Monday, February 4, 2013, 9:30 AM
We have already discussed in a preliminary fashion the impact of the regulations proposed Friday on religiously motivated businesses, as well as whether the way in which the cost of contraception is shifted from religious organizations to other parties ought to relieve the consciences of those troubled by the mandate.
I published an op-ed on Friday in which I elaborated for an audience in my home state on an issue that I raised in this blog before. Georgia law mandates contraceptive coverage, exempting only organizations (like the Roman Catholic Church) that self-insure. The question that was unclear when I wrote the op-ed, but painfully clear now, was whether the Obama Administration’s ungenerous proposed regulations would supersede the even less generous state law.
Yesterday we received our answer:
Finally, the provisions of these proposed rules would not prevent states from enacting stronger consumer protections than these minimum standards. Federal health insurance regulation generally establishes a federal floor to ensure that individuals in every state have certain basic protections. State health insurance laws requiring coverage for contraceptive services that provide more access to contraceptive coverage than the federal standards would therefore continue under the proposed rules.
Churches and religious organizations in Georgia and seven other states would not receive even the minimal accommodations proposed by the Obama Administration, which is quite willing to compel states to toe its line on health insurance coverage, but not on religious liberty. If we hadn’t see it before, we see now where the Administration’s heart really lies.
Friday, February 1, 2013, 2:56 PM
The Obama Administration has proposed new regulations that purport to accommodate some of the concerns voiced by religious organizations in response to its original attempt to mandate that virtually all health insurance plans offer contraceptive coverage free of charge.
You can read or download the regulations (all eighty pages of them!) here (scroll down a bit).
Like everyone else, I can only promise to study these new regulations closely before I offer any sort of comprehensive commentary.
For the moment, with the Becket Fund, I’ll note that the regulations certainly don’t address the conscientious concerns of religiously motivated for-profit employers. The proposed regulations also maintain the distinction between religious organizations (largely houses of worship) that are exempt from the HHS mandate and those that are not (e.g., religiously affiliated hospitals and universities). Eligibility requirements for membership in both groups seem to be a bit looser.
The big change seems to be in the way contraceptive coverage is going to be provided to those enrolled in the health insurance plans offered by the non-exempt religious groups.
Under the proposed accommodations, the eligible organizations would not have to contract, arrange, pay or refer for any contraceptive coverage to which they object on religious grounds.
In addition, under the proposed accommodations, plan participants would receive contraceptive coverage through separate individual health insurance policies, without cost sharing or additional premiums. The issuer would work to ensure a seamless process for plan participants to receive contraceptive coverage.
With respect to insured group health plans, the eligible organization would provide the self-certification to the health insurance issuer, which in turn would automatically provide separate, individual market contraceptive coverage at no cost for plan participants. Issuers generally would find that providing such contraceptive coverage is cost neutral because they would be they would be insuring the same set of individuals under both policies and would experience lower costs from improvements in women’s health and fewer childbirths.
With respect to self-insured group health plans, the eligible organization would notify the third party administrator, which in turn would automatically work with a health insurance issuer to provide separate, individual health insurance policies at no cost for participants. The costs of both the health insurance issuer and third party administrator would be offset by adjustments in Federally-facilitated Exchange user fees that insurers pay.
The claim that will receive (and deserves to receive) the most attention is that this arrangement leaves no costs for contraceptive coverage that can in any way be passed on to the religious organization (see pp. 26, 28 of the proposed regulations).
So, gentle readers, what do you think?
Wednesday, January 30, 2013, 9:10 AM
Real Clear Religion’s Jeffrey Weiss thinks that, regardless of what happens with the Boy Scouts and gay scouts and leaders, the organization will still hold the line (unfortunately from his point of view, I suspect) against atheists and agnostics.
Since I share Matthew Franck’s bleak view, I don’t think so.
Here’s the dynamic that will inexorably work its way out. What begins as a local option, with different councils and troops taking different views, will move toward uniformity. As the weight of opinion within scouting changes, those who favor the new orthodoxy will have less and less patience with those who hold morally traditional views. Churches that have long sponsored scout troops will either withdraw their sponsorship or be encouraged to do so by those who wish to solidify the new face of scouting.
To be sure, churches that have found ways to parse Scripture that don’t put them at odds with the new orthodoxy will continue to sponsor troops, so scouting will continue to have a substantially religious cast. But the religion will be modernist and accommodationist.
As such, I really don’t think that these sponsoring churches will erect barriers against atheists, so long as they’re “ethical” and “morally serious.” They will be loathe to impose even their minimal theology on anyone who wishes to embrace the new modernist, pluralist, accommodationist vision of scouting.
So Mr. Weiss has nothing to worry about.
I would add (from my experience as the father of a young man who need only pass his final board of review before he attains the rank of Eagle) that scouting in its current form is already quite tolerant of anyone who wishes externally to conform himself to the American mainstream. So long as you can recite the Scout Law and the Scout Oath, no one asks what you do with your private life or whether you in fact are a person of faith. Atheists who respect the religion of their fellows and do not seek to disrupt the relatively anodyne civil religion of scouting can certainly work their way through the ranks. Everything else–faith (or lack thereof) and sexuality, for example–is a matter for the scout and his parents.
That we cannot leave well enough alone is a testimony to the sad state of our culture.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013, 1:17 PM
My home state is one of a handful of states that provides dollar-for-dollar tax credits (up to a certain limit) for individuals and corporations that make contributions to student scholarship organizations, which in turn provide assistance to needy parents who wish to enroll their children in private schools. This program, pioneered by Arizona, withstood more than a decade of litigation before it was upheld by the Supreme Court in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn.
The idea behind it is that since there’s such resistance–mounted largely by teachers’ unions–to education vouchers, encouraging the formation of private organizations that funnel private money to students attending private schools would promote school choice without running afoul of the often toxic politics connected with fights over vouchers.
No such luck, as the Arizona case demonstrates.
The latest tack–or should I say “attack”?–abandons the argument, long repudiated by the Supreme Court, that vouchers or tax credits violate the First Amendment Establishment Clause. Instead of focusing on the religious character of the schools, the critics call attention to their policies regarding homosexuality.
The [Georgia] program permits individual and corporate taxpayers to divert a portion of their state taxes—a dollar-for-dollar reduction in taxes—to provide public financing to private organizations called student scholarship organizations (SSOs). In turn, these SSOs provide funds to private schools for all or part of a student’s tuition.
This program of educational tax credits is providing public financing to a large number of private schools in Georgia that have draconian anti-gay policies and practices.
There are two easy responses to this line of argument. (more…)
Friday, January 11, 2013, 10:05 AM
At least once a month (and I suspect more often if I looked harder), I read an article that tells me that young Evangelicals are sick and tired of the culture war, that they have little or no interest in rushing to the barricades to protect traditional marriage (and so on).
There are two versions of the argument, both of which I find in this morning’s reading. One is that younger Evangelicals don’t want to be defined by social conservatism. They may still have conservative views, but to the degree that they’re engaged with issues, their portfolio is much broader, encompassing concerns like poverty and the environment. The other is that they’re abandoning the conservative positions taken by their elders, migrating to the left across the board.
I’m sure you can find instances of both, but the survey data comes closer to supporting something like the former view. Thus, for example, this survey finds that young white Evangelicals overwhelmingly oppose abortion and same-sex marriage, making them outliers among their peers. Perhaps the proportions, especially on same-sex marriage, are less pronounced than among older generations, but 69-27 is still a pretty big gap.
The article is nonetheless revealing in other ways. Consider, for example, this passage: (more…)
Thursday, January 3, 2013, 1:35 PM
Thanks to some comments on an earlier post, I have learned that as many as twenty-eight states require insurance providers to include contraceptive coverage in the packages they offer. Twenty states offer some form of conscientious exemption from the requirement; eight–including (much to my dismay) my home state–do not. According to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, Arizona’s recently-passed law, which exempts religious organizations, but not religiously motivated employers, is an example of an “expansive” exemption. Massachusetts offers an exemption limited to churches or “qualified church-controlled” organizations. California has a much narrower exemption, resembling the Obama Administration’s initial proposal (e.g., limiting exemptions to institutions whose purpose is to inculcate religious values and that primarily serve co-religionists).
This patchwork of state insurance regulations will likely continue to pose a problem, even if the lawsuits against the Obama Administration’s contraceptive mandate succeed. Consider the following possibility: Hobby Lobby wins its case against the HHS mandate, but the court grounds its judgment on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and not on the Free Exercise Clause. In that case, the federal government would be enjoined from requiring Hobby Lobby to provide contraceptive coverage, but none of the state laws requiring coverage would be affected.
It wouldn’t at all surprise me if RFRA were the basis of an eventual Supreme Court decision overturning the HHS mandate; it requires that laws restricting religious freedom to fulfill a “compelling state interest” and be the least restrictive means of achieving that interest. By contrast, current Supreme Court free exercise doctrine (more…)
Sunday, December 30, 2012, 4:50 PM
As a deacon, I sit on the Personnel Committee for my church. For me, it’s a learning experience since two of my colleagues are benefits administrators for my denomination who patiently answer my dumb questions. We’d been discussing the healthcare package for the church employees and I raised the question of whether it provides the “family planning” services at issue in all the lawsuits.
Much to my chagrin, the answer was “yes,” not because my church or my denomination enthusiastically embraces free sexual expression, but because the church (and, as it happens, the denominational headquarters) is not a large enough employer to command a customized benefits package from the health insurance industry. All the insurance plans approved by my state and offered to small employers like my church and my denomination apparently include these “benefits.” In a sense, the insurance market has for a long time “mandated” that we provide birth control and abortifacients for our employees and participate through our payments in providing them for everyone currently covered by our health insurance company.
Absent a change in the marketplace, the HHS mandate is for us superfluous, as we’re not big enough either to self-insure or to cut an individualized deal with our insurer. I’m not conversant enough with the employment arrangements in the wide range of American denominations to make a blanket statement, but I suspect that any church that hires its own staff and effectively serves at their employer of record is in pretty much the same boat. (more…)
Wednesday, December 19, 2012, 10:24 AM
I’m inhabiting a particularly unpleasant circle of grading hell at the moment, but a series of student papers has given me the opportunity to escape for a moment of throughtful reflection. The assignment–given to sophomores in a core course–required students to connect the dots between The Abolition of Man and That Hideous Strength, and then use two “classic” authors to reflect on the larger themes articulated by Lewis. Among the authors they could have chosen as foils are Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Hobbes, and Locke. To adapt the phrasing of one of more colorful former colleagues, Lewis has more in common with “Team Classical and Christian” than with “Team Early Modern Liberal.” In any event, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
At issue, for our purposes, is Lewis’ critique of the ambitious project of modern science, which holds out the prospect of the abolition of man. The students by and large get that. Some of them (and this begins to separate the sheep from the goats) also understand that (and how) the masters of this project—Lewis calls them the Conditioners in Abolition, and they comprise the leadership of N.I.C.E. (the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments) in That Hideous Strength—have also abandoned their humanity in their quest for power over nature.
What I find interesting is that many of my students seem confident that Hobbes and Locke unambiguously and unreservedly side with Lewis against the bad guys. This is the Hobbes who defines scientific understanding to be demonstrated by being able to manipulate causes so as to produce effects more or less on demand. And this is the Locke who devotes the most important chapter of the Second Treatis of Government to a theory of property that has at its core the human transformation and appropriation of an “almost worthless” nature. (more…)
Wednesday, December 12, 2012, 12:15 PM
In a recent column, Jonah Goldberg ruminates about why Asian-Americans overwhelming supported President Obama in his reelection effort. His suggestion:
“Whenever a Gujarati or Sikh businessman comes to a Republican event, it begins with an appeal to Jesus Christ,” conservative writer Dinesh D’Souza recently told The New York Times Magazine. “While the Democrats are really good at making the outsider feel at home, the Republicans make little or no effort.”
My friend and colleague Ramesh Ponnuru, an Indian American and devout Catholic, says the GOP has a problem with seeming like a “club for Christians.”
That rings true to me. I’ve attended dozens of conservative events where, as the speaker, I was, in effect, the guest of honor, and yet the opening invocation made no account of the fact that the guest of honor wasn’t a Christian. I’ve never taken offense, but I can imagine how it might seem to someone who felt like he was even less a part of the club.
Now, I’m a big fan of clubs. I think that in a pluralistic public square, people should feel free to express themselves as they wish. If that means expressing solidarity by affirming what they share, so be it. If that means proclaiming the Word and letting the Holy Spirit do its work, so be it.
I chose those two examples advisedly. A political party presumably sets out to win elections, which means that it may have to attract new adherents. Its members surely have to know what they stand for, but they also have to be open to making new friends, so to speak. Clubbiness, Christian or otherwise, may not be a particularly good strategy. (more…)
Monday, November 26, 2012, 2:32 PM
This article makes the case that addressing income inequality is the (perhaps not so) hidden heart of President Obama’s agenda. What it doesn’t explain is what his arguments for greater equality in our income distribution are.
In the history of political philosophy, there are at least these three reasons for questioning inequality.
First, there’s the claim that inequality harms the poorest, who lack the bare necessities required for human flourishing. This is not so much an argument against inequality in itself as it is an argument for establishing a floor beneath which no one should be permitted to fall.
Second, there’s the claim that a wildly unequal distribution of income does not appropriately recognize and reward the varying talents and efforts that people display. Some get too much and others too little for their work. A just distribution of income would probably still be unequal, but it would likely be less so and certainly look different from the one “randomly” produced by the marketplace.
Third, there’s the claim that inequality produces political instability, that those at the bottom resent those at the top. In this instance, the “pragmatic” argument for greater equality is that it will take some of the venom out of political life, that it will diminish the likelihood of destructive class conflict, and that it will promote a healthy community. This argument might have some force even if those at the bottom already possess the minimum requisites of human flourishing and are being rewarded more or less as they deserve for their abilities and effort. Envy and resentment–what Tocqueville called “the debased taste for equality”– pose a political problem even if they’re not justified.
The only clue the article gives to the president’s reasoning is a reference to his 2011 speech in Osawatomie, Kansas. This speech, which attracted a lot of attention at the time, is worth revisiting today. In various ways, he invokes all three of the lines of argument I’ve sketched above. Consider, for example, this passage: (more…)
Wednesday, November 21, 2012, 3:30 PM
This is a complicated national holiday with religious overtones, though they’re all too easily forgotten and are increasingly swallowed by the commercialization of Christmas, which is (of course) increasingly swallowed–if not altogether obliterated–by its own commercialization.
Here is this year’s presidential proclamation, to which I’m sure some will object (I’m not one of them). If you’re so inclined, you can find every previous presidential proclamation here. I especially commend to your attention Grover Cleveland‘s (among those not cited virtually every year).
I’ve written about the public and theological dimensions of Thanksgiving here, here, here, and here.
So let us all pause to express our gratitude….
Tuesday, November 20, 2012, 4:35 PM
Here’s the federal district judge’s ruling in Hobby Lobby’s suit against the HHS mandate. Non-religious corporations don’t have religious liberty under the First Amendment and aren’t persons protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Greens–owners of the privately held company–certainly are persons for RFRA purposes, but their religious liberty isn’t “substantially” burdened by the requirement that the company they own pay for drugs and procedures to which they are conscientiously opposed. As different judges have already come to different conclusions in substantially similar cases, this is not the end of the road for this very popular (at least in my neck of the woods) chain.
To my mind, the best defense of religious liberty is for government not to make laws that so directly violate the consciences of so many people. A government responsive to a citizenry that cared deeply about religious liberty would think twice before imposing such requirements. From what I can tell, the Obama Administration–by insisting upon the protection of rights which a corporation’s failure to subsidize doesn’t violate–is actively working to muddy the waters, creating a conflict between two rights claims when there need not be any. The practical consequence is to undermine people’s attachment to religious liberty. In other words, “objectively” (as my Marxist grad school colleagues used to say) the Obama Administration is opposed to religious liberty.
Would that it were not so.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012, 10:00 AM
Florida Senator Marco Rubio has attracted a lot of unwelcome attention by equivocating in response to a question regarding the age of the earth:
I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.
A liberal friend messaged me on Facebook that this sort of the thing is ”why [he] can’t be a Republican.” Well, he has plenty of other reasons, but that’s neither here nor there.
My first response was to compare Senator Rubio’s evasiveness to Barack Obama’s inartful dodging in response to a relatively straightforward question from Rick Warren: (more…)
Friday, November 16, 2012, 10:06 AM
In their very different ways, Michael Gerson and Jonah Goldberg ask us to contemplate going back to the future. Both suggest that perhaps the much-maligned George W. Bush was onto something when he asked us to think a little differently about the relationship between government and civil society.
I’m pressed for time and so can’t now say everything I’d like to say, but I will assert this: if “compassionate conservatism” is only a marketing slogan, I want no part of it and it won’t work anyway. If, on the other hand, it means recognizing the primacy of community as an authentic expression of our natures, that those communities are healthiest that spring from affection and proximity, and that government can serve but not create such communities, I’m interested.
If there’s going to be a conversation about the meaning of conservatism and Republicanism in the aftermath of this disappointing election, I won’t (and of course can’t) deny the libertarians a seat at the table, but I will insist upon a place as well for what some might call Christian democracy.
Thursday, November 15, 2012, 10:32 AM
We’ve heard a lot lately about how the Obama campaign profited immensely from the assistance of some very smart and sophisticated behavioral and social scientists. Sasha Issenberg is a very enthusiastic guide to the various techniques that arguably helped the Democrats to their impressive victory on Election Day.
This is just the newest version of a very old problem, where one or both sides seek victory, not by means of good arguments, but rather by the techniques of persuasion and motivation that are, in effect, neutral with respect to the quality–let alone the justice or truth–of the arguments.
Now, the case for “democracy” has always relied on some version of one or both of the following grounds. Either just government rests on the consent of the governed, which assumes that the governed are the best judges of what’s good for them as individuals, or there’s more wisdom in a deliberative group than in any individual. The latter argument–advanced problematically by Aristotle in the Politics–relies upon each of us knowing what we know and what we don’t and upon our willingness to listen to others when we lack knowledge ourselves. (I might add that the argument relies upon another assumption that Aristotle doesn’t make explicit–that in those areas where we lack knowledge, we’re capable at least of recognizing and rejecting bad arguments. This, of course, is an enormously problematical assumption, even more so in an age when moral obtuseness is preached as a kind of virtue.)
In other words, the case for democracy has always rested upon a certain kind of respect for the judgments of the people–either regarding their own good or regarding the common good. (more…)
Tuesday, November 13, 2012, 10:00 AM
Legendary film critic Pauline Kael is once said to have remarked that she didn’t understand how Richard Nixon was elected President. No one she knew–and her circle of acquaintances all lived east of the Hudson River–had voted for him.
Here comes Sarah Westwood, a “lonely College Republican.” Here’s her version of Pauline Kael: “Most kids my age bristle at the word ‘conservative,’ and I don’t blame them. The right has done nothing to welcome young people.” Now I don’t doubt that in her set–students at relatively elite colleges and universities that have no discernible religious affiliation–there aren’t many who are willing to call themselves Republicans, though she seems blissfully–well, not blissfully–unaware that the exit polls tell us that while Barack Obama won the youth vote 60 percent to 37 percent, Mitt Romney won the white youth vote 51-44. This tells me that the GOP problem with young people is a product of its problem with non-white voters.
She’s right that Republicans need to do better still, but wrong in her diagnosis and prescription. For her, the problem is those darn social conservatives–”the religious right and the gay-bashing, Bible-thumping fringe that gives the party such a bad rap with every young voter.” According to her, “the evangelical set essentially hijacked the Republican Party in the 1970s,” and she and her essentially libertarian buddies need to take it back.
I’ll concede her this much: There’s oodles of evidence of a sea change in opinion about same-sex marriage. In a sense we’re reaping what we sowed some decades ago when we–I’m speaking loosely here–abandoned a conception of marriage that made children and obligation central and replaced it with one that emphasized self-actualization. (Indeed, I could be so bold as to blame John Locke’s contractual reimagining of the family, for though he made reproduction an important goal of the marriage contract, once self-interest and consent take the front seat, people can agree to all sorts of arrangements; and once, some time later, reproductive technology became available, you didn’t need a man and a woman in the same room at the same time to make babies. If this doesn’t persuade you to blame Locke, let me add this: he thought that virtually every “social” function of a parent could be, in effect, contracted out.) I don’t know what’s going to put that genie back in the bottle. (more…)
Friday, November 9, 2012, 10:00 AM
Some commentators–both conservative and liberal (or, I guess, “progressive”)–have suggested that this election hammers some nails in the coffin of the long-standing notion–a bedtime story we conservatives like to tell ourselves?–that America is a center-right nation.
Let’s look at the exit polling data. In 2008, the respondents broke 22/44/34 liberal/moderate/conservative, with 60 percent of the moderates and 20 percent of the conservatives supporting a candidate who seemed to present himself as a post-partisan moderate (remember there’s not a red America, there’s not a blue America, there’s a United States of America?). In 2012, the ideological distribution was remarkably similar: 25/41/35, with 56 percent of the moderates and 17 percent of the conservatives voting for a president with a very liberal–er, progressive–record. Going back to 2004, the distribution was 21/45/34, with Kerry winning the moderate vote 54-45. Taking people at their word, what I see is remarkable stability in the conservative proportion, and a slight bleed from moderate to liberal. As for the voting behavior of the folks in the center, I’m tempted to say that they tilt a teensy bit leftward or that they regard Republicans as further to the right than Democrats are to the left. My liberal–er, progressive–friends will tell me that the latter is the correct characterization. I’m not persuaded by the evidence they’ve offered and so will remain agnostic.
Of course, I’m not sure I know what these folks mean when they call themselves moderate, so I’m inclined to look elsewhere for evidence regarding the ideological color of the electorate. Here, again, there is some interesting exit polling data. In 2008 and 2012, voters were asked some version of this question–Which is closer to your view: “government should do more to solve problems” or “government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals”? In 2012, 51 percent of respondents chose the second alternative and 43 percent the first. Let me repeat: 51 percent chose the more conservative option. By contrast, in 2008, 51 percent chose the first alternative and 43 percent the second. You can read this evidence in two ways. Perhaps we’ve moved to the right in the past four years, as we favor less government now than we did in 2008. Or perhaps we thought the government was doing too little in 2008 and too much now. Who knows where the Goldilocks “just right” position is? In any event, it’s fair to say that the 2012 response does not indicate a leftward shift in our opinion.
You can draw the same conclusion by looking at the Obamacare question, which shows that 49 percent of the respondents want some or all of it repealed, while 44 percent would expand it or leave it as it is. By the way, 26 percent favor expansion, while 25 percent favor total repeal. In this case, the middle tilts rightward, not leftward. (more…)
Thursday, November 8, 2012, 9:30 AM
I offered my preliminary reflections on the 2012 presidential exit polls and promised more to come. I’m a man of my word.
Thus far, I’ve argued that, in effect, the Obama campaign executed a plan based on a theory of electoral behavior (ideology and identity) that was superior to the understanding that guided the Romney campaign (a referendum on an incumbent in tough times). Not every candidate could have pulled off what Barack Obama did. If, for example, you consider the mix of personal attributes on which he was considered favorably–more favorably than Romney–they all contributed to the successful execution, especially, of his identity politics appeal.
To take just one instance, voters were asked which one of four candidate attributes was most important for their decision–”shares my values,” “strong leader,” “has a vision for the future,” and “cares about people like me.” Romney led Obama by varying margins on the first three, but Obama blew him away (81 percent to 18 percent) on the fourth, regarded as most important by 21 percent of the respondents. His margin there far overshadows Romney’s combined margins on the other three qualities. This is compassionate identification very well executed. I have to confess to having been impressed by Romney’s confidence and competence and to having been unimpressed by Obama’s capacity or willingness to feel my pain, but having lived through the Clinton Administration, I shouldn’t have assumed that enough people shared my judgment.
Similarly, by a 53-43 margin, respondents said that Obama was more in touch than Romney with people like themselves.
Now, I think that Bill Clinton is a much better practitioner of this form of politics than Obama is, and I don’t think doing so would at all come naturally to Romney. In other words, I don’t think that the “identity” part of the ideology/identity strategy can work for just any candidate. (more…)
Wednesday, November 7, 2012, 10:18 AM
Here are the exit polls, which I’ve spent some time contemplating.
First, let’s count our blessings. We didn’t have to stay up late, and we likely won’t have a nightmarish recount anywhere. The country can move on knowing who its leaders will be, and (for both sides) any lingering ambiguity about the division we face has been dispelled.
My first thought based on the results and the exit polls is that the conventional political science wisdom–that when incumbents run for reelection, the election is a referendum on them, in which people basically vote their pocketbooks–seems to have been wrong this time. It was the foundation of the Romney campaign, which reduced Obama’s margins almost everywhere, but not enough to produce a victory. Perhaps the economy wasn’t quite bad enough, but I’m not satisfied with that excuse.
Obama’s electoral strategy was based upon what one would have thought were political luxury goods (the kinds with which people are likely to dispense in bad times)–ideology and identity. He puts together the roughly 40 percent of the white electorate who are self-conscious or functional liberals with various identity politics appeals to African-Americans and Hispanics and gets a majority of the vote. The former can be said to be immune to pocketbook appeals either because they are reasonably well-off or because they can explain their situation as the fault of either George W. Bush (as do a majority of the exit poll respondents) or the obstructionist Republicans. I don’t have to agree or disagree with their analysis to note that the Romney mantra that times are tough and everyone is hurting didn’t stand much of a chance of changing their minds.
I should also note that the identity politics appeals to non-whites aren’t merely symbolic. There are government programs and benefits attached to at least some of the appeals, which helps them stand up to any economic stresses.
Connected with this “identity politics” analysis is another consideration. Romney did very well with white voters (59-39) and even with white women (56-42) and white young people (51-44). But whites comprised only 72 percent of the exit poll respondents (down from 74 percent in 2008). That number will continue to decline, so simply doing very well with white voters probably won’t ever again lead to the White House. Republicans can’t simply cede the growing proportion (more…)
Monday, November 5, 2012, 9:27 AM
This article makes it seem as if the only churches that engage in the kind of speech the IRS proscribes for tax-exempt organizations are conservative Evangelical churches. Given the long history of African-American churches as centers of political organization in their communities, that can’t be and simply isn’t true.
This piece offers a cogent defense of the ADF’s Pulpit Freedom Sunday initiative. While I think that the First Amendment’s free exercise clause offers a pretty good argument for the tax exempt status of churches (otherwise the government could use its tax policy to influence their behavior, something that we have of course–wink, wink–rarely seen), it seems to me that the best defense of religious freedom is political.
I don’t want judges or IRS bureaucrats deciding which statements made from the pulpit or elsewhere in the church reflect the “core mission” and which don’t. I’d rather have people across the country tell politicians to keep their hands off our churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples and punish them at the ballot box (a quaint expression prior to Sandy) if they don’t. Of course, doing so requires precisely the kind of education that ADF is undertaking (though it would be more effective if some Obama-supporting pastors could be recruited to join the effort).
For what it’s worth, I have never heard a statement endorsing a candidate from the pulpit in a church I have attended. But that doesn’t mean I regard such statements as simply extraneous to the mission or un-biblical.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012, 10:15 AM
In certain parts of the south and southwest, it is hard to distinguish football from religion. Some high school cheerleaders in Texas have tied them together too closely for the taste of the Washington Post editorial board. Applying the journalistic version of the Supreme Court’s endorsement test, the editorial argues as follows:
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has weighed in, unhelpfully. “We’re a nation that’s built on the concept of free expression of ideas,” he said, according to the New York Times. “We’re also a culture built upon the concept that the original law is God’s law, outlined in the Ten Commandments.”
And if a student in the stands doesn’t believe that? Or an aspiring cheerleader happens to be a Hindu? Or a wide receiver is a Christian who is offended by the notion that God cares about the outcome of a high school football game? The cheerleaders’ backers say that the school doesn’t have any policy that implies endorsement of the banners’ content and that students, even cheerleaders, who disagree with it are not required to participate in anything banner-related.
Yet the cheerleading squad is a campus organization with faculty oversight, and it represents the school, wears its uniform and occupies a privileged space on the playing field. Its banners are part of a pregame ritual that involves the football players, for whom the school buys uniforms and provides other kinds of support. Since the squad and the team carry the school’s imprint, students should not have to choose between tacitly endorsing a sectarian message and participating in a cheerleading routine or taking the field with their teammates. Likewise, spectators shouldn’t have to choose between cheering on their team and avoiding the cheerleaders’ proselytizing.
The [pick an adjective that expresses your distaste] Freedom From Religion Foundation is looking for a plaintiff to sue in federal court. They’re likely to win, which is unfortunate. We live in a pluralistic society. There are two ways to manage to live peacefully together under these circumstances. One is walk on eggshells in a vigilantly policed public arena, where the hypersensitive dictate the character and content of public expression. The other is to encourage everyone to be broadly tolerant of views with which they disagree, relying on conversation for persuasion and having a thick skin for passionately voiced disagreements.
In the name of a certain kind of inclusivity, our judicial and journalistic elites have chosen the first option. Its effect is either to drive authentic religious expression underground (as the inclusion is also an exclusion) or to persuade people (not so much by reason as by intimidation and coercion) that a religion that calls itself catholic really isn’t. Neither consequence is good; the first harms civil society, while the second eviscerates genuine religion.
The second option requires that we be grown-ups. High school students are grown-ups in training. Aren’t there opportunities for conversation here that will actually advance the prospects for pluralism and mutual understanding? But not if the courts, prompted by the FFRF, intervene.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012, 9:26 AM
I live in Georgia’s newest city, which actually won’t be a city for a couple of months yet. But we have to get organized, and so we have to elect a mayor and city council to get the city up and running. Last evening I attended a forum for city council candidates in my district. Much of the conversation focused quite appropriately on the bread and butter of local governance–police services, planning and zoning, parks and recreation, all in the context of promises of good stewardship and fiscal responsibility. The candidates are all thoughtful, decent people, deeply involved in the affairs of the community, coaching youth sports, working on PTAs, serving on the boards of homeowners’ associations, and active in their churches. The audience consisted largely of people like them, willing to spend a couple of hours to hear out the candidates who aspire to be their public servants.
Oddly enough, however, the question (and answers) that got the biggest rise out of the audience was one that was at best peripheral to our most pressing concerns. Someone asked how the candidates would respond to an effort to post the Ten Commandments on the walls of our as yet non-existent City Hall. All four candidates said that they would resist such an effort, citing in more or less articulate ways concerns about the establishment of religion and sensitivity to the diversity of our community. Those responses elicited the only spontaneous applause of the evening.
Perhaps I’ve been blissfully unaware of the hordes of Bible-toting (or rather tablet-toting) theocrats just raring to invade and transform our little slice of, er, heaven. But my neighbors surely think it’s important for our elected officials to stand against them. This is symbolic politics at its best (or worst). (more…)
Wednesday, October 10, 2012, 1:56 PM
Much has and will be made of a report issued recently by the Pew Forum, finding a significant increase in the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as religiously unaffiliated. Commentators have seized on one fact–less than half of Americans now identify themselves as Protestant, a testimony, above all, to the continuing collapse of mainline Protestantism, but perhaps also a harbinger of a decline in Evangelicalism, which has also lost adherents over the past five years.
I’ll note a few things now, and have more later, after I’ve had time for further reflection.
First, the vast majority of the unaffiliated do not describe themselves as atheists or agnostics, but simply as not affiliated. Eighty-eight percent of the non-affiliated say they aren’t looking for a religion. Many say they believe in God, but are cynical about organized religion. I wonder what the basis of their cynicism is. Do they actually have experience of a church or religious community that justifies their cynicism, or is this just the easy, pseudo-worldly wise stance of the young?
Second, the young indeed comprise a substantial proportion of this unaffiliated group. That gives me some hope. Perhaps they’re still open to the kinds of experiences (birth and death chief among them) that can bring us to our knees in prayer and send us to church or back to church. Of course, the problem here is that while all of us will face death, an increasingly diminishing proportion of us will face birth, so to speak.
Third, it’s pretty clear that part of the problem is the failure of catechesis:
Michael S. Horton, professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Seminary in California, said Christians appear to be creating future “nones” by failing to adequately pass the faith on to successive generations.
“We are about a generation away from a worshiping community that is rather small in terms of those who know what they believe, why they believe, and practice their faith with some real conviction,” he said.
As I said, more later, after more reflection.
Monday, October 1, 2012, 9:45 AM
This piece in the New York Times unwittingly takes a page out of John Locke’s reimagining of marriage in the Second Treatise. Consulting with social scientists and therapists (but no defenders of more or less traditional marriage), the author wonders if we might do better to formalize the impermanence of marriage, replacing “till death do us part” with renewable terms. If we don’t have unrealistic expectations, we’ll lower the total of unhappiness in the world.
If marriage is just another economic arrangement, just another contract, if it’s not overly freighted with our all-too-human expectations of fulfillment and contentment, then we can have a good time while it lasts, declare success, and move on.
As my mother (happily married for fifty-seven years) would say (though I can’t capture her tone in print), “my gosh!”
The lower the sights, the more dispensable the relationship, the less and less we’ll invest in it. Locke and the other classical liberals wished to found politics on what they regarded as a low, but solid, ground, over against the aspirations, especially, of classical political thought. Something is surely lost thereby–a vision of what political life could be at its best. (more…)
Wednesday, September 26, 2012, 11:02 AM
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President Obama’s generally pretty good speech at the U.N. contains this paragraph:
The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. But to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see in the images of Jesus Christ that are desecrated, or churches that are destroyed, or the Holocaust that is denied.
Is it slander, for example, to affirm that, since Jesus Christ is Lord, the prophet of Islam is a false prophet? Or are we just talking about gratuitous insults?
Does the toleration so eloquently celebrated by the President swallow (and marginalize) all truth claims, or does it leave room for my affirmation of the exclusive truth of my religion?
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