Sunday, August 31, 2008

Michael Sean Winters: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics

More from Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats

The problem with (Jack) Kennedy's speech was not that he misconceived the relationship of church and state, but the relationship between religion and culture, including the culture of his own ideas. For him, religion was an accident of birth, like Jackie being a brunette, something odd he did on Sunday mornings, but nothing that would inform his views. -- Michael Sean Winters

Winters points an accusatory finger in an unlikely direction. Jack Kennedy generally gets rave reviews and accolades for his speech before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in 1960, and rightfully so, but Winters points out that it also had a downside and an unintended effect...

How did the Democrats lose the Catholic vote? How did the electoral-cultural alliance epitomized in the New Deal coalition fall apart? A critical part of the answer to those questions is ideological. In the interest of pursuing his own election, Kennedy did more than restrict religion's role in politics, he claimed to eliminate it. Claiming religion was private and, therefore, beyond question, Kennedy succeeded in portraying those who questioned his religion in any way as bigots. Other politicians were similarly disinclined from the sometimes difficult task of working out the social and political implications of their beliefs, and they followed Kennedy's lead. Just so, Democrats became unable to perform the important task of relating their policies and programs to an explicitly moral vision for the nation. Monsignor Ryan had done so in the 1920s and 1930s, and the Catholic bishops did so on nuclear weapons and the economy in the 1980s. But politicians had become too timid to address the important ways religion had, and always will, influence the nation's political life.

Following this "privatization" of religion, the dynamics of the abortion debate, and development of "privacy rights" in the jurisprudence of the courts led Democrats to redefine liberalism. This resulted in a view that had more in common with the liberalism of the universities and the philosophers and their biases against religion than with the traditions of American liberalism. Gone was the pragmatic liberalism of Roosevelt and the New Deal, rooted in providing for the material well-being of the poor, elderly, and unemployed. In its place was a conception of personal autonomy, unmoored from religious or moral qualifications, vindicated not by the voters but by the courts. This change left Democrats increasingly tone-deaf to the concerns of voters whose views on the entirety of their lives, including politics, were shaped by their faith and who were suspicious of those who tried to wall off their faith from the rest of their lives.

The discussion of how religion affects our common national lift, was left to conservatives and Republicans, and they were all too happy to take it up, finding in their efforts a way to propel themselves back into the majority. The GOP became the "God Party." Democrats became the party of irreligion by abandoning their traditional moral and specifically religious arguments against segregation and the Vietnam War, and adopting a legalistic conception of rights and libertarian flirtations of a kind completely antithetical to traditional American liberal concerns. In a nation of churchgoers, Republicans were bound to win.

John F. Kavanaugh SJ's Letter to Obama

Absolutely Hating Abortion

Harry Blackmun, the man who ruined this nation's political system

Yes, he did. He instigated legislation from the bench. Unfortunately, in the recent wake of the civil rights struggle at the time, this is what the Supremes thought they had the right and the duty to do. In this case, they over-reached. He may have destroyed any chance this country may ever have of coming to a consensus on the issue that has disfigured the two great political parties.

I hate abortion with ever fiber of my being, not only for what it is, but for how it has mutilated and polluted politics in America for the last generation. Rather than taking the matter off the table, the Supremes merely turned it into a war. Sure, we'd have had legislative wars anyway, but now every presidential contest is primarily about Supreme Court nominations, which has been marring the whole judical selection process ever since.

I want a re-alignment! The current one is entirely unnatural. There has been progress this time around in the DNC Platform, but not enough. With the Catholic vote still hanging out there as the crucial swing vote as it has in years past, and with the nature of the selection of the vice-presidential candidates we've just seen, it looks to me like the issue will return to the fore as we head into the last 60 days. With Joe Biden out there, we're likely to see these stupid "wafer wars" all over again.

The economic stakes are too high to keep messing around with this issue. In the period of time that has since passed in exact parallel with Roe v. Wade, the Republican Party, with plenty of help from similarly lobby-owned Democrats, has entirely sold out and gutted this country. I don't know if we can literally withstand another four years of their economic philosophy and the diminished stature and influence of the United States in the world. That's why I don't want to see the Democrats blow another election by bowing and scraping to their secular left wing.

I get the back-alley problem. I do. I understand it. I realize that there always have been, and always will be desperate women who will seek out abortions whether they are legal or not. I can see this.

I also realize that the duty of the Christian is not to conquer, but to convince. Overturning Roe v Wade would only return the matter to the states, creating a confusing and chaotic hodge-podge quilt of competing laws. In the long run, however, if we don't tackle this issue as a people, we will never come to a consensus on it as a people.

Absolutists on my side would label me a heretic for even entertaining the notion of voting for a Democrat. I say let's avoid the idolatry inherent in anointing the vote to that extent. I also say that the strategy of the last 35 years has failed. I sincerely believe at this point that we would be better served in striving to change people's hearts and minds about abortion rather than concentrating so heavily on changing laws. There's no point in changing laws if hearts aren't changed first. If we can't stop all abortions, can we at least work with people of good will on the other side to prevent some, or to work on the issues which make some women feel compelled to have abortions in the first place? Should we work harder on convincing our adversaries that we care just as much about babies after they are born as before they are born, and that we consistently value human rights and human dignity in every other context?

As for the absolutists on the other side... The Democratic Party needs to free itself from the grip of the NARAL, Emily's List, and Planned Parenthood zealots kneeling on what they proudly call their Bill Clinton presidential kneepads, worshipping in front of their coat-hangar cross on the Altar of Abortion on Demand Without Apology. If they don't, in a country which is currently undergoing an evangelical awakening, the Democrats will continue to lose, and lose, and lose...

Fr. John F. Kavanuagh SJ recently wrote an open letter in America magazine called Dear Senator Obama. A lot of Catholics who normally find themselves with the GOP on account of their prolife views are supporting Obama this time around, including myself. A lot of scholars and professors at Catholic institutions have gone out on a limb for him. They sense something about Obama's unitive and conciliatory approach that is appealing and hopeful. While expressing and upholding prochoice views, Obama at least indicates that he understands the feelings and beliefs of people on the other side. Still, there are concerns. We are not going to give up our "love affair with the fetus" any sooner than prochoice women are going to give up the right to choose. What then? It's not just conservative Evangelicals and Catholics who share these concerns, but also progressive Protestants, like Jim Wallis at Sojourners. I think it's worth reproducing Kavanaugh's letter in full.

I am writing this open letter to you, Senator, on the outside chance that one of your National Catholic Advisory Council members might read America and pass it on to you.

You have an abortion problem, especially with pro-life Catholics who would like to vote for you—something to keep in mind when you ponder the fact that there has been up to a 15 percent rise in Catholics voting Republican in the past two elections.

Catholic voters do not think monolithically. That should come as no surprise to you, since you have many Senate colleagues with a Catholic background who have supported every bill insuring a “woman’s right to choose.” But if you are interested in the respectful hearing of opposing positions, as you often note, it will be valuable for you to have serious conversations with groups like
Democrats for Life of America and Feminists for Life.

There are some Catholics who will vote for you, hoping that your programs may do more for the unborn than rhetoric or a promise by Supreme Court nominees who would just return the decision to the states. They will vote for you, not because of your position on abortion, but despite it, realizing that your approach to wars of choice, capital punishment, hunger, homelessness, health care and refugees might better serve the lives of “the least” of our brothers and sisters.

There are some Catholics who will vote for you because your liberal agenda appeals to them and they refuse to vote for any Republican. There are other Catholics who will never vote for you—a few because of the abortion issue alone, but many more because they are irreversibly Republican and distrust all Democratic policies. As one prominent pro-life Republican put it, he would have voted “holding his nose” for the pro-choice Rudolph W. Giuliani because of Giuliani’s other Republican positions.

There is a third group who are truly undecided or are tending away from you because they think you not only defend partial-birth abortion but also are against lifesaving therapy for newborns surviving an abortion attempt. You are going to be hit with ads about your vote in the Illinois State Legislature against the Induced Infant Liability Act.

I know you have tried to explain this in your Relevant magazine interview, but you seemed evasive. Can you just simply affirm your conviction that any newborn, even after an abortion attempt, should be given effective life-sustaining treatment? Perhaps your seeming ambivalence is related to your position on late-term abortions and partial-birth abortions. Second- and third-trimester abortions comprise a small percentage of all abortions, but they are horrific. Anybody who thinks not, does not think. But even your gentle qualification of the mental health exception was met with a storm of protest from the National Abortion Rights Action League,
and you seemed to wilt.

I know you do not want to criminalize abortion, that you think it is a profound moral issue and that you think a father’s responsibility continues after conception, as you said on Father’s Day this year. I know also that you think our young ones should be taught more about the seriousness and sacredness of sexuality. But more is required if you are to reach the group of Catholics (and other Christians) I have been talking about. Here are three suggestions:

1. Support the Rev. Jim Wallis’s “abortion-reduction agenda,” with its economic support for pregnant women and greater access to adoption as part of the Democratic platform.

2. If you are interested in diversity and mutual respect, give a place at the Democratic convention for Democrats for Life to show you are unafraid of difference and debate.

3. Engage the arguments and evidence offered in opposition to second- and third-trimester abortions. You may find that the position of most American men and women is quite different from Naral’s. The earlier stages of embryonic and fetal development are more contested. But even your Republican opponent supports embryonic stem cell research. Ask him, and all the Catholics who will vote for him, how this fits into their professed commitments.

Perhaps you owe some courageous people like Douglas Kmiec a bit of reciprocation. Kmiec, a pro-life Catholic law professor who served in the Reagan and Bush administrations, announced his support of you because of your approach to war, poverty and immigration. Because of this stand, he has been denied Communion at least once. Are you willing to risk excommunication from the church of Naral for a principled position on abortion?

Maybe they will call you that terrible name “flip-flopper.” But remember this: anyone who refuses to change a judgment in the face of irrefutable data is either a fool or a toady. And you, clearly, are neither. As I see you move more and more to the middle in matters of the economy and the war in Afghanistan, I wait. Will you move a bit to the middle on this matter of abortion?

A vociferous cadre in the Democratic Party has for too long wielded a dogmatic veto over any discussion of limiting abortions. With your commitment to reasoned, evidence-based and respectful discourse, are you able to challenge your party to welcome pro-life Catholics into its supposed big tent?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Catholicism & Capitalism

Can Catholic Social Teaching Offer a Valid Critique?

The Moneylender and His Wife, by Quentin Massys (1514)

When Fernando Lugo was elected President of Paraguay a few months ago, it suggested that liberation theology may not be quite as dead as its critics would like it to be. We all know about certain circles in the Church, some within the very top reaches of the hierarchy, who get their knickers entirely in a twist when one theologian or another dares to borrow "marxist dialectic" in some kind of synthesis with Catholic theology. On the other hand, John Paul II was a firm critic of untrammelled capitalism too, as is his successor, so why doesn't anyone get at least mildly perturbed when someone tries to produce a synthesis between Catholic theology and the classically liberal laissez-faire thought of the likes of Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek?

Case in point... In addition to writing thoughtful and useful critiques of liberation theology such as Will it Liberate ? Questions About Liberation Theology, the author and intellectual Michael Novak has also written books and articles seeking to marry free market capitalism to Catholic social ethics, such as books titled (I'm not kidding here): The Corporation: A Theological Inquiry.

In his new book Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats, Michael Sean Winters describes the thought of various Catholic paleo-conservatives and neo-conservatives (although I think he's wrong to link the paleo Pat Buchanan with the neo-cons on economics), including a truly amazing bit of exegesis from Novak:

Buchanan's conservatism was a different brand from the cheerful variety Reagan had offered. His Catholicism was also different from that of most Catholics. His vision was dark and censorious and had more in common with Calvinism than it did with American Catholicism. Buchanan was a kind of modern-day Daniele da Volterra, the sixteenth-century painter the reactionary Pope Paul IV hired to cover the nudes in the Sistine Chapel. The culture of the American Catholic ghetto had celebrated life, even while it directed life's choices toward approved ends, but Buchanan's worldview saw only calamity and conflict. The air in Houston (the 1992 Republican Convention) had no celebratory quality, no human sympathy, nothing of the immigrant Catholic community's vibrant, lively, hopeful culture.

Buchanan was not alone. Conservative Catholic writer William E Buckley had spawned a gaggle of conservative Catholics from his perch as founding editor of the magazine National Review, and Buchanan was merely the movement's most public, political face. A triumvirate of Catholic neoconservatives emerged who would present themselves as the defenders of Catholic and Republican Party orthodoxy in America. Lutheran convert Richard John Neuhaus, founder of the magazine First Things, joined forces with liberal convert and American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Novak to give the GOP a Catholic imprimatur. Catholic writer George Weigel, who made up in hubris what he lacked in academic credentials, was the third member of the Catholic neoconservative troika. All three were prepared to relegate the Church's teachings to an adjectival status and ignore those teachings when they did not suit them, and their public writings inevitably read like a recitation of GOP talking points as much as a thoughtful reflection on the Christian Gospels.

What linked these three intellectuals with Buchanan was the smugness of their judgements and the ridiculous, almost idolatrous, manner in which they paid homage to democratic capitalism and the American way. How far they had fallen from Monsignor Ryan's teachings, or from the teachings of Popes Leo, Plus XI, John XXIII and Paul VI can be seen in an excerpt from Novak's tome, Toward a Theology of the Corporation. "For many years, one of my favorite texts of Scripture has been Isaiah 52:2-3. `He hath no form or comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; he was despised, and we esteemed him not,"' wrote Novak, citing one of the most famous Christological passages of the Hebrew scriptures, set to music by Handel in the Messiah and read in church every Good Friday. But Novak had a different use for these solemn verses. "I would like to apply these words to the modern business corporation, a much despised incarnation of God's presence in this world."

Er, wha-aa...?

Ronald Reagan ushered in an era where we find that the business executive represents the pinnacle of what every good American should aspire to be... Utilitarian, efficient, pragmatic, bold, unsentimental, and supposedly the fount of all good judgement and common sense. According to this line of thinking, only the private sector is capable of producing anything truly useful, since men and women are reliably and realistically motivated solely by self-interest.

Something has gone terribly wrong with all this. As the response to Barak Obama's speech the other night demonstrates so clearly, Americans are looking for their government to help them, not to hurt them. That's not to say that they aren't self-reliant. They are. They just don't buy into the Republican axiom that the only purpose of goverment is to enforce the laws protecting private property (although when it came to the property of the poorest and most vulnerable of our citizens after Hurricane Katrina, it didn't seem to matter much to the GOP). Americans are not looking for handouts, but they expect the government to protect the public from corporations that have grown increasingly more powerful and rapacious.

Last week there was an article in The Tablet (UK) by Clifford Longley called An Acceptable Face for Capitalism, questioning whether Catholic social teaching could provide a touchstone from where we could all begin to look at ameliorating the more pernicious effects of the varieties of "savage" capitalism. Some excerpts:

With the all-conquering global free market seeming to trounce all competing social and economic ideologies, a moral and practical framework looks increasingly necessary. Could Catholic social teaching fill the gap?

In a page-long article in The Observer in June, Will Hutton, a doyen of British writers on economics and chief executive of the
Work Foundation, heaped copious praise on the Vatican for daring to ask the questions that politicians are refusing to ask - questions such as: how can capitalism and its market-driven dynamic be made to serve the good of everyone and not just the wealthy?

Hutton had just taken part in a conference in Rome convened by the
Centesimus Annus Foundation, and was clearly taken by surprise to find how much overlap there was between Catholic social teaching and his own economic ideas, especially his passionate advocacy of stakeholding. How you give modern economic systems a human face was one of the questions posed...

In the field of Catholic social teaching - or "Catholic social thought", to use an American expression for the more speculative side of the business - there are even more radical questions around than these. One of them, a little surprisingly perhaps, is simply this: "Could the economic and cultural criteria identified in the tradition of Catholic social thought provide an effective path to sustainable prosperity for all?" This was the central proposition round which a four-day conference took place in Los Angeles recently, organised by the
Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies, which is attached to the University of Southern California.

The tendency for economic systems eventually to self-destruct is notorious, as economies in the West seem determined to demonstrate once more. Is their fatal flaw the fact that they are using a wrong model of human nature, an abstraction called homo economicus (or in an earlier period, Marxist man) which bears little resemblance to the real people who work in real economies? Instead of bullying people to behave more like the theory says they should and wringing one's hands when it all goes wrong, why not design a system around a true appraisal of human nature? It was a thought dear to the heart of Pope John Paul II, who saw the failures of Marxism and of "savage capitalism", as he called it, all too clearly. It was their anthropology that let them down...

It was not just the results of these economic systems that failed these analysts' ethical criteria, but their internal methodology, especially the deterministic assumptions these systems made about human nature - that we are all fully informed, rational individuals who act entirely in our own interests. (We) saw these dissenting economists as saying things not far from what Catholic social teaching tradition had been saying in papal social encyclicals stretching from
Rerum Novarum of 1891 to Centesimus Annus 100 years later. Nor is this so surprising. Human nature is the common factor.

Through its natural-law tradition largely focused on the teachings of Thomas Aquinas and augmented by biblical insights, the Catholic Church has developed a profound understanding of human nature in all its glories and all its flaws. Economists such as Joseph Stiglitz, observers of human nature coming from an Enlightenment Western tradition, have reached similar conclusions. Caron's proposal was to bring these two schools of thought together, to let the economists talk to the theologians to see how far they would agree. I have to say that by the end of the four days it was difficult to tell them apart.

While the
True Wealth of Nations conference was representative of much mainstream Catholic American thought, there are other players in the field, notably the right-wing think tank called the Acton Institute. The main message of that institute, which is attempting to spread its presence worldwide from its base in Grand Rapids, Michigan, seems to be that American capitalism as conceived by Republican neoconservatives is as close as it is possible to get to a model of capitalism that Catholicism could approve of - an idea that greatly appeals to certain wealthy Catholic businessmen in the United States and indeed to the whole ideology of "Americanism" that the neocons promote.

The Acton method seems to consist of emphasising bits of the tradition, such as several pro-business passages in Centesimus Annus, and ignoring those bits that were uncongenial, for instance, parts of
Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, published in 1987, which were described by the neocon Wall Street Journal as warmed-up Marxism. That has undoubtedly made some in the Vatican nervous about how any new pronouncement might be received in America, and the Vatican has become a regular port of call for right-wing lobbyists.

Acton, which elevates personal and economic freedom to one of the highest ideals and condemns "Big Government" as the ultimate enemy, has not moved far from the anti-social-justice rhetoric of Friedrich Hayek. It is consequently anti-welfare, anti-tax and anti-common good. It has pitched in against the American bishops' conference, which has criticised George Bush's tax-cutting strategy as highly damaging to the poor. This debate is not just theoretical. Issues at the heart of the coming American presidential election are involved. It is an ideal time, one might think, for some clear exposition of the Church's social thinking in an American context...

There is a common view that market forces can be harnessed to good ends, that it is right for Governments to intervene when markets fail as they often do, and that a preferential option for the poor is an inescapable obligation of the Gospel. Wealth creation in all its complexity is both a human delight and a human duty, part of the continuation of the work of creation begun by God and entrusted by him to mankind's earliest ancestors.

We were not without human resources for our conference. Catholic social thought is a lively academic discipline on American Catholic campuses, which are intellectual environments where religion has not been marginalised. My theory is that what gives Catholic social teaching an extra edge in America is the absence there of any significant Marxist or socialist tradition, ideologies which in their prime in Europe and elsewhere offered a robust challenge to free-market capitalism and shaped its behaviour. With the departure of those competing ideologies, European societies may also need something like Catholic social teaching as a counter-weight to run-away market forces - as Will Hutton seemed to see.

And the result? Nobody took serious issue with our central proposition that the foundations of Catholic social thought could be used to find a path to sustainable prosperity, though a long list of loose ends was identified - a definition of the "common good" being among the most elusive. All the participants expressed themselves fascinated by the coherence that emerged. Indeed there was enough of it to justify turning the conference papers into a book, and an international publisher is being sought.

Will it make any difference? That depends on whether it is an idea whose time has come, or a byway of interest only to a few intellectuals. My sense is that it could well be the former. Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, launched the subject of political economy as we know it today, and few books have had greater impact on Western culture. The True Wealth of Nations project is a modest attempt to take the argument further. If it meets a need, it will succeed.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Donkey Kong

The wild, wacky world of Democratic Conventions

The Democratic Party Covention, 1928. The makeshift pavillion in Houston. African-American delegates were made to sit in a cordoned off section behind chicken wire.

We haven't had an exciting Democratic Party Convention in a long time.

It wasn't always that way. For years, the Democrats were reknowned for their fratricidal get-togethers. Is it possible that we may see some excitement this time around in Denver? I'm not sure, especially in light of Obama's inexplicable and spectacularly uninspired choice of the long-winded, numbskulled egomaniac Joe Biden as his running mate. Will we see some fireworks from the potential protests we've been hearing about, like the ones promised by groups like the Recreate 68 Alliance? Is Rush Limbaugh correct in his assertion that the Hillary forces will figure out a way to sieze the nomination at the convention?

Let's take a stroll though time, looking at some of the more contentious moments in Democratic Party Convention history.

New York, 1924: The Ku Klux Klan & the "drys" vs. Tammany Hall & the "wets"

The "Klanbake" in Madison Square Garden, also known as the Ballot Brawl. Prohibition was the huge issue of the day, and the Ku Klux Klan was at the height of its power. At the time, the Democratic Party consisted of a strange and uneasy alliance between conservative Southern whites, strongly supportive of Prohibition, and Northern immigrants, opposed to Prohibition in equal measure. Bitter fights ensued over the party platform, and the Southern delegates who'd travelled up to the belly of the immigrant beast in "Jew York" were heckled by the Tammany Hall "Braves" who'd been brought in to stuff the balconies. They consisted largely of Irish toughs and other ethnics, described colorfully as "Tammany shouters, Yiddish chanters, vaudeville performers, Sagwa Indians, hula dancers, street cleaners, firemen, policemen, movie actors and actresses, bootleggers . . ." The Tammany crowd had brought in ear-splitting fire department sirens to drown out the speeches of their opponents, and pandemonium ensued. The main candidates were Woodrow Wilson's son-in-law William Gibbs McAdoo and the Catholic Governor of New York, Al Smith. At one time, the venerable William Jennings Bryan got up to speak in order to explain his support for McAdoo, and was drowned out with catcalls and a sound comparable to "10,000 voodoo doctors in a tropical jungle beating 10,000 tom-toms made of resonant washtubs."

After 103 ballots, the nomination finally went to the compromise candidate John W. Davis of West Virginia, who promptly lost to Calvin Coolidge in the general election.

Chicago, 1932: Happy Days are Here again, but the Happy Warrior checks out

In 1928, Al Smith finally did win the Democratic nomination, becoming the first Catholic to contend for the presidency. The popular Governor of New York, who'd come of age in a multi-ethnic environment in New York's Bowery, believed that he knew what it took to get people from different backgrounds to work together. He had a benign, and perhaps naive view that he could extend this to the rest of the American electorate, trusting in the essential goodness of the American people. He lost to Herbert Hoover in what was a viciously anti-Catholic campaign. Smith was heartbroken, especially when he lost his own home state of New York.

By the time 1932 rolled around, America was in the throes of the Depression, and Smith had been replaced as governor by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a one-time protege who had introduced Smith into nomination in 1924, describing Smith as "That Happy Warrior". Smith considered Roosevelt a friend, but also somewhat of a lightweight (he was not the first or the last person to make this mistake).

A bitter Smith, still smarting from his 1928 defeat, had not yet realized that he and his Tammany supporters had been eclipsed. All the talk going in had been about Roosevelt, but Smith still seemed to think that FDR was supposed to be a coat-holder for him. Roosevelt's other main rival was the Texan John Nance Gardner. Gardner was backed by newspaper mogul William Randoph Hearst, who hated Al Smith. When the convention appeared deadlocked, Joe Kennedy got on the phone to Hearst and convinced him to throw his support behind Roosevelt.

As Roosevelt was nominated, Smith's supporters urged him to express his support for Roosevelt in a show of party unity. Smith refused, sitting in his seat muttering "I won't do it... I won't do it..." before stalking out of the hall. He took a train back to New York, saying upon arrival “I have absolutely nothing to say to newspaper men...I am tired and I want to get a rest.”

Here is the only movie of Al Smith I could find on Youtube, showing him voicing his satisfaction and vindication at the eventual repeal of Prohibition in 1933.

Chicago, 1956: "If we have to have a Catholic, I hope we don't have to take that little pissant Kennedy." -- House Speaker Sam Rayburn

Adlai Stevenson already had the nomination wrapped up, but threw the selection of a vice-presidential nominee to the delegates on the convention floor in open balloting. Russell Baker wrote in the New York Times that it was "a spectacle that might have confounded all Christendom... an epic clash that caused shrieking pandemonium with 11,000 persons on their feet and howling."

The contending candidates were Jack Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, New York Mayor Robert Wagner, Estes Kefauver, and Al Gore Sr.

According to Curtis Wilkie:

Stevenson was intrigued by the thought of a Catholic on the ticket. He liked Kennedy, but lacked the nerve to name him outright. ..

Kennedy thought he could appeal to the Democratic intelligentsia. But when he turned to their grand dame, Eleanor Roosevelt, she rebuked him for his failure to stand up against Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt...

Humphrey, whose civil rights speech at the 1948 convention drove Southerners into a Dixiecrat movement that year, was still loathed by the Southern delegates. But the Southerners were no more comfortable with the candidates from their own region. Kefauver was an unapologetic liberal, and Gore had been one of the few who refused to sign the Southern Manifesto signaling war against the Supreme Court's school desegregation decision...

The two leaders pounced on the wounded Humphrey. Kennedy, following the proceedings on TV in a nearby hotel room, sent his young aide, Ted Sorensen, to the convention to check on Humphrey's disposition. But Sorensen was dismissed with a poet's contempt by Eugene McCarthy, the other Minnesota senator, who was serving as his colleague's campaign manager...

Kefauver had better luck with Humphrey. He caught the distraught senator, weeping over his impending defeat, off the convention floor and begged for his help. He got it. Minnesota gave all 30 of its votes, which had previously been Humphrey's, to Kefauver on the second ballot. But Kefauver's momentum was offset by an unusual stampede to Kennedy among the Southern delegations. Because both Kefauver and Gore were anathema, prominent segregationists such as Birmingham's Bull Connor (who would unleash police dogs on black demonstrators in 1963) Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina (who had led the Dixiecrat revolt in 1948 and would leave the Democratic Party in 1964) and Senator John Stennis of Mississippi joined JFK's ranks on the floor...

But there was to be one more decisive turn, one which has never been fully explained. Representative John McCormack of Massachusetts, who would succeed Rayburn as House Speaker, was seen whispering with a leader of the Missouri delegation. Though nominally a Kennedy supporter, McCormack was still smarting from a defeat at Kennedy's hands at a state convention earlier in the summer. McCormack shouted at Rayburn, who held the gavel and was trying to decide which state to recognize. "Sam!" McCormack yelled. "Missouri!" Rayburn recognized Missouri, which switched 36 of its 38 votes to Kefauver. The move triggered a rush by other states to push Kefauver's total over the top.

Suddenly, it was over. Kennedy came to the floor and asked for Kefauver to be put on the ticket by acclamation. Stevenson, watching on TV at a downtown hotel, was said to have slumped in disappointment.

Stevenson was whipped by Ike in '56. If Kennedy had been the veep choice, it might have been the end of his political career.

Chicago, 1968: "The Whole World is Watching"

Well, I was just a kid but I sure remember this one. Chicago, again. Who could ever forget the police riots in Grant Park and in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel on Michigan Ave? Who could ever forget Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley saying to the press afterwards "Gentlemen, gentlemen... Get the thing straight once and for all. The policeman is not there to create disorder. The policeman is there to preserve disorder."

The Yippies had organized their demonstrations against "Johnson's War" and the ensuing riots shocked and horrified the country. In addition to the violence outside, American television viewers were treated to spectacles inside the convention hall such as Dan Rather being roughed up, and the response to Senator Abraham Ribicoff, who said "If George McGovern were president, we wouldn't have these Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago." Mayor Daley and his retinue leapt to their feet indignantly, shouting for that "F'ing Jew to shut up!"

Democratic National Convention

Lyndon Johsnon's Vice-President Hubert Humphrey won the nomination, but he was fatally wounded politically. The general election was close, but Dick Nixon, relying on the "Silent Majority" and the "law & order" vote, won in November, and thus began the Imperial Presidency.

Miami Beach, 1972: "Acid, Amnesty, & Abortion"

Before the 1972 election, Ted Kennedy was derailed by Chappaquiddick, and Ed Muskie was derailed for allegedly crying over press criticism of his wife. This left the door open to George McGovern, who was able to wrest the nomination process out of the hands of the party bosses like Richard Daley and into the hands of primary voters. Some of these party bosses were angered and forever alienated, and it hurt McGovern's funding later on.

A lot of the radical activists in 1968 had gone mainstream by 1972, and this was their moment. The old guard, with its big city machine apparatus, union muscle, and commitment to the New Deal consensus faded into the background. Rightly or wrongly, depending on your point of view, the Democratic Party became associated more with group identity politics and fighting battles over personal autonomy rights than with fighting battles over economic justice.

The columnist Robert Novak pinned the "Acid, Amnesty and Abortion" label on McGovern. Quoting an unnamed Democratic senator, Novak wrote "The people don’t know McGovern is for amnesty, abortion and legalization of pot... Once middle America — Catholic middle America, in particular — finds this out, he’s dead."

According to Novak, the unnamed seantor was McGovern's own original running mate, Thomas Eagleton. Eagleton had been forced to withdraw (and was replaced by Sargent Shriver) when it was disclosed that he had undergone electroshock therapy treatments. What a train wreck.

Shirley Chisholm was the lone bright spot.

New York, 1980: "Teddy Kennedy? I'll whip his ass."

In 1980, Ted Kennedy finally came to the decision to take the risk in running for president, but he did it against the sitting Democratic incumbent, the peanut farmer from Georgia. An irritated and indignant Carter famously quipped, "I'll whip his ass."

He did. The contest between them was bitter, and Kennedy lost, but he managed to clean himself and his act up enough to call for the party's renewal to a commitment to economic justice in his speech, "The Dream Will Never Die".

If only they'd done a better job of taking it to heart.

For all the bitterness on display at the convention, what was perhaps most noticable (and comical) was Jimmy Carter chasing Ted Kennedy around on the podium after he was nominated, desperately trying to get Kennedy to raise hands with him, while Kennedy darted around just as desperately, trying to avoid him.

What have you got in store, Denver?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What is the Proper Response to This?

Sick and Tired of 16th Century Controversies...

I saw this over at Vox Nova a few days ago, where they'd apparently picked it up from Mark Shea - "Where Are the Men?" priests ask.

Interesting reaction from the assembled community. They all just seemed to ignore him, and continued celebrating the Mass. Was that the right thing to do? Probably so, but I'm not sure it's what I would have done.

A couple of weeks ago, Steve Bogner put up a post referencing an article on whether anti-Catholicism was still alive in America or not. Right on cue, some guy starts chiming in from one of those "Witnessing to Roman Catholics" kind of websites. What is with these people? Thanks for the advice... As for politics, you can keep your Republican Party.

In a more light-hearted vein, here, George Bush's friend and ex-advisor Ted Haggard gives some of the good-natured business to a Jesus Camp camerawoman, shortly before his implosion.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Evolutionary Psychology and Original Sin

The Prisoner's Dilemma. What Would You Do?

The first time I became acquainted with the Prisoner's Dilemma it was in a book by Robert Wright called The Moral Animal: Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology. Apparently, it's a well-known scenario used in game theory studies, and there are even tournaments built around it.

If I wasn't a person of faith, I could see myself putting a lot of stock in evolutionary psychology. Heck, maybe I still can anyway. In terms of explaining why human beings do so many of the things they do, it makes a lot of sense to me, especially in terms of boy-girl stuff and the way we act in terms of reciprocity, altruism, tit-for-tat behavior, and zero-sum games.
We are operating in a post-modern 21st century world with minds that were shaped by tens of thousands of years of living in the stone age. Our ancient ancestors were used to operating in bands of no more than 100 or 150 people. This might have a lot to do with our fear and mistrust of strangers, our appetite for gossip and scandal, and our proclivity to spend so much emotional currency on the intimate news of one death while at the same time having trouble extending it to the death of millions. It seems like it might explain the rationale for a lot of what we've traditionally called Original Sin.
Here's how the Prisoner's dilemma goes.
You and a friend have been arrested under suspicion of having committed a crime. You are being interrogated separately and face a hard decision. The state lacks the evidence to convict you of the grave offense they've accused you of, but does have enough evidence to convict you both on a lesser charge - with, say, a one year prison term for each.
The prosecutor, wanting a harsher sentence, pressures each of you individually to confess and implicate the other.
He says to each of you: If you confess, but your partner doesn't, I'll let you off scot-free and use your testimony to put him away for ten years. The flip side of this offer is a threat: If you don't confess but your partner does, you go to prison for ten years. And if you confess and it turns out your partner confesses too, I'll put you both away, but only for three years.

One year? Ming! The Venetian here says he could do one year standing on his head. I ain't sayin' nuthin. Marron....
How about you?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Individualism vs. Collectivism

Still Pondering the Meaning of China's Coming Out Party

Sitting in the cool quiet of a California night, sipping his coffee, Liu said that he is not willing to risk all that his generation enjoys at home in order to hasten the liberties he has come to know in America. “Do you live on democracy?” he asked me. “You eat bread, you drink coffee. All of these are not brought by democracy. Indian guys have democracy, and some African countries have democracy, but they can’t feed their own people.

“Chinese people have begun to think, One part is the good life, another part is democracy,” Liu went on. “If democracy can really give you the good life, that’s good. But, without democracy, if we can still have the good life why should we choose democracy?”

-- The New Yorker: Angry Youth: The new generation’s neocon nationalists

Tai Chi Together-in Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony

I've never been attracted to libertarianism. Furthermore, I can't stand Ayn Rand's philosophical influence and her objectivist offspring. As an admirer of FDR and the old New Deal American Consensus, I've always thought of myself as more of a communitarian.

While I cherish this country's constant defense of the rights and dignity of the individual, I do think there have been radical elements that have always overemphasized "rugged individualism" at the expense of the common good. This would include George Bush's concept of the "ownership society" which would destroy the last vestiges left over from the New Deal. In essence, under the ownership society, whatever happens to you, you're on your own.

I love this country, but when I look at this nation's inequalities, seemingly intractable prejudices, its high incarceration rate, gun violence, drug use, the dumping of the mentally-ill out onto the streets, its crime, and the evidence of intense social alienation, isolation, and anomie being found across large segments of the population, I tend to think that individualism in the USA is overemphasized and overindulged.

On the other hand, in the wake of the Cold War and the brief "end of history" interregnum that we saw between then and now, I'm wondering if fascist totalitarianism is going to be a resurgent model for the 21st Century. Russia tried a parliamentary democracy and failed as they sank into a kleptocracy. Now they are flush with petro-dollars and a popular strongman is in charge. The Chinese leaders, seeing Nicolae Ceauşescu gunned down in a filthy backyard after he lost power, decided they wouldn't even risk going down the parliamentary road. They too enjoy a sort of popularity as they have spurred economic growth while keeping the lid firmly on both political and religious expression.

Objectivists see in altruism the very seeds of totalitarianism. Libertarians might not go quite that far, but do they have some valid points about the dangers of statism? In this age of Globalization/Terrorism/Radical Capitalism/Fundamentalism/Peak Oil/Pre-emptive War/Waterboarding/Suicide Bombing/Extraordinary Renditions, are people willing to trade freedom for security and comfort, as the quote at the top of the post suggests?

I read a couple of interesting takes recently on the opening ceremony for the Olympics in Beijing. One was by an Israeli IDF Colonel named Yehuda Wegman, and may be the kind of agitprop you'd expect from a military man looking at a potential adversary. The other was by David Brooks, a conservative writing for the New York Times. I found his take somewhat intriguing and surprising, in that he seemed to be almost extolling the virtues of collectivism over individualism. I'm not exactly sure what he was trying to get across.

Wegman: Horror show in Beijing: China's fascist tendencies, as displayed in opening ceremony, should concern us all

The fireworks and show at the Olympic stadium in Beijing Friday made it clear that the opening ceremony was a production on behalf of a regime showing fascist tendencies, on all this entails. In an era that is characterized by historical ignorance combined with obsessive focus on the "here and now," it would be advisable to make the public aware of the dangers to the Free World represented by the ceremony.

In the not-so-distant past we saw regimes that were able to produce stunning shows based on the movement of thousands of people with inhuman precision. The last two such regimes were the Nazis and the Communists. The perfect obedience to orders and the complete precision of the performance that were used to produce giant displays by these regimes were the same ones that enabled them to embark on wars or engage in domestic "purges" that killed millions of people and brought great destruction...

Shows where the individual is no more than a small cog in a giant machine that operates with stunning accuracy are a well-known indication of a regime that conditions its citizens' right to exist on them being obedient servants of the regime's and ruling class' needs. Such regimes have no room for diversity of opinion, political parties, and freedom of expression which constitute the basis of the part of the world that refers to itself as "free." History taught us a frightening lesson about the conduct and terrible demise of such regimes...

The Chinese regime chose to display its power and impress the entire world with a show based on thousands of gymnasts and dancers who moved in harmony that imitated a giant monster, which changed its shape and colors constantly. The event conveyed a message of complete control not only over the bodies of the thousands of participants, but also over the bodies and souls of the millions of people living outside the Chinese stadium.

The opening ceremony on behalf of the Chinese government conveyed a clear message - this is a regime whose value system must arouse great suspicion before we applaud and praise its performance. The excited viewers would do well to ask themselves about the human and government motives that led organizers to put on a show that, based on historical lessons, may be referred to as the "Beijing horror show" in the near future...

David Brooks: Harmony and the Dream

The world can be divided in many ways — rich and poor, democratic and authoritarian — but one of the most striking is the divide between the societies with an individualist mentality and the ones with a collectivist mentality.

This is a divide that goes deeper than economics into the way people perceive the world. If you show an American an image of a fish tank, the American will usually describe the biggest fish in the tank and what it is doing. If you ask a Chinese person to describe a fish tank, the Chinese will usually describe the context in which the fish swim.

These sorts of experiments have been done over and over again, and the results reveal the same underlying pattern. Americans usually see individuals; Chinese and other Asians see contexts.

When the psychologist Richard Nisbett showed Americans individual pictures of a chicken, a cow and hay and asked the subjects to pick out the two that go together, the Americans would usually pick out the chicken and the cow. They’re both animals. Most Asian people, on the other hand, would pick out the cow and the hay, since cows depend on hay. Americans are more likely to see categories. Asians are more likely to see relationships.

You can create a global continuum with the most individualistic societies — like the United States or Britain — on one end, and the most collectivist societies — like China or Japan — on the other.

The individualistic countries tend to put rights and privacy first. People in these societies tend to overvalue their own skills and overestimate their own importance to any group effort. People in collective societies tend to value harmony and duty. They tend to underestimate their own skills and are more self-effacing when describing their contributions to group efforts...

Either way, individualistic societies have tended to do better economically. We in the West have a narrative that involves the development of individual reason and conscience during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and then the subsequent flourishing of capitalism. According to this narrative, societies get more individualistic as they develop.

But what happens if collectivist societies snap out of their economic stagnation? What happens if collectivist societies, especially those in Asia, rise economically and come to rival the West? A new sort of global conversation develops.

The opening ceremony in Beijing was a statement in that conversation. It was part of China’s assertion that development doesn’t come only through Western, liberal means, but also through Eastern and collective ones.

The ceremony drew from China’s long history, but surely the most striking features were the images of thousands of Chinese moving as one — drumming as one, dancing as one, sprinting on precise formations without ever stumbling or colliding. We’ve seen displays of mass conformity before, but this was collectivism of the present — a high-tech vision of the harmonious society performed in the context of China’s miraculous growth.

If Asia’s success reopens the debate between individualism and collectivism (which seemed closed after the cold war), then it’s unlikely that the forces of individualism will sweep the field or even gain an edge.

For one thing, there are relatively few individualistic societies on earth. For another, the essence of a lot of the latest scientific research is that the Western idea of individual choice is an illusion and the Chinese are right to put first emphasis on social contexts.

...Relationships are the key to happiness. People who live in the densest social networks tend to flourish, while people who live with few social bonds are much more prone to depression and suicide...

The rise of China isn’t only an economic event. It’s a cultural one. The ideal of a harmonious collective may turn out to be as attractive as the ideal of the American Dream.

It’s certainly a useful ideology for aspiring autocrats.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Echoes of 1936?

Criticizing China While I Still Can. Is China the Model for the 21st Century?

"All your effort and pain will be for one end: the glory of the motherland."
-- From a Chinese reality TV Show, searching for a coxswain for the rowing team.

The entry of the torch into the Olympic Stadium in Munich, 1936, from Leni Riefensthal's Olympia. Riefensthal also directed Triumph of the Will (she was a brilliant photographer and cinematographer, but remained deeply compromised by her past ties to the Nazi regime until her death in 2003).

Capitalism is not the same thing as Freedom.

There are a lot of people who think it is. I recall that when China and the US re-established ties in the early 1970s, there were quite a few American businessmen setting up enterprises over there in those early days who claimed that the introduction of market principles into China would inevitably lead to political transformation. According to their thinking, free markets would eventually lead to free political parties as a growing middle class would demand change. The Communist Party was not expected to survive this transformation.

I suppose there is a possibility that this might all still turn out to be true. The Tiananmen protests in 1989 certainly looked like the definitively expected and prophesied moment, but the Party was able to hang on. They've been incredibly shrewd and resilient.

In the meantime, we in the West have seemed to have come to terms with the way things are, as long as we can continue to "do business".

There is a sort of precedence for this sort of thing, but with a twist. In the 1930s, those who were non-interventionists, also known as "America Firsters", were in open admiration for what the National Socialists had been able to accomplish in Germany within a few short years. Hitler and the Nazi Party had eliminated the crippling inflation that had plagued the Weimar Republic, had put people back to work, made Germany strong again, and restored the pride of their volk.

Well known idols and luminaries such as Charles Lindbergh were open admirers of the system, and urged a path of non-confrontation, despite the troubling evidence of the persecution of Jews, other ethnic minorities, and political opponents.

Today we see sort of a similar "separate peace" with the People's Republic of China, but instead of it being championed by non-interventionists, we see it advocated by the boosters and proponents of globalization.

Is it an insulting stretch to make comparisons between the National Socialists and the Chinese Communist Party? I don't think so (even though the government heatedly denies that its control freaks have pressured Beijing bar owners to pledge not to serve "trouble-making" blacks and Mongolians). The Party is communist in name only. The Chinese are natural-born merchants. They chucked communism about 5 minutes after Mao died, and they only waited for those 5 minutes to make sure that he was really dead.

Today, China is a fascist state.

I won't get into a catalog of China's whole human rights record; those who read here know enough about what it is, but we need to examine the extent to which we ourselves have been compromised.

Hypocrisy Check: Like most middle-class Americans, I have a diversified stock and mutual fund portfolio. Regarding the "international growth" funds that have been outperforming most of the others in the past few years, I don't know for sure, but I strongly suspect that many of them are tied up in Chinese enterprises. I'm not exactly rushing out to investigate and to divest, I admit. Everything we touch is made there. We are all compromised to some degree.

And there's the rub. This country's whole economic destiny has been tied to a fascist state that already has 160 cities with over a million people, and is throwing new cities up almost overnight. I don't think people here quite appreciate yet the hugeness of China and the scope of the paradigm shift which we are encountering. We've built an ill-disciplined society around credit and disposable consumption, while they've built a disciplined society designed to keep on feeding that insatiable maw, often on the backs of a population that is obsequious to authority to the point of near-slavery.

That's our problem, and theirs too, at least until they can build and find other markets that are not so credit-bound, and cut us loose with relish. The question is, what will be the model for the rest of the developing world in the 21st Century? Has the day of the American model passed? Is the Chinese model of free-wheeling capitalism mixed with political repression going to be the preferred path for those who would follow? Does democracy really have a future?

In the meantime, I'm sure most of us will be watching the opening ceremonies tonight, and the events in the coming weeks, regardless. The Olympics, despite the political baggage that always gets thrown around them, ultimately are a celebration of shared humanity, even in the face of the difficulties that may be posed by a particular host country...

Besides, after all, they pretty much own us, don't they? I suppose they could buy up Google any time they wanted to, if they really felt like it (although I've only had one sitemeter hit from the PRC here that I've ever noticed before). Better get my shots in now, while I can...

Listen on NPR to China Looks To Row Away With Most Gold Medals, a description of China's "Project 119"; their plan to scoop the most gold medals in 2008.

Read Naomi Klein's description of McCommunism... The Olympics: Unveiling Police State 2.0

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Catholic Shame?

Flagellants, (circa 1349?)

Those of us who are older than 45 can probably tell you a thing or two about Catholic guilt.

In the media, it's a sort of tiresome cliche, as if it's a given for everyone who's Catholic. Among those younger than 45, however, I don't think it's there to any extent at all. They carry around something very different indeed, which may be even heavier to bear, even if in some cases it's covered up by a sort of bravado.

Recently I read a book called The Faith Between Us: A Jew and a Catholic Search for the Meaning of God, by Scott Korb & Peter Bebergal. It was an unremarkable read as far as I was concerned, but I did see an interesting quote in there attributed to the Catholic writer Paul Elie. I think I do see a lot of this going around...

Among the church's younger members, Catholic guilt has been supplanted by Catholic shame - a deep embarrassment about our church and its presence in the culture. In part we are ashamed for the reasons Christians have always felt ashamed: we associate faith with childhood and are eager to throw off childish ways; we disapprove of the church's doings; we appraise the church by its own standards and it doesn't measure up; or we appraise ourselves and realize we don't live up to what Christ and the church demand of us.

Mostly, though, we are ashamed because we lack the resources of Catholic tradition that might enable us to reconcile seeming opposites and make sense of the absurdity we confront.