Peggy Noonan: If I Were a Democrat Here’s what I’d do.

Thursday, January 6, 2005 12:01 a.m. EST

The 109th Congress has been sworn in and convened, and now the new post-election reality begins. If I were a Democrat right now I would think big and get serious. Second terms are tough for incumbents; history has not handed George W. Bush an easy ride, and there’s no reason to think that will change now; and Mr. Bush is a gambler who’s not afraid to throw the dice, which means he will likely have not only stunning gains but stunning losses ahead…

There is much to build on. You hold 44 Senate seats, 202 House seats and 22 governorships. You have been on a losing strain for a while, but you can turn that into opportunity. Now, in the depths–or what you frankly hope are the depths–you can move for change within the party. Nothing sobers like defeat. Use the new sobriety to shake off the mad left…

The Groups–all the left-wing outfits from the abortion people to the enviros–didn’t deliver in the last election, and not because they didn’t try. They worked their hearts out. But they had no one to deliver. They had only money. The secret: Nobody likes them. Nobody! No matter how you feel about abortion, no one likes pro-abortion fanatics; no one likes mad scientists who cook environmental data. Or rather only rich and creepy people like them…

Read the entire article on the Wall Street Journal website.

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67 thoughts on “Peggy Noonan: If I Were a Democrat Here’s what I’d do.”

  1. I appreciate Michael Bauman’s comments in Note 40, and I apologize if my comments have been boring and pointless. However, the exchange above between Jim and Missourian point out the difficulty of restricting discussion on issues of public policy to the Orthodox Christian perspective.

    Lets take poverty for example: Sometimes I think that if discussion on this issue is limited to what is the strictly Christian (whether Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant) position about all that one can say is that we, Christians, are supposed to care for the poor. And that’s the end of the discussion. While some of Jim’s comments above (Note 48: Equating conservatives Christians – whether Orthodox or not – with members of the racist John Birch Society) is just hateful nonsense, the underlying point is valid. That is, it is problematic when one cloaks a conserative or liberal position on a matter of public policy in the mantle of the Christian faith.

    If I have to quote Church Fathers and Scripture every time I discuss cultural and public policy issues with other Orthodox, then I will have to bow out of most, if not all, threads at this blog (though that might make Jim & Dean happy πŸ˜‰ ). I just don’t have memorized St. Athanasius’ pronouncements on embryonic stem cell research, the welfare state or the film The Incredibles.

    BTW, just what is the Orthodox Christian position on race-based preferences, otherwise known as Affirmative Action?

  2. Jim writes, “… in many cases the tradition seems to be absent from many of the conservative opinions that I see here.” Give me a specific example. Is Orthodox Holy Tradition absent when I argue for limited government? If so what leads you to this conclusion?

    It strikes me that you are simply attacking positions with which you disagree using a Holy Tradition in which you don’t participate. If you want to argue for a greater welfare state go right ahead, but don’t claim that my arguments for limited government aren’t Christian, let alone Orthodox. Your seem to be saying that if one is going to a faithful Christian one must agree with the arguments presented by most modern Liberals.

  3. Still Sliding By Evaluating Consequences Objectively: Effective vs. Ineffective Assistance to the Poor.

    Jim Holman writes:
    In contrast, I assert that it is not sufficient to cloak one?s position with a concern for the poor and thereby end all discussion. Government policies need to be evaluated by taking into consideration their advantages and disadvantages, their benefits and costs and their long-term consequences.?

    I would say that my position is that one at least has to grapple with the tradition on these issues, and that one?s views should be actively informed by the tradition. How that plays out in terms of individual actions and beliefs is an open question as far as I?m concerned.

    Missourian replies: Once again, you steadfastly refuse to address the consequences of your suggested policies. With respect to Walmart, you supported efforts in California to raise minimum wages and impose mandatory minimum health benefits. I pointed out the negative consequences of this policy on THE POOR and I suggested AN ALTERNATIVE WHICH WOULD HELP THE POOR. How does the Christian tradition inform my position? As a Christian, I would rather see a policy enacted by the California legislature which EFFECTIVELY HELPS LOW INCOME WAGE-EARNERS, then one which does not.

    How does the Bible or the Christian tradition support enacting an INEFFECTIVE POLICY WHICH HURTS THE POOR OVER AN EFFECTIVE POLICY WHICH HELPS THE POOR?

    *********************************************************************************

    Jim Holman writes:

    As you indicate there are many reasons why strict control of the borders is important to a government; you note the importance of the rule of law and many other problems that would result from uncontrolled immigration. I?m not sure to what extent that is ultimately authoritative for Christians. Christians throughout history have engaged in various illegal activities including refusing military service, helping slaves escape, hiding refugees, and so on.

    Missourian replies: You slide by an important issue by suggesting that the border is important to only to a government. The control of a country’s borders is important to the individuals living in each country. It is not merely a governmental concern. Criminals routinely flee to Mexico to evade the law. If a criminal injured your family member would you not want that criminal returned to American courts for justice? If an unscrupulous vendor of sick livestock or bad pharmaceuticals were able to smuggle harmful goods across the border, would you not be concerned about the damage those harmful goods could do to human beings? What is Christian about enabling the breaking of the law in general?

    You have acknowledged that problems can arise from uncontrolled, illegal immigration. Do you acknowledge that an individual who encourages, condones and winks at illegal immigration has to be considered at least in part, morally responsible for those very predictable problems? What solution do you offer to the overwhelming struggles that emergency rooms are having in the Southwestern United States.

    As I mentioned in my comment, there may be times when a Christian may come to the conclusion that he must break a law in order to have peace with his conscience. However, I maintain that the Christian tradition must gives moral weight to an orderly system of laws enacted with the consent of the governed. The general rule should be compliance with the law. If a Christian reaches the decision that he must break the law in order to live with himself, he should be able to articulate exactly why breaking the law is necesssary. People who oppose slavery could articulate a clear moral position, similarly with those who oppose abortion. People who harbored Jews against the Nazis could articulate exactly what part of the Nazi regime they felt they had to resist.

    I have challenged you to support your position that Christian may disregard immigration laws with good conscience. Consequently, I have asked you to articulate your moral objection. Before a Christian breaks a law, I believe that he or she should be able to state quite precisely why lawbreaking is necessary.

    Hence, my unanswered questions.
    Do you believe it is immoral for America to control its borders?

    Do you believe that it is immoral for other countries to control their borders?

    Assuming that the individual illegal alien is treated in a humane manner, do you consider it immoral for the Border Control to put an illegal alien on a bus or plane and send them back to his home country?

    Do you believe it is immoral for an American employer to pay cash wages below minimum wage to evade the labor laws?

    Do you believe that law-biding citizens who pay taxes and mandatory minimum wages are harmed economically by people who break both the labor laws and the immigration laws?

    Do you believe that the rule of law is something which is worth defending in its own right?

    Don’t you believe that individuals, the weakest among us in fact, will be harmed by the breakdown of respect for the law?

    After the rule of law is gone, what is left but the rule of the mob and the rule of the tyrant.

    How will the rule of the mob or the rule of the tyrant affect the poor and powerless among us.

  4. Daniel writes: “If you want to argue for a greater welfare state go right ahead, but don’t claim that my arguments for limited government aren’t Christian, let alone Orthodox.”

    I’m not saying that your argument aren’t Christian. I’m saying that I don’t know what is the connection between your social/political views and your faith. I’m not saying that there isn’t such a connection, only that I don’t recall that you have articulated it. For example, given the large number of passages in the Bible dealing with concern for the poor, how do your political views flow from that? How are they consistent with that? I’m not arguing here, just asking the question.

  5. Note 45

    Blackstone on Christianity (Blackstone is an old English legal commentator, parody here)

    Effective policies which empower poor people to get training and earn more are better for the poor than ineffective policies which depress employment, raise prices and drive away prospective employers..

    It is more Christian to help the poor with effective policies than with ineffective policies.

    It is not Christian to attempt to help the poor with policies which APPEAR to be charitable but which in fact depress employment, raise prices and drive away prospective employers.

    It is more Christian to help someone attain the dignity of gainful employment than to infantilize them as eternal dependents.

    It is more Christian to help someone attain the dignity of gainful employment because they can then help others rise.

    While a individual Christian may choose to forgive a criminal who has committed a crime against him, it is not Christian to obstruct the enforcement the laws against crime.

    While a Christian may be compelled by his conscience in selected, carefully considered cases to violate a law, it is not Christian to encourage contempt for the rule of law.

  6. Daniel: I did not say or mean that one had to quote the Fathers, the Bible or make theological concepts in every post. It would be nice to have the dialog framed by and informed by Christianity rather than political precepts and bias. It is percisely the difficulty in translating the Christian Gospel into public policy that makes this web site useful.

    Christianity whether specifically Orthodox or not, should be above politics and informing political decisions. You are correct that when we clothe our political bias and preferences in the garb of Christianity, we make a big mistake.

    In addition, one must have an active understanding of history in order to put today’s debates into proper perspective.

    What is boring is covering the same ground again and again and again.

  7. Jim asks a fair question. How do my views of limited government, personal freedom, liberty and responsibility square with the Holy Tradition, of which Holy Scripture is a part (do I have that “embedment” right, Fr. Johannes?)?

    Hmmm. I do not honestly know how to answer that big a question.

    With regards to poverty, however, I feel that we fail our Christian calling to care for the poor when we outsource our Christian responsibility to the government. I also believe that care for the poor extends far beyond merely providing food, clothing, and shelter (and, as a nod to those on the Left, medical care, “fulfilling” employment, a “living” wage, etc.). Very often caring for the poor involves confronting destructive behaviors that contribute to one’s impoverished status.

    I also believe that the poor are kept poor when they are taught that they are victimized by the rich. Those living with poverty must learn that they are free, creative persons who can choose another way of living, or, at least, another way of understanding and living the life they have. Isn’t that what Christ taught us? Are we taught in Scripture to resent the wealth of others? The Left teaches that the poor are victimized, that the world is a struggle between the haves and the have-nots. This is a pernicious lie.

    The Right fails the poor when we refuse to acknowledge that the wealthy among us have a particular responsibility toward the poor. The poor have a Christian responsibility to contribute their own time and talent to improve their lot; the wealthy a Christian responsibility to contribute time, talent and treasure. Furthermore, all of these contributions must be voluntary. Forcing the wealthy to give money to the poor only creates anger and resentment and doesn’t do anyone any good.

    An effort the wealthy make toward helping the poor is by investing in and growing businesses. I view the entrepreneurial enterprise, i.e, business and the free market, as an expression of the creativity and freedom, with which we are endowed by God, not as an evil endeavor by which the rich keep the poor enslaved. And, again, one only creates anger and resentment when the blunt force of law is used to force an entrepreneur to pay someone a so-called living wage.

    Finally, one must acknowledge that many are poor because of they choose to engage in personally destructive behavior. The only way the government can confront desctructive behaviors is by punishing them. Take drug addiction, for instance. This behavior materially and spirirtually impoverishes one’s life. Yet, the only way government can deal with it is to punish addicts. Even if the government were to alter its so-called war on drugs policy such that addicts were treated rather than punished, they would still only be dealing with the material aspect of the addiction, leaving the spiritual aspect to fester.

    While Dean & Jim might not agree with some of what I wrote, I hope, at least, it makes some kind of sense.

  8. Jim, et. al.
    From an Orthodox standpoint, the intersection of faith and public policy is quite flexible. We have very little dogma and doctrine regarding personal behavior as such. Our whole ethos and praxis is designed to realize in a personal sense the union with God that Jesus perfected. As we grow in that union, our thoughts and actions will reflect more perfectly the will of God in earth. That is why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, …thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

    The issue of abortion is doctrinal in nature, i.e. abortion is murder and those that participate in it are murderers. Euthanasia is similar in quality. Since embryonic stem cell research involves the pre-meditated destruction of a fertilized human embryo, it too is murder. Our duty to resist with all of our strength the Jihad and the imposition of Islamic law comes very close.

    Within Orthodox tradition, the role of the government has been to protect and defend the Church so that she may fulfill her function. Certainly, the laws of the government and the administration thereof should reflect both the mercy and the justice of Christ. We are required by our faith to be law-abiding citizens as long as the laws do not force us to deny our God.

    The Church herself has a prophetic role in calling the state to account when the state or her rulers stray too far. Individual believers have the responsibility to exercise moral choice as to their own actions and witness always guided by the teachings of the Church and the Holy Spirit received through the communion with Christ in the Church. The influence of the Church and her people is indirect in nature, i.e., the more we actually embody the Church, the more effective our witness will be.

    Our political choices and actions should be undertaken from a foundation of the teachings of the Church as revealed in the Gospels, the sacraments, and Holy Tradition. We are in error if we accept a certain political creed and interpret the Church to fit the worldly creed. The care of the poor is of high value in the Gospel and should therefore be of high value for all of us who profess Christ. It does not follow that such care must necessarily be a primary function of government. The action and the means need to be carefully considerd.

    For one person to live a life that is fully reflective of the Gospel is not to be expected. At best, most of us will be able to do so in only a limited way. Some may be effective champions of the poor, others of unborn children and their mothers, etc. There are different gifts and chrisms given. We need to discern when our brothers and sisters are acting on the basis of such a chrism although we may not particularly agree with their actions. We need to discern the spirit led action from the worldly led action. In any case we need to treat our brothers and sisters in Christ with all gentleness and respect when there is disagreement.

    Secular people with real compassion rely on government to be the power for change and for good simply because they do not look to God first (if at all). IMO opinion, however, such reliance is ultimately destructive to the good they seek, because the nature of government in a fallen world is to seek power for power’s sake. The more power given to government, the more they seek, kind of like Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors.

    Personally, I reject the theocratic tendencies of both our Roman Catholic and Protestant brethren. Since government is inherently of the world, it should and will be guided by more worldly considerations. However, that does not mean that it should be antagonistic to or deaf to the wisdom and the counsel of the Church and her people.

    As people of God, we will always be in a battle with our fallen nature and the manifestation of our fallen nature in the world. The only true victory lies in Jesus Christ, not in ourselves, or governments, or countries, or extra governmental organizations of any type.

  9. No. 58 Michael – Excellent and well said!

    The very life of Christ validates your major point, if I understand it correctly – that salvation lies within our own souls and not the political process. Certainly Christ lived during a period of great political ferment. The oppression of the Roman Empire produced the Zeaolot movement and many of Christ’s own followers hoped to see Israel restored and redeemed in a more “muscular” manner. Yet Christ said nothing about politics or fighting the Romans, except to teach us that we should never imitate the cruelties and oppressions of the powerful but fight them only with acts of compassion and loving kindness.

    My only quibble with what your wrote is this: You say “As we grow in that union, our thoughts and actions will reflect more perfectly the will of God in earth.”

    I would ask why anyone whose “thoughts and actions … reflect more perfectly the will of God in earth” would not willingly pay a little more in taxes in order to help government assist the least fortunate of our fellow citizens (provided the government spends the money wisely and efficiently), since we are directed by the teachings of our faith to work for that very goal.

    I agree with you that we should never view support for government as a substitute to our own individual duty and obligation to help our neighbors. We should talk to a lonely friend, console a neighbor who has suffered a tragedy, assist an elderly acquaintance with a physical chore, and volunteer at our church and in our communities. I don’t disagree with Dan either, that there is a role for personal responsibility in combatting poverty.

    However, if government is the most effective tool available, and for some structural, systemic and macroeconomic causes of poverty it is, I believe we should be pragmatic and use it.

  10. Note 57 on scripture and tradition.

    I take a different view on this than the common Orthodox apologetic which I think was written in reaction to Protestant fundamentalism and does not accurately reflect an Orthodox approach.*

    Scripture is central to the Christian life because the scriptures are the written record of the gospel — the word delivered by the apostle. Only the apostle references God as his authority (“I received my gospel from God” Paul writes — an audacious claim on its face but nevertheless true). The rest of us reference the apostle (and prophet) which is to say, the scripture. This is why the great thinkers like Chrysostom and Basil, et.al. are called “fathers” and not “apostles.”

    Tradition is authoritative to the measure it conforms to the gospel. When it does, it too can be “apostolic” but the authority is derivative, not primary.

    *The elevation of tradition as coequal with the gospel was an attempt to nullify the Protestant charge that the Orthodox are not “bible-based.” By raising the tradition as equal in authority with scripture, the counter-charge could be made that Protestant doctrinal relativism was due to their paucity of tradition. This required that Luther’s doctrine of “Sola-scriptura” be named as the cause of Protestant relativism. I don’t think this is true because I think it fundamentally misreads Luther. “Sola-scriptura” in my view was Luther’s attempt to return scripture to the primacy it held with the Orthodox fathers, in distinction to the Roman Catholicism of his time.

    The primacy of scripture is confirmed by our liturgical tradition, btw. The gospel rests on the altar, not a book of tradition, writings of the fathers, rubrics, hymnography, etc. Only the gospel is carried in procession. The gospel is read before the gifts are presented, etc.

  11. Note 59. Dean writes, “However, if government is the most effective tool available, and for some structural, systemic and macroeconomic causes of poverty it is, I believe we should be pragmatic and use it.”

    The sentence is fraught with too many vagaries to be answerable.

    If by “structural, systemic and macroeconomic causes of poverty” you mean the bourgeoise socialism of progressive politics championed by “Nation” magazine and the like, then no. Why? Because the poor are usually fodder for a socialist agenda and little more. (I don’t believe that many of the self-professed guardians of the poor really care about them much.) Whenever I hear “structural or systemic” I always caution the hearer to examine the other structure and system the critic seeks to impose.

    If you mean that government should take charge in disasters like hurricanes, etc. then yes, although even here the best aid is usually local — as I have seen for myself.

  12. Fr Hans,

    AMEN on the “Structrual, etc… reposte

    Sola Scriptura: You are quite likely correct when it comes to Luther, however, the conversation that the Turbingun(sp) theologians had with the Patriarch of Constantiople not long after Luther and the witness of the modern day Protestants is that the Bible is it, period. Of course, they are unable to hold to it since they have their own tradition of interpretation no matter what they say to the contrary.

  13. Michael writes: “Of course, they are unable to hold to it since they have their own tradition of interpretation no matter what they say to the contrary.”

    I see a couple of problems with the current Protestant use of sola scriptura. First, sola scriptura itself is not biblical; it is found nowhere in the Bible. To assert sola scriptura is to go outside the Bible to begin with. Thus, the whole principle is inherently contradictory.

    Second, sola scriptura is not historical. The church existed for many years without a defined body of scripture. The canon is actually one of the products of church tradition, and a rather late one. Thus it seems strange to me to reject church tradition because not all of it is explicitly mentioned in that which itself is the product of church tradition.

  14. The rejection of Church tradition, or from another angle, positing tradition and scripture as polar opposites is a new phenomena.

    Where the Orthodox apologetic errors is than in positing scripture and tradition as equal in authority (the Catholics define it as two co-equal sources of “revelation”), it still draws from the Fundamentalist philosophical ground. It becomes a mirror opposite of the Fundamentalist objection to what is essentially a Catholic dilemma — or at least a Catholic framing of the issue given that they do not see the two equal sources as a “dilemma” as such.

    The fact that the canon was closed after three centuries doesn’t really speak to the issue of “sola scriptura” as Luther framed it because his ground was the centrality of apostolic authority and preaching, and not it’s modern interpretation of scripture vs. tradition. IOW, apostolic authority existed before the codification of their words (of their particular “schools” also works) into print. Conservative Lutherans who are closer to the Lutheranism of Martin Luther than their liberal counterparts, would have no trouble with this formulation or historical reading I think. Nor would they deny that Lutheranism functions outside of a tradition.

  15. Dean writes, “I would ask why anyone whose “thoughts and actions reflect more perfectly the will of God in earth” would not willingly pay a little more in taxes in order to help government assist the least fortunate of our fellow citizens.”

    With regards to the federal government, I am convinced that it little if anything to assist “the least fortunate of our fellow citizens”, and, in fact, when it butts its figurative nose into the an area in which it has no business, it makes things worse not better.

  16. Economics, Taxes and Christianity;

    On thes pages I have advocated taxing the public and investing the proceeds in focused and effective job training for low-income workers. I advocated that in preference to imposing heavy minimum wages and mandatory benefits on employers. I discussed two alternative proposals, both aimed at helping low-income workers, and I made a rational case for the idea that job training is a more effective way to help the poor. When I suggested that heavy, mandatory minimum wage laws can hurt the poor, I was greeted with the libel that I didn’t have a Christian attitude about helping the poor. My response was that it was more Christian to help the poor with effective policies than ineffective policies.

    Proponents of heavy, mandatory minimum wage laws always arrogate to themselves the cloak of superior Christian charity, but, they never stand responsible for the negative effect on the poor.

    *********************************************************************************

    Similarly, people have suggested that the situation with foster care if so bad that we should place children in gay homes. I suggested that we should spend the money we needed to spend, (obviously, through taxes) to ensure the these, the most vulnerable persons in our society were properly cared for. Economic austerity should should not be given as a reason for dropping damaged children into gay homes.

    Stronger public support for tradition marriage and life-long committment could do much to reduce the incidence of broken families. The cultural Left needs to accept responsiblity for the rise of the “me generation” and the idolatry of sexual gratification and the impact that has on how children are valued and treated in a world of adults seeking their own pleasure first.
    ********************************************************************************

    Some proposals which require an increase in taxes are helpful to the poor, some are not. Many proposals which were presented as helpful for the poor had monstrous effects in practice. The “War on Poverty” left the Black family in tatters. Yet, proponents of high tax proposals always claim to live in a higher moral realm, despite the wreckage their policies leave behind.

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