May 3, 2005

A Reasoned Alternative to the Ongoing Name-Calling in America's Public Discourse: Additional Commentary

A previous posting offered A Reasoned Alternative to the Ongoing Name-Calling in America's Public Discourse, including a list of 33 postings addressing important issues in America today.

C P Fuhrmann offered a response on that posting, which this new posting responds to as follows:

I thank C P Fuhrmann for the comments.

Nonetheless, I must disagree with the suggestion that "calling a spade a spade" justifies using terms such as "jihadist." To paraphrase William Voegeli, there are ways to make a point without resorting to language that only serves to polarize, not to convince. Cynthia Tucker’s language was inappropriate and degraded the public discourse.

I share C P Fuhrmann’s belief that Congressman DeLay’s comments about Justice Kennedy were inappropriate. In a posting that predated DeLay's comments, I have also noted questions about certain actions by the Congressman. Furthermore, I relayed other writers’ criticisms of his Justice Kennedy comments in this more recent posting.

I have been no less shy in criticizing Christians - with whom I share many similar views - who make public comments that I believe are inconsistent with the values of their religious beliefs.

However, enabling a constructive two-way public discourse requires people such as C P Fuhrmann to be equally willing to criticize Ms. Tucker’s language even if in agreement with the core of her arguments. You cannot have it both ways - criticizing DeLay's language while excusing Tucker's language any more than it would be appropriate for me to criticize Tucker but excuse DeLay or certain Christians. Civility practiced only by one side of the debate amounts to a form of unilateral surrender that only a fool would continue into the future.

But even that disagreement misses the bigger point: Focusing on stupid comments by the Congressman and Cynthia Tucker conveniently misses the three important issues that are not being debated across America:

First, is judicial activism appropriate?

I believe Justice Kennedy has joined a group of judges with the unfortunate habit of making up new rights and that amounts to the dangerous practice of legislating from the bench. The consequences of such judicial activism – and why it is a bad practice – has been argued here in one of the listed postings:

In their book entitled Democracy by Decree: What Happens When Courts Run Government, Ross Sandler and David Schoenbrod note how judicial activism undermines government accountability to the citizenry:
Although [today's] system is far from perfect, democracy by decree makes it worse. It does not substitute the dispassionate rule of judges for the rule of politicians. Decisions by controlling groups are politics in a different form. By hiding ordinary politics behind the robes of judges, democracy by decree makes government less accountable and therefore less responsive. Judicial reason does not supplant politics. Instead, the courts become political.

It is only through the "messiness" of a reasoned public discourse that a broad societal consensus can be achieved on major issues. Judicial activism short-circuits that process, to the detriment of our democratic institutions and habits.

I would point out that the so-called religious right has been far more willing to debate this issue publicly than the secular left – which has shown greater interest in either "borking" judicial nominees or blocking voting on them. (For further details, see JunkYardBlog postings here and here, both of which refer to attempts to collude and manipulate the judicial approval process by secular left fundamentalists.)

We should be conducting a public debate on the substantive issue of judicial activism, including the attempts at collusion, and its future implications for America.

Second, to quote Hugh Hewitt, should the "political objectives of people of faith have second-class status when compared to religiously secular elites?"

Hewitt goes on to say:

All of these charges [against the right] – from the most incoherent to the most measured – arrive without definition as to what "the religious right" is, and without argument as to why the agenda of this ill-defined group is less legitimate than the pro-gay marriage, pro-cloning, pro-partial-birth abortion, pro-euthanasia agenda of other political actors.

Hewitt notes that every political conflict is a choice between competing moral codes. We are failing to recognize how the politics of the fundamentalist political left is based on nothing less than a fervently believed secular religion. Repeating the quote from the previous posting, Neuhaus has described the problem this way:

The conflict in American public life today, then, is not a conflict between morality and secularism. It is a conflict of moralities in which one moral system calls itself secular and insists that the other do likewise as the price of admission to the public arena. That insistence is in fact a demand that the other side capitulate...

We should be conducting a public debate on the relative merits of these competing moral codes and why the secular left fundamentalists have the right to define the terms of the debate.

Third, do we understand and accept the consequences of privatizing religion to the individual level?

Secular left fundamentalists are aggressively pushing an agenda to strip naked the public square (see postings here, here, here, here, here) and are, by artfully focusing the debate on only the so-called religious right, getting a largely free pass from scrutiny. They deserve great scrutiny because Richard John Neuhaus has discussed in another listed posting how such privatization leads to the "establishment of the state as the new church – without any countervailing transcendent force to limit its ambition." Neuhaus has also noted that

...if law and polity are divorced from moral judgment…all things are permitted and…all things will be done…When in our public life no legal prohibition can be articulated with the force of transcendent authority, then there are no rules rooted in ultimacies that can protect the poor, the powerless and the marginal…"

Or, as George Weigel said:

Freedom untethered from truth is freedom's worst enemy. For if there is only your truth and my truth, and neither one of us recognizes a transcendent moral standard (call it "the truth") by which to adjudicate our differences, then the only way to settle the argument is for you to impose your power on me, or for me to impose my power on you.

Freedom untethered from truth leads to chaos; chaos leads to anarchy; and since human beings cannot tolerate anarchy, tyranny as the answer to the human imperative of order is just around the corner. The false humanism of the freedom of indifference leads first to freedom's decay, and then to freedom's demise...

We should be conducting a public debate on these consequences of privatizing religion.

The third question leads naturally into C P Fuhrmann's comments about the Terri Schiavo case. The "20 different judges" argument cited by Fuhrmann is, frankly, a tired one that proves nothing other than that Michael Schiavo had better attorneys than the Schindlers during the important early legal proceedings when the original findings were made. This critical legal point is discussed best by lawyers whose explanations are and highlighted on one of my listed postings. This separate posting by a prosecutor argues why the federal courts should have granted the Schindler's injunction after the feeding tube was removed.

As to whether there is medical misinformation in any Schiavo postings, I would simply note that both sides submitted medical information – often offered in the form of legal affidavits or court testimony – that contradicted each other and Judge Greer showed little interest in evaluating the merits of the issues behind the contradictions after he reached his initial conclusions.

More importantly, the possible medical information ambiguity does not translate into an equivalent level of ethical ambiguities. Terri Schiavo was killed before the public received any answers to some very serious ethical and procedural questions highlighted in this listed posting.

A society is only as good as how it treats its weakest members and a gross injustice occurred when Terri Schiavo died without answers to these questions. I was struck by the near total disinterest to finding answers to these serious questions by many of the people most actively urging on her death by starvation.

The underlying immorality of killing Terri Schiavo – regardless of what Judge Greer ruled or what euphemisms were used by Schiavo attorney Felos – is best clarified by a National Review editorial found in this listed posting. Read the editorial carefully and observe the extensive use of Orwellian language used by those pushing the culture of death. Again, many secular left fundamentalists showed zero interest in cutting through the euphemisms and publicly addressing the deeper questions raised in that article. Such euphemisms amount to lies and represent distortions of reality similar to those propagated by totalitarian societies. This most certainly does not advance civil discourse in America.

Yet another listed posting notes the core philosophical issue in the Schiavo case that continues unresolved even after her death:

And that leads us back to the more fundamental question about what value we will place on human life, including that of a disabled woman. If we begin to say it is okay to kill off "weak" human beings, think where that will take us over time. It will take us to a place where certain people will seek to play "God" so they can set the criteria for who lives and who dies. Why not then an elderly parent or a young child, should either become a financial or emotional burden? The freedom to do such great evil will only invite more profound evil over time.

Holocausts do not begin with operational concentration camps; they start on a smaller scale and steadily break down our resistance while many people plead that they are "too busy" to pay attention and get involved.

In summary, the putrid quality of our public discourse is caused in no small part by our failure to address three substantive open questions which we face as a nation:

1. Is judicial activism appropriate?

2. Are people of faith second class citizens in the public discourse?

3. Do we understand and accept the consequences of privatizing religion to the individual level?

We cannot expect our public discourse to improve when we engage more in uncivil name-calling than in addressing, in a reasoned manner, these important questions around which we need to build a societal consensus.

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I was listening to a discussion on Michael Medved's show yesterday about the judges problem, religious freedom and the separation of church and state.

Many people talking about the separation of church state are concerned about insulating the State from the Church. The discussion for many people is just the opposite, How to insulate the Church from the State.

Posted by: Tim at May 3, 2005 1:37 PM