Monday, July 13, 2009

Ross Douthat's Vision of Radicalism

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.


Natalee said...

"Why can’t Republicans worry about economic inequality?"

This is the joke of the year. God, what a douchebag.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Do you want to know who is really to blame for the current economic crisis? The people who support the right to abortion and euthanasia. This is from the last Benedict XVI encyclical:

In economically developed countries, legislation contrary to life is very widespread, and it has already shaped moral attitudes and praxis, contributing to the spread of an anti-birth mentality; frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other States as if it were a form of cultural progress. Some non-governmental Organizations work actively to spread abortion, at times promoting the practice of sterilization in poor countries, in some cases not even informing the women concerned. Moreover, there is reason to suspect that development aid is sometimes linked to specific health-care policies which de facto involve the imposition of strong birth control measures. Further grounds for concern are laws permitting euthanasia as well as pressure from lobby groups, nationally and internationally, in favour of its juridical recognition. Openness to life is at the centre of true development. When a society moves towards the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man's true good. If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away[67]. The acceptance of life strengthens moral fibre and makes people capable of mutual help. By cultivating openness to life, wealthy peoples can better understand the needs of poor ones, they can avoid employing huge economic and intellectual resources to satisfy the selfish desires of their own citizens, and instead, they can promote virtuous action within the perspective of production that is morally sound and marked by solidarity, respecting the fundamental right to life of every people and every individual."

Clarissa said...

My feelings exactly, Natalee.

Thank you for the quote, Anonymous 2.

Anonymous 1: My issue in this post wasn't with the Pope. He's the Pope, so what can you expect from him? My objective is to highlight the nonsense published by this supposedly liberal newspaper. People keep ranting about how liberal thhe NYTimes is. How they explain this label in view of artciles screaming about "mass destruction of human embryos" is beyond my comprehension.

Anonymous said...

I read this editorial piece yesterday twice, since I could not really understand what Douthat tried to say. Thanks for illuminating my lantern and for making me laugh!

The NYTimes IS a liberal paper, as liberal as you can get in the US. This is why they provide a kind an editorial space for conservatives such as Douthat. Dialogue, the truth lies in between, freedom for me and for you even if my freedom obstructs yours, relativism: for me this is the core of liberal ideas, and they more than often leads to paradoxical and flawed ideas. So the NYTimes needs Douthat and the likes to be labelled as liberal, otherwise it could end up being a radical media outlet.

Or maybe there is a simpler explanation for the NYTimes to allow such an editorial. The NYTimes hired Douthat to make people react, to sell copies? I don't know. That being said, the NYTimes may provide a space for conservative thinking (that IS being a liberal, after all), but they should pick a conservative writer who makes more sense. Isn't the NYTimes a respectable institution?

BTW, Douthat was born in Hamden CT (Wikipedia!).

Clarissa said...

I guess the real question is: Is there a conservative writer who makes more sense? These ideas are so bankrupt that I don't see how anybody could make them more attractive. It's all about robbing the people and hiding this fact under the guise of lamenting the "mass destroyed embryos."

Anonymous said...

"Is there a conservative writer who makes more

Of course not. With my spirit of conciliation, I was trying to be more liberal. Ha!

The writer I love to hate in the Times is Stanley Fish.


Clarissa said...

The Nation is a good truly liberal weekly. I hate what they have to say about Russia and Israel but the rest is great. Totally better than stupid NYTimes.

Stanley Fish is an abomination.