I Guess You Had To Be There

I promised some comment on the GOP Hopefuls' speeches at the Values Voter Summit over the weekend (find links to all the speeches I'll refer to here). I deliberately held off on reading most commentary until I could read the speeches myself, but after I did so, I went back to see what the usual suspects thought. Interestingly (to me anyway), my impressions based solely on reading the speeches are diametrically opposed to those of participants and eyewitnesses. Byron York, for example, speaks for most observers when he says Huckabee's presentation was by far the most enthusiastically received, while McCain & Thompson phoned it in. Giuliani's said to have helped himself --not for the primary-- but for the general election should he win the nomination. No one said much about Romney's speech, but he won the summit straw poll.

Based on reading alone, I thought Thompson, McCain & Giuliani had by far the most interesting speeches --with the former two coming closest to articulating a coherent view of the dignity of the human person and the threats to that dignity in our time. But perhaps it's easier for me and more legible for you if I take the speeches one by one, with bullet points.

  • He gets "major props" from me for grounding the social issues in natural law by invoking our founding political document:
    We had a group of Founding Fathers who knew the scriptures, who knew the wisdom of the ages, who knew that there was such a thing as human nature, who knew that man was prone to err and government ought to be constructed on the basis of that knowledge, but that man could rise to great heights when inspired and when given the opportunity. They put forth a Declaration of Independence and announced to the entire world that we believe and we acknowledge and we know in this country that our basic rights come from God and not from any government.
    Oo. Human nature (swoons). He also recognizes an American duty of sorts to be apostles of freedom and human dignity, in the sense of setting an example.
    That was our system of federalism that we put forth to the world and became a beacon of hope and inspiration for all mankind who love freedom. When we started out this thing, there were no democracies in the world, and now, depending on exactly how you define them, most of the countries in the world are, in large part because of the inspiration and the dedication of the United States of America.
  • I conclude, based on the speeches before this crowd (where a candidate is going to make the strongest possible case for himself as pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-family), that Thompson is the only one of the 4 "first-tier" candidates who is 100% pro-life. By which I mean he states flat-out that Roe was wrongly decided (none of this caviling about "precedent") and commits to nominating good judges; that he is "right" on all of the life issues, including being the only one of the big four who is opposed to embryonic stem cell research.
    My position on that was very simple:You don't create life in order to destroy it.
    And he made this pledge flatly:
    As president of the United States, no legislation will pass my desk, that funds or supports this procedure, without my veto.
    (That promise is actually problematic for me for reasons I may take up in a separate post --basically, I'm looking for a President who thinks like this, which is to say, politically. This kind of pledge reeks of TLC. But I'll take it.)
  • And maybe I get a hint of what I'm looking for in Thompson's treatment of the judicial confirmation process:
    too often the criteria has been confirmability. Well, obviously you got to have confirmability. Judge Roberts proved that quality will win out in the end. And it brought home to me again the necessity, I think, for a president of the United States in the future, if he is confronted with an increasingly partisan bitter reaction to good people who are nominated for this position, and they reject that nomination, you ought to send another one up just like it and have the fight all over again. (Applause.) That's a fight we can have with the American people--before the American people all day long. And we will win in the end if we are persistent and we stay with it.
    It's the latter part of the remark that impresses me. Stubbornness in itself is not the point; it's the recognition that in a democracy, a political battle is the way you educate the public about the merits of your cause. If he sees that judges are worth fighting for not just in their own right, but also because there are some conversations the country needs to have, perhaps there will be other fights he won't shy from either.
  • I liked what he said about gay marriage:
    judges have taken it upon themselves to take something that has been the case since the dawn of civilization, and that is the recognition that marriage is between a man and a woman -- turned it on its head. (Applause.)

    When I was in the Senate, we fought for the Defense of Marriage Act, passed that act, basically defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and saying one state, if they do such a thing, does not have to be recognized by another state when someone moves to that new state.

    This is a totally judicially created problem. I propose a constitutional amendment which will stop this particular brand of judicial activism in its tracks.
    Although I think his eccentric version of a federal marriage amendment is "wack," to use the technical term. But at least he expresses a willingness to confront moral issues in a straightforward way:
    while we are a great nation, we must also continue to strive to be a good nation. Of course we must have good laws; we must do our best to stop bad laws. But we must also recognize the element of personal responsibility for every American in this country. And when we see local authorities giving birth control to 11- and 12-year-olds, we know that some values are seriously messed up in this country. (Applause.) The federal government can't cure everything that's wrong and shouldn't even try. But we all have a pulpit. We all have a pulpit, and the greatest pulpit of them all is the presidency of the United States, and I will not be afraid to use it.

  • I also very much like his discussion of entitlement programs and run-away spending as moral issues. And he is serious about the war and the need to be resolute. The way I see it, the culture war and the war on terror are two fronts of the same war on the meaning of the human person; if you're weak on either front, I wonder if we actually share the same philosophy.
  • Like Thompson, McCain was said to be lackluster in his delivery, but the speech reads well. He too begins by invoking the Declaration (which is important to me because it's the bare minimum proof that you have a clue what a person is and what America is; it's like the pre-qualifier). This frames our situation nicely:
    For many of us, the meaningful pursuit of happiness compels us to defend those ideals, and in this hour that summons has never been more urgent as America confronts challenges to its founding values, particularly the sanctity of human life, at home and abroad.
  • And then he elaborates:
    We are involved in both a struggle against Islamic extremism and a struggle to protect America while preserving the values that make it worth protecting. Both of these struggles will demand courage and perseverance on our part and on the part of our leaders. Many American generations have been called to confront evil. My father and grandfather fought fascism. My generation fought communism. Now we are summoned to confront the evil of radical Islamic extremism. There is no denying it is evil. How more evident could it be than in the means our enemies choose to confront us. Their terrorism is not only an assault on our political and economic interests. It is an act of war against our defining ideals. Sacrificing Muslim children in car bombs. Beheading a reporter merely because he is Jewish and American, and broadcasting the atrocity. These are the tactics of people who scorn human life and dignity. And we are summoned to fight them not only by our just concern for our physical security but by the responsibility we have always accepted to support and defend values we believe to be universal.
  • It's hard to imagine these two grafs being phoned in.
    In the decades to come our prosperity and security will depend in part on what people in distant corners of the globe see when they turn their eyes toward America. As President, I would do everything within my power to ensure that they continue to see what they have seen for over two hundred years: a nation that remains fully worthy of Abraham Lincoln's belief that Americans hold in our hands not only the destiny of a single nation but the "last, best hope of earth."

    It's not easy to preserve our ideals in the midst of a difficult struggle with those who despise every value we stand for. It's not easy to see the humanity of our enemies, who refuse to acknowledge our humanity, and whose cruelty is so wanton and sickening. The Bible's call to do just that reminds me of the saying that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, so much as it has been found difficult, and not tried. The consistent message of the Gospels calls us to recognize that all life is sacred because all human beings are created in the image of God, a truth recognized as central in the founding documents of our nation. We have gone to war to defend our security and our values, and that is an enterprise that always involves morally hazardous actions. It is a just war and like all wars it requires the sacrifice and taking of human life. But let us not abandon our humility in its prosecution. War is a terrible thing, not the worst thing, but a terrible thing nonetheless. And our humility, commanded by our faith in our ideals and in a just and loving God, gives us the strength to resist the unnecessary sacrifice of our faith in the necessary cause of defeating our enemies.

    I have policy disagreements with McCain, but that's spoken like a man who believes as I do about our country.

  • And this is an extremely nice way of saying he's not going to support a federal marriage amendment:

    Sometimes all wisdom asks of us is that we recognize common sense. Don't federalize issues not addressed in the constitution. Don't constitutionalize issues where federalism has a chance to work. But sometimes, wisdom, as do all other virtues, requires courage. Wisdom suggests we should be reluctant to change a definition of marriage that has existed for thousands of years, but it takes courage in this day and age to insist that a mother and a father have unique and complementary roles in the raising of children, and that marriage reinforces public support for those roles. Wisdom suggests that we should be willing to give an unborn child the same chance that our parents gave us, but it takes courage in this political climate to insist on the protection of unborn children who can't vote, have no voice, and can't reward you with support and donations. Wisdom suggests that when activist federal judges impose their social views on the citizens of every state, the result is going to distort our politics in terrible ways, but it takes courage to insist that the courts have to return to their proper role.

  • I liked it. It would mean more to me if McCain weren't for Embryonic Stem-Cell Research, but I am not among those pro-lifers who doubt the sincerity of McCain's convictions.
  • He's going to need a whole post of his own at some point because of the moral dilemma he poses to Catholic (and other pro-life) primary voters (if he's the nominee, the dilemma fades). But I'll leave that to the side for now.
  • Much of the speech was an appeal to Christianity as "inclusive," which I find smarmy in anyone, but especially coming from him, with his notoriously my-way-or-the-highway personality.
  • Giuliani's "schtick" with the values voters is to acknowledge the stark differences but emphasize the common ground and ask --isn't it better that I tell you what I honestly think rather than pandering? It is interesting to note, therefore, that in fact he has moved "my" way on several issues. For example, he now claims to have always supported the partial birth abortion ban. That's not so, but he's claiming it. And after a record of supporting public funding of abortion as mayor of NY, he now is committed to the Hyde amendment and promises to uphold existing restrictions on abortion and public funding. He's also willing to say that if more states create gay marriage, he'll then support the federal marriage amendment. That's a lot of movement on his part. A lot. It's basically saying, "I'm personally pro-choice, but....I'll sign off on whatever legislation or vetoes you guys want." Interesting.
  • He makes his usual point about good judges. I believe he's sincere in his intent; it's just that none of the people he names to establish his bona fides are notable for their coherence on social questions. I'm not disparaging any of them, mind, I'm just saying it's not like he's got Robby George or Hadley Arkes advising him.
  • I only have a pdf file, so it's hard to quote, but he spent a lot of time (as he always does) on creating a civil society, and the broken-window theory of policing as it relates to the culture of life --driving pornographers out of the public square, defending religious symbols against desecration, standing up for the right of religious people to speak openly about their beliefs to the degree they feel comfortable, standing up against the effort to remove "God" from our coinage and everything else. All of that is extremely important on the way to building a culture that can pass a marriage amendment or a Human Life Amendment. Everyone should look closely at that portion of the speech and think about how to change the culture where these kinds of things are increasingly acceptable. It's a culture question Giuliani is right about. Not all the way right, but worth listening to. What's interesting about that portion of the speech, too, is how Catholic Giuliani's sensibilities still are --in spite of having gone extremely South on the abortion question.
  • Romney's speech only confirmed me in the conviction that I will never again read a Romney speech. A laundry-list of ideas & platitudes anchored by no discernible philosophy.
  • And I found this off-putting in the extreme:
    My whole family has been working on my campaign. And we've loved it. But we take this quite seriously as well. We know that if we win your vote for the Presidency, we will be expected to live by a higher standard. Everything we do will be under a microscope, whether we like it or not. The First family represents America to the world, and just as important, it represents America to your children and grandchildren. We will live up to a higher standard. Our family is far from perfect, but we'll always try to make you proud.
    I don't say that the prospective First Lady isn't an issue, but it's not for him to rag on the other guys' wives. Romney has a whiff of the prig about him that I can't get past. (I'll support him if he's the nominee, though. I was a pro-life lobbyist during the Clinton years and my memory is scarred by the experience. I will support the Republican nominee.)
  • I understand why his speech went over well, and its sermon-like character doesn't bother me --except that he gave me no reason to support him. Vote for me, I'm one of you? My mom used to get irritated with classical musicians who give concerts in which they do nothing but the old standards --there's an obligation not only to please the audience, but also to educate them, to wedge a forgotten classic or something unknown but gorgeous in between N'essun Dorma & La Donna E Mobile. Huckabee did a crowd-pleaser, but he did nothing to educate religious voters about how to advance "their" issues in the public square, there was no vision. Puts him officially not in the top tier in my book.
It's interesting that Thompson, McCain & Giuliani each in his way is very concerned about the state of the American soul --although none of them puts it that way of course. But each spoke about personal responsibility, "for every right a duty," civil society, keeping America good, breaking away from the entitlement mentality that so ennervates the human soul. I found that heartening simply because it suggests the front-runners are actually thinking about these matters, not simply pandering to a constituency. So: I still haven't found my Reagan ex machina to whom I can give my political heart, but I'm feeling a little better about the field.