Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, has written a book entitled, "Catholics in Politics." The introduction by Stefano Fontana is available on Zenit. An excerpt:
The fundamental issue tackled by Most. Rev. Crepaldi's book (Catholics in Politics, A Handbook for the Recovery, Cantagalli, Siena 2010) is the status of politics, what politics is, and in doing so it assumes a metaphysical vision of politics, which serves as the epistemological basis for a theological foundation of politics. To paraphrase what Horrkheimer had to say in "Nostalgia of the totally other-than-self", and Joseph De Maistre even before him, politics is first of all and above all a theological issue. This is the book's main premise and on that basis it challenges Catholics in politics. Opening up before us on the basis of this approach to things is a complete series of fundamental questions.
. . .
The subject of the book, therefore, is whether the city of man can be suitably constituted without reference to the city of God. It is a matter of the autonomy of the temporal with respect to the spiritual, of nature with respect to race, of politics with respect to religion. A fundamental theme for all times, but especially for ours, which seem to even have lost the selfsame sense of the problem at hand, to say nothing of its solutions. St. Augustine pondered the causes behind the downfall of the Roman empire. He defended the Christians against those who accused them of being the main cause and called the pagans into the picture saying the empire had fallen due to the vices that had replaced the traditional virtues. But this means the virtues existed even before Christianity. Gilson notes in this regard: he specified this so people would not deceive themselves about the specific supernatural aim of the Christian virtues. The Christian virtues make Christians citizens of another city. But in so doing Christianity also releases all the constructive forces of temporal society and it is not necessary for the temporal sphere to refuse looking upon itself as a stage towards eternity. This is why I consider the more important phrase of Bishop Crepaldi's book to be the one on page 63; a phrase well worth the whole book: "When a Catholic in politics strives to clarify the problem of laicity for himself I think he should ask himself two questions: the first is if Christ is just useful for the building up of social togetherness in harmony with human dignity, or if He is indispensable. The second is if eternal life after material death has any relationship with the community organization of this life in society".
It's what I do.
1. Bret Baier started off by throwing Pawlenty a quote where Pawlenty called Obama weak and then asked him how that squared with the killing of Bin Laden. Pawlenty gave a plausible response. He was gracious in giving Obama credit for Bin Laden's death but quickly shifted to the big picture. Pawlenty gave the vague impression that he was in favor of waterboarding but without using the term.
2. Santorum comes off badly on his Bin Laden question. He gives a small spirited, harshly partisan and not entirely accurate account of Obama's Afghanistan policy (Obama did adopt and resource a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.) There is also a note of hysteria in Santorum's demeanor.
3. Baier asked Pawlenty about waterboarding and Pawlenty danced around the question. Baier then asked for a show of hands as to who would authorize waterboarding under certain circumstances. Pawlenty then raised his hand. Baier kind of had Pawlenty's number. I'm not sure what Pawlenty thought he had to gain by the tack he took. First he refused to commit and the he refused to commit to not committing. It made him look shifty.
4. Pawlenty is pretty good at transitioning questions on economics to his blue collar roots and personal experience of economic anxiety and decline. He also didn't answer the question what policies he would adopt to spur job creation. He did get in a shot at the National Labor Relations Board and the Obama administration.
5. Cain's policy on gas prices is the same as his policy on Afghanistan. He will have a plan at some point in the future.
6. Santorum had a pretty good answer on Medicare Part D using private competition to reduce costs to the government, but the stuff about capping the Medicare entitlement is the wrong frame. We're not really arguing about capping Medicare. Both the Obamas and Ryans of the world are going to limit Medicare spending at some level. Obama wants one-size-fits-all centralized rationing. Ryan wants a choice of plans in which seniors can choose which procedures (above a government mandated minimum) they want. It would be even better if we had a plan where seniors faced better incentives. If seniors wanted a plan that didn't cover certain high cost, low success procedures that they might or might not need someday, then they should have greater disposable income in the here and now (including pocketing some of the government-provided premium support.) If they want coverage for those procedures then they pay more and get more peace of mind. It beats waiting to get sick and then wondering if some committee is going to tell them to shut up and die.
7. Santorum's answer on Obamacare wasn't so good. More passion than coherence.
8. Gary Johnson is so awkward he is likeable. His proposal to immediately cut Medicare spending by over 40% and block grant the program to the states would have killed his chance to be President if he'd had one.
9. Then there is his unconditional amnesty and open borders position. Give him credit. He would rather be Gary Johnson than President. Good for him and good for us.
10. Pawlenty knows his issue salience. He turned a question about creationism into an answer about his working-class roots and the connected interests of employers and employees.
Herman Cain is going to make some noise. He has a kind of socially conservative Ross Perot "I'll get some smart people together and with my managerial skill and public spiritedness we'll solve our problems and you can trust me because I did it in business" approach. This approach creates (for a while) the impression of expertise without all the costs and trade-offs that would be evident if you discussed actual policies. It tries to convince people that you are detail-oriented without having to give details.
It isn't just Cain's business experience. It is that Cain can present himself as a businessman-outsider who will save politics from the politicians. Romney has business experience but he can't replicate Cain's outsider appeal because Romney (by both background and demeanor) comes across as almost a cartoon of a slick politician. Cain's combination of business experience + outsiderness + managerial approach to political problems + minimal policy content will get him some attention and some support. It is a kind of technocracy that many conservatives will find attractive at first, but if he becomes more than a gadfly he will need a second act.
One thing that drove me nuts about the Frank Luntz focus group was the people saying that Cain "really answered questions." Well maybe compared to Pawlenty, but Cain came in a distant fourth when it came to answering questions candidly and completely. Rick Santorum (who came out for capping Medicare immediately and converting it into a premium support program for current seniors) answered questions. Ron Paul (who wanted to undo American collective security arrangements and legalize heroin) answered questions. Gary Johnson (who came out for amnesty, open borders, and huge immediate Medicare cuts) damn sure answered questions. This is like several weeks ago when I heard people (Hannity and one of those people who fill in for Neil Cavuto as well as lots of talk radio callers) calling Donald Trump a straight shooter. There is something about emotionally satisfying (and especially cost free) answers that makes people want to describe those answers as the opposite of what they really are. Cain seems a far better and more serious man than Trump, but he wasn't the guy who really answered questions. He was the guy who was going to have a meeting (possibly after the election) and get back to you.
House Speaker Boehner is nominating a Jesuit priest, former Georgetown University chaplain Patrick J. Conroy, as the 60th House chaplain. Conroy will be the first Jesuit, and only the third non-Protestant, chaplain in the chamber's history.
A Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll indicates that only 1 in 8 Americans blame gas prices on "political or policy-related" factors. Most blame a nexus of "greed, speculation and oil companies." Factually, this is somewhat inverse to the true nature of things - private speculation is a phantom with negligible effect on oil prices and greedy oil-companies are a straw man which Obama hopes to publically vilify as a means of extracting ever increasing tax revenue (and thereby aid "green" energy). These rhetorical villains are conveniently evoked to corral people into cheering the very source of their economic pain: government intrusion in the market.
Obama is thus enjoying great fortune. He will own gas prices at the election, but not so dearly if external factors are seen to share the blame. Republican candidates would do well to educate the public on the facts of oil prices as well as the inevitable effects of Obama's policies toward oil producers between now and next November.
Refine & Enlarge
Charles Lane writes well of European criticism toward Obama in the wake of Bin Ladin's death in today's WaPo:
By ordering a covert raid on Pakistan that resulted in Osama bin Laden's death at the hands of Navy SEALs, Obama has earned the kind of condemnation Europe's cognoscenti once reserved for his predecessor, George W. Bush.
And nowhere is the chorus more moralistic than in Germany, where former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, a Social Democrat, has pronounced the action "clearly a violation of international law." The quality press is full of carping and quibbling. Handelsblatt called the raid "an act that violates both the international prohibition of force and humanitarian law." Der Spiegel, under the headline "Justice, American Style," reports an expert's view that it's "questionable whether the USA can still claim to be engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaida." Elsewhere in the same journal, a reporter calls NewYork celebrations of bin Laden's death "reminiscent of Muslims celebrating in the Gaza Strip after the 9/11 attacks."
Lane comes close to identifying the cultural rift by noting:
It never occurs to [German critics] that Americans might not be celebrating bin Laden's death as such but the suddenly real chance that a long and costly struggle could end -- and end in victory, no less.
While some Americans reveled in the death itself, it is unmistakable that Bin Laden was the most symbolic personification of Islamic terrorism in the minds of most Americans. He was murderous, unrepentant and irritatingly beyond our ability to exterminate. His defeat, therefore, provides hope (as Obama smiles) to Americans that the greater evil can be overcome in the same manner as its emissary.
Europe will always stew in its taciturn brooding when America succeeds where they could not, and Obama was always wrongly confident that his post-American persona would alter this condition. Lane commends Obama's leadership and suggests that "he, like his predecessor, should wear [European scorn] as a badge of honor." This will not happen, not only because Obama is incapable of expressing any commonality with Bush, but because Obama likely sympathizes with his European critics.
Literature, Poetry, and Books
The first GOP debate took place today in South Carolina between Tim Pawlenty, Ron Paul, Gary Johnson, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain (view a bit here). Though many of the debaters make up the GOP's second string, they seem to have brought their A game. Cain, as noted by Pete, seems to have been the breakaway candidate - and Cain doesn't even qualify as a GOP benchwarmer. The sample group featured on Hannity's Fox News slot are sold on Cain, though I agree with Pete that his star will fade.
Of course, none of this really matters yet. My foreign lady is still shocked that we're having presidential debates 18 months ahead of the election, and most Americans probably share her sentiment (mixed with a bit of jaded annoyance). The true significance is simply that the presidential cycle has fully begun.
Refine & Enlarge
This week's Letter from an Ohio Farmer focuses on how difficult civic and civil conversations are in our democratic politics, and yet how necessary and good they are when well done. And then: "Our civic moderation might be further strengthened by the reminder we received on Sunday night that, whatever the lively differences among ourselves in our pursuit of happiness, we are at war--and have been ever since that surprising turn in the course of human events on September 11, 2001. Whatever our differences, we join past generations of Americans, going back to the Revolutionary generation, in mutually pledging to one another "our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." The sacrifices of many patriots teach us constantly that this is no vagrant commitment, that there is some enduring thing in our country for the sake of which Americans make such a pledge, generation after generation, each to all and all to each. They teach us to summon the better angels of our nature to our national conversations as we pursue our happiness in freedom."
Incidentally, if you would like to receive an email notification when a new Letter is published, you can sign up to receive one on the Farmer website by entering your email address in the field in the upper portion of the right column. You can also follow the Farmer on Twitter.
In ascending order of significance:
--The breathtaking operation that took down Osama bin Laden represents a victory not only for the country at-large and for President Obama but for proponents of American unilateralism. The president didn't wait for U.N. approval, nor did he consult the Pakistanis before taking down the twenty-first century's greatest mass murderer. That alone is gratifying.
--Predictably, the president now hopes to capitalize on a resurgent "national unity." He said as much in his Sunday speech and again the next day. To this the loyal opposition might respond with something like the following: "Mr. President, when you make a decision that rids the world of a monster, covers your administration and your country in glory, and secures your personal fame for all time, we will support you. When you and your allies in Congress attempt to force upon us unconstitutional legislation, however, we will resist you. This will never change."
--Meanwhile, President Obama is entitled to some well-earned basking in what promises to be an extended afterglow. Whether that glow extends all the way to November 2012 remains to be seen and, in any case, is beside the point. As I recently told my undergraduates, fifty years from today their grandchildren will not read a single speech from President William Jefferson Clinton, nor will they devote any serious study to any aspect of that lurid and inconsequential administration. The same cannot be said of President Obama, whose tenure, prior to Sunday's bombshell, already ranked among the most significant in recent U.S. history.
--Finally, there is the remarkable photo from the White House situation room. How interesting it would have been to be able to access the president's thoughts as that elite group of Navy SEALs, with exquisite execution, carried out one of the most dangerous missions imaginable. If President Obama allowed himself even a moment of reflection, then he must have marveled at the fact that men such as these, capable of such astonishing feats of heroism, actually exist in the world. It's humbling, to be sure. Of all the feelings conjured and expressed over the past few days, one hopes that this awe-inspired sense of humility will endure the longest.
Yeah I'm late, but I think slowly.
1. I listened to three conservative talk shows (two local and one national) in the two days following President Obama revealing his long form birth certificate. For some fraction of the callers, birtherism had taken on justification through self-referentialism. They still refused to fully believe that the President was born in the US, but they ascribed their own continuing malice and bad faith to flaws in the President. What a monster he must be to make them act so dishonestly.
2. Folks should stop acting as if birtherism is some kind of unique phenomenon. It has become quite common for some fraction of the opposition to connect the current President to the most despicable conspiracies (often worse than birtherism.) I'm not sure what fraction of the partisans actually believe the charges they are flinging about. I suspect most might doubt that factual basis of their particular charge but believe that the charge gets at something real at the core of their hate object.
Birtherism is just as stupid as the charges that the Bush Administration conspired (actively or passively) in the 9/11 attacks or that the Bush administration blew up the New Orleans levees (or otherwise conspired to flood the majority African American neighborhoods of New Orleans.) What unites all three is that they hold beliefs about the character of the President that is illustrated by, but not dependent on the conspiracy they are peddling. The hate comes first. The 9/11 truthers believe that the Bush administration was itching for a war in order to seize oil assets. The New Orleans levee conspiracists believe that the Bush administration was infinitely and maliciously racist. The birthers believe that Obama is (in some sense) anti-American and alien. Even if the conspiracies are untrue, they are still fake but accurate.
The biggest difference between birtherism and those others is that a celebrity with more marketing savvy than integrity chose to run a fake, flash-in-the-pan presidential campaign on the issue. When it came to trutherism, Rosie O'Donnell chose to remain co-host of a mainstream program (until she left for other reasons.) And Spike Lee spread the levees conspiracy but otherwise chose to remain a good citizen of Hollywood rather than running -or pretending to run - for office.
2. Like most truthers and levee conspiracists, most birthers will vote like rational political actors in 2012. Obama denied that the Bush administration was racist in the handling of Katrina and got the support of the left (mostly.) And most who have claimed that Obama was born outside the US will end up voting for a Republican who argues that Obama is a patriotic, native born American citizen who has some misguided policy ideas.
3. I've generally been disgusted by the birther issue, but some perspective is in order. I think the issue did some harm. There are opportunity costs. The time spent arguing about this issue would have more profitably been spent talking about Ryan's entitlement plans, but that mostly wasn't going to happen anyway. The Trump-related birther coverage was probably mostly going to go to some other celebrity story (royal wedding, some star passing out in a nightclub etc.) and not on issues. Even some of the coverage in the right leaning media (like Hannity calling Trump a straight shooter - gag) would have gone to something equally ephemeral. There was probably some crowding out, but not very much. Alas. Also, do you think that the median voter of November 2012 is going to vote against Pawlenty, Daniels or Romney (or whoever) because of something Donald Trump said in April 2011?
4. Ross Douthat is right that the killing of Bin Laden has reduced the political returns on finding ways to call Obama un-American. Killing bin Laden is a net positive for Obama (though intervening events and especially the course of the economy will be more important), but if it gets Republicans to spend more time talking about issues that are relevant to people's lives, it will be good for the Republicans too. And more importantly the country.
5. The most reassuring thing yesterday was Secretary of State Clinton's comments on Afghanistan where she repeated the US commitment to preventing the reemergence of an al-Qaeda client-state in Afghanistan. This is more important than the killing of Bin Laden. The Sunni Awakening and the Petraeus counterinsurgency strategy were more important than the slaying of al-Zarqawi in defeating al-Qaeda in Iraq. Killing Bin Laden is obviously much more important (s a symbolic matter and perhaps as a matter of jihadist morale) than the killing of al-Zarqawi, but it would be a damn shame if Bin Laden were killed but Afghanistan became an al-Qaeda staging base again
All this recent talk about who's in hell should turn our thoughts to some serious theology. One leading authority, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict XVI), wrote in an early book of his:
The depths we call hell man can only give to himself. Indeed, we must put it more pointedly: hell consists in man's being unwilling to receive anything, in his desire to be self-sufficient. It is the expression of enclosure in ones's being alone. These depths accordingly consist by nature of just this: that man will not accept, will not take anything, but wants to stand entirely on his own feet, to be sufficient unto himself. If this becomes utterly radical, then man has become the untouchable, the solitary, the rejector. Hell is wanting-only-to-be-oneself.... Conversely, it is the nature of that upper end of the scale which we have called heaven that it can only be received, just as one can only give hell to oneself. (239).
Such an account would seem to place many a liberal (in the broad sense of one who believes in his moral and political autonomy) in hell. For more on hell see Fr. James V. Schall's conversation (about 3/5 of the way down). He has another, brighter take on hell here.
Thorough investigation of politics demands serious understanding of theology, including this most unpopular (and most unpleasant) notion of hell. Instead of the Five People You Meet in Heaven, we should consider issues such as whether one of the pleasures of those in heaven is contemplating the sufferings of the wicked in hell.
Maybe it's the fact that it's finals week, and am up to my neck in work. Maybe it's the persistent lousy weather (I don't ever remember having to wear a heavy jacket during finals week of spring semester). But although I see the death of bin Laden as an unalloyed good, I'm not ready to join in the celebrations.
First of all, they seem out of place. The comparisons to VE and VJ day are inevitable, I suppose, but they aren't apt. True, there was celebrating on VE day, even though there were still months of hard fighting ahead against the Japanese, but most Americans didn't expect that. They had believed all along that Tokyo was acting as a puppet of Berlin, and that the surrender of Germany would lead immediately to the end of the fighting in the Pacific as well. The new Truman administration knew better, as did the men who had encountered the Japanese in combat and understood how they fought. There wasn't much in the way of celebration of VE day on Okinawa and the Philippines.
Surely, the celebrations of VE Day and VJ Day were appropriate because they represented the destruction of the Axis war machine and the return of peace. What does the death of bin Laden mean? The end of patdowns and full-body scanners at airports? The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan? We all know that's not happening anytime soon. Indeed, we're now being put on alert about further al-Qaeda attacks.
At best, what happened over the weekend could be compared to the death of Hitler on April 30, 1945--eight days before VE Day. The news was warmly welcomed, of course, but there wasn't anything like the widespread spontaneous celebration that we saw on Sunday night. In fact, bin Laden's demise probably counts for even less than Hitler's, since it's unlikely that he had any real control over al-Qaeda operations in the past few years. It's hard to run a worldwide terrorist operation when you can't even use a telephone.
The comparison to Hitler leads me to the other reason why I haven't been jumping for joy. After Hitler's death Stalin was determined that he was going to get hold of the body. The Nazis recognized this, which is why they had it burned--unfortunately for them, there wasn't enough gasoline for a proper cremation. But as soon as Soviet troops entered the city, a special detachment of NKVD was tasked with finding his remains and spiriting them back to Moscow as soon as possible. Those remains were subjected to repeated testing over the next 25 years before finally being incinerated and scattered into a river in 1970.
By contrast, what has happened to bin Laden's body? Today it lies at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Don't get me wrong. I don't believe that there was a conspiracy--that he was secretly released, or any foolishness like that. I'm certain that he's dead. But I'm puzzled by the apparent haste to get rid of the body. The only reason I've heard so far for handling things in this manner was the need to follow Islamic funeral protocols--a Muslim is expected to be buried within twenty-four hours of death. Not only does this strike me as an incredibly weak justification, but if it was done for the sake of Muslim sensibilities it has demonstrably not worked.
Would it have been a big problem to hang onto the body for a while? Not for the purpose of dragging it through the streets of New York City (although I understand why some might find that appealing), but to be able to pull it out for display whenever someone suggests that he's not really dead. Worried about his grave becoming a shrine for Muslim extremists? Fine--once it lost its usefulness, it could have been cremated and dumped, just as the Russians did with Hitler's bones in 1970.
Why does this matter? Because Bin Laden's leadership of al-Qaeda has been largely symbolic, which means that his death only serves the larger ends of the War on Terror to the extent that the terrorists themselves believe it and are demoralized by it. The quick disposal of the body opens the floodgates to the sort of conspiracy theories that already run wild in the Islamic world. Mark my words, it will not be long before we are hearing reports of Elvis-style sightings of Osama. He may even prove to be of greater service to the cause of Islamism dead than alive.
The president was to make the announcement fifteen minutes ago, but he is still delayed and the press has broken the story. Apparently, Bin Laden was killed last week by a U.S. bomb and we have his body.
Just rewards, even if belatedly served.
Obama will take credit (shared with the military), because this event took place on his watch. That's fair. But, as an anti-war candidate and hesitant wartime president, Obama should take care not to overplay his hand. Most Americans will not credit his policies with the kill, but the military's dogged pursuit. It would be nice if Obama also shared credit with George W. Bush, who's policy he has followed in Afghanistan - but don't bet on it.
While of uncertain strategic importance, Bin Laden's death is a long overdue symbolic victory for America. If it also has a positive effect on regional politics, all the better.
Some thoughts on two of my favorite Republicans,
1. I'm late getting to it, but I've read some commentary about a potential Paul Ryan run for President. I admire Paul Ryan (not to say I agree with every detail of his every policy proposal), but I don't think he would make for the best Republican presidential candidate. As regular commenter Art Deco pointed out in the threads, Ryan's has little experience of either executive responsibility or the private sector. He is primarily a congressional aid turned member of Congress. This kind of experience is a substantive weakness, but it is also a political weakness. The obvious retort is that Obama had no experience as a political executive (along with a thin legislative record) and he was elected President. That is true, but circumstances differ. As a social democratic-leaning politician running in an unambiguously favorable environment, his lack of a record was actually a strength. He had never raised taxes as a governor or voted for middle-class tax increases and large defense cuts as a Senator. His lack of a record allowed him to promise everything to everybody without anyone able to point to an Obama record that contradicted his promises. To think of a similar situation, imagine if the Republicans were running against a President Obama with his job approval ratings in the low 30s and the Republican platform was huge tax cuts for everybody + a balanced budget and all to be financed from the savings that would come from tort reform.
The Republicans in general, and Ryan in particular, are in almost the opposite situation. They aren't offering easy and cheap answers (well, other than Donald Trump.) They are proposing large spending cuts and major health policy reforms. Ryan is an excellent spokesman for those policies. He is informed, articulate and unflappable and doing a great job of spreading the word. The problem is that Ryan doesn't have much record implementing similar policies as an executive. Ryan's policies sound like a good idea when Ryan explains them, but they are ideas. Without an executive record, it is easier to paint Ryan the presidential candidate as a well meaning but ideologically intoxicated dreamer trying to peddle a bunch of think tank fantasies that will never work in the real world. Also the implications of the tax policies in his Roadmap would, by itself, be huge and possibly fatal weakness in an otherwise close presidential election. If anybody has a convincing rebuttal to the study in the link I would love to see it.
2. Which brings us to Mitch Daniels. His record as governor would put him in a stronger position to run on Ryan-type reforms. Daniels has cut spending while maintaining or even improving public services. He has instituted consumer-driven health care reforms that have saved the government money, increased workers' disposable income and maintained access to high quality health care. A record can make for a pretty good rebuttal.
Erin McPike thinks that Daniels has played the media beautifully so far. Maybe. He has gotten favorable profiles from National Review and the Weekly Standard. He gets favorable mentions from those portions of the liberal-leaning media that are not explicitly partisan. But those aren't the whole media. In the Republican presidential primaries, the populist conservative media is more important than National Review or the New York Times. But candidate quality is more important than the support of (or even opposition from) the populist conservative media. McCain got nominated despite sharp criticism from Limbaugh and National Review's support of Romney. Daniels is a much better ideological fit for the Republican primaries than was McCain. He has a better record as governor than Romney. I doubt he will win over everyone in the populist conservative media, but I could see him doing just fine on Hannity and Ingraham.