Month: December 2014

Why Wouldn’t Romney Sign the SBA Pro-Life Pledge?

Deal Hudson

Published June 27, 2011

Pro-lifers around the nation were surprised when Mitt Romney refused to sign the pro-life pledge distributed by the Susan B. Anthony List to all the GOP presidential candidates.

Romney has been trying to fortify his pro-life credentials since his 2008 nomination defeat to Sen. John McCain. One reason Romney fell behind McCain during the primary battles was the skepticism among pro-lifers and social conservatives about his commitment to the pro-life and pro-marriage cause. This skepticism was rooted in Romney’s actual record as governor of Massachusetts and his explicit rejection of the pro-life label during his gubernatorial race.
Romney issued his own pro-life pledge to explain his decision:

“As much as I share the goals of the Susan B. Anthony List, its well-meaning pledge is overly broad and would have unintended consequences. That is why I could not sign it. It is one thing to end federal funding for an organization like Planned Parenthood; it is entirely another to end all federal funding for thousands of hospitals across America. That is precisely what the pledge would demand and require of a president who signed it.”

Romney continues, “The pledge also unduly burdens a president’s ability to appoint the most qualified individuals to a broad array of key positions in the federal government. I would expect every one of my appointees to carry out my policies on abortion and every other issue, irrespective of their personal views.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the SBA List, issued a statement expressing disappointment in Romney’s decision and her response to Romney’s version of the pledge:

“Governor Romney refused to take the pledge and his explanation raises more questions than answers. In good conscience, we cannot let this rest.”

“He seems to indicate that he wants the freedom to nominate pro-abortion candidates for key cabinet positions such as Attorney General or Secretary of Health and Human Services. This is precisely what we want to rule out and it is unacceptable.”

“He chooses to identify non-existent legislation that would defund hospitals as a reason not to sign. Defunding hospitals has never been considered by Congress, is not part of public debate, and is not part of the pledge. 95 percent of abortions are performed outside of hospitals. Instead, we outlined existing pieces of pro-life legislation that address taxpayer funding of abortion. We would like to know where he stands on each measure.”

In short, Dannenfelser rejects Romney’s argument that signing the SBA pledge would lead to the defunding of “thousands of hospitals across America.”

What Dannenfelser doesn’t say is that this argument is precisely the one being used by Planned Parenthood and its supporters to defend itself against the growing movement to withhold state and federal funding from its abortion clinics.

What Romney himself admits is that he doesn’t want to give up the option of appointing pro-abortion members of his administration to positions like Secretary of Health and Human Services, if elected president.

It remains to be seen how pro-lifers in the grassroots will react to Romney’s decision to ignore the SBA List pledge. Some may view it as a simple disagreement among friends, as Romney obviously wants it to be seen, others may see it as another example of why the former governor of Massachusetts cannot be trusted as the 2012 GOP nominee.

The Trouble with Mitt Romney’s Pro-Life Conversion

Deal W. Hudson

Published December 27, 2007

Mitt Romney, by his own admission, was a pro-abortion governor of Massachusetts. That changed on November 8, 2004 in his second term during a conversation with Dr. Douglas Melton from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

According to Romney, Dr. Melton dismissed the “moral issue” of cloning embryos for stem cells “because we kill the embryos after 14 days.” (Melton disputes Romney’s account.)

“It hit me very hard that we had so cheapened the value of human life in a Roe v. Wade environment that it was important to stand for the dignity of human life,” Romney said. From that moment of conversion, Gov. Romney declared himself pro-life and an opponent of embryonic stem cell research. I join those who applaud Romney’s new direction and agree that his promises are the right ones.

But there is a lingering problem: Romney is opposed only to creating clones for stem cell research; he is not opposed to using “discarded” frozen embryos. These frozen embryos have been the primary source of embryonic tissue for stem cell research. How can you declare yourself opposed to this research when you are not opposed to the way it is actually carried out?

Romney’s position became even more confusing during his December 10th interview on CBS with Katie Couric. She asked Romney whether he agreed with using discarded frozen embryos for stem cells.

Romney replied:

Yes, those embryos are commonly referred to as surplus embryos from in-vitro fertilization. Those embryos, I hope, could be available for adoption for people who would like to adopt embryos. But if a parent decides they would want to donate one of those embryos for purposes of research, in my view, that’s acceptable. It should not be made against the law.

My question is this: How can you consider a frozen embryo a moral entity capable of being adopted, while at the same time support the scientist who wants to cut the embryonic being into pieces? Even more, if Romney’s conversion was about the “cheapened value of human life,” how can he abide the thought of a parent donating “one of those embryos” to be destroyed?

Peter G. Flaherty, Romney’s deputy campaign manager, has made it clear the governor is opposed to using federal funds on frozen embryo research, calling it “ethically troublesome.”

As the primary in Iowa approaches, many Iowa conservatives have still not made up their minds. Gov. Mike Huckabee has surged because he became the candidate about whom social conservatives had the fewest doubts. Romney’s well-oiled campaign — the best of any candidate, in my opinion — was never able to overcome the lingering doubts created by his pro-abortion past and the glaring inconsistency of his position on embryonic stem cells.

Romney is not the first politician who tripped over this issue. Back in the summer of 2005, Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) appeared to be the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination until he declared his support for expanded federal funding for research on frozen embryos. When Frist refused to recant or clarify his position, his presidential aspirations came to a swift end. Frist’s meltdown came on the heels of the first showdown between the Bush White House and his pro-life supporters. The issue, again, was embryonic stem cells.

Jay P. Lefkowicz, who was domestic policy adviser at the time, describes in Commentary the huge effort made by Bush and his staff to make a decision on federal funding for research. Bush’s decision to limit funding to the existing stem cell lines pleased very few, though the pro-life message of his TV appearance softened the blow to the pro-lifers.

Romney now inhabits a similar political space: His overall pro-life message is pleasing to many voters, but they’re still looking for a safer bet.

Romney’s speech on religion, given at Texas A&M on December 6, was clearly an attempt to calm the fears of his social conservative base, not only about his religion but also his overall commitment to conservative values. Thus far, the former governor of Massachusetts has not received the bump in the polls his campaign hoped to see after the widely-covered speech. More helpful to Romney’s standing was the endorsement by National Review. The NR editors nevertheless acknowledged the chinks in Romney’s pro-life armor in their carefully-worded statement of endorsement:

He [Romney] may not have thought deeply about the political dimensions of social issues until, as governor, he was confronted with the cutting edge of social liberalism.

It’s clear from his convoluted statements on embryonic stem cells that Romney’s thoughts on this issue are still far from coherent and consistent.

For many grassroots conservatives, and those from the Religious Right, Romney may be too big of a stretch, especially when they — at least, for now — identify so closely with the preacher from Hope, Arkansas.

Why I Don’t Trust Mitt Romney

Deal W. Hudson

Published January 28, 2008

Note: I haven’t seen or heard anything since I wrote this to change my mind,

DWH 12/26/14

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has positioned himself as a pro-life, pro-family “social conservative,” and has received the endorsement of some prominent social conservatives. But Massachusetts-area grassroots Catholics familiar with his record as governor are mystified by that support.

Their view of Romney is that his “conversion” to social conservatism was pragmatic, a tactic to win the presidential nomination. The liberal policies that made Romney governor of Massachusetts – including a pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage platform – could not win him the Republican presidential nomination, so sweeping changes in his political philosophy were necessary.

Romney, the presidential candidate, is a politician vastly different from Romney, the governor of Massachusetts.

I’ve already questioned Romney’s pro-life conversion. Anyone who simultaneously supports both the adoption of frozen embryos and destroying them for scientific research is not to be trusted on this issue.

His record on the campaign trail only corroborates my concerns. For example, he campaigns as a fiscal conservative but promised a $20 billion taxpayer bail-out to the Detroit auto industry on the eve of the Michigan primary.

I have a hard time believing a President Romney would shed all the liberal bad habits he exhibited as governor – the same habits that pop up regularly on the campaign trail as he tells local audiences what they want to hear.

In a series of interviews with pro-life Catholics in Massachusetts, I uncovered a long list of concerns with Mitt Romney – and they are dead-set in their opposition to him. This is the story they told me.

Romney on Abortion

Today Romney describes himself as “pro-life,” and explains he converted to this position in late 2004. But his public statements and actions present a mixed history of pro-choice vs. pro-life positions.

During his 1994 Senate campaign against Ted Kennedy and in his 2002 gubernatorial campaign, Romney campaigned as a pro-choice candidate. In a televised debate against Kennedy in October of 1994, Romney said he felt “abortion should be safe and legal in this country,” and he believed this because his mother took that position in her 1970 U.S. Senate campaign.

When Kennedy labeled his opponent “multiple choice,” Romney rebutted that, since the time of a close relative’s death from an illegal abortion years ago, “My mother and my family have been committed to the belief that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others on that matter, and you will not see me wavering on that.”

Romney thus suggested he may have previously been neutral or pro-life, but he became pro-choice two years before Roe v. Wade (Conversion No. 1). He maintained that pro-choice position through his 2002 gubernatorial campaign, when he answered to Planned Parenthood and NARAL questionnaires by saying he supported “the substance of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade,” and “I respect and will protect a woman’s right to choose… Women should be free to choose based on their own beliefs, not mine and not the government’s.”

Oddly, Romney refused to answer the candidate questionnaire sent to him that year by Massachusetts Citizens for Life.

By spring of 2005, Romney was highlighting his personal opposition to abortion in out-of-state speeches. “I’m in a different place than I was probably in 1994, when I ran against Ted Kennedy, in my own views on that.” On May 23, 2005, Romney was quoted in USA Today saying he was “personally pro-life” but declined to say more. “I choose not to elaborate on those because I don’t want to be confusing to people in my state.”

Massachusetts Citizens for Life was “unimpressed with those moves,” and still considered Romney an abortion-rights supporter.

Romney has attributed his pro-life conversion (Conversion No. 2) to a November 2004 stem cell research discussion with a Harvard researcher. He now claims he has joined company with other political figures such as Ronald Reagan and Henry Hyde who changed their views.

Tom McClusky of the Family Research Council summarized his view: “For a lot of people, especially Christian conservatives, it’s one of those black and white issues. You’re either pro-life or not. That’s the trouble with Governor Romney – he’s gray.”

Romney on Emergency Contraception

The Boston Globe claims that a visible result of Romney’s abortion shift was his July 2005 veto of a bill making the “morning-after pill” (Plan B) available over-the-counter at state pharmacies and requiring hospitals to offer it to rape victims.

If Governor Romney has indeed suddenly become committed to the culture of life in the past two years, why did he eliminate the conscience exemption allowing Catholic hospitals to opt-out of the intrusive law that his own Department of Public Health decided to grant them?

On December 7, 2005, the Globe reported that Romney’s Department of Public Health had determined Catholic and other privately run hospitals could opt out of giving the morning-after pill to rape victims because of religious or moral objections. A statute passed in previous years said that privately run hospitals could not be forced to provide abortions or contraception, and indeed, Article II of the Massachusetts Constitution guarantees such freedom of religious practice.

When pro-choice groups complained, Romney immediately caved-in – or “flip-flopped,” as Massachusetts Democrats described it, saying that after legal review, his own lawyer found all hospitals in the state would be forced to provide the morning-after pill to rape victims.

On December 9, 2005, the Boston Globe reported, “Governor Mitt Romney reversed course on the state’s new emergency contraception law… The decision overturns a ruling made public this week by the state Department of Public Health that privately run hospitals could opt out of the requirement if they objected on moral or religious grounds.”

Why did Governor Romney not simply abide by the state constitution and the decision of his own Public Health Department? He instead abandoned Catholic hospitals, setting them up for possible court battles if they upheld their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion.

Romney on Gay Rights

Romney has become a crusader against same-sex marriage and activist judges. But his gay-friendly positions from his 1994 campaign against Senator Kennedy have recently come back to haunt him, and documents held by Massachusetts pro-family activists and the Boston-area gay newspaper, Bay Windows, show how Romney’s pro-gay actions as governor have not matched his conservative rhetoric.

Romney’s previous comments reported by the New York Times, Boston Globe, and other papers are troubling on their own. In 1994, Romney won the endorsement of the gay-advocating Log Cabin Club of Massachusetts, saying he would be a stronger advocate for gays than Senator Kennedy. “We must make equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern. My opponent cannot do this. I can and will.”

During his 2002 run for governor, Romney supported full domestic partnership benefits for gay and lesbian couples, which had been opposed by Democratic legislative leadership, and his campaign distributed pink flyers during Gay Pride events promoting equal rights for all citizens regardless of their sexual preference.

During that same 2002 run, Romney also denounced as “too extreme” an effort by pro-family groups to enact a state Marriage Protection Amendment banning gay marriage, civil unions and same-sex domestic-partnership benefits which could have preempted the November 2003 same-sex marriage court decision.

Romney’s inactions as governor that allowed the gay agenda to advance among young people are even more troubling. For example, the Governor’s Commission for Gay and Lesbian Youth promotes gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender (GLBT) education in schools via speaking presentations, films, books, dances (such as transgender proms), handouts, and establishment of GLBT clubs.

Although Romney had legal control over the entity, he never tried to limit its use of funding, impact the membership, or dissolve the commission until after the legislature created a redundant commission several months before the end of his four-year term in office. In fact, Romney’s fiscal 2006 budget included $250,000 for the commission, twice what he proposed spending in 2005. Romney signed annual proclamations recognizing Youth Gay Pride Day.

Romney’s Department of Public Health supported publication of “The Little Black Book: Queer in the 21st Century,” a pamphlet that includes graphic instructions about safely performing gay sex acts, which even liberal Boston Herald columnists described as “filled with crude vulgarities” and a “vile little pamphlet… dirt, dummied-down poison to the mind.”

Romney’s Department of Education provides extensive instructions to schools on forming Gay/Straight Student Alliances; advocates that school children attend gay pride parades; proposes agendas for a gay/lesbian “Day of Awareness, including a panel of transgender individuals talking about transvestite/transsexual issues; and suggests top ten Gay Straight Alliance meeting topics such as “What would the world be like if 10 percent of its people were straight and 90 percent were gay?” and “What would it be like if parents wanted their children to grow up gay?”

Romney on Judicial Appointments

For all of Romney’s rhetoric about activist judges, his own judicial appointments also leave much to be desired. The Boston Globe reported in July of 2005 that Romney had “passed over GOP lawyers for three-quarters of the 36 judicial vacancies he has faced, instead tapping registered Democrats or independents – including two gay lawyers who have supported expanded same-sex rights.”

In May of 2005, Romney selected for a district court judgeship Stephen Abany, a former board member of the Massachusetts Lesbian and Gay Bar Association who organized the group’s opposition to a 1999 bill to outlaw same-sex marriage. The MLGBA is “dedicated to ensuring that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision on marriage equality is upheld, and that any anti-gay amendment or legislation is defeated.”

Ironically, the Globe reports that two days before Abany’s nomination, Romney was lamenting the liberal tilt of the state’s bench, telling Fox News that “our courts have a record here in Massachusetts… of being a little blue and being Kerry-like.”

Catholics would no doubt also be surprised to hear another Romney choice for the bench was Marianne C. Hinkle, who described herself as a longtime active member of Dignity/USA, a group that wants to reform the Catholic Church’s views and teachings on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender activity.

Romney on Gay Adoption

Massachusetts Catholics say that Governor Romney’s positions on adoption of children by homosexual couples are contradictory at best, and that inaction on his part contributed to Catholic Charities of Boston exiting their adoption ministry in 2006 after more than 100 years of service.

In terms of his public rhetoric, Romney tries to have it both ways. He has been dismissive of same-sex parenting to South Carolina Republicans, saying sarcastically that some gay and lesbian couples “are actually having children born to them,” while in Massachusetts, he says he recognizes that homosexual couples “have a legitimate interest in being able to receive adoptive services.”

Romney’s action and inaction on this issue has been different from his stated position. In late 2005 and early 2006, when Catholic Charities of Boston was under fire for having complied with a state regulation requiring adoption agencies to broker adoptions for homosexual couples, Romney initially claimed he could not unilaterally exempt them, as an exemption would require legislation “and would not be something I would be authorized to do on a personal basis.” Since legislative leaders had previously declared such legislation would be effectively dead on arrival, Catholic Charities proceeded to exit the adoption business, and Romney’s subsequent decision to file legislation asking for the exemption indeed went nowhere, with zero benefit to the agency.

Romney refused to use his executive powers to change the regulation, and even former Gov. Michael Dukakis weighed in to say Romney’s legislation was “unnecessary,” in that “the state’s anti-discrimination statutes do not preclude an exemption for the Catholic organization.” Abortion is constitutionally protected, yet Catholic hospitals that do not perform abortions on religious principle are not prevented from being reimbursed for Medicaid-eligible services.

The liberal Governor Dukakis, who signed the original gay rights bill during his tenure, said there was nothing mandated in this area and observed, “Governors can change regulations if they want to, that’s up to them.” So why did Romney back down?

Romney on Gay Marriage

On November 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled in Goodridge vs. Dept. of Public Health that same-sex couples should not be denied the right to marry in Massachusetts. Since that time, Romney has pushed aggressively for a marriage-protection amendment in Massachusetts. This amendment passed its first round in the legislature on January 2, 2007, but failed to pass in June of 2007, killing that amendment and hopes of any rollback of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts for at least four years, if not forever.

Governor Romney, however, previously opposed a 2002 marriage-protection amendment that would have preempted the court ruling of November 2003.

Romney has also been one of the more outspoken politicians on the national scene in favor of defining marriage as between one man and one woman, and against activist judges whose rulings paved the way for gay marriage.

But what many people don’t know, and what is most overlooked by the media, is that John Adams had the foresight in 1780 to write specific provisions in the Massachusetts Constitution, the world’s oldest functioning written constitution, to prevent judicial activism of this sort.

Unfortunately, Romney made no attempt to exercise most of his constitutional options in order to block same-sex marriages before they began or stop them while in office, and Catholic activists would like to know why.

Romney could have declared the ruling null and void, and therefore unenforceable, immediately after it was handed down in November of 2003. How? Article 5 of the Massachusetts Constitution says, “All causes of marriage, divorce, and alimony… shall be heard and determined by the governor and council.” Romney could have said that the court simply had no jurisdiction to rule over the definition of marriage.

The Massachusetts Constitution also has specific provision for removing judges without cause via a “bill of address.” Instead of responding to a problem of activist judges by going through a lengthy process of amending the Constitution, the offending judges can simply be removed from office for distorting the Constitution to impose their own views.

Such a procedure has been successfully used several times in the past in Massachusetts. In the spring of 2004, Romney could have supported the active grassroots effort and Democratic-sponsored legislation to remove the judges who wrote the Goodridge decision.

If Romney was genuinely troubled by the role of “activist judges” in the same-sex marriage issue, why did he refuse to support this move in 2004?

Interestingly, on the campaign trail in New Hampshire on November 24, 2007, Romney publicly called for the resignation of a Massachusetts judge after the judge released a violent criminal who then apparently murdered a Washington state couple. Should Catholics assume that the Goodridge judges’ radically unconstitutional redefinition of marriage for all of society is not sufficiently serious a matter for Romney to have called for their resignation any time in the past four years?

Next, Romney could have followed the precedent of Abraham Lincoln in the 1857 Dred Scott case – which Romney himself referred to in a Wall Street Journal editorial – and respected the decision of the Court with regard only to the litigants in that specific case.

As Hadley Arkes explained in National Review, Lincoln and his party did not try to set the slave Dred Scott free once the Supreme Court had confirmed him to remain in slavery. Lincoln only accepted the ruling for the parties in the specific case, and he did not allow the public policy of the whole country to be affected by the Supreme Court’s decision.

Romney could have announced that he would respect the decision for the plaintiffs, but he could have insisted then that clerks issue licenses of marriage only to couples who had come through comparable litigation and received a comparable order from a court.

If Romney was such an enthusiast for Lincoln’s response to the Dred Scott decision and so determined to block same-sex marriage, why didn’t he pursue the same strategy to try and block same-sex marriage from propagating beyond the small group of Goodridge litigants?

Finally, and most importantly, since the ruling stopped short of changing the previous marriage law, a strong governor could have simply refused to do anything.

Article X of the Massachusetts Constitution provided Romney clear justification for ignoring the court order. “The people of this Commonwealth are not controllable by any other laws than those to which their constitutional representative body have given their consent.” And Article XX says, “The power of suspending the laws, or the execution of the laws, ought never to be exercised but by the Legislature.”

The justices who wrote the Goodridge decision knew this – which is why they specifically did not strike down the previous law. The legislature was then given 180 days in which to act.

GLAD Attorney Mary Bonauto, representing the seven gay couples who sued the state, said immediately after the 2003 Goodridge ruling, “The only task assigned to the Legislature is to come up with changes in the law that will allow gay couples to marry at the end of the 180-day period.”

All three branches of government concurred. The SJC clarified their ruling in February of 2004, writing to the Senate: “The purpose of the stay was to afford the Legislature an opportunity to conform the existing statutes to the provisions of the Goodridge decision.”

Romney himself in April of 2004 said, “The Legislature has yet to follow a directive from the SJC to change the state’s marriage laws. I believe the reason that the Court gave 180 days to the Legislature was to allow the Legislature the chance to look through the laws… and see how they should be adjusted… for purposes of same-sex marriage; the Legislature didn’t do that.”

And State Sen. Bruce E. Tarr, a gay-marriage supporter, said in April 2004 that he believed the legislature would ultimately pass bills that would insert gender-neutral language into the state’s marriage laws in time for the May 17, 2004, deadline. “No one should interpret inaction thus far with the idea that no action is forthcoming.”

But the Massachusetts legislature never acted to change the law. What happened between April 2003 and May 2004 when Romney decided a “new law” existed and ordered town clerks to follow it by issuing same-sex marriage licenses?

And since the court ruling never ordered the governor to do anything, why did Romney order justices of the peace to perform the unions or resign their positions if they objected on moral grounds?

Even if some people not familiar with the Massachusetts Constitution felt that somehow the court did change the law, since the court had violated its constitutional authority, what would have happened if Romney had had the courage to stand up and defy it?

Virtually every pro-family conservative in the country urged Romney to stand strong at the time and defy the court. The Family Research Council said, “Most important right now is for the governor to stand firm [and] not allow any marriage licenses to be handed out on May 17.”

Concerned Women for America urged Romney to intervene via executive order and “put the brakes on this madness. He needs to make it clear that the law has not changed, and that on May 17 homosexual couples cannot make a mockery of God’s institution of marriage.”

Patrick Buchanan called on Romney to declare, “There is no basis for it [the court’s decision] in law… in the letter or spirit of the Constitution of our Commonwealth… And as I took an oath to defend the Constitution of the Commonwealth, I intend to disregard the court order of last November.”

The Massachusetts Catholic Conference went on the record saying the SJC “exceeded their authority,” and Governor Romney failed in his duty to “uphold the Constitution.”

Instead of standing up for his supposedly strong beliefs on marriage and defending the Constitution, Romney exercised his leadership by ordering justices of the peace to perform same-sex marriages.

This is consistent with his 2002 campaign promise to the Massachusetts Log Cabin Republicans, who, according to the New York Times, Romney courted at a gay bar and promised if a same-sex marriage court case worked its way through the judicial system, he would “obey the court’s ultimate ruling and not champion a fight on either side of the issue,” telling those gathered that he would “keep [his] head low,” according to one participant.

Romney has countered that he was “forced” into implementing homosexual marriages, but he refused to pursue other options backed by pro-family conservatives and his own state Constitution.

Now Romney campaigns against the same-sex marriages he himself, not the court, made a reality. In short, he is campaigning as a social conservative against, and in spite of, his own record as governor.

Pro-life Catholics in Massachusetts are increasingly bitter that social conservatives are ignoring Romney’s record and listening only to his promises. I can’t blame them.

Understanding “Incivility”

Deal W. Hudson

Published October 25, 2010

Is the religious right uncivil? Conservatives Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner think so. In a joint Huffington Post column titled “The Success and Failure of the Religious Right,” they argue:

The language and tone of the religious right have often been apocalyptic, off-putting, and counterproductive. “Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews,” said Jerry Falwell, “so liberal America is now doing to evangelical Christians.” In 1994, a conspiracy-mongering video promoted by Falwell associated President Bill Clinton with drug dealing and murder.

Such melodrama, or hysteria, is good for fund-raising, but bad for American politics. It makes a civil political conversation impossible, and does a disservice to the cause of a Christian witness to society.

Gerson and Wehner’s complaint is rooted in a concern about being politically effective. They realize, correctly, that the occasional rude or crazed outburst from a religious right leader has led to a loss of credibility affecting the entire movement.

While that’s true, it’s nevertheless unavoidable. Those men and women of faith who are drawn into politics to fight for the endangered values they believe in do so because they’re passionate about combating evil. I’ve always found it surprising that anyone would expect only calm and rational discussion from large groups of citizens who are outraged by the murder of unborn children, the destruction of the institution of marriage, government attacks on religious liberty, and the pervasive takeover of education by postmodern multiculturalists.

Further, I’ve yet to see a successful political movement that wasn’t fueled by a considerable amount of passionate outrage. That was true for Obama in 2008, and it will be the same for the GOP in the upcoming election. Passion is like fuel – sure, you can waste it unproductively, but at the same time, you can’t drive a grassroots movement without it. Nor can you control it from the perch of a Washington, D.C. think tank.

The next time you hear someone complain about the religious right’s (or even the Tea Party’s) so-called lack of civility, I would suggest you say something like this: “Of course they speak with passion – they’re concerned about losing the character of the country they love, and are outraged that the core values that once guided our nation are being ignored.”

I’m not entirely unsympathetic to issues of civility – after all, I was raised to be gentlemanly and courteous in all circumstances and was told these qualities should belong to every man. But I quickly noticed three things: First, those who note the rudeness of their political opponents seemed oblivious to the same behavior displayed by their allies.

Second, the “incivility” charge is almost always used against conservatives, and rarely against those on the political Left.

And third, the “incivility” charge is too often used as an excuse to shut down discussion. This has become particularly obvious in the pro-life debate. Having lost the public argument, abortion supporters resort to characterizations of those who oppose abortion as angry, extreme, and violent.

They miss the mark all around. For example, those pro-lifers who carry pictures of aborted fetuses on the street are not being uncivil, even if their methods may not be effective. These pictures only appear uncivil to those who don’t want to be reminded of what it means to be “pro-choice.”

In the case of pro-life leaders, given the substance of their concerns, I am often surprised not by their “incivility” but by their restraint and observance of public decorum. Leaders such as Rev. Frank Pavone, Marjorie Dannenfelser, Doug Johnson, and, among the episcopate, Archbishop Charles Chaput are always calm and compelling witnesses to the truth about the most controversial issue in politics.

No doubt, there is a genuine civility problem in our culture – the evidence is everywhere: the popularity of reality TV, foul rap and pop lyrics, the explosion of Internet porn, and the vulgar texting habits of our teenagers. But these sources of cultural corruption are generated not by political passion but by a deliberate and cool-headed plan to generate profit by appealing to our most sordid impulses.

Maybe that’s the problem Gerson and Wehner should be worrying about.

Duped by Civility

Deal W. Hudson

Published March 7, 2011

Reading Nietzsche taught me one thing: People can talk about values and really be interested only in getting their way. Case in point: All the talk about political “civility” is more about power than good manners. Specifically, it’s about marginalizing everyone who finds it necessary and appropriate to speak passionately on the subject of abortion.

The new civility spreads self-doubt and moral apathy. Those who speak boldly on behalf of life are treated like ill-tempered children who must be sent to their rooms until they learn to behave. It is strange living among adults who are not mature enough to discuss their differences frankly.

Being uncivil has little to do with provoking the hurt feelings of those who avoid serious moral issues. No matter how you talk about defending life, some people will take offense.

Who can blame these “civilizers” for preferring “dialogue?” To them, it is more important to protect their feelings than a human life. More important to “feel the pain” of someone who takes a life than to defend that life from harm.

Many good people have been duped by the call for civility. Nowadays, only politically acceptable evils can be passionately discussed – tobacco, assault weapons, toxic waste. Show your temper on the subject of abortion, euthanasia, or school prayer, and you are accused of being divisive.

The founding fathers were certainly willing to acknowledge natural and revealed law. Politics alone, they realized, did not provide the foundation of a morally sound society. All religiously informed conservatives must take advantage of their broader perspective and call this nation back to decency.

In its root meaning, civility refers to the skill of living in, and governing, a city. What is more important to the skill of governing a city than speaking plainly about the moral evils that threaten it? Instead of speaking out, our leaders are reduced to wooing “soccer moms” (an odious phrase), like naughty boys afraid of being found out. Their big, bad secret is believing in the right to life.

Every major institution in our society encourages delayed adolescence. We are not just dumbed-down, we are literally drowned in a fountain-of-youth culture. Unfortunately our minds have regressed rather than our bodies rejuvenated.

Over the years, I’ve observed the media employ an effective strategy to ensure this childishness. It proceeds in four steps:

The major papers and TV networks begin speculating whether “negative” campaigning will turn off undecided voters, especially women.

Subsequent polling, commissioned by those same media, proves the American public highly vulnerable to suggestion – a large percentage will disapprove of negative campaigning. Newspapers and networks report the polls, thereby reinforcing the original strategy and deepening its message.

Any candidates who are disposed to speak forthrightly on moral matters are put in fear of their political lives.
Thus trained in civility, a confused and apathetic nation allows the media to define the accepted meaning of good and evil. Some of the evils they identify are serious, others are relatively trivial compared with the evils they ignore.

I have been accused of idolizing the Middle Ages. In the past I have, in fact, threatened to flunk any student who uses the phrase “Dark Ages.” The medievals, however, had an unflinching view of evil. “Herod the King” was one of the most popular plays of the Middle Ages. Hardly a more despicable character exists in literature. In watching this play at Christmas, the medievals faced the stark contrast between the innocence of the child Jesus and the ruthlessness of a political leader who protected his power at any cost.

It has always been difficult to talk about Herod at Christmas. The sobs of heartbroken mothers hardly set the mood for Christmas morning. As the most ignored figure in the infancy narratives, Herod the King reminds us that Christ’s birth, not just his death, came with a cost.

By ignoring the slaughter of the innocents, we risk forgetting the lengths that power will go to protect its privilege.

The Worst Book I Ever Read

Deal W. Hudson

A Review of Conversations With God ( Book 1)

When I wrote a book on happiness in 1995, I was required to read a number of the popular self-help books on the subject. It was only dogged persistence and several strong cigars that got me through them.

But lo and behold, at the suggestion of a friend, I took a look at the best-selling Conversations with God and found out I had not yet tasted the dregs of pop spirituality.

All you need to know about the book can be gleaned from its acknowledgments, where he thanks John Denver, “whose songs touch my soul”; Richard Bach, author of that influential epic, Jonathan Livingston Seagull; Barbra Streisand, whose singing causes him “to feel what is true”; and Robert Heinlein, “whose visioary literature has raised questions and posed answers in ways no one else has dared even approach.”

The first line of the introduction declares that we “are about to have an extraordinary experience.” Walsch claims the book just “happened.” He does not mean this metaphorically – these are supposedly God’s words as dictated through his hand! “Abruptly, the pen began moving on its own.”

Private revelation is nothing new, but these claims should always be met with a healthy skepticism. Hardly anything that serious kicked in when I read what God says on page 3:

My most common form of communication is through feeling. Feeling is the language of the soul. If you want to know what’s true for you about something, look to how you’re feeling about it… hidden in your deepest feelings is your highest truth.

Walsch’s God definitely aims to please. Is anything potentially more popular than to convince people that their feelings are all the product of divine infusion? That simplifies a lot of dilemmas. In Walsch’s defense, however, there is nothing in John Denver’s songs, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, or elsewhere in pop culture to suggest otherwise.

What makes this book worth talking about is the fact that it is still selling quite briskly. Its success tells us once again how dumbed-down we have become on religious issues, and how easily we are seduced by a spirituality completely stripped of moral requirements.

For example, we are told never “supplicate” before God, but “appreciate.” Evidently asking God for help creates a “Sponsoring Thought” of the negative (watch out!) variety. Saddled with negative thoughts about our relationship to God, we are forever placing conditions on our lovability. Walsch’s God makes no demands except that you consider your feelings as ultimately justifying anything they are connected with.

Walsch gives people what they want, specifically, what they want in their weakest moments. He caters to the worst in people while assuring them it is their best. At times, his God sounds like a West Coast Nietzschean – “You are not discovering yourself, but creating yourself”; at other times a mad medievalist – “My purpose in creating you, My spiritual offspring was for Me to know Myself as God.”

This book is so incoherent that it’s a struggle to get through its two hundred-plus pages. So it’s not without some irony that his God remarks, “Words are really the least effective communicator.” But many more of God’s words are still to be revealed. Book 2 covers “more global topics of geopolitical and metaphysical life on the planet.” And Book 3 deals with “universal truths of the highest order and opportunities of the soul.”

Such a book is easily parodied, but sadly, over the years, many people have taken it seriously. Walsch will mislead them about important matters: the nature of God, the self, and morality. His alternately bossy and mystifying tone will give them the impression of profundity while communicating something rather heretical.

After putting it down, annoyed and exhausted from the effort of reading so much nonsense, I thought of the serpent in the garden. What else attracted Adam and Eve than the temptation to feel themselves elevated above the demands of their Creator: “you shall be as God.” Walsch makes the same slimy pitch: “If I say to you, you are God – where does that leave religion?”

There’s another conversation with God called the Bible – we should be reading it daily. But maybe that’s just how I feel!

Fill the Basket Before Dinner!

Deal W. Hudson

It was too pretty, and evocative, a late fall day, to watch football or pursue any other indoor pastime. Without thinking much about it, I grabbed an old pillow case full of golf balls, my hickory niblick, a laundry bag and headed for the front yard.

The grass was still green there, sprinkled with only a few dry leaves, which slithered to the side as I dropped the balls on the grass. Placing the laundry bag on its side twenty feet away, I started to chip, hoping to fill the bag with neatly pinched shots, evidence of the reliable stroke taught to me by my father, Jack, who first put a club in my hands at age 11.

I missed and I missed, then I took off my tweed jacket and my scarf, and got down to business: “Move the body ahead of the hands,” “Lead with a flat left wrist,” “Don’t quit on it, and don’t be quick either.” As the shots started to land in and around the bag, I suddenly felt my father watching me from behind. I missed a few shots, stopped for a moment to smile, before getting back into my rhythm. “I’ll show him!” I thought to myself.

No, he showed me — as I stood over the next ball, I saw myself in the backyard of a small brick house in Ft. Worth, TX. My father was chipping into a laundry basket, dropping one after another neatly over the rim, his hands and hips moving like a dancer. His limbs were loose, but It was his eyes that betrayed the fierceness of his intention, to do this one thing well.

He handed me the Hogan wedge and watched me hit a few — those eyes made me very nervous. Balls were going all over the place, somehow I missed the house and the car. Not registering any disappointment, my father simply said, “Once you’ve hit all these balls into the basket without missing one you can come into dinner.” It was already growing dark when he walked inside the house.

In those days, with men of his generation, sons did what they were told, or faced the consequences. In this case, though, I wanted to rise to his challenge, to charge into the dining room, proudly carrying a basket full of golf balls. So I stayed outside well into the evening — at some point the outside lights came on, probably my mother’s intervention.

All I remember about finally pitching all the balls into the basket was that the darkness made it easier. I knew how far away the basket was without looking it at, and I knew where the next ball would lay after I dragged it towards my feet. Without the distraction of the target or the ball, my swing became smooth like my fathers, my feet moved in his rhythm, until there were no more balls to hit, or any to pick from the ground.

I won my father’s smile that night. He was a war-hardened man, who had lost his father early, but his heart was soft with the kind of vulnerability that comes with seeing death up close and believing fervently it is coming for you.

His smile, as I know now, was not for demonstrating my skill, but for persevering, for standing in the dark until all my fears of failure had passed.