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Time to Sound the Alarm

Here in Ithaca, NY, daffodils are pushing up through the soil in my garden and it is an unbelievable 60 degrees on the Feast of the Epiphany. Last January, it was nearly 50 degrees for the entire month. This year, we have yet to see real snow in upstate New York. In Minnesota, the Jaycees have permanently decided to move their annual ice-fishing tournament north after having to cancel it four of the last five years.  It's long past time to be very, very concerned about this. Sure, the mild weather is pleasant. I love going outside without a jacket. But entire ecosystems depend on the cold, and there's no reason to think that climate change is going to stop once we reach a nice mild northeastern winter or that we have any way to predict what the effects of tinkering with the global climate might be. (UPDATE: As one of the commenters below aptly points out, there's no guarantee that climate change will be an oderly affair, like turning up the thermostat in your house a few degrees. We're playing with a chaotic system that we don't really understand all that well. For that same reason, it's true that we can't know that this warm weather is related to global climate change or just the product of el Nino, but, as a climatologist said on NPR last week, climate change increases the likelihood of record warmth and decreases the likelihood of record cold, so while we can't ever know that a particular weather episode is "caused by" global warming, we can be sure that, over time, it's going to increase the liklihood of certain sorts of episodes. Consequently, it seems fair to use one such episode as an excuse for writing a post like this.)

John Paul II reminded us that, as Catholics, we should have a special awareness of our obligation to be responsible stewards of creation.

Man, who discovers hiscapacity to transform and in a certain sense create the world through his ownwork, forgets that this is always based on God's prior and original gift of thethings that are. Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth,subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have its ownrequisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but mustnot betray. Instead of carrying out his role as a co-operator with God in thework of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends upprovoking a rebellion on the part of nature, which is more tyrannized thangoverned by him.

Unfortunately, I think the Church has been not nearly visible enough on this issue. Surely the question of environmental protection is part of our Culture of Life, and climate change is the biggest environmental issue of them all. But environmentalism has been relegated to something of a poor relation within Catholic moral thought, and on global warming the Church has been nearly AWOL.
The U.S. Catholic Bishops did come out with a nice statement back in 2001. But the issue has been treated with none of the urgency with which they have imbued other questions, like abortion, stem cell research, and even gay marriage. And isn't this part of the problem with global climate change as an issue? The most drastic consequences are uncertain and, apparently, decades into the future (though the speed of the shifts seem to be surprising even the most pessimistic of forecasters). Yet the action to stem off catastrophe needs to be taken today. Compared to the immediate evil of abortion and stem cell research, climate change seems like a distant contender for Catholic attention, an asymmetry that has led some Catholic conservatives to assert that it is categorically unreasonable to vote, for a pro-choice Democrat against a pro-life Republican (and even, under certain circumstances, for a pro-life Democrat against a pro-choice Republican), notwithstanding the view of the Republican leadership that global warming is a hoax on which no action needs to be taken, or Republican views on any other issue of concern to Catholics, for that matter.
In part, my interest in the problem of climate change has been heightened by the birth of my son a few months back. I think about the uncertainty climate change presents for our future, and I wonder what sort of planet he is inheriting. Will he witness the extinction of polar bears in the wild? The death of the earth's great coral reefs? Chaos and famine as agricultural systems fail to cope with the shifting climate and the increasingly frequent extreme weather?
Meanwhile, our boy king fiddles.

[UPDATE:  Although it's not the central topic of the post, there's extended discussion in the comments of the degree to which the Robert George post on First Things to which I link in the main post is reflective of his views on assessing how Catholics ought to vote.  In light of the questions raised in the comments, I wrote to George to ask how best to characterize his position.  His response made clear that my language in the main post was oversimplifying his view, and so I've adjusted it to try to more accurately reflect what he believes.  The short version is that in determining how to vote for a pro-life Democrat, he would distinguish among various types of elected office (i.e., the degree to which the candidate would be subject to party discipline), which, as I understand him, leads him to take a stance supportive of the permissibility voting for pro-life Democrats running for executive positions.  On the legislative side, he would -- for the most part -- rule out the permissibility of voting for Democrats in elections in which the party stood to gain (or lose) majority power in a legislative body.  (This is likely to be the situation in the U.S. Congress for the foreseeable future -- given the narrowness of the majorities in both the House and Senate -- and so I take it that, applying his principles and barring some exceptional circumstances that are unlikely to arise in most cases, George would think that a Catholic cannot in good faith support even a pro-life Democratic candidate for, say, the Senate, such as Casey in Pa.).)  There are a few caveats in all of this about intention (e.g., what to do if the Republican candidate is demonstrably corrupt, etc.), and I'm sure I haven't fully captured the nuance of his views, but suffice it to say that he does not rule out the permissibility of ever voting for a pro-life Democrat, which is contrary to my initial understanding of his position, although he does rule it out in some cases (which is consistent with the post as now revised).  

With that said, my original point still stands, because my observation in this regard was simply meant to point out that the view held by certain people -- including George -- that abortion trumps differences over over global warming, notwithstanding global warming's potentially catastrophic effects, seems to be based in part on the delayed nature of the harm global warming portends.  Moreover, I continue to disagree with George's position -- even as clarified in this update -- because I think the Church's teachings permit one to vote even for apro-choice candidate or party, provided that one is not voting for the candidate or party because s/he is pro-choice and provided that one's reasons for favoringthe pro-choice candidate are sufficiently weighty (a requirement that George and others think is not reasonably at play within the current range of political debate in this country, but on whose satisfaction I think reasonable, faithful Catholic voters can -- and do -- disagree).]

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After our record breaking snows in the Rockies last week (we're finally shoveled out pretty much yesterday), more last night.It's not just the boy king who doesn't get it. Here in our high science community, there's still a small minority of scientits who cling to "no such thing as global warming." This minority gives aid and comfort to the minority idealogues. Note Barbara Boxer's comments on NPR yesterday about the difficulties of dealing with the issue in the cloely divided Senate.Then again there's Arnold in California...

It's also about more than a northward shift for icefishers and ski slopes. Climate change is still not well understood. A gradual warming over centuries? That's the kind of thing human beings and nature could adjust to. The real concern is about global warming triggering bigger events, like a shift in Atlantic Ocean circulation that would alter Northern Henisphere weather in a big way. If the Gulf Stream shifted south because of Greenland's ice cap flushing the North Atlantic with fresh water, Europe would start to look like Canada or Siberia.If it goes slowly enough, it's actually possible global warming could trigger an ice age. That would not be a pleasant disaster movie to live out: drastic weather shifts accompanied by famine, political chaos, and other fallout.

As it happens, I was just recently speaking with somebody who studies climate change at the University of Chicago. This man is no ideologue. I asked him point blank what he makes of our warming climate. He said, direct quote: "We have no idea, and don't let anybody tell you otherwise."

Mr. Penalver:I have a sort of micro-hobby of collecting articles from the 1970's that contained dire warnings of global cooling and the coming ice age. So far I have pieces from Newsweek, The Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times. I therefore find the current hysteria over global warming to be somewhat comical, and think about Orwell's "memory hole" ("1984") whereby...well you get the point.The stupifying complexity of Earth's climatolgy, the fact that the climate is always changing one way or another (and has always been changing), and the fact that the sun's temperature also fluctuates in poorly understood macro- and micro-cycles all indicate to me that no one really knows where the changes are heading. Some scientist once asserted that the chemistry and physics of any one-celled organism are of such complexity that it would require dozens of Cray super-computers to even begin to document the processes unfolding. And the planet Earth, well...

In Colorado in recent years we have had a diversity of weather-either a draught or when will this .... snow let up.Maybe it is cyclic or maybe global warming. The truth is, it is troubling and is having some ill effect. So the debate is not what is it but how to change it, huh?

It seems to me there are really two questions here.1. Have we pumped so much crap into the air and water such that greenhouse gasses are choking the earth and will severely affect human survival in the next 25 or 50 years? I don't know, and scientists don't agree.2. Can we make our air and water--and thus human beings--healthier by reducing waste, pollutants and chemical effluvia? Yes, and I think we have a moral obligation to do so whether we "believe in" global warming or not.

I'm curious about Mr. Penalver's policy views regarding climate change. Of course, he's quite clear about the evils of Republicans. And he also introduces a little bashing of Catholic conservatives. In view of his claim that Robert George asserts that it is categorically unreasonable to vote for a Democrat (even a pro-life Democrat...) it's worth noting George's own words:"Far from believing that it is unreasonable to be a pro-life Democrat, I have encouraged Democrats for Life. I wish them success in their efforts to reform their party and restore it to its mission of protecting the weak and vulnerable. .. It isn't easy being a pro-life Democrat; but I do not say it is unreasonable or wrong."http://www.mirrorofjustice.com/mirrorofjustice/2006/09/georges_reply_o.h... I remember correctly, Brownback and Novak have been in Mr. Penalver's sights recently, and now Robert George. What at first appears to be merely gratuitous sniping appears to fit a pattern.But I digress. Raising gas taxes, one policy approach for climate change that has impressive support from a broad spectrum of Democrats and (let us concede otherwise vile) Republicans is discussed from time to time on Greg Mankiw's blog. http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/2006/10/pigou-club-manifesto.htmlI wonder if this kind of policy is deemed to be compatible with a Catholic environmentalism. I would not be surprised if the Democratic leadership strongly prefers more dirigiste approaches. But that should not prevent more market oriented policies from gaining Catholic support.

Isn't it clear that those who say global warming is not happening need to show why they think that way? Is this becoming like did the holocaust happen thing?The burder of proof seems surely on those strange scientists whom mlj seems to gravitate towards. http://www.esr.org.nz/events/even2000/globalwarming.html

Patrick, Professor George said this:"However much one might dislike Republican policies in other areas, its clear that the death toll under the Democrats would be so large as to make it unreasonable for Catholic citizens, or citizens of any faith who oppose the taking of innocent human life, to use their votes and influence to help bring the Democratic party into power."Putting the statement you quote from him together with the above quote, it seems to me that Professor George must think a "reasonable" (Catholic) democrat for life would exhort the Democrats to be pro-life, but not vote for them until they were.I'm not sure how that would go down in party headquarters, even in West Virginia

The Catholic Church is becoming more involved in the global warming issue. For example, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has established a Global Warming Action Team with a grant from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Global Warming Action Team's website notes that the team aims to "be the 'leading edge' of a coordinated and strategic Catholic effort to measurably reduce the carbon that is emitted in the metro area and in the state. Many organizations, faith communities, and individuals have already started this work. The Global Warming Action Team brings two unique assets to the table: the moral motivation of the Catholic faith, and the capacity for broad-based grassroots action through Catholic parishes." See http://www.osjspm.org/globalwarming.aspx Last November Archbishop Flynn, along with other religious leaders, met with Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) to discuss the need for the US to address global warming.

"The Catholic Church is becoming more involved in the global warming issue. For example, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has established a Global Warming Action Team with a grant from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops."I approve of this. Now how about some concerted action against this terrible war in Iraq. We should not forget for a moment that we bear some responsibility for the more than 3000 a month that are dying in Iraq.http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/07/world/middleeast/07civilian.html?_r=1&... has come out against this evil. Now Rome needs to become more vocal on a more frequent basis.

Cathy,I grant that your reading of George's statement (exhort but not vote for Democrats) is defensible since George does not explicitly mention voting. But I believe it to be a strained reading and not the natural or straightforward one. His statement ("I wish them success in their efforts") would then presumably allow for lobbying, contributions, staff work, etc., on behalf of Democrats, in fact everything except casting a vote for them. Even voting for them, provided another party line is used, might then be allowed. As I say, it's a possible interpretation, but in my view an unlikely one. Moreover if that is George's meaning and if I were a pro-life Democrat running for office I would not be unduly disturbed. I might well prefer a supporter who lobbied, contributed, etc., even though he didn't vote for me over someone doing none of those things but offering me simply a reluctant vote. I've always found Robert George to be an articulate and careful spokesman and I don't mean to speak for him. But on any list of obstacles hindering a proper focus on climate change I believe his statements, no matter how interpreted, belong very far from the top. A footnote on the matter of the comparative urgency of abortion and environmentalism: I think I've heard abortion mentioned from the pulpit perhaps two or three times, a generous estimate, in the last 12 months. The environment, on the other hand, is not an uncommon topic in the sermons I've heard.

First, the vast majority of scientists here agree with the notion of global warming. One can always find some minority view, but I disagree with Jean's "scientists don't agree";{" I think a clear preponderance are quite sure on the topic.In our parish, abortion is mentioned almost every week and the environment - never.Except I guess to pray for rain when the drought was on us.At any rate, so much for anecdotal evidence shaping perceptions.

On the lighter side of this issue and as a reminder to those folks in the N. E. USA & Canada, especially those who experienced 72 F in New York yesterday Click your mouse on the snowglobe and move it back and forth at this link:www.ricker.us/snowglobe.swf (Requires the latest Flash Player.)Since I live 8 hours north of Minneapolis, I can vouch that the fish huts are safely out on the lake and have been since the end of November. And so are the trucks and cars, but it is still well above average in temperature.

Patrick -- I'm glad you think Robert George would support voting for pro-life Democratic candidates. I didn't say that he clearly said one may not (though I do not think it would have been a mischaracterization to say so), I said instead that the logic of his argument seems to point in that direction. Perhaps you should apply to your own comments the policy of charitable interpretation that you seem to be urging on me. In fact, I think that my interpretation faithfully conveys the thrust of George's argument, and I had the very language Cathy helpfully cited in mind. In addition, I linked to his post, so people could read for themselves and make up their own minds, which you have. George says it is categorically unreasonable for a Catholic to take steps to help bring the Democrats into power. That would certainly seem to rule out voting for Democratic candidates for higher office, since their election would, by definition, bring them into power. It does not rule out BEING a pro-life Democrat, but I'm not sure what exactly that means. It is that statement that seems to me to be anomolous within his argument, not the one on which I relied. Care to offer another reading or explain how mine is a stretch, as you put it? I agree with you that George is an extremely careful thinker, and I hold him in the highest intellectual regard. In fact, he's one of those people who is so smart that when I find myself disagreeing with him, I feel like I need to double or triple check what I'm saying. I agree with much of his fundamental jursiprudence, which I assign in my classes and frequently praise to my students and cite in my own scholarship. Although we disagree on several moral questions which lead to differences on specific policy questions, I see him as an important ally within certain crucial legal debates. On the abortion issue, I think he goes farther than he should. While the Church's teachings on abortion are unambiguous, I do not think they indicate how to weigh the abortion issue in casting one's vote with the clarity that he claims. Moreover, I think his position, in which the abortion issue by definition trumps all others, is unwise in that it has the effect of visibly linking the Catholic Church as an institution to one political party.On the global warming question, as a law studnet I wrote and published an article endorsing carbon taxes and I think CO2 emissions are a perfect candidate for an emissions trading regime. I sincerely doubt that Democrats would propose anything less market oriented, to be honest, given the nature of our dependence on fossil fuels in living out our daily lives. In fact, I think they've been pretty weak willed on this issue. But at least they're not committed to obfuscating the question. The Republicans were in control of all branches of government for 6 years under GWB. The global warming question is not a new one. They've done nothing but make it worse by muddying the waters with misinformation. I think that is unconscionable, and I think it is something that a reasonable Catholic can weigh in deciding how to cast their vote.Your reaction is funny to me -- all I've ever argued is that Catholics have the option to determine for which party to cast their vote. And that's all I say in this post. Republicans are right on abortion, but wrong on many, many things. Abortion is an important issue, and I can understand why many Catholics feel compelled to vote for Republicans. But I don't think Church teachings REQUIRE that choice. That's all I've said. George, on the other hand, has said that Catholics cannot in good faith vote for a Democrat. I think that's a far more extreme position, and in far more tension than the guidance the American bishops (with a few exceptions) have offered.

Also, it goes without saying that merely describing someone's position, linking to the piece in which they make the argument, and noting one's disagreement is hardly "gratuitous sniping."

Eduardo,Well said, and thanks for posting this. I believe that global warming could indeed be the defining issue of our time. Yes, I wish the church spoke out more, but they are not exactly silent either. Pope Benedict raised environmental concerns in his recent World Day of Peace address.What dismays me is not the bishops, but the right-wing lay Catholics. Every time the issue comes on in the Catholic blogosphere, I am shouted down by a cavalcade of consersative voices, parroting the energy shills and pulp fiction writers (Michael Crichton) claiming there is no global warming. In many respects, they have adopted the post modern approach of the Bush administration, which holds that facts can be ignored if ideology is at stake. Why do so many Catholics do this? I fear again it is secular ideology overcoming Catholic teaching (as when they bash the Vatican for speaking out against the death penalty, war etc). It also may represent the strongly voluntarist strain within evangelical protestantism: the will or might of God trumps the laws of science and nature. And, of course, if you believe in the "rapture" theology, if God is going to kill most of humanity anyway, why worry about the climate?But Catholics are not supposed to think this way. We are supposed to believe that faith and reason are two sides of the same coin. Facts matter. And the overwhelming scientific consensus is that man-made global warming is real, and causing great harm. Meanwhile, the Catholic right, in their dalliance with the evangelicals, looks only at sexual sin....

Robert P. George is a good example of a theocon who believes that this country can only be justly governed by Christian principles. Cathy's reading is spot on and the burden is on anyone else to prove otherwise given George's history. He might have great rhetorical skills but people should really feel quite comfortable to disagree with him.George serves on the boards of directors of several right-wing groups including IRD, the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the Institute for American Values, the National Association of Scholars, and the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. George is also on the board of the anti-gay Alliance for Marriage and is a regular contributor to National Review.With President Bush in office, Neoconservative Catholics such as Robert George have gained unprecedented power. He is a regular advisor to the president on matters from Supreme Court nominations to faith-based initiatives. He serves on the President's Council on Bioethics, where he has worked to obstruct federal funding of stem cell research (Blumenthal, 2006). The Nation magazine reported that "Bush's operative, former Republican National Committee chief and chief Enron lobbyist Ed Gillespie, also a right-wing Catholic, chose George and others to teach Bush how to 'speak Catholic'" (Blumenthal, 2006). A conservative Catholic magazine, Crisis, wrote in 2003, "If there really is a vast, right-wing conspiracy, its leaders probably meet in [Robert] George's basement" (Blumenthal, 2006).George, like other IRD-affiliated Catholic Neocons, has been effective at tapping into right-wing money. The Nation magazine documented that between 2000 and 2005 the Madison Program at Princeton and Professor George received grants and gifts totaling $2,280,625 from several of the sources that fund IRD (Blumenthal, 2006). In addition, despite George's ardent denials that he receives funds from the secretive group, Opus Dei, the Princeton University newspaper, Daily Princetonian documented that from 2000 through 2002 his Madison Program obtained at least $390,000 from groups used as conduits to funnel money from it (Eshel, 2005).In a book entitled The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion and Morality in Crisis, George expresses the sort of views about human sexuality that will keep the money of social conservatives flowing his way. He wrote: "The plain fact is that the genitals of men and women are reproductive organs all of the time -- even during periods of sterility." According to journalist Max Blumenthal, George advocates for state laws that criminalize adultery and fornication. He also calls for a curb on "sexual practices he views as immoral, including oral sex and masturbation (which he calls bad' sex)" (Blumenthal, 2006).The New York Times recently reported that Robert George has been working closely with Republican Senator Santorum of Pennsylvania to put a gay discrimination amendment into the U.S. Constitution (Kirkpatrick, 2006). In 2002, Santorum spoke at an Opus Dei event in Rome at which he attacked President John F. Kennedy's 1960 endorsement of church-state separation. Santorum said the Kennedy vow not to enforce Catholic doctrine through civil law has caused "much harm in America," and he went on to describe President George W. Bush, a United Methodist, "as the nation's first true Catholic president" (Boston, 2006).With Santorum ousted and others of George's favorites it will be interesting to see him operate now. Or will be part of the downfall of the theocons?

IMO global warming is almost certainly linked to greenhouse gas emissions--can the 16 million tons of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere every 24 hours by human use worldwide (U.S. Department of Energy statistic) be beneficial or at a minimum harmless? I don't think so. According to the DoE, the U.S. is the single largest emitter of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, accounting for 23% of such emissions. Moreover, carbon emissions in North America reached 1,760 million metric tons in 1998, a 38 percent increase since 1970, and they are expected to grow another 31 percent, to 2,314 million metric tons, by the year 2020. The EPA reports that an average of 23,000 pounds of carbon dioxide are emitted annually in each home in the U.S. But beyond the global warming issue itself, there is also the moral question of the gross overconsumption of non-renewable energy by some to the detriment of others. Even if global warming were not an issue, doesn't the western world's (and especially the U.S.'s) gluttony for what is at present a finite resource raise serious Catholic moral and social justice issues? The U.S., for example, consumes 25% of the world's energy despite having only 5% of the world's population. Much of that consumption is on such non-essentials as energy-guzzling luxury cars, large homes, etc., while two billion of our brothers and sisters in the developing world lack electricity. The huge disparity between the haves and the have nots would seem to me to be as compelling a problem as that of global warming itself.

Mazzella -- I'm not sure, but Commonweal might have a policy against pasting large blocks of text from other sources (http://www.mediatransparency.org/story.php?storyID=142). Copyright issues, you know. Eduardo -- I'm sympathetic to a carbon trading regime, much as we already have for SO2, but I think that Catholic teaching should mandate the seeding of oceans with iron. http://www.csa.com/discoveryguides/oceangard/overview.php

Eduardo,A few responses:1) Your characterization of George's position (or my characterization of your characterization).You now say flatly (last paragraph): "George, on the other hand, has said that Catholics cannot in good faith vote for a Democrat." Is this based on your current reading of the FT Sep 25 note? Or do you have another statement in mind? Isn't this interpretation different from your view elaborated in the first paragraph and in your earlier post? If I misinterpreted your original view of what George means it seems to me to rest on a pretty subtle point. I believe it turns on how "or" is meant in your original post.2) Does the abortion issue in Georges view, by definition trump all others, as you state? Your original link was to a First Things article of September 25, 2006. In my comment I linked to a later Mirror of Justice post of September 27 responding to a request for clarification about the FT article. I thought it worth linking to the later discussion because it didnt seem to accord with what you assumed to be the logic of Georges position in his Sep 25 post. As Im sure youre aware, there was more discussion on the MOJ site in the next few days, including your own interesting contributions. My links to that site dont seem to work but heres another post from September 27 which addresses the weighting issue you seem to feel is ignored by George. Rob raises the question whether this sort of reasoning renders issues other than abortion or (let us add) nuclear attacks on civilians "irrelevant" for Catholics and other pro-life voters. I think the answer is no. He goes on to discuss an issue that seemingly would trump other concerns.My point in all this linking is not to rehash old arguments or, much less, to speak for George but instead to suggest that his position is more complex than your brief description allows. At the least its worth noting that more was said on the issue after the points made in the article you link to.3) You ask me to provide an alternate interpretation. Here, as before, I'll take the liberty of taking into account all George's statements, those on MOJ as well as FT. I'll start with one scenario and at first I'll make it easy for myself. Suppose we have two candidates holding the same praiseworthy positions on all issues except abortion. The Republican wants to repeal the Hyde Amendment and wants to subsidize abortions aggressively. The Democrat wants to retain the Hyde Amendment and moreover wants to challenge his party leadership to change their policies on abortion. And further let's suppose that the Democrats in this case are unlikely to gain legislative dominance. In these circumstances I don't believe George would say Catholics are required to not vote for the Democrat. His words re Bob Casey, Sr. in the MOJ posts suggest as much, as do some of the other comments about encouraging pro-life Democrats that I've already quoted. The implication I read in those statements (disputed by Cathy Kaveny) is that in certain cases, not all, it would be legitimate to vote for a Democrat. Now suppose the Democrats are likely to gain power in one house. The calculus becomes more complicated. But suppose the Democrat was part of a group of extremely charismatic or effective individuals (Kennedy, Gore, Jesse Jackson in their earlier incarnations) who would work to change Democratic policy. There are other gray areas (suppose the candidate is good on abortion but bad on stem cell research - Hatch, Frist). As you probably agree it ultimately becomes pointless what my interpretation of George's position on some of these other situations would be. But at a minimum I don't believe George's comments on MOJ necessarily entail your (and apparently Cathy Kaveny's) conclusion about George's position: "Catholics cannot in good faith vote for a Democrat." I suppose this is the nub of our disagreement. You believe George requires Catholics to not vote for Democrats; I believe that conclusion is not justified. Need I add theres an obvious way to resolve this. 4) Im glad to learn that you believe Republicans are right on the abortion issue, though wrong on many others. I agree, as does George. I suspect youll get disagreement on the first part of that statement from some on this site who seem uniformly hostile to Republicans but perhaps theyll be inspired to reconsider when apprised of your position. Im also glad to read that you view George as an ally on many important issues, again welcome news. 5) To digress again to the topic of climate change - Im genuinely curious about your thoughts on the uses and abuses of the precautionary principle (better safe than sorry in its extreme versions) as discussed by Sunstein and others. The principle would appear to be highly relevant to the topic of remote catastrophes, not only drastic climate change, but asteroids, pandemics, scientific accidents, etc. Do you have a particular slant on that principle and its compatibility with Catholic thought and is that a further point of difference with George? A topic for a future post, perhaps.

The precautionary principle, of course, is precisely the thing that Cheney et al. believe in as to terrorism. That's the whole point of the "One Percent Doctrine" (see Ron Suskind's book), which says that if there's a one percent chance that a regime might allow terrorists to get their hands on a nuclear weapon, the United States must spring into action.

I go back to this statement:"However much one might dislike Republican policies in other areas, its clear that the death toll under the Democrats would be so large as to make it unreasonable for Catholic citizens, or citizens of any faith who oppose the taking of innocent human life, to use their votes and influence to help bring the Democratic party into power."The key phrase "is unreasonable. . . to use their votes and influence to help bring the Democratic party into power."I just don't see how this phase allowed for much discretion for interpretation. The key question is whether "helping" is to be interpreted as "Intentionally helping" or "foreseeably " helping. In other words, is George ruling out intentionally bringing the Democrats to power, or merely acting in a way that foreseeably brings them to power? It seems to me that he is worried about a state of affairs-- not a purpose of a voter. My guess is that he would say (channeling Grisez) that whatever one's good intent or purpose, it is unreasonable to inflict as a side-effect of one's action a situation in which Democrats were in power. That would rule out, in the context of the 2004 election, even voting for a Democrat-for-Life, since for the purposes of control of the Congress, it's the "democrat" part that counts.Pace Patrick's elaborations, I don't think it's possible to reconcile George's two statements in any coherent way. That was the ironic point of my post: it was to point to the futility of trying to do so.. It leads to the absurd spectacle of a Democratic party activist not voting or working for Democratic victory. A Democrat-for-Life is presumably a party activist; to be a good party activist one has to work for the victory of the party. And that, in my view, is the fundamental thing George has trouble with.In a nutshell: Would a Democrat-for-Life want Congress to be controlled by the Democrats? I would think the answer here has toe yes.Would Robbie George--no. He thinks it's not only wrong, but unreasonable.

Thanks again to Cathy for her helpful comment.Patrick,I'm not sure how much turns on this, since my original post was sufficiently qualified ("or" having the meaning there of "or, at least,"). In other words, if he didn't come out and say it (which he may as well have, as Cathy points out), his logic would seem to point in that direction. This was part of a longer discussion, as you note, and honestly I don't have time to retrace the whole thing, but I'm not sure that much turns on it for my purposes. No one disputes that George thinks it is impermisssible (i.e., unreasonable) to vote for a pro-choice Democrat, and that in itself does almost all the work that I need, since most Democrats are pro-choice. And that position is also, in my view, unsupported by the Church, which has taken a more nuanced view with respect to how to balance abortion against other issues. Even your narrower reading of George's position therefore breaks new ground and has the effect of making abortion the only relevant issue except in the relatively rare case where a pro-life Democrat faces off against a pro-life Republican (e.g., the Pa. senate battle).The only question is the less crucial one: whether he goes farther and thinks it is impermissible to vote, even for a pro-life Democrat because that Democrat will vote for Democrats in leadership elections, etc. His FT comment seems to me to pretty clearly imply that they cannot. Any additional person in the house or Senate gives a party more power, and, given the nature of our electoral system, it's impossible for a voter to distinguish among the cases you identify, because in any given election, if enough voters vote for Democrats, they can take control of one or both houses of Congress, even if none of the voters intend that, as Cathy points out.I don't take your citations to the MOJ discussion to fatally undermine that reading, although they do, as you suggest, complicate his position in terms of what he would be willing to allow as reasonable. The nuclear war point is not to the contrary. George said (I'm working off memory here) that there were some issues that might conceivably outweigh the abortion question, and he included the intentional killing of a large number of civilians as an example. But that is really beside the point (and was at the time) because no one is currently advocating such a policy. Accordingly, it seems accurate to say that his view has the effect of rendering irrelevant all of the issues that are actually live in American political discourse today (e.g., the Iraq war, tax policy, welfare policy, environmental policy, racial justice, the death penalty, etc.), none of which meet his high standards for even plausibly being decisive over the abortion/stem cell question. Bottom line, though, is that I don't think I was being unfair or misrepresenting his view, as your initial comment seemed to suggest. I will admit to sniping at Novak and Brownback, but I don't think I was being unfair to them, because, well, I think they deserved it for staking out transparently ridiculous positions. But I think I was just honestly and straightforwardly disagreeing with what I take to be George's position. You're right, though, that we may want to just email him and ask him what his bottom-line view is. On the precautionary principle, I think that is the key question and really the answer to MLJ's comment above. But I will save it for a separate post and, for now, merely endorse the implications of some of Stuart's comments above, though not perhaps the seeding the ocean point, about which I know very little and which seems to me in some tension with the precautionary approach.

Let me say it clearly. The theocons are more of a danger to this country than any external enemy or terrorist organization. They are the inquisition disquised. It is true that George does waffle a bit more than the other theocons. But he remains one of their primary architects. This democracy sent a strong message to the theocons in the last election. Under the mantle of right to life they want to establish a Christian government. It has not worked in the Roman Catholic Church nor any government in which the church has governed. It is impossible to understate what a threat to the democracy of this country they are.

One other point. I think it makes good sense for George to take the position I ascribe to him. That is, given the view he has that abortion trumps other questions currently under debate in American political discourse, I think it makes sense to work on a party-by-party basis. For the same reason, I think progressive voters in RI were correct -- given their priorities -- to oust Lincon Chaffee. Given our party system, which party is in control matters at least as much as the individual views of the particular candidate from a particular district. (Perhaps this is less true of the executive branch, though I think the judicial nominating process might cast doubt on that qualification, but it is surely true of the legislature.) My disagreement is with the assumptions underlying George's first premise about the weight that must be given to the abortion question to begin with.

Eduardo,So instead of saying, as you do in your first comment: 'George...has said that Catholics cannot in good faith vote for a Democrat," a substitute wording (admittedly inelegant) might be: "Although I believe George's FT comment seems to me to pretty clearly imply that Catholics cannot vote for a pro-life Democrat he has not explicity said that and his other MOJ comments are hard to reconcile with a strict 'never ever vote for a Democrat stance.'" I rust you may agree there's always a danger in putting words in the mouths of others, especially when one discusses contentious topics. The precautionary principle might encourage further caution.

This is getting silly, because now you're taking issue with my comments rather than the original post. By pointing to my qualification in the original post, I wasn't backing away from my reading of George, but pointing to your own omission of the nuance of what I said -- the very thing you were accusing me of doing to George in your first comment.In any event, this is the last thing I'll post in this thread, because I think we've long past the point of diminishing returns. I continue to reject your reconstruction of his position. I would say the following: George has said (in his original FT post) that you cannot vote for Democrats, presumably of any stripe, since he does not qualify his comments and the focus of his discussion is on which party is in power (his actual words on FT are that Catholics cannot "use their votes and influence to help bring the Democratic party into power." Period.). His MOJ comments suggest to me that there might be OTHER THINGS one could do as or for a pro-life Democrat that do not involve helping to bring the Democratic party into power (until such time as the party is itself no longer pro-choice), but these do not as a rule include actually voting for pro-life Democrats because under any normal set of assumptions about how our political process works, that always carries the risk that Democrats will, as a party, come into power.I'm with Cathy on this not being a completely coherent position, but I think it is mostly coherent because the problems with it are really at the margins: what are these hypothetical additional things por-life Democrats can do that don't involve bringing the Democrats into power as a party? NOt running for office or donating money or even canvassing. At most, perhaps, participating in internal party politics with an eye towards changing the platform. Given the fit between the no-vote position, however, and the rest of his thought on the weight that must be given to abortion in casting one's vote, my guess is that George would jettison the ambiguous qualification from the MOJ comments before he jettisoned the other bits. I certainly would if I were him. Because I believe that the MOJ comments are more opaque than the original FT post, and because the FT post fits in with George's broader views, as I noted in the comment above, I do not think my characterization of George's position -- certainly not in the original post, but also not in my comments -- is in the least misleading.

I didn't realize that one shouldn't take issue with your comments. I'll try to remember next time. Ithaca loquit, causa finita?

"Ithaca loquit, causa finita."Wow. That's an amazing charge to hurl in light of my lengthy (and time-consuming) attempts to explain myself and respond in a civil way to your criticism of the original post. Your rudeness really knows no bounds.

Tu quoque. I dared to comment on your comments because your original post was somewhat unclear (nuanced in your terms) and you seemed to feel I was ungenerous in interpreting it. I thought your first comment was meant to clarify your nuances. Apparently my mistake but an innocent one.

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About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the John P. Wilson Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.