Monday, December 24, 2012

What's Your Favorite Christmas Movie?

POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica
What's Your Favorite Christmas Movie?
by David Trumbull -- December 12, 2008
Democrats’ favorite Christmas movie is "Miracle on 34th Street."
Republicans’ favorite Christmas movie is "It's a Wonderful Life."

I first heard that aphorism at a holiday party about a decade ago. It’s been around longer than that and I haven’t been able to determine who first said it and when.

On the face the saying makes sense. After all, what better movie for adults who still believe in Santa Claus than Miracle on 34th Street? Besides (watch out for plot spoiler) the picture’s crisis is resolved when a huge federal government agency—the Post Office—comes to the rescue. And with a divorced mother rearing a child alone, Miracle features a non-traditional family, surely a plus in the eyes of liberals.

It’s a Wonderful Life, on the other hand, celebrates the infinite worth of an individual human being, a worth that far exceeds even the biggest financial fortune. In Wonderful Life the hero’s crisis is resolved (another plot spoiler) by the spontaneous voluntary action of family, friends, and local community; emphatically not by the government. The film also shows people in fervent prayer, not to some generic higher power but to the God of the Bible as worshipped by the Protestant and Catholic believers shown in the picture. That alone must drive some liberals nuts when the film is broadcast over the public airwaves.

But the game can be played the other way. Wonderful Life presents negative stereotypes of bankers, so much so that when it was released some Hollywood observers (but not, as is erroneously asserted on some liberal websites, the Federal Bureau of Investigations) charged that it was a vehicle for communist propaganda. The charge is easy to ridicule today, but in the 1940s communist infiltration of the motion picture industry was a real and serious threat to American values. Now look at the favorable treatment—not to mention free advertising—that Miracle gives to two large department stores! Main Street Republicans surely must find that refreshing compared to the negative views of business that Hollywood gives us today.

The lesson? It’s just a movie! Enjoy them both, or whichever ones you choose to watch this holiday season. Santa’s list does not include your political affiliation, but he does have a lump of coal for those who would strip our public life of all sense of Wonder at the Love of God and thankfulness for all Miracles big and small.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Happy HOLY DAYS to All

POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica
Happy HOLY DAYS to All

by David Trumbull -- December 21, 2012

On Sunday, December 16th, I passed by the crèche on the Boston Common, a public display acknowledging the majority Christian faith of the residents of the City of Boston. Had I been there a few days earlier I should have seen the public menorah, which was lighted from December 8th through 15th, a civic statement of the importance of Jews and of the Jewish faith in our fair city. This is as it should be. It was not always so.

In Puritan Boston, Christmas was not generally celebrated at all until the middle of the 19th century. In the mid-17th century, when Puritans held political power, the celebration of Christmas was banned. The Puritans, you see, did not subscribe to our secular doctrine of separation of church and state. They did not consider Christmas permissible in their sect and had no qualms about using the power the state deny the joys of Christmas to anyone else, be it Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, or even non-believer who simply enjoyed a bit of merriment during the shortest days of the year.

Image what puritan preacher Cotton Mather would have said from his pulpit in North Square if he knew that a menorah would be on Boston Common 300 years later! He would have probably condemned as witches any Jews he could find in the Bay Colony. A state-run church, especially one organized around very narrow beliefs, is not likely to deal gently with other faiths or persons of no faith.

Now we have freedom! Under our 1787 Federal Constitution the United States may not establish a state church. The Fourteen Amendment, in 1868, extended that prohibition to the States. Recognition of the universal right to freedom to practice religion is part of the fundamental charter of our nation.

Sadly, some today are attempting to change that fundamental understanding of the place of religion in our secular republic. From some liberal politicians we are increasingly hearing the phrase "freedom of worship" in place of the traditional American doctrine of "freedom of religion." "Freedom of worship" merely guarantees the right to gather in church, synagogue, or other place of worship for the liturgies or services of our denominations. Freedom to practice one's religion goes beyond that to recognize the civic aspects of faith. That includes the public display of nativity scenes and menoroth (yes, that is the correct plural of menorah, my two years of Hebrew in college finally comes in handy).

Those public displays of faith are important reminders that not only do we have no state religion, but that the state itself is not our religion. It is also not our metaphysic, nor our science. We pledge allegiance to the flag of our Republic, but we also, each of us, has other allegiances -- to God, to humanistic philosophy, to the rules of physics, and so forth.

On Christmas we celebrate the birth of the kings of kings. We do so in a secular state that, so far, has recognized the right of every person to practice, or not practice, religion, as his conscience dictates. Let us pray and work for an America where freedom of religion is never infringed.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Further on Massachusetts Ballot Question 2

POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

Further on Massachusetts Ballot Question 2

by David Trumbull -- December 7, 2012

On November 6, 2012, the voters of Massachusetts rejected, by 51%, a ballot question that would have legalized physician-prescribed suicide. Question 2 was vigorously opposed by the Catholic Church and others who believe that suicide is never the answer. Groups representing the medical profession and advocates for the disabled also opposed.

Question 2 illustrated a couple of the reasons why enacting law by popular initiative is inferior, as a process, to enacting bills in the legislature.

The choices on a public policy question may be properly framed as "no" and "yes, under such-and-such terms." Say a bill is filed in the legislature to legalize physician-prescribed suicide. Some legislators will be opposed. Others may be open to the idea; for them the job is to work out under what circumstances, and subject to what restraints, it will be legal. Through this process the legislature decides both what is to be done and the manner in which it will be done. When a bill is introduced in the legislature amendments may be offered; some may be accepted. Bills approved by the legislature have been, in many cases, improved by this system of debate and deliberation. On the other hand, a ballot question may be answered in just one of two ways, "no" or "yes." A complex policy question is reduced to a single solution, written by the proponents of the initiative, with no ability to improve it by amendments prior to passage.

That leads to the second flaw in use of the initiative to enact policy. A complex policy question is put to voters who, in most cases, will have given very little, if any, thought to it until shortly before the election. This is especially so considering that ballot questions generate much less press and public interest than "top of the ticket" races for President and Senator. Unlike our elected representatives who vote on a bill after hearings, debate, and deliberation, voters deciding a ballot question will, in many cases, be informed, if at all, by "sound bite" advertisements on radio and television.

Polls several weeks out from the election showed the public quite favorable to Question 2. Opponents of physician-prescribed suicide could not reasonably expect, in the brief window of public interest, to persuade voters that not only religious teaching, but also reason and natural law, dictate that physicians should not be angels of death. Therefore the opponents, wisely, crafted their public campaign around what they characterized as flaws in the proposal. This had the advantage of persuading some voters, who might not oppose physician-assisted suicide in all cases, to oppose this particular proposal. However, that left the underlying question not only unanswered, but un-debated. Physician-prescribed suicide is, literally, a question of life and death. Such questions require sober reflection, sound education, and serious evaluation. A simple "yes" or "no" ballot question with most of the discussion consisting of little more than "sound bites" is no way to deliberate over, let alone settle, such a policy issue.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

2012 Massachusetts Ballot Question Physician-Prescribed Suicide

Res Publica
2012 Massachusetts Ballot Question Physician-Prescribed Suicide
by David Trumbull -- November 30, 2012

One of the most liberal States in the Union, in an election in which the Democrats at the top of the ticket won by comfortable margins, narrowly defeated physician-prescribed suicide. Let's examine the data from the election and see what they may tell us about the voters.

1. Working class Democratic cities opposed Question 2.

The top 15 (by population) communities account for 30% of the total population of the Commonwealth. Question 2 was defeated in 10 of these communities: Brockton (63.8% opposed), Fall River (63.1%), Haverhill (53.8%), Lawrence (69.4%), Lowell (57.6%), Lynn (59.2%), New Bedford (62.5%), Quincy (54.1%), Springfield (65.5%). and Worcester (58.7%), by large margins. In Boston it barely (51%) passed. 26 municipalities account for 40% of the population of the Commonwealth; Question 2 was defeated in 20 of them.

The cities where Question 2 was defeated are, generally speaking, those that, historically, had large Catholic immigrant populations (French Canadians, Italians, Poles, and Portuguese) or substantial recent immigration of Catholics and conservative Evangelicals (Brazilians, Cape Verdeans, and Hispanics). They are also among the poorer communities in Massachusetts. Some of the cities most opposed to Question 2 also had sizeable African-American populations.

In the United States Senate election these communities most opposed to Question 2 went heavily for liberal Democrat Elizabeth Warren. Moderate Republican Scott Brown carried one of the top 15, and 5 out of the top 26. He was not even competitive in most of the rest of them. The cities populated by more affluent professionals, Brookline, Cambridge, and, Newton, also went heavily for the Democratic candidate, however they went equally heavily in favor of Question 2.

2. Many, but not all, Republican-leaning towns and small cities opposed Question 2.

Of 351 cities and towns in the Commonwealth 166 had vote totals on Question 2 that were majority opposed. Once we look past the largest communities, find 156 small to medium sized communities where Question 2 was defeated. Scott Brown won 133 of them. These communities are among those that traditionally have supported Republicans and are among the more conservative in an otherwise liberal State.

My hypothesis is that Question 2 was defeated in part due to a competent organized opposition and the nature of turnout on Election Day, as driven by the candidates for the two major parties. Strong candidates from both parties and a hotly contested race brought high turnout. The large Democratic turnout for Ms. Warren in the cities may have brought to the polls a large number of economic liberal/social conservative voters in blue-color immigrant cities. While that also brought large numbers of social liberals to the polls in affluent cities and suburbs, the strong Republican support for Mr. Brown in the smaller more conservative communities may have brought out offsetting economic and social conservatives in those municipalities.