About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Why the religious right is so darn scary

Much has been written about the religious right, and unfortunately much more is likely to be written in the near future. But a recent article in The New Yorker brought vividly to my mind why that bunch of crazy nuts is so darn scary. The focus of the article is the conservative turn in Ohio, the one that essentially won the first quasi-legitimate election of George W. (the first time was obviously illegal, the second one was marred by persistent irregularities in several states, chiefly in Ohio).

Notoriously, the deciding factor in winning Ohio for W. was the fact that conservative Christians managed to put an anti-gay marriage amendment on the ballot, which in turn drove high numbers of so-called “values voters” to the polls (why is it, exactly, that someone's sexual orientation is a value, while waging a war on false pretenses isn't, is beyond my ability to fathom).

Now the mid-cycle elections of 2006 are coming up, and Republicans are scared shitless because they run a serious risk of losing control of either (or, even better, both) houses of Congress. Their unwavering commander-in-chief has managed to get himself the lowest approval ratings on record for a seated President, and polls favor the Dems nationwide on almost every issue imaginable.

So the Republican party is looking again at the Christian Right to dig them out of the hole, particularly in swing states such as Ohio. The New Yorker's article does its usual high-quality, in-depth job of presenting the situation and the main players involved. There is no need to go into the details here, or even to actually mention the names of some of the nutcases featured in the story. What I would like to present instead is a small sample of actual quotes from these people, to give you an idea of why this whole thing is so darn scary. Ready? Here we go:

“[We are calling for a spiritual army to] track down our adversary, defeat him valiantly, then stand upon his carcass.” (Notice the same bellicose rhetoric that made the Holy Inquisition famous.)

[talking about Islam] “I do not believe that our country can truly fulfill its divine purpose until we understand America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed.” (So much for living in an open, multi-cultural society.)

“Abortion is also an economic issue. It has killed millions of American consumers.” (The quintessential marriage of Christianity and capitalism. What Would Jesus Say?)

[about the upcoming elections] “This is a battle between the forces of righteousness and the hordes of hell.” (Remember that they are talking about free elections in a democratic country...)

I'm so glad I kept my European passport.


  1. What sickens me is the "god hates fags" demonstrations being held at military funerals- in particular, the young teen and pre-teen children of the demonstrators cavorting in the background, with smart-aleck smiles on their little faces. What a way to bring up children.

  2. Why do those people show up and demonstrate at military funerals? Just so they receive some media att. ?


  3. Cal,
    If I recall correctly, they demonstrate at military funerals because those boys died defending a country that tolerates us demonic gays. Somehow or another, we gays are the source of all the ills of the world.

    There's no question that someone's got to be pretty darn pathetically neurotic for the image of Jack McFarland to strike such fear and terror into their heart.


  4. Cal

    Their theory is that the war in Iraq is God's punishment for lifestyle, so they just want to be sure the grieving families are aware of this.

  5. I see. Fortunately, or unfortunately, in free country people even have the right to be ignorant. Having had an aunt, however, who was gay, I'd be completely lying if I said that I thought it was the best way to live or die, but....

    As a conservative, I also would not go so far as to say that I am scared or fearful of any of the things that M pointed out. Not really worried at all. So that is what following and believing the media commentaries of what they perceive as people's povs, will get you. Misinformation.


  6. I'm slightly confused by the outrage of most people when they learn of the funeral protests by Phelps, mainly because these people have never heard of the Phelps clan before he started protesting military funerals. Yet this clown and his family have been picketing the funerals of gays and lesbians for years now -- why wasn't he as widely condemned then as he is now? He's doing the exact same distasteful thing, only he's extended his reach.

    Even Sean Hannity recognizes how utterly loony Phelps is, but he only had him on his show after Phelps protested military funerals.

    Really, though, I shouldn't be too surprised.

  7. I like the new banner. At least I think it's new- I'm not that blind, am I? I assume the figure at left is Hume? The line in italics- is that from Plato?

  8. To me personally, homsexuality is a definite turn-off. At the same time I have known some really great people who are gay. And I have known some who were total assholes (does that relate in any way to the general population?).

    The real point is, does anyone's antics in the bedroom in anyway affect me (or anyone else). I'm in a 40 year heterosexual marriage (albeit interacial, which no doubt makes me a pariah in the eyes of serious fundies), during which time I have rubbed elbows with many a gay person and it has not adversely affected my marriage in the least, nor will it. Anyone who feels threatened has some serious soul-searching to do.

    New Subject: I wish I had your passport flexibility Massimo. Things could get very uncomfortable if the scaries become entrenched too deeply. The frightening right continually harps about how the Islamic terrorists have as their goal the annihilation of all "infidels". Sounds like the two groups share a commitment.

  9. Suffenus,

    yes, the banner is new (it's the same as my web site). The picture is of Hume, and so is the quote.

  10. One question I'd like to throw into this exchange is: Is right wing authoritarianism the inevitable end-point of social and governmental evolution? I'm trying to think of a historical example of a (relatively) non-authoritarian culture that valued diversity lasting for more than a few generations. Seems to me that the U.S. is the first, best (though seriously flawed) example. And even we are proving extremely vulnerable to the pressure to edge toward right-wing authoritarianism.


  11. Gary

    Even though the pendulum swings back and forth, there may be gains that outlast the intervals. In America, women's suffrage, racial equality, etc. In England and France, there was revolution, followed by turmoil, followed by restoration. But the end result was constitutional monarchy/ republic. Both countries are under pressure today from extremists, but as yet I see no reason to be unduly pessimistic. Vigilance will always be important.

  12. Does the right wing not value diversity?

  13. Jim,

    >> Does the right wing not value diversity? <<

    Hmm, if it does, I haven't seen much evidence of it.

  14. How does the left value diversity more than the right?

  15. Jim,

    >> How does the left value diversity more than the right? <<

    I'm sorry, but if your question is serious you are simply not reading newspapers these days.

  16. Jim:

    The Republican party, the standard bearer for conservatism, is under the increasing control of religious fundamentalists who demand uniformity of opinion on a number of issues, particularly on social issues. This crowding out of dissenting voices is one of the crises that is afflicting the party now, as libertarian-leaning Republicans and fiscal conservatives/social liberals are becoming increasingly uncomfortable. For instance, the Log Cabin Republicans don't exactly have the ear of Republican leadership. Another example: Northeastern Republicans, who tend to be more moderate than their Southern/Western compatriots, are a dying breed in the party, as has been reported by any number of sources.

    In contrast, the Democratic party's tolerance for many different voices is at once a strength and a weakness. Democrats tend to seek out consensus rather than dogmatic agreement - hence, they produce moderate standard-bearers such as Clinton and Gore (and yes, during the 90's, if you thought Clinton or Gore were liberals, you have a skewed idea of what a liberal is. I'm a liberal. They aren't, although Gore is learning). This lack of enforced dogmatism has, unfortunately, become a weakness, leading to failure on the national level - and is partly why such moderate Dems as Joe Lieberman are in trouble.

    It is likely that the Democrats have learned from Republicans to be LESS willing to accept diverse voices in their caucus, sacrificing messy consensus for rigid unity. With the ramshackle way the Dems are constructed, I'm not sure they can go as far as the religious conservatives, however.

  17. Massimo,
    Thats a pretty lame answer.

    You are talking about diversity of opinion and views, which the democrats are more tolerent of. Think of that as "output diversity" This is one of the main reasons the democratic party is in the shape it is. I am taking about cultural diversity, meaning ones background, not just their color or ethnicity (which is of course diversity), but any differences in background represents true diversity. Be it, Where you worked, how you grew up, how old you are, what country your from, ect. Think of that as "input diversity".

    Having a wide range of "input diversity" is always beneificial. To a political party, or a company, or a football team, whatever. "Output diversity" only keeps things from getting done. So yes, I agree Robert that the democratic party has much more output diversity. But I disagree that the republican party is against input diversity which is the real definition of diversity, and I think what Gary and Suffenus was talking about.

  18. Jim:

    I will disagree with you on the very idea of so-called input diversity as well. The Democratic Party has, during the 20th century, become the party of the massess in all their various factions - immigrants, blue collar, white collar, women, African-American, union, the poor, etc. These people come from all backgrounds, represent all faiths, speak in many different voices (as well as languages!). However, the modern Republican Party, for the most part, has come to represent the interests of the wealthy, the white, the male, and the Christian. Look at any poll about the average Republican voter, and you'll see that I'm right. That hardly represents "input diversity."

    And what matters the input when the output is predetermined to follow the "accepted" talking points of the elites in control? For instance, many working class people vote Republican (input), but it can easily be argued that Republican policies (output) disproportionately favor the wealthy. Again, I'll bring up the Log Cabin Republicans, who have NO say in their party. So much for the value of input diversity.

  19. Robert,
    I kind of figured that you would say something to that extent. My view is that the Democratic party intices minority votes with promises of entitlement that end up costing that same minority in the long run. It is only a matter of time before the diverse population sees the error of Democratic philosophy and turns to the Independent or Republican.
    Which Republican philosophys help the whites but hurt the African-American? The one that lowers taxes? The one gives an African American $1000.00 back at the end of the year for each child he has.
    Which Republican philosophy helps the Christian but hurts Hindu? The one that gives insentive for big buisness to invest in free-enterprise zones (low taxes for investing in poverty areas) or the one that denounced teacher unions and the performance of the public school systems and support school choice through charter schools and sometimes through educational vouchers (that will really hurt the diverse population).
    The Left usually talks about how the Reps only give tax breaks to the rich and big buisness. I make $70,000 last year (which aint crap in Massachusettes) and I got back an additional $3000.00 more last year from a Republicaian bill, and so did all the diverse population. Guess what the best Jobs for a diverse population right now is in major corporations. Gillette announced 3 years ago that it do whatever it takes to diversify its work force, and trust me, they have done it. So while everyone cries that Republicians are just making it easier for big buisness to get fat through tax incentives, make sure you understand just who it is that will take the poverty out of our diverse population and give them good paying jobs. It aint gonna be the local hardware store. Every fortune 500 company in America is scrambling right now to see who can diverify their workforce the fastest and the best. Even if its just for good public image, who cares. Democrates just want to tax the shit out of these companys until they move to China. Democrates whine about deregulation of the telecommunications industry and other industries in general. They want to keep regulating them until every job is driven from America, That'll help our diverse population. There will come a time when the promise of public benifits that entices the diverse population to vote Democrate will be seen through by minoritys. The welfare programs that keep them poor and keep them voting democrat will no longer suffice. They will want part of this new nation wide diverse workforce that is spreading like wildfire with good paying jobs. This is the true face of the Republican party that attracts so many voters, not the religious fanatic that you guys talk about so often.

  20. Jim:

    The beneficiaries of lower taxes have been the wealthy backers of the Republican party. The paltry amount I "save" in taxes is already eaten up - by the huge deficits caused by runaway Bush spending and those self-same cuts. A little research in an objective source will tell you that. The middle class and the working class got, essentially, NOTHING from Bush's tax policies, except getting stuck with the IOU to the foreign governments loaning us money.

    I come from Massachusetts, and I know exactly how the local companies weasel out of paying their fair share of taxes. They get tax breaks, promise to keep hiring local workers, and then lay off a third of their workforce, while keeping their breaks - does Raytheon ring a bell?

    And, Jim, it isn't regulation that's driving the companies out of America - it's the desire for profits. The manufacturing jobs that left New England and came here to the South are now leaving the South. Why? Not because of unionization or regulation, I assure you, because the states down here don't support either. The manufacturing workers around here are suddenly waking up to the fact that the b.s. they swallowed for years from "pro-business" Republicans just cost them their jobs, which have now moved to Mexico and Indonesia.

    And, Jim, while we are on the topic: Why the hell shouldn't we expect American corporations to do their patriotic duty and abide by American rules and hire American workers? Is their quest for profits absolute? Should they not pay their fair share of taxes? Should they not be willing to earn less to pay the hardworking American laborer a fair wage? Or do you excuse the corporation from even this small patriotic responsibility, while our men and women are dying to ensure that the wealthy are allowed to HAVE their corporations in the first place?

    Be assured, Jim, that the average American has actually woken up to the outrages of the radical Republicans now in control of Congress. That's why the approval ratings for the President and Congress are so low. That's why you are likely to see a vicious reaction against Republican incumbents this November. Minority voters aren't buying the Republicans' line, Jim; ALL voters are realizing that six years of absolute Republican power has brought this country to the brink of ruin.

    Whining about taxes isn't in vogue anymore, Jim. There are matters of life and death that trump such inanities. Iraq, the Schiavo disgrace, stem cell research - these are things that matter to ordinary people. And the Republicans are on the wrong side of all of them.

  21. I'm not religious myself, but I can't understand how or why so many Christians ally themselves with the religious right. After all, Jesus made a point of stressing that being wealthy isn't all life's about and that people should be charitable. Helping out the poor in this country is an issue I think Christians could really get behind... it's just unfortunate that their "leaders" have politically married themselves to Republicians who favor the weatlthy.

    ze Daniel

  22. If I was religious I would be absolutely terrified of what is happening in this country today (as a non-believer I'm already pretty uptight). If fundamentalism becomes much more ingrained there will be no religious freedom for anyone except those that follow the dogma of the religion of the party in power. The country will become a theocracy (we are already SO close) and will be no different that Saudi Arabia except for the details.

  23. And, Jim, it isn't regulation that's driving the companies out of America - it's the desire for profits.

    "The desire for making profits", you say that like its a bad thing. A company in only in buisness for one reason - a desire for profits. There not there because they want to help the poor or feed the hungry. That is a simple fact, no Democratic legistration is going to change that. The only way to get big buisenss to help our economy is free enteprise. Its just that simple. Make it so America is the place where they will make the smallest profit, and America will be the last place they'll do their buisness. The democratic philosophy is that big buisness so do more to help the little guy. Its a great philosophy, I don't argue the with the wanted result. The problem is, just what you said, its only about profits. So force them to pay more taxes and they will go elsewhere. Its that simple. So how then do you help improve the American economy? Make it attractive for them to stay. Make it so that they can turn just as much profit here as anywhere else.
    Just like Ratheon (my dad just retired from there 9 mos ago). Why did they move plants out of Mass? Because Mass. has the highest wages and taxes. So your answer to that is we should raise there taxes and get them to helpour society more? Does that make Sense?

    Gotto watch Deadwoodmore in a bit

  24. Beautiful, no more taxes at all for the big companies (poor executives, starving so badly, getting half Billion bonuses to retire, I'm almost crying), no more regulation of the "free-enterprise" (ain't cut-throat lovely, and ecumenic on toop of it all? So Christian, but so Darwinian at the same time!), and Chinese wages for the workers (can they consume, then?). America will really be a beautiful place with wonderfully happy people.

    And in the end, the greedy bastards will send their jobs elsewhere ANYWAY, for some saving or another - like, some places have slave labor, you can't really beat that, can you?


  25. J,
    I can't argue that they are greedy bastards. I can't really argue any of your points. My point is that the democratic party thinks that somehow they will cast some legistration that will change big buisness into contributing to society without actually hurting the economy worse. Its just a simple fact. Like it or not. The fact is big buisness has the best jobs on our country. The best benifits. And to protect their public image, right now they are scrambling to produce a diverse workforce. since 1999, every year Gillette publishes a report stating how diverse its population is, right up to the board of directors. They have done a pretty good job, so they are fluanting it. Yeah this may be nothing more than an attempt make sure they attract the diverse population as customers, but who cares.
    The fact is that the democratic philosophy that big buisness should do far more in supporting our financial burden, only hurts America. Its just a simple fact, right or wrong its a fact. So while you whine about the fat cats getting billion dollar bonuses, what are you gonna do about it, chase them away. We live in a global economy.
    The next time you get a raise from your company, donate it. I mean all of it, for good. Why don't you, you obviously lived up until now without it, why don't you give it to the poor or someone who really needs it. The reason you don't is because you would rather upgrade your standard of living, even if its only a tiny bit. If you found a job tomorrow that makes twice the money, would you donate all the extra money? Of course not, you would upgrade your living. This is what drives economy. Wheather your making $30,000 or $3,000,000. I can't count how many times someone at work said to me that they don't want to work overtime because it will put them into a higher tax bracket. taxing richer people slows commerse, just a fact, like it or not. That overtime principle can apply to many other things.

    Ze Daniel

    Why is it that statistically speaking, concervatives donate more of their income to charities than liberals, yet liberals want higher taxes than concervatives? Its like saying I want to help people, but I want someone who makes more money to foot the bill, or I want to help people but I want the Government to decide how I help them.

    If Bush's tax break is such a poultry amount that is gonna screw you later, why not give it back? I know you got at least $1,000 last January for that beautiful litlle baby your holding. You actually got more than that, doesn't sound poultry to me. Sounds to me like you got enough to buy a nice new furniture set for your living room or smoething to that effect. Buy the way, that extra money you spent this year that you call poultry, also helped pump even more money into our economy

  26. "And to protect their public image, right now they are scrambling to produce a diverse workforce. since 1999, every year Gillette publishes a report stating how diverse its population is, right up to the board of directors."

    Why worry about public image? Too many liberals around?

  27. No, too many decent people. Let's not forget that liberals don't have a monopoly on decency or social justice.

  28. Jim:

    Regarding your statistics about charitable giving: depending on how you tabulate the numbers, some of the most "charitable" states are those blue liberal states. A lot depends on your criteria, as well. For instance, I discount charity that is based on obligation - usually religious. Tithing, for example, is something that I would absolutely discount. I would also discount from your tabulation any charitable donation made primarily for the purpose of receiving tax breaks. Now how does your conservative charitable spirit rate?

    (I know, the end result is that charities still get money. HOWEVER, many charities favored by the wealthy are those that CATER to the wealthy. You will find, under the category of a charity, one organization that provides soup and shelter to the homeless, and one organization that provides cash to a museum for its collection. The latter shouldn't count in our discussion.)

    As far as giving back Bush's bribe money, I have - over and over again - in the form of increased property and excise taxes that local governments have been forced to raise to compensate for the lack of funding from the federal government - thanks to the tax cuts. YOU ARE GOING TO PAY, somehow, somewhere, to somebody. I may have saved a palty amount in federal taxes, but state and local taxes more than devoured those savings.

    You want to live in a civilized society? Then you have to pay your dues. Taxes are your dues. I have the audacity to make the claim that I *like* paying taxes, because I understand they go toward creating that civilized society, unlike anti-tax bellyaching extremist libertarians!

  29. I would suggest that the Bush administration is not representative of the ideas that Jim Fischer is trying to get across with respect to traditional Republicanism (or better traditional fiscal conservatism) vs.. traditional fiscal liberalism.

    As Robert points out, many traditional Republicans are quite displeased with Bush's runaway spending, threatening of separation of powers, ultra-secrecy, threatening of civil liberties, etc. Many of these used to be Republican concerns.

    At any rate, the basic discussion is a good one. As a small "l" libertarian-ish Independent, I wrestle with these questions all the time. (I stress both the small "l" and the "ish" to distance myself from the Libertarian party whose ideas are to me as Utopian as the Socialists in a different way)

    While I believe that free market capitalism is the best system (necessarily combined with a liberal democracy) to produce the highest quality of life on average for a given society, I still question where the right balance is between how much regulation, taxes, redistribution of wealth are needed to produce the optimal society.

    Of course "optimal" requires some defining and varies depending on a person's point of view. What if he had a society where everyone was at level X - some arbitrary level of good, but not great quality of life. Is that better than a society where 25% of the people can achieve a higher level if say 15% had to be at a slightly lower level? And I'm not talking about only material wealth, but the ability to pursue one's interests in arts, travel, exploration. The question gets complicated, because if we don't allow those lofty pursuits (which ultimately trickle down), then what is the future impact to the baseline quality of life at level X? When I say trickle down, I'm not referring to money, but quality of life factors such access to art, music, sports, travel, etc. For instance, even the poorest among us now have access to music that the rich did not have 200 years ago. Why? Because capitalism encouraged someone like Edison (a greedy bastard by some reports) to invent (for his own profit) technology that eventually led to even the poor having access to life's pleasures.

    Anyway, I don't know what the right "balance" is? But here are a couple of references that really explore the question:

    Read John Rawls, perhaps the best known Political Philosopher on the topic of Liberalism. His main work is known as the Theory of Justice where he wrestles with these ideas and comes up with principles of Justice.

    The first principle is: each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others.

    The second principle states: Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that: a) they are to be of the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society (the difference principle). b) offices and positions must be open to everyone under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.

    He also has an idea called the "veil of ignorance" where he addresses my question above by suggesting you come up with your ideal society when you are in your original position meaning you know not where you will be born, what race, what nationality, what sexual orientation, what level of income, etc.

    Finally, his colleague Robert Nozick wrote a rebuttal called: Anarchy, State and Libertarianism where he argued that: argues among other things, that a distribution of goods is just, so long as the distribution was brought about by free exchanges by consenting adults and were made from a just starting position, even if large inequalities emerge from the process (his thinking is that in the long run everyone will benefit more than from wealth redistribution)

    These two are usually read in tandem. I can't do any of these guys justice, but for anyone interested I suggest reading at least the Wikipedia entries for both Rawls and Nozick.

    Lastly, I will say that neither party really reflects a true political philosophy, but is instead a collection of special interests. I doubt many, if any, senators from either party have read much political philosophy.


  30. Alan,
    Good comment, perhaps I should have made it clear that I am not talking as a Bush supporter, I am just defending the true Republican philosophy as better for diverse (and all) population.

    You said you would discount charitible donation that are primarily for the purpose of tax breaks. Which donations are those? Every single donation that you can make is a tax deductuon (may be rare exceptions), but that crap that this company or that company only makes a donation for tax breaks is a load of crap. Yes they get a tax break, but it still cost them 70% of the actual donation. Same as you or me making a donation. Give me an example of a donation that would save a company or anyone money as a tax write off. There is no such thing.
    As far as not counting tithing. Yes much of that money is wrapped up in paying for church organizational needs, which you would call purposeless in helping society (that could be argued), but for the sake of debate we'll say it serves society no function. Much of that tithing money does go to help society. For example: in my home town of Plymouth, the Catholic church has an oil program, where they will give you a free tank of home heating oil, no guestions asked. They have a "Bill pay" program, where if you struggling they will pay up to $850 to help you get caught up. They also run a local Catholic Charities clothing store, that takes donated clothes and sells them for very cheap. They take the money from the clothing sales and use it to buy food for the poor, and give it out right at the store, no questions asked. The money to run the store comes from the tithing. I would be willing to bet that the Catholic church does more good for society with the tithing money than all the Liberals in Mass put together, but go ahead and discount it.

    so you think that Bush's tax increase has taken money from your local government? Thats another load of crap. Tell me how the federal government would have stepped in and helped your local government if Bush didn't lower your taxes. Your local tax increases are a result in excess spending at the local level. That has nothing to do with the federal goverment. What do you think - if You didn't get the federal tax break, that the federal government was gonna come down and pay for your local school and poilice department? Your local government did not devour your fedral savings, you just have too much spending locally. Thats how its supposed to work. The Federal taxes pay for national items, Your local taxes pay for local items.
    Yes I understand taxes must be paid to live in a civilized society. I am not telling you we shouldn't pay taxes. what I am saying is that by lowering taxes we have sparked the economy (yes it is good, despite all the bellyaching). Using tax money to help the poor actually hurts the very people that are intended to help, by raising the rate to help them we slow the economy that is the real answer to their help. The trickle down that Alan spoke of is real. It is not some imaginary fallacy made up by Ronald Reagan. When standard of living rises for the wealthy in a free enterprise system. That standard of living trickles down. It is a real quantifyable effect.

  31. Jim:

    My point about charity being a tax deduction is that if there WERE no incentive such as a tax break for money given for charitable purposes, that the amount of money GIVEN to charity by corporations would drop DRAMATICALLY. Do I have data to back that up? Nope. But, since in your own words, corporations are there SOLELY to make a profit, it only follows - logically - that they would not do anything that lowers said profits - including giving to charities. These companies weasel out of paying their employees decent wages; why should I think they'll be generous to society as a whole?

    Your example of the Catholic Church is insteresting. I was raised Catholic, I donated some of the money from my piggy bank to the collection basket as a kid. Many years later, I had the chance to tour the Vatican and see exactly how the Catholic Church regards money. Let's just say that after the first twenty rooms filled with gold, silver, and artistic treasures, the idea of the Church as a charitable contributor to society rang hollow. Sell off the Vatican's treasures and you provide immunazations to the third world for a decade. The same goes for the local Methodist pastor, who lives in a church-owned house (which he didn't pay for and pays no taxes on) and, despite his paltry salary, still managed to buy a SECOND Mercedes for his wife.

    Local spending: Sorry, Jim, but you're full of it. In my old town of Framingham, they had to lay off a few dozen teachers, the roads are in horrible condition, an entire section of town is underserved by police and fire departments - all during the Bush years, and all because of the fact that the State can't give as much to the Towns because of the cut backs from the Federal government. Ronald Reagan's trickle-down b.s. was discredited DURING the Reagan era; it does not work, it never has worked, it never will work. Real wages for the middle class have remained stagnant or actually dropped, relative to inflation; the only people to truly have benefitted from Bush's economy are the wealthy. See ANY objective source about real wages, and you'll find out the truth. (I just did a google search on the term, and you'll find all sorts of data to contradict your assertion.)

    And to really draw your ire, here's a study comparing the Clinton and Reagan economies, which shows that under Clinton (and its higher tax rates on the upper echelon of earners), the economy improved FAR more dramatically. : )



  32. Robert,
    the incentive for a buisness to donate does not come from tax breaks. It costs them money to donate. the tax break does not make it a finacially wise decision. The incentive comes from a better public perception, which in tern can mean profits. I don't even know why were debating this. When I said consevatives donate more than liberals I am talking about the regular guy not buisness. Most of the very weathly vote democrate.
    I am sure back in the Clinton days the roads in Framingham were wonderful, and no teachers got laid off. The money for that should come from your local taxes not from the guy who lives in Maines federal tax. Thats how local government is suppoosed to work. Not, if the people in Framingham can't manage their own town without laying off teachers they should get to take money from the state tax. That is just how the liberals think. Every town is entitled to exactly what it needs no matter how much they mis-manage themselves. If they spend to much the state should just bail them out. Did every town in Mass lay off teachers, no, but somehow the problem is federal tax rate not your local towns spending practices. That is how the liberals think, someone else should pay for Framinghams problems.

    Thats a nice link. I am sure there is no liberal bias. the effects of economical decisions take years to take hold. Clinton enjoyed the effects of Reagans tax drops. Explain to me how raising taxes helps the economy?

  33. Jim:

    Why are there tax breaks for charitable giving at all, if it doesn't somehow save the donor money in the long run? As Robert Kuttner pointed out, after Bush lowered the tax burden in 2001, charitable giving went DOWN. So, if you can come up with an explanation for why that should be, I'd love to hear it.

    Taxes, in and of themselves, do not help the economy. How those tax dollars are used may, however, be VERY beneficial to the economy. From things such as infrastructure (interstate highways) to personal assistance (thanks to the G.I. Bill, a HUGE expenditure of public money, my dad was able to get an education, start his own business, and contribute far more to the economy than he would have had he stayed in his low-wage job), the government can invest in the country and its citizens to enable profitable economic activity.

    Addressing Framingham: Uhm, Jim, the citizens of Framingham are also citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the United States of America. The responsibility for those citizens' education does not end at the town line, NOR SHOULD IT. We have a shared responsibility to each other, no matter what part of the country we live in.

    Charitable giving: My research shows that a tiny percentage of the monies given to charities from big donors (such as corporations) go to human service work. (Ivy League universities get a huge chunk of such monies.) On an individual level, I have seen any number of studies that show that red states give more than blue, blue states give more than red, and so on. It all depends on what you base your criteria on. For instance, if you do as I suggest - that is, disregard donations made to churches and religiously-run organizations (which is not entirely fair, as you pointed out, many churches do excellent work addressing the needs of those in want), you would see some red states' share of charitable giving plunge to negligible levels.

    Give it up on Reagan/Bush/Bush II vs. Clinton. By any objective reading of economic policy and performance, Clinton and his policies ushered in greater prosperity for the nation (especially for its poor) than any of the recent Robber Barons of the Republican Party. Unless you think that somehow Hoover's economic policies were responsible for FDR's success in turning the U.S. economy around?

  34. Just some comments:

    On an individual level, I have seen any number of studies that show that red states give more than blue, blue states give more than red, and so on. It all depends on what you base your criteria on.

    To me this suggests that the difference is negligible. It reinforces the point that "Republican" and "Democrat" are labels and that real people are much more nuanced and complex. (And you can't discount churches if that's how Republicans tend to exercise charity).

    Give it up on Reagan/Bush/Bush II vs. Clinton.,

    I can't weigh in directly on this, because I'm not an economic expert nor have I done research on these two administrations. However, given the massive complexity of our economy and the time it takes for some programs to yield a difference, my guess that it is really difficult to say for sure whose policies were responsible for what. I would think that it was a mish-mash of policies that lead to the positive results in the Clinton era. Probably just luck, since no President ever seems to have a magic bullet to fix an economy. Carter did not in the 1970's, neither did Nixon. Also, Greenspan might be a major factor and he bridged both administrations.

  35. Alan,
    I think you are using the fairest approach, and I am guilty of trying to label liberal and concervative,when the subject does have a blur of complexity. I recently just wrote a blog on dropping the Consv vs. Lib labels in the matter of global warming.

    You are pointing out economical benifits of taxes, such as in the case of your dad. In matters of education, the benifits of taxes are obviously huge. Staying ahead in technology is a must for our economy, especially in a global economy. I certianly won't exclude education from a economically healthy tax expense. I will however go back to the more Republician ideas on education such as charter schools and vouchers. My daughter just graduated from 8th grade, Rising Tide Charter School. This experemental program in Mass is quite awsome, and the benifits over public school are too numerous to list. Not to mention the average charter school in Mass cost just over half per student as public school. So its not just about money, its about ideas. The Dems in our state are very opposed to our charter schools saying they rob money from public, even though they cost little more than half, and students outperform public on MCAST (i realize MCAST is debatable in result, save it for another debate).
    I also realize that tax money for other programs have economical benifits. The question is which is more benificial not taxing for a certain program and leaving that money to be spent by the origional tax payer, or taxing for a program and putting that money to work through such program. Take a program such as welfare. You take money from one person for the purpose of another. Yes the reciepient will take that money and spend it, which does get put into the economy, but much of that money gets eaten though government, and you are insuring that that person doesn't work. The other option of letting the tax payer spend that money is that it is serves the economy far better in that it is spendable income over his normal bill pay. So the money is spend on upgrading his own living. Wheather it be a boat, or a car or just an extra bag of potato chips. It goes into providing work for others. This is the trickle down effect, it is real, no matter how much people deny it, it is a huge part of our economy.
    Obviously if you kept dropping the tax rate, eventually it would hurt the economy. We can't expect to pay 1% of our income and have a thriving economy. There is an ideal rate that produces the most income for the government through economical growth. For example, Bush has lowered federal taxes and the federal tax income has grown beyond the 3 percent cost of living. So its not as simple as raise the taxes and get more tax revenue. That has been proven time and time again. Raising taxes can actually lower tax income. Now obviously there is some ceiling, if you lower taxes to 1% your not going to increase tax revenue.
    As far as citisens of Framingham getting Federal money, I still disagree with you.I pay $3,200 dollars a year just in property taxes. I think Plymouth should be able to handle their budget with just that money.

    The responsibility for those citizens' education does not end at the town line, NOR SHOULD IT. We have a shared responsibility to each other, no matter what part of the country we live in.

    This is a liberal philosophy, Bostons citisens should not have to bear the burden of Framinghams education (that is what Federal or state assistance would do), Boston citisens already have to pay for their own schools why should they pay for yours. Managing education on a town level is far more effecient than state or federal. As far as shared responsiblilty to each other, that is also a liberal philososphy. We should care for others in what capacity we decide to not what others impose on us through government.

  36. Jim:

    Not that this has been part of our discussion, but at the risk of interjecting religion into our economics discussion...

    You wrote: "As far as shared responsiblilty to each other, that is also a liberal philososphy. We should care for others in what capacity we decide to not what others impose on us through government."

    Ask a Christian conservative if they are familiar with these passages, and what they mean:

    Luke 12:33. Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys.

    Luke 3:11. And [John the Baptist] would answer and say to them, "Let the man with two tunics share with him who has none, and let him who has food do likewise.

    Mt. 5:42. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

    Mt. 19:20ff. The young man said to Him, "All these commands I have kept; what am I still lacking?" Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."

    So... until all so-called Christians voluntarily follow what their own Savior taught them, I guess we'll need to depend on government to do what the Christians haven't, eh? : )

    (That's me, being a smart-ass.)

  37. Jim,

    I read your post on your blog regarding dropping the left/right labels and considering the issues.

    That is the whole basis on which I try to challenge myself on why I believe anything.

    It makes this Jefferson quote one of my favorites and why I am a committed Independent:

    "I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all."

    The "Us vs. Them" mentality so prevalent that it has destroyed rational discourse and reduced the majority of Americans into parroting partisan caricatures.

    Continue to challenge every belief you have and try to weed through the bias to find the truth.

    Some more Jefferson quotes along these lines:

    "Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error....They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only. [ not of governements, religions, polictal parties, etc]... It is error alone which needs the support of government [or radio pundits, political parties, etc.]. Truth can stand by itself."

    "It is surely time for men to think for themselves, and to throw off the authority of names so artificially magnified [i.e. insert columnist, blogger, pundit of your choice from either side]"

    "Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must approve the homage of reason rather than of blind-folded fear."

    BTW, I was jealous of your 21 comments as I never got any comments on my blog. Also, it seems as though Howard (a relative?) wasn't getting your message. :)

  38. Alan,
    Don't be Jealous, most of those 21 comments were my brother and I. Yes, I agree with you whole heartedly. I spent the first part of my life thinking very liberally, and the recent thinking very concervative, mainly due to the economic theology and that fact that my faith has grown. But I am very gulity of siding with concervative opinions on matters for no other reason than political alignment. This is something I am trying hard to work on. As far as the economic part though, this is something that I personally do believe and have thought through. If it were the Dems that looked at economics this way, I would side with them on the issue.

    Is this what your going to resort to? Quoting scripture? Yes Jesus said those things, but he never tells anyone sell your possesions, donate them, then run for government and make everyone else do the same. What Jesus talks about is personal charity, If we are forced to do it by government then it is not actually any personal sacrafice we are making by personal choice. It is a forced sacrafice. If I want to make a personal sacrafice, I want to be able to do it the way I think most effective. And it wont be to give the welfare crack addict that used to live upstairs from me more money. In Mass, to recieve welfare, you must work part time once your child is in school full time. She had a twelve year old, a six year old and a newborn. You do the math. Why should I be forced to support that. While she was out all day and night, her oldest would come knock on my door asking for food, Of course I would not hesitate to feed him (nor would anyone), it wan't his fault his mother spent the welfare check on drugs. This is the type of charity I see purpose to, not supporting the drug money. I don't need the govenment to decide how to waste my money. My wife and I went through hard times, and no government program ever helped us. Although we did get food from the church as well as our electric bill payed. My income was to high to get any government assistance.
    I remeber back when we lived in that apartment downstairs from the welfare mom. I tried for months to get our landlord to give us some new carpet (since the old was perhaps 20 years old and nasty). Of course he never did it. Then one day I saw him bringing all new carpet upstairs, as well as new wall siding, paint and much other. I asked him what was up, why was he doing her apartment and not mine. His reply was that he had no choice, section 8 (welfare housing dept) was comming for inspection and her apartment had to meet a certain code or it wouldn't qualify for section 8. Isn't that beutiful not only do I have to go to work and pay my own rent, but my taxes go to paying her rent, and her apartment must be better than mine or my tax money won't pay for it. That is Democratic economic philosophy at its best. Not only pay for the poors housing, but make sure its a certain quality. Lets make sure the tax payers are getting their moneys worth.

  39. That is a true story, I shit you not. I could tell it much worse, but I realize my posts are way to long as is.

  40. Jim:

    Yer durn tootin' I'm going to quote scripture, since so many so-called "Christians" don't even know what their own supposed Savior said about the poor.

    Jesus never said anything about JUDGING the people you give to, Jim. Your anecdote is not unlike dozens I have heard from friends, family, and pundits of all stripes. But it has nothing to do with the greater good that social welfare programs do. In ANY system, you're going to have abusers. My own sense of compassion isn't hampered by the odd negative example. Is yours?

    By the way, the answer to such abuses is MORE money spent on social programs, so that the people who run them can hire MORE people - qualified, dedicated people - to investigate abuses. Cutting the programs only hurts those people least able to play the system in the first place. For every freeloading crack addict you kick off the roles, ten single mothers trying to keep their heads above water will suffer.

    By the way, I worked with people who had Section 8 housing in Massachusetts. None of the apartments were palaces. And many of my clients were kicked OFF of Section 8 because there was no more money for the program. These were people who were mentally ill and unable to hold down jobs that would pay enough for them to live on their own. Putting them in group homes would have had a deletrious effect on their mental states, and besides, there was also no money for the group homes necessary to house all the folks kicked off Section 8. So, Jim, does my anecdote cancel out yours?

  41. Yer durn tootin' I'm going to quote scripture, since so many so-called "Christians" don't even know what their own supposed Savior said about the poor.

    Robert, The reason it is of poor choice for you to quote scripture is because I didn't. I am not telling you that my economic philosophy is better than yours because of my religion. I am telling you it is better because it is the best way to have an increased standard of living for the most people (and diverse population, as I think the conversation started out). Then for some reason you decided to throw religion into the mix. And I think I clearly explained why having government force you to donate to their causes doesn't make anyone a better Christian.

    Jesus never said anything about JUDGING the people you give to, Jim. Your anecdote is not unlike dozens I have heard from friends, family, and pundits of all stripes. But it has nothing to do with the greater good that social welfare programs do. In ANY system, you're going to have abusers. My own sense of compassion isn't hampered by the odd negative example. Is yours?

    Yes my sense of compassion is hampered because it is not the odd negative example. You just said my anecdote is not unlike dozens of others you heard. So either you don't believe the anecdotes or you are contradicting yourself by saying its an odd negative example. I know of three people right now that are on public assitance, and all three are abusing the system. I do know of one in the past that was legitimate. I realize that is a small sampling size, but personal experience is everything. Of the 5 total cases I can think of, 4 were abusing the system.
    You kill me, so the answer is to spend more money? Not just realocate money into detecting abuses which should save the money needed to pay for detection. Funny you didn't think of it like that. You just immediately say the answer is more money.

    Forget religion, pretend I am an athiest. I am not gonna tell you that my views are better because God says so, so you shouldn't borrow from my world view when it is convienent to do so. Your an athiest, so I don't understand why you feel compelled to bring religion into the debate if I don't.

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  43. Jim:

    I bring religion into the mix because, in my experience, some of the most heartless misers are those who claim the mantle of Christian. In my opinion, if a person calls himself a Christian, and then begrudges people public assistance, that person is a hypocrite. It's just an observation on my part. ; )

    I didn't claim that government taxation to support public welfare programs made people better Christians; I claim that because self-professed Christians don't live by the words of Jesus, we NEED government to make up for their LACK of compassion for those who need public welfare - see my hypocrisy observation!

    "So either you don't believe the anecdotes or you are contradicting yourself by saying its an odd negative example."

    Not at all. A few anecdotes don't make up for my personal experience, and private research, into human services.

    "...but personal experience is everything."

    Not at all! Personal experience gives one a skewed, narrow perception. Personal experience may be helpful, but empirical data, large sampling sizes, and carefully conducted research MUST play into how we think about things. Surely you would agree with that? For instance, I have spent about half of my life working in the human services and education fields. Certainly I have an opinion that is shaped by my experiences working with the disadvantaged. But I don't base my worldview ONLY on those experiences, because they represent a ridiculously small sampling size.

    "You kill me, so the answer is to spend more money? Not just realocate money into detecting abuses which should save the money needed to pay for detection. Funny you didn't think of it like that. You just immediately say the answer is more money."

    No, I came to that answer after carefully considering the alternatives. My carefully considered answer just doesn't jibe with yours! : ) Hey, I'm all for revealing corruption and ending waste. I just don't believe, after having personal experience and conducted research in the area, that there is as much waste as many people believe there is.

    "Your an athiest"

    Am not! I'm not a believer, to be sure, but I don't have the certitude of athiests that there isn't any god or gods or world turtle or prime spirit. I just haven't seen any evidence to convince me of his/its/their existence.

    We did begin this discussion with acceptance of diversity. Let's bring this all back to it, then. Many conservative Republicans (Ah! and liberals, too, btw) pay lip-service to diversity, and use superficialities, such as skin color, to say, "See, we accept many different kinds of people in our party." But they don't have a diversity of IDEAS - or at least, a great diversity. Those who stray from the party line are drummed out of the party or ignored - hence, my example of the Log Cabin Republicans (which hasn't been addressed). Oh, you can be African-American in the Party - but you had better be conservative (religious or otherwise). Note how the leader of Democrats in the Senate - Harry Reid - is anti-abortion; another such man - Bob Casey - is about to be elected in Pennsylvania. How many prochoice Republicans currently serve in positions of authority within their party?

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  45. Perhaps the third time will be the charm...

    By the way, the answer to such abuses is MORE money spent on social programs, so that the people who run them can hire MORE people - qualified, dedicated people - to investigate abuses.

    My experience with any bureaucracy whether it be government, corporate or otherwise is that its infancy also grows with respect to the amount of funding it has.

    I believe that there should be some assistance to help those most in need in our society get back on their feet. And I have no problem in theory with a society that sets up some sort of safety net to do so.

    However, the reality of the situation is that governments are really bad at running efficient programs and really good at squandering money.

    I see this sort of thing in my company all the time. A new policy with good intentions is created to address some problem, but instead due to unforeseen complexities and the general infancies of bureaucracy goes on to cause more trouble than its worth and generally fails to address the original problem.

    So even if you and Jim agreed on principle that helping the needy is a good thing, there is still this question of whether the government can do it.

    So like so many culture war arguments there is the principle and there is the reality. At the end of the day, the reality is what rules and should be what we base our decision on.

    For instance (to pick on Conservatives for a moment) the principle of bringing Democracy to people in Iraq is in theory admirable. The reality (as we are finding out) is that trying to do is fraught with danger and has a very minimal chance of succeeding while ushering in many bad side effects. Or another example was Prohibition. Keeping our children from becoming alcoholics is a noble idea in theory. Doing so by Prohibition led to the reality of organized crime, a scourge to this day -- and, more importantly, did not address the original problem it intended on fixing.

    In many cases the the consequences of "Reality" is predictable, but the noble principle behind the idea blinds many people to the predictable outcome.

    Providing a social safety net is admirable. Doing so through government programs which by definition reduce individual cases into blanket and generic policies, has not really worked well.

    Does that mean the government can never administer a program successfully without abuses? No, but reform and vigilance are needed. I remain skeptical however that such vigilance can be maintained in a government program as history does not show much of a track record. Ever hear of the concept of "Tragedy of the Commons"?

    Note, I am not saying that we should necessarily abandon government programs either. There is probably some inflection point at which without any government programs we would have gangs of lost children roaming the street, a la, Rio de Janeiro. On the other hand, all the socialism in Europe hasn't stopped bands of poor beggars pick pocketing tourists in Italy either.

    Trying to find the right balance that will produce optimal results is what we need to figure out.

  46. Alan:

    I would agree that government-run programs are prone to abuse and waste. But I certainly don't think they should be abandoned completely in favor of private foundations. This was tried once, and the novels of Dickens were the result. Great literature, to be sure, but a reality that was horrifying if you were poor.

    You have made mention of the problems inherent in our polarized political system (which is less polarized than many think, by the way), and the inefficiencies inherent within it. The solution, in my opinion, is in bringing in TRUE diversity (back to one of the main points again!) into our political discourse. Right now, only about half of the country is involved in our politics. The other half is left out of the conversation, because neither political party truly speaks for them. If we had a more representative form of government - not just of population and areas, but of IDEAS - we might have better results.

    I would rather we were modeled more on the societies of Europe, despite your example of those Italian pick pockets (I wasn't victimized in Italy, but my wife was in Paris. She has a nice little irrational hatred of all things French as a result). Unfettered capitalism simply does not work to address the needs of all citizens. I'll agree with the libertarian model only insofar as personal liberty is concerned. I cannot agree to much of the economic program of libertarians, however. I have worked with the poor and the needy for far too long to ever put my trust of their care into private hands.

  47. In my opinion, if a person calls himself a Christian, and then begrudges people public assistance, that person is a hypocrite. It's just an observation on my part.

    Just to be fair, I don't think that is necessarily true.

    I think it rings true for a lot of people and, in fact, I forwarded your previous Biblical quotes on to some friends to question why Biblical literalists evangelicals seem so beholden to the Republican party despite such quotes.

    But, in fairness if a person believes that "public assistance" is actually hurting people be keeping them dependent on the system then they are not being hypocrites to oppose public assistance. They oppose it (as Jim does) precisely because they don't really believe it helps anyone.

  48. The solution, in my opinion, is in bringing in TRUE diversity (back to one of the main points again!) into our political discourse. Right now, only about half of the country is involved in our politics.

    I whole heartedly agree with this statement. It is neither Conservatives or Liberals who are "destroying America" (in the parlance of the punditry), but the very act of labeling ideas as "Us vs. Them" which has rendered public discourse so poisoned as to be worthless. The end result is an uniformed and apathetic public.

    I cannot agree to much of the economic program of libertarians, however.

    As stated previously, I refer to myself as small "l" libertarian-ish, because while I do advocate much free market privatization, I also see the need for some regulation to ensure good social behaviors.

    The free market profit motive works because it appeals to the best and worst in our nature. We have to make sure to allow the "best" to thrive, while making sure to retrain the "worst".

    I fear that European style socialism may go to far in that it hampers entrepreneurial creativity, but then again what do I know? (however, I would love the six weeks of vacation). But I will agree that abject, unfettered Capitalism is not desirable either.

  49. Robert,
    You still miss the point. Why bring religion in the debate at all? I am defending Republican economic philosophys, and why they benifit the masses. If that end of my arguement is true or not is besides the point for hypocracy. As long as I believe it to be true then there is no hypocracy.

    Hey, I'm all for revealing corruption and ending waste. I just don't believe, after having personal experience and conducted research in the area, that there is as much waste as many people believe there is.

    I am not sure where to begin on that. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. This is getting a little old. Thanks for the debate. As "m" says in his most recent post, while writing and debating it helps me to think out why I believe what I do. I hope you continue to "enjoy" paying your taxes.


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