Posts tagged with: politics

Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
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Over at National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg takes a look at a recent Charles Blow op-ed in the New York Times in which the writer hyperventilates about statements made by Rick Santorum on the subject of income inequality.

Economically speaking, income inequality reflects the workings of several factors, many of which are essential if we want a dynamic, growing economy. Even your average neo-Keynesian economist will acknowledge that, without incentives (such as the prospect of a higher income), many entrepreneurial projects that create wealth — not to mention jobs and often greater incomes for others — may lie dormant forever. Either that or the entrepreneur will simply leave for a more friendly economic environment in which his ideas, willingness to assume risk, and potential job-creation capacities are taken more seriously.

Part of Mr. Blow’s unhappiness with Santorum was that he made his inequality remarks in Detroit, despite Blow correctly noting that “income inequality in the Detroit area isn’t particularly high.”

But Detroit’s well-documented economic problems have little to do with income inequality per se. They have far more to do with decades of corporatist collusion between bailed-out car companies and the UAW, rampant political corruption, and assorted crony-capitalist arrangements — the same arrangements that recently helped, as a recent University of Illinois study illustrated, the Chicago metropolitan region merit (yes, merit) the unenviable title of “the most corrupt area in the country since 1976.”

Read “Inequality Anyone?” by Samuel Gregg on National Review Online.

When it comes to our view of individual liberty, one of the most unexplored areas of distinction between libertarians and religious conservatives* is how we view neutrality and bias. Because the differences are uncharted, I have no way of describing the variance without resorting to a grossly simplistic caricature—so with a grossly simplistic caricature we shall proceed:

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Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
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In this week’s Acton Commentary, “Corrupted Capitalism and the Housing Crisis,” I contend we need to add some categories to our thinking about political economy. In this case, the idea of “corporatism” helps understand a good deal of what we see in the American system today. Adding corporatism to our quiver helps us to make some more nuanced distinctions than simple “socialism” and “capitalism” allow.

Take, for instance, Mitt Romney’s contention this week while campaigning in Michigan that the bailouts of the auto companies was a feature of “crony capitalism.” A better way to understand the relationship between big business and big government today might instead be characterized as “crony corporatism.” You have a select group at the highest levels of an industry influencing government policy, which in turn favors those big businesses, provides various moral and fiscal incentives to consumers to patronize these industries, and then when necessary bails them out.

In this week’s commentary I use corporatism as a way of unpacking what happened in the recent housing crisis. For too long the American dream has revolved around home ownership. Owning a home is a good thing for many people; for many others it isn’t. What we have failed to recognize is the moral hazard that attends to government promotion of a particular vision of the American dream and the crises that result. As Dambisa Moyo characterized the housing crisis,

The direct consequence of the subsidized homeownership culture was the emergence of a society of leverage, one where citizen and country were mortgaged up to the hilt; promoting a way of life where people grew comfortable with the idea of living beyond one’s means.

The definition of the American dream offered by politicians should be far less precise, and presumably not include the level of specificity that says we should all own a home, drive a GM car, and have a college degree. As Nobel laureate Edmund Phelps put it in a 2009 interview,

I’m hoping that the administration and other thought leaders will succeed eventually in bringing the country back to the older idea that the American dream is having a career, getting a job, and getting involved in it, and doing well. That was the core of the good life. That’s what we have to get back to, and get away from this mystique that the most important thing in your life that could ever happen to you is to be a home owner.

The cultivation of an “ownership society” through government subsidy is only one feature of the creeping corporatism of contemporary America. As has been documented just in the last few days, the role of the government in directing and providing social goods has increased dramatically over recent decades. Following a New York Times story describing the increasing dependence of the American middle class on governmental initiatives of one form or another, Steve Hayward summarizes, “increasingly we’re taxing the middle class to pay themselves their own money, minus a large commission to Washington DC” (HT: The Transom). The government is increasingly using these subsidies and incentives to shape how people live their lives.

As I conclude in today’s piece, “The American people do not need politicians to tell them what happiness is and how it should be pursued. These are functions that our families, churches, and friendships fulfill.” One place to look instead would be the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “Man’s chief end is to enjoy God and glorify him forever.” Another would be the words of Jesus: “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).

Acton On The AirA couple of Acton radio appearances to let you know about: First of all, Acton’s Director of Research Dr. Samuel Gregg joined host Al Kresta yesterday to discuss the modern papacy on Kresta in the Afternoon. He focused on the social and political thought of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. You can listen to the interview by using the audio player below:

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Additionally, Acton’s Director of Media Michael Matheson Miller provided some additional commentary on the controversy surrounding the Obama Administration’s contraception mandate decision on America’s Radio News, which you can listen to below:

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Acton On The AirKishore Jayabalan, Director of Acton’s Rome Office, was called upon this morning by America’s Morning News to weigh in with the view from Rome on the Obama Administration’s HHS mandate that most employers – including religious institutions – provide contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs as part of health care coverage. He did so, and you can listen to the interview by using the audio player below:

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Previous Acton commentary on the mandate decision:
Audio: Dr. Donald Condit on the Trampling of Conscience Protections
Jayabalan: Obamacare vs. the Catholic Bishops
Dr. Samuel Gregg: Obama and the Dictatorship of Relativism

Blog author: rnothstine
Friday, February 3, 2012
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James Madison has rightfully been forever identified as father of the U.S. Constitution, author of the Bill of Rights and coauthor of the Federalist Papers. In his new biography of America’s fourth president, Richard Brookhiser introduces us to Madison the politician. In many ways, Madison is the father of modern American politics, with all its partisanship, wheeling and dealing, vote getting, partisan media, and popular opinion polling.

Brookhiser helps us to see the early framers as they were, brilliant men, who more often than not, waded into petty partisan squabbling. They were not afraid to roll up their sleeves and unleash a sharp pen to advance power and their party’s ideas. Madison, who was quick to understand that political contention would reign in the new Republic, organized political coalitions and allies for the purpose of power.

Madison is also the architect of hyper partisan newspapers like the National Gazette in New York City. A publication that soon begins to slam Federalists like Alexander Hamilton and even Madison’s fellow Virginian George Washington. Like Jefferson, he was a Francophile to the extreme. Hamilton would counter that Jefferson and Madison “had a womanly attachment to France.” Jefferson and Madison would often write letters to their revolutionary heroes in France, and by the time those letters crossed the Atlantic, the intended recipients were already victims of the guillotine.

Over his political life, Madison could also be quick to change course, especially when it benefited him and his presidential administration. Long an opponent of many Federalist policies, when the nation needed sound fiscal policy and a strong military because of war, he simply reversed course, and implemented ideas he had once fervently opposed. At times, he favored a strong centralized government, and especially when Federalists were in power, he favored strong state governments.

Because of poor health, Madison had a premonition that he would die as a young man, but he outlived almost all of his contemporaries (1751-1836). Madison as elder statesmen spoke out strongly against nullification, an issue that has been resurrected today because of ObamaCare and other federal power grabs. He did not believe a single state could nullify a federal law. At the same time, he also made strong arguments for strict constructionist views of constitutional interpretation. He vetoed a transportation bill that would have funded roads and canals because it was not specifically enumerated and did not fall under the commerce clause. The U.S. Supreme Court would later declare that it did fall under the clause within Madison’s lifetime. Madison believed such legislation “would have the effect of giving to Congress a general power of legislation.”

Later in life he also worried that political parties were becoming too regional. “Parties . . . must always be expected in a government as free as ours. When the individuals belonging to them are intermingled in every part of the whole country, they strengthen the union of the whole, while they divide every part,” said Madison. He easily foresaw that the Missouri Compromise was spiraling toward dangerous disunion. Madison owned over 100 slaves and Brookhiser points out that unlike Jefferson, he did not offer lofty rhetoric concerning the evils of slavery. And unlike Washington, he did not free his slaves upon death. Later in life, Madison declared the whole bible to be against slavery and toyed with the idea of moving slaves to Liberia or out West, but offered no real feasible solutions on the issue.

His strict interpretive views of the Constitution made him an early opponent of the need for a Bill of Rights. Madison feared that listing rights in the Constitution might ultimately void the rights that were not specifically mentioned. Ultimately, he would be a champion of the Bill of Rights and had already heavily influenced them in his previous work in drafting the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Madison challenged George Mason who wanted a clause about tolerating religion. Brookhiser wonderfully explains Madison’s contribution to religious liberty:

Madison, half Mason’s age, improved his language, proposing a crucial change to the clause on religious liberty. Mason’s draft, reflecting a hundred years of liberal thought going back to John Locke, called for “the fullest toleration in the exercise of religion.” Yet this did not seem liberal enough for Madison. Toleration implies those who tolerate: superiors who grant freedom to others. But who can be trusted to pass judgments, even if the judgment is to live and let live? Judges may change their minds. The Anglican establishment of Virginia, compared with established churches in other colonies, had been fairly tolerant – except when it hadn’t, and then it made water in Baptists’ faces. So Madison prepared an amendment. “All men are equally entitled to the full and free exercise” of religion. No one could be said to allow men to worship as they wished; they worshipped as they wished because it was their right as men. Madison’s language shifted the ground of religious liberty from a tolerant society or state, to human nature, and lifted the Declaration of Rights from an event in Virginia history to a landmark of world intellectual history (23, 24).

For much of Madison’s political career he plotted behind the scenes with his friend and mentor Thomas Jefferson to destroy their political rivals. Madison often carried out the dirtier work of politics so Jefferson could appear above the fray as a man of the people. He was instrumental in creating a young republic that was ruled by Virginians in Jefferson, Madison, and James Monroe. Republicans accused Federalists of trying to create a ruling faction, but the Virginian statesmen were even more adept in creating a political dynasty. But Brookhiser also helps to bring to life a snippet of the beautiful correspondence between two lifelong friends and Virginians in Jefferson and Madison. Jefferson also entrusted Madison as the guardian of his legacy in America and as an overseer of the continued flourishing of the University of Virginia.

While this book is a good introduction to Madison, it is perhaps woefully short at 250 pages for a complete study of the fourth president and founding statesmen. Brookhiser’s strength lies in deconstructing Madison and unveiling his flaws and partisanship, and his political genius as well.

Some on the political right or some classical liberals say we need to go back to the Founding period or we need to follow America’s Founders as if they were all of one accord. They forget even the Founders trampled on the constitution with measures like the Alien and Sedition Acts or the Louisiana Purchase when it suited them. Brookhiser concludes that while politics has changed, it has not to the degree that “would make it unrecognizable” to Madison.

“His intelligence and his knowledge of history showed him how this tension between different political spheres could be built into the Constitution as a bulwark of liberty, though he came to believe that appealing to popular opinion through the arts of argument and politics was a bulwark at least as strong.” says Brookhiser. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” said Madison. That we do have a government that has lasted for 225 years is a testament to this great man. And he would be the first to say it could be improved and fight for that improvement.

Much has been made already about President Obama’s comments yesterday at the National Prayer Breakfast concerning the Christian faith’s teachings about social responsibility. During his time at the breakfast, the president opined that getting rid of tax breaks for wealthy Americans amounted to a Christian obligation:

In a time when many folks are struggling and at a time when we have enormous deficits, it’s hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income or young people with student loans or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually thinks that’s going to make economic sense. But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’ teaching that, from to whom much is given, much shall be required.

The president is referring to the passage that concludes Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the watchful servants in Luke 12. It’s a good thing that the president isn’t the theologian-in-chief!

As Breanne Howe has pointed out (HT: The Transom), the text itself has to do with the basic idea of stewardship (the best resource for exploring the truly biblical conception of stewardship in its fullness is the NIV Stewardship Study Bible). I do think Howe draws a bit too sharply the lines between obligations and giving, as she writes, “Giving out of obligation is not truly giving, it’s merely following the rules.” There’s a complex relationship between legal requirements, moral obligations, and Christian gratitude that can’t be summed up by simply juxtaposing Christian charitable giving and government taxation.

But at the same time, paying your taxes can’t be simply conflated with meeting Christian social obligations, either. Christians are to pay taxes, certainly, but that doesn’t mean that Christian social responsibility is reducible to paying taxes.

More problematic, perhaps, is this latter identification, with our responsibilities before God being transferred to our responsibilities to government. If the president can use a text like Luke 12:48 to argue for progressive taxation, then what kind of tax policy should we implement on the basis of Luke 19:24-26?

Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’

“‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’

“He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

It’s too easy and sometimes irresistibly tempting to move directly from the text of Scripture to the text of legislation.

Prooftexting for the purpose of political posturing does violence to the Scriptures and damages our public discourse. That might be the most important political lesson arising from yesterday’s breakfast.

I just completed a very short interview on Vatican Radio to discuss the current battle between the Obama administration and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It didn’t permit me to say more than that the Obama administration is making a political mistake, so I’d like to say a bit more about the serious consequences that will likely result and how we ended up with this Church-State conundrum in the first place.

As Dr. Donald Condit has already explained, the Obama administration seems to be making a political calculation that this controversy will blow over before the November’s presidential election because the conscience exemption for providing and paying for abortion, sterilization and contraception will not take effect until later next year. But the miscalculation was predictable and is now evident, with not only Catholics, but Orthodox, Evangelical, Jewish and other religious leaders taking a stand. Unless the administration relents or the Obamacare law is ruled unconstitutional, Catholic hospitals and other institutions will be faced with a choice between not providing insurance coverage to their employees and thereby be fined by the government, or pay for the provision of services that they believe are morally evil.

A journalist friend in Rome just raised an alternative reading of the story to me on the street. What if Obama is actually making a principled argument that abortion, sterilization and contraception services are a fundamental aspect of women’s health that cannot and should not be denied to anyone, regardless of their own religious or individual convictions? Perhaps the White House believes, as most progressives do, that these stodgy, uptight opponents will eventually, inevitably, be overcome and we will one day wonder what all the fuss about. If so, the administration is doing much more than thinking about the next election; it’s redefining what the word “health” means to include measures that violently take away life from the most innocent and vulnerable persons, regardless of who pays for the services. This makes it much more than a religious freedom or a conscience issue and a matter of simple justice.

More generally, the whole Obamacare mess is a result of employer-provided health insurance. We would all be better off if our health insurance was decoupled from our employment, and we were free to purchase our own insurance according to our needs and wants. It is a result of state intervention in the economy, namely wage-and-price controls, that led to employers offering health insurance as a non-wage benefit to entice desired employees to their companies. Now we have the government mandating that all employers must provide comprehensive coverage to all their employees. What was once a prudential individual decision has become a government-mandated “right” that trumps the employer-employee, the doctor-patient, and perhaps even the priest-penitent relationship. Some progress.

There is some tragic irony to all this. We should not forget that many religious leaders have long-supported increasing the role of the state in health care and the economy at-large, perhaps thinking that conscience clauses would protect their institutions against any undue interference. Well, they were wrong; what the state giveth, the state taketh away. If you invite the state to “assist” more and more of your activities, it will eventually start telling you how to do things. Encouraging the Democratic Party’s efforts from Harry Truman on to socialize the health care system of the United States is likely to have dire consequences for Catholic and other religious-based social service providers. Economic ignorance among religious leaders comes at a very high cost to their own good works.

Dr. Donald P. Condit, the author of the Acton monograph A Prescription for Health Care Reform, responds to the Obama administration’s mandate that most employers and insurers must provide contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs free of charge. For more on this issue, see Acton’s resource on “Christians and Health Care.” Sign up for the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary newsletter here.

An Unconscionable Threat to Conscience

By Donald P. Condit, M.D.

In May 2009, President Obama delivered the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame where he proclaimed, to naïve applause: “Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics … ”

What a difference a few semesters make. Last week, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius ordered most employers and insurers to provide contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs free of charge.  Taxpayers and premium payers are complicit in paying for these “preventive health services” whether they object or not. 

Sebelius deferred, until after the 2012 election, the deadline for religious employers to comply. Meanwhile they must provide instructions so that employees can obtain abortions and services only considered “treatment” if one considers pregnancy a disease. 

With the passing of time, it has become painfully obvious how relativistic and clouded are this administration’s sense of ethics.  The subsequent threat to our liberty is crystal clear and faith leaders representing diverse traditions are speaking out against the White House’s assault on religious freedom in the most forceful way.

Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), did not pull any punches:  “Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience. This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.”

Archbishop Dolan met the challenge of this HHS edict: “To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable. It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom. Historically this represents a challenge and a compromise of our religious liberty.”

Last month, in advance of the ruling, a group of more than 60 Protestant and Orthodox Jewish religious were out front on this issue when they released a letter to President Obama. The religious leaders pointed out that, “It is not only Catholics who object to the narrow exemption that protects only seminaries and a few churches, but not churches with a social outreach and other faith-based organizations that serve the poor and needy broadly providing help that goes beyond worship and prayer.”

Last week, the National Association of Evangelicals said it was "deeply disappointed" by the administration’s ruling. “Freedom of conscience is a sacred gift from God, not a grant from the state,” said Galen Carey, NAE Vice President for Government Relations. “No government has the right to compel its citizens to violate their conscience.  The HHS rules trample on our most cherished freedoms and set a dangerous precedent.”

On the Huffington Post, Romanian Orthodox priest Fr. Peter-Michael Preble, an early supporter of President Obama, said the HHS ruling was a “direct attack” on religious freedom in America and the beginning of more attacks on the faith of Americans. He’s also changed his mind about the president. “Well I now feel I was duped and his brand of change is not what America needs at all,” Preble wrote.

The Catholic Medical Association also responded: “This latest attack by the Obama administration on religious freedom and free speech rights should be of grave concern to all Americans because it is destructive of individual rights and of the common good. It should be challenged and resisted by all legitimate means.”

This HHS decree tremendously threatens the liberty and consciences of organizations across the United States that provide vital health care, social services, and education – to people of all faiths, and no faith – to millions of people by hundreds of thousands of employees.

The scope of these services in the American Catholic world is immense. One in six patients receives care in a Catholic hospital in the United States. There are more than 50 Catholic health care organizations with more than 750,000 employees. More than 150,000 professional  educators serve more than 2 million students a year in Catholic primary and secondary schools.  There are more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities that   educate more than 900,000 students annually.

Pope Benedict XVI’s diagnosis seems prescient.  As Dean of the College of Cardinals, his 2005 homily at the Papal Conclave warned that, “We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires.”

President Obama’s relativistic ethos obscures the truth behind the right to life, the right to conscience protection, and the right to free speech.  His administration’s apparent compulsion for re-election and control over so many foundational elements of our society has led to oppressive policies. This HHS mandate is another tangible example of the threat of relativism.

Let us pray for, and work toward, restoration of consciousness of truth in this country. 

In his commentary this week, Acton Research Fellow Anthony Bradley looks at the phenomenon of a black president whose policies have “not led to significant progress for blacks.” Bradley is the author of the new book, Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development. Sign up for the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary newsletter here.

Despite Economic and Social Ills, Blacks Give Obama a Pass

By Anthony Bradley

With the approach of Black History Month we are reminded of the historic presidency of Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president. Some black leaders, however, believe that Mr. Obama has let the black community down. For example, prominent voices like Dr. Cornell West and PBS’s Tavis Smiley, former supporters of Obama, believe that having a black president has not led to significant progress for blacks. The truth is that blacks are not only worse off under Barack Obama’s presidency but are grappling with deep-seated economic and social issues that the President himself has little or no expertise in solving.

In spite of these realities, some leaders are asking the black community to support Obama for odd reasons like race. For example, Tom Joyner, host of one of the highest rated morning shows in America, said in an October 2011 column, “Let’s not even deal with facts right now. Let’s deal with our blackness and pride — and loyalty. We have a chance to reelect the first African American president … And I’m not afraid or ashamed to say that as black people, we should do it because he’s a black man.” The historic enthusiasm is understandable but we must deal with facts that tell us race-based voting is futile.

Take unemployment, for example. According to a January report by the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education, black worker unemployment steadied around 15-16 percent in 2011, while unemployment for the rest of the workforce dropped below 9 percent. That is, in 2011 the unemployment rate for African-Americans stayed almost exactly the same and declined for everyone else.

Second, with respect to family issues, it is well known that blacks continue to lead the nation in single motherhood. According to 2008 figures, the most recent year for which accurate data is available, 72 percent of black children were born to unwed mothers compared to 17 percent of Asians, 29 percent of whites, 53 percent of Hispanics, and 66 percent of Native Americans. By extension, then, fatherlessness continues to undermine black progress in America. According to FathersUnite.org, 90 percent of runaway children, 85 percent of all children who exhibit behavioral disorders, 70 percent of all high school dropouts, and 85 percent of all youths sitting in prisons are from fatherless homes.

How would voting again for Barack Obama — simply because he is black — fix these problems? Barack Obama is not an entrepreneur nor can he be a father to the fatherless. The best thing that President Obama could do if elected for a second-term would be to remove all the barriers in the way of entrepreneurs so that they can do the things that they do well, such as provide the sustainable employment opportunities that allow adults to take care of their families and permit the marketplace to meet the needs of all of us. Government is neither designed nor equipped to create and sustain jobs. Thousands of years of experience show clearly: Only entrepreneurs have the gifts and expertise to create jobs. We need to encourage them because sustainable employment is the only long-term solution to poverty and unemployment.

With respect to family, one important thing President Obama can do is to continue to provide an encouraging example. Even if you do not agree with Obama’s politics, the president is certainly a model of a man who is committed to his wife and children. In fact, if more black men were committed to their children and their mothers in the way that President Obama is through the institution of marriage, many of the statistics listed above would plummet. However, there is no political solution that President Obama can promote because fatherlessness is fundamentally a moral problem. If we want to make a better black history – and leave a better legacy for our youth — we have to morally form black men so that they remain committed to loving women and children within the context of marriage.

If blacks want to chart a new course reversing these statistics, we should look not to politicians for answers but ask them to get regulatory barriers out of the way of entrepreneurs and moral institutions so that they can do what they have proven the best at for centuries — namely, create the conditions for virtuous human flourishing.