In an interview for Carolina Journal Radio, Acton associate editor Ray Nothstine discusses the links between religion and presidential politics.
On one level it seems reasonable to talk about addressing a deficit from both directions: cutting spending and raising revenue. But as Ray Nothstine put it so well earlier this week, without some structural (and cultural) changes to the way Congress works, it would be insane to think that giving politicians more money is going to change how they spend it. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Historically “politicians spend the money as fast as it comes in – and a little bit more.” Without some kind of balanced budget agreement, something with real teeth, why should we think things will be any different this time around? (I’ve talked about a more promising “both/and” budget solution before.) As Ray and I have concluded elsewhere, “In the case of the federal spending, the government has proved to be untrustworthy with very much. It’s time to see if the politicians in Washington can learn to be trustworthy with less.”
Despite requests to evacuate the area targeted by Hurricane Sandy, numerous residents in the northeast refused to leave their homes. Their decisions to defy evacuation orders, said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, were “selfish” and morally unjustified. But the ethics are not so clear cut, says Acton’s Ray Northstine, in a Religion News Service report published in the Washington Post:
Moral justifications to ride out dangerous storms can vary. Some stay put to look after elderly neighbors who can’t evacuate, or to care for pets who would be unwelcome in many hotels, according to Ray Nothstine, managing editor of the Acton Institute’s Religion & Liberty magazine. He says individuals must weigh various factors, from the likelihood of requiring rescue to the value of defending personal property; they can’t just let officials decide for them.
“Anytime there’s drastic government encroachment, even in the case of mandatory evacuations, you’re going to see your level of liberty erode,” Nothstine says.
“As Secularism Advances, Political Messianism Draws More Believers” is my commentary for this week. So much can be said about religion and presidential campaigns but for this piece I wanted to elevate some important truths about virtue and discernment in our society today. Here’s a quote from the piece:
Worries about religious imagery in campaigns and Messianic overtones are warranted especially if these religious expressions replace a vibrant spirituality in churches and houses of worship across America. If spiritual discernment and spiritual truths wane in America, the public is crippled in its capacity to discern political truths such as the proper and limited role of government.
If any Powerblog readers are near Raleigh, North Carolina, I will be giving a lecture on religion and presidential campaigns at the John Locke Foundation on August 27. At Locke, I will give more attention to the historical analysis of religion in campaigns, with special attention to recent history.
For this election cycle, I think it’s fairly certain in a race this close and heated, criticism of Romney’s Mormon faith will resurface, but from the political left this time. It’s already happening now, but will certainly increase after the conventions.
Religion and faith is such an instrumental part of presidential campaigns that in 2004, George W. Bush spent considerable time courting the old order Amish vote in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The presidential race was so tight that the Bush team did not want to cede one religious vote that might turn out for him in those states. He made a historic stop in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and met privately with around 50 members of the Amish community asking for their prayers and support. As separatists, most of the old order Amish do not typically vote in national elections. The encounter left Bush visibly moved and some said tears welled up in his eyes. At another meeting with the Amish Bush declared, “Tell the Amish churches I need their prayers so I can run the country as God wishes.”
Marc Vander Maas and I just produced a podcast on Calvin Coolidge for Radio Free Acton. I have been doing a lot of research on the 30th president this year and have had the privilege of speaking about Coolidge in a few different settings. My recent Coolidge commentary for Acton is here.
One of the questions Marc asked me was about the ways in which Coolidge aligned with the thinking of the Acton Institute and in what ways he diverged from Acton thinking. I got so into the ways that he aligns with Acton in the interview but I neglected to address his divergence. Where Coolidge’s thinking parts with Acton is of course on trade. Coolidge, like many political leaders of his era, was a protectionist. He supported high tariffs on imports and advocated for government action to strengthen protectionist policies.
The podcast is a good introduction to Coolidge and his ideas. The 1920s era jazz music helps to set the tone. Listen below:
I just read the introduction to Amity Shlaes’s forthcoming biography, Coolidge: Debt, Perseverance and the American Ideal. She has been very gracious in taking an interest in the work I have been doing on Coolidge and my recent Acton commentary on the 30th president.
Shlaes was interviewed in the Fall 2007 issue of Religion & Liberty about her book The Forgotten Man. I quickly realized in my own research there is no biography that captures Coolidge’s deep relevancy for today given the mammoth federal debt and the centralization of federal power. Coolidge took limiting federal power and its reach seriously.
Without naming names or titles, many of the Coolidge biographies in print are simply sub par. That will change with the release of her biography and this is a book that needs to be out now. There is no release date set in stone to my knowledge or I would offer it up to readers of the PowerBlog.
In the introduction, it is clear just how well Shlaes understands Coolidge’s leadership on economic issues and his emphasis on thrift. I love that she played off her title The Forgotten Man by calling Coolidge “The Forgotten President.” I’ve certainly noticed in my own talks when I go out and discuss Coolidge that so little is known about him.
In her introduction, Shlaes brilliantly draws out comparisons of Coolidge with George Washington, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, John F. kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan. Some of her insightful comparisons I would never have highlighted on my own. Shlaes is a gifted writer and I foresee this book being very influential with the ability to transform contemporary thinking about our national government.
One of the things that draws me to Coolidge is his appreciation for the past. He was a very modern president who oversaw great technological advances and an America that was modernizing at a rapid pace but he always reminded the people of who they were and the great heritage that gave birth to the American ideal. “If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it,” declared Coolidge.
O How I long to travel back,
and tread against that ancient track! . . .
Some men a forward motion love,
But I by backward steps would move.
If Coolidge had heard those words, which is quite possible, I feel he would have loved them.
When it comes to the presidency, there are times when historians find the need to reevaluate a president. Often it is because of a crisis, war, or other current events. I can think of no other president that needs to be reassessed more than Calvin Coolidge. Thankfully, Amity Shlaes has written a new biography of Coolidge that will be available next month.
Coolidge preceded a progressive era and fought not just to shrink government, which he did successfully, but harnessed the office to educate Americans on civics and the foundational views of the American experiment.
Coolidge believed those that tried to improve upon America’s Founding principles did not a hold a progressive ideology but were in fact regressive. If you can only read one Coolidge speech, his address commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence is a must.
His personality and quirks are often lampooned but rarely is the power of his ideas attacked. It seems for a long time Silent Cal’s voice has been silenced. That is changing.
Here is a description of the event from the Facebook event page:
President Calvin Coolidge had strong views about self-government and federalism. Even for his time period he was often lampooned as old fashioned and “a throw back.” He tapped into the ideas of America’s Founding Principles and worked to elevate those ideas to the forefront of life. Coolidge popularized religious principles, thrift, limited government, and the rule of law. He also quipped shortly before his death, “I feel I no longer fit in with these times.” He was referring to the centralization of power in Washington. Coolidge believed in a free economy but always with the caveat of idealism over materialism. Some have said he was the last “Jeffersonian” president. Join Ray Nothstine to discuss Calvin Coolidge’s relevance today and what his ideas mean for America’s capability and capacity for self government.
I’ve tried to stay on top of the federal government’s response to natural disasters here at Acton. I’ve written a number of commentaries, blog posts, and a story in Religion & Liberty covering the issue. “Spiritual Labor and the Big Spill” specifically addressed the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. For extensive background on this short clip of Bobby Jindal at CPAC 2012, see my post “Bobby Jindal on Centralized Disaster Response.”
The Keynesians will have little to cheer about in this story. Yesterday I saw this report from CNN Money that said U.S. consumer credit card debt fell by 11 percent in 2011. Mississippians led the Union by reducing their card balance by 23 percent. While total household debt fell by only 1 percent last year, it is still a towering accomplishment when compared to the U.S. federal debt increase.
This is exactly the point Jordan Ballor and I made in our 2008 commentary “The Fiscal Responsibility of Mall Rats and Bureaucrats.” In that piece, we pointed out that the federal government is a significantly poorer steward of our resources when put up against the supposedly “materialistic” and “selfish” consumer.
The inability of the federal government to curtail spending should be considered a form of insanity when one simply looks at the numbers. Instead, as I pointed out before, government spending is now so sacred for some in the religious community, it is a shrine that must be encircled.
Rather, it comprises an unrepresentative segment of the electorate that believes in radical redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience and, in some instances, violence. Half (52%) have participated in a political movement before, virtually all (98%) say they would support civil disobedience to achieve their goals, and nearly one-third (31%) would support violence to advance their agenda. The vast majority of demonstrators are actually employed, and the proportion of protesters unemployed (15%) is within single digits of the national unemployment rate (9.1%).
In an interview with reporter Brian Fraga of National Catholic Register, Acton’s Ray Nothstine pointed to what may be the fatal flaw for the protests: the lack of a coherent message.
“I’m hesitant to say it will bring about any change,” Nothstine said. “You have too many splinter groups. I can understand people are frustrated with the political status quo, and they’re mad about crony capitalism and government bailouts.
“But some of the demands that have been coming out of this movement, like a $20 minimum wage and across the board debt forgiveness, are very Utopian, and they’re really sort of economic disasters, as I would put it. They would create inflationary policies, create more deficit spending, and create more problems that helped to create the mess that we’re in.”
Read more of Nothstine’s comments in “Occupy Wall Street Gains Momentum” in the National Catholic Register. Nothstine also wrote a commentary on the Occupy Wall Street movement titled “Class Warriors for Big Government.”