The Actual Constitution

The president, I have decided, is a genius. He knew that by receiving Notre Dame’s honors, he would solidify the wisdom of the 54 percent of Catholics who voted for the most anti-life candidate ever. He also understands that the best way to counteract the so-called Catholic influence on the present Supreme Court is to appoint yet another Catholic. Both at Notre Dame and soon at the Supreme Court, we will find many diverse and contradictory “Catholic” opinions about all things Catholic. That word, like the famous word “Protestant,” can mean just about whatever we want it to mean.
Reading over the great ideas of the new Supreme Court appointee and of those who appointed her, I have decided that the time has come to admit facts. A colleague of mine has long been telling me that the 1787 Constitution has nothing to do with what actually rules the country. No part of it still holds. Many judges and their apologists pride themselves on the fact that they are bound by foreign law, or by what is needed, or by what they would like to see. But they are not much restricted by anything so pedestrian as a written Constitution or a common law tradition that supports it.
This famous document today evidently binds nobody. Actually, nothing binds anyone; that is the new constitution. That is the “democracy” under which we now live. Nothing sounds less obvious than those “truths” that the Declaration held to be self-evident. We are not now sure if the unions, the executives, the stockholders, the banks, or the president run General Motors. We are not convinced that anyone who officially runs the country is bound by any document of positive constitutional law that was designed to insure ordered rule.
As reader of Plato and Aristotle, I recall their suspicions that when a country became a “democracy,” as they called it, it would be ruled by the principle that there was no principle. Liberty was subject only to its own definition. They suspected from this confusion of everyone claiming everything that a young and talented “ruler” would appear. In lack of any other limiting principles, he would assume popular rule. Anything was better than nothing. He would eventually gather a national police force around him. Things would be enforced. Justice would be attained. Great enthusiasm would be generated.
The original Constitution, the one that no longer rules, had a provision called separation of powers. Folks were supposed to check each other so that no untoward things happened. American founders were famous for their healthy skepticism about human nature, particularly in high places. They liked virtue all right, but they also wanted to be sure that even the virtuous did not have it all to themselves. This worry becomes particularly important in a land where no longer is found any theory of what “virtue” or “honor” might be. We are all equal now, whatever we do. Our judges have invented a regime in which all sides are represented. Diversity becomes what rules.
Representative government also used to ask: “Who is to check the representatives?” Since the courts now legislate, why do we need a congress? The courts “represent” everyone. If we do not need a legislature, why do we need a president? We could put the impeachment power in the hands of the courts in lieu of a senate, which was originally a court anyhow.
Transaction Press recently republished the 1958 book of the French Dominican Raymond Bruckberger, to which Daniel Mahoney wrote an incisive introduction. Bruckberger’s thesis was that Europe, after two world wars, had really lost its soul and its sense of belonging to the ancient tradition. This tradition, Bruckberger thought at the time, still lived in America. Thus, he suggested that even if Europe disappeared, what it stood for was still alive across the Atlantic.
Fifty years after Bruckberger’s book, however, things have turned out the opposite. America has now succeeded in imitating the failed Europe. The president’s greatest supporters are in Europe, not Kansas. As several Canadians have recently pointed out, there is no longer any place to go where you can find what was known in the Constitution as “America.” We have now what was famously called a “one-party” system with no checks and balances, not even the fourth estate.
The purpose of government now is to give everyone what he wants, provided what he wants is what the government wants him to have. The government has to save the people from those “reactionaries” who think the Constitution is the law of the land. As Colin Powell said, “People want more government.” This is the new Constitution that cannot be written because, as the judges assure us, it changes every day.

Rev. James V. Schall, S.J.


Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., taught political science at Georgetown University for many years. He is the author of The Mind That Is Catholic from Catholic University of America Press; Remembering Belloc from St. Augustine Press; and Reasonable Pleasures from Ignatius Press. His newest books include A Line Through the Human Heart: On Sinning and Being Forgiven (2016) and On the Principles of Taxing Beer and Other Brief Philosophical Essays (2017). His most recent books are Catholicism and Intelligence (Emmaus Road, 2017) and The Universe We Think In (CUA Press, 2018).

  • Austin

    Unfortunately, both political parties have run over the Constitution. Bush pretended to respect it, but in reality violated the 10th Amendment routinely, with things like “no Child left Behind”, a Federal power grab of education, which is a state perogative. Obama has no respect for the Constution, as he considers it to be whatever he wants it to be.

    The Federal Government has gotten way too big and powerful and has become, courtesy of people like Senator Byrd [the “king of Pork”], nothing more than a means to pay off special interest groups who put politicians in power.

    We are supposed to have checks and balances, but basically the Congress is nothing but a pork factory, the President is a defacto king, and the Supreme Court makes laws, like some sort of “Super Legislature.”

    It’s all very sad to someone like me who is a Federalist and a believer in limited Government.

  • Ryan Haber

    Fr. Schall’s post was pretty depressing, I’ve gotta admit. Especially his hunch that deliberate efforts are underway to sow confusion about the meaning of the word ‘Catholic’. It made me think of Vladimir Solovyov’s provocative little book, “Tale of the Antichrist.”

    We have to be careful about going too far with catastrophic thinking. Much of what Fr. Schall observes has happened before. He writes that America was once, to some, the hope of the Western tradition. It may be so. Carthage continued Phoenicia’s legacy (for better and for worse). The work of Greece was carried on by Rome. The Holy Roman Empire saw itself as picking up where the fallen Roman Empire had left off. Quebec has boasted to carry on the tradition toppled by revolutions in France.

    The Greeks had literacy and philosophy before they decayed into mere Byzantium. The Romans had rule of law and checks and balances before they had empire. Europe had vibrancy and expansiveness before it sank into gas chambers and abortuaries.

    But I don’t want to side with those who have come scoffing, “Ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation,” (2 Pet 3:4).

    There is certainly more than enough evidence that in the West, the sun is setting, and hope that America will carry on a light seems to be fading. Fr. Schall, even in this cursory post, makes a moving case. To make the point it is enough to note that a large number of people hate the Western tradition; that a large number more are distressed to see it dissolving, or being assaulted even; and that many, many more are too uneducated, distracted, or satiated even to notice or care.

    Still, I am encouraged by reminding myself that whomever has been elected president, Jesus Christ is still king. However many people chase wildly after false prophets, there is a Church that waits patiently for the One who is to Return.

    Praised be Jesus Christ!

  • kathy

    I hope HE returns soon.

  • Michael

    Now is not the time for it.

    This is the time for serious arguments being made by serious men.

    You Jesuits know better. You once did better. You once were better.

    Civilization hangs in the balance.

    It’s time to get to work.

    We can get our droll sarcasm elsewhere.

    If you Jebs don’t have anything to offer, then no one does. Get to it.

  • Lynn

    The television news industry & much printed material are no longer viable checks & balances on the Govt. Fascism has clothed itself in empathy & is satisfying itself with greed. Watch out America….something evil is afoot.

  • Jeff

    Now is not the time for it.

    This is the time for serious arguments being made by serious men.

    You Jesuits know better. You once did better. You once were better.

    Civilization hangs in the balance.

    It’s time to get to work.

    We can get our droll sarcasm elsewhere.

    If you Jebs don’t have anything to offer, then no one does. Get to it.

    I’m afraid that the last thing needed is a new idea or a new theory. We already know the answer, insofar as it can be expressed as a theory. No, I take that back, Christianity fails when it’s seen as a theory.

    Our job is to live our faith. Follow Pope Benedict’s lead: We have to spread within our sphere of influence an increased confidence in our ability to know and understand what is real, what is true. Or, as Father Schall likes to say, simply what is. Obviously we contact the ultimate reality when we pray, and when we stay close to the sacraments. But we make progress in the every day exercise our intellects too. Turn off the television, go to the theater. Shut off the computer, read a book. When you talk to your neighbors, don’t gossip, talk about important things. Start a book club and read serious books.

    Our friends and neighbors have lost the ability to distinguish the true from the false. It’s almost like we have to teach one another how to walk again. That’s how elementary the needed skill is.

    As a teacher, I like to think I contribute something toward the effort. But we all have to join in, because that’s all there is between us and the dark age. It’s a long shot at this point, but it was a long shot in the actual dark ages. We’re the monks, gathering and preserving what’s left of civilization even as we’re being overrun. I’m totally up for it. Are you?

  • Austin

    I disagree with Michael; I think we need more sarcasm and humor in our battle against the barbarians. We need humor and we need humor with a sharp edge. Humor, properly employed can be a weapon that makes your opponent appear stupid and foolish.

    The British are better at it, skewering opponents with a well placed quip. In fact, the more serious the situation, the more the need for a barbed quip or joke. This is not being cavalier, rather, it is facing difficulties with wit and panache.

  • I am not Spartacus

    Rev Schall is merely saying what Paleoconservatives have been saying for decades.

    As Ex-America (Garet Garret) sinks ever more rapidly into the swamp of secular modernity, it is heartening to see the derestriction of the EF Mass and the return of Gregorian Scholas.

    That is our source of hope.

    The Evil Party and The Stupid Party have long been on a totalitarian trajectory and there is, literally, no hope they will reconstitute as political parties faithful to the long dead Constitution.

    With the first coming of The One (he will be re-elected) America has the most charisimatic, competent, and committed collectivist conductor (since FDR) capable of bringing the socialist train safely into the Washington D.C. Station.

    The novel, “Crashmaker,” has the sole program for a return to our past glories but it is a program so clever, well-timed, and well-planned (and implemented by a political coalition of brilliant Christian Conservative Constitutionalists)that it could never be realised in our times.

    So, support the EF Mass, The FSSP, the Clear Creek Monastery, etc and prepare for a total rapid collapse of our re-inflated economic bubble and, then, hopefully, secession.

  • DBR

    “I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’ – though it contains (and legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.” ~J.R.R. Tolkien

  • Deacon Ed

    God or Mammon. What we are seeing is the latter.

    The real question is what will be the equivalent of the monasteries to transition us Christians into the next era of civilization oriented toward the worship of God?

  • Bob

    Fr. Schall begins this piece by repeating a trope I have seen again and again on this website: “54 percent of Catholics who voted for the most anti-life candidate ever”. But that is a total misrepresentation of what actually happened. I, a very committed and active Catholic, voted for Obama on grounds that had nothing whatsoever to do with his position on abortion. I compared the two candidates’ views on the war, the environment, education, health care, the economy, etc., and in every case, I prefered Obama’s views to those of McCain.

    Just as importantly, I watched the two campaigns unfold, and saw a capable, professionally-run Obama campaign and a shoot-from-the-hip, incompetent, indeed incoherent McCain effort. How one campaigns can be a good predictor of how one governs, and we certainly did not need our country being run by a McCain administration that promised to be as ineffective (and bizarre)as his campaign.

    I do not for a moment believe that Catholics, or indeed the country as a whole, decided the last election on the basis of the abortion issue. I would imagine that most voters went through a process somewhat similar to my own.

  • Deacon Ed

    that you are quite proud of your man’s accomplishments so far?

  • I am not Spartacus

    “But that is a total misrepresentation of what actually happened. I, a very committed and active Catholic, voted for Obama on grounds that had nothing whatsoever to do with his position on abortion.”

    Zippy Catholic has the right response:

    “Congratulations, you won! How can we help?

    I acknowledge that this is going to be a difficult transition for Catholic supporters of Obama. Now that he has become the President-elect y’all have the difficult job ahead of turning on a dime. As long as it was a matter of Obama vs. McCain you had the wind of proportionate reason in your sails; but now the seas are dead calm, and soon the winds of justified action will be a-blowing the other way.”

    “Now that we have a President elect, you see, there is no longer any justification for remote material cooperation in his wicked policies. Justified remote material cooperation with evil may have (I think it objectively did not, but lets set that aside) made it possible to choose him over McCain; but now we have the absolute condition of a chosen President. If proportionate reason ever existed for remote material cooperation with his evil policies before the election, they no longer do now. Now your obligation is reversed, as I alluded to earlier. Now your obligation is to oppose his evil policies with all your heart, mind, and strength; all the more so because of your choice to vote for him.”

    “But not to worry. This is a burden we can all bear together. When it comes to opposing Obama’s policies on abortion, ESCR, gay “marriage”, and other strains of wickedness, you can count on us, that is, those of us on the unreconstructed socially conservative side of the house. Yesterday we may have been political enemies, but today there is no longer any justification for that; which is to say, your justification for opposing us no longer obtains. We must all come together in unequivocal support of the criminalization of abortion, criminalization of the medical cannibalization of embryos, and the banishment of fictions like “gay marriage” from any form of public legitimization: we must come together because opposition to the legality of those things is not politics but doctrine, doctrine to which we all owe religious and intellectual assent. Byegones being byegones, disagreement over proportionate reasons in the Presidential election now a figment of the past, we must all come together.”

    “Indeed, we no longer have any excuse for not coming together. And those of us who were not on your side in the electoral contest are here to help you discharge your grave obligation to publicly oppose Obama on all those things, without hesitation or equivocation or tergiversation.”

  • Bob

    Too soon to tell…

    If I had to give an interim report card, it would probably be something like this:

    International affairs – B-plus (good marks for erasing a lot of the Bush legacy, but let’s see what he does with North Korea)

    Economy – Incomplete (I confess I don’t undertand the stimulus package, but I am not an economist. Ask me again in december.)

    Health Care – Again Incomplete. SOMETHING has to be done. What we have now is insane and dysfunctional.

    Bipartisanship – A-minus (I think the pick for Supreme court justice was excellent. Someone smack in the middle to replace someone smack in the middle.)

    Style and Leadership – A-plus (Like when we had FDR, we really need an inspiring figure right now, and that’s what we have.)

    The Environment – No Idea. I haven’t read anything on this front lately.

    The War – B-minus (But the final grade depends on what happens in Pakistan and Afghanistan – watch this space).

    I guess my bottom line is we’ll know after his first term.

  • Vikram

    Too soon to tell…

    Style and Leadership – A-plus (Like when we had FDR, we really need an inspiring figure right now, and that’s what we have.)

    I guess my bottom line is we’ll know after his first term.

    Noticed you left social policy right off your list. That includes his strident support for abortion, not just in the U.S. but overseas.

    I guess by “Bush legacy” you mean the lives that were lost in Iraq. These pale into insignificance when compared to the hundreds of thousands of lives which will be taken overseas as a result of the “Obama legacy”.

    Style and leadership?? Inspirational? The word that comes to mind is hoodwinked. I’m not an American, but this guy’s used an economic crisis to more than triple the Bush debt and put you into hock for the rest of your life, not to mention your kids and their kids. This isn’t leadership, its sheer opportunism, just like the Sotomayor pick.

    As a Catholic I don’t need inspiration in a President. I have it in spades in Jesus Christ. The President’s job as the servant of the people is simply to govern according to the Constitution and ensure the safety of the American people, not to remake the universe in his own image.

  • Bob

    To Vikram:

    (By the way, you share a name with one of my favourite writers -Vikram Seth, author of “A Suitable boy”. You say you aren’t American. Might you be Indian? Love that country.)

    Your words, “I don’t need inspiration in a President. I have it in spades in Jesus Christ.” sound nice, but throughout history good Catholics have been inspired by many, many persons in addition to Our Lord: Constantine, Charlemagne, Godfrey of Bouillon, St. Thomas Becket, Dorothy Day, and yes, the occasional US President, just to name a very few. Being a Catholic most definitely does not mean a person must be inspired by Christ and no one else.

    Of course you don’t NEED inspiration from a president, but there’s no harm in getting it from one. And this country (the USA) absolutely, definitely, beyond any doubt, needs it desperately.

    I repeat – I’m not an economist, and I admit I don’t know what the end results of the stimulus package will be. I’m willing to “wait and see”.

  • Michael

    Fr. Schall begins this piece by repeating a trope I have seen again and again on this website: “54 percent of Catholics who voted for the most anti-life candidate ever”. But that is a total misrepresentation of what actually happened. I, a very committed and active Catholic, voted for Obama on grounds that had nothing whatsoever to do with his position on abortion. I compared the two candidates’ views on the war, the environment, education, health care, the economy, etc., and in every case, I prefered Obama’s views to those of McCain.

    This is like voting for Hitler based on his position on industrialization and not really concerning yourself with that jewish matter.

    I know millions of Catholics voted for Obama. By Peter and Paul I have no idea why except for sheer ignorance. Obama is wrong on every possible position there is about anything a President might have to be concerned with. Every..single…one.

    This is because he is a liberal and therefore holds the wrong fundamental principles about humanity and the universe itself.

    In other words, the best case for him is that he is barking at the moon mad – which is the best case to be made for any liberal.

    But Catholics are supposed to have some kind of innoculation against such pandemic stupidity. Apparently not. And so now the entire world is stuck with the enormous damage this monster of a man is going to inflict upon it.

    If it wasn’t happening right before our eyes I’d never believe it. It is – to date in my lifetime anyway – the best evidence that the NT really is correct on that spirit of antiChrist thing.

  • Chris in Maryland

    1 – Centralizing Govt power = attack on subsidiarity;

    2 – eliminating charitable deductions = attack on mediating institutions;

    3 – increasing taxes = attack on families, Catholic education and mediating insitutions

    4 – Gay Rights Activism = overt atacks on families and the Catholic Church in Massachusetts; Connecticut; San Fransisco and New York.

    If you still want to be in a Church headed by the Vicar of Christ in Rome – stop supporting the ‘progressive’ secular agenda.

    Otherwise, your new Magisterium = The President of Notre Dame, who’s probably going to have a long interview with Our Lord on Judgment Day.

  • Bob

    In answer to Michael’s evident belief that all Catholics must necessarily be conservatives (and therefore, I would assume, Republicans):

    Luke 12: 13-14
    “One of the multitude said to Him, “Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritence with me.” But [Jesus] said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?”

    The meaning of this exchange could not be clearer. God does not take sides in our political or economic disagreements, and must not be co-opted by any faction. Liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, and yes, even socialists, monarchists, and anarchists can be good and faithful Catholics – and have indeed been so throughout our 2000 year history. Fr. Daniel Berrigan is as much a Catholic as is Justice Alito.

    And by the way, the old internet rule still applies – whoever first brings up Hitler has lost the argument!

  • Thomas More


    You have made Fr. Schall’s point for him. You said: “I do not for a moment believe that Catholics, or indeed the country as a whole, decided the last election on the basis of the abortion issue.”

    Exactly. You and the other 54% of Catholics who voted for Obama decided to ignore the murder of 3 million innocent babies a year in favor of your pet issues. Talk about being confused as to what it means to be Catholic.


  • Thomas More


    Does you citation to Luke 12:13-14 (which evidently means that God doesn’t care what political party we join) mean I could be a good Catholic and join the Soviet or Nazi party?

    How about a party that promises to help every single mom who wants to kill her baby pay for it? Read you party platform! The Democratic Party as an institution support evil.


  • Bob

    TM wonders what I meant about party affiliation. I’ll be as clear as I possibly can. The Catholic church is the UNIVERSAL Church of Jesus Christ. It has existed in our world for 2000 years during the Roman Empire (when St. Paul insisted that Christians be loyal subjects of the Emperor), during Medieval Feudalism (when good and faithful Catholics were loyal subjects of their respective kings), in tribal nations of Africa, where good Catholics were loyal to their chieftans and clan leaders, and in modern states, where Catholics are good citizens of nearly every nation on Earth.

    Our Church is not a sect or a cult. If you want a demonination where everyone must think alike and no diversity of opinion is tolerated, then there are plenty of Protestant churches out there ready to welcome you with open arms. The Catholic Church has always and everywhere spread its welcoming arms to all, and is much, much bigger than any conceivable political philosophy.

    Two things only are required to be a Catholic: one must accept the Creed in its entirety, and one must acknowledge the True Presence in the Mass. Do this, and you can be a Communist or a Fascist and I will greet you as a brother in the Lord. We may (and most definitely will) have our political differences, but I would NEVER FOR A MOMENT consider you anything but a Catholic Christian with differing political opinions.

    (I actually don’t know any communists or fascists personally, but my local parish is stuffed with Republicans and Democrats, quite a few independents, and at least one Libertarian that I know of. Seeing as I live in Maryland, a very Blue State, and my county voted 70% for Obama, I would imagine that the majority of the parishoners are Democrats. Are you suggesting that my whole parish needs to leave the Church? I would hope not. It’s really a very nice place, and our pastor is the best one could hope for.)

    But seriously, enough with the Nazi analogies. America is extremely fortunate to be a very stable, centrist nation, with what may be the most civil politics on the planet. I know this personally, having lived more than 10 years overseas, where things can be far nastier than they generally are here. I have been an eye-witness to violent revolution in the Middle East and very scary confrontations elsewhere. My wife was shot at in the Balkans, and I twice narrowly escaped death in turkey. You should get down on your knees every night and thank God for the Democratic and Republican parties, which have kept our nation at peace with itself since 1865.

  • D.B.

    You continue to duck the Social Issue question…because simply put, his positions on those issues are against Catholic teaching. You can’t ignore issues like Abortion, the Homosexual agenda and Euthanasia.

  • JL

    Just as the catechism is the foundational document of principles of the church, the constitution is the foundational document of America. Both documents are to serve as guiding and filtering tools to form our conscience and choices in the christian and civic aspects of our lives.

    American catholics have always been predominantly democrat; I presume due to a strong sense of social responsibility (which is a wonderful sensitivity). However, I have not been able to understand why catholics have looked away from our constitution to in order to pursue these ends.

    Yes, it sounds reasonable, compassionate to ask the government to “Do Something!” about poverty, about homelessness, about joblessness, about education, etc.

    However, for over a hundred years now, catholics have voted democrat to pursue these policies, without realizing that in each case, most policies were in fact unconstitutional in that they ignore the principle that the federal government have only limited and pre-defined powers.

    Many catholics have voted for Obama because of environmental issues, immigration issues, union issues, etc. But, according to the constitution, the federal government should have NO involvement in such things. It doesn’t just apply to liberal policies….the federal government also has no constitutional right to address such things as the definition of marriage. Right or Left, we are all adding to the demise of our constitution (and therefore our country) by seeking federal policy to fit our moral or social beliefs.

    The dark side of the coin is, having gotten used to ignoring the constitution, we are now at a point where virtually none of the substantive value in the constitution can be found in our government.

    By asking the government to take care of things, we have given up our individual liberties, either by direct law or by coercive taxation. We have over the past century given the government the power to say to us: “In exchange for our help …
    You citizens WILL pay however much in taxes WE need to support our spending.
    You citizens WILL use different light bulbs.
    You citizens WILL accept government-provided healthcare.
    You citizens WILL drive fuel-efficient cars.
    You citizens WILL pay social security (whether there’s any left for you or not).
    You citizens WILL pay for your neighbor’s abortions
    You citizens WILL pay for your neighbor’s home
    You citizens WILL pay for your neighbor’s job
    You citizens WILl pay for your neighbor’s food
    You citizens WILL pay for your neighbor’s healthcare
    You citizens WILL stop eating high sugar foods.
    You citizens WILL stop using so much electricity.
    You citizens WILL stop earning high salaries
    You citizens WILL stop demonstrating your faith in public
    You citizens WILL stop making business decisions based on your moral beliefs
    You citizens WILL stop speaking in public about your moral beliefs

    etc. etc.

    Just as the catechism defines the principles of our faith, the constitution defines the principles of our individual liberties, and the limitation on the government’s ability to over-ride them. Please, I’m begging all catholics to stop looking to the government for whatever moral support you seek. Instead, stop abdicating your personal power and responsibility to bring about change yourself – in whatever way you choose. Work to change the hearts and minds of your neighbors…stop looking to the government to force people to support/accept your beliefs and your social issues. It’s patently un-american. Jesus did not force people to his beliefs…he led their hearts and minds. That’s the example we all should follow.

  • Gigi

    Bob–You say the reason you voted for Obama was because of his standpoint on issues other than abortion. In making this decision, did you thoroughly research McCain’s standpoints on the issues, or did you (like many people I assume) buy into the view that McCain was simply going to be “another Bush”, and not choose to thoroughly analyze his views apart from those of Bush?

    On the war: McCain, like Obama, agreed that Guantanamo Bay needed to be shut down, and that we need to have clear boundaries in regards to unlawful violence and torture of our opponents. In my opinion, McCain’s convictions on these points are probably stronger than Obama’s based on McCain’s actual experiences as a POW himself, and recognition that the tortures he faced personally shouldn’t be imposed on others (if you listen to his most recent interviews on waterboarding, you’ll actually discover that he stated Kudos to Obama for his ruling against waterboarding, and that the reason he was not certain about voting for the Intelligence Authorization Act in 2008 had nothing to do with the waterboarding issue,–which he had requested that the Bush administration clearly outline as illegal– but was rather about the fact that it was applying military standards to intelligence agencies, and other issues involved with the bill itself. You should also note that McCain himself sponsored the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, which banned such tactics by agencies such as the CIA as well).
    Although McCain and Obama disagreed on the strategy by which the war against terrorism should be conducted, you have to realize that neither candidate was speaking about ending the U.S.’s involvement in the wars of foreign countries completely. No, Obama was talking about moving the war to Afghanistan, etc.; McCain was talking about finishing things up in Iraq, etc.. It was simply an argument of strategy, with no clear rights or wrongs (e.g. we weren’t sure how it would turn out).

    As you yourself stated: on the economy and healthcare, we have no clue (they’re “incomplete”), and I contend that neither Obama nor McCain had particularly solid plans during the election, so it was really quite difficult to base our votes on those issues, just as it was really quite difficult to base our votes on the war issue.

    On bipartisanship: McCain has a proven record of working across the aisle on even the more controvesial issues, and of taking stands on with the democratic side when he disagrees with the majority of his party. I have seen nothing really to date during Obama’s emerging presidency that indicates to me that he would be willing to, say, compromise with the opinions of the other party, except mmaaaayyybee the pick you’re talking about. Could you please give more examples? We could probably find a ton for McCain.

    The environment: Eh, I sort of liked Obama’s views on the environment more generally, although McCain seemed to be more conscious about the environment than others of his party.. AND, with McCain’s “drill” plan, I think it would have been good in the sense that by implementing it, we Americans would see what we’re doing to other countries by having it take place in our own back yard (and our dependence on foreign oil would have been reduced possibly also), which would perhaps in turn motivate us more to work with the alternative energy sources that both McCain and Obama were in support of also. Again, Another issue that was ambiguous and could have worked out both ways.

    What I’m trying to point out in each of these side issues that you listed is not that McCain was necessarily correct on all of them, or that Obama was necessarily wrong–Rather, I am attempting to point out the ambiguity of each of them, and the fact that we really couldn’t know for certain who would have been the better president with respect to them.

    But on Abortion, there is no middle ground really– either you support life (and with it, support the rights of citizens to refuse to pay taxes that go toward abortion-providing institutions; support the partial-birth abortion ban; support the recognition of the fetus as a life; support the rights of the individual states to make the decision of outlining the rights to life of the unborn; support the banning of coercive techniques used by abortion providers[e.g. “it’s just tissue”, without explaining the fact that the heart starts beating as early as five weeks; that a child’s already genetically distinct from the mother at conception; etc.], jobs (via lack of support/child-care resources, as well as discrimination), unsupportive spouses/fathers, and etc. that oftentimes drive women to feel pressured into abortions; etc.),…..

    or you Don’t.

    And if you Don’t–Even If you’re willing to advocate for more resources for parents (as Obama claims to),–you’re sending a societal message that the unborn really have no value; that they can be disposed of without regard for any reason whatsoever; and, that unborn children should not be considered life, which is more powerful than any parenting/pregnancy resource Obama could provide or advocate for.

    As a registered independent with no particular political affiliation, this, to me, was one of the Only issues by which I could truly distinguish the two candidates. All the other issues were ambiguous at best, and this was the only issue in which the candidates had to come down to a solid decision with real implications. I know also that McCain supported stem cell research to a limited extent (as an attempt at compromise perhaps?), which was an issue for me, but at least he was making some strides and attempts against abortion-for-any-and-all-reasons, whereas Obama (with the FOCA, which he promised to sign First-Thing in his presidency), if he had it his way would likely lift even the partial-birth abortion ban, seen as heinous by most of the country. And we shouldn’t forget the shaky ground he’s made for himself in regards to infanticide and infants born alive…

  • Bob

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for such an intelligent post, intelligently written. This is what web debate should look like, and I praise you for your contribution!

    As to your questions:

    The War – during the campaign, I saw not the slightest hint that McCain would do anything to get us out of Iraq, and at least Obama was saying all the right things. I am disapppointed that we are still there, but the tone of our foreign policy has vastly improved since the last administration. The war was probably one of the top issues for me. For the first time in my life, my government had made me ashamed to be an American. I happened to be in Germany on the day we invaded, and I was humiliated as I passed by and through anti-war demonstrations numbering in the millions.

    The economy – McCain’s response to the financial meltdown seemed incoherent and panicked. I think that turned me off his campaign more than anything else, except for one thing, which I’ll save for last.

    Health care – No contest here. Radical top-down and bottom-up reform is manditory. The current system is utterly insane. At a person’s most vulnerable moment, when he loses his job (as so many millions are doing right now), he loses his health coverage as well – at the very moment when he has lost the ability to pay for health care. This is wrong, wrong, wrong.

    Bipartisanship – I believe Obama’s detractors are overlooking much of his record here. I know that speaker after speaker at the Republican convention derided his experience as a “community organizer”, and Palin mocked the lack of “actual responsibilities”. But the comments, good only for a cheap laugh, missed the entire point of how valuable that time spent was. Rather than no responsibilities, what Palin should have realized was that the real burden of a community organizer is that they have so little power and resources. And when you are in that situation and can still accomplish valuable things for people, it can only be that you are good at coalition building and persuasion with those who actually do control the purse strings and the resources. Bipartisanship and non-partisanship are the name of the game.

    The environment – McCain’s “drill, baby, drill” philosophy once again showed no vision, no hint that he might seriously consider moving this country away from our dependence on fossil fuels.

    Abortion – you are correct. This is where the differences are stark. the Republican Party, with it’s single-minded insistence on changing the law, seemed to me to be like a football coach who, seeing his last six touchdown drives foiled by the other team, goes right ahead and orders the exact same play over again. The pro-life movement’s unhealthy obsession with law has almost certainly seriously harmed the effort to actually reduce the number of abortions in this country. If all that effort were instead channeled into effective efforts to reduce unwanted pregnancy, to show real love to those most closely involved (without the ugly posters and bullying), and into non-confrontational education, we probably would be well on the way to an abortion free society right now. that we are not is largely a direct consequence of the combative, confrontational, indeed scary tactics of anti-abortion activists. We gain no converts by screaming at people. Calling people “murderers” and “baby killers” may make us feel better, but is completely ineffective. Indeed it is perilously close to prideful, self-righteousness. We don’t make ourselves more virtuous by inveighing against sins we ourselves are not tempted to do. For instance, I have not the slightest urge to gamble. So if I spent all my time and energy condemning gambling, it would make me look rather “holier than thou” in everyone’s sight – and rightly so.

    Just this morning I see in my newspaper (yes, I still read them – on real paper) ugly pictures of demonstrators at Dr. Tiller’s funeral , holding signs that say (and I quote) “God sent the shooter” and “Baby killer in Hell”. This is exactly the sort of thing that will drive well meaning people who are sitting on the fence away from the pro-life movement. Who wants to be associated with that?

    And as I promised above, saved for last – the “nail in the coffin” for McCain’s campaign: Sarah Palin. Had he chosen Lieberman, he might be president today. Who knows?

    I hope you haven’t stopped following this thread. I know it’s days old, but I would love to hear your response.

  • Mark Rutledge

    Bob, I am very disappointed in the abortion-related comments in your latest posts. They were nothing more than the memes of the pro-abortion political organizations. Have you never gotten involved with your own church’s pro-life activities? If so, you would have first-hand knowledge of how screaming and aggressive behavior is practically non-existant. Sidewalk counselors and prayer warriors are not only peaceful and respectful towards those who enter abortion clinice, but end up saving countless lives. You will also find how confused, misled, and downright manipulated these poor girls are who really don’t want to be there. I would hope that a Catholic serious about his faith would give the Church’s teaching on the subject at least the same level of consideration as the talking points of political action entities.

  • Bob

    Mark, I have personally witnessed the very activities I descibed in my post in my parents’ church (in a western state), and in my mother-in-law’s church (in a southern state). I have not seen such in my own parish. Sorry to disagree, but what I said is not a “pro-abortion” talking point, but the sad truth. Also, whether or not it is the most common form of activism is utterly irrelevant when it becomes the primary media face of the movement. Perception creates its own reality. That makes it the individual, personal responsibility of each and every member of the pro-life movement to consistently condemn such tactics, and to take active steps to make sure they cease. It’s not good enough to say, “I’m not acting like that”.

    And I stand by my position – efforts to change the law are futile to the point of being counter-productive. They are a complete waste of time. You might as well have stayed home. If you want to stop abortion, then do what is needed to make sure no one is tempted to have one. Prohibition never cured a single drunk, but AA has saved millions.

  • MaryAnn

    The reason so many Catholics voted for Obama is that they do not know, understand, or have abandoned their faith. There is much blame to go around for this sad state of affairs; poor catechesis in seminaries, poor catechesis from the pulpit, and a general lack of personal responsibility on the part of lay Catholics to learn and understand their faith. Our bishops also must accept responsibility. Until recently, they have remained silent, or remained much too concerned about their own acceptance by society, to speak the truth about our faith. Much could have been said, and should have been said about pro-abortion, pro-contraception, pro-euthanasia Catholic politicians.Public scandal demands public redress.
    That said, thank God that so many of our bishops and priests are speaking up now. Lay Catholics do pay attention to what they have to say.It may take some time for us to get used to them finally speaking the truth and come to an understanding of their seeming about face on matters of faith. But Truth will not be silenced. There is much hope for America.

  • Bob

    MaryAnn’s comments are EXACTLY the sort of thing I was referring to, and that Mark rutledge denied existed. That sort of language is tailor made to marginalize and ultimately defeat the pro-life movement. As long as (unfortunately, well meaning) zealots insist on “my way or the highway”, they will never see Catholicism as anything more than a sect – a plaything for them to feel good about themselves, and the consequences be damned. they would rather believe themselves right, than to actually win the hearts and minds (and souls, when it comes to that) of others.

    I am minded of the words by the late lay theologian, Charles Williams: “It is in an atmosphere warmed by the ardent sun of devotion, but drenched also by the cool rains of scepticism, that the best crops are grown”. We must never be so sure of ourselves that we fall into the fatal error of believing we have nothing to learn from people who believe differently than ourselves. there lies the path to insanity at best, and prideful arrogance, with all its attendant evils, at worst.

  • Gigi

    Hi Bob smilies/smiley.gif.

    There are many points I can say we are in agreement with–We are in agreement that we must change the face of the pro-life movement, and we need to bring to the table healthy dialogue among both sides of the debate rather than participate in mud-slinging and name-calling. I also agree that radical and immediate changes that make it seem as if abortion is being prohibited while it is still being touted as a “fundamental right” in our society may only fan the flames of the pro-choice movement, and would likely not be effective without providing resources, alternatives and support to those facing an unplanned pregnancy also.

    But, as I stated in my previous post, if you convey the idea that abortion is “necessary” for society to function; that it is a sensible, practical choice and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with it whatsoever; that a baby is simply a “punishment” that happens when people make the “mistake” of not using contraception properly when they have sex; etc.– that societal message is powerful. I daresay that message is so powerful that even if you’re willing to also provide monetary resources for the alternatives, why would anyone care?

    If Obama was able to say, “yes, I believe personally that abortion is wrong, but I won’t ban it directly at this point because I think that we need to change minds through encouragement of alternatives rather than through force”, Mayybe I would have thought about agreeing with him (after all, as I stated above, I do believe that both pro-choice and pro-life advocates need to work together on solutions, rather than simply banning things). But this is not his position, as we all should well know by now. You’ve probably seen his speech to Planned Parenthood (the one in which he spoke about not wanting his daughter to have to be “punished with a baby” if she made a “mistake”)–or if you haven’t, you most definitely should check it out. Based on his statements and unyielding voting record on this topic, I am not convinced that he sees anything wrong with abortion whatsoever. And based on this, I have a hard time believing that he would want to decrease the number of abortions or “make abortion rare”–why would he, if he doesn’t believe that there’s anything wrong with it?

    And unfortunately, many young people do not receive any education whatsoever about life, sex, and fetal development. To hear this from Obama–and then, when they or their partners get pregnant and seek counsel, to hear from a Planned Parenthood counselor that what’s growing inside of the womb is just “tissue” and that an abortion will be able to “fix everything”–is indeed powerful persuasion, especially when the abortion industry knows how to play so well off of young people’s feelings of fear, unpreparedness and confusion.

    Another point: by keeping the “right” to choose an abortion alive and thriving, this “right”, rather than empowering us (women), may in actuality be leaving us open to some of the most damaging coercion a woman could experience. I’ve known so many women who have said that their decision to abort was at least in part influenced by the reactions/actions of their partners; lack of resources from their educational/professional institutions; etc.–and that if they had had more emotional as well as financial support, or if they had felt their child would have been accepted and provided for by their partner, they wouldn’t have aborted. How does this happen? Perhaps because these partners, educational and professional institutions are complacent to allow the abortion “choice” to take care of things rather than providing support and resources? Perhaps because abortion is advocated by society (with Obama at the forefront) as such a perfect, acceptable and practical solution that our partners and institutions are not able to understand anymore why we wouldn’t want to choose it, other than for reasons that are invalid or impractical?

    Although we all know that Bush wasn’t the best president and that he made numerous mistakes in other areas during his presidency, he at least made strides to change the mindset of the country on the topic of abortion–not by overturning Roe vs. Wade (although of course he didn’t actually have the power to do it automatically anyway), but rather, by signing into law such acts as Lacy and Connor’s law, in which those who murder pregnant women are charged with double murders; by having the SCHIP program expanded (via HHS secretary Tommy Thompson) to include medical coverage of prenatal care, labor and delivery to women who were uninsured but not eligible for Medicaid; and a few others that encouraged provision of resources, education and support to women facing unplanned pregnancies.

    And though Palin was lacking in areas such as foreign policy (although you should read the full transcript of Charlie Gibson’s interview with her, particularly in regards to her answer regarding Russia and Alaska, and compare it to her experience as commander-in-chief of Alaska and the fact that she receives military briefings from her national guard regarding the activities of Russia),

    and although she did not have the opportunity in the short time frame she was given to polish her responses–unlike Obama, who was given ample time (I wonder though, if we had given him as much time as we had for Palin, if the earlier misstatements he had made would have kept him from being elected too)–she was right on target with the abortion issue. As a member of Feminists for Life–a wonderful organization dedicated to eliminating the root causes driving women to abortion by advocating for more resources, support and, most importantly, education for women–I think she would have worked on providing such resources, understanding and support for women rather than attacking the issue with forcefulness.

    As for other issues, yes, I was a bit disappointed with her as well–at least, what was aired by the biased media. But, McCain has had wonderful relations and experience with foreign leader across the world, and has actively worked to restore diplomatic relations in countries such as Vietnam. So I think that where Palin was lacking, McCain could have complemented well, and vice-versa with Palin–as McCain’s solution to abortion w…

  • Bob

    I have found this conversation valuable. Unfortunately, I am off on a trip for 2 weeks, so am signing off for now. Hope to “see” you all on another thread in a few weeks time. For all the Sturm und Drang, this website is a whole lot more civil than most I’ve come across!