Ross Douthat is a gift that just keeps on giving, people. I had to get up unconscionably early today (8 a.m. for me feels like it's still yesterday) to wait for the refrigerator repair person. Understandably, this put me in a mood so lousy that even massive amounts of coffee didn't help. Thankfully, Monday is a day when the journalist I love to hate published his weekly column. I laughed so hard while reading his article "The Audacity of the Pope" that I'm afraid I woke up the entire building. Making me laugh before 9 a.m. is a feat nobody has been able to accomplish before, so Douthat has a great future in standup comedy once the New York Times finally goes down.
American politics has become very disappointing, says Douthat. The Republicans are despised and "Barack Obama’s agenda looks like the same old Democratic laundry list, rewritten in a sleeker, Internet-era font." Douthat's answer to the problem? Radical thinking: "The governing party is mistrusted, the minority party despised. Yet there’s remarkably little radical thinking taking place." Good, huh? I'm the first person to agree that we need new, fresh, often even radical approaches to the problems we face. Of course, the question arises immediately of where we should look for the radical thinkers and politicians who would be able to offer strikingly new solutions. While the answer to the question has been eluding me for a while, Douthat has the response: the Pope, of course. Here is the radical new thinker whose political agenda will allow the Americans to embrace a new, progressive, non-partisan way of thinking.
Catholic or not, says Douthat, we should all read and feel inspired by Pope Benedicts third encyclical: " Catholics are obliged to take seriously the underlying provocation of the papal message. . . So should all people of good will. For liberals and conservatives alike, “Caritas in Veritate” is an invitation to think anew about their alliances and litmus tests." After this statement, Douthat proceeds to show us how he accomplishes this in practice. He poses a series of questions on important political issues one might expect from a third-grader. Since Douthat has apparently been unable to find answers to these questions on his own, I will provide him with answers.
1) Why should being pro-environment preclude being pro-life?
It doesn't. I'm very pro-environment and at the same time I firmly believe in the right of every woman to be in charge of her own life. I'm pro-life since, surely, being pro-life has to mean being against the death penalty, against war-mongering, and in favor of every individual having access to basic things (clean water, food, medical care) that will make life possible.
2) Why can’t Republicans worry about economic inequality?
Because they are Republicans, dummy. It's like asking why turtles can't fly. The answer is because it's not in their nature. Besides, the whole tone of the question aside from being childish is plain weird. What does Douthat mean by "worry about"? Do the Republicans worry that there is too little economic inequality? Does "worrying" about it include doing anything to change it? Even if they did worry about it, how would that help anybody? Worrying is hardly a very practical occupation for politicians.
3) Why can't Democrats consider devolving more power to localities and states?
Once again, this is hardly a serious question. More power than what? Which "localities" currently suffer from having too little power? What does this whole question mean?
4) Does opposing the Iraq war mean that you have to endorse an anything-goes approach to bioethics?
This is an example of a question the purpose of which is not to seek information. Rather, the point is to make baseless accusations. What's "an anything-goes approach to bioethics"? Why does Douthat accuse people who are against the Iraq war (as opposed to the Afghanistan war or any other war, I guess) of it? If I favor cloning, I have very specific reasons for it. Douthat, who endorses an anything-goes approach to journalism, would never be able to understand that, of course.
5) Does supporting free trade require supporting the death penalty?
Yes, it does, pumpkin. What you are coy enough to call "free trade" destroys so many people that a little death penalty here and there is nothing.
To conclude his article, Douthat laments the absence of such disscussions in Washington: "These questions, and many others like them, are the kind that a healthy political system would allow voters and politicians to explore. But for now, at least, you’re more likely to find them being raised in Benedict XVI’s Vatican than in Barack Obama’s Washington." What Douthat doesn't seem to realize is that a healthy educational system allows people to find answers to these question by the age of ten. Obama's Washington has more serious things to do.
Douthat laments the fact that the Pope's concerns and proposals aren't echoed in Washington: “Caritas in Veritate” promotes a vision of economic solidarity rooted in moral conservatism. It links the dignity of labor to the sanctity of marriage. It praises the redistribution of wealth while emphasizing the importance of decentralized governance. It connects the despoiling of the environment to the mass destruction of human embryos. This is not a message you’re likely to hear in Barack Obama’s next State of the Union, or in the Republican Party’s response." Of course, you aren't likely to hear this arrant nonsense in a President's State of the Union address. This sounds like ramblings of a maniac, or as an attempt of a religious leader to craft an ideology that would cover the obsolete nature of the teachings he has to follow (which is what it is). It will be a sad moment in American politics when we see elected a president dishing out this kind of insanity.