At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

An Honest Look at Newt Gingrich

posted by Jack Kerwick

Imagine a world in which Americans weren’t remotely as susceptible to media manipulation as they currently are.  Let’s call it “America2.”  In such a world, Americans would be more disposed to “think for themselves,” as we say, to think just a bit critically about the images and sound bites to which they are bombarded daily.  The measured skepticism with which they would treat the media, especially its coverage of politics, would cultivate within them intellectual and moral virtues that, in reality, are sorely lacking among a good portion of the electorate.  In this possible world, Americans would be far more fortified against intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy than are their counterparts in the real world.

For example, self-identified Republicans would know that when they loudly and passionately affirm “limited government” and “individual responsibility,” it is because they and those who aspire to represent them are genuinely committed to such goods.  Safeguarding liberty would be their top priority.

Our America, however, is a far more confused place.

Let us take Newt Gingrich, to begin with.  Gingrich is now in second place in some national polls.  In other words, today, in 2011, in the Age of Obama and the Tea Party movement—just that time when the Republican Party is supposedly amending its ways by returning to its “conservative” principles—long time establishment Republican Newt Gingrich  is regarded as a viable presidential candidate by the base of his party.

While there can be no denying that Gingrich is deserving of credit for some of his accomplishments as House Speaker, neither can there be any denying that he is as committed a proponent of Big Government—i.e. a system within which the federal government is ultimately the supreme authority—as anyone.  To put this point another way, Gingrich is most definitely not a champion of the liberty that the framers of the Constitution sought to bequeath to their posterity.

As far as foreign policy is concerned, Gingrich conceives of the United Statesgovernment as an agent by which the entire world may be fundamentally transformed.  While interviewing with Christiane Amanpour on ABC’s This Week back in February, Gingrich called for America’s promotion of “democracy” around the globe.  “I think we should be pressuring everywhere, includingRussia, including China, including Cuba,” he told the host.  “We should be pushing steadily and saying, ‘America stands for freedom’” (emphasis mine). 

Gingrich, not unlike both the vast majority of his colleagues in the Republican Party as well as his leftist rivals, is preoccupied with visions of grandeur.  He shares none of America’s Founders’ skepticism regarding large concentrations of authority and power, a skepticism that our Constitution both reflects and codifies into the supreme law of the land. Rather, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives desires a tireless, activist government, a government that, whether the world wants it to or not, will make it “safe” for Democracy. 

Gingrich also supports “foreign aid.”  During the same ABC appearance in which he called for theUnited Statesto “democratize” the planet, Gingrich reiterated his endorsement of “foreign aid.”  Although he expressed dismay with the current government-to-government model, urging instead the transfer of American resources to non-governmental organizations, it is clear that he has no objections at all to the federal government’s deployment of American taxpayers’ resources in time, energy, and money to foreign lands. 

Domestically speaking, Gingrich is no less an advocate of an omnipresent federal government. 

In 2003, he supported the controversial Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act that created the Medicare Part D prescription drugs benefit program.  As the “non-partisan” site Politifact.com states, this new program expanded government “hugely.”  In 2010, 34.5 million people availed themselves of this benefit, and by 2015 that number is expected to soar to 40.5 million.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, through last year, the entitlement had cost $203 billion.  By 2015, at $391 billion, it will have cost nearly twice as much.  Politifact quotes Paul Van de Water, a senior fellow at theDemocratic-friendlyCenteron Budget and Policy Priorities.  Van de Water asserts that the creation of Medicare D marked “the biggest expansion of the program since the beginning.” 

On May 15 of this year, during an interview on Meet the Press, Gingrich unabashedly reiterated his long held belief that “all of us have a responsibility to pay—to help pay for health care.”  We could fulfill this collective “responsibility,” he said, by way of either an individual mandate to purchase health insurance—precisely that feature of “Obamacare” that renders it anathema to the vast majority of Americans—or a requirement to post a bond that would insure health coverage—which doesn’t differ from the mandate in any morally meaningful way.

In 2005, together with Hillary Rodham Clinton, Gingrich proposed the 21st Century Health Information Act.  If enacted into law, this bill would have authorized the Secretary of Health and Human Services to make “health information technology grants” as well as serve “other purposes,” according to Govtrack.us.  That is, it would have strengthened the federal government further.

Gingrich is in favor of eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency.  However, this isn’t so as to trim down our bloated federal government.  Gingrich, rather, seeks to replace the EPA with an agency of his own imaginings, what he refers to as the “Environmental Solutions Agency.”  In short, his objective is to substitute one bureaucracy for another.  That the latter would allegedly be more market-oriented, more accommodating of “choice,” is neither here nor there: whether the federal government owns “the means of production” or whether it simply seeks to oversee it, it is the federal government—not the private sector—that is in control. 

Ever the environmentalist, Gingrich also supports a “flex fuel” mandate for all automobiles sold in theUnited States.  Ostensibly, such a course of action would lower fuel prices while improving the environment.  For Gingrich to take this position, though, belies his reputation as a man of good economic sense.  As the Cato Institute’s Jerry Taylor says, “Congress can no more guarantee that fuel prices will go down from now until the end of time than it can guarantee a robust sex life for fat, balding, middle-aged men.”  If Congress enacted this mandate into law, it would prove that it “is not a serious legislative body.” 

In 2008 Gingrich joined with Nancy Pelosi in ad for government “leadership” vis-à-vis “climate change.”  This dynamic duo “demanded” of the country’s “leaders” that they do something immediately to address this crisis.  The ad, it is worth noting, was sponsored by the Alliance for Climate Protection—an organization founded by none other than Al Gore.  Pelosi exploited this appearance with Gingrich to push for “Cap and Trade.”  Conveniently, Gingrich now refers to this as among the biggest mistakes of his career.

Another decision over which Gingrich now admits to having regrets was his decision to endorse left-leaning Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava over her Conservative Party rival, Doug Hoffman, in New York’s “special” 23rd congressional district race of 2009.  

Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi aren’t the only leftists with whom Gingrich has partnered during his career.  He joined forces with, of all people, Al Sharpton to promote “educational reform.”  If Sharpton found Gingrich a worthy ally in his cause, it is clear that this cause in essence amounted to the promotion of ever bigger government.  Even if Gingrich, not unlike most Republicans, advanced school vouchers and charter schools, contrary to appearances, these do nothing to liberate education from the dominance of the federal government.  The language of “choice” appeals to Americans.  But the truth of the matter is that until the Department of Education is abolished and the federal government recognizes that education lies well beyond its constitutionally-defined jurisdiction, our educational system will remain subject to its power.

In 2008, while he initially rejected the bank bailouts, Gingrich eventually, albeit, “reluctantly,” came to support them.

While some of Gingrich’s ideas for the country may be less destructive of liberty than those of others, there is no circumventing the ugly truth that he is an establishment Republican through and through.  Newt Gingrich, that is, is just another Big Government politician who will do nothing to weaken the federal government’s control over our lives.  

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published at The New American 

 

Libertarians and OWS: Useful Idiots

posted by Jack Kerwick

The Occupy Wall Street movement appears to be growing.  And it is growing ever more disruptive.

From the losses suffered by many a small business to the desecration of property, from the destabilization of communities to violent clashes with law enforcement officers, the phenomenon simply known as “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS) is becoming a force to be reckoned with in cities across America—and beyond.

As it turns out, there is no small measure of self-identified “libertarians” who populate the ranks of the Wall Street “occupiers.”    

For instance, the libertarian-friendly website, lewrockwell.com, features a couple of youtube videos of a “Captain Midnight,” a self-declared Ron Paul supporter currently “occupying” Wall Street.  The well known site lavishes praise upon this young man for the eloquence with which he articulates his case for abolishing the Federal Reserve as well as his familiarity with such libertarian figures as Henry Hazlitt, Murray Rothbard, and Lew Rockwell himself. 

There are still other sympathetic postings regarding OWS to be found at lewrockwell.com. 

In “What OWS is all about, Herman,” Michael S. Rozeff blasts Herman Cain for disparaging the “occupiers” of Wall Street while aligning himself with “the establishment” and opposing “change.”  In “Let Them Eat Keller,” Michael Scheer takes New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller to task for being critical of OWS.  Scheer charges Keller with being consumed by “the arrogance of disoriented royal privilege.”

Over at the Raleigh Libertarian Examiner, in “Defining the Occupy Wall Street Movement,” Brian Irving likens OWS to the Tea Party movement inasmuch as it is supposedly comprised mainly of folks who have, justifiably, lost faith in their government.  He notes differences—namely, the Tea Partiers attribute blame to “corrupt politicians and an overbearing government” while Wall Street “occupiers,” though disgusted with politicians, hold as well “corporations” responsible for our ills.  Still,Irving tries to reveal the ideological diversity of OWS by pointing out that among its constituents are unabashed Ron Paul supporters parading signs that read “End the Fed” and “Ron Paul for President.”          

And libertarian Jesse Ventura has recently made an appearance at OWS.

Speaking as a certain kind of libertarian, albeit, a conservative libertarian, I find all of this more than a bit disturbing.

Unlike their leftist comrades-in-arms, the dragon upon which the aforementioned libertarians set their sights is not “capitalism” per se, but “crony capitalism.”  It isn’t the lack of regulation and the allegedly laissez faire manner in which Wall Street bankers pursue their “obscene” profits that arouse their anger but, rather, the fact that these bankers are in cahoots with a corrupt government that continued propping them up with tax payers’ dollars long after they should have folded.

The libertarian’s anger is warranted, for sure.  Corporate welfare is as immoral an enterprise for the government of a civil association to embark upon as is taxpayer-subsidized welfare of any sort.  And it isn’t just immoral but unconstitutional for the federal government of the United States of America to do such a thing.  But this being so, it seems obvious that libertarians—and, for that matter, every member of the movement in question—have selected for themselves the wrong stage on which to enact their displays of outrage: if territory must be “occupied,” it is not the financial capital of the world that should be seized, but the capital of the nation.

In short, it is the government that makes corporate welfare and “crony capitalism” possible. 

So, the first error on the part of these libertarians is one that they share with the leftists of their movement.  If we had to give it a name, we may call it “symbolic confusion.” 

Regrettably, this is far from the only intellectual transgression of which the libertarians of OWS are culpable, and perhaps the least serious.

Leftists despise the system of private property that America’s Founding Fathers bequeathed to their posterity—what they crudely call “capitalism.”  Thus, it is eminently sensible that they should throw such intellectual virtues as honesty and consistency to the wind in ignoring the principle role played by government in bringing about the economic collapse of 2008 and the exorbitant bailouts that ensued in order to target Wall Street. 

But libertarians are champions of free markets.  Libertarians know that America has been able to emerge as the preeminent economic super power of the world for the same exact reason that it has been able to emerge as “the land of the free”: its severely limited government.  It is the liberty thatAmerica’s constitutional arrangements secure for her citizens that gives rise to its standing as an economic powerhouse, and it is Wall Street that has been about as glaring a signifier of this as anything else.

What this implies is that in participating in OWS, libertarians actually undercut their own deepest convictions.  It has been said that a picture is worth more than a thousand words.  In politics, even if in few precincts beyond that, this is actually an understatement, for there, a single picture is worth more than thousands and thousands and thousands of words.  By openly railing against America’s financial institutions, libertarians, then, reveal themselves to the world to be of one mind with socialists and communists—i.e. their mortal nemeses.  Like leftists, they appear to be saying that the pursuit of one’s material self-interests and the freedom from an intrusive government that renders this pursuit possible are the enemies of all that is True, Good, and Beautiful.

Again, a lover of liberty need not be a fan of the banking class in order for this point to resonate with him.  Nor must he regard Wall Street as the only, or even the most accurate, symbol of American economic liberty.  The point, simply, is that from the perspective of the rest of the planet, the streets ofAmericamay not literally be paved with gold, but they are worth an awful lot—a fact owing to their proximity to the Mother of all streets: Wall Street.  Furthermore, even in reality, the staggering affluence that Wall Street emblematizes is the product, not of the federal government, but of entrepreneurs and other laborious enterprisers.

In “occupying” Wall Street along with hordes of the despisers of liberty, the libertarian, ironically, sweeps his own legs out from under himself.  His actions invite—no, demand—greater concentrations of government to deal with “the greed” and “corruption” of bankers.  In so doing, he calls for an even greater diminution of individual liberty. 

The leftist may be intellectually and morally bankrupt, but at least he knows what he wants and doesn’t hesitate to pursue it—by whichever means necessary.  On the other hand, the libertarian of OWS has proven himself to be the most useful of idiots.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published at American Thinker

 

Two Libertarianisms and Occupy Wall Street

posted by Jack Kerwick

I have noticed that there are some on the libertarian right who appear to consider themselves kindred spirits with those who have spent the last couple of weeks “occupying” Wall Street and other cities throughoutAmericaand beyond.  This is disheartening, for what it reveals is that those who should presumably know better than all others how best to nurture and strengthen liberty are, in actuality, as ignorant of its true character as its greatest enemies.

Note, I do not suggest that the libertarian’s professions of love for liberty are insincere.  Quite the contrary, for it is most likely his fanaticism for his beloved that imperils the latter.  It is the libertarian’s zeal for liberty that corrupts his intellect. Like the hyper-jealous husband whose obsession with his wife renders him either forgetful of or oblivious to the real nature of marital love, so the libertarian is similarly forgetful of or oblivious to the real nature of liberty.  

Bear in mind that the libertarianism that is the object of my critique is not the only school of thought so-called.  “Libertarianism” is a term invariably associated today with a particular cast of mind.  But there is another, older political philosophic orientation that, though of a fundamentally different kind, is no less deserving of the name.

What basically distinguishes these two varieties of “libertarianism” hasn’t anything at all to do with the positions that their exponents take on the issues with which they are confronted.  Rather, in order to grasp the key difference between them, we need to look beyond the substance of their policy prescriptions to the formal suppositions that inform those prescriptions.  To put it simply, the libertarianism that dominates today rests upon presuppositions that are rationalistic.  Those undergirding its counterpart, on the other hand, are resolutely anti-rationalistic. 

Today’s libertarianism is rationalistic inasmuch as it is rooted in “principles” or “propositions” that are allegedly “self-evident” to every rational being, regardless of time or place.  That is, these principles or ideals—Human Rights, Freedom, Equality, Democracy, the Social Contract, the Will of the People, etc.—are held to not only transcend civilization, but to subsist in advance of it.  That this is so is born out by the fact that government is typically treated by the libertarian rationalist merely as an artifact, a device that is just as easy to deconstruct as it was apparently easy to assemble in the first place.  That contemporary libertarianism is rationalistic to the core can also be seen in the fact that it not only ignores the indispensable role that the traditions, habits, and customs of a people play in sustaining liberty, but treats such cultural particularities as adversarial to it.

In glaring contrast, the other type of libertarianism is all too aware that the ideals affirmed by its rationalistic counterpart, far from existing independently of the contingencies of culture, are constituted by it.  Such ideals are abstractions from a tradition that is as culturally-specific as any language, and they are as dependent upon that tradition for their intelligibility as the grammatical rules of any language are dependent upon it.  The liberty that we take for granted, then, is, ultimately, a tradition—not a timeless principle accessible to all peoples in all places and at all times.

The first type of libertarianism is a fiction that can and has resulted in one destructive utopian fantasy after the other; the second type—what has traditionally been regarded as conservatism—deserves our respect and, dare I say it, our allegiance.  In contradistinction to both contemporary libertarianism as well as various modes of leftist and neoconservative thought, what we may call conservative libertarianism affirms two basic facts that a political philosophy neglects at its own peril. 

First, just as the principles and rules of a language derive their intelligibility from the language from which they have been abstracted, the principles, rules, and ideals of a morality similarly derive their meaning from the moral tradition—the manners and habits of a distinctive kind of conduct—from which they have been elicited.

Second, even if this first fact was no fact at all, even if, that is, the rationalist is correct and principles subsist, in all of their nakedness, independently of conduct, this would not in the least alter the reality that we become acquainted with these principles only through our traditions.  To return to the language analogy, we never learn grammatical rules and principles as rules and principles; we learn a living language and, as a result, the rules and principles constitutive of it.  This, too, is how we become familiar with moral principles: by acting morally.  But the specifics of “acting morally,” like the specifics of speaking a language, is determined by the particular moral tradition in question.

Both of these facts are mutually distinct.  They are also, however, mutually supportive, for severally and collectively they inescapably lead us to a conclusion that it is painfully obvious has been utterly lost upon the “Wall Street Occupiers” as well as those libertarian rationalists who support them: 

The moral traditions to which we owe our civilization, our life blood, as it were, are deserving of respect and nurturance.

On the other hand, movements like “Occupy Wall Street” that imperil that civilization invite our unequivocal contempt.              

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published at The New America

The Real Reason Republicans Dislike Ron Paul

posted by Jack Kerwick

Although his commitment to “limited government” is unsurpassed, establishment Republicans in both politics and the so-called “conservative media” labor incessantly to discredit Texan Congressman and GOP presidential contender, Ron Paul.  On its face, who couldn’t judge this phenomenon, the phenomenon of the most vocal champions of liberty ridiculing and trivializing the most vocal champion of liberty, as anything other than bizarre?  Any remotely curious observer couldn’t resist the impulse to inquire into the roots of this enigma.

We needn’t dig too deeply to discover that the establishment Republican’s apparently irrational conduct toward Paul stems from his angst regarding Paul’s foreign policy vision.  Paul, you see, rejects in no uncertain terms the notion that Big Government is not only permissible, but desirable, as long as it is non-American citizens abroad upon whom our government’s designs would be brought to bear.  Loudly and unapologetically, he rejects the idea that “social engineering” is a good thing as long as it is other societies that our government seeks to “engineer.”  Paul makes no secret of his utter contempt, a contempt born of his passion for liberty and individuality, for the belief that policies rooted in utopian fantasy are worthy of pursuit as long as it is not America, but the world, that our government seeks to perfect. 

Ron Paul is persona non grata as far as “the leadership” as well as much of the rank and file of the Republican Party is concerned.  How could he not be?  After all, this shameless defender of the United States Constitution is relentless in his quest to expose the assumptions underlying their foreign policy prescriptions as members of the same species of folly as those informing the left’s vision of domestic policy.

To put it more specifically, Paul strives to remind Americans of the legacy bequeathed to them by their ancestors, an invaluable inheritance of individual liberty that those of past generations, through incalculable quantities of their blood, sweat, and tears, forged for their posterity.  Our Fathers and Mothers, like our fathers and mothers, Paul beckons us to remember, worked long and hard so that we, their children, would eventually be able to stand on our own two feet.  They longed for us to not just appreciate their gift of liberty, but to enthusiastically embrace it.  Paul urges us to be forever mindful that it is this enthusiasm, and only this enthusiasm, that stands between our liberty and the totalitarianism that always threatens to consume it.

Big Government, whether it is invoked for purposes of imposing designs upon foreign countries or our own, is intrinsically antithetical to the liberty for which our Fathers lived and died.  This any disciple of liberty knows.  This Ron Paul knows.  And it is the forgotten knowledge of this truth of which he tirelessly seeks to arouse within his countrymen and women. 

I still believe that it is Paul’s position on American foreign policy that elicits most of the disdain with which his fellow Republicans greet him.  But I am starting to believe that there is more to the matter than just this.      

It isn’t just Paul’s approach to foreign policy with which Republicans take issue; they are displeased as well with his disposition toward domestic policy. 

Note, it isn’t just Paul’s position on this or that domestic issue to which they object.  It is his entire understanding of which these positions are a function that they find unpalatable. More precisely, Republicans, for all of their talk of liberty, find repugnant Paul’s view on the proper relationship between the government and the citizen, politics and culture. 

Ron Paul is an apostle of traditional American liberty.  The vast majority of us are our Founding Fathers’ prodigal sons (and daughters) who, at 76 years old, Paul continues to call home.  From early on in Christian history, some of its brightest minds have sought to address “the problem of evil,” the problem of reconciling belief in an omnipotent and all loving God with the presence of evil in the world.  Usually, a resolution has been found in some variation or other of “the free will defense.”  According to this line of reasoning, God could have created human beings so that they never did evil, but He preferred a creation in which humans were free, for only with free agents could He have a genuine relationship.  However, the freedom to accept God’s offer of friendship inescapably entails the freedom to reject that offer.  To put it another way, the freedom to do good is also the freedom to do evil. 

God recognizes that there can be no virtue without freedom.  Ron Paul does too.

It is precisely because of his recognition of this fact that Paul opposes all attempts to diminish individuals’ liberty for the sake of some amorphous “common good,” some supposedly moral state that the government is entrusted with bringing to fruition.  More simply put, he staunchly opposes attempts to impute to the federal government the role of a parent, for if the government is a parent, then the citizen is its child. 

While it isn’t obvious to many, the plain fact of the matter is that most of Paul’s fellow Republicans are no less committed to what we may, for purposes of convenience, refer to as “the Welfare State.”  The “compassionate conservatism” championed by President George W. Bush and legions of other self-described “conservative” politicians and media personalities in the previous decade was just another term for “welfarism.”  And though “compassionate conservatism” has fallen on hard times—no current Republican presidential aspirant would dare to characterize him or herself in these terms—there is no denying that Republicans have and continue to abet the growth of government vis-à-vis their approach to domestic policy.

There isn’t a single redistributive scheme that Republicans have sought to revoke, and plenty that they have actually initiated.  But beyond the matter of “economic redistribution,” Republicans want to use the government as an agent of “character formation.”  Rick Santorum is as pure an illustration of this propensity as any.  From this perspective, the government must inculcate virtue in its citizens.   The notion, common to Democrats and Republicans alike, that politicians generally and the president in particular are “leaders” is a function of this belief. 

The pieces of this puzzle of Republicans’ reaction to Ron Paul’s advocacy of liberty and individuality are finally in place.  They support a philosophy of Big Government and he does not.  It is his stances on foreign and domestic policy that renders Ron Paul the object of their scorn.       

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D

originally published at The New American

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