Archive for category Conservative Politics

Conservative and pro-refugee

I really enjoyed this piece at Arc of the Universe, which may be a happy new find. It describes itself as a blog “where secular and religious meet in conversation about global justice.”

In any case, from the piece by contributor Michael Griffin:

“…the policies of this week, in particular the executive order of Friday, deserve robust condemnation—especially from Catholics.  We are the tradition of faith and reason. Not only is this order unchristian but it is also irrational. Of the terror attacks that have occurred in the U.S. since September, 11, the number of perpetrators from the list of banned countries is precisely zero.  Why was Saudi Arabia not on this list, or Russia, both of whom have been home to terror perpetrators in the U.S.?

While there are more eloquent ways to state the opposition to this ban, I think that the faith and reason test is simple and clear.  Indeed, if our Thomistic tradition teaches us that grace perfects nature, then what we are seeing is how irrationality perverts faith.  And indeed, I dare say that some outside of our Catholic, pro-life fold are waiting to hear from more of us about why our faith—faith in the person and teachings of Jesus—is not quite as offended by the present actions as it was by the previous administration.”

Please go read the whole thing, it’s worth your time.

I’m interested in the fact that conservatives (whatever that means any more) are so willing to defend this action. Partisanship isn’t surprising, of course, but I don’t think this is a conservative solution.

I consider myself a conservative because I resist throwing out things that work; I think it’s quite proper to acknowledge the value in tradition, in something that developed for a reason and has stuck around for a reason (see: Electoral College). I’m concerned, always, with unintended consequences of big changes. For example, while I argued against Obamacare and thought it was a terrible idea, I’m also deeply worried about the consequences of a reckless repeal. And, American conservatism tends toward small-government, federalist, subsidiarity-based solutions that I will almost always prefer to big-government bureaucracies.

I’m instinctively skeptical when someone tries to sell me on some Big Thing that will Fix All My Problems. So, I’m as skeptical when President Trump tells me that keeping out all the Iraqis will keep me safe, as I am when the cashier at Best Buy tells me about the extended service plan for my printer.

It’s absolutely true that there have been no recent fatal attacks in the U.S. by people from these countries. Every fatal act of terrorism in the U.S. recently has been committed by a U.S. citizen or legal resident. While there have been three attacks in recent years by immigrants from these countries, none were fatal–and in two of the three examples, the attacker was brought over legally at the age of two. Now, that’s not nothing. And this list of countries is, in fact, totally defensible for other reasons. But the facts call for a serious process of vetting visa applicants and refugees. The facts do not automatically justify a total shutdown of travel from these countries. The difficulty must be weighed against our moral obligations, which are also not nothing–both to refugees in need of help in places like Syria, and to already-vetted travelers who may now be separated from their families and lives.

What stuck out for me in the above quote was, “if our Thomistic tradition teaches us that grace perfects nature, then what we are seeing is how irrationality perverts faith.” St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that “grace does not destroy nature but perfects it,” that is, God does not have to change who we are or violate our will in order to save us; rather, he invites us to allow him to restore what is lost and broken in us. We remain always free, always ourselves, while pursuing what is good. It’s an interesting observation that, conversely, one must ignore the rational case for welcoming refugees in order to ignore the religious case. If we choose to turn away from what is good, we are no longer fully free to consider the matter from the standpoint of reason, either.

None of this is to say that reasonable people can’t disagree. If one’s priority is protecting America *at any cost*, then you can make a case for these restrictions. But real people are harmed by this action, like the example given in the article; and if you include that fact, the case starts to get real shaky real fast.


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An open letter to the Republican Party

Today I received an email from my state’s Trump campaign. It presented the current controversy as “locker-room” talk, inappropriate of course, but nothing compared to Hillary Clinton’s ensuing list of awful deeds. While I’m on board with the list of #NeverHillary arguments, this letter was an insult. Clinton doesn’t deserve a single vote. Neither does Trump. Because I think it’s important, and I hope I can play a part in salvaging conservatism, what follows is the body of my response.


What a deeply troubling letter to receive.

[name], I apologize, I’m not sure if we’ve met. I was previously a committeeman, generally inactive due to a regular work conflict at the same time as your meeting. I did not file for re-election this year as I hoped someone could take the position who had more time to participate. I seem to have remained on the mailing list. I don’t know if the below letter reflects your opinion, or the official position of [my county GOP], or if you simply forwarded it as a statement regarding the party’s nominee from his local spokesman.

I cannot stand with Donald Trump, and I cannot say how profoundly I disagree with this request to do so. I hope I can express how strongly I think these arguments harm the American conservative movement. If you care about conservative values as I do, please do not associate the GOP with such a flippant dismissal of this man’s abominable words and actions. And if you care about human decency as I do, then please don’t defend someone’s bragging about sexual assault as if it were mere “inappropriate language”.

Nobody cares about anyone’s use of “foul language” in private. But everyone, everyone should be concerned with a powerful man bragging proudly about abusing women. This is not about language. This is about abuse. This is not about the opposition. This is about our own house.

To pretend that this uproar is over rough language is an insult to my intelligence and that of everyone this intends to persuade. Donald Trump bragged about forcing himself on women, about being in a position of such power that women would let him do it. This isn’t frat boys ogling women. This isn’t simply offensive or off-putting. It’s contemptible.

We–conservatives, Republicans–can never argue again that we stand on the side of right, of morality, if we defend this. Point out everything that’s wrong with Hillary Clinton, yes, convince the nation why she doesn’t deserve a single vote, yes–I’m trying my best to do the same. But that does not mean we must minimize sexual assault and defend evil when it’s in our own house. On the contrary: if we defend Donald Trump’s behavior, if we pretend for political gain that this is not evil, then we give up any grounds for being taken seriously on any moral issue, ever, for as long as anyone remembers this election.

And, far, far worse, if we pretend that this is not evil, we participate in the victimization of every woman who has suffered abuse, or could, at the hands of someone like him. When men and women observe abusive behavior and dismiss or ignore it, WE. PARTICIPATE. When Hillary Clinton intimidated her husband’s victims into silence, she participated in their abuse. If we ignore the same behavior from Donald Trump, we do the same. And I will not participate in that.

This is not about being offended or being politically correct. This is about real people suffering real abuse, and our choice to either stand up and say no, or to ignore it out of political expediency, or cowardice, or both.

No matter who wins the Presidency this year, the entire country has already lost the White House. Barring divine intervention, the office will go to a well-connected narcissist who will abuse his or her power. Far more important now is Congress. Good men and women in the House and Senate will be our only voice and only defense, no matter who wins the top of the ticket. These races are more important now than ever before. Even the fight over Supreme Court nominations still hinges on the Senate. Let’s fight for these all-important positions, and let’s continue to convince the country that we’re on the right side. I will stand and fight with you. But if we begin to defend evil, we have lost our way, and none of the rest will matter.

My heart breaks for our country, and for our party. It doesn’t have to be this way.

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Abolitionists Still on the March

Couple feet of snow coming, and yet, the March for Life still goes on. Previous estimates are as high as 800,000 people, for the most part ignored by the news. 

After 43 years of legal abortion, we have lost between 50 and 58 million children. 58,000,000. And so, we march. And we are not discouraged.

On the contrary, the number of abortions done in the US has dropped every year since 1990. We see record low numbers today, as well as great changes in public opinion. 

Look up the case of Dr. Bernard Nathanson, one of the original founders of NARAL, who performed tens of thousands of abortions–then became an outspoken pro-life advocate after the development of ultrasound technology allowed him to see the child in the womb for the first time. Or Abby Johnson, Planned Parenthood clinic director who had a similar experience and is now a pro-life speaker and writer. Or more recently, Sara Winter, FEMEN leader and angry-topless-protest organizer turned pro-life. 

We have much reason to be encouraged. 43 years? So it takes time. The abolitionists faced worse. Still, slavery ended. The civil rights movement took longer. Still, segregation ended. 

One day, this protest will be obsolete as well. Until then, we march. 

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Syrian Refugees Are Not The Enemy

And keeping them out will not make us safer.

The GOP is wrong on this one. The president (and much of the left) is being his usual smug, patronizing self about it, but that’s nothing new. What’s new here is that he’s right on this and we need to be big enough to admit it.

This is not a time for fear-based populism. This is a time for American strength and courage. This is a time to recognize a risk, mitigate it, and then do the right damn thing anyway.

So far, to the best of our knowledge, all the identified Paris attackers have been EU nationals. Not refugees, but French and Belgian citizens. ISIS doesn’t need to sneak people in through a long, complicated vetting process. People that want to do harm have an easy enough time just looking like tourists. And, most importantly, let me repeat that most of the Paris attackers identified so far have been French citizens. The people planning attacks in the US are already here, and we can’t afford to pretend otherwise. That’s important. We know where the greatest danger lies, and focusing our energy and attention somewhere else is not only counterproductive, but it’s exactly what ISIS wants us to do.

It seems pretty likely that the Syrian passport found on one of the Paris attackers is a fake. But it gives us a great justification for cracking down on the refugees, doesn’t it? Isn’t it apparent that the terrorists are leading the West’s reaction exactly where they want it to go? Have we forgotten that that’s the purpose of terrorism? You don’t win a war by shooting civilians in a theater and a soccer field. But you can sure accomplish a lot if you can goad entire nations into acting the way you want them to.

There are literally millions of refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war. I’m not going to go in to the horrific conditions in Syria for the past few years, but it’s been described as the worst humanitarian crisis of our time, and a very small amount of research makes that an easy claim to believe. We have a moral obligation to help the people fleeing it.

Is there a risk? Yes. Of course there is! Acknowledging the danger of terrorists slipping in with the refugees is just plain common sense. There is nothing racist or Islamophobic to recognize that risk, and the people on the left pretending there is nothing but racism behind the hesitation are being just as ridiculous as Trump. There is a real danger. We must do whatever we can to minimize that. But that is not reason enough to refuse to do the right thing.

No, we don’t restrict refugee status to Christians. The Christians are not the only ones starving in camps and being murdered for not supporting one side or the other. We certainly don’t start closing mosques. What an irresponsible, outrageous statement.

So we do the right thing. We have the biggest house on the block and the kids from down the street need a place to stay tonight because their parents are beating each other up.

We protect ourselves as best we can, but we don’t let fear stop us from doing what’s right.

We don’t do it to make nice with ISIS so they like us, we do it because it’s right.

We don’t do it to keep the Syrians from becoming angry and radicalized, we do it because it’s right.

The danger exists no matter what we do. The danger is here already. Keeping refugees out will not prevent an attack. This is much more a question of moral imperative than national security. So we take courage, and we do what’s right. And whether an attack comes or it doesn’t, those fleeing totalitarianism around the world will know that America is either a safe haven of liberty, or she is not.

Republicans. We are better than this. We must do what’s right.


Both sides need to stop the political BS here. The Republicans are supporting the wrong course of action, and that’s what I wanted to address. But as ridiculous as it is to make a demagogical, populist “Obama wants to let the bad guys in!” argument, it is equally ridiculous for President Obama to make a demagogical, populist “racist republicans are scared of widows and orphans!” argument. Pretending there is no risk is blind. But both sides are looking at millions of people forced from their homes by terrorists and thinking, “how can I use this to make people vote for me/my party?” America! We are better than this!


Alex Nowrasteh at Cato agrees with me, and has put together a detailed overview of the process a refugee goes through and why it’s not a likely avenue for ne’er-do-wells to sneak in. It has math.

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A Christian, a Muslim, and Ben Carson walk into a bar…

Well, sometimes it all feels like a joke.

Dr. Carson stepped in it last week. From Huffington:

Carson, who placed third in the CNN/ORC poll of the Republican presidential field released Sunday, said a president’s faith would matter to him depending on what that faith is.

“If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter,” he said. “If it fits within the realm of America and is consistent with the Constitution, I have no problem.”

He said that Islam, as a religion, is incompatible with the Constitution.

“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that,” he said.

Commentary has followed two lines so far. One is just sort of flat out wrong. The other, I don’t know how to think about.

1. Everyone saying Ben Carson doesn’t understand the Constitution, doesn’t understand the Constitution.

I am actually surprised, in a disappointed way, that this comes up in every left-wing response. “The Constitution says there will be no religious test for public office!”

To those on the left, this apparently means that voters are legally required to ignore a candidate’s faith when deciding whether they support the candidate. I’ll remember that next time someone attacks a conservative for sounding too Christian.

In actuality, this simply means that the states can’t write a law saying “ONLY EPISCOPALIANS ALLOWED ON OUR BALLOTS”. But if Larry the Lutheran can’t abide voting for Episcopal Earl, that’s his vote and he can do with it what he wants. Individuals are still allowed their religious convictions and their own opinions in the US.

So, what Dr. Carson said was, at least, fully in line with the Constitution. He didn’t say a Muslim shouldn’t be allowed to be President. He just said he wouldn’t personally support a Muslim candidate. He’s allowed that opinion.

2. Islam and the Constitution.

Here’s where I confess ignorance. Rather than knee-jerking out a response on either side–either cheering the courageous stand, or condemning the blatant bigotry–I want to actually consider the question. Is Islam incompatible with the Constitution? Let’s back up in his statement.

Carson, who placed third in the CNN/ORC poll of the Republican presidential field released Sunday, said a president’s faith would matter to him depending on what that faith is.

“If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter,” he said. “If it fits within the realm of America and is consistent with the Constitution, I have no problem.”

This, as a standard, ought to be uncontroversial. Someone’s faith is part of who they are. If a candidate’s religion dictates that he must act in a way that would violate his duties in office, Ima say maybe he shouldn’t hold that office. Yes, I’m looking at you, Kim Davis.

So where does Islam fit into this question?

I think it’s important to remember that we vote for individuals, not religions. That would have been a decent answer for Dr. Carson to give, by the way. What does this individual’s Muslim faith mean to him or her? Because, of course, ask ten experts on religion how Islam may or may not be compatible with the Constitution, and you’ll get ten contradictory answers. I imagine you could ask ten Muslim theologians and have the same result. Islam, like any major religion, has broken into denominations and factions, and different leaders seem to have different interpretations of some pretty significant points.

I’m sensitive to the idea that there is unfair mistrust and misunderstanding of Islam. I’m familiar with the phenomenon. Atheists accuse Christians of believing in a magic sky fairy and think they’re stuck in the dark ages. Protestants accuse Catholics of worshiping statues and think they’re stuck in the dark ages. Is the idea that Islamic sharia law would trump the Constitution for a Muslim President a similar mistake?

I honestly don’t know how to actually answer that. Many experts, including many Muslims, are of the opinion that the separation of Church and State doesn’t really fit within Islam. Many others disagree. In Muslim countries, wide majorities favor making sharia the law of the land. But then the people of Egypt–though 74% polled in favor of sharia at the above link–basically rioted to throw out Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood after they started trying to implement sharia law. Given situations like that, I’m unwilling to accept a broad claim that authentic Islam automatically means taking the position that secular governments should be run according to sharia law.

I wouldn’t have said what Dr. Carson said. But whether or not the statement is justifiable depends on a greater understanding of Islam than I can claim, so it seems to remain an open question.

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This Might Be Why People Dislike Unions

I have been meaning to write on the topic of unions for some time.  I still don’t have all my thoughts lined up, but I just sort of love this story.  It’s a few days old now, but in case you missed it, from comes this union protest at a Subaru dealership in Wichita:

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Followed by the dealership’s response:

subaru 2

Check out the original, linked above, for details. But what I want to ponder here (beyond this dealership’s pitch-Hipsters Local 312perfect reaction) is the nature of the union protest. The job went out for a competitive bid. The dealership gave the contract to the lowest qualified bid. Carpenters Local 201 lost. They simply lost the bid, that’s all. Someone else got the job. Let this be perfectly clear. The term “labor dispute” conjures up mental images of management breaking contracts, failing to pay agreed-upon wages, things like that. That is not what happened here. They simply put out a contract for bids, and hired the people they thought best, and those that didn’t get hired are responding by attempting to harm their business in revenge. In what context is this acceptable? Is this grade school? Are unions run by children?

When I graduated college, I applied for a slew of retail and service jobs. I got called by some, not by others. Would it have been reasonable for me to then blow up one of these rats in the parking lot of Barnes & Noble?

I imagine I would get arrested. Or sued. And I would deserve it.

I don’t necessarily have any sort of ideological or philosophical problem with private individuals unionizing. I do have a problem with individuals being coerced into joining a union against their will. And I do see major problems in the nature of a public sector union, as did progressive pro-labor pioneers such as Franklin Roosevelt and Fiorello LaGuardia. These are topics I hope to look at in greater depth.

I definitely have a problem with bully tactics meant to intimidate. Can we at least all agree that blowing up a giant inflatable rat to scare off customers and intimidate employers–just because they hired someone else–is unacceptable? I’m always hearing about how bullying is bad. Let’s lead by example, ok?

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Myth v. Fact: Eliminate the Government!

“Look, I get that you don’t like the government, but how do you plan to pay the cops if we abolish all taxes?”

Conservatives are regularly derided by liberals–from bloggers to Presidents–as wanting to tear down the entire government and stop all government functions and programs. I’ve been attacked for this myself.

If the charge is not, “You hate the government and want to close it down,” then it’s, “You’re a hypocrite because you say you hate the government but you still drive on public roads!”

Are either of these charges accurate?

This attack often presents as evidence either 1) the conservative desire to lower everyone’s taxes, or 2) conservative opposition to particular projects.

Let’s take these one at a time. Issue one is taxes. The reasoning goes that since government needs money to function, if conservatives want to cut taxes, then conservatives must want the government to stop functioning.bridge2

But while lowering taxes might mean having to cut or scale back some government programs or services, the idea that conservatives want to eliminate ALL taxes and cease ALL programs does not follow. If I’m spending too much in my personal life and decide I ought to cancel my cable TV, this does not mean I secretly want to stop wearing deodorant and become a hermit.

Then what about Republican opposition to specific spending projects? Do conservatives want to eliminate roads and schools? I’ve been hearing that charge my entire life, along with the claim that Republicans want to fire all the cops and firefighters. Or, opponents will point to conservatives’ desire to eliminate certain federal programs or departments–the Department of Education, for example, or the Affordable Care Act.

The answer to these attacks lies in two related principles: Federalism and Subsidiarity.

Federalism means that governing power is shared and divided between central and local governing bodies (e.g. states or provinces). Subsidiarity is the organizational principle that the smallest, most local authority that can effectively accomplish a task, should be the authority responsible for it.

We all know these concepts instinctively. We recognize that individual employees are capable of walking to the supply room and taking a box of staples when they run out, and we react against micromanagerial policies that require a manager’s signature to requisition staples and pens and a supervisor to open the supply room. It wastes the time of both manager and employee, it saps morale by treating people like children, and that all means a waste of money.

Subsidiarity does not say that local government should do everything and the federal government should do nothing. A staple czar is a bad idea, but a company can’t function without a chief at all. So of course there are things that only a central government can manage well, and subsidiarity says that the central government should do those things. Subsidiarity simply means that we ought to direct our efforts where they will be effective.

Within this framework, conservatives believe that the federal government, and local governments, and businesses, and individuals are all going to be good at certain things; and, if we’re smart, we’ll avoid making any of those groups responsible for tasks to which they are not suited. The point is to avoid wasting money and effort.

So it’s not that I don’t want public roads. I think that’s something government can be relatively good at, as long as we keep an eye on corruption. It’s not that I don’t want schools. It’s that I don’t think the federal government is at all good at running them. State and local governments are handling it, so let’s not waste effort where it’s not needed. Let’s not send money from Illinois to Washington, D.C. to pay for an expensive building full of expensive bureaucrats who will then decide how much of that money comes back to Illinois and how we should spend it.

Yes, I bristle when conservatives are called anti-education for taking issue with the Dept of Education, a federal, Cabinet-level Department with a nearly $70 billion budget whose mission is to “promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.” What does that mean? It means the Dept. of Education doesn’t educate a single student. State and local government handles this.

Back to the beginning. Why, then, is this presented as, “Conservatives don’t want the government to do anything at all, ever!”? Because it looks that way from the point of view of today’s liberal Democratic party. The left today acts as if every social issue can and should be solved by a new shiny federal office full of federal workers. Progressives today argue without irony that a government’s effectiveness is defined by the number of laws it passes, and that when conservatives say, “Let’s cut this program because it’s not helping the poor,” they must really mean, “We don’t want to help the poor.” But subsidiarity means not doing things that won’t work. And I think that’s a reasonable principle to follow.

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