Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Culture of Deception and Hiddenness

We almost have a Health Care Reform Bill - a massive missive of almost 2000 indecipherable pages that few of our elected officials will even read.

Regardless of opinions of the role of the federal government, aren't the following facts disturbing?

The bill will not be posted in sufficient time for public review before a vote.

The "opt out" option for states is unclear and expensive.

Private citizens will face coercive economic pressure to join in.

The details are vague enough so that proponents can call opponents "paranoid."

The cure seems worse than the disease - another federal program with more jobs for bureaucrats.

The Obama Administration promised an open, non-partisan (even "post-partisan") culture of honesty and transparency. What they are delivering is Chicago street-politics that disregard and discard all opposition and entrench their cronies in positions of power.

Consider the concerns of conservatives - labeled "crackpots" by the smirking commentators on shows with low ratings - real people with real values who want to help people:

Why are their so many radicals in positions of power with social ideas way to the left of the campaign slogans?

Why has Obama spent nearly $2M to keep all his formative records sealed - from birth all the way through graduate school?

Why did Obama vote, "present" more than any leader in history when he was a Senator, both in Illinois and Washington, D.C.?

Why are the deficits out of control, despite promises to "watch every line" of the budgets?

Why can't we have the government help with health care subsidies so that uninsured and under insured can afford care provided by current private and public entities?

Why is the government providing billions to agencies and companies that will never create a single job?

Our current crises are NOT the fault of the Democrats alone. They are the result of more than 40 years of bad leadership and mismanagement from both parties.

Eisenhower was prophetic when he warned about the power of "the military-industrial complex."

Kennedy was handsome, but his foreign policies were often disastrous and he is to blame for the Vietnam debacle.

Johnson was foolish to think that we could have all the butter and guns we want with no consequences.

Nixon played the "China card" - and we are experiencing the effects today.

Carter was a poor leader and naive to think that lowering standards on mortgages would be helpful long-term.

Reagan won the Cold War but lost the domestic battle for a balanced budget.

Bush I and II failed to complete legitimate but limited military goals and, like all predecessors, failed to stem the red ink.

Bill Clinton succeeded more than most in achieving domestic compromises and progress, but set the bar even lower for character.

We need honest and open debate, not polemic name-calling. I do not want to be one more conservative bashing the current Administration, but I am not being shown any reasons to support current policies.

My progressive colleagues have told me to "shut up - you lost, so deal with it." Wow - this sure sounds post-partisan, eh?

On the other side, conservatives are not helped by pundits who just spout platitudes about values but offer no realistic solutions for the crises we face.

We have a short time to reign in spending, find solutions that bring our troops home, and create an atmosphere of cooperative engagement. I hope we will find the courage to forge new directions in discourse and policy before it is too late for our civilization.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Words Matter

Today I noticed an item online that signaled another subversion of the moral framework necessary for a free and well-ordered society. Apparently, some new marriage certificates are being issued with the category, "Opposite-Sex Marriage."

In our PC world, various elites will simply say that this is a way of equalizing all adult unions, so what is the problem?

The problem is that there is a best way to define marriage: one man and one woman. Anthropology, biology, history, psychology and sociology all support the superiority of this model. Though I affirm the sanctity of marriage as a Biblical Christian, I do not need to appeal to religious texts to make my case.

The vast majority of Americans - of all faiths or none - intuitively know what marriage is. An almost equal number are willing to support other types of domestic partnerships. Private and public organizations and legal systems all confirm the mutual responsibilities of adults living together.

This is not as essay on marriage. This is an essay on the power of words and the implications for society when words change their meaning and are redefined by particular interests.

History demonstrates that words are redefined over time. An 18th or 19th century "liberal" believed in capitalism, free-trade, and small government. Once these became part of the cultural fabric early in the 20th century, they became "conservative" values pitted against the rising tide of Marxism.

In the West, "tolerance" has evolved from, "I won't kill you" in the 16th century, to "You are welcome to your private convictions" in the 17th-18th century, to the breakthrough in liberty enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This is great progress, and our nation has been an inspiring experiment in how we can live peacefully with our deepest differences.

But is the late 20th and early 21st century, "tolerance" has devolved into, "You must affirm alternative moral positions even if they violate deeply-held convictions." When I state my objections to redefining marriage, I am libeled as "homophobic." I am accused of intolerance and "forcing my beliefs" on others.

The intolerance of my opponents far exceeds any narrowness on my side. By compelling me to agree with a position that violates both empirical data and deeply-held moral beliefs, I am the one being coerced, not the other way around!

"Opposite-Sex Marriage" is a categorical shift that paves the way for normalizing all adult unions as marriage. Again, let me be clear: I affirm the right of adults to arrange their domestic affairs within the bounds of civil order. That is not the same thing as affirming the morality of every action or allowing marriage to be redefined.

In our government documents, we need three categories: single, married and domestic partner. Though I believe it is best when singles are celibate and that men and women live in lifelong monogamous union, I will not impose that "demand" on others, provided my opponents will not impose their redefinitions on an unsuspecting society that intuitively knows what marriage should be.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Is Civil Discourse Possible?

I am tired.

No, I am not giving up on life, nor have I lost my passion that people "think deeply and act decisively."

I am tired of shrillness substituting for soundness and name calling replacing careful argumentation.

The critical ideas of Left, Right and Center are being lost in the current climate of in-your-face polemics.

Polemical writing is easy: find the weaknesses in opponents' arguments, demolish them and declare victory (at least in your own mind).

Attacking people rather than their propositions is another cop-out for lazy, media-soaked persons. Over-generalizing and facile labeling ("Fox News is no news...right-wing talk radio is harmful...all Democrats are Marxists...") keep us from examining issues well and arriving at reasonable solutions.

America's Founders were not immune to heated debate and personal insults. In fact, it was heated debates that led to The Declaration of Independence, and, later, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We need to take a lesson or two from the eighteenth century for the twenty-first if our experiment in freedom is going to move forward.

Here are some thoughts that may help us sort through the current maze of confusion. We have troops dying overseas, domestic budgets out of control, rival nations rejoicing in our demise while our idealistic or pragmatic allies look on with concern, and a media sowing more confusion than clarity, with no apology for bias.

First, we must affirm that underlying principles and our vision for the future really matter. How we see the universe, ourselves and our future is important. I am NOT calling for uniformity here - just honesty. If we can get genuine answers from politicians about their deepest concerns and how they envision the future, we can start understanding why they are passing certain laws. President Obama, what does America 2020 or even 2050 look like to you? Conversely, the same question can be asked of Governor Palin. Thomas Jefferson imagined a nation of farmer-intellectuals, property owners who would love to learn and improve society. He did not envision the current Leviathan we call the federal government.

Second, what we believe about individual responsibility makes a world of difference in the world we want to see. Do we legislate fat grams in food, but not sexual practices? Do we allow unbridled capitalism with no regard for environmental concerns? Are abortion and euthanasia rights, but conservative free speech on college campuses can be controlled by the mob? What should the government regulate and what is up to us to self-regulate? Is charity private, public or both - and to what extent should a government divest me and invest in others? These are real, not theoretical questions. Are we ready for a fresh articulation of Lockean principles of liberty, or will we capitulate to Hobbes's vision of an all-powerful state?

Thirdly, freedom of conscience and religion are the first freedoms secured by our First Amendment. For the first time in history, the state was not controlling, supporting or influencing the religious choices of its citizenry. Our new Republic had Deists, Freethinkers, Catholics and Protestants all fighting for freedom. Jews were allowed to assemble and worship without fear. Yes, we were a de facto Protestant land, but with no religious test for office and no state enforcement of conscience, people of all religions or none could live together. Applied today, we see that with few exceptions, no conservative Christian wants a Theocracy. In fact all religious adherents need to defend the rights of other religions as if they were their own. Militant atheists are mounting an assault on religion, especially the Monotheism of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The intemperate attacks of polemicists such as Dawkins and Hitchens would be humorous except that some people actually take them seriously. There is a place for real debates about God, the universe, morality and religion. But these need to be civil, not accusatory and they must be carried out with deep mutual respect for the importance of the matters at hand.

Horrific things have been done in the name of religion. All manner of oppression and violence have been perpetrated by people who thought they were serving their god. Atheism's record is no better; in fact, the 20th century is proof that the loss of religious restraint can unleash even greater slavery and violence. For every atheist bemoaning the Crusades, I offer a believer grieved by Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot on the Left and Hitler and his imitators in the Right.

Debating about God, truth and the meaning of life is needs to be done in a manner that moves us toward clarity and a greater ability to live with our deepest differences, not a uniformity of thought! Will we have the courage to do this?

I am less tired now that I have penned these first thoughts on a more civil future.

Our Founders were imperfect people. Many were ambivalent or supportive of slavery. In their world, women did not vote (though that would have changed if Abigail Adams had the floor!) and the federal government stayed as small as possible. For the past 220 years we have been slowly living out the implications of the liberty we were endowed with at our nation's birth. Will be prove ourselves worthy of our Founder's sacrifices?