Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Some reactions to the GOP Debate

I didn't see the debate (no TV), but late last night, I did read a fair amount of coverage online, and see some clips. So perhaps someone who actually saw the debate in context can challenge these conclusions--which go beyond the debate, to some of the coverage...

National Review seems to have decided backing a winner is the main thing--so they seem to be soft-soaping all the ways Giuliani is a liberal, and will take this country in a liberal direction, and hyping the few, slender things about him that count as "conservative." It's all about the war. Too bad about the unborn babies...

And marriage...

And gun rights...

It's all about the war...so why shouldn't we torture? Rep. Tom Tancredo said that anything goes if you're saving Western Civilization. Who cares about torture? No, he wasn't exactly that explicit, but he did say do whatever, do anything, to get information. This in response to a hypothetical about nukes exploded on U.S. territory, and do you countenance torture? I don't much care for McCain, but he had the right answer, from what I gather -- we don't do that because it's wrong. He also had the right answer to Romney -- "I don't change my position based on it being an even-numbered year, or what office I'm running for next" or words to that effect. Too bad he's so terribly wrong on the First Amendment, and shows every sign of wanting to whack away further at free speech (his followup to his execrable "McCain-Feingold" law is to complain it doesn't go far enough).

Where was Sam Brownback? I know he was there, and I know he spoke, but that his answers show up almost nowhere in the coverage -- including conservative-wonks' coverage -- tells me he offered little that was memorable or decisive. Too bad. Huckabee may steal his rationale for running -- i.e., being a full-package conservative, proving that you don't have to opt for a different flavor of sell-out ("Rudy McRomney").

What Ron Paul said deserves more reflective consideration, rather than merely being dismissed as "blame America" and "moonbat."

What he said is deeply unsettling--he challenged over 60 years of American foreign policy--and the response, beyond Giuliani, has been to treat his words as if he'd uttered obscenities in polite company, and everyone moves on.

And yet, let's consider. Is it truly unspeakable to say that bad decisions or policy on the part of the U.S. can have terrible consequences? Isn't that what Reagan said about Jimmy Carter in 1980? Was that "blame America"?

Michelle Malkin rightly points out that his answer ignores the long history and deep roots of jihadism at work here. Yes, but: the jihadists, the folks who want to subdue everyone in the name of Islam, didn't attack us until relatively recently. Why? What moved the U.S. up the list?

One problem with Congressman Paul's answer is the suggestion that we should reconsider our relationship with Israel in this light. As with the torture question: our relations with Israel should be based on what's right; not fear of what an enemy may do to us for it.

Another problem is that I have a hard time conceiving of how the U.S. operates in the world as he seems to envision. He seemed to question whether we should have belonged to NATO! I.e., it seems to me that our engagement with Europe, post-World War II, and the resulting stance against the Soviet empire, seems to be one of the singular accomplishments of American foreign policy. Calling it a big mistake seems a pretty tough sell.

Is he suggesting we should return to a contemporary version of "Fortress America"? I suppose it would be do-able: very secure borders, full missile-defense systems, including space-based weapons, and the long reach of our military where we can identify something brewing that is clearly aimed at us. But can our economy work very well if our long borders with Canada and Mexico are not highly porous--let alone our air- and seaports? One of our problems is we are a trading nation. That means lots and lots of people and things come and go across our borders.

So Paul suggests we withdraw from "their area" -- meaning wherever Osama bin Laden et al. call "theirs." That means out of the Middle East, where our oil comes from--and not just ours, but much of the world's. The mistake many make, left and right, is to think that its just about "our" oil. No it's not. I.e., suppose, tomorrow, we discovered vast oil fields, in, say, Piqua--enough to make the U.S. oil-independent. Do we then no longer care what happens to the oil fields in the Middle East?

Yes--unless those Piqua fields are big enough to supply much of the world--because the U.S. has a stake in the stability of the rest of the world, too. Think of it this way: you and your neighbors are in the middle of a very dry area. You have your own source of water, and your neighbors have theirs. What happens if theirs stops supplying water? You really think it won't affect you?

All that said, Rep. Paul raised a valid question, too little discussed. He said something like "They (meaning bin Ladin et al.) didn't hit us because we're rich and we're free, but because of what we're doing over there." We were rich and free for a long time before it was all-important to them to hit us.

And I will say what Rep. Paul didn't say: some of the "freedoms" we push on the world, that the Islamists do hate, they are right to hate: contraception, abortion, obscenity, the radical deconstruction of marriage, family and the human person, the manipulation of life, etc. Which is to say that when President Bush and Mayor Giuliani say, "they hate us for our freedoms," I only half-cheer, because I'd rather be without some of them.

Which is all to say that Paul may be right, that we're fighting a war we needn't; or he may be wrong, that we are fighting a war we do need to fight--but we're fighting it for the wrong reasons, meaning his GOP critics are wrong, too.

...Which suggests that for all the flaws one can find in what Rep. Paul said, there's more fruitful responses to it than are being offered in much of the discussion.

Update: here's a thouhtful response to Rep. Paul's statements last night, at National Review Online. Further update: And here's more from NRO...

8 comments:

Ron said...

You wrote:

"And I will say what Rep. Paul didn't say: some of the "freedoms" we push on the world, that the Islamists do hate, they are right to hate: contraception, abortion, obscenity, the radical deconstruction of marriage, family and the human person, the manipulation of life, etc. Which is to say that when President Bush and Mayor Giuliani say, "they hate us for our freedoms," I only have cheer, because I'd rather be without some of them."


If you really believe that you would rather be without the freedom to choose for yourself, perhaps you have just explained why citizens are wary of religious people who want the government to regulate their own brand of morality -- in your case, this would apparently include prohibiting contraceptives, artificial insemination and stem cell research." Has your knowledge of the scriptures become so narrow that you have forgotten that the glory of God is intelligence? Morality should guide the acquisition of knowledge not limit it.

RB Scott
rbscott@themuss.net

Dad29 said...

Nat'l Review will back whatever candidate promises to 'take out Iran.'

Ron Paul's phrasing is infelicitous, but one should recall that John F. Kennedy was a member of the group which did NOT want to enter WWII--the America First Committee.

And that group included a number of other heavyweight thinkers.

Pure isolationism will not work; but bullheaded stupidity does not work well, either (e.g., "building democracy" with the Army.)

Father Martin Fox said...

Ron:

That's really a poor argument, I have a hard time believing you gave it serious thought.

Example 1:

"If you really believe that you would rather be without the freedom to choose for yourself"... I never said any such thing. Your statement is ridiculous.

Example 2:

"...religious people who want the government to regulate their own brand of morality..."

It isn't a question of wanting the goverment to regulate my morality. For one thing, the government already regulates my morality, and everyone elses. No one in this country is free to express his or her morality sans regulation by government.

Assuming you mean, impose my morality, that too is not much of a point, because we already have a government that imposes a morality; all government imposes some morality.

One would be hard-pressed to identify a single law that does not originate from a moral impulse, or have one in view, even if at several removes. So the question is, what morality shall the law express? All the really hot debates over public policy these days arise from conflicts of moral vision -- not a conflict between a morality-based vision and a morality-free alternative.

Example 3:

"...in your case, this would apparently include prohibiting contraceptives, artificial insemination and stem cell research."

While you are partly correct, that is entirely accidental -- i.e., your assertion here arises entirely from your own surmises; nothing I posted gives support to it. I said "I'd rather be without some of them"--without specifying which those are.

Now, in fact, I do favor prohibiting abortion, and some stem-cell research (not all), as well as some "contraceptives," that are, in fact, abortifacients. I am uncertain whether I think it advisable to prohibit all contraceptives; and I have not formed my precise legislative strategy for artificial insemination. In any case, the prospects of outlawing these latter two are extremely dim.

Example 4:

"Has your knowledge of the scriptures become so narrow that you have forgotten that the glory of God is intelligence? Morality should guide the acquisition of knowledge not limit it."

A non sequitur so far off track I dare not even attempt to reconstruct how you suppose this connects with the foregoing.

Care to try again, a little more carefully?

Tom S. said...

Interesting point, Father. I have been thinking for some time that, looking at what is sold around the world as "american culture" is generally the trashiest most lowbrow parts of our society, distilled and packaged and foisted upon a lot of people who find it scary and offensive. We are not all like that, but that is how we are presented to the world by corporate media.

Heck, I'm from here, and no prude by a long shot, but I find it offensive as well. Based on what I have read and heard, much of the rest of the world thinks that Madonna, Paris Hilton, et al. represent the essence of american culture.

How many people in Pakistan, for instance, would know that you are vacationing in "the bible belt"? That wouldn't matter to the true kooks among them, but it might give a bit less motivation to the potential kooks.

NolaGirl said...

Although I am not a resident of New York, or evan America, I can't say I like Giuliani. I remember I saw him being interviewd on Irish TV by a David MacWilliams around 2002 and I didn't take to his views or the look of his face for that matter.

Jim said...

Father, you mentioned "gun rights" in your original post. I own firearms myself, including a few handguns. I am also a Catholic that is 100% loyal to the Magisterium of the Church.

That said, more than a few well-intentioned Catholic friends have pointed out that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has called for legislation that would basically ban civilian ownership of handguns. Please see the following link from the USCCB's web site:

Handgun Violence: A Threat to Life

I am sure you are quite familiar with the document linked above. I am also assuming that you own at least one handgun. My question is how would you respond if a fellow Catholic suggested that you are ignoring the teaching of the Bishops by owning handguns?

To date, all I have said in response is that the USCCB's position on handgun ownership by civilians is not part of the Magisterium and, as such, that I, in good conscience, am free to disregard those teachings. (Out of respect for the Bishops, I haven't quite brought myself to the point of actually saying out loud that I think the Bishops got it wrong on this particular issue.) I also point out that handguns are used hundreds of thousands of times each year in this country for defensive purposes. I then usually mention paragraphs #2264 and #2265 of The Catechism Of The Catholic Church.

CCC #2264

CCC #2265

Have I erred in anything that I have said above? In your opinion, is there anything else that I could add to suggest that there is nothing at all improper for a Catholic to own handguns?

Thanks.

Father Martin Fox said...

Jim:

I don't, in fact, own a gun, because doing so is a great responsibility, and I don't have time to keep track of it, so better I don't.

What you wrote here looks right. The bishops are owed respect and consideration, but I would agree with you that this isn't on the same level as, say, abortion or even care for the poor -- the latter particularly being a situation where prudential questions enter in.

And the reason I would say that, concerning gun rights, is very simple: one has the right to defend oneself, and a corresponding duty to act to defend others.

If someone is coming after me with a gun, it is absurd to say I don't have the right to be able to respond with sufficient firepower to stop that attacker.

It is only barely theoretically possible that the state can assure any of us that won't happen; ergo, the state lacks the moral right to prevent a citizen from meaningful self-protection.

Jim said...

Thanks, Father!