Gotta love Newt. Now that Newt’s a Catholic convert we’re supposed to vote for him and forgive his personal indiscretions. Why? Because no one is perfect and private failings should not be put up to judgment as if the rest of us are better. Can we be despicable people and change? Newt’s scandalous private life is none of my business. Yes, he is a public person and he should hold himself to a higher standard, but that doesn’t make me any better than him. The wider issue about Gingrich’s infidelities is what they reveal about his character manifest in his governance. Newt is a man who is ruled by his appetites, and if something appeals to him he will deviate from what he might intellectually understand to be right in order to appeal to some other desire. Appetites are not limited to actions taken with respect to carnal relations or food and drink, but to anger, to lust for power, and many other things.
While Gingrich led the charge for the impeachment of Bill Clinton he was having an extra-marital affair. Gingrich’s hunt was hypocritical, but his defenders properly point out the difference: Bill Clinton’s impeachment was over his perjury, whereas Gingrich did not commit any felony. However, he did, according to an Ethics Committee, lie about conflicts of interest and money laundering charges, which he had attacked others for in the past.
This string of contradictions and misrepresentations is not unique in Gingrich’s congressional history. Following a recent debate, Gingrich claimed to having balanced the budget for four years as if this were his accomplishment. All a balanced budget means is that he could spend more and claim to be fiscally conservative at the same time. The budget can be balanced while increasing spending and entitlements, borrowing the money to pay everything and the kitchen sink. This does nothing to fix the economy or improve responsibility in government. When we look at how much Gingrich helped Clinton grow the government in his tenure as House Speaker, describing him as “fiscally responsible” doesn’t quite fit.
Can we take Gingrich seriously on his newfound opposition to Obamacare? In 1993, on Meet the Press, Gingrich expressed his support for HillaryCare, which is largely what Obamacare became. In 2009, when Gingrich was not running for president, he expressed his support for ObamaCare. In an op-ed praising Obama’s initiative, Newt wrote,
“More than 20 percent of all Medicare spending occurs in the last two months of life. Gundersen Lutheran Health System in La Crosse, Wisconsin has developed a successful end-of-life, best practice that combines: 1) community-wide advance care planning, where 90 percent of patients have advance directives; 2) hospice and palliative care; and 3) coordination of services through an electronic medical record. The Gundersen approach empowers patients and families to control and direct their care. The Dartmouth Health Atlas has documented that Gundersen delivers care at a 30 percent lower rate than the national average ($18,359 versus $25,860). If Gundersen’s approach was used to care for the approximately 4.5 million Medicare beneficiaries who die every year, Medicare could save more than $33 billion a year.”1
When Gingrich decided to run for president, however, he seized on Sarah Palin’s description of “End of Life Care” as “death panels,” and was suddenly against it.
“You’re asking us to trust turning power over to the government, when there clearly are people in America who believe in establishing euthanasia.”2
Gingrich, like a good career politician, harnesses conservative reaction in a complete about-face. Will the real Mr. Gingrich stand up?
I don’t always agree with him, and he is not a distributist candidate by far, yet Ron Paul has been fairly consistent. Ron Paul is the only candidate who understands the problems with America’s foreign policy, urging we get out of our immoral—and certainly unjust, foreign wars. Out of all the Republican candidates, Paul seems to understand our problems with Iran stem from the historic American manipulation of the Iranian government. He is against torture, something that Catholics, following not only the tradition but the current magisterium, should be quite pleased with.
What about the National Debt and our monetary system? Does Ron Paul get it or does he? Paul correctly understands the problem with our monetary system is the private nature of the Federal Reserve, an unaccountable and unelected institution that has a stranglehold over our monetary system and policy. Paul has consistently championed an audit of the Federal Reserve and, if elected, would eliminate it. However, Paul would return to the gold standard, claiming that it is of fixed value. This is unfortunately not true. Is he ignoring that in the late 19th century gold was a way for the banking industry to control the economy, just as it does now through the Federal Reserve, and that it lobbied heavily to outlaw alternatives to gold’s hegemony? Paul wants to revert to a gold standard philosophy that the market will determine the value of currency—not by any kind of edict but by the hidden hand. Gold will just find its own value. But the misconception is this: the market will not determine the value of money, the men in the market will. Without regulation, control the gold and you control the money supply. Paul’s solution would bring us full circle.
Is Ron Paul a candidate we can vote for and sleep well at night? Paul is a “what you see is what you get” politician. The problem is “what you get” is also part and parcel of the problem with voting for Ron Paul. For example, his overall philosophy of government, based squarely within the Austro-Libertarian viewpoint, holds that the only role of government is to oppose fraud or force and enforce contracts. The government has no other role. When viewed within the context of HHS, Obamacare, the TSA, domestic wiretapping and other government overreach, it sounds very good. Yet, does it bring justice? The mission of Distributism is not merely justice in exchange and the economy, but also in government, which is an integral player in both. As Richard Aleman pointed out in his excellent piece during the Obamacare debate: yes, we are opposed to this plan, but not “a” plan. There is no reason, if based on justice, that government cannot fund a solution to help people cope with health costs. Isn’t that in the interest of the common good?
Let us look at the recent debate in Arizona. Paul, who says his experience as an OB doctor has taught him that life begins at conception, has also dispensed “Plan B,” a birth control equivalent. This should give us pause. Paul is consistent, in as much as he does not claim to be against contraception and then votes to give money to Planned Parenthood. But he is consistent in the wrong direction. Let us consider this from Dr. Bill Mueller, in a recent talk at the cathedral from San Antonio:
What you may not already know is that contraception poses real medical dangers, and this is why we all should be concerned. These dangers have been concealed by lies about the safety and necessity of contraception. These lies have misled Americans to believe that pregnancy is a disease…. As a physician of good conscience, I am here to tell you that contraceptives increase a woman’s risk for cancer, strokes, heart attacks, and even death. As a physician of good conscience, I am here to tell you that contraceptives can cause abortions before a woman even knows she is pregnant. As a physician of good conscience, I am here to tell you that women who think contraception will keep them safe in a relationship often end up used, abused and discarded by men who should be upholding the dignity of our sisters in Christ.3
Irrespective of whether or not one agrees with Catholic principles on contraception, one should be able to look at this from a medical perspective. Paul’s position is simply that government shouldn’t fund contraception and products causing health problems should simply be regulated by individuals and the market. In the recent Arizona GOP debate, Paul pointed to the neutrality of the birth control pill, which, according to him, is not the cause of immorality, rather it’s the immorality that causes the pill. Now there is a certain truth to this. Immorality of the people causes them to make immoral choices, whereas moral people tend to choose not to engage in immoral practices. Yet, this suggests that the common culture, common law, and positive law have no role in shaping common morality. Immorality will increase with the absence of law. This is why in the Old West the first thing a town did was to elect a sheriff. Law is not merely a deterrent, it as an indicator of public morality. If pornography is illegal, it steers public morality in as much as people who know it is illegal are less likely to try to acquire it. You won’t stop everyone from acquiring it, but you would deter many who might not otherwise. In fact, one could say the point of law is not to prosecute each and every instance of its violation, but to enforce public morality and the common good. This is anathema to Paul’s libertarian principles.
Ron Paul also wants to legalize drugs. Because drugs are illegal they have a high sale price on the black market, and institutions like banks, parts of government and individuals make a lot of money drug trafficking. The CIA has a long and documented history of fostering the drug trade in Asia and the Golden Crescent, not as an organization, but as individuals operating under cover of law to get funding for their operations. This was documented heavily by journalist Gary Webb and it is what Paul draws on to make his case to legalize drugs.
Paul’s idea is simple but simplicity does not necessarily make good policy. Make drugs legal so that the prices will come down and reduce the interest in drug dealing. Or, get government out and the market will take care of the problem. Drugs have many negative consequences that destroy lives. If government is based on justice then the government has a significant interest in curtailing their use and proliferation.
We return to Natural law—anathema to the libertarian dialectic. One is not free to turn liberty into license. True liberty is the means to do what is good, as Leo XIII argues in his encyclical, Libertas. A society where people can dope up their minds and lose their cognitive function is a defeat for society, which is not only contrary to western tradition, it is contrary to the role of government. The market will not take care of it. The war on drugs is failing, but the solution is not thereby to legalize them. The government could just as easily start prosecuting drug dealers instead of offering them plea deals. There are many options that do not entail legalizing drugs unless you believe the government shouldn’t be involved. But the fact that the war on drugs has been a colossal failure does not negate that the government can and should control their proliferation.
Likewise, if we look at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which I oppose, Paul does not dispute these wars based on Catholic social principles on just warfare. He opposes them solely based on the idea that government has no business conducting war. In good ol’ libertarian style, Paul proposes letters of Marque for alleged terrorists. This is a strange solution, first, because letters of Marque run contrary to the accepted norms of international law (letters of Marque were forbidden by the 1856 Paris declaration), and second, because they create sheer lawlessness (for those unaware, letters of Marque were essentially a way for governments to legalize piracy against their enemies. The manifold possibilities for fraud and the devastating impact of weapons commercially available to those with the money would only increase the murder of innocent civilians all over the world. It would be tantamount to turning the world into the Old West, with modern-day bounty hunters running around under color of law but in reality with license to commit every rash barbarism possible.
Looking over various debates, I can’t help but come to the conclusion that the candidates being offered to us do not offer any real solutions. Romney, Gingrich and Santorum have spent much effort attacking each other, but they do not differ very much amongst themselves. They are all riddled with contradictions, saying one thing when they run for office, doing something else when they are in office. Is Ron Paul a better choice? Perhaps, otherwise the media would not go to great lengths to ignore him. Yet, is Ron Paul where we want to go? I would argue no, he is not a solution within the Catholic social tradition. Man needs good government, not a mere referee.