Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more from Michael Gerson

If this interview is any indication. A taste:

Until recently, the Republican Party and Christian conservatives have complained that government is the problem. Is that a view they will likely return to?

I think it’s a temptation, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. One reason is because of what’s changed in evangelical political involvement.

I think there are lots and lots of young people, in their 20s to 40s, who are very impatient with older models of social engagement like those used by the Religious Right. They understand the importance of the life issues and the family issues, but they know the concern for justice has to be broader and global. At least a good portion of the evangelical movement is looking for leaders who have a broader conception of social justice. President Bush has provided that in many ways. He ran his initial campaign on education and on faith-based answers to poverty and addiction. And then he’s led the international efforts we’ve undertaken, both on the development and disease side, but also on the spread of human liberty.

You’re starting to sound like Jim Wallis!
No, because I also don’t think the answers can be found in the Religious Left. I don’t think we can minimize some of the traditional issues. I don’t believe it’s possible to be concerned about social justice without being concerned about the weakest members of the human family. I also think that America can play an active and positive role in the world and that we’re not at fault for everything.

Read the whole thing.

Update: Here are excerpts from another Gerson interview. Two interesting bits:

The president was not and is not a cultural warrior. He didn’t come from the background of, say, a Richard Nixon with the Hiss case or Ronald Reagan as a leader of the conservative movement. He came as a fairly moderate governor with an inclusive government style.


"On the religion side, I think we have been very careful to have a principled pluralism, not to have a sectarian rhetoric. The goal is to be welcoming to the role of all faiths and not to single out any faith or preference. That kind of sectarianism is deeply destructive, it is destructive to faith as well as government, when any religious group becomes a tool of those in power.... [On gay rights] I would only say on the side of the homosexual rights question, I see it from the inside. This is a case where this was an issue that was pushed upon us by aggressive courts."

I think that GWB is a sort of a cultural warrior, though not with a hard rhetorical edge. There’s a good bit of evidence that he was and is troubled by the legacy of the 60s and that both his compassionate conservatism and his emphasis on the "ownership society" were intended to win back some of the ground in civil society that was won by the nihilistic Left in the 1960s. He is nothing if not a proponent of individual responsibility, albeit in a Christian rather than libertarian sense.

Here are a couple of passages from David Aikman’s
A Man of Faith that bear this out.

George W. first met [Marvin] Olasky in 1993, and Olasky’s views reinforced in the governor’s mind those of leftist-turned-conservative writer and commentator David Horowitz, who views the 1960s as the source of social policy based on guilt and on calls for massive governmental welfare spending. This approach, according to Olasky, ensured the continuing existence of a permanently dependent underclass. [Karl] Rove had discovered Horowitz and another influential debunker of the 1960s, Myron Magnet, and urged George W. to read their works. Rove was very taken with Magnet, whose book The Dream and the Nightmare reinforced Rove’s notion, shared by George W., that one of the disastrous cultural errors in the United States during the 1960s was the view of society as one great morass of "victims." [pp. 100-101]


My dream is to usher in what I call the "responsibility era"--an era in which each and every Texan understands that we’re responsible for the decisions we make in life; that each of us is responsible for making sure our families come first; that we’re responsible for loving our neighbors as we’d like to be loved ourselves; and that we’re responsible for the communities in which we live.

Government can help. Government can help usher in the responsibility era. After all, we can pass laws...that say, as we did in the Juvenile Justice Code, "If you break the law, there will be a consequence." The Juvenile Justice Code clearly says, "You’ll be held responsible for the decisions you’ve made." That’s a conservative approach. By the way, it’s a compassionate approach to say to our young that discipline and love go hand in hand.


Cultures act of compassion at a time. That’s how cultures change. And each of us must participate. We must promote good values in our homes and in our public institutions. We must not be afraid to tach our children right from wrong....

We must teach our children bedrock values--not the values of one religious denomination over another, but Judeo-Christian values that have stood the test of time. The importance of family. There are obligations to love your nighbor, give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wages. Don’t lie, do not cheat, do not steal. Respect others. Respect their opinions, and remember, it’s you who are responsible for the decisions you make in life. [pp. 210-211]

The last few paragraphs are taken from a sermon GWB preached in 1999. They make it tolerably clear that he wanted to roll back the legacy of the 1960s.

Discussions - 15 Comments

"I don’t believe it’s possible to be concerned about social justice without being concerned about the weakest members of the human family."

That’s nice but can someone tell me what that means in practice? My church drives me crazy with the social justice shibboleth. What does it mean to be "concerned"? Are we just supposed to know? I mean it really all seems to come down to higher taxes-more welfare.

What does it mean to be "concerned"? Are we just supposed to know? I mean it really all seems to come down to higher taxes-more welfare.

Yes, it’s repackaged Marxism plain and simple. But it feels so good, huh?

Too bad if it doesn’t work, if it actually works to make life worse in America, because some folks need to feel better about themselves, to give their lives meaning by playing God’s keepers in Big Government.

Shame of the Christian church if this is the way of future salvation. It is simply a fools errand, and the triumph of abject stupidity. If Knippenberg actually embraces this kind of crap, I only wonder why I’ve never noticed it before. Perhaps the name of this blog itself has deceived and blinded me?

I don’t know how you get repackaged Marxism out of it. A concern for the least among us is central to any Christian social vision, but that doesn’t mean (nor does Gerson say it means) that government must be the principal vehicle for expressing that concern. While this vision of social responsibility will likely produce a larger public sector than will libertarianism, it is acutely aware that government has grave limitations as an instrument of love. Hence the emphasis on partnerships with faith-based organizations; hence the rhetorical focus on the "ownership society," which has as its core individual responsibility. Bush and Gerson want, above all, a healthy civil society in which individuals and communities can take care of themselves. This is ultimately a conservative vision, no?

I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more from Michael Gerson

Not one word in this interview about 9/11 or the threat posed to the Christianized West by the Islamo-facsists? No, for Gerson, AIDS is the all-encompassing issue confronting America. Oh, and how how we need a William Jennings Bryan political party in America today! Bryan! This is the Gerson-guy who I’ve heard so much about, who wrote all those brilliant speeches?

Sheesh, God help us if we need to be hearing more from folks like Gerson. He’s a "compassionate conservative" run amuck.

Forgive my tirade today. I’m in a foul mood. Powerline has just surmised that Bush, Blair and Israel have blinked. The Hezbos are about to triumph in a huge way. This is rotten, terrible news for my kids.

Pubius Jr.,

I’m not quite as pessimistic as you are about the situation in Lebanon, though I do think that Israel’s window is closing rapidly.

As for Gerson, to be fair, he did mention bringing democracy to the Middle East, etc. at the beginning of the interview. You’re right, he doesn’t mention 9-11, terrorism, or Islamofascism, which I take as a sign, not of blindness, but rather of a prudent awareness of his limitations.

There are others who can speak much more authoritatively about those themes than he can (except in the visionary way he does). And, however you want to define what it is we’re defending (GWB, in words likely written by Gerson, referred mostly to freedom and religious freedom, not to the religion they shared, which strikes me as a politically prudent way of expressing it), the means and strategies pursued generally aren’t the preserve of the seminaries, sanctuaries, and div schools. Better to be silent than invite ridicule.

The Hezbos are about to triumph in a huge way.

I am going to try and keep things in perspective. 1. The print and television media have repeatedly tried to put words of a timetable in President Bush’s mouth. 2. President Bush has repeatedly said he is not going to pressure Israel into a timetable. 3. President Bush has not been a flip flopper. 4. The article in Power Line was about an offer by Lebanon, nothing more. I think and hope Paul Mirengoff’s reaction was a bit premature. It was, after all, an Associated Press article and the credibility of the Associated Press is beneath suspicious. 5. Power Line cites this article this morning, which paints a very different, far more positive, picture of Israel’s military successes yesterday.

If there will be any negotiations between Lebanon and Israel in the near future, and I doubt there will be, Israel will be bargaining from a position of strength.

Is Pubius Jr. really supposed to be PUBLIUS?

’Compassionate conservatism’ run amuck

I offer a few quotes, Mr. Knippenberg, culled from the media opinions this weekend to buttress my concerns about this new trend in conservative politics. The first, and rather idealistic notion, comes to us via the cover story in this week’s edition of the Weekly Standard

Not limited government, but compassionate government is Brownback’s chief preoccupation. His focus on compassion comes, he says, from his Christian faith--specifically from the Second Great Commandment, which is to love your neighbor as yourself. "I have that up on my office wall, on a page, framed," he says. Brownback points out that the First Great Commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and it is "love for the divine" that "animates and gives you love for others." Brownback often uses Biblical terms to refer to those in need--such as "widows and orphans," "the least of these," and "foreigner in the land."

The second quote is lifted from Sunday’s Columbus Dispatch op-ed page:

The message the GOP had asked its followers to spread across the Ohioscape is that Strickland and his wife are gay, never mind their nearly 20 years of marriage. In yet one more perversion of religion, the state party hired a conservative Christian to do the dirty work, using a computer at party headquarters to spread the rumor via e-mail to "profamily" conservatives.

These two stories illuminate something for me, Mr. Knippenberg. The latter, I am sure can be easily dismissed by those who embrace the notion of bringing the federal government home to Jesus. Idealism, such as displayed by Senator Brownback, often blinds the the idealist to the reality so clearly displayed in the second story. Yet, more often than not, the American political seen, since it’s very founding, more closely resembles the latter rather than the former. It’s a dirty business, Mr. Knippenberg, as well it should be. We are dirty sinners, each and every one of us. And the truth often only comes to the fore after intense, heated, unseemly battle. Furthermore, the truth is a fleeting thing among the generations. Today’s truth often becomes tomorrow’s great conspiracy among the body-politic, no matter how enlightened it may be.

It is a good thing that representative democracy allows all of us to make a perfectly good ass out of ourselves as the never-ending debate drags on and on. However, I wish not to drag my Lord and Saviour along as a matter political power. All that He stands for and is is routinely drug into the gutter enough as it is. For Brownback and Gerson to demand that He stoop to the level of politicking and begging for a few more taxpayer dollars strikes me as a hideous idealism. And I refuse to be so willfully blind to what these well-meaning gentlemen wish to do the Church of Jesus Christ.

p.s. PUBLIUS it is! Thus you have my second mea culpa in just one thread! I am greatly humbled to be so dumb. It is my strength.

Here’s the Dispatch piece to which Publius, Jr. referred. Blinded by righteousness and self-righteousness, people can do awful things. I don’t condone them, in this case or in any other.

I’ll blog on the WS piece in a few minutes.

The Strickland hit is an absolute outrage. A sure sign that it’s a lie is that it was promoted--no doubt knowing it was false--by a particular individual mentioned in the article. I went to college with this person, and he was a snake back then, too.

Dr. Moser,

That’s the thing about the Republican party; it seems to draw too many snakes. No matter how far they attempt to distance themselves from their popular caricatures, it’s not a complete coincidence that it’s known as the party of the rich, white male (and therefore bigoted, small-souled, and greedy). The email is disgusting. I hope it was as controlled as you imply, but even then, the GOP response has been tepid (i.e., let the people ask questions...). I’m a fan of the GOP gubernatorial candidate, but I was a much bigger fan before his campaign began. This is not the first time over-the-top, unpoliticial (if there is such a thing...we’ll call it detached) attacks on character have been made.

In the end, I’d say that on average, the liberal is better company than a conservative at the pub, but not in office.

Knippenberg responds: Blinded by righteousness and self-righteousness, people can do awful things. I don’t condone them, in this case or in any other.

Sigh... you have failed to see my point. The fact is, the Strickland episode is politics as usual in America. To think otherwise is to fall into the same numbskull trap of which the supporters of the ill-advised Campaign Finance Reform bill walked into. Politics is mean, self-centered and a loathsome business, occupied more often than not by shallow men, who every now and then may rise above the muck with something resembling a sense of decency.

Before you conclude that I am much to sour, I would remind you that Our Founders intended it to be this way. Limited government, with each branch and official in full competitive mode has a way of bringing forth the truth as tried by fire and the best for the country. Washington DC, is exactly the kind of place today as envisioned by Madison, no matter how many flowery words might be spoken to the contrary. And Madison was no believer in Jesus, Mr. Knippenberg. He was a believer in liberty of conscience, with a suspicious eye toward anyone who tended to wear Jesus outwardly on their sleeve, rather than secretly in their heart, away from the arena of the deadly game of politics.

In Federalist #55, Publius wrote:

As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form. Were the pictures which have been drawn by the political jealousy of some among us faithful likenesses of the human character, the inference would be that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government; and that nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another.

I also note Hugh Hewitt’s
response to a similar incident in Colorado.

Fred, I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to which party harbors more snakes--I’ve seen plenty of examples of "serpenticity" in both. All I can do is continue to vote my conscience, which in most cases (but by no means all) leads me to the GOP. I hope that Blackwell will make a public statement denouncing this drive-by attack.

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