Another Winters (Tall) Tale

Published Date: June 4, 2015 | Topics: Politics and Current Affairs, Religion

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By Robert George

Michael Winters of the National Catholic Reporter continues to burnish his well-earned reputation for malicious dishonesty.

Winters accuses me of “attempting to co-opt the Church’s teaching authority for crass political ends.” His evidence?  “All five of [Robert George’s] non-negotiables [abortion, embryo destructive research, redefining marriage, euthanasia, and human cloning] align with positions articulated by today’s socially conservative Republican Party.” If you’ve had even an introductory level course in logic you immediately perceived the fallacious inference–the non sequitur. He has offered no evidence whatsoever to show that I chose these issues or stress their importance because they line up with Republican Party positions. The truth is that I support the Republican Party (and left the Democratic Party) because of the Republicans’ pro-life stance. Winters’ suggestion that I chose or stress the issues because that helps the Republicans is the very reverse of the truth. And he knows it.

I regard the principle of the profound, inherent, and equal dignity and right to life of every member of the human family–beginning with the child in the womb, and including the frail elderly and the physically handicapped and cognitively disabled–as foundational. If we get that principle wrong, then, as Governor Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania, the last of the great pro-life Democrats, said, “we will get nothing else right.”  I grieve, as Casey grieved, that his Party–the Party of my own family and of my youth–has utterly abandoned the principle by embracing the abortion license, embryo-destructive research, and, increasingly, assisted suicide.

Winters goes on to say it is “telling that there was no mention of poverty, or war, or environmental degradation on Professor George’s list.”  Since Winters comments on my work frequently and therefore, I assume, actually reads it (though maybe I shouldn’t assume that), he knows perfectly well that I also stress the obligation to fight poverty and the need to design and implement policies that lift people out of it and do not mire people in it.  What is discussable or “negotiable,” as I have said time and again, is not whether we have a strict moral obligation to fight poverty, but what is the best–the most effective–way to do it.  As the liberal New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has candidly observed, many of the federal anti-poverty programs championed by liberal activists and politicians since the mid-1960s have failed. Some have harmed the people they were meant to help. So we need new ideas and new approaches. People who share a deep and firm commitment to fighting poverty can and do disagree–reasonably disagree–on the best means to achieve that agreed upon goal.  This doesn’t make fighting poverty less important than, say, fighting euthanasia; it is only to say that different people may reasonably differ about how to do it.  (I would add that people who are seriously interested in fighting poverty should agree on one point, even if they disagree on others:  the rebuilding of a flourishing marriage culture, especially in poor communities, is imperative. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s claims about the relationship between the collapse of the marriage culture and the entrenchment of poverty have been fully vindicated.)

Since Winters knows all this–none of it is news to him–he is being dishonest in telling readers that “by saying that these five, and only these five, are non-negotiable, Professor George, and his political followers, gave the impression that the Church’s commitment to fighting poverty or environmental degradation was negotiable.” But, then, what else is new? Dishonesty is the man’s stock in trade.

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