policy and war.

In general, we’re seeing that twentysomething Christians hold strongly to conservative moral values, but at the same time don’t feel that their personal moral beliefs need to be legislated to people who don’t agree with them. It’s an interesting paradox, and is creating clear division between this generation and the religious right.

I think RELEVANT has some interest in spinning just how these “new” evangelicals line out on the left/right paradigm (they have Jim Wallis write a feature in this same special section).

Just ‘cuz you’re not down with the religious right it doesn’t follow that Jim Wallis is your homeboy. There’s a big squishy middle among evangelicals (new and not-so-new) that is conservative on life issues but has a range of opinion on other issues of public policy.

And this comes from someone with some “RELEVANT” cred. I’ll have a post up in the next week or so on Huckabee and the concept of “vertical” politics that has got so many pundits and commentators flummoxed.

See also: “A plea to evangelicals — from an evangelical,” David Gushee, USAToday.

Iowa and New Hampshire represent less than 1.5% of the U.S. population, but the way many pundits talk, these two small states apparently possess some obscure Constitutional right to choose the short list of presidential candidates for the rest of us.

After the Hillary Clinton’s second place finish in the Iowa caucuses, several journalists—apparently stricken with Obama Fever—were writing her campaign obituary, never mind that she led national polls of likely Democratic voters and has enough campaign cash to buy Cuba.

On the Republican side, former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson finished a respectable third in Iowa, but when he faired poorly in the New Hampshire primary last week (a state where he did little campaigning), the media began drafting his obituary.

Thompson apparently didn’t get the memo. A recent Republican debate in South Carolina revealed a Fred Thompson many Republicans have been hoping for but hadn’t yet seen—Fred with fire in the belly. He spoke with clarity and authority on issues of national security, and he forcefully went after some of Mike Huckabee’s left-leaning domestic policies.

The question is, does it matter? Is it too late? Maybe there are so many voters with their fingers in the wind that Iowa and New Hampshire really do get to choose the short list for the rest of us.

The idea should offend those who make up the core of the Republican Party. Conservatives are supposed to bridle at the idea of having their choices dictated to them by beltway insiders or by a national media establishment intent on telling them what to think and do.

Republicans should be particularly suspicious of such winnowing efforts given the short list the media seems intent on assigning Republican voters. Mike Huckabee supported heaping helpings of big government and higher taxes as governor of Arkansas. Mitt Romney endorsed bigger government and higher taxes as governor of Massachusetts, has flip-flopped on abortion not once but twice, and more recently made protectionist, big government noises in an effort to appeal to Michigan voters. Rudy Giuliani (who, ironically, didn’t even contest Iowa or New Hampshire), is pro-abortion. And as Thomas Sowell has commented of John McCain, his “track record in the Senate is full of the betrayals of Republican supporters.”

Each of these four candidates has conservative elements to their agendas, and personal qualities that recommend them. But is it any wonder that the left-leaning national media seems eager to use the earliest contests to winnow a consistent conservative like Fred Thompson from the short list of Republican candidates, a conservative who is arguably the only true Reagan Republican in the bunch?

Thompson isn’t a perfect candidate. And I’m not endorsing him or any other candidate here. Each of them has strengths and weaknesses that Republican voters in each state should carefully assess. What Republican voters shouldn’t do is buy the media line that 1.5% of the American population gets to tell the other 98.5% of us who is and isn’t still in the race.