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Budgets & Morals


The budget is a moral statement. Where a man’s treasure is…. Yet, the analysis of, and debate about, the budget rarely is cast in such moral terms. And, President Obama, who has been unable to find a coherent, consistent moral language to describe his policy objectives, has produced a budget that, similarly, fails to find its moral center.

To be clear, the excessive debt facing the nation is also a moral issue. By increasing the deficit every year and adding to the debt, we add to the amount of money future taxpayers must fund in interest payments on that debt. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are entirely honest about the debt of course. It is as if the entire nation has forgotten that there was a surplus a decade ago. It is as if the historically low tax rates of today were set in stone at Sinai and cannot be raised.

Cardinal Turkson's Address


As mentioned in my morning post, Cardinal Peter Turkson gave a smashing speech to open the Social Ministry Gathering yesterday. I never thought I would live to see the day when a Vatican cardinal holds up an American bishops' call for civil disobedience in the face of unjust immigration laws, as an example of how the Church can and should be engaged in the culture! The speech shows the Cardinal's profound understanding of the Church's social teaching tradition, and how that tradition is rooted in our most fundamental dogmatic teachings bout the human person and, indeed, about the nature of God Himself. Here, unedited, is the text:

“Protecting Human Life and Dignity: Promoting a Just Economy”

Washington, D.C., 13-16 February 2011

The Legacy of Rerum Novarum:
The Current Challenges of Catholic Social Teaching

I bring you greetings from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; and, on it behalf, I wish you all a very successful conference, especially as you gather to explore the protection of human life and the dignity of the human person through the promotion of a more just economy.

I. Introduction

Ron Paul's CPAC Straw Poll Victory


Congressman Ron Paul won the presidential straw poll at the CPAC conference here in Washington. But, you would expect his brand of libertarian conservatism to be a hit with the kinds of affluent, young conservatives who attend such conferences. It is like reading Ayn Rand in high school: Which teenager does not want to read that the paths of truth and justice are found through self-assertion?
But, those young, affluent activists are not paradigmatic for the average primary voter, who is as likely to be motivated by a sense of populist resentment as by protean, libertarian ideas. The sraw poll win means little in the long run.

The Need for Sophistication


The other day, listening to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner at the Brookings Institute, the thought occured that this man may or may not know that his job, as a Democrat, is to fight for the working men and women in this country, but you would never know he knows it from listening to him. My populist instincts were heightened.
But, there is a limit to populism and, in the event, Geithner's wonkishness may be more important than throwing red meat to the masses. It is too easy in our culture to make fun of the pointy-heads, the wonks, the analysts who live in Cambridge or Berkeley, and who are very smart about some things but can be clueless about what makes the rest of America tick.
I was reminded of this when I saw the headline in this morning's Washington Post, which reads, "Egypt's generals impose martial law." I remember reading a similar headline in December, 1981, about the imposition of martial law in Poland. That was a grim news then but yesterday's imposition of martial law in Egypt is actually good news, that the military is not going to be hiding behind the constitutional niceties of a constitution that was designed to frustrate democracy not promote it.

Catholic Social Ministry Mtg Kicks Off


Yesterday, Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, kicked off the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering here in Washington. The cardinal spoke about the significance of Rerum Novarum, the first papal encyclical to explicitly discuss social justice issues, and how that encyclical remains relevant. I do not yet have a copy of the cardinal’s remarks, so I will not comment upon them, but driving back home from his speech, the thought occurred that the Church’s social teaching has been remarkably consistent through the years. And such years.

In 1891, the year Pope Leo XIII issued Rerum Novarum, papal concerns about socialism were theoretical concerns. There was not, as yet, any country governed by a socialistic government. But, even at the theoretical level, Leo understood that the Church’s traditional defense of the right to private property would be a bulwark against the encroachments of the state.

Must-Read on Egypt: \"Bin Laden's Nightmare\"


Over at Politico Shibley Telhami has a really smart article that argues the unfolding of events in Egypt represents bin Laden's nightmare. He has argued that the violence and the murder of innocents is the path to political change. The peaceful protests have achieved what radicals like bin Laden have failed to achieve, the overthrown of an entrenched dictator, and it achieved it without recourse to violence.
In Anmerica, where the ranters on the right warn of the introduction of Sharia into the courtrooms of South Carolina, they tend to lump all Muslims together. Yesterday, at the CPAC Conference, Rick Santorum chided President Obama for his failure to embrace the protests in Iran last year, evidently unaware that the best propaganda weapon anyone could give the hateful regime there would be to paint the protesters as tools of America. The quality of analysis about the Muslim world on the right is shockingly unsophisticated. It is also dangerous. And it is completely wrong, as Telhami shows, about the overthrown of Mubarak.

Egypt: No Champagne Yet


The news from Egypt is thrilling. In 18 days of peaceful protest, the people of Egypt have forced Hosni Mubarak from office and it appears that Egypt is prepared to transition to democracy. But, before we pop the champagne too quickly, remember that removing a dictator is a first, not a last, step towards achieving democracy. I seem to recall a certain President of the United States on board an aircraft carrier with the sign "Mission Accomplished" behind him. In Iraq, removing Saddam was the easy part. Helping to build a democracy is the tough part.
A few weeks ago, I cautioned everyone to think Augustinian thoughts. We can, we must, celebrate the resignation of Mubarak, and especially the fact that it was accomplished without bloodshed. But the tough work begins now.

Lawler Attacks Sr. Carol (& the human intellect)


Phil Lawler has penned an attack on Sister Carol Keehan, DC, arguing that she is "equivocating" on the topic of episcopal authority because, even while she acknowledges that authority, she has disagreed with some of its applications.

The key part of his argument is this: "In the Catholic Church, on the other hand, the faithful believe that because of his grace of state, because of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the bishop is better suited to make a decision on matters of faith and morals—and in this case, on the interpretation of the ERDs. So when a bishop makes a judgment about the application of the ERDs—and especially when the bishop takes formal action on the basis of his judgment, as Bishop Olmsted did—he is not merely issuing one opinion among many. He is settling the question."


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