Author Archives: evelynbakerlang

Souter! Souter!

This blog is founded upon the principal that two political opponents can come to the truth through intelligent (though heated!) conversation.  We founded that idea on an episode of Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing” in which President Bartlett appoints both Evelyn Baker Lang and Christopher Mulready, a fierce liberal and conservative respectively, to the Court.

So, what do we think about the announcement that Justice Souter will step down in June?  Who should Obama appoint to fill his seat?  Will this be the beginning of a slew of retirements from the elderly liberal justices on the Court (because let’s face it, you know several of them were just hanging on until a Democrat was in the White House!)?  Is ideological balance an ideal for the Court, or was Sorkin crazy?  What’s more important: fierce ideological debate on the Court, or uniform ideology that accomplishes your judicial agenda?  Which is more dangerous?

Let the debate begin!

~Lang

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Filed under Right Meets Left, Uncategorized

Tea and let them eat cake

Happy Tax Day, all!

Whether you’ve chosen to observe the day by dutifully filing your taxes, sending in an actual paper check to the government through the US Postal Service (how delightful antiquated of you!), or held a tea party to protest government infringement of your liberty, we wish you a wonderful day!

And though we know you really want to watch us go back and forth on whether or not President Obama handled the Somali pirate incident well, or if Senator McCain really did diss Governor Palin on Leno, today we want to hear from you.

Taxes: good?  bad?  necessary?

Whether you want to rant and rail, discuss your utopian ideal, or speculate on President Obama’s promised overhaul of our “monstrous” tax code, start speculating in our comments section!

Please!  The long absence of posts is mostly due to the fact that (1) we’re both full time teachers and it’s AP test season right now and (2) Lang’s master’s thesis is due on 1 May and she’s been shackled to her Word files for weeks.  Give us a distraction!

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Filed under It's the Economy Stupid, Polls

Calling on Mulready

I’ve posted my response to the Honorable Justice Mulready’s question ‘What is the right to life?’, and we’ve had a lively debate in the comments on the post.  I’d love to hear more of your thoughts (and debate Mulready a bit more!), but I’m also interested in his definition of the next inalienable right.

I must admit, I feel a little awkward initiating the disucssion at this point.  This morning, my pastor wisely (and rightly!) reminded us that the Declaration of Independence is not perfectly sound theology.  The inalienable three, while good guides for a secular government, are not the highest calling of Christians.  Paul’s exhortation in II Corinthians 4:17 that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” is a much better guide for our action.

But we’re talking of a secular state.  So I ask Mulready, as we continue our conversation of the right to life, what would you define as the right to liberty?

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Filed under Rights Reason & Religion

Above my pay grade

Yes, the title is a cheap joke.  But I’m in the midst of submitting grades for the quarter, maintaining props for a major theatre production, and writing a thesis for my graduate degree, so I’m in need of some frivolity.  And I am, as a historian, merely a social scientist, living in a culture that values only hard science.

Mulready asks ‘what is the right to life?’  My concise answer: a lot more than the pro-life movement champions.

I was in DC for the inauguration, and on the day when my students and I were scheduled to meet our local House representative on Capitol Hill, the annual March for Life crowded the National Mall.  We arrived just in time for the scheduled concert, and even joined with the various groups marching for the cause of the unborn.

It burdened my heart, however, to see something ugly in that march for what I believe in.  The hateful manner of those marching had nothing to do with the cause of life.  Yes, abortion is the greatest evil of our generation, and yes, it deserves nothing but contempt.  But if we truly care about saving lives, we must change our approach.  Hate only breeds hate.  Grace is transformative, and only grace toward the opposition will change hearts and minds.

Okay, rhetorical critique aside, the question is: what is the right to life?  I have to answer with a quotation from my favorite children’s novel, because it’s in children’s stories we can most clearly see the truth.  We lie to ourselves, but not to our children, which is our saving grace.

At the end of Johnny Tremain, Esther Forbes puts a critical line into the mouth of Rab, the revolutionary hero wounded in battle who Johnny idolizes.  When asked what his sacrifice is for, Rab responds: That a man can stand up.  It’s a simple phrase, but it ecompasses great truth.

The right to life must ensure that the weak among us survive.  Darwinism was an attempt to explain observed phenomena, not an attempt to define right action for a species’ survival.  It cannot guide human action.  Of course, I’m presupposing the existence of the soul, but this is a political discussion, not yet a metaphysical one.  With that assumption, however, every human life is precious.  The unborn, who live but live within the protection of a womb, must be protected and nurtured, whether through natural or artificial means.  The weak, the ill, the elderly, must be allowed the best care possible.  We cannot lock them away in substandard care facilities, or sequester them from human society due to inconvenience.

But these should not be controversial (and if they are, I’m writing a thesis on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, so don’t give me an opportunity to unleash my research on that slippery slope here!).  I think, however, that Mulready and I might not find common ground in my next point.

A system that promotes exploitation cannot claim to be a system that fosters the right to life.

Capitalism is a flawed economic system.  Our democratic republic falls into the same moral trap.  Though some (including my esteemed colleague) might claim that it offers maximum freedom and therefore offers the most opportunity to men to act on their greatest virtues, it also rewards those who trample people on their own path to power.  Class warfare aside, what this leads to is a direct violation of the right to life.  Let me illustrate my point with a personal story.

My mother’s mother smoked like a chimney.  Everyone in her generation did, and she was a model and a local talk show host, so she had an image to maintain.  Eventually that led to cancer, as it always seems to do.  Grandma Junie didn’t have health insurance (few did at the time).  When it became apparent she was in serious medical trouble, she tried to purchase it.  The law, on the other hand, in the interest of the free market, allowed health insurance companies to act as they saw fit.  They saw fit not in the interest of aiding the sick, but rather in aiding their pocket books.  They had the power to deny my grandmother treatment due to her ‘pre-existing condition.’  Before they would insure her, they claimed, she would need to go without treatment for six months.  Because she was not independently wealthy, she did.

It killed her.  My grandma Junie died of bone cancer, which had matastasized from lung cancer to breast cancer to bone cancer in the six months without treatment.  On the day of her death, she sneezed and broke ribs from the force of it.  It was painful, degrading, and completely unnecessary.

Did my grandmother kill herself by smoking cigarettes?  Without engaging in a debate on the ethics of the tobacco lobby’s advertising, I’ll admit yes, she did.  Did that justify this painful, humiliating death?  I can’t see how it did.

I realize this is an extremely personal example, and I’ve had more than one person tell me that they literally couldn’t argue with me because I had such a personal, emotional connection to it.  But isn’t that just avoiding the point?  People die because we venerate the free market over human experience.  People suffer so we can retain our economic freedom.

This isn’t the right to life.  It’s the right to stuff.

The last thing Mulready asked was about the government’s right to take a life.  This is hard for me.  I have a rather violent personality.  An eye for an eye makes a lot of sense to me, and grace seems strange.  As a historian, I’m fairly well-acquainted with what evils man is capable of committing.  And that leads me to crave violence in response.  That’s why I don’t let myself see movies like Taken or Last House on the Left.

Why?  Because I know the Gospel is more powerful than my desire for vengeance.  It makes no earthly sense to me, but the sacrifice of Alban, whose head was displayed on the battlements of a Roman fort, means more than a father’s brutal vengeance of his daughter’s abuse.  I want to cheer on Liam Neeson in Taken, but it is more True to pray for the transformation of the villain.  I want catharsis – Christ offers regeneration.

Should the state kill its citizens for the sake of the safety of the rest of them?  Pragmatically, yes.  But I’ve never been a pragmatist.  Killing the enemy doesn’t make anyone truly safe.  Transforming him into a friend does.  As a Christian, I believe this is only possible through the work of the Holy Spirit, but the moment we adminster the lethal injection, or fire the bullet at the terrorist, we end the possibilty that the transformation will ever occur.  And, given the fallibility of the state, the idea of denying that possiblity in even one life frightens me.

What is the right to life?  It is, first of all, the right to the vital elements that sustain it: food, shelter, air, and the like.  But in a bountiful country such as ours, it is also the faciliation of that life.  It is its protection economic, environmental, medical and otherwise.  It is the encouragement of a system that recongnizes these needs and promotes their exercise.

Yes, that’s vague.  Necessarily so.  But we must do it, so ‘a man can stand up.’

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Filed under Rights Reason & Religion

Take It From Lincoln

My esteemed colleague has posited the question of all questions: what is the purpose of government?  Nothing like a nice, light inquiry to start things here, eh?

I take the basic premise of my answer from the Gettysburg Address.  It seems to be a safe bet, to start.  After all, slap our 16th president’s name on the cover, and a history book will shoot to the bestseller list in a flash.  In seriousness, Lincoln delivered the most succinct, beautiful description of our government in one brief phrase.  Our government is ‘of the people, by the people, for the people.’

In order to appreciate its beauty, we have remember how it was delivered (according to eyewitness reports).  Today, even Disney’s late Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln presented it with the wrong emphasis.  We tend to focus on the prepositions, probably because they’re what changes and they automatically draw our attention.  But Mr. Lincoln didn’t deliver the speech that way.  He emphasized the most important part of the phrase: the repeated noun.

Government is of, by and for the people.  And I’m sure this isn’t a controversial statement on its surface.  But as I’ve explored its implications, I find it leads me into opposition with my conservative friends.  I understand the minimalist approach to government, that it exists solely to guarantee our security and freedom, and that it works best when it steps aside to allow people to be their best, unhindered by government intervention.  I agree that in some cases, this is the best possible role for the government to play.

But it’s not always the right role, and quite often, it’s the worst.

A government established of the people must take its orders from the people.  Their values must shape its actions.  While that requires a firm foundation that binds the people together as a community, it also requires a level of flexibility as that community grows and changes.  The America of 1789 is not the America of 2009.  That shouldn’t distress us too greatly.  We’ve rejected slavery, institutionalized misogyny, class-based elitism and many more evils.  It should distress us a little.  We’ve embraced evils our Framers never dreamed were possible, from abortion to the atom bomb.  But in all of this, our government still represents us, the living who live in the legacy of the past.  It’s the struggle to reject what’s bad of our past and embrace what’s good of our present that keeps its role in motion.

A government established by the people must act in the people’s best interest.  Sometimes that interest is to stand aside and wait to be called into action.  Sometimes, that role is to intervene, to defend its people not just from external threats, but also from themselves.  Lest you think I’m advocating an Orwellian Big Brother, let me clarify something.

Government works best when it encourages its people to be good.  Government can never take the place of the true source of Good, and cannot be trusted to define that Good either, but that is no excuse for government to remain morally neutral.  Just as it must step aside to allow religious organizations to act charitably without hindrance, it must intervene when strong members of society exploit the weak.  And it should never facilitate that exploitation.

And government is for the people.  Its purpose must be to facilitate the success of its citizens, financially, politically, personally – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (of course in the Aristotelian sense).  If government regulation hinders that success, it must be examined.  If its absence hinders that success, it deserves the same scrutiny.  The needs of the Wall Street executive must be tempered by the needs of the homeless veteran.  We can’t reject either for the sake of the other.

Because government isn’t an institution.  It’s people.  People designed its structure, and people enact its policies.  There’s nothing faceless about it.  It cannot stand aside and only intervene when faced with foreign invasion or the latest crime wave because government is the people.  And while it can’t take the place of a church when it comes to moral guidance, or a school when it comes to education, it can’t be separated from them either.  Our president attended our schools, and our congressmembers attend our churches.

So what is the purpose of government?

That’s a very good question.

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Filed under Grand Schemes and Government