Monday, February 17, 2014

End the Olympic Farce

Sochi introduced a new Winter Olympic event this year--the feral three-legged dog race. There’s no prize for the winner, but all the losers are shot.

But seriously. The city of Sochi had a problem with wild dogs. They were everywhere. One of them
wandered onto the Fisht Stadium field during rehearsal for the opening ceremonies. Authorities had a choice either to shoot them or poison them. They chose to poison them. Now there are dead dogs everywhere, which is much better. You can pet them and they won't bite.

Sochi is a strange place to hold the Winter Olympics. It's a subtropical climate where it rarely ever gets below 37 degrees. And even though it is the largest resort city in Russia, it must have been a dump. Even after all fixing it up, it was still a dump. When they arrived, athletes and journalists were appalled at the hotel conditions—brown toxic tap water (if there was water at all), missing door knobs, bizarre toilet arrangements (a cultural feature they should have changed), tiny beds, and various things falling apart or in mid-construction. The International Olympic Committee looks into these details very carefully. Was someone bribed or threatened? If so, it must have been quite a bribe. I mean, we know that goes on, but we usually end up with a plausible location. But a terrorist-rich, subtropical Stalin-era resort city with ridiculous toilet culture?

Sochi is the most expensive Olympics ever, whether Summer or Winter—$10 billion more than the previous record holding 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. At $51 billion, Sochi has been more expensive than all previous Winter Olympics combined. Much of the $51 billion cost for Sochi has been the cost of building most of it from scratch--plus corruption and Putin's Ring of Steel to defend against the terrorist threats in this predominantly Muslim Caucasus region.

And why do we even have the Olympics anymore? Does it bring us together in world peace? After over 116 years, there is still no evidence of that. Besides, there are international sports competitions for everything. The Olympics are politicized and involve ridiculous expenditures, often human rights abuses—bulldozing people’s homes and sweeping away the poor like they were so much litter—and even environmental destruction. A German publication reports that a highway and a railway were “cut through Sochi National Park - a nature reserve with world heritage status.”

But the Olympics will remain with us because, regardless of what happens to everyone else, a few powerful people make a lot of money by arranging and staging them.

If we must keep them, we should have the Winter Olympics permanently in Switzerland and the Summer Olympics in Athens where they began. The facilities are already there. There will be no political theater and minimal corruption. But even that would involve international co-operation and good will which does not seem to be in the spirit of the Olympics.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Duck Hunter in a Hollywood Snare?

There’s usually more going on behind the headlines than you think.

Take the A&E Network dust-up with Phil Robertson over his GQ magazine interview in which he had the audacity to call homosexual intimacy “sinful” and cited the Scriptures to support his views. He used some graphic language, but the interviewer himself used a lot more. It’s GQ.

But why would A&E move so swiftly to suspend the star of their all-time biggest show, essentially slaying the duck that lays their golden eggs? Why would they commit corporate suicide?

But sources close the Robertson family make sense of it this way. You may have pictured a GQ guy in a hipster suit hanging out with Phil and his shotgun. Not at all! There was an A&E representative there the whole time. A&E let the interview go to press then feigned outrage. These sources claim it was set-up.

But why set up their own star? The A&E people originally pitched Duck Dynasty as a mockery of stupid rednecks, baboons from the backwoods. You know. The ridiculous people in the world beyond the Starbucks. But millions came to admire them and their view of family and Jesus.

From a Hollywood/Manhattan point of view this is a disaster. Millions are reading books by Phil, Si, and Willy on Christian living. The monster this show created supports everything this coastal “creative class” despises. So they caught Phil in a trap—the hunter was hunted and bagged—and dangled the money and fame, expecting he would come around and do things their way. Or so they say.

But TMZ reports that “sources very familiar with the situation” claim that the interview went wild when Phil escaped with the reporter on his ATV. Who are going to believe?

Given that A&E made no attempt to rescue Phil from the swamp of his own making, the corporate plot version seems plausible to me. We tend to think that other people think the way we do. Media executives are no different. They don't understand a seriously held Christian faith. Godliness is rare in their circles. Their social milieu these days can’t understand moral dissent from gay acceptance in anything but political terms. It’s “discrimination,” as their friends at GLAAD put it.

And people they deal with daily “have their price.” And when the price starts at $200,000 a show for the family, they cannot image someone not “coming around.”  But the Robertsons don't need the money. They're worth $400 million in merchandise alone. And even before the show they were rich from duck calls. On the expense side, they’re happy to live on the ducks and squirrels they kill. Moreover, they know you cannot serve both God and money.

What we see in this stand-off is the clash of worlds that divides the country more broadly. This is why we have red and blue states. This is one reason we have gridlock in Congress. Calls to “understand” each other won’t do. Christians have to get more serious about knowing Jesus, knowing our world, and knowing better how to live out their faith in Jesus in a complex and hostile world. Phil Robertson is growing along with us in that. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Consumerist Parenting

With attention at Christmastime on our pathetic consumerism, take a look at this review that appears on Amazon with the Samsung 85" Ultra HD 3D Smart LED television. Price tag: $40,000! It's a parody of the intersection of consumerism and childrearing.

6,047 of 6,163 people found the following review helpful

Very satisfiedBy James O. Thach on November 25, 2013

My wife and I bought this after selling our daughter Amanda into white slavery. We actually got a refurbished. It's missing the remote, but oh well-- for $10K off, I can afford a universal, right? The picture is amazing. I've never seen the world with such clarity. Amanda, if you're reading this, hang in there, honey! We'll see you in a year. 

***** I just wanted to add an addendum to my review. Since posting it, we have received a flood of responses. People have said some pretty hurtful things--even questioning our values. Let me assure you, this was not an easy decision to make, and we made it as a family. Obviously, it's very personal. But in light of all the second-guessing, I wanted to explain our thinking. First and foremost, screen size. I really think you can't go too big. 85" may seem huge, but you get used to it fast. Second, resolution. Is 4K overkill? Please, that's what they said about 1080P! More dots = better. Period. And as far as this being a $40,000 "dumb" TV, people need to re-read my initial post: WE BOUGHT IT REFURBISHED. It was only $30,000. Some of you may think I'm avoiding the "elephant in the room"-the real reason why this was such a heart-wrenching choice. So let's just get it out there. Yes, the 120 Hz refresh rate is a disappointment, especially on a 4K. But life is full of compromises. And frankly, we hardly notice. All in all, no regrets. P.S., as for our daughter, NO ONE has the right to question our parenting. Totally out of bounds. Amanda was going into 7th grade, so it was going to be a transitional year anyway. Now she gets to see the world. How many kids her age get to go to Bahrain? I sure as heck didn't, but you don't hear me screaming "child abuse." Bottom line: MYOB! Seriously. 

***** Has it been a year already? Wow! I guess that's what 8 hours a day of immersive TV will do for you! Many of you have expressed your eagerness for an update. Well, here goes. Generally, the Samsung has held up beautifully. We have noticed a little bit of lag, mostly in multi-player gaming--but not enough to cost us any firefights. There have been some issues up-imaging low rez content, but that's to be expected when you early-adopt--we're still "waiting on the world to change," as John Mayer would say (gosh he's talented.) On the plus side, we feel like we are now officially part of the cast of GOT. The other night Peg almost had to open a window to let Daenerys' dragons fly out! And you'll all be happy to know our darling Amanda is back with us, safe and sound. She has changed a little. She's less talkative than before (though she had some choice words for me when I asked her to clean her room). And she's started wearing eye make-up, which has Peg a bit concerned. But welcome to thirteen, I guess. We're just glad to have her home. And she loves the TV. That's the main thing. In fact, she spends so much time in front of it lately, you'd swear she owns it.

People get really sensitive when you question their parenting. The worse the parents, the more sensitive they get.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Window onto John Locke

Here is Yale professor Steven B. Smith on the opening chapters of John Locke's Second Treatise of Government.

I suspect that this was filmed in an empty auditorium for Yale's online offerings because there is no interaction at all between Prof. Smith and anyone else in the room. Also, no one laughs at his jokes (although that has happened to me before in a full classroom).

Friday, March 2, 2012

Stirring Up Religion on the Trail

My column this week, "Santorum Stirs Up Religion," looks at the prudence not only of trying to philosophize or theologize in public, but of doing so in the wrong setting and at the wrong time. (I've this point in a recent column as well.) Rick Santorum took a double digit lead in Michigan and turned it into a single digit loss because he let himself get off message and took up the religion-in-politics topic.

That's a good topic, of course. He made some good points, though ineptly. (It wasn't his fault. It was a bad venue, or the contraints of time did not permit him to elaborate sufficiently. But he should have known that. So it was his own fault.)

He complained in an interview with George Stephanopoulos that JFK's 1960 speech on the separation of church and state--or perhaps personal religion and policy making--makes him want to "throw up." People of faith, he said, should be able to bring their faith into the public square, borrowing John Richard Neuhaus's phrase. (The religion question comes at the 13 minute mark.)

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Well, sure. Good point. Christ is Lord of his people in their entire lives. You cannot dichotomize your soul. But his timing is off. When people hear this, they take him to be unfocused and Newt Gingrich, but not as smart.

And the tone is all wrong. It's angry and carping. That seems to be a habit of his. He struck the same tone when he rebuked the President for wanting people to go to college. "What a snob!" A sour note to say the least.

This assertion of a Christian right and necessity of taking his faith into politics is fair and good, but it is a delicate matter and not one to handled justly in a highly political atmosphere. Actually, the political reach of the Christian religion is deeper still. This Christ, this King Jesus, is not content to be a mere tribal deity. Christians cannot say, “Oh, don’t worry. It’s a Christian thing. It has nothing to do with you.” Christ’s redeeming eye is toward not only “whosoever will,” but the whole of creation. Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper put it this way: “No single piece of our mental world is to be sealed off from the rest and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” Jesus claims whole nations (Ps. 2, I Cor. 15, Rev. 19).

It further complicates the political picture if you think your church leadership speaks authoritatively for this Lord Jesus. Notice that in his comments Rick Santorum passed from speaking of “church” involvement in “the state” to “people” of faith entering “the public square” as though they were the same thing. But this is a distinction with enormous political consequences. But the interviewer, George Stephanopoulos, did not press the matter and Santorum did not offer an elaboration.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Crisis in the Family

The fundamental crisis that is facing our nation--more fundamental that the economic, the fiscal, or anything that foreign nation is threatening--is the family crisis. I address this matter in my column this week ("The Family Crisis"), making reference to the much talked about New York Times article that summarized a recently released report and a Heritage Foundation report last year on the same topic.

The New York Times reports:

After steadily rising for five decades, the share of children born to unmarried women has crossed a threshold: more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage. ... Among mothers of all ages, a majority — 59 percent in 2009 — are married when they have children. But the surge of births outside marriage among younger women — nearly two-thirds of children in the United States are born to mothers under 30 — is both a symbol of the transforming family and a hint of coming generational change.
Child Trends, the group that produced the study, adds this:

While more than half of these nonmarital births (52%) occur to women who live with the father of the baby in a cohabiting union, these unions are less stable than marriages. Children born to unmarried parents are more likely than those born to married parents to be poor and to see their parents’ union end.
Marvin Olasky's column alerted me to this report.

Last June, Chuck Donovan at The Heritage Foundation called for "A Marshall Plan for Marriage." This is the summary of his report:

Marriage and family are declining in America, following a trend well established in Europe. This breakdown of the American family has dire implications for American society and the U.S. economy. Halting and reversing the sustained trends of nearly four decades will not happen by accident. The federal, state, and local governments need to eliminate marriage penalties created by the tax code and welfare programs and instead use existing resources to better encourage and support family life.
The report included this interesting chart:

After summarizing these reports, I consider that at times of national crisis a statesman emerges to lead the country out of it. Our "crisis of a house divided" over slavery brought forth Lincoln. The Nazi shadow over the continent of Europe brought Churchill out of the wings. Our national malaise in the 1970s gave Reagan his moment. But that is when the crisis has a happy ending. I see no adequate leadership in any direction on the family front. Rick Santorum is offering himself for that role but in my judgment he has neither the stature nor the judgment for the great statesman's role. The man in the sweatervest is neither a Lincoln nor a Reagan.

In my concluding thought, I cast an eye to the current president. "President Obama has a nice family. If he were to take up this cause with energy and understanding, he could become a great president in his second term. Sadly, he seems too committed to advancing the causes of the problem, such as the paternalistic welfare state, to appreciate the nature of the problem and its remedies."

The day after I published this column, my TIME magazine arrived in the mail, carrying with it Rich Lowry's column on the same subject! ("Just Not the Marrying Kind," March 5, 2012; p.13.) He shares some more stunning figures.

The benchmark for discussions of illegitimacy is always the controversial 1965 report on the perilous state of the black family authored by the liberal intellectual Daniel Patrick Moynihan. When he wrote it, 24% of births among blacks and 3% of those among whites were out of wedlock. It turned out those were halcyon days of traditional family mores. Today out-of-wedlock births account for 73% of births among blacks, 53% among Latinos and 29% among whites.

The unraveling that began in the underclass has crept up the income ladder, although illegitimacy is still a class-based phenomenon. Almost 70% of births to high school dropouts and 51% to high school graduates are out of wedlock. Among those with some college experience, the figure is 34%, and for those with a college degree, just 8%.

With reference to the merely 8% of out-of-wedlock births that occur among college graduates, the TIME article remarks: "That is turning family structure into a new class divide, with the economic and social rewards of marriage increasingly reserved for people with the most education. 'Marriage has become a luxury good,' said Frank Furstenberg, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania."

Lowry calls this "our most ignored national crisis." For my part, I begin on the same note, but more expansively: "Our nation is in a crisis. Yes, all eyes are on the financial crisis and the stagnant economy, and less certain but potentially ominous is the prospect of a nuclear-armed and religiously fanatical Iran. But it is possible that we might revive the economy at home and disarm our enemies abroad while losing the nation itself. I’m talking about the disintegration of the family that is quietly reaching crisis proportions."

Lowry calls for the sort of public campaign that usually attends a national crisis. Is it environmental? We know how to flood the discussion on all levels with that concern. In (what I am told is) my upcoming article in Relevant magazine, I call for the same national mobilization.

We need a twenty year policy agenda to strengthen and protect marriage and family at least as tenaciously as we protect waterways and wildlife. Ronald Reagan appointed a Special Working Group on the Family to examine all policies for their impact on the family. That was good, but the work needs to be less reactive. Thoughtfully crafted and fully coordinated family policy at every level of government should recognize the requirements for and impediments to healthy family life. Conservatives are rightly hawkish over how a tax or regulation will affect small business and job creation. The family deserves the same protective scrutiny.
The striking difference between Lowry's column and mine is that whereas I look to the president and find him an implausible hero on account of his policy commitments, Lowry looks to Michelle.

It's not hard to think of a spokeswoman. Michelle Obama is the daughter in a traditional two-parent family and the mother in another one that even her husband's critics admire. If she took up marriage as a cause, she could ultimately have a much more meaningful impact on the lives of children than she will ever have urging them to do jumping jacks.
The First Lady cannot turn things around on her own. We need someone who can redirect tax policy, restructure welfare programs, and refashion the way government presents what it does and the way it addresses citizens in their fragile social situations. But her influence would certainly get the ball rolling for a change in cultural attitudes and perhaps for future administrations to act on that momentum. The First Lady could conceivably have a better second therm than the Europeanizer-in-Chief.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

GOP and the Poor

Mitt Romney says the darnedest things.

Take, for example, when he said, “I like being able to fire people.” Well, what he actually said was, “I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.”

Now he says he doesn't care about the poor.

But one of government's chief responsibilities is to protect the poor. Government is to protect everyone, but especially the weak against the strong: the unborn, children (where their parents fail), widows (if they have no family), orphans, and the poor (if they are genuinely destitute). The Bible promises divine wrath for those who "devour" the poor (Prov. 30:14).

But the poor who really are poor are usually forgotten, powerless, easy prey, and exploited even by the governments that are supposed to protect them. We don't have as many of them as some would have us believe, as the Heritage Foundation points out. But that does not make those who are genuinely poor, especially for reasons other than vice, people to be ignored.

See my column on this topic, "Romney and the Politics of the Poor." I also have an article coming up in Relevant magazine that speaks to this subject.

Let me add two points.

Romney distinguishes between “the very poor” and “the heart of America, the 95% of Americans who are right now struggling.” The Census Bureau is certainly using inflated figures when it claims that 1 in 7 of us is poor, but the figure is likely to be higher Romney's 5%. However many there are, they are a serious moral concern.
The governor is right to be concerned as he is with the middle class. One would think that they could take care of themselves. They have skills, education, and desire to provide for themselves. But they need protection precisely against the government which hampers the economy with one hand and with the other shreds the social fabric by neglect and meddling. If government would just restrict itself to its proper role, the middle class would spring back in fine shape.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ron Paul vs God on Politics

Rep. Ron Paul has much to his credit. He is honest. He is true to his principles. He is incorruptible. As for those principles, he is a faithful constitutionalist and so he holds to a restrictive view of what government should do. This stands in sad contrast to most government officials who view the details of the constitution rather carelessly. Dr. Paul, an OB-GYN, has also been a strong defender of the unborn.

But Paul holds these views from libertarian convictions, not Christian ones. He himself is a Christian, but he believes that one's faith is an entirely private matter with no business expressing itself in public policy. How does he know this? Libertarianism tells him so. You see what the controlling authority is.

In "Christian, why Ron Paul?" (, I argue along these lines.

"Biblical government not only secures us in our lives and property so that “we may lead a peaceful and quiet life.” It also actively cultivates a moral environment that facilitates people’s ability to live their lives “godly and dignified in every way” and pass such moral habits along to their children (1 Timothy 2:2). Libertarians like Ron Paul deny this fundamental biblical political principle. As a result, Ron Paul’s America would look more like It’s a Wonderful Life’s Potterville than Bedford Falls. What is worst in us, unchecked and undiscountenanced, would flourish among us, freely chosen but encouraged by those who would exploit their neighbor’s moral weakness for gain."

Norman Horn of ("Can a Christian be a Libertarian?") argues for Christianb Libertarianism as a Third Way in American politics.

"Libertarianism treats man’s sinful nature realistically. James Madison famously quipped that if men were angels no government would be necessary. Christian libertarians take this a step further, saying that it is precisely because men are not angels that government must have extraordinarily limited powers."
But in saying this he neglects what Madison--also in Federalist Papers No. 51--takes very seriously: the need also for government to restrain the iniquity of the governed.

Joe Knippenberg at First Things ("Libertarianism and Christianity") cites both my column and the Horn argument before concluding:

Non-pseudo-Nietzschean libertarians have always struck me as somewhat Pollyannaish in their assumptions regarding the power—more precisely, the lack of power—of human sinfulness. They see sinfulness in government, but somehow assume that the rest of us will be “good enough” with only the most minimal restraints. What’s more, they seem to assume that a “merely individualist” public philosophy won’t have untoward consequences for our common lives together.

(As an aside, for this reason, I don’t believe that Ron Paul is racist, despite the newsletters that went out in his name many years ago. In this video montage, he makes a compelling case that libertarians believe in the freedom of every individual, regardless of race, whereas racism requires seeing people as groups.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Vaclav Havel 1936-2011

The statesman of the Velvet Revolution is dead. Vaclav Havel at age 75.

Hear his reflections on the recent upheavals in the middle east.

Read his 1978 essay, "The Power of the Powerless," from Open Letters, Selected Writings 1965-1990.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Pundit-People Divide Over Gingrich

A political campaign is an extended job interview. I wrote about looking at Herman Cain's appalling knowledge gaps from that perspective ("Cain Blows His Job Interview"). If you look at Newt Gingrich's candidacy in the same way, he should get a quick dismissal. Look at his references. People who worked with him and know him best are warning us in the strongest terms to stay away from him. Would you hire someone for senior management (or for anything) with references like that?

I review the application materials in "The Gingrich Gap."

Peggy Noonan calls him “a human hand grenade who walks around with his hand on the pin, saying, ‘Watch this!’” While recognizing his virtues and great accomplishments, she calls him “ethically dubious,” “egomaniacal,” and “erratic and unreliable as a leader.” George Will says Gingrich “embodies the vanity and rapacity that make modern Washington repulsive.”

David Brooks, a remarkably genial fellow, told Time, “I wouldn’t let that guy run a 7-Eleven let alone the country.” Joe Scarborough shares this judgment, calling Gingrich “an ideological train wreck and the worst manager this side of Barack Obama.” Expanding on Noonan’s “egomaniacal,” Brooks writes that Gingrich “has every negative character trait that conservatives associate with ’60s excess: narcissism, self-righteousness, self-indulgence and intemperance.” Charles Krauthammer shares this judgment: “Gingrich has a self-regard so immense that it rivals Obama’s—but, unlike Obama’s, is untamed by self-discipline.”

Most recently, an editorial in The National Review cites “his impulsiveness, his grandiosity, his weakness for half-baked (and not especially conservative) ideas” when he was speaker of the House. “Again and again,” the editorial continues, “he put his own interests above those of the causes he championed in public.” Though that was then, “there is reason to doubt that he has changed.”
At the Fox News Iowa degate last night, Rick Santorum reminded us that when Gingrich was Speaker of the House in the 1990s, there was a conservative revolt against him.

It seems that the poor references are finding their way the the desk of Joe Citizen. Newt is slipping in the polls in Iowa. That is death to the Gingrich ascendancy. The Iowa caucuses are two and a half weeks away which is an eternity in this roller coaster primary, lots of time to join Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry in the reject file.

Newt appears to be scaring people to Romney. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, Mitt Romney has moved into the lead.

Mitt could take Iowa and New Hampshire, then roll on the the nomination. Mature, center-right administration would be a relief from the Social Democratic Revolution of the last three years.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Crony Capitalism Attacked from the Right

Crony capitalism is not capitalism at all. That should be the cry from the right.

And that is my complaint in last week's column, "Crony Capitalism vs American Liberty." I quote GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman saying, “Capitalism without failure is not capitalism.

I draw attention to conservative former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, another GOP presidential contender, who has aligned himself with the Occupy Wall Street concerns. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe last week, Roemer spoke in defense of liberty when he said that “somewhere between Wall Street and K Street the system is corrupt. Here’s why. A big check gets first in line; everybody else is out of sight. This country is not fair at the top.”

Here is Andrew Klavan in a Manhattan Institute comedy video arguing that the socialist left is actually plucked from the same government-sucking ideological sty.

Monday, November 28, 2011

It's Bad!

Someone who appreciated my book and quoted it on his blog, D.X. Turner from Texas, has alerted me to this informative juxtaposition. The first graphic is a quote from Vermont Independent (socialist) Senator, Bernie Sanders.

Turner adds: " The truth is that entitlement spending, what Bernie conveniently labels as "the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children and the poor" is the primary driver behind the deficit." He then supplies this telling chart.

That little ball way over on the left hand side is virtually all federal spending that you can think of. You know, the departments of this, that, and the other thing. If President Rick Perry forgets to eliminate one, it won't make much difference.

The obvious conclusion is that our problem centers around two words: benefits and entitlements. Unless we unite around a plan to bring these under control, we are soon to be Greece, Italy, and the rest of them.

D.X. Turner blogs at Arguing with a Fencepost.

Our Latest Authoritarian Temptation

Everyone's approval ratings are scraping the ground. People are talking about a third party candidate. People have a low view not only of politicians, but of politics itself. But that means a low view of the mechanics and possibility of self-government.

In my column at last week ("Doubting Democracy at the Impasse"), I recount some recent developments that has turned people off in this way, and I give some shocking examples of some prominent people who toy with the idea of autocracy--just for a while--and who should know better.

North Carolina’s Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue suggested that we suspend the upcoming election cycle so that congressional leaders would be free simply to do what is right for the country without having to worry about political consequences:

I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won’t hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover. I really hope that someone can agree with me on that. You want people who don’t worry about the next election.

This brought to mind the public nostalgie du fascism of another prominent political liberal, multiple Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman, who just 18 months ago repeated ever so cautiously what he boldly published in his 2008 book, Hot, Flat and Crowded, that if we could just have Chinese government for a day, we could nicely Obamafy the country into proper shape, then go back to our usual gridlock.

I conclude, "In 1944, Judge Learned Hand described the 'spirit of liberty' as 'the spirit which is not too sure that it is right.' That is the democratic republican spirit. It is humble regarding oneself and respectful of one’s neighbor. Living by the rule of law is one way we express that spirit. The answer to political paralysis is not less politics, but more: political discussion, political involvement, and political accountability on Election Day."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Black and Tired

It is not liberal to be concerned about racism and about the problems of one particular race. Here is Anthony Bradley's promotional video for his book, Black and Tired (Wipf & Stock, 2011).

Anthony Bradley is associate professor of theology and ethics at The King's College in New Yorki City where I teach.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Failing Their Political Oral Exams

Here, Herman Cain fails his political oral exam. It is not a matter of failing an ideological litmus test. It's not a matter of tripping up on an obscure question, like, "Who is the president of Uzbekistan?" He is clearly not qualified for the job. He doesn't need to know what a president needs to know. He doesn't have the requisite experience.

He didn't know that China has nuclear weapons, though they have had them since 1964.

Now this obvious ignorance of what's been going on in Libya in 2011.

This follows Rick Perry's disqualifying performance last week.

That would get you bounced from America's Got Talent. Why not also the race for the presidency?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Big Government Inevitably Bad Government

The debate between the left and right in our politics today is a debate over the size and roll of government. Lisa Sharon Harper and I have the same debate.

Lisa dismisses this as a "mantra" and as a false dichotomy between big and small government. She claims that the real choice is between good and bad big government. But where is this good big government apart from in the imaginations of liberals?

In his review of Left, Right and Christ in World magazine, "Left, Right, Fight, Fight, Fight," Marvin Olasky tells us why.

Centers of power attract power-seekers who then attract money-seekers, and the result is a new ruling class: In a fallen world, equality of result is an ever-receding horizon. ... Most evangelicals also favor limited government and political decentralization, because we know both from the Bible and from history that concentrations of political power lead to oppression.

I am deeply grateful to Marvin for writing the foreword (with Jim Wallis) to this book. In his review, he has nailed the issue separating the two of us, drawing attention to why the tragically misguided Evangelical left is not just biblically wrong but morally dangerous.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Cupp of Blessing

There are certain shows that authors pray will invite them to be guests. Oprah etc. The Glenn Beck Show is one of them. If Beck holds up a book and says, "Buy this!," sales shoot to the moon.

Well, thanks to the good offices of my friend Dinesh D'Souza, my co-author and I got onto the show on GBTV, Beck's highly successful Internet-based network. Beck himself was out of town, so SE Cupp hosted, and sales indeed catapulted. We went from #200,000 on the Amazon list to #7,800 just 24 hours later.

They even played the promotional video beforehand.

Lisa says the darnedest things in these situations, and does not realize just how problematic her views are. At the AEI event, she dropped jaws by saying that the Republicans take from the poor and give to the rich, whereas the Democrats take back from the rich and give to the poor. Yes, Robin Hood is the model for good government.

At the book launch we organized at Union Theological Seminary, she claimed that the high rate of single motherhood among black families is because black men are simply unavailable. They are either in prison or we have killed them in our wars because recruiters "target" minority communities. (Hmm. How then are the babies conceived?) That got more than a few people upset and bewildered.

At this event, it was her views on abortion which showcase her contorted attempts to remain in good standing in the Democratic Party and with her Democratic friends.

Here are some responses I have encountered:

1. "Does she always pull that bait and switch on abortion? One minute you are talking about when life begins, the next moment she introduces the “scientific standard” of viability, and then third she equates viability with when life begins."

2. "Fascinating discussion on abortion. I’ve never heard anyone say, essentially, 'I think abortion is murder, but if scientists tell us it’s not…well, what can we do?'"

3. "Some modest philosophical confusion: "Life begins before conception!" Ummm... And, the "legislate according to the lowest common denominator, which is science" argument was a really weird version of it. I have no idea what she was arguing there. She started by explaining how she needed to win the argument...and then ended up saying we ought to leave "religious" premises aside but lose the argument anyway (with life beginning at viability)."

4. "Lisa's "faith committment" in the public square on economic equality but not the protection of life in which she turns to "science" as the lowest common denominator is telling. First, science tells us that the human being is a human being. Second, we all were prevented from making such a case in the public square because the matter was taken out of our hands by robed men in R v. W. Third, would she be willing to use the standard of science on economic matters? No, because science (particularly social science) shows us the devestation brought on by the welfare state."

5. "Lisa Sharon Harper was confused about when life begins? Every medical book or biology book will tell you that life begins at conception. Lisa Sharon Harper said we should look to science when talking about this subject then ignores what science says. Lisa, life begins at conception. Science says so!"

Friday, November 11, 2011


As I was preparing to despair of having anything to offer as a column this week, I remember something that crossed my mind regarding presidential narratives. We put a lot of emphasis on it when choosing a president. Perhaps it's our democratic character. "Tell me how you're just like me." Or, "How American are you? Can you show how you've embodies the hope we all share as Americans? Perhaps a log cabin story?"

But hwere are the stories in this cycle of candidates?

So where are the narratives in the current Republican field? Mitt Romney? Fighting your way up from being the son of a Michigan governor to being co-founder and CEO at Bain Capital just doesn’t sing well. Herman Cain has a good story, working his way from po’ boy (his term) in Georgia to restaurant magnate and chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City. But his problem these days is too many stories.

So I review all the recent ones. Mostly the successful ones. It is interesting how many of them involve the abuse of alcohol. One might think that if you want your kid to be president you should start drinking heavily.

Read "Presidential Narratives" in

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Borger on my Book

Byron Borger at Hearts and Minds Books, gives this review of Left, Right and Christ. Actually, it's more of a notice than a critical review.

Left, Right & Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics Lisa Sharon Harper & D.C. Innes (Russell Media) $22.99 As the election season proceeds I am sure I will revisit this often, drawing on each author's important points as I write, teach, and talk about a Christian perspectives on politics. Perhaps it will serve you in such a way as well. As you might guess, this is a co-authored debate-style book, with a Christian who is a committed Democrat and a Christian who is a committed Republican each explaining how their faith and Biblical insights compel them to align themselves (even if always provisionally, as they both insist) towards more-or-less liberal or conservative public policies. D.C. Innes is a popular professor of political science at The Kings College in New York (and an Orthodox Presbyterian minister) while Ms Harper is an activist for Sojourners in DC who has worked with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

Marvin Olasky writes one forward to the LR&C; he is known for his insistence on a stauchly conservative Christian worldview (he writes often for World magazine) and he writes here "If this isn't a conversation starter for Christians, than nothing else will be." Jim Wallis of Sojourners has another forward, again noting that this book will certainly stimulate good discussion and deep thinking. I hope to write more carefully about this book in the future but don't wait for my input. You get the point: this is ideal for book clubs, conversation-starters, to tweak our ideas by reading more than just one viewpoint, to give to that person who just doesn't get your viewpoint.

There are six or seven endorsements on the inside, each by folks I really respect (who hold to pretty diverse socio-political viewpoints, in fact, from Carl Trueman and John Armstrong to Jonathan Merritt and Nicole Baker Fulgham. David Gushee says "One might have thought there was nothing new to say in or about this burnt-over disctrict, but in their sharp, yet civil, dialogue Innes and Harper offer provocative and creative new reflections." Thanks to Mark Russell for his good work in shepherding this project and for designing such an attractive, clear, fair-minded, interesting, contemporary book. Here's a fun video piece they did to capture the usefulness of this vibrant conversation. Enjoy.

Notice how the advertisement at the end says something like "wherever fine books are sold." We would be one of those places. As I hope you know we care about these very fine books and stock them because we think they will helpful to you and yours. Let us know what you think, and use the handy link to the order page.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Theology, Philosophy and Policy

The full, hour-long video of my American Enterprise Institute "Values and Capitalism" luncheon event for Left, Right and Christ has been posted.

Along with it is a nice article by Elise Amyx describing the exchange between Lisa and me. She has this nice reflection on the wild leaps that Lisa Sharon Harper makes from which she finds in Scripture to the public policies she confidently advocates.

Political philosophy is where theology and policy meet; it is where the two worlds are reconciled, yet Harper jumps the gun and avoids the “high level battle of ideas.” Her argument is seemingly aligned, but not soundly intertwined. Because she approaches policy from a consequentialist view, she has failed to recognize the political philosophy implied by the policies she supports, which is not solely theological but rather one of “big government.”

Clearly, her James Madison University education has served her well.