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.