Posts tagged with: elections

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Monday, November 3, 2008

The election day sermon was an important institution in colonial New England. It was one delivered by Samuel Danforth in 1670 that furnished the venerable Puritan concept of America as an “errand into the wilderness.” (For more, see Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity.)

One need not share the Massachusetts colony’s view of church-state relations (one of the chief tasks of government was the suppression of heresy) to recognize that the election day sermon served a useful purpose. The sermon was not usually, it must be stressed, an attempt to influence the outcome of elections. Instead, it was a reflection on the relationship between government and God, between the polity and Divine Authority. In New England, it was a reminder that the colonial governments were supposed to be expressions of the covenant between God and His people.

There has been much discussion again this election cycle about the relationship between faith and politics; more specifically, about whether Christian principles imply an obligation to vote for one or another candidate. Whatever else can be said about the controversy, it seems to signify that Christianity remains vibrant enough in the United States to have an impact on public life—and therefore that impact remains worthy of debate. Without dismissing the significance of those questions, it might be worth returning to the approach of the election day sermon as well: reflecting on the role of God in public life; urging repentance for the failings of citizens and leaders; calling down His blessing on the nation; and reflecting on the place of the Christian in the contemporary state.

Andover Newton theologian Mark Burrows, thinking along the same lines, offers some thoughtful guidelines for a revival of the election sermon. I would add that any attempt to address the role of religion or the Church or the Christian in the state today must emphasize the limitations of government, for the aggrandizing state is the great danger of our age. In the present context, the more Christians conceive of politics as the main or even primary expression of their faith, the more dangerous our predicament becomes. (Which is not to say that our religious commitments should have no bearing on our political choices.)

For an example of the content that a genuinely helpful, revived election sermon might contain, one could do worse than Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical on charity:

This is where Catholic social doctrine has its place: it has no intention of giving the Church power over the State. Even less is it an attempt to impose on those who do not share the faith ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to faith. Its aim is simply to help purify reason and to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just.

The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern.

Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies. It is not a means of changing the world ideologically, and it is not at the service of worldly stratagems, but it is a way of making present here and now the love which man always needs.

Over the last two days, Italians have been heading to the polls to select a new parliament and a new government. As I’ve already noted, despite its commitment to moral and ethical issues, the Catholic Church in Italy does not have a favorite political party.

In last week’s Wall Street Journal Europe, Francis X. Rocca, a Vatican correspondent for Religion News Service, wrote a very coherent op-ed on this delicate topic. Rocca says the Church is not impressed with the center-right candidate for prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, and seems to be closer on social-economic issues to center-left Catholics, like Francesco Rutelli, the once and perhaps future mayor of Rome, and Opus Dei member and Senator Paola Binetti. He also recalls a past statement of then-Cardinal Ratzinger: “in many respects democratic socialism was and is close to Catholic social doctrine.”

The Italian religious-political situation is a bit complicated. There are some significant divergences between Italian center–left policies and Catholic social teaching that Rocca could have noted. In the administration of its national welfare policies, the center-left hardly respects the principle of subsidiarity. Center-left environmentalists are vehemently opposed to genetically-modified organisms, while the Church has supported the use of biotechnology to feed the poor. Finally the center-left has historically been opposed to giving Catholic schools tax exemptions.

But the most intriguing aspect of this campaign has nothing to do with any of the main candidates or parties. Despite his formerly communist roots, Giuliano Ferrara is probably the most classically liberal voice in Italy who is running on a single issue: a moratorium on abortion (Read this interesting profile of Ferrara in the New York Times). He has also promoted the popular movie “Juno”. Surprisingly enough, he has not found much support from some major Catholic institutions, as explained by journalist Sandro Magister. The Catholic establishment seems to think Ferrara should not have created a political party devoted solely to abortion, as the Italian pro-life movement has become a mostly cultural and popular one.

Because of Italy’s byzantine political system and customs, important issues are often neglected by the parties and hence left to fringe candidates. This is why many Italians are fed up with mainstream politics, and partly explains the country’s economic woes. It is nonsensical to think that important ethical matters should have no part in a political debate. If there is ever to be a morally serious, classically liberal movement in Italy, this will have to change.

Blog author: paola.fantini
posted by on Tuesday, March 25, 2008

It’s election time in Italy, with voting scheduled for April 13 and 14 to select a new parliament and government. With the center of the Roman Catholic Church located within the Italian republic and historic tensions between the Church and State in Italy, it is worth asking how Italian pastors address public issues in this notoriously political country.

On March 18 the Secretary of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), Giuseppe Bertori stated that the Church does “not express any involvement or preference for any politician or political party.” Local bishops can and do react differently, however. Vatican journalist Sandro Magister recently highlighted how the Archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Caffarra, has issued specific guidelines for his priests.

Bologna is a noted left-wing city, where the cultural and political life is dominated by professors of Europe’s oldest university and Italian communists (yes, they still exist!). So the temptation for Bolognese priests is often to find common ground with the dominant part. Perhaps as a result, Cardinal Caffarra has forbid his priests from getting involved in partisan politics, primarily because it would compromise the communion of the Church.

The Cardinal has also prohibited the use of Church property for any political meetings or debate, will not allow parties to campaign on Church grounds, and has forbid the posting of any election posters, most likely making these parts of Bologna the only manifesti-free zone on the peninsula.

None of this means that the pastors cannot “guide” their flock. The last guideline says, in part, “If a parishioner should ask for counseling concerning the upcoming elections, priests must bear in mind that every elector is called to express a choice [….] The priest is called to help the parishioner, guiding him, so that he may distinguish those human rights worthy of being defended.” Finally, Cardinal Caffarra directs his priests to Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s note on the participation of Catholic in political life.

So while the Church in Italy is non-partisan, it clearly has something to say about politics, especially when it comes to issues such the taking of innocent life, marriage and family, Catholic education and biotechnology. It has not, to date, addressed the various economic proposals of the parties, so we can assume that faithful Italian Catholics can differ on these matters in good conscience. The argument over economic reform should therefore take place on the basis of sound economics, which would probably mark an historical occasion in this country.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Friday, January 18, 2008

The Wall Street Journal jumps on my bandwagon:

We’re all for putting more money in the hands of the poor and moderate earners, especially via stronger economic growth that will give them better paying jobs. But the $250 or $500 one-time rebate check they may now receive has to come from somewhere. The feds will pay for it either by taxing or borrowing from someone else, and those people will have that much less to spend or invest themselves. We are thus supposed to believe it is “stimulating” to take money from one pocket and hand it to another.

To put it another way, when the government calculates gross domestic product, it expressly omits transfer payments. It does so because GDP is the total of goods and services produced in the economy, and transfer payments produce no goods and services. The poor will spend those payments on something, but the amount they thus “inject” into the economy will be offset by whatever the government has to tax or borrow to fund the transfers. No wonder stocks sold off yesterday after Mr. Bernanke endorsed this 1970s’ economic show.

A fiscal stimulus that really stimulates would change incentives, and do so permanently so workers and investors can know what to expect and take risks accordingly.

It’s fun to watch as layers are gradually peeled away from the conventional wisdom to reveal that the CW is, well, wrong. Old CW: Evangelicals are marching in lockstep behind Mike Huckabee; Emerging CW: Evangelicals are just as fragmented in their opinions at this point in the nominating process as anyone else.

Mr. Huckabee did well with churchgoers [in Michigan], but the bigger story is so did other Republicans. According to exit polls, of the 39% of Michigan voters in the GOP primary who described themselves as born-again or evangelical, Mr. Huckabee won 29%. A full 57% instead voted for either Mr. Romney (34%) or Mr. McCain (23%). Of those who said a candidate’s “religious beliefs matter a great deal or somewhat,” Mr. Romney won 36%, Mr. McCain 26% and Mr. Huckabee 25%…

…The conventional story line has also ignored the problem of Mr. Huckabee as a candidate. The former governor did well in Iowa in part because he surged late and stayed a few steps ahead of a critical examination of his positions and record. The evidence in South Carolina suggests that as religious voters have learned more about him — and as they’ve started to meditate on the economic and national-security stakes in this race — they’re taking a good, hard look around.

They’ve got plenty of choices. Mr. Thompson has been successfully pounding Mr. Huckabee in debates and ads as a “liberal” on economic and immigration. Mr. Romney, at a rally in Columbia on Wednesday, ran hard on his promise to “strengthen families.”

Even Mr. McCain — who is benefiting from this social-conservative dogfight (leaving him with much of the independent and moderate vote that went for him in 2000) — rolled into South Carolina with a belated pitch for the core Republican base. At an event in Greenville, the Arizonan unveiled an endorsement from conservative Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, and highlighted his pro-life record and his promises to appoint strictly conservative judges.

I suppose you could call me one of those evangelical voters, and I’ve never been sold on Huckabee – primarily because of economics and foreign policy. With all the media hype over Huckabee’s “evangelical-powered” Iowa win, I was beginning to feel a bit lonely. It’s nice to be able to look at the real numbers and find out that I was never really alone. But even beyond that, it’s nice to know that evangelical voters are not necessarily going to give a candidate a pass on taxes, big government and wartime policy simply because he or she is a Christian.

Dr. Jay Richards made an appearance on Studio B with Shepard Smith on the Fox News Channel this afternoon. If you didn’t catch it live, we have the clip right here, courtesy of Fox News:

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.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, January 10, 2008

Some of the most extensive discussion of a very extensively discussed subject here in the U.S.—religion and politics—occurs at the Pew Forum. The online proceedings of an early December conference on the subject were just brought to my attention. Of particular interest is the transcript of the presentation by John Green. Green, who cooperated with Acton years ago on our survey of economics in seminaries, is arguably the most respected and most widely quoted authority on religion and electoral behavior. Personally, I approach the whole polling industry with a large dose of skepticism, but with all the requisite caveats in place, Green’s work is indeed among the best in the business.

The transcript, with full Q&A, gets rather lengthy, so I’ll focus on a couple points. One is that it is remarkable how the distinction between “active” or “churchgoing” and less active, non-regular churchgoers has assumed preeminence in analysis of religion and politics. Green suggests that the distinction may not be as politically significant this year (and he may be right, although I think that depends greatly on which two candidates end up with the nominations). Yet the difference has clearly become a focus of investigation, a significant (and positive) change from the days when most analysts approached the subject with the blunt categories of “evangelical Protestant,” “mainline Protestant,” and “Catholic.”

The second is that EJ Dionne, with whom I frequently disagree, makes some of the most salient and incisive points. The section begins here. A sampling:

I believe, and this will be a controversial statement, that the era of the religious right is over. Now, as Bill Clinton would say, I suppose that depends on what the meaning of the words “religious right” is, but I believe the religious right, viewed as a conservative political movement within the Republican party that rose from 1978 or 1980, is breaking up, in significant part because the evangelical community itself is changing and also because the issues confronting the country are changing. Again, I’m not predicting that this group will suddenly shift overwhelmingly to the Democratic Party, but I think we’re going to see a very different style of politics in the coming years.

If you put untroubled and troubled skeptics together, that’s 26% of the electorate. So if anyone wonders why Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, and all those folks have sold so many books, 26% is a very significant number of Americans. If you combine that 26% with the reluctant believers group, that is over a majority. It is simply not true that if you go out and say how religious you are and talk about it all the time, you are automatically appealing to a majority of the electorate.

But also, I think Huckabee is very interesting because Huckabee, a former Baptist minister who does have strongly conservative positions on the social issues, has actually been broadening the evangelical agenda. He speaks critically of Wall Street; he has linked his Christian commitment to a concern for the poor and their access to education and health care. I think Huckabee may understand better than most politicians how much the religious conversation is changing within his own evangelical community. I think the most interesting criticism of Mike Huckabee came from Fred Thompson, who called him a pro-life liberal. There are, indeed, times when Mike Huckabee sounds a little bit like our friend Jim Wallis.

There are also fascinating differences by state, and I had a long list of these, and I won’t belabor you with them, but I actually once took apart the 2004 exit polls to look at how the religious question played state-by-state. You’ll find that the religion gap barely exists in Louisiana; is enormous in Minnesota and Washington State; and that California was the only state in which Bush failed to secure a majority among weekly churchgoers. Now, all these may have demographic explanations. In Louisiana, the Democratic share among regular church attenders was boosted by African Americans and, to some degree, Cajun Catholics. Minnesota and Washington have relatively small African-American populations, and in California the Democratic vote is boosted by Latino Protestants.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Thursday, December 6, 2007

The following is a statement by Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, on Mitt Romney’s Dec. 6 “Faith in America” speech:

Mitt Romney is right that religion and morality are core convictions in American society. Our freedom depends on this, I completely agree. Without the ability to manage our lives morally, the state steps into the vacuum, both in response to public demand and to serve the state’s own interests in expanding power.

But soon after spelling this out, in part, he makes this bold claim, which I believe repeats John F. Kennedy’s error: “Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin.”

So here we have an odd tension. Religion matters, he says. But religious authority does not and should not matter in the management of our public lives. If this proposition had been believed by the kings of Europe in the Middle Ages, freedom would never have been born, for it was precisely the jealousy of religious authority that led to limits on the state and kept that state at bay.

Similarly, it was the churches before and after the American Revolution which said no to the leviathan state, precisely because it had intruded into areas that more properly belong to religious authority. The churches didn’t merely mind their own business; they spoke to the whole of society, and we should be thankful for that.

Maybe we are not accustomed to thinking of religion as a limit on government. But this has largely been so and continues to be so. It was the Catholic Church that beat back communism in Eastern Europe and just last week prevented dictatorship in Venezuela. In our own country, the churches are the main protectors of religious liberty, for they tend to resist intrusion by the state at every level.

The idea of authority is inescapable. If public officeholders are not to obey religious authority, what authority do they submit to? Perhaps we can say the Constitution but the signers of that document too held fast to religious convictions. More likely the authority to which they submit is legislation and its enforcement arm, meaning that to the extent that they brush off their religious institutions, they will tend to become obsequious toward the state.

For my part, I find it strange that American culture should require someone running for president to make a break with his or own religious authority. This strikes me as an attack on the conscience. The right question we should be asking: What does the religious authority teach about the role of the state?

I have argued for many years now that free markets are intrinsically good. I have tried to engage this issue with Christians but many are either not interested or do not see any importance in the pursuit. I know markets can become bad masters when people lack virtue. I also know that the alternatives to free markets have littered the twentieth century with more death than any single cause in human history. (Think socialism, fascism and Marxism.) And representative democracy, a republic of just laws, is not perfect either but it sure beats the alternatives. Shared power is always better than control by the one or the few. Social engineering and economic planning by an elite and powerful few strips us of both human dignity and true freedom.

Bryan Caplan, an economics professor at George Mason University, is the author of a new book, The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Politics, that has a significant bearing on how we should think about the political side of economic concerns in America. Professor Caplan concludes, in words that are not at all comforting to me personally, that most Americans cast their votes on the basis of irrational biases about economics. This, he reasons, is why candidates who oppose free markets, free trade, profits and immigration win. Sadly, I am quite sure that he is right about this point.

Creators Syndicate writer John Stossel, in reviewing the professor’s new book, says: "People tend to acquire wrong opinions about economic policy packaged in worldviews they inherited while growing up." Since people resist, and often strongly, having their own worldview challenged or changed they will vote for those candidates who make them feel good. Stossel concludes that this means "They will vote irrationally." I have long sensed that this was true on an intuitive level but the professor’s argument tends to fortify what I had only sensed but not quite had a handle on how to argue my case well. Simply put, most voters see no compelling reason to vote otherwise since their choices in elections bear no direct consequence on their lives, at least as they understand their lives. Gloomily Stossel concludes, "When irrationality is free, people will indulge their biases." (more…)