Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Max Borders - Part II

Having previously listed the first half of Border's list of suggested GOP policy changes, it is only right that I post the second half of the list:

6. Healthcare “1,2,3”

1-Medical savings accounts for every American – Give every American the option to divert part or all of their Medicare portion of payroll taxes to a medical savings account (aka HSA). These interest-gaining accounts can be used for out-of-pocket medical care and high deductibles. Mitigates the expense account effect running up the costs of healthcare and pulls us back from the cliff (See Singapore).

2-Refundable Tax Credits for the poor (straight into your MSA). Perhaps we can “afford” to help the poor, but not the way we’re doing it. Means-test people and give poor folks refundable tax credits on a sliding scale. They put these resources into their HSAs and choose where their healthcare dollars go.

3-Kill State Monopolies - Let people buy less expensive insurance across state lines. If I can cut my insurance premium in half by buying in Idaho, I should be able to. The only thing that prevents me from doing so is government. Let’s end that bullshit.

7. Dollar-for-Dollar Schools – Create the conditions for the emergence of creative new private, non-profit schools by allowing people to deduct a portion of the tuition to place their kids in these innovative schools. (Then, perhaps this will happen.) If you’re taking a full pupil out of the DMV-style school but leaving a large portion of the tax money for said pupil, no one can credibly argue that it “takes resources from the public schools.” Add refundable tax credits for the very poor and you’ve got a viable alternative to the mediocre-at-best public schools system. Universal primary school is maintained. Competition and iterative innovation radically improves our kids’ education. Everybody’s happy (except the teachers’ cartel, uh, union).

8. Congressional Crowdsourcing - Public solutions for public problems means big-dollar contests and public suggestion-box-type efforts can get the best ideas out of the American people. Bureaucrats have terrible incentives. And seriously, there are no Steve Jobs(s) in Congress. Congresspeople and their staffers should find ways to let the "wisdom of crowds" – even ideas futures markets - solve genuine public problems. Who ever heard of an innovative populist meritocracy? Well, now you have.

9. 1% Rule – For every dollar a federal department saves taxpayers relative to a reasonable budget baseline, those employees get 1 percent of that savings directly in their paychecks (according to pay grade). This would encourage bottom-up departmental efforts to tighten up. To prevent artificially bloating budgets the following years in order falsely to reward these functionaries, you’d have to set up the baseline to avoid political gaming of the system. Such may only be possible with a TABOR-like provision. I agree that the devil would be in the details. Just tossin' it out there.

10. Toleration – I have written elsewhere that the GOP should replace the social conservative policy leg of their tripod with a leg of toleration. Toleration is the cultural institution that means conservatives have their own private social conservatism and let others have their own lifestyles, religious beliefs, or whatever as they see fit. The kids today are much more tolerant and you won’t get anywhere with them unless you let go of all the stuff that smacks of theocracy or social engineering a la Falwell. Persuasion and privacy on social issues is preferable to power.

While a little messier than his first five reccomendations, Max still offers some substantive ideas that deserve further exploration. Health care, education, and government beurocracy are incredibly messy issues, so one can't expect the solutions to be easy. I do like #10, but that should come as no surprise.

Where the Right Is

Damon Linker takes stock of the intellectual fissures, fractures, and factions dividing writers and thinkers on the Right. His article begins with a review of the major conservative journals:

It's fitting that National Review -- the intellectual incubator of the conservative movement that rose to power with Ronald Reagan -- seems poised to go down with the ship. In the magazine and more recently on its lively website National Review Online (NRO), National Review has always mirrored the mood on the political right: unpredictable and feisty in the 60s and 70s; exuding confidence in the 80s and 90s; overdosing on militaristic American exceptionalism under George W. Bush; and now spiraling down into the dumps with the post-Bush Republican Party. Today NRO's group blog The Corner is angry, sarcastic, cranky, irritable, grossly populist -- miles away from the serene high-mindedness cultivated by founder William F. Buckley, Jr. Contributors compete with one another over who can offer the most obsequious encomium for Rush Limbaugh and turn instantly against anyone who dares utter a criticism of him. Like the vulgar talk-show hosts with whom they've firmly aligned themselves, the editors and writers around National Review occasionally criticize the Bush administration, but they rarely do so in the name of new ideas. Instead, they treat Reagan as the Platonic ideal of the conservative politician, the standard from which all present and future Republicans diverge at their peril. Call it a cocoon or call it a casket -- either way, it's hard to imagine National Review in its current configuration contributing very much to the revival of the right either politically or intellectually.

The Weekly Standard and Commentary -- the two magazines most closely associated with neoconservatism -- overlap quite a lot these days with National Review in both content and contributors. (Jennifer Rubin's endless string of lengthy posts on Commentary's Contentions blog, which mechanically praise nearly every Republican utterance while monotonously denouncing the Democrats for everything they do, would fit in quite well at The Corner.) Yet there is an important difference in emphasis. Whereas National Review promotes Reagan worship, the Weekly Standard and Commentary have chosen to rally around Dick Cheney, proud champion of "enhanced interrogation" and thoroughly unrepentant advocate of the invasion of Iraq. There's something admirable in this position, I suppose, since it can't possibly flow from a belief that an embrace of the wildly unpopular and increasingly grouchy Cheney will improve the political fortunes of the Republican Party, at least in the short term. No, William Kristol and John Podhoretz appear to be standing tall with Cheney out of principle. If you doubt it, take a look at this revealing blog post from Podhoretz, written shortly after Obama's national security speech last Wednesday, in which he bristles at the president's suggestion that the Bush administration sometimes "made decisions based upon fear rather than foresight.” To which Podhoretz responds with a heartfelt defense of conducting foreign policy in a state of acute fear, while also praising the former president's "brilliant efforts to thwart mass killings." Neoconservatism, 2009 reduced to a slogan: "Be Afraid! Be Very Afraid!" It's hard to imagine such a message succeeding politically, at least short of a genuine crisis (as opposed to a spurious one). Count that as one more reason to hope our luck holds out.

He then tackles David Frum, David Brooks, and Ross Douthat, and is not very optimistic in the possibility of success of their approach:

I just can't see "Bush Plus Competence!" inspiring much excitement in either the party or the nation as a whole.

I believe there is certainly a sound intellectual case that can be made for personal liberty, limited government
, fiscal responsibility, competition, and private (business and social) institutions. In order to effectively make that case, however, I think humility, tolerance, and social/environmental justice must also be promoted. These items are not in conflict, but "neocons" balk at humility, the "religous right" balks at tolerance, and the corporate lobbyists work to undermine most efforts a social/environmental justice. These are the tails that currently wag the dog, both intellectually and politcally.


From what little I know, it seems Sonia Sotomayor is a safe and decent enough pick for SCOTUS, not likely to change the balance or direction of the Supreme Court. Whatever problems conservatives may have with her, it is unlikely Obama's second choice would please them any more. And the hard-core left may not see Sotomayor as their savior, but would likely have to wait and see Stevens or Ginsburg retire before Obama takes a risk on a more openly liberal justice. Readers, please educate me or provide additional thoughts. Is this really as "whatever" as I make it out to be, or should I have stronger feelings?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I'll Take the Bait

A friend asks for my response to the following excerpt of a movie review:

4. Star Trek: First Contact (1996) - In an episode of TNG series, the crew captures a Borg and creates a virus that once implanted in their captive will wipe out the entire Borg collective. But because TNG could be over-the-top stupid, Picard chooses not to commit “genocide.” The point of my digression? Simple… Mark this moment as the point when, without even knowing it, TNG became the perfect example of how selfish, do-gooder leftism is a recipe for never-ending war and countless miseries. Ever after, every murder and assimilation at the hands of the Borg is solely the fault of Captain Jean-Luc Picard — including those lost in this superb entry that ranks as one of the all-time best time travel movies.

So refusing to commit genocide is selfish, do-gooder leftism that results in never-ending war and countless miseries. Oh, and sufficient proof can be found, naturally of course, in how a fictional television/movie series plays out. Got it. Well, I'll stick to genocide at first, but I think this is the writer's attempt to justify torture by proxy, so I'll touch on that also.

As for genocide, it is hard to find anyone who supports it as a policy (I certainly do not), but in all humility, perhaps the writer is correct. There are several hard to reconcile sections in the Old Testament where entire cities and societies were fully destroyed or treated with complete cruelty. I choose to interpret these passages in the light of the New Testament. The Old Testament displays God upholding his covenant with the nation of Israel, and these actions, as cruel as they seem to our modern sensibilities, are justified in protecting the survival of God's people, a struggling population often outnumbered and with a tenuous hold on its Promised Land. This "ends justifies" the means approach changes immediately with the new covenant in Christ outlined in the New Testament. Hebrews 8 discusses the new Israel prophesied in Jeremiah 31, and several New Testament passages, including the famous "neither Greek nor Jew" of Galatians 3:28 bear out a new nation of God's people united by faith and blood in Christ instead of genealogical bloodlines. The binding commands under this new covenant is to Love (act in the best interest of) God and our fellow man, which would seem to preclude genocide or torture.

I state this position humbly, since although this is clear to me, there are certainly those (Christians and non-believers) that would strongly disagree or find this interpretation a cop out to the brutality of the Old Testament.

Divorcing ethics and religion from the issue for a moment and speaking solely from a military strategy standpoint, going "Old Testament" and completely annihilating an enemy has proven historically much more successful than tip-toeing through the minefield tulips. If war is determined by a country as a necessary response (an altogether different topic for another post), then there is no advantage in trying to make it look pretty. War is ugly, war is destruction, war is death, so a "go big or go home" strategy is not only appropriate, but much more effective in shortening the length of war an providing a decisive outcome.

In this context, genocide may be a topic more open to debate than torture. Back to the silver screen, there are all those movies where a character is embittered and set on a path of self-destruction solely to avenge harm brought on to their family or friends. How many young Muslim boys are witnessing the torture maiming, or murder of their fathers, brothers, and schoolmates at the hands of an enemy empire, and how many will follow in the steps of those characters in Once Upon a Time in the West, The Princess Bride, and countless others stories? Torture, above the inherent crime, may be considered one of the best forms of enemy recruitment and entrenchment, making it strategically, as well as morally, wrong.

As for the use of the term "leftist" to define those who may oppose torture, here is a written statement from a "leftist" politician that Republicans hate:

The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the [Geneva] Convention . It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.
-Ronald Reagan

Children, Children, Children

And I don't necessarily mean those commenting in the previous post, although, JB and Dr. RR, please take your own meds (or better yet stop taking them altogether and let's set-up a jello-fight cage match. First one that depants the other wins, and I will post the video to the blog).

First, congratulations in order to Mr. and Mrs. Anon, proud parents to a brand new healthy and beautiful girl. Best wishes and prayers for the days, months, years ahead!

Second, I would like to make clear that while I am talking about a theoretical and currently undetermined point, the plan is to one day join Anon, JB, Dr. RR, and other friends in the fraternity of fathers someday, and will look to learn a lot from them when the time comes. Keep up the good work guys!

Finally, a point was raised in the comments below about the threat of declining birth rates in "the West" that I wanted to give more attention.

Like most other large-scale phenomenon, the decline of birth rates in industrial countries is not the result of a single cause, but I did a little reading and would like to list out the main causes given:

#1 - The Sexual Revolution, Feminism, and redefining the "natural" role of Women - Per the NYT:

The main reason [for low birth rates] seems to be a basic change in attitudes on the part of some women as to their "natural" role. According to Nikolai Botev, population and development adviser at the United Nations Population Fund, many observers have been surprised to find that in recent years "childlessness emerges as an ideal lifestyle."

#2 - Tension between "liberated" women and strong family/masculine/cultural traditions. The NYT article hits on this, as does the UK's Independent:

Women get the education and even the jobs. But social attitudes remain rooted in a model of the woman as mother and the male as breadwinner, what the Australian demographer Peter McDonald, calls "out hunting the mammoth". But those Italian women who go out hunting the mammoth are still expected to change all the nappies; they do more than 75 per cent of the housework and child care.

#3 - Economics & Religion - Perhaps they should be listed separately, but an opinion piece from the American Spectator posits a strong link between the two:

I believe that two interacting factors shape population growth or decline: economic prosperity and belief in God. As to the first, there is no doubt that rising material prosperity discourages additional children. Fewer infants die; large families are no longer needed to support older parents. The welfare state-which only rich countries can afford-has greatly compounded this effect. When people believe that the government will take care of them, pay their pensions and treat their maladies, children do seem less essential.

A rise in prosperity also encourages people to think that they can dispense with God. Religion diminishes when wealth increases-that's my theory. But with a twist that I shall come to. Wealth generates independence, including independence from God, or (if you will) Providence. God is gradually forgotten, then assumed not to exist. This will tend to drive childbearing down even further. Hedonism will become predominant. Remember, Jesus warned that it's the rich, not the poor, who are at spiritual hazard.

There are qualifications and rebuttals that perhaps should be made to the above editorial, but Wikipedia offers a couple of interesting graphs:


Church service attendance and number of offspring
according to the World Value Survey 1981-2004

Church service attendance Number of offspring
never 1.67
only on holidays 1.78
once per month 2.01
once per week 2.23
more frequently 2.50

The U.S. is an anomaly as an industrialized country with a birthrate right at the critical 2.1 child per woman that is required for population stability, or replacement. However, if you factor out Hispanic immigrants, of which over 50% will become pregnant before they turn 20, the fertility rate for the U.S. drops significantly to 1.6. Still, 1.6 remains high compared to Europe, and economically the credit has been given to our flexible (or if you read the NYT, ungenerous and insecure) job market. Wait a minute, a free market can be a good thing?!?!

In some countries, principally Scandinavian Europe, an opposite approach is being taken, with even more increased efforts to provide a cradle to grave welfare state. This approach does seem to be lifting the birthrate slightly, although still not to replacement levels, but an unanswered question remains - Is it sustainable?

Economically, a lot of dire predictions look likely should governments continue to increase social programs, especially to adults and the elderly, while at the same time collecting fewer funds from dwindling numbers in younger generations. The only financial solutions become ever higher tax rates and loose immigration policies with the sole purpose of increasing the tax rolls. However, these are very divisive political and cultural courses of action, and perhaps catastrophically short-sighted.

Will the West become simply a geographic designation in the near future, an obsoleted culture full of bankrupted governments, lower standards or living, and dominated by procreating immigrants from underdeveloped and Muslim countries? There are certainly those warning and hoping so, but only time will tell.

So thanks again to those of you doing your part in having children, you may be helping to save Western civilization.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Legal Equality Coming to Georgia?

Uh, no. Nevertheless, Andre at the conservative Peach Pundit dreams up a "radical idea" on civil unions. Apparently he isn't aware this option has been discussed for years, but give the man credit for coming to a common sense conclusion on his own:

According to a 2004 study by the Congressional Budget Office, there are 1,138 statutory provisions “in which marital status is a factor in determining or receiving ‘benefits, rights, and privileges.’” Once a straight couple gets “married,” they become eligible for a range of benefits including the ability to file jointly on their income tax returns as well as being able to inherit an unlimited amount from their deceased spouse’s estate without being subject to the estate tax.

As long as those laws relating to marital status are on the books, then marriage will never be equal.

So here’s my radical idea:

Since there are at least 1,138 statutory provisions relating to marital status at the federal level alone, how about we repeal every last one of them. What I’m suggesting is that we strike the words “marital” and/or “marital status” from all one-thousand one-hundred and thirty-eight federal statutes, rules and regulations. In its place, we add two simple words; “civil union.”

Not that I'm holding my breath, but the times they are a-changing.

In Other Words, More Like Ron Paul

Max Borders starts a list of what policies may revitalize the Republican party. His first five "new ideas" are below:

1. Legalize Drugs - You have turned a corner on this issue. All evidence and economics indicates that prohibiting anything for which there is a demand causes black markets. The black markets in drugs mean the costs of doing business are higher—but that means so too are the profits. These profits (and turf) are protected violently by gangs and drug cartels. Gang culture is built around said profits. Remove the profits through legal competition and the gangs fade away eventually (just as they did after alcohol prohibition was repealed). Yes, there will be secondary social costs. Yes there will still be petty crime due to addicts—despite lower-cost drugs. But you can offset those social costs by taxing the product to build rehabilitation centers, which are preferable to building more prisons and morgues. You get credibility points for admitting that people have a right to do what they like with their bodies. Freedom is freedom, warts ‘n’ all.

2. Civil Unions – Want to shake everybody up? Try this: The state should get out of the marriage business. Period. End the debate. Marriage is a matter for churches, mosques and temples. Civil unions ensure that people who unite contractually are treated equally before the law, as the Constitution requires. If a church is willing to marry two gay people, fine. It’s none of the government’s business. Government will, however, offer equal tax treatment. Civil unions cover this just fine and states may craft their own civil union variations. Ultimately, though, marriage is ritual and, therefore, a private matter.

3. Means-test Everything – If it is to exist, every federal social program should be designed to help the very poor. The middle class only a little. The rich none. Government welfare programs for the rich, such as Medicare, are insane. Let's say so. (That includes a louder call for bringing Medicare back from the precipice.) Shame rich, old people: “You cannot continue to rob the next generation and get away with it. You have more resources and your healthcare costs more. Pay for it. You owe it to ‘the children.’” Thus: No welfare for the rich. No corporate welfare.

4. Taxpayer Bill of Rights & Balanced Budget – After this monstrous growth of the federal government by the Obama Administration, people are very likely going have an appetite for some kind of limits on government bloat. A Taxpayer Bill of Rights – which would lock government revenues in at population plus inflation as measured by acceptable cost of living indices. Couple this with limits on national debt that would force cuts. Plus, say we’re not going to charge up the national credit card and the bill to Generation Y. This is grossly unfair. We need to have a limit on deficits and balanced budgets within a certain timeframe, or consequences will follow.

5. Global Warming: “More Technology, No More Taxes” - We’re willing to fund sequestration technology. We’re willing to fund geo-engineering technology. We’re willing to use X-prize-type contests to do it. But we’re not willing to tax the American people as they rebound from a severe recession—for all for a hypothetical “crisis” that has never quite materialized.

I would consider these policies a good start, and look forward to the other half of Max's list. That said, I don't think the Republican Party is going anywhere until they admit how far off track Bush, Cheney, and the Republicans of the last several years have led the Party and country from once-basic ideals, including fiscal conservatism, humble foreign policy, restrained government (executive) power, anti-torture, pro-privacy, pro-constitution, defenders of civil liberty, and anti-corporate welfare/bail-out.

Until errors are admitted and amends made, I will stick to the independent label, and would rather be pegged by the casual observer as the bluest of blue dog Democrats than a Republican of any stripe. That doesn't mean I would ever vote Democrat, it is just that they aren't angering (betraying) me in the same way as the party of torture defenders and policy hypocrites.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fanfare for a Common Man

Don Boudreaux, of the Cafe Hayek blog, honors the inheritance left to him by his father in a moving letter to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Too few men are truly great. Greatness comes from within and is often invisible to eyes unfamiliar with a great person. A man is great only if he is responsible; only if he is a loyal and loving husband and father and friend; only if he teaches his children and grandchildren properly, not only with words but by example; only if he is free of envy and spite and pettiness.

And on his blog:

Society progresses only through the countless decencies, creative acts, honest exchanges, and faithfulness to responsibilities performed daily by millions of persons, nearly all of whom will be forgotten within a few decades of their deaths. Unfortunately, the monuments we humans build are chiefly to conquerors, tyrants, arrogant pretenders, and buffoons -- persons who, through the very acts that win them their 'honor,' help to undermine the progress promoted by the decent, unheralded many.

Subsidarity: Catholic Interpretations

Vox Nova revisits subsidiarity, and while the purpose of the post seems to be to scold those that would consider themselves politically right of center, I don't mind being scolded, and there is a good point made:

Subsidiarity concerns itself not with the particulars of the relationship between city, county, state and federal government, but rather with the relation between the individual, the community, and the state.

While subsidiarity can tangentially be used to guide the relationship between different levels of government, the core of subsidiarity is the promotion of social structures outside of government. As the writer puts it, community is the natural buffer between the individual and the state. This community, which is based on voluntary association, consists of family, friends, neighbors, religious and philanthropic groups, and places of business, and is what Tocqueville so loved about America:

Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies, in which all take part, but associations of a thousand other kinds, religious, moral serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive. The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools. If it is proposed to inculcate some truth or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form a society. Whenever at the head of some new undertaking you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association.

I loathe Ayn Rand's objectivist philosophy of pure individualism that would like any instance of "we" to be replaced with the "I" of a Nietzschean √úbermensch. As a commentator to the Vox Nova post rightly put it, individualism is the Achilles' heal of pure libertarian philosophy, and is just as much an unreachable utopia as socialism or egalitarianism. If I call myself a libertarian, it would only be because I would prefer to see a more restrained and less ambitious federal government that what has been exhibited by Republicans and Democrats in recent memory.

There is certainly a role for government, and there should be discussion about central vs. local government, but subsidiarity stresses that the voluntary association of "social man"in communities is a most important feature of a strong society.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ya Don't Say, Dick?

Glenn Greenwald over at opined last week on comments made by Dick Durbin. First, Durbin's comments:

"And the banks -- hard to believe in a time when we're facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created -- are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place,"

Greenwald's response:

The blunt acknowledgment that the same banks that caused the financial crisis "own" the U.S. Congress -- according to one of that institution's most powerful members -- demonstrates just how extreme this institutional corruption is.

The ownership of the federal government by banks and other large corporations is effectuated in literally countless ways, none more effective than the endless and increasingly sleazy overlap between government and corporate officials.

Greenwald goes on to list several examples of high-level musical chairs between legislative and lobbying sector jobs, and eventually gets to the sleaziest and most egregious offender, Goldman Sachs:

Nobody even tries to hide this any longer. The only way they could make it more blatant is if they hung a huge Goldman Sachs logo on the Capitol dome and then branded it onto the foreheads of leading members of Congress and executive branch officials.

And he finishes with the real reason why, even over a week after Durbin's statement, the big networks and big papers have ignored a huge statement by one of the country's highest ranking legislators:

One might think it would be a big news story for the second most-powerful member of the U.S. Senate to baldly state that the Congress is "owned" by the bankers who spawned the financial crisis and continue to dictate the government's actions. But it won't be. The leading members of the media work for the very corporations that benefit most from this process. Establishment journalists are integral and well-rewarded members of the same system and thus cannot and will not see it as inherently corrupt (instead, as Newsweek's Evan Thomas said, their role, as "members of the ruling class," is to "prop up the existing order," "protect traditional institutions" and "safeguard the status quo").

That Congress is fully owned and controlled by a tiny sliver of narrow, oligarchical, deeply corrupted interests is simultaneously so obvious yet so demonized (only Unserious Shrill Fringe radicals, such as the IMF's former chief economist, use that sort of language) that even Durbin's explicit admission will be largely ignored. Even that extreme of a confession (Durbin elaborated on it with Ed Schultz last night) hardly causes a ripple.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Civil Societarian

In an older article, Arnold Kling explains:

I tend to put myself on the defensive when I say that I am libertarian. So I want to try a new label.

Call me a Civil Societarian. I strongly support the institutions of civil society. These include families, corporations, religious groups, private schools, charities, trade associations, and the other peaceful, voluntary collective organizations that promote our individual and collective well-being.

The stereotypical libertarian might cite Ayn Rand and exalt the independent individual. Instead, a civil societarian would cite Alexis de Tocqueville, and his observation that "Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations." These voluntary associations are what a civil societarian sees as the key to civilization.

Government may contribute to civil society, but it also intrudes on it (see the essay on Group Power). As an economist, I am keenly aware that government interference with markets tends to weaken them. Even the most well-intended interventions often have adverse consequences.

But the challenge that government poses to civil society goes beyond economics. When we treat government as a parent, we weaken the family. When we worship government, we overpower other religions. When we look to government every time there is a problem, we undermine those who have independent, creative solutions. Katrina-ravaged New Orleans was let down by its Democratic mayor, its Democratic governor, and its Republican President. It was not let down by private-sector volunteers.

I very much agree. While I may have what can be described as a somewhat libertarian political approach on how to make a "secular" government work, my personal worldview may be diametrically opposed. To begin to outline what I see as a Christian worldview, I must borrow words from men of far greater eloquence and conviction, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

"Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). Thus the law of Christ is a law of forbearance. Forbearance means enduring and suffering. The other person is a burden to the Christian, in fact for the Christian most of all. The other person never becomes a burden at all for the pagans. They simply stay clear of every burden the other person may create for them. However, Christians must bear the burden of one another. They must suffer and endure one another. Only as a burden is the other really a brother or sister and not just an object to be controlled. The burden of human beings was even for God so heavy that God had to go to the cross suffering under it.

I don't think Bonhoeffer is saying that non-Christians can't bear one another's burdens, but that doing so is imperative if Christians are to obediently follow Christ.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Conscientious Discrimination

Should religious groups and people be allowed to refuse their services if they don't believe in gay marriages? Yes, says law professor Robin Wilson in the L.A. Times:

As a growing number of states stand poised to pass same-sex marriage laws, they should consider this: It's possible to legalize gay marriage without infringing on religious liberty. But it takes careful crafting of robust religious protections. And no state has gotten that right yet.

The country is deeply divided on same-sex marriage. But once it is recognized legally, all kinds of people -- clerks in the local registrar's office, photographers, owners of reception halls, florists -- might not have the legal right to refuse to provide services for same-sex weddings, even if doing so would violate deeply held beliefs.

Some have argued that gay-marriage laws do not need such guarantees because they don't require religious objectors to do any particular thing. But new laws are interpreted in light of existing statutes, and Vermont and Connecticut -- as well as all six states still considering same-sex marriage -- have laws on the books prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Conscience protections are a thoroughly American idea. Since Colonial times, legislatures have exempted religious minorities from laws inconsistent with their faith. Such exemptions allow Americans with radically different views on moral questions to live in peace and equality in the same society.

The gay, quasi-libertarian, pro-Obama Andrew Sullivan adds:

But how far do you go? Should a Catholic caterer, for example, be able to refuse to provide food for a second marriage? My own view is: yes. But then I'm a libertarian in many ways. I see protecting religious freedom in the civil sphere as a core principle. And by exposing such religious prejudice so baldly, and allowing the market to disadvantage the bigoted, we may even help jump-start the conversations that will eventually persuade people that they're wrong.

I don't know if I would go as far as he does, but I like the point he makes.

I have already argued that our secular government should treat homosexual and heterosexual individuals, and the recognition of their unions, the same. That does not, however, settle the moral/religious issue, and it should be left to each individual and religious group to decide for themselves.