Goodbye, Judge Bork—Goodbye, My Friend

As it happened, I was able to spend a couple of hours between flights with Bob Bork just ten days before he died, and I got to tell him of my gratitude for so much friendship and laughter over the past quarter-century, of my admiration for his depth, and—embarrassing him, as I knew this would—of my love for him. Bob was of the strong stock that keeps emotions such as love to himself. That’s one reason I loved him. Robert_Bork_20121219103236_320_240On such occasions—his many friends loved him mightily and showed it in many angular ways—one could see him squirm with conflicting emotions. He certainly must not accept that, and yet a smile at the corner of his lips and a rising blush up his very white cheeks betrayed his pleasure. His method of fleeing from admiration and (God forbid) love was normally a scoffing rebuke, behind which came a wee smile.

His friends loved him because he was brilliant, always ready with witticisms and lightning insights, and altogether warm of heart himself. It was a joy to watch him with his children and Mary Ellen. Several of those around him thought his was the most radiant intellect they knew: The most famously bright people in Washington always deferred to him. His mind was radiant on things vast—and also domestic. We smiled at the way he and Mary Ellen joshed each other constantly, in the glow of unmistakable union.

Bob was a serious man about his deepest convictions, uncommonly self-aware down to a very great depth. For years there was no sign that he was even thinking of becoming a Catholic, as Mary Ellen was; he sometimes pretended to be an unshakably severe and reserved Pittsburgh Presbyterian—almost never explicitly religious at all. Of course, when he did seek instruction in the Catholic faith, he did so publicly during one of the worst possible and most humiliating years in the history of the American Church, 2003, just as the painful clergy sexual abuse scandal was at the height of exposure in the media. It was just like Bob’s courage (in his great intellectual courage) to go ahead in that unpropitious period.

It was just like his unfailing wit that it had not escaped his notice that baptism in that advanced year of his life carried a double blessing: It washed away all his prior sins, and arrived just when his seniority rendered unlikely all those that had brought the most pleasure.

Bob and Mary Ellen first met at a party of mine and Karen’s—a book party—and shortly afterwards Karen and Mary Ellen drove many hours together out to Notre Dame. Bob had lost his first and deeply loved wife to cancer some years before, and it had seemed to some unlikely he would remarry. On that car trip, Karen picked up signs that, given some time, it just might happen. We were glad.

We also had the immense privilege of taking Bob and Mary Ellen to dinner on the eve of his much-embattled confirmation vote in the Senate. (I always thought that Senator Ted Kennedy’s demagogic, malicious, and falsehood-ridden assault on Judge Bork, at the very beginning of the confirmation process, was the foulest deed of Kennedy’s leadership in the Senate—it properly won its own disgraceful public epithet.) After this dinner, Karen mentioned to me Bob’s astonishing equanimity.

Late in the dinner, he said something like: “At one time, I would have given my right arm to become a justice of the Supreme Court. But now, if I don’t, I will write more freely—not just in legalese—of ideas necessary to the republic in these years.”

At another point, he said something like: “I know some wanted me to kiss babies, and cut off my beard, and appeal more to public sentiment. But that’s not me. That’s how politicians behave. It is not how justices behave. I couldn’t possibly do that. It would have betrayed everything I believe about the law.”

Concentrating on friendship, we laughed a lot at that dinner. In the car, Karen admitted that she admired the inner spirit of Robert Bork more than ever. She herself was well experienced to the steel of spirit (and humor) needed in dark times.

Others may write better on Judge Bork’s pre-eminence among jurists of his generation, and the capaciousness of his mind in the history of law. Today I mourn, and want to honor a man great of spirit.

Michael Novak, one of the founders of First Things, was for more than two decades a colleague of Judge Bork at the American Enterprise Institute.

Published at First Things on December 21, 2012


Poland Honors Novak for Fostering Freedom and Polish-American Cooperation

Novak decorated by President Komorowski with the Commodore's Cross with a Star of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland (Ave Maria University Press Release)


On the 31st anniversary of the declaration of martial law in Poland, Michael Novak, author, theologian, Ave Maria University professor, and former U.S. ambassador, was decorated by President Bronisław Komorowski with the Commodore’s Cross with a Star of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland.

Before the official decoration ceremony, Professor Novak gave a lecture at the Presidential Palace on the meaning of social justice, part of the series of Polish Presidential lectures on the Ideas for the New Century. The lecture was introduced by Paweł Lisiewicz, director of the Polish cabinet, and in it Novak emphasized the importance of the institutions of civil society that properly precede the activity of the state.

The decoration ceremony took place in the historic grand hall of the Presidential Palace, the site of the 1955 signing of the Warsaw Pact. In addition to Professor Novak, who was the only American recognized at the ceremony, also honored were more than forty heroes of the political opposition to Polish martial law in the 1980s, civilians and members of the military, many of whom worked clandestinely for the cause of liberty.

Professor Novak was cited for his “merits in fostering democratic change in Poland as well as developing Polish-American cooperation.” These merits include Novak’s influential masterpiece, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, which was published in an illegal samizdat translation in 1984 under the imprimatur of the anti-communist movement Solidarność. As ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in 1986, Novak initiated the international condemnation of martial law in Poland, the first ever U.N. condemnation of a regime behind the Iron Curtain. In his remarks, President Komorowski recalled the aid, both material and moral, that the Polish people received from the West while under martial law. He mentioned in particular the significance of Radio Free Europe, which Novak served as a member of the Board of International Broadcasting.

In his remarks President Komorowski also noted Ronald Reagan’s slogan “Let Poland be Poland,” and Reagan’s initiative to ask Americans to light candles in the windows of their homes, an expression of solidarity with those suffering in Poland. Today, Komorowski noted, the Polish people have a duty to extend the same solidarity to those still suffering under unjust regimes.

Following the decoration ceremony, Novak visited the recently erected Ronald Reagan monument located outside the U.S. embassy in Warsaw. There President Komorowski, Novak, and others from the embassy lit candles and placed them around the monument.

Gratitude, Even in November 2012 (NRO Symposium)

For the last four or five elections I have believed that at stake was whether God still blessed America. In the eyes of our Founders, belief that He does (“With a firm reliance on Divine Providence”) is conditional on our national behavior. How can we expect Providence to bless our efforts, George Washington told his troops in 1776, if we do not live worthy of Him? My depression about the election lasted only one night. The rest of the week I was depressed by the mess the nation is now in, and the old policies the president promised to pursue during his campaign.

The president is well on his way to forcing our military down to levels unseen in the last 50 years — fewer ships for the Navy than in 1939–40; aircraft older than the young men flying them. We shall no longer have an ability to fight two wars at once — or even to fight one with unchallengeable military strength.

The president has already racked up national deficits so large they cannot be paid off in the lifetime of our children, and will still weigh down our grandchildren. Our generation is so “compassionate” we will spend money (for the poor, we say) that we do not even have.

On the other hand, experience shows that Providence, in failing to grant our prayers, normally has wiser things in mind. In a way, our present loss may be a reprieve for the Party of Liberty, such that it does not have to inherit the damage that is surely coming down on this nation during the next four years.

Obviously, the majority of the country does not grasp the peril our nation is in. So maybe it is in fact wiser that incoming perils be tied unmistakably to the New Statists, to their long-term discredit.

Our Founders concluded from their long search for the fatal flaw in all previous Republics that the most destructive of all social flaws is envy — envy of one class for another, one section of the city for another, one dynastic family for another. Envy is more destructive than hate, for envy never calls itself envy, but justice or fairness. Yet it leads ineluctably to social warfare, even at the price of self-destruction.

President Obama’s persistent effort to paint the top 2 percent of income earners as foes of “fairness” and the “common good” poisons national amity. That will have effects for years to come. To what good end? Private capital that would have been invested in jobs for future wealth creation will be seized by government. With what practical results?

Sometimes nations need chastisement before they get the point: There must be a high level of mutual respect in the daily life of a Republic, if there is to be unity, amicability, and a just estimate of the unique contributions of each sector to the whole.

Published in National Review Online on November 22, 2012


Giving Thanks for American Exceptionalism: Thanksgiving is a Remnant of Religious Freedom

One of the traits, the great Tocqueville writes, that makes the United States distinctive is that here religion and liberty are friends, not at enmity as in France. “Freedom sees religion as the companion of its struggles and triumphs, the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its rights.” For this reason, Tocqueville called religion “the first of their political institutions.” Tocqueville wrote such things (and many more like them) both to observe a fact he saw acted out all around him and to offer profound reflections on them. After all, his aim was to grasp the differentiating traits of democracy so as to make it understandable in Continental Europe. Almost all foreign visitors to America notice this distinctiveness on such festive occasions as Thanksgiving and even the inauguration of a new president. Both events celebrate democracy and religion (most emphatically Judaism and Christianity, which are root religions of liberty through and through).

From at least 1776 until 1828 (the publication of Webster’s Dictionary) “religion” was defined as “the duty we owe to the Creator and the manner of discharging it.” The Framers thought it a self-evident truth. For anyone who knows the meaning of the term “Creator” understands that the creature owes to the Creator something more than gratitude — more like wonder, awe and worship. Not to pay this debt struck them as the rudest ingratitude, at least.

Thus, worship is a duty. It is a duty to God first. It is also a duty of a man to himself: to be man enough to be grateful.

The Framers practiced what they preached. From 1776 onward (and even before), the Congress of the United States mandated a public prayer of Thanksgiving “for the signal blessings of Divine Providence that we have witnessed during the War.” “Signal” stands out as starkly at night as a light from a lighthouse. “Witnessed” signifies it is not merely a matter of “faith” but of common experience and plain observation.

These public and official national acts of prayer (including occasional “National Days of Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer” for “our manifold sins and transgressions”) are among the most beautiful prayers ever written in this land. They emerged from a congressional mandate upon the president to call Days of Thanksgiving into being by presidential decree. These public prayers were as official as an act of Congress and a presidential decree can possibly be. In fact, a committee of Congress actually wrote the text which they commended to the president, for all the people publicly to take to heart on behalf of the nation as a whole.

Where was the American Civil Liberties Union to stop this at the very beginning? Too bad so many years have set such laws and precedents into our national identity.

I have often thought to myself: If I were an atheist, I would take these laws and precedents as celebrations of liberty of conscience and speech. They would not make me a Jew or a Christian. I could live with the accurate knowledge that specifically Jewish and Christian conceptions gave powerful and original arguments for the practices of religious liberty — and why such practices spring directly from the purposes of the Jewish and Christian God, as well as from human reason. The early documents of Jefferson and Madison on religious liberty (1776 to 1786) testify to both lines of argument.

“Almighty God hath created the mind free,” Jefferson wrote. “All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion.” This freedom in each human person is inalienable before man and before God. God invites every human person into His friendship, and each must make the choice whether to accept that offer or nay. No one else can do this for Him. Since the relation of this offer is between the Creator and each human creature, one by one, no one else dare interfere with it. Not the state, civil society, nor even others in our own families.

These days, our own government is getting in between the conscience of individuals and the Creator to Whom they tender it. Under threat of very heavy fines, it is obliging American citizens to do things they know they are forbidden from doing. For a new and small university such as Ave Maria in Florida, where I now teach, these fines are so severe they may make it impossible for us to survive.

Neither Jefferson nor Madison would have tolerated that.

This day, we must be very grateful for their generosity of mind, their acumen, their foresight and their practice.

One reason that religion (with especial clarity, Judaism and Christianity) is the first institution of democracy is that it keeps alive the fundamental principles of the inviolability of conscience, the dignity of every person, and the common good of all in respecting each other’s differences in “the manner of discharging” our duty to our Creator. As for atheists and agnostics, for Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others, too, we give thanks that they also have their ways of honoring personal consciences different from their own.

Religious liberty is the first “article of peace” in the very conception and living practice of pluralistic democracy, as Americans understand and practice it.

Woe to those who undermine the religious liberty of others. In so doing, they also undermine their own. And they befoul something beautiful, for man and for God.

We have reason to give mighty thanks that this violation of conscience by our government has happened as seldom as it has in our national history. This liberty is our most precious gift from our Creator.

Published in The Washington Times on November 22, 2012


Thanksgiving for American Exceptionalism

One of the traits that makes the United States distinctive, the great Tocqueville writes, is that here religion and liberty are friends, not at enmity, as in France. “Freedom sees religion as the companion of its struggles and triumphs, the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its rights.” For this reason, Tocqueville called religion “the first of their political institutions.” Almost all foreign visitors to America notice the distinctiveness of our festive occasions -- on nearly all American holidays, a central role is given religious acts including prayers and invocations. But on Thanksgiving the whole theme is to give thanks to the Creator. And why? For his “signal” blessings during yet another year.

From at least 1776 until 1828 (the publication of Webster’s Dictionary) Americans defined “religion” as “the duty we owe to the Creator and the manner of discharging it.” This very definition implied different manners of discharging that duty. It implied freedom of individual conscience. Thus the public declaration of Thanksgiving Day dramatizes the root of individual religious liberty.

Our Framers thought this truth to be self-evident: Anyone who knows the meaning of the terms “Creator” and “creature” sees at once the duty of gratitude owed to the Creator. For the creature receives everything from that Source. Even Tom Paine felt this, and no Christian, he. One does not need to be a Jew or a Christian to sense it.

Further, this duty gives rise to a right. If I owe a duty to my Creator, no one else may interfere with it. I have a right to discharge this duty as evidence commands my mind to do so. This right precedes the State, it precedes civil society, it takes precedence even over the solicitations of family and friends. This right is grounded in the freedom of the individual mind, as Jefferson puts it, bestowed by Almighty God himself.

Today, of course, many do not think in these terms. They think these terms are a roundabout, old-fashioned way of coming to the point: individual liberty of conscience. But that old way is how our Framers did come to see this point. John Adams did not see this point from the same direction as Jefferson, nor Madison from the same direction as the Quaker Ben Franklin. But they did see all get the point. They learned the duty to respect the consciences of others, as they wanted theirs to be respected. What more pleasant way than to sit down together for a hearty meal.

From 1776 onwards, the Congress of the United States followed an irregular custom. They mandated a public prayer of Thanksgiving “for the signal blessings of Divine Providence that we have witnessed during the War.” “Signal” – as if these events stood out as starkly in the dark as a beam from a lighthouse. “Witnessed”—experienced, plainly observed.

Every year during the War of Independence brought several such signals – the timely discovery of Benedict Arnold’s plan to surrender a crucial fort to the British, the capture near Boston of a British vessel laden with munitions just as the Patriots surrounding the City lacked sufficient ammunition to attack. Again and again, such events helped (even rescued from defeat) the cause of Liberty.

These public, official and national acts are among the most beautiful prayers ever written in this land. In fact, a committee of Congress wrote the texts, as they commended to the president that he call for a Day of Thanksgiving by presidential decree.

These prayers were official, national, and publicly promulgated Prayers, by act of Congress and presidential decree. They were acts of civil liberty in union, respectful of the many different manners in which diverse communities and individuals might discharge them.

It was quite possible for atheists and agnostics (if then there had been many such) to have taken these laws and precedents as popular celebrations of liberty of conscience. By taking part in them, one did not have to be a Jew or a Christian. In time, Jefferson’s Bill for Religious Liberty and Madison’s “Remonstrance” laid out sound arguments in ways both reasoned and redolent with traditional religious conceptions.

“Almighty God hath created the mind free,” Jefferson wrote. “All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion.” The freedom of free minds is in line with Judaism and Christianity.

These days, our own government is stepping between the conscience of individuals and their Creator. It is deciding for them which activities are religious: only those in places of worship, our government now says; not those in religious hospitals, clinics, universities, shelters for the poor, and the like. It is obliging American citizens to pay tithes and carry burdens if they do not pay for what their consciences reject. For many small universities such as Ave Maria in Florida these fines are now slated to be extremely severe. They will be unconscionably punitive even to larger, older, and better endowed universities, such as Notre Dame.

We may be thankful once again to Thomas Jefferson: “All attempts to influence [the human mind] by temporal punishments or burthens are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion.” They are also an offence against the free mind.

This year, as in every past year, this nation has enjoyed a bounty of blessings. After a sometimes bitter election campaign, we have once again peaceably elected a President, in whom our hopes are now vested. We thank the Lord again for this nation’s most precious commitment, like the Lord’s, to making the human mind free.

With a Firm Reliance on Divine Providence

Remarks upon receiving the Barbara Olson Award at the 45th Annual American Spectator Bartley Gala, Delivered by Michael Novak on November 14, 2012


It is such an honor to receive an award named for an American heroine, and here, at a gala named for Robert Bartley – whose editorial pages taught this poor theologian his first lessons in job-creating economics.

It is an especially precious honor to receive this high Award in the name of Barbara Olson. Most of us here loved Barbara Olson. How could we not? Brave, bold, enterprising, beautiful, lively, smart, courageous to a fault, Barbara was the best of Americans.

She started life humbly, began a professional career performing in ballet – on stage in Houston, and in Los Angeles. Then she attacked the law and mastered it, moved to Washington and conquered it, and after regular appearances on cable television, she was on her way to crack the Maginot Line of leftish comedians – that morning she was flying out to California to do the Bill Maher show.

Tonight I remember Barbara’s courage when she learned her plane had been hijacked, for the purposes of mass murder. She immediately set to thinking how to attack that enemy too. Barbara fought back, and made this country – once more, in one more woman – “the land of the free … and the home of the brave.”

In Barbara’s honor, I would like to tell a brief story about Dr. Joseph Warren. I first heard it in Ronald Reagan’s First Inaugural. Joseph Warren was the doctor who delivered the babies of Abigail and John Adams. He was a leader of the Minutemen at Lexington. He told his men, Our country is in peril now, but not to be despaired of. At Lexington a British bullet clipped off some hair right behind his ear. It did not fell him. His few men, abetted by their fellows hidden in the trees, sent the large British force back toward Boston carrying their wounded and their dead.

Not long after, Joseph Warren was commissioned a Major General in the Massachusetts militia. When he heard that a small band of Patriots had sneaked up Bunker Hill in the dark, and were silently fortifying the flank toward Boston, Warren rode as fast as he could to take a place in their ranks. Below, the British marched out toward Bunker Hill with 2200 men. Behind them burned the brown smoke and orange flames of Charlestown, where the British had already torched 500 homes. On a hillside to the South, Abigail Adams, hearing the booming guns, watched breathless as the awful battle lasted five long hours.

The American irregulars carried but limited shot per soldier, and that day they proved their discipline. With the accuracy of lifetime huntsmen they fired with individual aim, in concentrated bursts. Twice they broke the forward march of the British Regulars with fire so withering they blew away as many as 70 to 90 percent of the closest companies. The Redcoats lost that day more than a thousand dead and wounded. Then the ammunition of the Americans ran out.

While the bulk of the Massachusetts militia retreated Indian-like, the last units stayed in the trenches to delay the British hand-to-hand. That is where Major General Warren was last seen standing as a close-range bullet felled him.

Think about the next two years of fighting. Put yourself in the place of these badly equipped Americans. Perhaps fewer than a third in the colonies supported them, or were willing actually to fight for Independence. These few, these valorous few, faced scores of thousands well-trained Redcoats, supported by the guns of more than 350 British warships – the most disciplined army and most powerful navy in the world.

No wonder the framers of the Declaration of Independence placed their “firm Reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.” If you have no army, and have no navy, you had better rely on Providence.

But why? What shred of reason had they for such trust? Did not the British pray to the same Providence? What right had the Americans to think the Lord Almighty favored their cause, favored them?

Here is how they reasoned. Many in our midst do not reason so today. But hear them out. At least hear them out. For our Founders, the logic was easy.

The reason that God created the universe, they believed, is so that somewhere in its vastness there would be at least one creature to whom God could offer his friendship. But if the good and gracious Lord meant us for His friendship, then He had to make us free. Friendship coerced is not friendship. If friendship, then liberty, William Penn wrote. That was the logic of placing America’s “firm Reliance in the protection of Divine Providence.” If the whole universe has been made for liberty, then at least in one place it must in time prevail. But liberty was made for all human beings, and thus the shots fired for liberty at Concord and Bunker Hill have been heard around the world. Our Founders often warned us: Freedom is the most precarious regime. Even a single generation can refuse to bear its costs and – just throw it away. Every generation must decide.

The American Spectator today is the Paul Revere of the Party of Liberty. We Americans do not want to be another European welfare state. Our appetite is not for security, or commandments from coercive czars. We want to live as free women, and free men. For that, there are costs.

So now it is plain why Dr. Joseph Warren – seeing the masses of British soldiers – could tell the Minutemen with whom he served in Massachusetts: Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of. On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important questions upon which rest the happiness and the liberty of millions not yet born. Act worthy of yourselves.

Joseph Warren, Barbara Olson, Divine Providence protect you still.

Two Theories on the Polls

Among nearly all demographic groups, the shift from Obama to Romney is significant Last weekend’s polls could not be closer. The Real Clear Politics average shows President Obama and Governor Romney at virtually identical percentages, separated by only half a point. However, two respected polls emphatically diverge: As of October 28, the National Journal poll showed Obama ahead by five percentage points, and Gallup showed Romney up by five.

There are two theories about this, one a center-left theory, and the other a center-right theory.

Everyone agrees that polls tally no more than public opinion (influenced by mood on a particular day) on the day they are taken. But the only thing that counts on Election Day is the actual vote, not the opinions of yesterday or last week. And actually going to vote, or applying for an absentee ballot and sending it in, takes far more effort than merely having an opinion. This is where the two theories about the voting public come into play.

The center-left theory is that the composition of the vote (by age, race and ethnicity, religion, gender, political party, and even the relative proportions of each) this election will be very similar to the composition of the vote in 2008.

The center-right theory is that in 2012, the vote among whites, women, and other demographic groups — especially Republicans and independents who actually come out to vote — will be a couple of percentage points lower for Obama and a couple of points higher for the Republican than in the 2008 vote.

It is not clear on Sunday who will be correct on Tuesday. The tabulation of the vote on November 6 will tell us that. Then it will no longer be a matter of theory, but a fact.

Of course, there are bound to be disputes and contentions over certain ballots, and the final count could be delayed by some days. On Election Day, any ballots challenged by one side or the other will be set aside for later examination (as in Florida in the 2000 Bush–Gore election).

For now, partisan passions sway each side, each claiming certain victory.

There are, I believe, powerfully credible reasons in favor of the center-right theory’s coming closer to the actual final vote. The main reason is that among virtually every demographic group, support for Obama is lower in 2012 than in 2008, which the center-left pollsters are not picking up in their template for the composition of the electorate. They are counting on the same number of independents, women, the young, Catholics, and other blocs voting for Obama in 2012. Almost certainly not.

Well, theory is one thing. Actual results are another. Results will show who was correct all along.

Today and tomorrow, in the American tradition many prayers to Providence will be said. These will be prayers in the darkness, for God’s actual will is not known to us in advance of the event.

Published in National Review Online on November 5, 2012


Why Romney Will Win

Do we want to become statist Europeans or remain free Americans? Many friends are telling me that most of the European media are expecting President Obama to be reelected. If so, they are likely to be shocked on election day. In the U.S., there are 26 national polling firms. The one I count most trustworthy is Rasmussen (which came closest to hitting the exact result for 2008), and the oldest and best known is Gallup. As of October 23 (just after the third and final debate), both showed Governor Romney beating the president with over 51 percent, and by between four and six points.

Even the poll of all the polls (reported daily at shows Romney climbing everywhere and day by day pulling ahead in state after state.

For myself, I expect Romney to win by just over 52 to 46 percent, with two minor candidates gathering about 2 percent between them.

The United States has never before had to make a choice like this — between two different ways of life. This is a choice about whether we want the United States to become more like the European welfare states. Or, rather, to stick to our own traditional ways: risk, creativity, growth, and opportunity. Obama acts consistently to make the United States like Europe. No wonder many Europeans cheer him on.

Of course, Obama could yet win. The week remaining before the November 6 election might still hold many surprises. The Democratic party is famous, when it is losing, for launching October Surprises — dramatic actions, or sudden damaging revelations about the opposing candidate. Besides, our media (except for Fox News) have become extremist in their support for Obama.

Yet this lack of balance is not necessarily a disadvantage for Governor Romney. The press is misleading the public (and itself) about what is really happening on the ground, among ordinary people.

To keep one’s feet on the ground in the United States, one must watch which candidate working males — steelworkers, miners, gas-station attendants, truck drivers, and so on — are favoring. And which way marriedwomen are trending. Ever since Reagan, most working males and married women trend markedly Republican. They are especially strong for Romney.

By contrast, the Democrats, the Party of Government, strongly attract single women, both unmarried and widows. President Obama also appeals to the new “counterculture” that celebrates abortion, gay marriage, and a morally relaxed culture. They are locked in a “culture war” against traditional American virtues ( biblical, Jewish and Christian). In Europe, many refer to these as “puritan” values.

But, then, the narrow, strict “puritan” culture of Massachusetts and Rhode Island did not extend its sway to the South and the West.

“Out there,” Christianity was barely present in the “churchy” forms familiar to Europeans. The South and the West favored the relaxed style of the “free churches” — more informal, associational, open and friendly, “Spirit-moved,” even a bit enthusiastic.

Persons formed in this environment are less inclined to accept statism and its bureaucracies, and labor unions and their enforced electoral solidarity. They take pride in self-reliance, self-government, and personal self-control. Their type of living requires certain solid habits in people, not the “loose” ways of urban secularism.

Look again at the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, designed by the French to capture the American character. Lady Liberty is a very serious, sober woman — a second-grade teacher. In one hand she holds aloft the torch of reason and light against ignorance and impulse, and in her other hand she carries the Book of the Law. The American hymnodist captures this note perfectly: “Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.” An inner law.

To be sure, urban secularism via television, the movies, and the popular-music industry has spread its magnetic allure all through the countryside by now. But the older ways still matter to churchgoers and married couples. Thus, “the culture war.”

More important just now is the havoc wrought on the American economy by President Obama’s statist actions. Middle-class families during the last four years have lost scores of thousands of dollars in the net worth of their homes (their largest investment by far). They have lost over $4,300 per family in real income. Prices of common, humble goods — coal, gas, electricity, food — have risen steadily. In daily life, everything costs more, from food for one’s family to fuel for one’s automobile. The pain is felt many times a day.

And still there is the huge weight of public debt — climbing every second of every day, and heading for an additional $5 trillion just in the last four years. This debt is an enormous tax laid on our children and grandchildren. Many count this as cross-generational theft, an immorality of the first order.

And opportunity! Opportunity is to Americans what security is to Europeans. Millions wonder, “Where has opportunity gone?” Few new jobs; 21 million people without jobs, including those millions who after four years have given up searching. Almost half of all university graduates last year could not find jobs, and have returned to live with their parents.

It would take us too far afield here to explain how President Obama’s abuse of religious liberty — especially but not only of the Catholic Church — has driven away many who voted for him in 2008. For instance, in 2008 a slim majority of churchgoing Catholics voted for Obama. This time, most of those Catholics who go to church “seldom or never” prefer Obama. But those who go to church “weekly or almost weekly” tell pollsters, by a margin of 59 percent to 34 percent, that they will vote for Romney this time.

Voters who swing from one party to another between elections count twice. They take one vote from Obama, say, and give that vote to Romney. At present, at least 1.5 million churchgoing Catholics say they will switch from Obama to Romney. That counts as a swing of 3 million votes.

Under Obama the poor have suffered more than anyone else. Millions have fallen into poverty — back to levels not seen since the late 1960s. The official poverty line is roughly $24,000 annually for a family of four.

It is always wise to think that your own side is behind, the other ahead. That way, your whole team works harder. By all accounts, this year the Republicans have more enthusiasm and eagerness. The Democrats seem less spirited. Recently every day shows more strength for Romney, especially in the most hotly contested states. But that, of course, can change. In an election campaign, a week can seem an eternity.

There is much nail-biting in the United States these days.

Published in National Review Online on October 30, 2012


God's Universal Love, A Homily

Homily by Father John Jay Hughes, delivered in St. Louis, MO on October 7, 2012 I am one of the dwindling number of people able to remember the Model T Ford car. Henry Ford produced 15 million of them between 1909 and 1928, the year of my birth. There were still Model T’s on the roads in my early childhood. There was only one model. And you could have any color you wanted as long as it was black. The Model T made Henry Ford an enormously rich man. On his fiftieth wedding anniversary Henry Ford was asked his secret for marital success. His reply was simple: Just the same as in the automobile industry: stick to one model. Jesus says the same thing in today’s gospel.

We all know, however, how common divorce is today. Few families today are untouched by it. Divorce is always painful even the so-called friendly divorces we sometimes hear about. The reason for this pain is rooted in what the Bible says marriage truly is. Jesus reaffirms this teaching in today’s gospel when he says that when two people marry, they are no longer two but one flesh. The rending of this one-flesh relationship is inevitably painful as painful as the cutting off of an arm or leg. People who have experienced the pain of divorce deserve our sympathy and support.

To understand Jesus’ teaching about marriage we must know something about the male dominated world of Jesus’ day. Women were considered the property of men. Girls belong to their fathers until they married; and marriage made her the property of her husband. The commandment, Thou shalt not covet, lists a man’s wife along with his other property. From childhood to old age, the Hebrew woman belonged to the men of her family.

This subordination of women to men was reflected in the Jewish law of divorce, which was normally available only for husbands. Asked about this in today’s gospel, Jesus replies that divorce was not part of God’s original plan in creation. It arose, he says, because of the hardness of your hearts in other words, as a result of sin. It was this sinful hard-heartedness which had created the whole male-dominated world in which Jesus lived. With this world, deformed by sin, Jesus contrasts the good world created by God.

Jesus is referring to the Genesis creation story that we heard in our first reading. It opens with God’s statement: It is not good for the man to be alone. The first thing that God looks at in creation and says it is not good is loneliness. Therefore, God says, I will make a suitable partner for the man. The man has no part in her creation. God casts the man into a deep sleep to create his suitable partner a phrase connoting woman’s equality with men. Through a story simple enough even for children to understand the Bible is telling us that God created the two sexes to complete each other. He did not make men and women for rivalry: domination on the one hand, manipulation on the other. That rivalry was a result of the fall the choice of both woman and man, recounted in the next chapter of Genesis, to sin by disobeying the God who had made them.

In the gospel Jesus affirms this partnership between the sexes intended by God in creation, and hence the fundamental equality of man and woman. His teaching about marriage and divorce is a strong condemnation of the double standard which prevailed in his world yes, and too often still today: a strict law for women, and a more indulgent one for men. If men and women are partners, equally loved by God, there can be only one standard for both.

The scene which follows in the gospel, in which Jesus welcomes little children and blesses them, makes the same point. We are all God’s children, all equally dear to him. The same social and legal system that assigned women a lower place than men also considered children inferior. This explains why Jesus’ disciples thought they were doing him a favor by keeping children away from him. Jesus rebukes them: Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Jesus’ point is that God’s kingdom is especially for those whom society considers of no importance: people who are overlooked, thrust aside, pushed around, imposed on. Hence the importance of women for Jesus, and of children.

Behind both parts of the gospel the seemingly legalistic teaching about marriage and divorce, and the scene of Jesus with little children is the message of God’s universal love. The world of God’s making reflected that love. The world of our marring has perverted this love into lust, which means using others for selfish pleasure.

We betray God’s universal love when, instead of welcoming children as God’s gift, we resent them as burdens that interfere with our comfort. This is the attitude which has produced, all over our world today, laws permitting the killing of unborn children for any reason whatever, often merely for convenience. Already we are witnessing the next logical development: the direct killing of the newborn, during the process of birth itself (partial birth abortion), or through starvation, when they have some physical or mental handicap. Is it any wonder that Pope John Paul II, spoke of a culture of death?

In the face of these and countless other horrors the church proclaims Jesus’ timeless message of God’s universal love for all he has made: not just for the able-bodied and fit, not just for those of good moral character, but for all. In a special way, Jesus tells us, God loves the weak, the defenseless, the neglected. He loves every one of us just as we are, in strength and weakness.

We all remember the last years and months of Pope John Paul II, how he soldiered on in great weakness and serious illness. What an encouragement to people all over the world who are weak, handicapped, gravely ill. The Pope showed us, by his example, that life is still valuable, and is still worth living, despite weakness and pain. No merely human organization could long survive with such weakened leadership. From the point of view of administrative efficiency the Pope’s continuance in office was little short of a disaster. The Church, however, lives by a higher law than efficiency. It lives by the law of God himself: the law of love.

God did not make us for rivalry, for exploitation, for strife and war. He did not make us to be thrown away when we get old and weak. God made us to support one another. He made us to be partners. He made us for love. In the world of God’s making that love was as natural as breathing. In the world of our marring the power to love must be given us afresh, from outside. The One who gives us this love is the One who is love himself. He is the one, our second reading tells us, who is Anot ashamed to call us B every one of us B his brothers and sisters. His name is Jesus Christ.

Scripture: Gen. 2:18-24; Heb. 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16

The Joy of Capitalism: An Evening with Michael Novak

Amid growing debates about the morality of free enterprise, Michael Novak of Ave Maria University spoke at AEI on Thursday evening to promote the virtues of democratic capitalism. Novak revealed how capitalism has served to alleviate poverty, promote economic growth and enable the conditions for a flourishing society. He also warned of the dangers of increasing trends toward statism and overregulation, which discourage small business creation.