Neither Left nor Right, but Catholic
ONE MONTH’S NEWS AS COMMENTARY ON CRITICAL,
DEEPER QUESTIONS OF OUR TIMES
By Stephen M. Krason
February 2015 did not just feature bitter cold in the eastern half of the U.S., but was a news-laden month that provided a window on a large number of our contemporary social, political, and cultural troubles.
Heading the list was the continuing saga of big and increasingly threatening government in the Age of Obama. Early in the month, President Obama proposed a budget that would increase spending on social programs and—surprise, surprise—increase taxes on the wealthy. This is in spite of the fact that ever-spiraling federal domestic spending over a half-century has had limited success, caused government dependency to deepen and even expand to the unneedy, and created a more bloated bureaucracy than ever (the major beneficiaries seem to be the legions of federal employees).
Even though Democrats have long cultivated this image of “socking it” too the wealthy, how tight they actually are with them was seen in a news story about how large corporations donated millions to the Clinton family foundation while they were lobbying the State Department during Hilary’s tenure there.
The Democrats are also usually the first ones to tout integrity in government. Another story about the Clinton foundation last month challenged that, too: the foundation has been accepting big donations from foreign interests and governments who would certainly be dealing with a future Clinton administration.
Overweening government was a repeated theme of February news stories. Obama’s unilateral action to regularize millions of illegal aliens continued to stir controversy, with a federal judge temporarily halting it and Congressional Republicans taking half-hearted, uncertain steps to try to defund it. Articles I and II of the Constitution hang in the balance, since control over immigration policy comes right from Congress’s enumerated powers and this is hardly something that justifies a Lockean-type of executive prerogative. It was also revealed that as a result of Obama’s amnesty, illegal immigrants would be eligible to receive the earned income tax credit (even retroactively). The problem is that under Article I Congress makes the tax laws. Other reports said that the Treasury Department was paying subsidies to health insurers under Obamacare because of steps they have taken to limit out-of-pocket costs by policyholders—even though Congress has never authorized them. Never mind that Article I also says that federal spending requires Congressional appropriation. There was another news report about surveillance overkill. The National Security Agency (NSA) collaborated with Britain’s GCHQ intelligence agency to purloin codes so they could spy on mobile phone conversations worldwide, including Americans’. It was another example of how such pesky concerns as privacy and the Fourth Amendment simply wither when there’s an appeal, no mater how tenuous, to national security. Perhaps our current government operatives should remember Federalist 51: while government has to control the governed, we must also “oblige it to control itself.” We’re told that government needs to spread the spy net widely—have universal surveillance—or otherwise we could not protect ourselves from terrorists. Like the U.S. child protective system (CPS) with its universal monitoring of parents, they don’t get it that when everyone is under suspicion the resources are spread thin and the real bad guys slip through the cracks. It’s interesting that, at the very time that the Democrats and their media allies were saying it would be a national calamity if Congress holds up Department of Homeland Security funding over the immigration amnesty, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson admitted that his agency couldn’t do a good job in any event. He said it’s simply unable to track every American—which is not even a large number—who goes to join ISIS. Did he at all consider that such things as the universal surveillance regimen and other kinds of bureaucratic bungling (without which the Boston Marathon bombers, the would-be Christmas Day shoe bomber, and 9/11 might have been avoided) could be responsible for this?
The specter of overreaching government was seen also in the FCC’s vote, at Obama’s behest, to regulate Internet providers—“net neutrality”—supposedly in the name of consumer protection. Besides lacking statutory authorization for such a move—a whole new arena for regulation has to be initiated by Congress—critics have vociferously alleged a threat to free speech. Then, there was the proposal by Obama’s BATF to ban a certain type of bullet used mostly for sport and target-shooting. Again, this would circumvent Congressional prerogatives. The end seems to justify the means. (One wonders what actually is the end of banning sport bullets: satisfying the leftist ideological agenda?) And don’t forget the issuance of the report of the federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which called for dessert taxes, worksite “obesity interventionists,” and electronic monitoring of how long people sit in front of the TV. The “food police” are almost a reality and the government will constantly be observing you in your house—despite the Fourth Amendment. In 1984, the party members were the only ones under “big brother’s” constant monitoring; now it will be millions of people.
The states were not to be outdone by the feds last month when it came to oppressive government. Washington State tried to force a family-owned pharmacy to sell abortifacients despite their religious objections. Even though the family prevailed in the trial court on First Amendment grounds in February, the state is stubbornly appealing. A judge in the same state ruled against the elderly florist who refused to provide a flower arrangement for a same-sex “wedding,” saying anti-discrimination laws trump religious liberty. (Or is it that sexual rights override even the First Amendment?) The state attorney general wants to seize all her personal assets. I wonder if he goes after real criminals so relentlessly, or just those who “offend” the favored group of open homosexuals.
No need to worry about whether all this is compatible with the Constitution, however, since the people on the left tell us that constitutional principles are an evolving phenomenon. Since they long ago stopped talking about natural rights, they probably mean the principles of the Declaration of Independence, as well. Indeed, that seems to be the upshot of CNN correspondent Chris Cuomo’s comments in his February interview with Alabama Chief Justice Ray Moore. Cuomo said squarely that our laws come from man, not from God. I wonder how he squares that with the Declaration’s appeal to “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” Also, if man is the sole source of law he’s the sole source of rights, and if he gives rights can’t he, or really those who become powerful enough, take them away—or take them away from groups of men they don’t like? Does Cuomo see the tyrannical, even totalitarian, implications of that (since it all happens through government)? Or maybe he was too busy when in college reading Rousseau to think about such a thing.
Speaking of favored and disfavored groups, Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast in February seemed more concerned about abuses of Christian armies during the Crusades a thousand years ago—buying into the current skewed politically correct version of the Crusades—than about today’s ISIS and other Islamist outrages. In fact, he assiduously avoids even the use of the terms “Islamist” or “Islamic radical” when talking about terrorists (even though most of the current international terrorism comes from that quarter). He decried religious intolerance, but of course never mentioned that it’s especially prevalent in Islamic-majority countries. Obama also went out of his way at the month’s White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism to avoid associating radical Islam with terrorism. This highlighted the question many were already asking: Has Islam become the favored religion of a largely unbelieving left, so much so that even the flood of atrocities committed in its name are just to be ignored?
On the family front, the February news featured further discussion about the rights of parents to allow their young children—even when they are as old as ten—to walk places alone (now called “free-range parenting”) or—recall the measles stories—to refuse to have them vaccinated (a course of action I don’t recommend, by the way). Then, there was the flap that followed from Pope Francis’ saying that spanking of children was acceptable so long as their dignity was preserved. The stories underscored the sorry condition of parental rights and prerogatives today, especially in the Western world: just about everyone other than parents, whether the ubiquitous “experts,” the omnipresent official child “protectors,” or even the anonymous busybody down the street who is quick to call the CPS, is viewed as more qualified to make decisions about children than their parents are.
On the media front, there were the Brian Williams fabrication revelations. For a long time, surveys have shown a lack of public trust in the media. One wonders why it still seems to play such a big role in shaping public attitudes—or, put differently, why the public is not more critical or discerning about what it says.
Finally, there were the cultural issues. There was a report of alleged “racism” in a planned community in liberal, sophisticated Austin, Texas because according to reports “people are afraid of black males,” particularly strangers. Is this truly prejudice, or do they possibly react that way because of the high crime rate among that specific demographic group? Remember Jesse’s Jackson’s comment about walking at night and feeling relief when he sees that it’s a Caucasian behind him? Recreational marijuana became legal in Alaska and the District of Columbia—joining Colorado and Washington—because of another federal law that Obama won’t enforce. Notice how this is happening with little political debate or consideration of such basic questions as: morality (a person’s allowing his reasoning faculty to be dulled), the teaching role that legal change plays, or the effects on the culture. Oklahoma may withhold state funds for AP U.S. history courses in public schools because of insufficient attention to Founding principles, excessive focus on putative gender and racial oppression, and an anti-American tone. The left naturally attacked this as opening the door to intellectual obscurantism. After all, it’s a challenge to its near-monopoly of political indoctrination in public education. Then, a Nature article discussed fossil evidence—which are hardly airtight scientific conclusions—of prehistoric migration from Africa to Europe. In reality, the finding had much less to do with science than with promoting one aspect of socio-political ideology that now permeates the academic scientific community: Afro-centrism.
So, there it is: February 2015’s news gave us a good snapshot of our current confusion and many of our discontents.
Stephen M. Krason’s “Neither Left nor Right, but Catholic” column appears monthly (sometimes bi-monthly) in Crisis. He is Professor of Political Science and Legal Studies and Associate Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is also Co-Founder and President of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists. Among his books is The Transformation of the American Democratic Republic (Transaction Publishers, 2012), and most recently two edited volumes: Child Abuse, Family Rights, and the Child Protective System (Scarecrow Press, 2013) and The Crisis of Religious Liberty (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014).