At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Rick Perry: Another Four Years of George W. Bush

posted by Jack Kerwick

This past weekend, as the victors of the Ames Straw Poll were being determined inIowa,Texasgovernor Rick Perry declared his candidacy for the presidency.  The talking heads of “conservative” talk radio and elsewhere were giddy with excitement.  For more than one reason, I, for one, do not share their enthusiasm.

Already, comparisons between Perry and former President George W. Bush are being drawn in venues that are friendly to both our national parties.  Admittedly, some commentators have noted the differences between the two, but these are largely stylistic and tangential.  Their likenesses, though, are too obvious to be glossed over: both claim to be “conservative”; both are Texans; and both have served as governors of the lone star state. 

These similarities alone are sufficient to engender no inconsiderable degree of concern in numerous voters.  George W. Bush’s approval rating was abysmal when he left office, and it hasn’t risen appreciably since.  The prospect of but another governor from Texasin the White House simply is not palatable to millions and millions of Americans.  That this apparently doesn’t register with establishment Republicans goes to show how thoroughly blinded they are by ideology.  It also signals that for all of their protestations to the contrary, these Republicans really haven’t learned the lessons that they claimed to have learned from the electoral defeats they suffered in 2006 and 2008.

In politics, imagery not infrequently trumps substance.  If ever proof was needed for this proposition, Barack Obama’s election to the presidency is it.  And the very image of anotherTexasgovernor as a Republican president doesn’t promise to go any distance in helping Americans overcome the weariness over Bush from which, in varying degrees, they continue to suffer. 

Fiscal conservatives and libertarian-minded folks have always known that if there were any differences at all between Bush’s governance as president and that of any given leftist, they were negligible.  In other words, they have known that Bush is not “the conservative” who he claimed to be.  And with no thanks to his cheerleaders in the so-called “alternative” or “conservative” media, more traditional-minded conservatives are, thankfully, beginning to realize this.

Bush contributed to the further expansion of the federal government via Middle Eastern wars; a prescription drug benefit that served to strengthen Medicaid; No Child Left Behind, a program that, far from weakening the influence of the Department of Education over the states, consolidated its power; Faith-based Initiatives which rendered private religious and charitable organizations subservient to the federal government; his Home Owner Society that required the federal government to bring pressure to bear upon private-sector lending institutions to make sub-prime loans to unqualified applicants; and a whole lot more.

Perry has repudiated none of this agenda.

Yet in addition to all of this, Bush also made several attempts to grant a de facto amnesty to the millions of illegal immigrants residing within our country.  Thankfully, such efforts proved unsuccessful.

This is relevant, though, because Perry gives no indications of being very much different from his predecessor on this issue. TexasbordersMexicoand has for decades had all manner of problems with illegal immigration.  Yet Perry has steadfastly refused to so much as lend support to the construction of a border fence, much less adopt the sorts of sensible measures in response to those problems to whichArizonahas had to resort.  NumbersUSA has given Perry a D- on immigration related matters.

There is another consideration that should cool the enthusiasm that has greeted Perry’s announcement on Saturday. 

Perry didn’t become a Republican until 1989.  He was actually part of Al Gore’s campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination just the year before. Shortly after Gore lost to Dukakis, Karl Rove recruited Perry. 

This in and of itself doesn’t necessarily mean that Perry isn’t a conservative now, but that he spent his formative years, including much of his adult life, ingesting and defending the ideas of the Democratic Party and only became a Republican after GOP fixer Karl Rove came knocking at his door suggests that his “conservatism,” like that of Bush’s, isn’t authentic.  That is, it suggests that, at the very least, it is more reasonable than not for voters to suspect that Perry will govern as president similarly to the manner in which Bush governed.

Charity and humility combine to caution us against rendering unduly harsh verdicts upon Perry this prematurely.  But wisdom counsels us to avoid another four years of George W. Bush.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published at The New American

Republicans and Democrats: Mirror Images

posted by Jack Kerwick

Although I remain something of a talk radio junkie, it has been some time since I recognized that the “conservatism” of the air waves is really nothing of the kind.  That is, much to my disappointment, it isn’t “conservatism” that “conservative” talk radio tends to promote but neoconservatism, or at least Republican Party politics (which is for all practical purposes the same thing).  Still, I continue to listen to talk radio regularly, and just as regularly find it instructive.

For the latest pearls, I have nationally syndicated host Mike Gallagher to thank.  Gallagher expressed incredulity over the response of some “on the left” to the recent killing of Navy Seals inAfghanistan. 

The Afghan war, being a decade old, is the longest war thatAmericahas ever waged.  In spite of this, our military suffered more casualties in a single day this past weekend than it has suffered on any given day since this war began.  Not surprisingly, these facts are being taken by an ever growing number of Americans as further confirmation of their skepticism toward this Middle Eastern adventure.  Our mission inAfghanistan, they reason, if it ever had any coherence at all, has lost intelligibility: it is time to either radically revisit our objectives or, at long last, to bring the troops home. 

Gallagher couldn’t disagree more with this stance. This latest “tragedy,” he claimed, only shows that we aren’t combating our enemies intensely enough.  Several of his callers concurred with his assessment.  The problem, they say, is that our fighting men are constrained.  If only we let them do what they are trained to do—destroy the enemy—we will be able to win this thing.

As anyone who listens to “conservative” talk radio and/or watches Fox News knows all too well, Gallagher’s position on this issue was anything but atypical: it represents the conventional neoconservative, GOP wisdom.  The more thought we pay to it, the more obvious it becomes that in spite of all of the bi-partisan rhetoric about the “fundamental” differences that are supposed to exist between them, the Republican and Democratic parties are remarkably similar.  In fact, it isn’t much of an exaggeration to conclude that they are mirror images of one another.   

It is, however, somewhat of an exaggeration to judge them as such, for neither party possesses nearly as much animus for the pet policies of the other that common hype would suggest.  In short, contrary to what they would have their respective constituents believe, Democrats no more want to “gut” our national defense than Republicans want to eliminate, or even considerably ameliorate, the Welfare State.  Still, for present purposes, I will focus primarily on that rhetoric of our parties that reflects the differences in emphasis between our parties.   

Domestically speaking, Republicans claim to oppose “Big Government” on the grounds that it undermines freedom.  At the same time, Democrats support their call for an ever expansive government at home precisely because of the greater freedom that it supposedly permits the individual, specifically the individual of “the middle class.”  Of course it is correct that Democrats pay much lip service to the ideal of Equality as well, but it is crucial for the real enemies of the left to recognize that, theoretically at least, there is no more conflict within leftist thought between Equality and Freedom than there is conflict within the rightist’s vision between the two.  In principle, at any rate, when domestic policies are at stake, Republicans conceive of freedom and equality in procedural or formal terms.  Conversely, Democrats think of them substantively.  What this means is that Democrats’ redistributive schemes serve Americans generally inasmuch as they promote Equality while simultaneously promoting Freedom as well, for there is no Freedom as long as people lack sufficient resources to implement their plans. 

Republicans scoff at this reasoning—when, that is, the context on which it centers is American society.  However, matters are quite otherwise when focus shifts onto non-Western lands, particularly those in theMiddle East. 

When this occurs, Republicans actually reason in much the same way as do Democrats when the latter attempts to justify its socialistic economic prescriptions for the homeland.  For instance, when President Obama, succinctly summarizing the Democrats’ vision, infamously told “Joe the Plumber” that it was his intention to “spread the wealth around,” Republicans rightly realized that he was not so subtly revealing his plans for confiscating the fruits of the labor of “the haves” in order to pass them along to “the have nots.”  But the Global Democracy mission upon which Republicans have embarked their country is no less a confiscatory or redistributive scheme than that of which the American Welfare State consists: the blood and treasure of “the privileged”—i.e. Americans—is radically redistributed to “the disadvantaged”—“oppressed” Muslims inIraq,Afghanistan,Libya, and elsewhere. 

What’s more, all of this is done in the name of the Mother of all egalitarian battle cries—“Human Rights”—and the same substantive conception of Freedom that animates Democrat leftists.  If Freedom is “power,” as John Dewey and legions of other leftists have always insisted, then the fact that it is only through this massive redistribution of resources from Americans to Middle Eastern Muslims that the latter can enjoy the Freedom that Republicans want for them to have proves that it is indeed a substantive condition—not just a system of procedural arrangements—that is in question here.

So, judging, once more, just from the rhetoric (as opposed to the actual practice) of the two parties, it seems that for Democrats, the ideals of Freedom and Equality, and the “social engineering” required for their realization, are moral imperatives in America and the West, but efforts to implement them abroad are morally impermissible by virtue of being “imperialistic.”  Conversely, according to Republicans, the left’s substantive notions of Freedom and Equality are a function of socialism and, then, immoral—but only when applied to America; when it comes to non-democratic nations, “the social engineering” that their implementation demands is a moral imperative.

The Republican and Democratic Parties are indeed mirror images of one another.     

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published in The New America 



Manners and Civilization

posted by Jack Kerwick

Recently, Al Gore was permitted an opportunity to indulge his obsession with “global warming” at the Aspen Institute. 

The former Vice President had some rather choice words for critics of his anthropocentric conception of “climate change.”  They are the same people, he declared, who continue “washing back at you the same crap over and over and over again.”  Yet they have become so successful at dissembling, we have reached a point where it is now “unacceptable” in “mixed” or “bi-partisan company” to use the goddamned word ‘climate.’”  On three consecutive occasions during his speech, Gore referred to his opponents’ alternative accounts of climate change as “bull—!”

Gore isn’t the first high profile politician to curse in public.  Back in 2004, when he was campaigning for the presidency, John Kerry provided an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in which he said he never thought President Bush would “f— up” the Iraq War as badly as he did.  And the other night, while on Bill Maher’s Real Time, President Obama’s former economic adviser, Christine Romer, described the United States as “pretty darned fu—ed” when speaking to the credit downgrade that it received courtesy of Standard and Poor’s. 

Public cursing has become common in our time.  It isn’t only politicians who partake of it; celebrities of various sorts do as well.  Judging from the relative lack of commentary on this phenomenon, few people are particularly bothered by it.  But it is at our peril as a culture, as a civilization, that we trivialize the ease and frequency with which “public figures” resort to profanity.

It would also be a mistake to either dismiss this concern of mine as hysteria or to mistake it for prudery.  It is the function of neither. 

Cursing itself is not the issue here; it is public cursing, the cursing of “public figures” especially, to which I allude.  Furthermore, it isn’t even this by itself that promises calamity for our world, but the host of other culturally corrosive trends by which it is accompanied.   

The casualness with which untold numbers of people sport tattoos that they have burned into their flesh, piercings that have been drilled into every conceivable body part, and exceedingly revealing attire—whether males wearing pants that hang down to their knees or females with shirts that are open to their stomachs—is an ominous sign of the cultural rot from which we suffer.

But there are other, more subtle, indicators of the immodesty into which we have lapsed.

The explosion of “reality” television, and its internet counterpart—such “social media” as facebook—at once disclose and exacerbate this malaise. Although I have never taken an interest in it, it is true that not all “reality” television is devoid of redeemable qualities.  Shows like American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance encourage excellence.  And the internet is invaluable for a variety of reasons.  Be this as it may, though, there can be no denying that there is much in these venues that is complete trash. 

Shows like The Real Desperate Housewives of New Jersey, The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and many others supply an opportunity for cognitively challenged and morally impoverished nobodies to achieve their proverbial fifteen minutes of fame while carving away ever further at some of our most time honored and sacred of institutions (like marriage and the family).  As for the internet, it is not necessarily the effortlessness with which anyone can submit their views that is the problem.  It is, instead, the anonymity that the internet affords us that scatters our inhibitions to the winds and renders the internet a bastion of incivility and even cruelty.

All of these phenomena, from public cursing to tattoos to “reality” television and more, reveal a substantial deterioration of manners.  The glaring lack of self-discipline and humility that we witness in our politics are just as easily seen in our culture, both in its “lower” and “higher” aspects.  Perhaps from a misguided—actually, destructive—idea of liberty, we have abandoned what our ancestors knew all too well, that, as Burke said, “liberty without wisdom, and without virtue…is the greatest of all possible evils,” for liberty unhindered by “tradition and restraint” is “folly, vice, and madness[.]”

It is appropriate to enlist Burke in the service of this discussion, for “the conservatism” of which he was among the most eloquent and impassioned advocates he helped to develop in response to an assault against traditional manners that in both its intensity and scope is not unlike that occurring in our own day. 

In one his many replies to the French Revolution, Burke too noted the relationship between vice or a loss of manners in politics and the same throughout the culture.  The political radicalism against which he railed was and could only be attended by a “correspondent system of manners” that no “thinking man” could seriously doubt reflected a “determined hostility to the human race.”  This is beyond tragic, for not only are manners essential to civilization; they constitute the cornerstone upon which civilization depends.   

Burke writes: “Manners are of more importance than laws.  Upon them, in a great measure, the laws depend.”  Unlike the political rationalists of his generation and ours, Burke was keenly aware of the limits of laws to inform human conduct.  It was “manners,” he knew, that make us who we are.  “The law touches us but here and there, now and then.  Manners,” on the other hand, “are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in.”  Manners “give their whole form and colour to our lives.” While they are not to be confused with “morals” proper, manners, if they are sound, “aid morals” and even “supply them[.]”  If, however, manners are bad, then they promise to “totally destroy” morality.       

It is high time that we once again revisit the importance of “manners” to our way of life.        

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published at The New American

Thoughts on the Charge of “Anti-Semitism”

posted by Jack Kerwick

A while ago, I received an email from a Jewish reader charging me with “anti-Semitism.”  Since, being a mere Christian, I lack those unique insights into the dark recesses of the Gentile psyche with which Jews are apparently gifted, I can only speculate as to what it was I said that compelled my critic to arrive at his verdict concerning my feelings. 

Since my article had nothing at all to do with Judaism, I suspect that it was my proclivity for the name “Old Testament” to describe the better part of the Christian Bible that revealed my “anti-Semitism.”  The reader was clear and to the point: “The correct term,” he insisted, “is the Hebrew Bible.”  To make sure that his diagnosis of my “anti-Semitism” wasn’t lost upon me, he concluded his perceptive analysis by telling me to send my regards to “your good friend, Mel Gibson.” 

This episode got me to thinking about “anti-Semitism.” 

First of all, like “racism,” “sexism,” “homophobia,” and every other transgression in the catalogue of “Politically Correct” sins, “anti-Semitism” is a term mired in ambiguity.  In fact, it may very well even be meaningless.  After all, when someone like myself, a Christian with the audacity to actually refer to the first part of my tradition’s Sacred Scriptures as the “Old Testament,” is branded with the same pejorative term as are the architects of the Holocaust, it should be obvious to anyone with the slightest familiarity with either rudimentary logic or moral sensibility that this is a term that, at a minimum, warrants inspection.   

Second, if, for argument’s sake, we are just going to accept that the “anti-Semite” is one who dislikes Jews, what is supposed to follow from this?  Three observations are here in order.

(1) Feelings are not action-specifying.  Hatred and love, indifference and partiality, anger and calm, belief in a group’s superiority and belief in that group’s inferiority can all lead to one and the same kinds of action.  The Humanitarian no less (and usually more often) than the misanthrope has resorted to murder and genocide.

(2) Feelings are irrelevant to whether the propositions from which they arise are true or not.  For example, for as ridiculous as I believe it is, let us just assume for the moment that Mel Gibson hated with every fiber of his being every Jew who rejects Christ.  Whether his depiction of the passion of Christ is historically or Biblically accurate, or whether it is an aesthetic masterpiece, or even whether it inspires or reinforces an animus toward Jews are questions that can and should be addressed independently of whether he personally dislikes Jews. 

(3) The charge of “anti-Semitism,” like the charge that one is “racist,” if it should be a part of a conversation at all, should be at its beginning.  As it currently stands, it is a conversation-stopper.  That one dislikes this person or group invites an inquiry into the reasons behind the feelings that one has.  Outside of these Politically Correct thought crimes, we seem to instinctively know this.  If you invite me to a party at so-and-so’s house and I refuse on account that I dislike that person, chances are your curiosity will be piqued as to why I feel as I do.  If we are close enough to one another, you may even indulge your curiosity by questioning me.  And when it comes to the issue of the animus that members of non-white groups have toward whites, the search for “root causes” is given top priority.

There is another thought that this allegation of “anti-Semitism” provoked in me.  While I would no more think to deny that Christians have committed violence against Jews than I would think to deny that Jews have committed violence against Christians, and while I am the first to admit that both Jews and Christians have been known to be all too forgetful of Christianity’s origins, the fact of the matter is that the Christian is the last person to be confused with one who hates all things Jewish. The reason for this is obvious: it is the Christian alone who regards a Jew as his God.  Far from deifying a Jew and accepting their Sacred Scriptures as one’s own, one would think that a person who truly hated Jews and Judaism would, quite literally, demonize them. 

Finally, the ease and frequency with which Christians are branded as “anti-Semites” leads me to conclude two things about the charge.  First, given its proven capacity to ruin reputations and professional lives, it is a weapon wielded to intimidate and suppress.  Second, it is for the most part a smokescreen intended to disguise what fundamentally amounts to the anti-Christian hostilities of the anti-“anti-Semite.” 

It is my hope that in the future, those Christians who find themselves on the receiving end of this allegation bear in mind these considerations, and those Jews (and others) who are disposed to launch this smear think twice about them before doing so.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.     

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