My take on the first debate

My take on the debate: Romney was obviously way more aggressive, but not necessarily convincing. Obama was in his professorial mode that people don’t love, though I like it fine. The result in my eyes was a draw — no knockouts, not super-zingers.

Did Obama miss lots of opportunities to go on the attack. Sure! But he’s not the type to do that and that’s part of what a lot of people like about him. He acted presidential, rather than like a candidate who has to deliver a knockout to stay relevant. Did this technical win help Romney? Sure. By maybe a point or two, but he’s 6 or 7 behind. [Read more…]

Are moral grounds a good reason to refuse to vote among the viable candidates?

This year, I’m hearing friends on both sides of the political spectrum advocating withholding your vote from both major parties based not on political calculus or social goals, but rather, by morality. People are repulsed by the idea of casting a vote that seems to be saying they endorse something they consider to be morally inexcusable. What do you think? Are moral grounds a good reason to refuse to vote among the viable candidates? Are they a bad reason? Have you ever done it? Would you? [Read more…]

President Obama’s U.N. speech on the way out of violence

On Tuesday, President Obama spoke before the United Nations General Council. Whether you support him or not, I recommend you watch this half hour speech to understand his view. What the president presented, in the wake of the recent violence and death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, is a vision of the way out of this [Read More…]

What is the “correct” position for a Catholic? — I respond to a reader comment

What is the “correct” position on subsidiarity, or any other issue, for a Catholic when the USCCB, the Catechism, various encyclicals, popes’ comments and the Bible don’t all agree? Which has authority? Or is there a “correct” position? I respond to a reader comment. [Read more…]

Class Warfare

Am I my brother’s keeper? Not if he’s a lazy bum. That pretty much sums up Mitt Romney’s message in the best known clip from a video secretly taped at a fundraiser. You’ve probably heard some of it by now. Romney ridicules America’s poor and says he has no interest in reaching them. This echo of Ayn Rand’s “makers and takers” mentality is not Christian charity. Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me food” (Matthew 25:35), not, I was hungry and you didn’t want to enable me so you cut off my benefits for my own good. [Read more…]

The problem is not religion or extremism — it’s hate

Religion is not the problem here. Both religions involved, at their cores, teach love and unity. Extremism is not the problem. Extremists for love, extremists for fairness, extremists against prejudice, are fine. The problem is hate and division. Both Jones and some Islamic militants believe it’s us vs. them; they see their opponents are evil and less than human. That is the issue… [Read more…]

Millennials want hope not complaining in politics and faith

In America the winning presidential candidate is usually the one whose party has a more optimistic tone. While this may be a well-tested axiom, I think it’s especially relevant today. The messages of exclusion and pessimism coming out of the Catholic Church, some mainline Protestant organizations and other conservative religious leaderships, like those from the Republican convention, are more than a turn-off to Millenials, in fact; they are a deal breaker.

What is striking after watching both conventions is how the locations of hope and crankiness have flipped in recent years. The Democrats are now the party of optimism. I say this not as a partisan move, but as a frustrated observation. I believe this country would be far better served by two optimistic parties, with differing views but shared goals. [Read more…]

What kind of society do we want to be? — Looking back at Mario Cuomo’s 1984 “covered wagon” speech

Coming out of the morass of the 70s, with its failed socialistic projects and broken economy, Jack Kemp, mentor to Paul Ryan, touted programs that encouraged excellence. Kemp was a hero in my home growing up — supply side economics made the plausible promise of lifting up all boats, rich and poor, by growing the economy, and Jack Kemp’s heart was totally in the right place. By 1984 in New York, while most of the nation was celebrating the economic boom, grateful for a chance to be optimistic, I saw that it was not really working — I saw the out-of-control homelessness and the rising anxiety of the lower working class and poor. This, for me, began a lengthy period outside the two-party system.

But, there was a Democratic leader who warned the rising tide was not lifting all boats. He saw the growing income disparity and those left behind. I wasn’t paying much attention because I’d already given up on the Democrats, but while his party presented the lackluster Walter Mondale as a hopeless counter to Reagan’s second term bid, then-New York governor and presumptive future Presidential candidate Mario Cuomo’s convention keynote address offered a more inspiring alternative. The other day, a friend reminded me of this speech, and pointed out how much of it applies once again. [Read more…]

Paul Ryan, subsidiarity and the safety net

Paul Ryan has inserted the obscure term “subsidiarity” into the public conversation as justification for, among other things, cutting food stamps. Catholics can disagree about how the concept applies to individual circumstances, of course, and he’s got good points, but I want to dip into the conversation that has been going on for over a century within the Catholic Church to show what is generally understood about it, and how, I believe, Paul Ryan is abusing it. [Read more…]

Romney’s VP pick Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand and “the morality of individualism”

Ayn Rand was not anti-religious in the popular form of “spiritual but not religious”; she believed that any impulse to care about other people was either weak or disingenuous. Her version of economics and all of life celebrated only individual dominance as the driving force. I don’t think Paul Ryan — who says he got into politics because of reading Rand — believes this, but he, like a large portion of the conservative movement, has not resolved the inherent disconnect between their pure free market policies — based on this invisible hand mentality — and their professed religious values. In embracing Ayn Rand so wholeheartedly while insisting he’s also a devout Christian, Paul Ryan embodies this disconnect.

This gives President Obama the opportunity to revisit the discussion of whether it is more consistent with Christian values to protect free markets or to help those in need. When framed starkly like that, it’s a loser for the Republicans. The presence of Paul Ryan on the ticket make it that stark. [Read more…]