For most casual observers, whether Catholic or not, the main battle lines within American Catholicism today seem self-evident. The cleavage overlaps perfectly the divide between the political parties, leading to the frequently-used labels “liberal” and “conservative” Catholics. We have Nancy Pelosi and Andrew Cuomo representing the Left, and Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback aligned with the Right. Mainstream opinion has classified Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI as honorary Republicans, and Pope Francis as a Democrat (hence, why he is appearing on the covers of Time and Rolling Stone magazines).
This division does indeed capture real battle lines, but more than anything, the divide is merely an extension of our politics, and—while manned by real actors—does not capture where the real action is to be found today in American Catholic circles.
The real action does not involve liberal “Catholics” at all. Liberal Catholicism, while well-represented in elite circles of the Democratic Party, qua Catholicism is finished. Liberal Catholicism has no future—like liberal Protestantism, it is fated to become liberalism simpliciter within a generation. The children of liberal Catholics will either want their liberalism unvarnished by incense and holy water, or they will rebel and ask if there’s something more challenging, disobeying their parents by “reverting” to Catholicism. While “liberal” Catholicism will appear to be a force because it will continue to have political representation, as a “project” and a theology, like liberal Protestantism it is doomed to oblivion.
The real battle is taking place beyond the purview of the pages of Time Magazine and the New York Times. The battle pits two camps of “conservative” Catholicism (let’s dispense with that label immediately and permanently—as my argument suggests, and others have said better, our political labels are inadequate to the task).
On the one side one finds an older American tradition of orthodox Catholicism as it has developed in the nation since the mid-twentieth century. It is closely aligned to the work of the Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray, and its most visible proponent today is George Weigel, who has inherited the mantle from Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Novak. Its intellectual home remains the journal founded by Neuhaus, First Things. Among its number can be counted thinkers like Robert George, Hadley Arkes, Robert Royal, and—if somewhat quirkier than these others—Peter Lawler.
Its basic positions align closely to the arguments developed by John Courtney Murray and others. Essentially, there is no fundamental contradiction between liberal democracy and Catholicism. Liberal democracy is, or at its best can be, a tolerant home for Catholics, one that acknowledges contributions of the Catholic tradition and is leavened by its moral commitments. While liberalism alone can be brittle and thin—its stated neutrality can leave it awash in relativism and indifferentism—it is deepened and rendered more sustainable by the Catholic presence. Murray went so far as to argue that America is in fact more Catholic than even its Protestant founders realized—that they availed themselves unknowingly of a longer and deeper tradition of natural law that undergirded the thinner liberal commitments of the American founding. The Founders “built better than they knew,” and so it is Catholics like Orestes Brownson and Murray, and not liberal lions like John Locke or Thomas Jefferson, who have better articulated and today defends the American project. Read More…
Andrew Sullivan here sums up the monumental sense of inevitability surrounding Hillary Clinton’s capture of Democratic nomination of 2016. He quotes Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan from the Washington Post, and their numbers sound pretty convincing:
Clinton stands at an eye-popping 73 percent in a hypothetical 2016 primary race with Biden, the sitting vice president, who is the only other candidate in double digits at 12 percent. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has signed a letter along with a handful of other Democratic senators urging Clinton to run, is at 8 percent. And that’s it.
That lead is almost three times as large as the one Clinton enjoyed in Post-ABC polling in December 2006, the first time we asked the 2008 Democratic presidential primary ballot question.
Yet no one I know in progressive circles is the least bit excited about Hillary. Either she seems too old (which she may well be) or too much a captive of Wall Street neoliberalism (American inequality began to accelerate during the Clinton era) or is too close to the Israel lobby. Her refusal to endorse Obama’s diplomacy with Iran is suggestive evidence of the latter.
I would conclude that her hold on the nomination is solid, if she wants it, if there are no scandals surprises or health problems. Still, someone could make a real name for him or herself running against her from the Left. It’s not going to be Howard Dean, who is no spring chicken himself and has his own Israel lobby related problems, having opted to serve as an occasional spokesman for the Iranian terror group MEK. (Or, as it were, the organization, “formerly designated as” a terror group.)
But it could be someone younger, who also opposed the Iraq war and who (unlike Dean) stands against the various efforts to maneuver the United States into war with Iran. Such a candidate almost certainly would not win, but because the press needs a horse race, they would garner a massive amount of attention and emerge as a major national figure.
The obvious precedent is Pat Buchanan’s campaign against George H.W. Bush in 1992. It was obviously doomed not to succeed, running against a president whose approval ratings eighteen months before the election were sky high. But the campaign succeeded fabulously in building an organization and staking claim to an interrelated series of issues (in PJB’s case, non-intervention, immigration restriction, trade protectionism, as well as the “culture war” stuff.) There was plenty of running room on these issues, and the campaign set the stage for a much closer run in 1996. But a Democratic “progressive” in 2016 would have far more traction going up against Hillary. Who is going to take advantage of it? That’s one of the more interesting questions of next few years.
Last summer I tried to tease out the complications of adopting libertarian-populist standards. The self-dealing of, say, an aluminum company lobbying for and benefiting from fuel-efficiency regulations seems, on its face, sleazy and reprehensible. But what, I asked, can be done to avoid such conflicts of interest when there is a public good being pursued?
[D]id Obamacare’s architects desire to turn insurance companies into public utilities as a policy end in itself—or was it a means of broadening access to medical insurance (a goal the public generally favors)? …
After September 11, the Bush administration and a bipartisan majority of lawmakers concluded it was in the national interest to invade two countries. A giant new security apparatus slowly spread its tentacles across American life. Defense contractors and security consultants dine out on this policy sea change to this day. One can argue until one is blue on the face about the wisdom of these policies—but at the end of the day, one is forced to mount an argument about an overarching public good (or ill).
Simply asking “who, whom?”, as libertarian populism would have it, will only you take you so far.
Timothy Carney grapples with this question in a lengthy and thoughtful piece at Reason magazine. After having run through a series of real-life examples of wheeler-dealing, he delineates a set of best practices for industry lobbyists:
There’s nothing inherently wrong with profiting off big government. If the government creates a surplus of deer, someone has to thin that surplus. If government forces factories to clean up their emissions, someone has to make the smokestack scrubbers. If government requires drivers to use ethanol, someone has to make the stuff.
Nor is it inherently wrong to lobby for policies that increase your profits. “Petitioning the government for the redress of grievances” is protected by the First Amendment, and the regulatory environment often chips away at the profits companies would otherwise make. What is wrong is to lobby for policies that enrich your business by taking away other people’s property or liberty.
In a nutshell, the Carney Standard—unassailably reasonable, I’d say—is this: Do not lobby in favor of unjust laws.
Read the whole piece, however. It’s well worth your time.
During my time in New York City journalism, I had at least a passing acquaintance with two mayors. Ed Koch mostly—he wrote (and I lightly edited) a weekly column for the Post after he left City Hall, and we’d discuss the column frequently. I may have had four or five meals with him: once the two of us, other times in small groups. I’m not trying to suggest any real closeness, but Ed was a man I knew and liked. Rudy Giuliani was less likable, but he was friendly with the Post editorial page in the 90′s as both a candidate and mayor, and I was in small meetings or dinners with him at least a half dozen times.
Both were strongly pro-Israel: Ed as a Jew saw the emergence of Israel as a necessary and just response to the Holocaust. With Rudy it’s more difficult to say, except being pro-Israel was part and parcel of the neoconservative political views he held as mayor (with great success) and as a presidential candidate (with less success). Is it possible that Giuliani’s pro-Israel views were forged as a kind of compensation, a defense response to the whispered (and quite unfounded) imputations of anti-Semitism which swirled about him as a U.S. attorney who prosecuted Wall Street malfeasance in the 1980′s? Yes, quite possibly. I don’t think many kids emerge from Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School saturated with intense Zionist commitment. Let us say Giuliani was completely sincere in his belief that it was better to be a very pro-Israel mayor of New York than a US attorney without pronounced views on Israel one way or another.
Be that as it may, Koch’s and Giuliani’s affection for Israel was public and obvious and in New York City politics, altogether unexceptional. And yet for the life of me, I cannot imagine for a second either man saying in public what New York mayor Bill de Blasio declared in a secret speech at AIPAC last week. In that speech de Blasio declared:
There is a philosophical grounding to my belief in Israel and it is my belief, it is our obligation, to defend Israel, but it is also something that is elemental to being an American because there is no greater ally on earth, and that’s something we can say proudly.
With one or two important exceptions, discussed below, reaction to this wild speech has focused exclusively on the secrecy. The event was not posted to de Blasio’s schedule, the press was not informed. The reporter from a small news outlet who managed to get inside to record it was later escorted from the room. De Blasio campaigned in part on bringing greater openness and transparency to City Hall, and here, barely two weeks into his mayoralty, he is discovered giving a secret speech to a high donor crowd. The landslide winning new progressive may still be in the honeymoon of his administration, but a stench of hypocrisy has begun to rise. Read More…
For his fifth State of the Union Address, and arguably the most politically fraught moment of his presidency, Barack Obama offered what he called “a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity.”
“Ladders of opportunity” is a go-to phrase of Obama’s. It not only predates his presidency, but also his career in politics: you can hear him (a “civil rights lawyer”) use it here, in this 1994 NPR commentary warning against Charles Murray and Richard Hernnstein’s The Bell Curve.
It’s more than a go-to phrase, actually; it captures something fundamental about his assumptions about government and markets. He does not believe that the outcomes of the latter are morally authoritative. Hard work does not always pay. Discipline is not always rewarded. Consequently, it takes a thumb on the scale to break up—not necessarily equalize—patterns of wealth distribution, to ensure that there are rungs on the “ladder” and not just a pretty view of the mansion on the hill. And it requires a central government to promote a healthy ecosystem of the future, where things like the DOD-hatched proto-internet, the Air Force-administered GPS, and biomedicine can grow fruit.
In the back-and-forthing of State of the Union addresses, this debate is typically reduced to Democrats arguing for things like, well, an increase in the minimum wage, more spending on early-childhood education, job training assistance, an extension of unemployment insurance, new infrastructure spending—all of which Obama called for tonight—and Republicans responding that Democrats believe in “equality of outcome” and government’s picking economic winners and losers.
In short, Barack Obama is the keeper of a shriveling post-WWII consensus about economic development and countercyclical strategy.
And quite frankly, he picked a terrible time to be president. Trust in government, whether to manage the national economy or protect the “privacy of ordinary people” (as he put it in tonight’s address), is miserably low. Indeed, if there’s an issue on which he truly enjoys the will of the people at this back, it’s in his insistence on preventing direct U.S. government involvement (to put it cheekily) on foreign soil.
As I see it, there’s a tension within Obama’s (and mainstream Democrats’) stubborn clinging to the old consensus. The fact is, they don’t just want to create “ladders of opportunity.” They want a strong safety net that extends from early-childhood through to retirement. You could hear this in the speech’s section on financial security:
Let’s do more to help Americans save for retirement. Today, most workers don’t have a pension. A Social Security check often isn’t enough on its own. And while the stock market has doubled over the last five years, that doesn’t help folks who don’t have 401(k)s.
And probably the most potent appeal of Obama’s mention of the Affordable Care Act was its link to financial security: you will not go bankrupt if you get sick.
As a strong-government conservative, I’ll cop to this: I’m sympathetic to the old consensus. But I’m equally sympathetic to the Republican critique of an agenda that doesn’t seek to just equalize opportunity, but rather a cradle-to-grave latticework of care and feeding.
To be sure, there are compelling Rawlsian social-justice arguments for the latter—but they should not be confused with the former. Dollars spent on the old are dollars not spent on the young and underprivileged. This is not a summons to throw grandma over the cliff. It’s simply an acknowledgment of a finite budget.
Say this for Obama: he seemed upbeat, despite low polling and talk of lame-duck-ery spreading like wildfire. If nothing else, he seems aware of the fact that there will be no more major legislative accomplishments of his administration. (Count me in the camp that immigration reform remains a long shot.) If he does nothing else than push the boulder of his approval rating a few points up the hill, and thereby maintain Democratic control of the Senate, he will maintain a semblance of relevance for the last three years of his presidency.
Ever since the beginning of his presidential campaign, President Barack Obama has worked to garner the support of young voters.
His latest campaign on Twitter and Instagram in preparation for his State of the Union Address, #insideSOTU, is a perfect example of this: the White House Twitter and Instagram feeds show pictures of Obama’s SOTU speech rough draft (text blurred), his coffee cup and binders, his “presidential cup o’ tea” and Indian food “fuel for the policy-making process.”
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) January 26, 2014
Aside from the gastronomical, the White House has a swath of other social media tactics in store—Bloomberg News reported on the developments Monday:
The campaign includes Google Hangouts and Facebook chats by cabinet members and senior administration officials, a flood of advance Twitter messages under the hashtag #InsideSOTU, and an “enhanced” web live stream of the speech with graphics and data amplifying Obama’s themes. As part of the build-up, speechwriter Cody Keenan did a one-day “takeover” of the White House’s Instagram Account featuring photos of preparations.
It’s a brilliant way to help young people feel connected with the presidency. Who knows how many millennials will tune in for the actual SOTU address—but at least a few may have their interest piqued by this new social media campaign. It reveals inner preparation for the country’s most important speech, in a manner akin to the average student’s paper cramming, draft editing, and coffee drinking. With this carefully calculated campaign, Obama is doing more than mere policy prep—he is fostering empathy within his audience.
He’s going to need it, considering his near all-time low approval ratings and the multitudinous frustrations with Obamacare. This will be the most high-profile speech he has given since the health care rollout—how will he address the swath of problems and discontent it has unleashed in the past few months? “No more touch-the-base-and-keep-running treatments, the way he’s handled it the past couple of years,” writes David Nather at Politico. “…Instead, Obama will have to find an uplifting message about the law that doesn’t imply that everything’s suddenly back on track. The most he can say, based on the latest developments, is that ‘it’s moving back toward the track’…”
Fifty-seven percent of his once-adoring millennials, according to the latest Harvard Institute of Politics poll, disapprove of the health care law, and only 13 percent “definitely” plan on signing up. The SOTU could provide President Obama a chance to turn the tide back in his favor: “The Internet loves moments,” Nicco Mele, a lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, told Bloomberg. “What is powerful about the State of the Union for the White House is it is a moment that they create and control.”
“One speech can’t change the poll numbers, but it can start to change the national agenda,” Rick Shenkman, historian at George Mason University, told the Washington Post in a Sunday article. “He can use this to psychologically reset his presidency. If he shows the old Obama magic, he can reenergize his base. People may pay attention to him for a while, and a few things may start to go his way. Then everyone will look back and say the State of the Union was the moment when he started the ball rolling.”
Will the White House’s social media campaign succeed in wooing the masses? After 10 years of admittedly excellent speechmaking, one has to wonder whether Americans will succumb to Obama’s rhetorical “magic” so easily. As Ronald Reagan’s old speechmaker, Kenneth Khachigian, told TIME: “People are used to it,” and this “familiarity breeds contempt.”
The #insideSOTU campaign, then, is an attempt to freshen familiar rhetoric with one more new path to perceived participation. It could put a new spin on Obama’s old oratorical methods, or just fall as flat as the rest of his recent appeals. Tonight, we’ll find out.
If a friend or a first date sidles up to you and asks “Do you prefer cats to dogs?” or “Do you keep your desk neatly organized?” they may be trying to divine your political leanings.
Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind, teamed up with Time to offer readers a 10 question quiz that promised to guess their politics by asking seemingly unrelated questions. The survey turned out to be fairly strongly correlated with a person’s self-identification as liberal or conservative (Haidt’s model explained 60% of the variance in people’s self-reported political leanings). On Facebook and Twitter, readers shared their results and kibbitzed about whether it was fair to claim that conservatives had a better claim on dog-ownership than liberals.
Haidt’s project closely resembled a research project conducted by the dating website OkCupid. The company trawled user data to find the question that best predicted whether someone was willing to have sex on the first date. (It turned out to be “Do you like the taste of beer?”).
These kinds of studies are informative, but only in a very narrow way. They might be useful if you have no easy way to uncover information directly—maybe you’re barred by law from asking an employee about her politics, or barred by social niceties from asking directly about sexual proclivities on the first date. But it’s a mistake to treat these findings as though they really flesh out our understanding of the people we’re studying.
Statistics software can tease out correlations, but just knowing two survey answers are related doesn’t do much to expand our understanding of the world. If two answers are linked, one might cause the other (favoring tradition and authority leads you to seek out a pet that acknowledges you as sovereign—a dog—over a more anarchic cat) or vice versa (exposure to a dog causes you to change your position on Iran sanctions) or both outcomes might be caused by a third, hidden variable (perhaps living on a farm leaves you more likely to own a working dog and to keep the government at arms length).
Any of these predictions are testable and posit something about how people’s ideologies are formed. A causal prediction prompts us to be curious about how someone thinks and their intellectual journey. But an unexplored correlation simply leads us to choose up sides and adopt more trivialities as tribal markers, in much the same way that ‘arugula’ became a sneering byword for liberalism.
It’s odd to see Haidt behind this clickbait survey, since his own research on moral foundations theory suggests that the liberal-conservative dichotomy isn’t the most informative way to classify the world. He identified six major considerations (harm, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, and purity) that might be weighted more or less strongly in someone’s moral calculus. Self-identified liberals and conservatives tend to prioritize these factors differently. Liberals tend to care primarily about harm, fairness, and liberty, while conservatives tend to factor in all six criteria.
In other words, Haidt’s own research suggests we can’t easily dichotomize the world, and that there’s little reason to desire to. An OkCupid dater may only have one important question to answer, but a politician still has a lot to learn after they learn that a potential collaborator identifies liberal or conservative. They may still share enough moral foundations to be able to find common ground.
The Time poll keeps training us to think that conservative versus liberal is the most interesting and essential part of our identity, but it’s much more important to learn what someone is trying to conserve and why. You might be able to get there in ten questions, but they’d compose a much deeper conversation.
“He ended one war and kept us out of any other,” is the tribute paid President Eisenhower.
Ike ended the Korean conflict in 1953, refused to intervene to save the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, and, rather than back the British-French-Israeli invasion, ordered them all out of Egypt in 1956.
Ending America’s longest wars may prove to be Barack Obama’s legacy.
For, while ending wars without victory may not garner from the historians’ the accolade of “great” or “near great,” it is sometimes the duty of a president who has inherited a war the nation no longer wishes to fight.
That was Nixon’s fate, as well as Ike’s, and Obama’s.
And as we look back at our interventions in the 21st century, where are the gains of all our fighting, bleeding and dying?
We know the costs—8,000 dead, 40,000 wounded, $2 trillion in wealth sunk. But where are the benefits? Read More…
As this week marks the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, several prominent members of the Republican Party have taken the opportunity to unfurl their own antipoverty plans, taking the criticism of seeming a detached plutocratic party to heart. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida spoke under the auspices of AEI on Wednesday, laying out a plan to devolve much of the existing federal antipoverty infrastructure to the states, and shift it to wage subsidies. Paul Ryan used his Kristol lecture at AEI last year to call for a conservative antipoverty agenda. Rand Paul has proposed economic freedom zones in downtrodden areas like Detroit, slashing federal taxes and regulations to make investment in such places more attractive. Not too long ago, the GOP’s nominated standard bearer was easily tattooed with his own phrase “I’m not concerned about the very poor,” so this would seem a manifest improvement. Byron York is not so sure, however, that Republicans aren’t overshooting their mark.
As he tells the story, bridging the compassion gap doesn’t need poverty talk. When President Obama thrashed Romney the last time around, he almost never talked about poverty. Instead, he hit home, in every speech, remark, and invocation, the middle class:
According to a word cloud created by the New York Times to track the use of various terms in speeches at the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions, Democrats used the phrase “middle class” far more than Republicans — 47 times for Democrats to seven times for the GOP.
isn’t that what Republicans should be doing, too — focusing on winning back those anxious middle-class voters who abandoned the party in 2008 and 2012? … But now, instead, comes a high-profile Republican campaign on poverty — a campaign launched without the party’s internal agreement on a specific anti-poverty agenda. … the new strategy ignores the (at least rhetorical) lesson of the Democrats’ recent successes: When it comes to winning votes, it’s all about the middle class.
When nearly 90 percent of Americans describe themselves as belonging to some part of the middle class, York’s criticism has a lot of merit. Yet it’s worth remembering the context of Romney’s “not concerned” quote:
I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor — we have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich — they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.
Romney campaigned on and addressed the burdens of the middle class, just like every American politician who has an ounce of sense left in him. Yet when election day came, and the exit polls were released, for voters to whom the number one candidate quality was “cares about people like me,” Obama crushed Romney 81 – 18. Romney won every other quality, handily, but the perception of the disconnect killed him. No matter how strongly he messaged middle class, he just never had the credibility in voters eyes for it to matter.
Here’s the thing that still bugs me, even after today’s impressively epic two-hour apology-making/buck-stopping/responsibility-taking/heartfelt-contrition-displaying press conference by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie:
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
So ordered (now former) Christie aide Bridget Kelly, and so responded Port Authority official David Wildstein.
That’s about as direct and cursory a conversation as two people can have. It’s the kind of missive I get from my wife when I’m in the grocery store: “one more thing: milk” … “Got it.”
No further explanation was necessary.
Kelly said “traffic problems,” and Wildstein, apparently, knew exactly what she meant.
There was no “It’s time to create some traffic problems.” Or “What can you do to cause headaches in Fort Lee.” Or, in response, “What do you mean?” Or, obviously, “Are you crazy?!”
This strongly suggests a couple of things: 1) This kind of thing was routine business for Kelly and Wildstein and perhaps others in the governor’s inner circle. And, worse, 2) Gov. Christie has either directly cultivated or is himself accustomed to a culture in which such behavior is routine business.
Thus it’s very difficult for me to imagine—as the cable TV talkers are asking themselves as I write—that Kelly concocted this scheme on her own. If she had, Wildstein likely would have been taken aback by the request. Instead, he knew exactly where she was coming from.
“Got it”: i.e., That’s how we roll.
There’s no reason to believe Chris Christie was directly connected to the scandal.
Because there’s no reason he’d need to be.
That’s how they roll.