Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Fred, Huck and Rudy Part III

Having waited for Fred and given up, having weighed Huck and found him wanting, and having dismissed practitioners of bizarre religion and co-sponsors of McCain-Feingold (am I forgetting anyone important?), I turn to Rudy.

Bill Simon is a social conservative who would be happy with America's Mayor as America's Chief. He was the conservative candidate for Governor of California in 2002, and he is now Rudy Giuliani’s policy director. Here is his argument in "Confessions of a Social Conservative: Why Rudy Can Be the Right’s Guy" (National Review Online, October 12, 2007):

Giuliani saved New York City by fighting on the right side of some very important social issues. "Under Rudy, New York City became the safest large city in America. And the one million citizens on welfare? Over 640,000 of them were moved from the public dole to the private sector payroll."

On abortion: "First, the primary battles on the life issue are being fought in the courts, and the ultimate determination regarding our nation’s policy on abortion will come from the nine Justices of the Supreme Court. ...Rudy Giuliani, relying on the advice of such conservative legal stalwarts like Ted Olson, Miguel Estrada, and Steve Calabresi, will appoint strict constructionist judges in the vein of Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas."

On abortion again: "Rudy has also pledged to uphold the Hyde Amendment’s restrictions on the funding of abortions here at home, and the Mexico City Policy, ensuring that taxpayer dollars will not be distributed to non-governmental organizations that perform or promote abortions overseas. He supports parental notification laws and agrees with the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the partial-birth-abortion ban." In his Twelve Commitments to the American People, Rudy pledged, “I will increase adoptions, decrease abortions, and protect the quality of life for our children.” His record supports this claim. Adoptions in New York City rose dramatically under his administration and abortions fell 30% faster than the national average. (That's what we want isn't it? Fewer abortions?)

Michael Medved, who is "unhesitatingly pro-life," similarly sees no reason for Dobson and associates rejecting Giuliani on the basis of his abortion position. ("Abortion's Shades of Gray," USA Today, October 24, 2007)

Consider, for instance, the key differences between Giuliani's platform and those of the leading Democratic candidates. Giuliani has committed to preserve the Hyde Amendment, banning taxpayer money for abortions; the top Democrats urge repeal and favor federal funding. Giuliani applauded the recent Supreme Court decision upholding a ban on partial-birth abortion; all leading Democrats condemned it in harsh terms. The former mayor supports tougher rules requiring parental notification (with a judicial bypass) for underage girls who seek abortions; Clinton and Barack Obama oppose such legislation. Most significant of all, Giuliani has specifically cited strict-constructionists Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and John Roberts as his models for future justices of the Supreme Court — and all three of those jurists have signaled their support for allowing states more leeway in limiting abortions. The top Democrats regularly express contempt for the conservative jurists whom Giuliani admires, and worked against the Alito and Roberts nominations.
He argues that "it's a major distortion to label Giuliani as 'pro-abortion' and indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton or the other Democrats." He says that polls indicatethat most Americans taking Giuliani's position: anti-abortion and yet pro-choice. If we are going to live in America, we need to be able to live with a "President Giuliani," and even be grateful if abortions decrease and adoptions increase under his watch. Indeed, he states that that is his goal, and he can show that that is his record.

Abortion is not just any issue. It is mass murder, and it is dehumanizing to us on a massive scale. But when both nominees are for it--and you know that one of them will be President--it is morally incumbent upon a conscientious voter to examine the subtle, though important differences between the two candidates on the subject, and then vote to make the best of the situation. In a Giuliani versus Rodham Clinton contest, the choice is clear.
Tony Blankley, in "GOP Needs a Survival Instinct" (Oct. 3, 2007), puts it this way. Voting for a third-party candidate over this issue "would assure the election of Hillary, who, notwithstanding anything she might say to get elected, surely will set in motions policies that will kill more unborn humans and will advance more biblically prohibited policies than Rudy ever would." From a simply political perspective, he adds: "Given the grotesque irresponsibility of the national Democrats, keeping them out of the White House should be the first calling of every patriotic conservative."

Monday, October 29, 2007

Fred, Huck and Rudy Part II

There is a sympathy developing among Evangelicals toward Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, former baptist minister, and presently just-passed-into-double-digit-support candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

But Pastor Mike is no evangelical dream. And he's no conservative fantasy either. John Fund entitled his Wall Street Journal article "Another Man From Hope," and he means that in the worst possible sense. Huckabee is "hard right on social issues but liberal-populist on some economic issues." Betsy Hagan, Arkansas director of the conservative Eagle Forum remembers that, as Governor of her state, "he was pro-life and pro-gun, but otherwise a liberal." Phyllis Schlafly, president of the national Eagle Forum, adds that, "He destroyed the conservative movement in Arkansas, and left the Republican Party a shambles." Blant Hurt of Arkansas Business magazine: "He's hostile to free trade, hiked sales and grocery taxes, backed sales taxes on Internet purchases, and presided over state spending going up more than twice the inflation rate." This does not look good.

Fund learned from Southern Baptist minister Rick Scarborough of Vision America, a Huckabee backer, that "When conservatives took over the Southern Baptist Convention after a bitter fight in the 1980s, Mr. Huckabee sided with the ruling moderates." He quotes Paul Pressler who led the conservative revolt within the SBC saying, "I know of no conservative he appointed while he headed the Arkansas Baptist Convention." Bill Clinton was a Southern Baptist of the "moderate" variety. Oh, and wasn't Jimmy Carter one of those too?

Fund reports a former top Huckabee aid saying, "He's just like Bill Clinton in that he practices management by news cycle. As with Clinton there was no long-term planning, just putting out fires on a daily basis. One thing I'll guarantee is that won't lead to competent conservative governance."

Perhaps these are just enemies telling tales. But those are a lot of tales. And John Fund has impressed me a reliable man. Quin Hillyer at The American Spectator, in "A Tale of Two Candidates," reports that Huckabee has a thin skin, a wicked temper, and all too many moral parallels with the other Man from Hope.

He used public money for family restaurant meals, boat expenses, and other personal uses. He tried to claim as his own some $70,000 of furniture donated to the governor's mansion. He repeatedly, and obstinately, against the pleadings even from conservative columnists and editorials, refused to divulge the names of donors to a "charitable" organization he set up while lieutenant governor -- an outfit whose main charitable purpose seemed to be to pay Huckabee to make speeches. Then, as a kicker, he misreported the income itself from the suspicious "charity."

Huckabee has been criticized, reasonably so, for misusing the state airplane for personal reasons. And he and his wife, Janet, actually set up a "wedding gift registry" (they had already been married for years) to which people could donate as the Huckabees left the governorship, in order to furnish their new $525,000 home.
It seems that former Arkansas governors have to be held to a higher standard of scrutiny. Once burned, twice cautious.

What we learned from Jimmy Carter is that there is more to good government than what seems like an Evangelical profession of faith. Some would say we learned that from George W. Bush as well (though we got two good Supreme Court justices and a few critically important vetoes out of him, all of which were closely related to that Christian faith).

In fact, an Evangelical Christian faith may not even be necessary for good government. Though there is no forgiveness of sins without saving grace in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10), the Lord also gives common grace and distributes it quite liberally. This is why there are lots of decent and kind people who are nonetheless dead in their trespasses and sins. This is why there is much wisdom to be found in works by non-Christians like Plato and Locke, and even Machiavelli and Nietzsche (in many respects more than can be found in Christian authors). We don't read them only to "know what the enemy is thinking" and to understand the pagan darkness from which Christ saved us and where Western civilization has taken its wrong turns bringing us to our present sorry state. Common grace is also what God gives to the non-Christians who, despite their ungodliness of one kind or another, are nonetheless concerned and able to govern for the common good, i.e. as statesmen, punishing evil at home and repelling it abroad. Was Ronald Reagan a Christian? Was he born again? It's debatable. It is also irrelevant.

Mike Huckabee may be a Christian, but he should not be the first choice of conservative Evangelicals for their President.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Fred, Huck and Rudy Part I

There appears to be a significant realignment of support in progress among Republicans who are following the primaries. Evangelical Christians are are re-assessing Rudy Giuliani and everyone is getting to know Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee.

Fred Thompson was supposed to be the man we all wished were running. Socially and fiscally conservative. An able and winsome communicator. Federalism. Only one divorce, and that was a while ago. Experience in the Senate. But he took forever to get into the race. And now that he's in, where's the fire? Instead of exploding into the campaign as the obvious choice, he has people asking, "Is he too lazy to win?" Read "Idle Worship: In Praise of Fred Thompson" by Michael Crowley of the New Republic (October 25, 2007). He gives an unconvincing defense of Thompson's lackadaisical campaign style. He says we Americans work too hard. Perhaps we need another Calvin Coolidge in office who slept twelve hours a day. Oh but that was back before the President had lots to do as leader of the free world, not mention the vastly expanded domestic duties.

His Saturday Night Live character explained, "I'm not sayin' I don't want to be your president, because I kinda do." That's funny only because there's truth in it. But there is good reason that Alexander Hamilton believed it necessary that a strong presidency draw "men of ambition" to the office. People who combine ambition with virtue (or we would say drive and good character) are people who actually want to accomplish something in office. Reagan combined both of these qualities. Bill Clinton was ambitious, but only for power, money, babes and flying in a cool plane. Bob Dole just wanted his turn at the top. George Bush wanted to be "the education president" and then lost in 1992 because of his indifference toward re-election.

A president who is actually able to govern must have ambition. It is fundamental. Thompson has not demonstrated that he has this. There is a fault in being overly detail oriented. Jimmy Carter. A good President will make his principles clear, then delegate. But even so, the job is demanding. The consequences of falling short in that seat of power are vast.

Given this, I'm less inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt on his support for McCain-Feingold. Ann Coulter is quite opposed to him based exclusively it seems on his vote to oppose removing President Clinton from office in 1999. Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost has abandoned ship. "If Thompson manages to slouch his way into St. Paul and gets the Republican nomination, he'll have my vote. But I refuse to continue putting more energy into supporting him than he's put into his own campaign." He and others at EO have thrown their support to Huckabee.

Friday, October 26, 2007

No African Development Without Local Political Wisdom

Everyone puzzles over Africa. Much of the world is enjoying runaway economic growth and increasingly widespread prosperity, but that huge and wealthy continent is left largely behind. It's a human tragedy. In today's Wall Street Journal, 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and one of the fathers of the 1960s Green Revolution in world food production, Norman Borlaug lays out what is required to save Africa from it's chronic development crisis. He emphasizes science and agriculture, but the subtext is a political challenge to the African leaders themselves.

He compares the Green Revolution in Asia to that of Africa. He says that small-holder agricultural production in sub-Saharan Africa has been especially anemic. Unlike Asia which has a good road and rail network, "African farmlands are generally isolated from motorized transport systems." In addition, population growth "has resulted in progressive -- and now often dramatic -- degradation of the soil resource base, while fertilizer use has hardly increased at all, and is the lowest in the world." Whereas agricultural R&D in Asia has tripled over the last 20 years, in Africa is has grown by only 20%, and in half the countries it has actually declined. This is especially tragic given the "special production circumstances" that put Africa in particular need of research and development investment.

He recommends a "broad and more integrated perspective" that focuses on "transforming staple-food production" and giving greater attention to "post-production market linkages -- especially to grain markets and agro-industrial food processing that offer off-farm employment opportunities." Improvement also requires "[s]ubstantially greater investments in infrastructure -- roads, electrical power, water resources." Without this, "there is little hope for real progress in reversing the alarming food insecurity trends or in making agriculture an engine of economic growth."

Borlaug has been calling for an African Green Revolution for years (e.g. International Herald Tribune 1992; New York Times 2003). He did his great work in the 1960s. He is 93 and he is still beating the drum for this cause. So what's the hold up? There is a important political aspect to all this that Borlaug touches upon at several points, but does not emphasize. Perhaps he is being subtle. Perhaps he is leaving it to the multitude of political leaders, government and NGO officials, journalists and scholars to see the political point and make it explicit. Let me do my part.

These nations are governed by more or less sovereign governments. Implementing many of his recommendations presupposes governments that actually care about their people, i.e. that they are not tyrannies which sadly many of them are. In his opening paragraph, concerning Asia's Green Revolution and the global development agenda, Borlaug quietly underscores the critical role that wise political leadership must play: "Research and development, political courage, effective policies and good governance were the driving forces." African leaders are not known for their"political courage, effective policies and good governance."

One cannot help but wonder why "political courage" should be necessary, at least at the highest levels of power. Why shouldn't crass self-interest and naked ambition not suffice to bring the thug-tyrants of the African continent into line with this program? Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe comes first to mind. It is a marvel, especially in view of the enormous productive power that modern economic and political principles have made possible, that they see their personal security, prosperity, and glory in brutalizing their peoples whom they keep in heart-rending poverty, rather than in securing their peoples' property, enriching their nations' economies and establishing themselves as the fathers and protectors of these accomplishments.

John Locke argued this point, appealing the the shrewdness of every ruler, in his great Second Treatise on Civil Government (section 42):

This shews how much numbers of men are to be preferred to largeness of dominions; and that the increase of lands, and the right employing of them, is the great art of government: and that prince, who shall be so wise and godlike, as by established laws of liberty to secure protection and encouragement to the honest industry of mankind, against the oppression of power and narrowness of party, will quickly be too hard for his neighbours.

I am not an Africa specialist by any measure, but as a student of politics I find Africa a vivid illustration (all too often a sad one) of many political principles, and of course it draws my Christian concern. You might refer back to two of my previous posts on Africa.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Debating Christianity? Debate Hitchens!

Miserable Old Sinner


We are debating all sorts of new ideas these days, from homosexual marriage to the flat tax. But strangely enough, we have also taken up debating Christianity which has been around for almost 2000 years (thousands more years if you trace it back to its seed in God's promise to Adam). Last night, The King's College, along with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and, sponsored a debate between Dinesh D'Souza and Christopher Hitchens on the question, "Is Christianity the Problem?" (The debate will be aired on BookTV (C-SPAN2), Saturday, October 27, at 7 p.m., or you can view it on The King's College webite) Of course, this debate is in response not only to Hitchens' book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, but also to a wave of angry, aggressively atheist books that argue not only that religion is delusional, but also that, for the sake of humanity, it should be wiped out and religious people should be disenfranchised.

I seriously wonder if Hitchens actually believes this stuff he spouts, or if he is largely an entertainer, something like a shock jock for the literati. He mentioned that Giuseppe Verdi, though he wrote beautiful sacred music for the Catholic Church, was himself an unbeliever. There was good money in it. It is possible that Hitchens is writing these books because they create controversy, and controversy sells books and produces lucrative speaking tours. If I am right, look for a well timed Hitchens conversion and then another series of fortune-generating books and speaking engagements.

As for the debate itself, I think that I am the only one at The King's College who thinks that Hitchens won. (Correct me if I am wrong...about being the only one, that is.) Not that I think he argued the correct position, but his arguments were more forceful and went unrefuted. He attacked Christianity on three points. God’s sovereign rule itself (God is a divine totalitarian despot who wants us groveling in slavish subservience), God’s providential ordering of history (he has watched the torture chamber that is human history, only to intervene much too late with a solution that only compounds the problem), and the redemptive work of Christ in his death and resurrection (barbaric, sadistic nonsense). D’Souza had nothing to say in response. He offered ad hominim arguments (Hitchens hates God) and some charges of logical inconsistency (Hitchens traces the horrors of modern totalitarianism back to Christianity where he lays the blame, but does not trace his own moral sentiments to the same source, as he ought, and offer praise). But his opponent’s blasphemous charges lay untouched.

This is the poverty of classical, evidentialist apologetics. D’Souza restricted himself from the outset to naturalistic arguments, foreswearing reference to Scripture. He caged the lion. For his part, Hitchens, who knows all those arguments, used the Bible freely. A good student or Cornelius Van Til with a presuppositionalist apologetic would have struck at the root of the disagreement, and had this guy for breakfast, as formidable as he is. Hitchens’ attack was at the biblical and theological level, where the Christian should have had the advantage. (“The cross is monstrous? Yes it is! Because sin is monstrous! You know it is!”) Had D’Souza presented a biblically more sophisticated and theologically more substantive rebuttal, he could have educated the audience and exposed Hitchens as the straw man slayer that he is. Instead, he wasted his time with discussions about science and the laws of nature, and with various sociological, consequentialist defenses. (Look at all the hospitals, and see how we abolished slavery.) Of course D'Souza made many excellent points, though Hitchens ably countered many of them. But D'Souza was defending the religion while Hitchens was attacking the faith.


But this also is worth mentioning. I was struck during the debate with how cheerful D'Souza seemed and how clearly miserable Hitchens is. After the debate, one of my students asked him if he is happy. He said no, but his goal is not to be happy. Of course, that is nonsense. Everyone seeks happiness, even if sometimes perversely in self-indulgent grumpiness. Someone else remarked on his continuous drinking. He said that he drinks so that the people around him will appear more interesting than they are. So he hates life and he generally dislikes the people with whom he has to share it. But it is religion that poisons everything. If religion, or even the Lord himself, is not the source of well-being in this world, Christopher Hitchens cannot offer anything in himself or in his experience as an alternative.

In the Q&A, another of my students, a mature student from Tonga, posed one of the best questions of the evening to Prof. Hitchens. He said that before Christianity came to his region, people in Figi were eating each other and on his own island...well, all he said was "what a mess!" He then asked, "If you had arrived there first, what would you have offered us in place of Christianity." Hitchens did not answer the question, but instead returned to an earlier rant against God for leaving such people in misery without intervening with effective relief. That silence in response to the student's simple challenge spoke volumes to anyone who was listening.

Let me repeat, you can view the debate on The King's College website at

The last word goes to the Lord (as of course in the end it will):
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart."

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (I Cornthians 1:18-25 ESV)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Safe in the Clintons' Arms

A few weeks ago (Sept. 25), I posted on Hillary's watch-the-debate-with-Bill lottery. Well, the Clinton campaign has announced the winners. They are two women (undisclosed age and body type) and one man. So, it seems, there will indeed be an outside male chaperon.

Hillary's campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, emailed me to say (she's quite diligent to keep me in the loop), "Clare from Beaumont, Texas; Glenda from Spring Hill, Kansas; and David from Melrose Park, Illinois are the winners of our debate contest and will be traveling to New York to watch the October 30 debate with President Clinton and John Grisham."

David of Melrose Park is reported to have said, "I am SO excited to meet former President Bill Clinton and the added bonus of meeting John Grisham! Many of my friends are jealous. I voted for President Clinton twice and was very proud of everything he did while in office and still am, watching all of the good things he's been doing. Now, it's GO HILLARY!" (emphasis added)

I notice that only "most" of his friends envy him (it's envy, David, not jealousy...a common mistake). Some of his friends must be Republicans, or they're Democrats with good memories.

As he voted for President Clinton twice (I assume that he means in separate elections; perhaps I'm naive), he must be at least 33. So he is old enough to be a restraining influence on any potential "living room snugglefest" with the fun-loving former President.

But this may be an unwarranted assumption. The unrepentant, two-time Clinton supporter then adds that he "was very proud of everything he [Clinton] did while in office." Everything? Of course, any President is bound to have a morally mixed time of service to one extent or another. They are drawn from among us, and so, like us, they are human, all too human. But one of the distinguishing features of Bubba's presidency was behavior of a particularly lurid sort with a young intern in the oval office itself that led to impeachment in the House and trial in the Senate, a scandal and controversy that dominated most of his second term.

With reference to this particular President, you cannot say that you are "proud of everything he did while in office" without affirming your moral indifference to his adulterous, lecherous and at times criminal escapades, all of which were well publicized and beyond dispute by reasonable people of goodwill. The Clinton campaign strategists, who no doubt wrote the statements from all three lottery winners, are either genuinely blind to the issue, or they are using the subtext of the statement to signal a reaffirmation of the moral character of the first two Clinton terms and a continuation of it in the next two.

So David of Melrose Park may not be any use to Clare and Glenda as a restraining presence anyway. And perhaps it's not an issue.

One more observation: the campaign has the two women speaking exclusively about Hillary, whereas the only man in the group speaks solely in praise of Bill.

Clare: "Obviously, I think it's important for America and the world that a Democrat wins the White House. Hillary's my choice because she has the best experience and the deepest knowledge of the issues. She is a leader ready to repair America's standing in the world, put the economy back on track, and end the Iraq war with diplomacy and patience." (Then comes David's "quote," followed by...)

Glenda: "I believe Hillary has the qualities to get things done for the American people, to make America the best place to live, and to help America get along with the rest of the world."
There's strategy in that. These are very clever people.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Schools Supplying Birth Control to 11 Year Olds

AP reports that the Portland School Committee voted 7-2 yesterday to make a full range of contraceptives available, including birth control pills, to middle school children as young as 11 years old.

Committee member Robert O'Brien (not one of the two dissenters, it seems) assures us that distribution would only follow "extensive counseling" and would not be given to prepubescent children. This is his notion of scrupulous moral responsibility as a public educator.

"Students would need parental permission to use the city-run health center in the school, but they wouldn't have to tell them they were seeking birth control." (AP)
Nancy Gibbs at TIME adds,
"Parents would have to consent for their children to be treated at the King Middle School clinic, but the nature of the treatment provided, including prescribing contraception, falls under state laws protecting patient privacy."
No doubt these schools are willing to discipline or counsel (as appropriate) any of these children on a range of behavioral issues, even bringing the parents into the process. But when children as young as 11 are having sexual intercourse, suddenly its a privacy issue. But an 11 year old is not making an adult choice when engaging in this adult behavior. He or she is being exploited and needs to be protected, not from his or her parents but from the sexual "partner." Those in charge of the Portland school system, however, think of themselves as "protecting" the children by supplying them with birth control and keeping the matter a secret from the parents.

Because you are surely wondering, here is the answer from AP: "Sex with a nonspousal minor under 14 is considered gross sexual assault in Maine, and officials said it was unclear whether nurses at the health center would be required to report such activities."

Advocates claim that they are simply facing reality:
"Five of the 134 students who visited King Middle School's health center last year admitted they were sexually active; in the last four years, Portland's three middle schools reported 17 pregnancies, not counting miscarriages or unreported pregnancies that ended in abortions." (TIME)
From this, writer Nancy Gibbs reasons that, "...while ideally parents should be responsible for transmitting information and values to their children, the school has a responsibility to children whose parents can't or won't do so." She takes it as axiomatic that government schools have a responsibility to become the parents of children whose actual parents appear to be deficient. There's one of the problems right there.

Further facts from TIME:
  • "Roughly 30% of the country's 1,700 school health clinics offer some form of contraception, but condoms are far more common than prescription contraception."
  • "Maine Middle schoolers, like kids all across the country, are already postponing sex longer: The percentage who reported having sexual intercourse dropped from 23% in 1997 to 13% in 2005, according to the Maine Youth Risk Behavior Survey."
Again I ask: Why do people continue to send their children to government schools? You do this even knowing that, should your child enter into moral confusion, the school will facilitate it by supplying birth control without your knowledge, even birth control pills which (for good medical reason) are prescription drugs.

What does it take before the leaders in our nation -- from the school committees and town councils to the United States Congress -- and those who elect them see that a community cannot live this way and continue as a community in the proper sense of the world. These people have the same moral outlook that defended leniency for criminals and liberty for the insane while New York City was slipping into anarchy in the 1970s and 1980s. A people cannot adopt the moral premises that our cultural leaders defend and continue as a productive and civil people.

Parents of Portland! You know the seven who voted for this. Throw the bums out!

Meanwhile, consider this freak show of quotations:
Gov. John Baldacci said he had reservations about the program and was trying to learn more. (AP)

Carol Schiller, the mother of a boy and girl who graduated from King, said she was "elated" at the committee's vote. She said critics shocked that 11-year-olds have sex should "get over it." She added, "It's much more important that we reach out to these kids and get them the tools they need to stay safe, stay in school and get an education." (AP)
One committee member, Sarah Thompson, mother of an eighth grader, admitted that the proposal made her "uncomfortable," but she understood the need. "I know I've done my job as a parent," Thompson said. "[But there] may be a time when she doesn't feel comfortable coming to me [and] not all these kids have a strong parental advocate at home." (TIME)

December 14, 2007: AP supplied this correction in the comments. In light of this, Mrs Schiller's idea of "reaching out" to sexually active children is only slightly less appalling, but appalling just the same.
¶ PORTLAND, Maine (AP) _ In an Oct. 18 story about contraceptive prescriptions provided at King Middle School health clinic, The Associated Press quoted Carol Schiller, a mother, saying that critics who are shocked that 11-year-olds have sex "should get over it." Schiller now says she was referring to 14- and 15-year-old middle school students, rather than the youngest students at the school. The story should have specified the age range.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Some Recent Good Political Books

Here are five interesting political books that have come to my attention.

The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America (Penguin Press, 2004), by two writers for the Economist, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. These men are not themselves conservatives and have the advantage of being outsiders looking in. That does not make them objective, but it does give them a distance that can be helpful. From the flap: “In a relatively short span of time, because of the conservative movement’s power, America has veered sharply to the right, so that now, compared with Europe or even with America under Richard Nixon, we are a distinctly more conservative nation in many crucial respects no matter which party occupies the Oval Office.” I found their chapter on the birth of the conservative movement in America particularly informative.

A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State (Ivan R. Dee, 2007) is the latest book from church historian Darryl Hart, formerly at Wheaton and now at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Hart argues that “when Christians have tried to establish a Christian basis for the planks of political party platforms, or even for broad-based social reforms, they have fundamentally misconstrued their religion” (pp.10f.). Christianity is apolitical in the sense that “Christianity is essentially a spiritual and eternal faith, one occupied with a world to come rather than the passing and temporal affairs of this world” (p.12). That does not entail cultural withdrawal for Christians. He alerts us, however, to the difference between “the work the church is called to do in proclaiming the message of Christianity and the vocations to which church members are called as citizens” (p.14). The book is provocative. It is annoying however that in place of footnotes, he has left us with a seven page “note on sources” where he discusses the various works he used.

Church, State and Public Justice: Five Views (IVP, 2007), edited by P.C. Kemeny, addresses the question of the Christian view of the just political order as Gary Scott Smith did almost twenty years ago in God and Politics (P&R, 1989). Whereas Smith viewed the matter strictly from within the Protestant tradition (theonomy, principled pluralism, Christian America and national confessionalism), Kemeny is more catholic. The five views he includes are from Clark E. Cochran, a Roman Catholic, Derek H. Davis, speaking for classical separation, Corwin Smidt for principled pluralism, Ronald Sider for the Anabaptist tradition, and J. Philip Wogaman brings the social justice perspective. They are all described a “perspectives,” and each one is followed by a response from each of the other four. Kemeny teaches religion and humanities at Grove City College.

Christianity and American Democracy (Harvard, 2007) by Hugh Heclo of George Mason University is Harvard’s second annual Alexis de Tocqueville Lecture on American Politics with three responses. From the flap: “Christianity, not religion in general, has been important for American democracy. With this bold thesis, Hugh Heclo offers a panoramic view of how Christianity and democracy have shaped each other. Heclo shows that amid deeply felt religious differences, a Protestant colonial society gradually convinced itself of the truly Christian reasons for, as well as the enlightened political advantages of, religious liberty. By the mid-twentieth century, American Christianity and democracy appeared locked in a mutual embrace. But it was a problematic union vulnerable to fundamental challenge in the Sixties. Despite the subsequent rise of the religious right and glib talk of a conservative Republican theocracy, Heclo sees a longer term, reciprocal estrangement between Christianity and American democracy.” Heclo suggests that “both secularists and Christians should worry about a coming rupture between the Christian and democratic faiths.”

Watch a video of Hugh Heclo's lecture, "Is America a 'Christian Nation'?"

The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective (Crossway, 2004) by Russell D. Moore examines this fundamentally important biblical concept in its connection with political life, and in the context of its eschatological, soteriological and ecclesiological meanings. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where Moore is dean of the School of Theology, says this: “For far too long, evangelicals have waited for a serious study of the Kingdom of God and its political application. That book has now arrived, and The Kingdom of Christ will redefine the conversation about evangelicalism and politics. Russell Moore combined stellar historical and theological research with a keen understanding of cultural and political realities. This is a landmark book by one of evangelicalism’s finest minds.”

Freedom's Orphans: Contemporary Liberalism and the Fate of American Children (Princeton, 2007) by David L. Tubbs, my colleague at The King's College here in New York City, is a scholarly reassessment of contemporary liberalism measured against it's effects on children, and thus eventually on everyone it governs and on the whole society they constitute. From the cover: "Has conteporary liberalism's devotiuon to individual liberty come at the expense of our society's obligation to children?...Evaluating large changes in liberal political theory and jurisprudence particulalrly American liberalsim after the Second World War, avid Tubbs argues that an expansion of rights for adults has come at a high and generally unnoticed cost. In championing new 'lifestyle' freedoms, liberal jurists and theorists have ignored, forgotten, or discounbted the competing interests of children. In the porocess of his argument, he engages Isaiah Berlin, Ronald Dworkin, and Susan Moller Okin, among others. He also analyses three key deveopments in American civil liberties: the emergence of the 'right to privacy' in sexual and reproductive matters; the abandonment of the traditional standard for obscenity prosecutions; and the gradual aceptance of the doctrine of 'strict separation' between religion and public life."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Liberty Winning Against Islamic Libel War

For anyone who does not know, City Journal was the think tank behind Mayor Giuliani's revitalization of New York City (perhaps "reconquest" is just as apt a word) in the 1990s. Peggy Noonan still calls it "the best magazine in America."

Judith Miller has a story in the recent issue following up on an issue I addressed in two previous posts, Troubling Saudi Arms Deal and Follow-up on Saudi Terror Funding. Well-funded Islamic organizations and individuals have found it more prudent in the West to silence their critics with libels suits than with violence. If nothing else, the victims pay your expenses. (And you can't beat that!) Recent cases, however, at least in this country, have been discouraging that sort of legal brutality.

  • In 2006, Yale University Press published a book on Hamas by Matthew Levitt of the Institute for Near East Policy. KinderUSA, an Islamic charity, and its board chairman, Laila Al-Marayati, brought a libel suit against Levitt and Yale UP in California state court for linking them with the terrorist organization. In June, Levitt charged his accusers with bringing a SLAPP suit (strategic litigation against public participation), i.e. a suit designed not seriously to recover damages, but simply to intimidate. They won. KinderUSA backed off.
  • In May, the Islamic Society of Boston dropped a suit against the Boston Herald and others for claiming that they had been passing funds to terrorist organizations. In the course of the trial, it came to light that the ISB had in fact given money to two groups on the government's list of terrorist organizations.
  • Earlier this year, six Muslim imams who had been removed from a flight for reportedly suspicious behavior sued US Airways, the Minneapolis airport and several passengers who had reported them. In August, they dropped their suit after Congress passed a law, sponsored by my Congressman, Rep. Peter King (R-LI), protecting such civic spirited tips from intimidating lawsuits. Plaintiffs must prove that the finger pointers lied or they must pay all court and legal fees.
That sounds like a series of victories for domestic Tranquility, the common defence, the general Welfare, and the Blessings of Liberty. Were KinderUSA or the Islamic Society of Boston falsely accused? I am not in a position to judge with certainty, though I certainly have my inclinations on the matter. Either way, the remedy is not to shut down all public inquiry and discussion on the matter -- which has been the effect of plaintiff-friendly libel laws in Britain. Rather, aggrieved parties should defend the truth by challenging and refuting their accusers in public debate.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Without Christianity, We Are Not America

Jon Meacham, Newsweek editor, has a really fine, well informed and nicely balanced essay in the New York Times, "A Nation of Christians Is Not a Christian Nation" (October 7, 2007), responding to Sen. John McCain's remark in a recent interview that, "the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation."

He begins by stating what is called the Theologico-Political Problem, the inescapable limitation on Christian political allegiances on account of a Christian's prior allegiance to the holy God who transcends and judges all nations.

According to Scripture,...believers are to be wary of all mortal powers. Their home is the kingdom of God, which transcends all earthly things, not any particular nation-state. The Psalmist advises believers to “put not your trust in princes.” The author of Job says that the Lord “shows no partiality to princes nor regards the rich above the poor, for they are all the work of his hands.” Before Pilate, Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world.” And if, as Paul writes in Galatians, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” then it is difficult to see how there could be a distinction in God’s eyes between, say, an American and an Australian. In fact, there is no distinction if you believe Peter’s words in the Acts of the Apostles: “I most certainly believe now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right is welcome to him.”
He reviews some noteworthy counterfactuals from the historical record, including the Constitution itself, Thomas Jefferson (who was not at the Constitutional Convention), and George Washington. (It is interesting that the editor of Newsweek, to determine what "the Constitution established," looks in large part to the expressed intention of the Framers and of the Founding generation. He must be a judicial conservative.)

The only acknowledgment of God in the original Constitution is a utilitarian one: the document is dated “in the year of our Lord 1787.” Even the religion clause of the First Amendment is framed dryly and without reference to any particular faith. The Connecticut ratifying convention debated rewriting the preamble to take note of God’s authority, but the effort failed. ...

Thomas Jefferson said that his bill for religious liberty in Virginia was “meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindu, and infidel of every denomination.” When George Washington was inaugurated in New York in April 1789, Gershom Seixas, the hazan of Shearith Israel, was listed among the city’s clergymen (there were 14 in New York at the time) — a sign of acceptance and respect. The next year, Washington wrote the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, R.I., saying, “happily the government of the United States ... gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance. ... Everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
Meacham shows his sobriety on the subject when he recognizes the good conscience these Founders had when speaking of God in public pronouncements. He even points to the fundamental and vital connection between God and "the founding principle of the nation -- that all men are created equal...."

He closes with a classic "original intent" argument, relating how the Senate in 1790 established in law a denial of Sen. McCain's proposition.

In the 1790s, in the waters off Tripoli, pirates were making sport of American shipping near the Barbary Coast. Toward the end of his second term, Washington sent Joel Barlow, the diplomat-poet, to Tripoli to settle matters, and the resulting treaty, finished after Washington left office, bought a few years of peace. Article 11 of this long-ago document says that “as the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,” there should be no cause for conflict over differences of “religious opinion” between countries.

The article is sweet music to my ears as far as it goes. But it does not settle all questions. He tells us that, "Abraham Lincoln buried a proposed 'Christian amendment' to the Constitution to declare the nation’s fealty to Jesus." America rejected it, but does Psalm 2:10 require it?

Though the Constitution studiously avoids a religious foundation for the regime, is such a foundation presupposed? For example, does the American republican system of electoral accountability, separation of powers, and checks and balances presuppose a Christian view of human depravity?

Does the Constitution require a particular sort of character in most citizens? Since we're quoting Washington, we should remember his Farewell Address (1796): "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports....And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle." Granted, he says "religion," not Christianity in particular. But shouldn't we recognize that some religions are more supportive of individual self-restraint, mutual respect and industrious habits than others?

Also, some religions are so inherently political, such as Islam, that with a critical mass of adherents they would, by their very nature, present a popular threat to the Constitution.

So while Meacham makes an excellent point, it is still fair to ask, were Christianity to disappear entirely from this land and be replaced by atheism, could we maintain the protection of our liberties (as well as civil decency at the social level)? Were Christianity to be replaced by Islam as the dominant religion, would we have the same attachment to our Constitution?

"Christian nation" can mean different things. We are not an officially Christian nation. We are a nation of people affiliated with predominantly Christian traditions. As Meacham says, the Founders "wanted faith to be one thread in the country’s tapestry, not the whole tapestry." I would strengthen the claim, changing "faith" to Christianity specifically. American may not be a "Christian nation" as such, but without Christianity, we are not America...or least we will not be for long.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Angry Left: Bush is a Beast – I’m Unconvinced

Historically, in order to bring us out of our natural isolationism and onto the battlefield overseas, we have had to view an enemy as the embodiment of evil. Alas, this moralistic, apocalyptic view of the world (in some cases justified internationally) has come home to domestic politics. No, it is not the Religious Right we have to thank for this. The bitterness of our present political discourse began with the response of the New Left to the Vietnam Conflict. In the 1980s, it took a new form in opposition to Ronald Reagan whom, they warned us with dread thunderings, would bring upon us the scourge of nuclear nightmare. For the past six years, it is George W. Bush who is not merely a bad choice, a fool, a crook or even the corrupter of virgins and patriots, but the Beast himself.

Now I’m all for calling a beast a beast (Saddam), a tyrant a tyrant (Mugabe), an evil empire an evil empire (you know who) and a fool a fool (let’s not get into it). I support the Republican Party, and I do so on principle. But if one of our number goes bad, I join with other principled Republicans in crying, “Bad!” But I see no moral fault in this President. There is much to debate in his presidency. Reasonable and patriotic people can disagree with him and even oppose him politically. But I see no reasonable grounds for the hatred that animates his sharpest critics.

There is any number of left wing rants we could consider. But recently I happened to come across this speech by E. L. Doctorow. Though it is now more than three years old, it expresses the rage and loathing that characterizes the hard left view of our sitting President.

Doctorow published this essay on September 9, 2004 in the East Hampton Star here on Long Island where Doctorow has a home in Sag Harbor. The previous May, he gave the commencement address at Long Island's Hofstra University where he accused the president of telling "bad stories" about there being WMDs in Iraq when he knew there were none. (After all, who would believe the obviously wild speculations and frantic concerns of those UN weapons inspectors?) Incidentally, he was booed into silence for what many viewed as an unwelcome intrusion of fanatically angry politics into an otherwise happy event.

His charge was this: “I fault this president for not knowing what death is…. He does not mourn. He doesn't understand why he should mourn. He is satisfied during the course of a speech written for him to look solemn for a moment and speak of the brave young Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. But you study him, you look into his eyes and know he dissembles an emotion which he does not feel in the depths of his being because he has no capacity for it. …To mourn is to express regret and he regrets nothing. …He is the president who does not feel. … He cannot mourn but is a figure of such moral vacancy as to make us mourn for ourselves.” There are two pages of this unbroken invective.

In other words, the president is a criminal psychopath but, sadly, a brilliantly deceptive one. Of course, Reagan was the same…except stupid…but in a crafty way. Nixon was Tyrannosaurus Nix. Like Columbia’s Lee Bollinger, this accomplished novelist seems to think that a tongue lashing is persuasive rhetoric, words that topple thrones.

So what am I to make of this? I have various data available to me regarding GWB. I have this opinion from Doctorow. But on what does he base his opinion? It seems all that he offers is the fact that, unlike Eisenhower, Bush has never seen combat. “On the eve of D-Day in 1944 General Eisenhower prayed to God for the lives of the young soldiers he knew were going to die. He knew what death was.” Well, most of us have never seen combat or any kind of death up close, but from that fact it would be rash and unjustified to conclude that we are all unfeeling monsters.

Consider another similarly situated American president. Bill Clinton as commander-in-chief sent young men to die in Mogadishu and Bosnia. If Doctorow had similar words for President Clinton, they have not come to my attention.

Incidentally, notice that he does not say that Eisenhower wept for the boys he sent overseas, only that he prayed for them. That, of course, could be a politically calculated act though I assume he was sincere. Bush himself is widely known as a praying man. President Clinton, on the other hand, the darling of the left, was a notorious weeper, but also an infamous dissembler. While leaving the Ron Brown funeral, he was caught on camera laughing it up with Rev. Tony Campolo. The instant his eye caught the camera filming him he broke into tears, much to the confusion of his companion.

I have other reports, however (to me, credible ones), that President Bush weeps with the parents of those who fall in battle and that he understands -- and yes even feels -- the awesome weight of the consequences of his decisions as commander-in-chief. He also feels the profound weight of his responsibility for keeping this country safe from an Al Qaeda nuclear device in New York Harbor or some other American nerve center. (As someone who works in Manhattan, I personally appreciate his concern.) When I saw him at the Ames Straw Poll in 2000, I saw man who loved his country, who was jealous for the honor of the office of the president and who could lead the country with firmness and integrity. I have neither read nor seen anything to discredit those impressions. (The picture is of President Bush grieving with Ashley Faulkner whose mother, Wendy, died in the WTC south tower on 9/11.)

This Doctorow piece is just another hysterical screed from the left wing cultural elite who cannot fathom why, despite the years of cultural and political education which they have liberally bestowed upon this nation, the "red state" bubbas, bozos and Bible thumping obscurantists with whom they are forced to share citizenship continue to elect conservatives and refuse to be enlightened. Whatever happened to progress?


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Answering Columbia: A Healthy Respect for Politics

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent speaking engagement at Columbia University has, among other things, focused attention on the exclusion of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) from Ivy League campuses. Isn’t it strange (as people have been wondering) that Columbia welcomes this political oppressor onto campus, giving him not only a voice, but a prestigious platform from which to address, by virtue of that platform, not only the university but the nation, and yet they are careful to shield their tender and impressionable students from exposure to the ROTC. They justify their invitation to the morally repulsive Ahmadinejad by citing free speech and the free exchange of ideas while they forbid ROTC access to the campus on specifically moral grounds.

ROTC has been barred from all the Ivy League campuses since the 1960s when the New Left anti-war student agitators drove them off. Those radicals now dominate the university faculties…and they loath the military. (Remember the early days of the Clinton White House, and how Hillary, a child of the 60s, was reported to resent the presence of uniformed military personnel, forgetting that her husband was commander-in-chief?)

These people are supposedly intelligent, learned and observant. Yet they cannot see their own dependence as citizens, and in particular as a thinking and speaking class of citizens, on the national armed forces that prevent foreign powers from taking away their freedom to think and speak. Has this intelligent, learned and observant class convinced itself that all the world is Mayberry? Have they honestly concluded from their study of man and the history of man that we can safely leave our national doors unlocked because all the neighbors are civil and decent, or would be if only we ourselves would behave as good neighbors?


I have seen this absurdity elsewhere. After the 9/11 attacks on our country, many people began displaying "God Bless America" signs. This seemed to me a natural and healthy response to what amounted to an attack on all Americans and on the foundations of the liberties we rightly hold dear. In that context, someone in my neighborhood put up a large, plywood sign saying, “God Bless the World.” In other words, “Unlike my neighbors, I am above these irrational, even immoral, parochial attachments which do nothing but divide people and lead to bloodshed.” It struck me as not only naively apolitical, but also hypocritical.

Rising above politics certainly has its time and place. But as a moral absolute, it is neither practical nor wise.

We have nations – separate and armed political communities – because there is bloodshed, not the reverse. We live in a world of scarcity, a world of competitive goods. There is only so much land, only so much gold. Glory shared is glory diminished. We need political communities, political life and political attachments because, in pursuit of these goods, people (or too many of them) are selfish and rapacious.

The sentiment expressed on my neighbor’s sign is, on one level, admirable. But as a denial and condemnation of political sentiments it is hypocritical. The person who posted the sign did so because he or she has the liberty to do so. Furthermore, the people in this person’s neighborhood are of such a character that they did not deface or remove the sign, much less turn violently on its author. In other words, to exercise the liberties that his sign presupposes, this globally minded neighbor depends on the same political community and on the coercive authorities that preserve it that he condemns.

The Ivy League universities are in the same position. I’m sorry to have to resort to seemingly uncharitable language, but those who oppose ROTC simply because it represents and advances the United States Armed Forces are either hypocritical or stupid. I suppose it would be more charitable to assume the latter.