I was interviewed by NPR's Michel Martin on her show "Tell Me More" this morning. You can get the audio here.
The other day, I noted that given his recent comments on the economy, Pope Benedict XVI is unlikely to be invited anytime soon to give a talk at the Acton Institute, the libertarian think tank run by Father Robert Sirico.
I went to their website and found something very, well, curious. Jordan Ballor has a post up that considers the effectiveness of the social safety net in this country. He does not argue with the fact that the net caught six of seven people and kept them from falling into poverty. Instead, somewhat bizarrely, he notes that by providing a disincentive to work, which would also keep people above the poverty line, the safety net is "morally suspect and economically questionable." I can not think of a better example of someone's commitment to ideological purity getting in the way of anything resembling sound moral analysis: Real people, not talking points, are helped by the safety net. It is not morally suspect. The rantings (should they be called "Randings"?) from the Acton Institute are.
Peter Bekowitz of the Hoover Institution has a thoughtful review of Gordon Wood's new book, The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States.
Many politicians play fast and loose with the Founding Fathers and Wood's lifetime of careful scholarship is, as Berkowitz notes, a tonic both to the excesses of some historians and of some politicians. Wood has a distinctly Catholic approach, although he might not choose to descibe his contribution that way. Nonetheless, if one of the principal characteristics of Catholic intellectual thought is a preference for "both/and" solutions to human conundrums, as opposed to "either/or" solutions, Wood looks at the extant historiography of the Revolutionary era and culls what is good from all the different schools of thought, brings them together, allows them to self-correct each other, and produces just about as balanced and thorough an understand of those momentous events as can be found in the pages of any book.
Undocumented immigrants have played a big part in the GOP presidential debates. There, of course, these immigrants are known as “illegals” which has morphed from an adjective to a noun, as if there was something constitutive and indelible in their nature that had a whiff of illegality about it, not that they are human beings or anything like that, still less children of God, who understood that they might find a better life for themselves and their families by crossing the border without proper documents. But, immigrants may be key to shoring up America's most treasured entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare.
One of the more interesting developments in the debate about whether or not to expand the conscience exemptions regarding mandated insurance coverage for procedures the Catholic Church finds morally objectionable, such as contraception, sterilization and some drugs the Church considers abortifacients, is the fact that so many Catholics who do not share those moral objections are nonetheless vociferous in urging a broader exemption. Friends who denounce the bishops as naïve or willing tools of the GOP, who think that contraception is fine, or who otherwise seldom miss the opportunity to trash the hierarchy, nonetheless find themselves disturbed by the idea that the federal government would force Catholic institutions to abide by rules that conflict with the dictates of the Church.
Over at Politico, Carrie Budoff Brown has a great article about President Obama's challenge with white, working class voters in Pennsylvania, a state that he needs to win if he is to retain the White House and a state that has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988.
Note to White House political operatives: Lost of those white, working class voters are Roman Catholics. They, like everybody, is mostly concerned about the economy and they frankly do not trust either party to look out for their interests. So, the last thing the President should want to do is give them another reason to think that he does not respect them or their values by getting into a fight with Catholics about mandated coverage for contracpetion.
According to a news item at Catholic News Service, Pope Benedict XVI recently expressed his warning against any "unconditional surrender to the law of the market or that of finance."
Looks like the Holy Father will not be giving the keynote at any event sponsored by the Acton Institute anytime soon.
At yesterday’s conference on tuition tax credits, John Carr, who leads the Justice, Peace and Human Development office at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said he felt a bit like an “outsider.” Marie Powell, who heads the USCCB’s Education Office recalled going to a social justice gathering and having a similar feeling. In part, no doubt, this “outsider” sensation comes simply from the division of labor at the USCCB: Different parts of the organization handle different issues. People like to bemoan bureaucracy, but in a complex society, there is no alternative. Expertise matters and no one can be expected to be an expert in everything.
Mark Silk, at Spiritual Politics, gives an update on the issue of the Vatican's stance towards capitalism. It should surprise no one who does not occupy a corner office at the Ethics and Public Policy Center or the American Enterprise Institute that Catholic social thought has always registered deep reservations about capitalism. Some tried to denounce or demean the recent "Note" from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace because it failed to offer incense at the Altar of the Market. They mistakenly jumped on a directive from the Vatican's Secretary of State which they thought was intended to further question that "Note," but turned out to be directed at an entirely different document. ("Oops," as Gov. Perry likes to say.) But, as Silk points out, suspicion of market idolatry of the kind that animates today's Republican Party is deeply rooted and widely held within the precincts of the Holy See, including the man in white.
George Weigel, indulges in wholesome praise for the late John Courtney Murray, S.J. before throwing cheap shots at E.J. Dionne, in an article published at the National Review Online. You would not know it from Weigel's article that Murray actually did not want to reduce the Christian Gospel to a prop for Americanism, which seems to be Weigel's faux-intellectual calling card. You would also not know that the column by Dionne that Weigel attacks clearly and unambiguously aimed at defending the need for more expansive conscience exemptions which is at the center of the debate on religious liberty. You would also not know that, in his inaugural presidential address to the USCCB, Archbishop Timothy Dolan did not, in fact, stress the issue of religious liberty, indeed, he failed to mention the issue. And, it is beyond imagining that someone who fancies himself an astute observer of the Church would be shocked, shocked, to find divisions within the episcopal conference not so much on any given issue as on the relative stress of some issues over others, and the manner in which those issues should be confronted.