More Conservative Inconsistencies

Conservatives are permitted to define whatever standards of intellectual consistency for themselves that they wish. But, it is important in gauging the political sincerity of a movement and its leaders to determine how they fulfill the standards they have set for themselves. It is one thing to criticize them for having the wrong standards, but it is another, and more damning, thing to charge them with intellectual inconsistency.

First up, from our friends at the website VoxNova, is an examination of how the most vocal pro-life activists failed to object to the abortion provisions when the Republicans introduced Medicare Advantage. There, the restrictions on abortion coverage was exceedingly weak: Companies could not be forced to provide abortion coverage as a condition of participating in Medicare Advantage. Keep in mind, that while most recipients of Medicare are above child-bearing age, that is not true of the 5 million participants who qualify for Medicare because they are disabled. Did I miss the postcard campaign against these GOP provisions? Did the National Right-To-Life Committee even score the vote on Medicare Advantage? Oops.


Yesterday’s election in the Texas GOP primary offers another example of inconsistency on the Right. The winner, incumbent Gov. Rick Perry, really only took over the race when he spoke favorably about secession. I searched in vain for some clarification by Gov. Perry that he misspoke and, likewise, for some evidence among conservative blogs that principled conservatives were calling on Perry to retract his statements. Surely, if ever there was an American principle that all reasonable people should be able to agree on it is that secession brought on the greatest tragedy in American history and that any favorable talk about it is appalling. But, over at the American Principles Project, where principle gets a capital "P" not a word of protest.

Perhaps, the folks at APP were too busy get more signatories to their Manhattan Declaration, a document that combined equal measures of banal statements that most people would agree to with darkly threatening, manifesto-like phrases that warn of culture war ("We shall….We Must…" You can almost hear a Catholic version of "The Internationale" in the background.) I am not sure why anyone would sign it. But, I was struck that among the signatories was George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, who issued an especially dishonest tract ("The Courage to be Catholic") in response to the sex abuse crisis, trying to pin the crisis on gay clergy, keeping the focus on the sexual failings of a few long past the time when it was the cover-up of those crimes by the whole that had become the real cause for concern. And, also on the list of signatories of the Manhattan Declaration is the Bishop Emeritus of Cheyenne, the Most Rev. Joseph Hart. Last year, Hart’s prior diocese of Kansas City reached a settlement with abuse victims on charges that he had personally molested children. So, even by Weigel's wrong-headed standard, the retired Bishop is an odd person to look to for moral support. Funny, too, that the protection of children from gay bureaucrats has been a constant theme at Professor George’s website.

Actually, there is nothing funny about it. It is simple evidence of hypocrisy. I would suggest it is equally hypocritical for Professor George to continue present himself as a Catholic authority when his site runs headlines like this: "Abortion funding issue still last best hope for halting health care legislation passage." Passing over the offensive syntax, I thought Catholics wanted health care reform provided it did not include abortion funding? Or is that only the case when the Republicans are advocating for it? There is nothing wrong with being a partisan, so long as you own up to it. And, I do not mind a bit of intellectual inconsistency either: There is a sense in which an overwrought concern for consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. But, when the patterns are pervasive, and one is no longer defending principles – or Principles – it is hard not to believe that a different agenda is at work. It is fine by me if APP wants to overlook Gov. Perry’s secession talk, or fail to denounce Medicare Advantage or hurl calumnies at gay appointees on the subject of preserving the innocence of children while signing up someone who was the subject of a court settlement on charges of actually abusing children. But, let’s not confuse that with anything that resembles a Catholic, conservative intellectual tradition. Little minds exist among those who run from intellectual consistency too.


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Helena Loflin
8 years 10 months ago
You say inconsistency.  I say hypocrisy.
Peter Lakeonovich
8 years 10 months ago
"It is one thing to criticize them for having the wrong standards, but it is another, and more damning, thing to charge them with intellectual inconsistency."

This statement is not true; that is, it is actually false. Moreover, it makes no sense. It is indeed better, and not in your own words, Mr. Winteres, "more damning" (whatever that means), to be inconsistent but have the right standards than to be consistent but have the wrong standards. Who would disagree that it is better to do the right thing for the wrong reason than not to do it all?

I suppose you also have a problem with Archbishop Dolan signing the Manhattan Declaration as well. And Cardinal Rigali too. Please Mr. Winters. How you continue to be featured on this (Catholic) blog is beyond me, unless, to use two of your own words, all "standards" be "damned."

By the way, happy feast day of St. Catharine Drexel!
8 years 10 months ago
I had thought (hoped?) by the lack of any jeremiad from Mr. Winters since the beginning of Lent that he had foresworn his usual attacks on the far right of the Republican Party.  Unfortunately I see that this is perhaps not the case.  But I understand the tactic - the Liberal ship is taking on water at such a volume that it is the ultimate form of deck chair realignment to point out the scary extremes of your opponent.  Forget the impressive showing by the Republicans in the Health Care Summit (wherein Pres. Obama expressly acknowledged the validity of a number of Republican points), forget the ethics scandals flowering under Pelosi's "most transparent Congress in history", forget the polls- attack attack attack.  Yes, I feel the "hope and change" already of post-partisan Obamaville!
PS- I urge America again to look into having ONE conservative Catholic political writer to attempt to balance out Mr. Winters.  In the meantime, people should check out Ross Douthat & Reihan Salam's blog - they actually elucidate & explain, which is a refreshing change.
Livia Fiordelisi
8 years 10 months ago
Thank you for continuing to point out these obvious inconsistencies. To the conservative readers: certainly you have other sources to turn to reinforce your viewpoint. The Catholic Church is dominated by conservative/reactionary voices.
Steve White
8 years 10 months ago
Mr. Winters' assesment (an "especially dishonest tract") of George Weigel's "The Courage to be Catholic" is itself dishonest. Whatever one's opinion of Mr. Weigel or his writing, the characterization of his arguments in that book as "trying to pin the crisis on gay clergy, keeping the focus on the sexual failings of a few long past the time when it was the cover-up of those crimes by the whole," is simply not credible to anyone who has read the book. Surely there is enough room for disagreement with Mr. Weigel on the merits of his arguments and on any number of matters without having to concoct straw-men and bad caricatures. Mr. Winters is no fool, he should know better. His readers deserve better.
Gabriel Marcella
8 years 10 months ago
There is something wrong to ''There is nothing wrong with being a partisan, so long as you own up to it.'' Such a statement does not belong in a journal of Catholic thought of the excellence of America. Partisanship suggests putting party and ideology ahead of facts and the well being of society.
8 years 10 months ago
"''There is nothing wrong with being a partisan, so long as you own up to it.'' Such a statement does not belong in a journal of Catholic thought of the excellence of America."
As the Health Care plan has tanked, along with the public's approval of the liberal congressional leadership and, to a lesser extent, Pres. Obama, Mr. Winters has veered more and more into the type of partisan rancor he so often decries on the right.  His tone has become increasingly shill (with Dr. George really getting his ire) & his posts rarely deviate from standard Democratic party talking points.  I agree that none of this is becoming of America's pedigree.
Stephen Braunlich
8 years 10 months ago
I've got to say, at the outset, that the tenor of your postings are driving me away from a blog that I have enjoyed reading.  That said, a comment and a question:
''Surely, if ever there was an American principle that all reasonable people should be able to agree on it is that secession brought on the greatest tragedy in American history and that any favorable talk about it is appalling.''
Unless you're now also in the camp that says the civil war was fought over states' rights, then you ought to recognize that the war was not fought over secession.  The war was, at root, fought over slavery.  Absent that, there is no secession.
And as to integrity, do you now own up to being a Democratic partisan?
8 years 10 months ago
The term conservative is one badly misused.  People like to pigeon hole others and then make broad sweeping generalizations based on the straw man they just created.  Conservatives generally are interested in freedom and liberty but that is not the only thing they support.  They realize all freedom has to be moderated by order.  The question is how much and what type.
I consider myself a conservative and am all for helping the poor, reducing war as much as possible, ensuring equality of opportunity as best as possible, providing a substantive education for all and eliminating any unjust legal discrimination etc.  The question is how.  Most of the disagreements with liberals over these objectives is how to achieve them.  Government intervention on just about any social and economic program you can name has been a failure so conservatives are very reluctant to endorse new ones unless they are very sure to achieve their objectives.  I am for healthcare to a certain level for all but I am firmly against anything the Democrats are now doing, whether abortion funding is part of it or not.  Liberals and Democrats are not interested in healthcare for the poor.  If they were they would take a completely different approach.  So to describe conservatives as against health care and themselves as champions of it is false.
Mr. Winters gets into his flame throwing again by calling George Weigel dishonest and Robert George as hypocritical.  If he wants to have an ''honest'' debate then he has to treat people with respect.  I will ask my continual question.  Why is Mr. Winters allowed to post on a Jesuit site?  His naiveté and confrontational approach, often hostile, should not be one Jesuits endorse.  I consider myself a good Catholic but disagree with nearly everything Mr. Winters advocates on social and economic policy and he paints those who disagree with him as morally deficient.  So I ask the Jesuits who read the posts here, why is someone like him posting here and why is someone who is interested in a candid debate not posting here?  The Jesuits who taught me would have wanted such a debate.  You might get some interesting insights.
John McGuinness
8 years 10 months ago
Yes, opposing bureaucratic nominees on the basis of protecting children from get influences sounds spooky, but as Mr. Winters actually investigated the claims?   it's not bigotry to accuse someone of promoting homosexuality when they are actually promoting sexuality.
Let me break down MSW's argument:
1. Robert George founded APP.
2. APP opposes health care reform
3. The Church teaches that health care is a right, and the USCCB supports the health care refom bill.
Therefore, Robert George has no right to call himself a Catholic scholar.
This standard would eliminate anyone with any association with the modern Democratic Party.
John McGuinness
8 years 10 months ago
Inconsistency may be bad, but guilt by association is worse, and has a much uglier history.
There are many good reasons to criticize George Wiegel, in particular his advocacy for the Iraq War.
But that he signed a declaration that was also signed by a retired bishop whose diocese had to pay a settlement when he was accused of sexual abuse is not one of them.
What exactly was Wiegel supposed to do, assuming he agrees with the declaration?  Say, "I'd love to sign it, but it was also signed by an abusing priest, and thus I can't?"
Should all left-leaning Catholics be expected to never sign declaration or petitions if they are also signed by those who support abortion or embryonic research?  Is this the world we want to live in?
If you really do have the better argument, you shouldn't need to rely on these ugly guilt-by-association smears.
Vince Killoran
8 years 10 months ago
I read MSW's post as a critique of the coarse mixing of religion & politics by some conservatives.  I'm glad to read his liberal views just as I read (very) conservative Catholic bloggers. 
The only respondent who comes close to engaging in his actual argument is John McGuiness (although I don't agree with it, especially his charge that MSW is engaging in "guilt by association").
John McGuinness
8 years 10 months ago
The basis for all of MSW's accusations of inconsistency is not the actions of those he accuses, but the actions (or inactions) of orgnaizations or individuals with whom they are associated.
The APP opposes health care reform, and didn't condemn Governor Perry's calls for secession.  Therefore Robert George has no right to call himself a ''Catholic authority.'' (BTW, I'm skeptical that Prof. George would refer to himself as a Catholic authority).
Bishop Hart was accused of molestation credibly enough that his dicoese had to pay a settlement.  Bishop Hard signed the Manhattan Declaration.  George Wiegel signed the Manhattan Declaration.  Therefore...., well I'm not quite sure, but it seems that MSW is suggesting that Wiegel is not as hard on sexual abuse as his writings would call for.
This is guilt by association.  Some group or person that the target is associated with did something bad, therefore the target is not to be trusted.  And it's every bit as ugly when the left does it as when the right does it.  It doesn't get us any closer to the truth; it's just a way to smear people we disagree with and don't like.
Did you learn anything from this post other than that MSW doesn't like George Wiegel and Robert George?
Pearce Shea
8 years 10 months ago
John McGuinness is spot on. This whole post is one long non-sequitur, a series of insinuations whose sole purpose is to make suggest how terrible and horrible conservatives, the APP and George Weigel are. Guilt by Association is right. Didn't Wuerl sign it?  Are we to assume that the good Archbishop is therefore guilty of colluding with child abuse?
I've said it before and I'll say it again: MSW is best served when he doesn't talk about conservatives. I, like Vince am glad to read America. But, Vince, while I agree that there is certainly a coarse mix of religion in politics being discussed in MSW's piece, that, frankly, isn't the point of the article, or if it was then it was a very poorly written piece indeed. The problem with MSW when he gets to writing about conservatives is that he brings up interesting ideas or theories, but passes them all by in order to score the easy, slimy party-line point. We frequent readers of America, and of MSW's book, know that he is much better than that.
Vince Killoran
8 years 10 months ago
"[E]asy, slimy party-line point"?! 
That does not seem like a a fair characterization of MSW's contributions. I don't want to crowd out other bloggers so I'll recede after this post but I fail to how a critique of the positions of the APP and the signatories is somehow unfair or invalid.
 MSW's critics might have more credibility if, every once in a while, they offered a criticism of conservative politics themselves (much like MSW does with liberalism). 
James Lindsay
8 years 10 months ago
A lot of inside baseball on this post, especially regarding Prof. George (rather than Prof. George Weigel). Sticking to one topic would be nice.

For those who think that health care reform is dead, you can keep thinking that. In fact, I invite you, since it is dead, to end activism on the issue. Fibbing about its prospects, by the way, is not really activism. It's a close call, but it seems very much alive to the rest of us. One simple amendment to Reconciliation including the Stupak language should be enough to pass it (if even that is required). If Stupak is added, by the way, Catholics who seek to be in agreement with the Church on this issue must support the current bills. While I would favor covering undocumented immigrants (as the Bishops do), I can see that this would be a bridge too far on this legislation. Covering the undocumented can be solved, instead, by enacting comprehensive immigration reform (read into that amnesty).

As for Secession, that was the causus beli of the Civil War (not slavery), as information from that time clearly shows that those who fought from the North did so to preserve the Union, which was how Lincoln sold the War. On the other hand, insistence on state's rights is only inconsistent for Republicans if you assume they are still the party of Lincoln. Nixon's Southern Strategy changed that. Opposition to judicial activism, Roe v. Wade, gay rights and all the rest is sold under a banner of states' rights. Secession is just code for wanting to continue in that tradition - as well as dumping any obligation for any of the national debt that Gov. Perry's predecessor racked up through cutting taxes while fighting two wars.

Indeed, all that one needs to prove the inconsistency of the current Republican Party is to compare their rhetoric on finances with their actions.
8 years 10 months ago
I';m glad to see I'm not alone in my concerns of these posts.
The "guilt-by-association" argument is the most serious charge.  Mr. Winters, to my reading, frequently engages in this sort of thing, especially when the topic is Dr. George.  Yes, they are a very conservative group.  But, if you have a disagreement with the Manhattan Declaration, jump into the substance and say WHY, don't just dismiss it because of nefarious groups, organizations or attempt to discredit it them by citing the words (in the midst of a heated campaign) by another (non-Catholic) politician, i.e. Rick Perry & secession.  My long-term concern which I have voiced is that this blog has degenerated into the typical partisan sniping that liberals like Obama & WInters can & should be above.  Yes, it exists on the right (which is why I stopped reading the previous iteration of the APP, American Papist.  I thought that the young blogger there mischaraterized first and attacked second to the sacrifice of quality.)  In earlier comments I have pointed out the bizarre topics Mr. Winters chooses to blog on.  So, for example, there was no comments Paul Ryan's financial roadmap, or more recently, Ahbs. Chaput's shot across the bow at Catholic liberalism's basis - JFK's Dallas speech.  Instead we get these tirades about Dr. George & "conservatives".
As an example of what I expect, I cited Ross Douthat & Reihan Salam.  If you look at either of their blogs TODAY, you see a fine example wherein they take a criticism of THEIR OWN position, and attempt to engage it thoughtfully & fairly, and always in a way that leaves me knowing more about BOTH sides in the argument.  I long for that here with a Catholic twist.  Alas, I get a mix of Maureen Dowd & Paul Krugman.
James Lindsay
8 years 10 months ago
Catholic politicians and activists alike on both sides of the aisle are arguing about abortion coverage in health care reform as if the state of their souls depended on it. For all I know, they may be right. So, assume you are Joe Congressman and you have just died. Here are some questions you can expect if you have blocked or enacted health care reform.

Jesus will first ask you how many abortions were prevented by blocking taxpayer funding of abortion. You will answer, since in the next life, all is known and laid bare. (by the way, the wording of the question was intentional – how many were funded is not relevant, how many more actually occurred is).

He will then ask you how many abortions occurred or were prevented because you passed or didn’t pass health care reform. Again, you will know.

He will then ask you how many other people died or were saved because you passed or didn’t pass health care reform. You will know that too.

What happens to you next depends upon which number is greater. My advice is that it is best that you know these numbers now, because Jesus cares about what actually happens to people, not whether you helped the Church or the party saved face.
John McGuinness
8 years 10 months ago
Salvation isn't purely a numbers game.  In Matthew 25, Jesus doesn't talk about comparing numbers for different courses of action; He talks about whether we practiced the corporal works of mercy when given an oppurtuntiy to do so.
Comparing abortion and healthcare seems especially perilous in this case.  People who die for lack of access to healthcare are killed by their diseases.  We are called to help them.  I'm not convinced that necessarily has to look like health care reform.  Even absent that, there are other ways we can (and must) help those who are missing access to health care.
The deaths of abortion are directly killed by that abortion, which I think intensifies our culpability.
John McGuinness
8 years 10 months ago
I don't dispute that, but I don't see how it makes the guilt-by-association smear against all signatories of the Manhattan Declaration more or less valid.
david clohessy
8 years 10 months ago
Re Bishop Hart, it's worth noting that
1) Even after he was sued for molesting kids, then-WY Bishop David Ricken (now of Green Bay) let a children's home name a wing of their building after Hart.
2) Even now, despite our pleas, current WY Bishop Paul Etienne lets Hart's name remain on the home.
3) Even now, despite our repeated pleas, Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn (who oversees the diocese where most of Hart's crimes took place) refuses to do real outreach to others who may have seen, suspected or suffered Hart's crimes.
There are at least 5 men who sued Hart. (I personally know 3 of them.) All of the cases settled. KC church authorities haven't claimed that any of Hart's accusers aren't "credible."
David Clohessy, National Director, SNAP-Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, 7234 Arsenal Street, St. Louis MO 63143 (314 566 9790),,
Think Catholic
8 years 10 months ago
Winters knows all about inconsistency.  In July he promised to oppose "reform" and its politican backers if it funded abortion insurance in any way shape or form, including fund "segregation."  Today he supports Senate and Obama bills which do just that.  Broken promise. 
Jacob Torbeck
8 years 10 months ago
""It is one thing to criticize them for having the wrong standards, but it is another, and more damning, thing to charge them with intellectual inconsistency."This statement is not true; that is, it is actually false. Moreover, it makes no sense. It is indeed better, and not in your own words, Mr. Winteres, "more damning" (whatever that means), to be inconsistent but have the right standards than to be consistent but have the wrong standards. Who would disagree that it is better to do the right thing for the wrong reason than not to do it all?"
you're actually incorrect.  Catholic Moral Teaching says that one must always act in accordance with one's own conscience (even when's one conscience is wrong, this is the case - one does have a duty to form their conscience but that's not being addressed here).  If a person is being inconsistent, then they are 'not' always acting according to their conscience, and are in a poor moral state.  See Summa Theologiae Ia IIae q 19.
James Lindsay
8 years 10 months ago
John McG, you missed my point, which was mentioned by subtle. It matters not how many abortions were funded, but rather how many additional abortions occur. The results matter, not the obedience. The goats in Matt 25 thought they were obedient. It is quite possible, and is indeed likely, that even with insurance funding with no Nelson or Stupak amendment no additional abortions would occur, since even with insurance most people pay cash for the procedure so that there is no record with their insurance company or their doctor. The poorest under reform will be getting Medicaid, so Hyde still restricts them. It is the middle class to which these abortion benefits apply and they will likely still pay cash - which means no additional abortions.

You can be righteous and have people die. I don't think Jesus would like it - which was my point.

Also, as I have said before, if expecting private charity to pick up the gap if we only cut taxes was a legitimate approach it would have already occurred - as taxes on the wealthy are at their lowest post-war levels. Charities, however, are doing poorly. Under your approach to charity, this should not be the case (unless, of course, you are mistaken).
William Kurtz
8 years 10 months ago
Thank you, Michael.
"You can be righteous and have people die." That sums up the rationale for opposing health care because of which set of restrictions (Nelson or Stupak) are applied.
Unless, of course, those citing it really don't want health care at all, but figure it's a better-sounding rationale than calling the uninsured "deadbeats" who don't deserve coverage (as many tea baggers do), or opposing it because crimping insurance companies doesn't square with laissez faire or Randian principles.
8 years 10 months ago
Psalm 126 (127)
Without the Lord, we labour in vain

If the Lord does not build the house,
its builders labour in vain.
If the Lord does not watch over a city,
its workmen guard it in vain.
John McGuinness
8 years 10 months ago
So if we could save a million lives by waterboarding a single terrorist, we should do so, right?  1,000,000 > 1.   Results matter, not obedience, right?
James Lindsay
8 years 10 months ago
The fallacy is, waterboarding does not work. Sodium pentathol would be used instead.

There is another way to look at getting Stupak passed, by counting votes instead of bodies. There are two ways to do this (which as a Catholic, we need to be for). The first is to roll Pelosi and have Stupak be put in as part of reconciliation. Possible, but not as likely. It would also be a minimum victory - although a victory nonetheless.

The other would be to work out a deal to amend the Senate Bill in the House to add Stupak back on and send it back to the Senate for concurrence. Of course, to do this you would have to then get 15 additional Senate Democrats and all the Republicans to vote for the final bill in the Senate (or even more Democrats if some of the Republicans bauk). In other words, they need to do some heavily lifing in the Senate. If they can't turn final passage into a pro-life essential vote and assure passage, they have nothing to bring to the table. Napoleon asked how many divisions the Pope had (the irony being that his grandnephew gave divisions to the Pope). The modern equivalent is to question how many votes they can shift toward passage.

The thing about Stupak is that it failed in the Senate because it was perceived not to be abortion neutral, but instead would have blocked subsidies under reform that are currently provided under the employer exclusion of health care cafeteria costs. Such a move goes beyond abortion neutrality, which is all well and good - however it is dishonest to say your position is abortion neutral if this is true. If they can prove to 15 Democrats that this is not true and deliver the entire GOP for final passage, then they deserve to have Stupak pass. This seems to be like the only way to save face, since others consider Nelson to be abortion neutral (including Nelson and MSW). Votes talk and you know what walks (in crass political terms). I will resort to such terms, since in reality more abortions will occur without health reform than with reform under the Senate bill. They would have been wise to declare victory and win when Nelson passed.
Peter Lakeonovich
8 years 10 months ago

What does acting in accordance with your conscience have to do with being consistent or inconsistent? In fact, if what you attribute to St. Thomas is true, then acting in accordance with you conscience, could, conceivably, cause you to act inconsistently. If, for example, you used to act one way without conscience and then you corrected your ways in discovering your conscience, then you would be acting inconsistently-for the better. Think of St. Agustine. I'll assume you just confused different concepts here.
James Lindsay
8 years 10 months ago
OOPS! I goofed. I was preparing for (or just out of) abdominal surgery when the Senate voted on the Stupak Amendment. I thought they were voting for Cloture, not to table. Unless Snowe, Browne, Reid and one Democrat (maybe Webb?) go along with Stupak with Biden breaking the tie, it won't pass in reconciliation. I apologize for getting the facts wrong.

As I said previously, if the Church wants Stupak, it needs to line up some Republican votes for final passage. Indeed, it needs to find at least 30 and get the President to promise 30 Democrats. If they can pull that off, then Stupak can be added back to the Senate Bill as an amendment in the House and then sent back to the Senate who would accept the amendment. Of course, that would require amending Stupak so Olympia Snow et al would support it. Oh, and turn off the war of words against reconciliation.

Of course, I doubt this challenge will be accepted. The Church can't even get the National Right to Life Committee to designate Health Care cum Stupak as an RTL vote - requiring a yes vote for a perfect rating. If it can't even get NRLC to play ball, it is playing poker with a busted flush (which is worse than trying for an inside straight, which is what Obama is doing in the House - probably successfully). The bottom line is, until they can get Bunning, McConnell and Cantor to vote for final passage they have no business asking me to get Webb, Warner and Moran. My message to the bishops, especially my own Bishop Loverde, is to not even think about playing hardball with Catholic Democrats until you first get NLRC on board for final passage.


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