Book Write-Up: The Idea of God and Human Freedom, by Wolfhart Pannenberg

Wolfhart Pannenberg.  The Idea of God and Human Freedom.  Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1973.

This book is a collection of seven essays by theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg.  I had never read Pannenberg before reading this book, but I heard of him over a decade ago, when I was taking a class on the resurrection of Jesus that was taught by N.T. Wright.  One of the options for our final paper was to write about Wolfhart Pannenberg’s view on Jesus’ resurrection.  I decided to check out The Idea of God and Human Freedom about a month ago because it looked deeper than some of the other theology books on the shelf, and yet it looked somewhat accessible to me, as one who has studied some theology, yet (how can I put this gently?) still has a lot to learn.  Plus, I saw that Pannenberg interacted with the thoughts of Hegel, and I saw this book as an opportunity for me to learn more about that topic.

I found the book difficult to understand.  I can see what the book is trying to do.  It’s trying to do what much of Christian theology in the twentieth century tried to do, and that is to argue that Christianity can have viability, even after the Enlightenment has supposedly undermined its reliability and credibility.  I think that I can identify some of the trends that Pannenberg does not like: he doesn’t like for Christians to retreat from the Enlightenment’s challenges into some individual piety that does not interact with the world.  What does he propose, then?  Well, he seems to me to support finding God within society.  He is for studying philosophy, and he discusses Hegel’s view that religion has a social value to society.

The first essay is about the significance of mythology within the Bible, and Pannenberg discusses this in addressing Rudolph Bultmann’s advocacy for demythologization, which (as I understand it) is looking beyond the myths (i.e., miracle stories, etc.) to find existential lessons within the Bible.  I’m not sure what exactly Pannenberg’s view on demythologization is: Is it that myth is such a significant part of the Bible, that one cannot demythologize the biblical writings?  But his first essay is about myth, whereas the rest of the book addresses the topic of the book’s title: the idea of God and human freedom.

So what does Pannenberg believe about the idea of God and human freedom?  Well, he believes that God is the source of freedom and is consistent with freedom, and he seems to be responding to the Enlightenment notion that religion is authoritarian and restricts freedom.  Moreover, Pannenberg responds to the idea that theism constricts human freedom because it makes God out to be omnipotent and omniscient and thus crowds out human initiative.  I do not entirely know how Pannenberg believes that Christianity is conducive to freedom, or how he is even defining freedom, for that matter.  Is it because the idea that God loves us and will win in the end frees us from having to appease society?  Perhaps that’s part of the picture.  But Pannenberg also makes the point that Christianity has facilitated human attempts to harness nature for human benefit.  Does Pannenberg consider that a good thing?  Is that the sort of freedom that he supports?  That sort of notion has been why some people have criticized Christianity as anti-environmental.  And, personally, while I am not a preservationist, I would like to believe that God cares about all of creation, not just human beings.

I can’t say that I particularly liked this book, but I found Pannenberg’s references to arguments for the existence of God to be rather interesting.  There was concern that certain arguments made God’s existence too contingent on nature, and so some sought to defend God’s existence on the basis of the moral law within human beings (Kant), or God’s revelation in Jesus Christ (Barth).  My impression is that Pannenberg is for treating human anthropology as significant in terms of theology.  Against the notion that we should see God’s revelation in Jesus Christ as God’s sole revelation of himself, Pannenberg seems to argue that God’s revelation in Jesus Christ presupposes theism, rather than claiming to be the basis for believing in it.

Pannenberg also made a profound statement in his essay on eschatology, saying that human perceptions of themselves are in flux, and yet the end of the story can give meaning to the earlier parts of the story.  The idea here may be that we can live our lives in light of the positive outcome that Christian eschatology claims to forecast, and I have heard this before.  But I found Pannenberg’s observations about life being in change and flux to be quite profound, since I have been thinking about this topic quite a bit as of late.

I took a look at wikipedia’s article about Wolfhart Pannenberg to see if I was at least in the ballpark of understanding his thought—-I am aware that wikipedia has its share of critics, but I just wanted to see how someone else conceptualized Pannenberg’s thought.  I did not see anything that overlapped with how I was understanding Pannenberg, but I did find something interesting.  The article states: “This focus on the resurrection as the key to Christ’s identity has led Pannenberg to defend its historicity, stressing the experience of the risen Christ in the history of the early Church rather than the empty tomb.”  This stood out to me on account of my disillusionment with Christian apologetics that focus on the empty tomb.

Maybe I jumped into Pannenberg’s book without the necessary knowledge of his thought, and some of the issues with which he was interacting, particularly freedom.  That’s going to happen when I read books: that I may lack some background information!  But I still congratulate myself on sticking with the book and blogging about it.  I apologize if I have misconstrued anything that Pannenberg was arguing.  I may read some of his other works in the future.

Published in: on November 18, 2013 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Nixon Reconsidered 2

I have two items for my blog post today about Joan Hoff’s Nixon Reconsidered.

1. On page 21, we read the following about President Richard Nixon’s environmental policy, specifically White House counsel John Ehrlichman’s contribution to it:

“Often using poll data, [John] Ehrlichman—-with his assistant, Egil [Bud] Krogh; John Whitaker, who served first as Nixon’s cabinet secretary and later as undersecretary of the Interior Department; and Whitaker’s assistant, Christopher DeMuth—-substantially influenced both Nixon’s ideas and the content of his environmental legislation by making it into a crisis issue.  In fact, Ehrlichman, who had specialized in land-use law in Seattle, has been described by one forest conservation specialist as ‘the most effective environmentalist since Gifford Pinchot,’ referring to the controversial chief of the U.S. Forest Service under Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.  He and Whitaker put Nixon out in front of Congress on environmental issues, especially with respect to the use of the permit authority in the Refuse Act of 1899 to begin to clean up water supplies before Congress passed any ‘comprehensive water pollution enforcement plan.’  Curiously, Ehrlichman did not dwell on his own contribution to environmental reform in his 1982 book, Witness to Power, preferring to denigrate Secretary of the Interior Walter Hickel, whose anti- and then pro-conservation and pollution views he constantly had to counter.”

I thought this passage was funny.  John Ehrlichman, “the most effective environmentalist since Gifford Pinchot.”  Really?  But, come to think of it, I don’t know a whole lot about Ehrlichman, since I know of him primarily on account of what I have read about Watergate.  Maybe he was an environmentalist, for all I know!

The part about Ehrlichman not dwelling on his contributions to environmental policy in his 1982 book stood out to me.  I am tempted to think that, whereas Democrats liked to talk about reform, Republicans (specifically the Nixon Administration) were actually bringing it about, and were doing so in a low-key way.  Maybe there’s some truth to that (though one should not undervalue the reforms that Democrats brought about).  But I doubt that it’s the whole story.  The paragraph opens, after all, by saying that Ehrlichman and others used poll data.  Why would they use poll data, if they wanted their environmental policies to be low-key and unknown to the voters?  My hunch is that they would use poll data because, on some level, they are crafting their policies according to what would be effective politically, in terms of what would effectively advertise the Nixon Administration to the public.  This raises a question that I have asked since I started reading Hoff’s book, and that I may continue to ask until I finish it (and perhaps even beyond): to what extent were the Nixon Administration’s domestic reforms motivated by a commitment to principle, and to what extent were they politically-motivated attempts to get votes?  The impression that I am getting was that Nixon was quite a politically-calculating person.  But I can’t rule out from my reading that there may have been some noble principles motivating Nixon.

2.  On pages 62-63, Hoff talks about the Office of Economic Opportunities’ Legal Services Program, which aimed to provide legal services to the poor.  Under the Nixon Administration, Donald Rumsfeld headed the OEC for a while, and (when Rumsfeld was made Counsel) his replacement was Howard Phillips, a conservative who wanted to dismantle the OEC.  Howard Phillips would go on to become a conservative activist, and he passed on recently.

“…in November 1969 Rumsfeld believed that the White House was not supporting his opposition to the so-called Murphy amendment, which would have given each governor veto power over the OEO Legal Services Program funded by that state without the OEO directors being able to override the veto.  This issue arose over Nixon’s proposal to turn the Office of Legal Services into a separate government corporation chartered by Congress and funded at the local level with revenue-sharing funds.  Since it was evident that local officials might choose not to use federal funds for such antipoverty programs, critics feared for its survival.  Women and Native American leaders were particularly concerned about continued legal aid for their constituents.  The White House went to great lengths between 1969 and 1973 to respond that the president’s intent was to ‘make sure that every citizen has access to legal services,’ while ‘correcting the abuses which went on under this program’ and removing ‘legal services from the recurring political controversy which has attended it.’  Nixon claimed, for example, in an August 11, 1969, statement to Congress about restructuring OEO that legal services to the poor would be ‘strengthened and elevated’ by having independent status…Civil rights advocates and antipoverty activists questioned both the motives and intent of the White House and, like Rumsfeld, were against the obvious intent of the Murphy amendment to allow governors to cut back funding for legal services benefiting the poor.  This prompted Ehrlichman, in a carefully worded memorandum, to point out to Nixon that ‘in view of Don’s [Rumsfeld] public stance and the nature of the opposition to Murphy’s amendment you cannot favor the amendment’…Nixon ultimately supported Rumsfeld over those in favor of the Murphy amendment…”

This passage stood out to me for two reasons.  First of all, it brought to my mind a passage that I read in Roger Morris’ Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician.  Morris referred to a paper that Nixon wrote as a Duke Law School student that defended legal services for the poor, and Morris regarded that as ironic, in light of Nixon’s efforts as President to undermine the Legal Services Program.  The thing is, according to Hoff, Nixon did not feel that he was trying to undermine the Legal Services Program, nor did he as President oppose the provision of legal services to the poor.  His whole point was that he was trying to preserve legal services for the poor by making the program more efficient.  On pages 64-65, Hoff says that Nixon believed that the OEO’s provision of money to political groups like the American Indian Movement and the National Welfare Rights Organization was resulting in the “diversion of funds away from representing poor people in the courts.”  (This is a line from a news summary, and Nixon indicated agreement with it.)

Was Nixon right on this?  Or would his policy have had deleterious effects on the ability of the poor to be represented in court?  I’m sure this was debated.  One reason that I like Hoff’s book so far, however, is that she presents Nixon’s characterization of his own domestic policies: we get to hear what he said about his own motives and agendas, not just his detractors’ characterizations of them.  Some may say that Nixon was giving the public spin.  Perhaps.  But his side of the story should still be heard, and I would say the same about the perspectives of others in the debate: the political groups who feared the consequences of Nixon’s OEO policy, Democrats, etc.

Second, Hoff refers to a concern about Nixon’s policy regarding the Legal Services Program: that federal money would be given to the states, and the states would choose not to fund legal services to the poor adequately.  This was actually a widespread criticism of Nixon’s New Federalism agenda in general: that it would give money to the states for certain programs, and the states would choose not to spend all of it on those programs, choosing instead to spend it elsewhere, or to use it to balance the state budget.  Unfortunately, as far as I could see (and I have not read all of Hoff’s book), Hoff does not adequately address this concern.  She distinguishes Nixon’s New Federalism from the policies of Ronald Reagan, whom she says did not particularly care for government involvement even at the state level (which is interesting to me, since Reagan talked about turning over power to the states, and yet it would not surprise me, since there are many Tea-Partier types today who seem to oppose more taxes and spending at the state and local levels, not just the federal).  According to Hoff, Nixon’s policy was to give lots of money to state governments, and they would use that money for certain programs.  But Hoff should have rigorously addressed the question: What if the money would go to the state governments, and the state governments would not use all of it for the programs?

I guess that, ultimately, Nixon did oppose an amendment that would allow states not to use money for legal services for the poor.  His good, I suppose.  The thing is, it appears to me that he was doing so for political purposes, and also because (on some level) his arm was being twisted by Don Rumsfeld, whom I never envisioned as a progressive, but that’s what he apparently was in this case.  According to Ehrlichman, Rumsfeld was making a stink about the Murphy amendment, and that put Nixon in a position of having to oppose it.  I can’t say that Nixon comes across as particularly heroic, here (though I will say that he did come across as more of a progressive hero in his policies regarding Native Americans, at least in what I read about that in Hoff’s book).

Published in: on August 18, 2013 at 11:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Jerry Voorhis: The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon 4

In my post today on Jerry Voorhis’ critical look at the Nixon Administration, The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon (copyright 1972, 1973), I’ll focus on Voorhis’ discussion of President Richard Nixon’s environmental policies.

My conservative brother has brought up Nixon’s environmental policies when he has had political discussions with myself and my mother (who leans more to the left).  One of his arguments is that the Republican Party is not anti-environment because there have been significant environmental accomplishments during Republican Administrations: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, etc.  I believe that there is more nuance to how Republicans address environmental issues than many leftists may tell us.  I wrote an article for the web-site Helium that talks about the positive things that President George W. Bush did for the environment (see here).  Moreover, conservative Barry Goldwater had environmentalist sentiments (see here).  At the same time, I would not be surprised if there have been times when Republicans have sought to relax environmental regulations, seeing them as a hindrance to free-enterprise and a clamp on the economy.

Voorhis acknowledges that some of President Nixon’s pro-environment policies have been unprecedented, in terms of their scale and spending.  And yet, Voorhis finds fault with Nixon’s approach to the environment.  Voorhis contends that Nixon’s spending on his environmental policies is not enough, and that Nixon’s impounds funds rather than spending what Congress has appropriated.  While Voorhis praises Nixon’s appointment of Indiana Republican William D. Ruckelshaus to head the EPA, an appointment that garnered praise from environmentalists, Voorhis narrates that Nixon, the Secretary of Commerce, and the head of the Office of Management of Budget have stood in Ruckelshaus’ way and have pressured the EPA to water down its regulations.  This, Voorhis states, is for the benefit of Nixon’s industrial campaign contributors.

According to Voorhis, Nixon has supported atomic energy, which is unclean and potentially dangerous; he has pressured Congress to support the environmentally-harmful supersonic air transport plane; he supported a nuclear blast on an Alaskan island that signaled a new weapon for the U.S., when the Council on Environmental Quality advised against it; and he proposed abolishing a 7 percent tax on the automobile, which is a great polluter.  Meanwhile, Nixon has failed to provide substantial support for clean energy, such as thermal and hydroelectric power, which are making gains in other countries (Voorhis says that Mexico is taking advantage of thermal power, as France harnesses the tides).  Nixon has proposed that federal anti-pollution standards not apply to the states if they come up with their own standards, which (according to Voorhis) “was an open invitation to the states to compete against one another for location of industries by deliberately setting their standards low” (pages 100-101).  Voorhis also states that Nixon has used environmental enforcement as a tool against political opponents, which explains the disproportionate prosecution of incidents in Maine, Edmund Muskie’s state.

Voorhis argues that the Democratic Congress has come up with noteworthy environmental legislation.  My impression is that this observation may overlap with a claim that Voorhis likes to make (or at least imply) elsewhere in his book: that Nixon is not principled in his stances on issues that are of concern to liberals (i.e., welfare, the environment), for Nixon’s main agenda is to take credit for advancements, all to serve his own political well-being, whether he fully deserves that credit or not.

It’s interesting that some of the issues that Voorhis raises are still issues today, such as alternative energy.  Voorhis does not address climate change or the greenhouse effect, however, perhaps because those were not major topics of discussion back then.  When Voorhis does say that carbon from automobiles is a problem, the reason that he gives is that CO2 weakens the heart and makes people susceptible to diseases.  For some reason, though, Voorhis criticizes air conditioners (page 97), which since the 1990′s have been blamed (at least in part) for the hole in the ozone layer.  But why did Voorhis, in his time and context, believe that air conditioners were damaging to the environment?

Published in: on April 12, 2013 at 11:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Jerry Voorhis: The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon 2

Jerry Voorhis was a Democratic Congressman from California, and he was defeated by Republican Richard Milhous Nixon in 1946.  Voorhis wrote a book during Richard Nixon’s Presidency, much of which was a critique of Nixon’s policies as President.  The book is entitled The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon.

In my reading so far, Voorhis addresses Nixon’s policies on agriculture, poverty, unemployment, the inner city, and health care.  Voorhis’ criticisms usually fell under the following categories:

1.  President Nixon does not spend as much money as Congress appropriates for programs.  While Nixon argued in his memoirs that he was simply fulfilling a Presidential prerogative that his predecessors, too, used, Voorhis views Nixon’s freezing of funds as a probably unconstitutional disregard of the system of checks and balances.  Moreover, Voorhis believes that the amount of money that Congress appropriates is necessary for the programs to work, and so they do not work when Nixon under-funds or reorganizes them.  There are then ill effects on real-life people: small farmers don’t get low-cost electricity, the prices of their crops plummet, the poor live in sub-standard housing, etc.

2.  President Nixon, when he proposes a program, does not request enough money.  For example, his Family Assistance Plan would not give poor families enough in terms of helping them to meet their needs. 

3.  President Nixon vetoes programs that can help the poor.  For example, he vetoed a plan to assist the poor with child care facilities, while his Family Assistance Plan would require a number of poor mothers to work (but see here and here for another perspective on this).  Nixon also vetoed a bill that would create permanent public sector jobs, in a time of high unemployment.  (According to Voorhis, Nixon supported public sector jobs as a temporary, emergency measure, but not permanently.)  How, Voorhis wonders, would that coincide with the work requirements of the Family Assistance Policy?  And, while I’m on the topic of work requirements, Voorhis argues that many people on public assistance cannot work due to disability, or they are eager to work but there are no jobs out there for them.

4. There are times when Nixon is quite generous in terms of the government spending money.  For one, Nixon is quite generous when an election year is close, presumably because Nixon is trying to get votes for the Republicans.  Second, Nixon can be quite generous towards special interests.  For example, Nixon cut government spending on low-income housing, yet Nixon supported section 236 for senior citizens, which “was already proving costly to the taxpayers and such a bonanza to the mortgage lenders” (page 73).

5.  Nixon claims to be such a budget-cutter, alleging that the government needs to restrain its spending to counter inflation.  Voorhis, however, blames inflation on high interest rates (which businesses pass on to their customers) and high and wasteful military spending, which (according to Voorhis) Nixon has no problem with.

6.  Nixon downgrades programs that actually work, such as cooperative farms and cooperative housing, and a program that would teach the poor how to save (and give them some money to save).  These programs have grass-roots participation, yet they need funding, which Nixon is stingy in providing.  Moreover, Nixon cuts loans to programs, even when people benefiting from those programs have a good track-record in paying those loans back to the government.

7.  Nixon’s stinginess hurts the small farmers’ business.  If not much government money is going towards milk and food for low-income children, that ends up depriving the small farmers of business, when crop prices are already abysmally low, and small farmers have difficulty purchasing capital to farm (which is why Voorhis thinks co-ops help).  Then, small farmers leave their land to go to the cities, looking for jobs that are not there for them.

8.  Overall, according to Voorhis, Nixon talks a good game.  Nixon speaks in favor of the co-ops, health care reform, and eliminating hunger.  But Nixon doesn’t sufficiently walk the walk that he talks.  There were right-wingers who complained that liberals got the action from Nixon’s Administration, whereas conservatives got the rhetoric.  Voorhis’ argument seems to be the opposite: that Nixon often talks like a liberal (with exceptions, as when Nixon criticizes welfare recipients), yet his actions are quite conservative.

9.  Nixon proposes to spend a certain amount of money on a program (say, environmental clean-up), then he dumps a significant amount of the cost onto the states.

10.  Sometimes, Nixon even turns around and betrays the special interests!  For example, when the American Milk Producers, Inc. (AMPI) arranged an event at which Nixon spoke, where Nixon got votes for the 1972 Presidential election, he agreed on a higher milk price.  But, after the dairy farmers’ money “was securely in the hands of the Nixon campaign committee”, his Justice Department sued “AMPI for monopolistic control of the price of milk” (pages 36-37).

11.  At times, Nixon manipulates statistics to make things look better than they actually are.  On pages 34-36, Voorhis says that “the Nixon Administration…changed the base on which parity was calculated” to make it look like the parity index jumped from 67 to 93 (pages 34-35).  But Voorhis doubts that farmers were buying that, for the Nebraska Legislature was still “calling on the President to set farm price supports at 90 percent of the old parity” (page 35).

Tomorrow, I’ll go into more detail on Voorhis’ discussion of health care.

Published in: on April 10, 2013 at 11:00 am  Comments (2)  

RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, Volume 2: 6

I have three items for my write-up today on volume 2 of Richard Nixon’s memoirs.

1.  A couple of posts ago, I wrote about Watergate.  In that particular post, I said that Nixon admitted that he sought to encourage the CIA to limit the FBI’s investigation into Watergate.  In my latest reading, however, Nixon said that he had serious reservations about cover-ups.  On page 151, we read:

“…I knew that the two worst actions in this kind of situation were to lie and to cover up.  If you covered up you would inevitable get caught, and if you lied you would be guilty of perjury.  That was the story of the Hiss case and the 5 percenters under Truman.”

(UPDATE: On page 413, Nixon mentions the story that he released claiming to explain why he encouraged the CIA to limit the FBI’s investigation into Watergate: Nixon said in a document that he sought to ensure that the investigation would not uncover “secret CIA operations”, I presume because Watergate conspirator Howard Hunt had done things for the CIA in the past.  But Nixon denied in the document that he wanted to impede the investigations into Watergate.)

But Nixon and his advisers still deliberated about how they should handle Watergate.  Regarding Watergate conspirator Jeb Stuart Magruder, should Magruder be encouraged to plead the Fifth Amendment?  Should Magruder simply admit that he got carried away?  Should Magruder say that he ordered the gathering of information but did not envision that this would be carried out through a break-in and wiretapping?  Should he “rationalize a story that would not lead to his conviction”, since Nixon was concerned that “Magruder’s whole life would be ruined for this one mistake” (pages 151, 153)?  On conspirators G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, would it be so terrible to let them take the fall and be convicted?  Were their ties to the White House sufficient enough to bring bad publicity to the White House?  Maybe Nixon realized that there were disadvantages to lying and covering things up, but, according to his own story, he was weighing various options.

On pages 175-176, Nixon says that his aide John Ehrlichman assured him that “John Dean, the Justice Department, and the FBI all confirmed that there had been no White House involvement” in the Watergate break-in.  But that apparently didn’t bottle up the scandal!

2.  In my write-up on volume 1 of Nixon’s memoirs, I said that Nixon appears to be shadier in his memoirs than he was in his 1962 book, Six Crises.  That is still the impression that I am getting, and I’ll mention two examples.  First, on page 124, Nixon narrates, “Later in the day, I said that every time the Democrats accused us of bugging we should charge that we were being bugged and maybe even plant a bug and find it ourselves!”  Nixon may have been kidding, I don’t know.  But Nixon’s critics have charged that one of the strategies that Nixon and/or his henchmen frequently employed was to do something sinister or controversial and to blame the Democrats for it, in an attempt to make the Democrats look bad.  According to Stephen Ambrose, Nixon’s defenders alleged that Democrats did the same sort of thing.  I recall reading in Ambrose’s Nixon: The Education of a Politician that one of Nixon’s defenders speculated that, in Nixon’s 1946 run for the U.S. House against Democrat Jerry Voorhis, when voters were receiving phone-calls calling Voorhis a Communist, it was the Democrats who made those calls in an attempt to make the Nixon campaign look despicable.  People who like to profile Nixon psychologically could say that Nixon or his defenders are projecting onto their opponents their own characteristics (not that the psychological profiles of Nixon that I read made this claim about this specific case, but Bruce Mazlish, and I think Eli Chesen, liked to accuse Nixon of projecting his own flaws onto others).  Or maybe politics truly is a dirty business, within both political parties!

Second, on page 172, Nixon discusses the case of Larry O’Brien, a Democrat who loved to hit Nixon below the belt in his rhetoric.  O’Brien was accused of not paying taxes on money that wealthy magnate Howard Hughes gave as a retainer to his lobbying firm.  Essentially, Nixon was rooting for O’Brien’s fall and was trying to make it happen.  Nixon states, “I was doubtful as I was hopeful that we would nail him on this issue”, that “I ordered Haldeman and Ehrlichman to have the audit expedited and completed before the election”, and that “it would be a pleasant—-and newsworthy—-irony after all the years in which Howard Hughes had been portrayed as my financial angel, the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee was in fact the one profiting from a lucrative position on Hughes’ payroll.”  Instead, Nixon narrates, the IRS cleared O’Brien of the charges.

Why does Nixon appear shadier in his memoirs than he did in Six Crises?  I mean, in his memoirs, we still see the fair-minded Nixon of Six Crises, the one who sees the good even in some of his political opponents.  But Nixon in his memoirs appears shadier, at times.  Perhaps Nixon was more honest and candid in his memoirs because he could not hide who he truly was by that point: people had heard the Watergate tapes, and they were aware of Nixon’s activities.  Nixon could justify them, express regret for them, or simply acknowledge them, without offering an explanation.  It seems to me that Nixon in his memoirs does all three, depending on what he’s narrating.  Or maybe Nixon actually was a more honest and morally-conscientious politician in his earlier years, but the press’ criticism of him and his political defeats convinced him that he needed to play dirty in order to succeed, since the other side played dirty.  Politics can harden a person.

3.  On pages 163-163, Nixon lists his accomplishments in his first term as President.  Inflation went down from 6.1 percent to 2.7 percent.  The growth of the Gross National Product went up by 2.9 percent.  The stock market was doing well.  Real earnings were increasing at an annual rate of 4 percent by 1972, and “Average income per farm was 40 percent higher than the average from 1961-1968″ (page 164).  Federal income taxes were reduced “by 66 percent for a family of four making $5,000, and by 20 percent for a family of four making $15,000″ (page 164).  Welfare reform was proposed.  A national health insurance plan—-which “shared the cost between those who could afford to pay for health insurance, employers, and government”—-was offered as an alternative to “several socialized medicine schemes proposed by others” (page 164).  Funding to fight cancer went up, as did arrests for drug crimes.  The increase in the crime rate came down.  There was created a “formal research institute for learning and education” (page 164).  Government spending on mass transit went up.  There was progress in revenue-sharing between the federal and the state governments, environmental protection that (according to Nixon) balanced the preservation of the environment with the needs of industry, and the development of parks.  A higher percentage of government spending was for “education, social services, [and] health” than for national defense.  Government spending on the arts and social security benefits increased.  Draft calls were reduced, and “we were on our way to the elimination of the draft and the creation of an all-volunteer Army” (page 165).

Nixon is bragging here about a number of accomplishments that could be considered liberal or progressive, which is odd, considering the conservative rhetoric about government that he employs elsewhere in his memoirs.  Perhaps he figured that, yes, he increased government spending, but he was more reasonable about it than many of the Democrats.

Is Nixon accurate?  I’m sure that there’s another side to the story, but I don’t know what it is right now, so I can’t critique Nixon’s claims.  It does interest me that inflation remained a problem under the Presidencies of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, so, even if Nixon succeeded in taming inflation, it made a comeback.

Published in: on March 22, 2013 at 11:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Native American Eschatology

In my latest reading of Circle of Life: Traditional Teachings of Native American Elders, James David Audlin talks about eschatology.  In reading Audlin’s discussion of this, I thought about Rosemary Ruether’s critique of environmental apocalyptism in her book, Gaia and God.  In my post here, I say that Ruether “criticizes ‘militant environmentalists’ who expect ‘Mother Earth’ to rise up ‘like a chthonic Jehovah to topple the human empires and return the earth to precivilized simplicity when humans, in small hunter-gatherer tribes, lived lightly off the land’, apparently unconcerned that ‘most human beings would die in the process’ (page 84).”  I don’t know if Audlin agrees with all of what Ruether criticizes here, but he did talk about a Native American eschatology that presumes that nature and the spirits are upset with what humans are doing to the earth.

On page 332, Audlin refers to Hopi prophecies.  He says: “The end is near, the prophecies say, when the House of Mica in the Lands to the East where world leaders meet to resolve issues and settle disputes ignore three times the message of peace and harmony with Nature (as the United Nations has done) and a ‘gourd of ashes’ is dropped upon the earth (nuclear war).  Soon after that, all land and life could be destroyed…unless human beings remember first how to live in peace with each other and in harmony with Nature.”  This intrigued me because Audlin’s interpretation of the Hopi prophecies actually wants for the United Nations to take an active role, a sentiment that you will not see in Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins’ Left Behind series (which holds that the UN will set the stage for the Antichrist one world government).  But are the Hopi prophecies about the UN?  I doubt this somewhat, for the prophecy says that the world leaders meet in the Lands to the East, whereas the UN is located in the west, in New York City.

I’d like to quote something that Audlin says on pages 332-333:

“Elders have told me that this future is all but unavoidable—-but that that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  And that, in fact, it might be a bad idea (or at the least wasted effort) to try to stop it from happening.  Just as we are taught not to try to heal someone whose time to die has come but only use palliative medicines to make their passing as comfortable as possible, we should do what we can to provide comfort and safety for all nations.  We may need to let the washichu descend into nuclear war.  It will be devastating and many people will unfortunately die (though remember there is no death, only a change of worlds, so they will yet live), but, as in homeopathic medicine, the [debacle] will cleanse the Earth of all chemical, mental and spiritual pollution.  Mainstream modern culture may already be terminally ill; it may already be impossible to change the direction of this juggernaut enough to avoid annihilation, but its worst effects might yet be blunted somewhat.  We can prepare for the time that will follow this nuclear winter, so that the teachings of the traditional ways, the descriptive law of how humans properly live, will still be remembered and taught and followed.  That is why I must write this book.”

That is a very disturbing passage, and it reminds me of the environmental apocalypticism that Rosemary Ruether was criticizing.  I’d say that Audlin is a little more generous towards humanity than are the environmental apocalypticists, however, for he supports ways to blunt the effects of the catastrophe.  But he does appear to envision a new beginning: after the earth is cleansed of pollution, people can follow the traditional ways of harmony with nature.  Personally, I’d like to think that we can avoid the catastrophe altogether.  Of course, the Christian apocalypticism with which I was raised would probably be skeptical that humans can effect any significant good at this stage, and so it looks for Christ to return to cleanse the earth and renew it.

Clear and Present Dangers 9: The Environment and Energy

In my latest reading of M. Stanton Evans’ Clear and Present Dangers: A Conservative View of America’s Government (copyright 1975), I finished the chapter on the environment, read the chapter on the energy crisis, and started the chapter on civil liberties.  I have two items, and I will focus in this post on the environment and energy.

1.  This first item is about the environment, but it will also refer to information that’s in the chapter on the energy crisis.  Yesterday, I said that Evans expressed apprehension about the types of substances that could replace lead in gasoline, fearing that those substances could be more hazardous than lead.  In my latest reading, Evans elaborates on this.  On page 240, Evans says that the catalytic converters that are supported by the Environmental Protection Agency change sulfur into sulfates, which “are potentially quite dangerous to people with respiratory ailments—-as lead, for example, is not.”  Evans later discusses a similar scenario, in which the federal government recommended that detergent manufacturers replace phosphates with a substance known as NTA, on the ground that phosphates have negative environmental affects in that they cause algae to proliferate in lakes (actually, in this sentence, I’m combining what Evans says with what this article says).  According to Evans, NTA itself was problematic because it “caused birth defects in rats” and was believed by a former Surgeon General (Jesse Steinfeld) to possibly cause cancer (page 241).  Moreover, Evans states that certain non-phosphates that were “marketed in place of phosphates” could “cause damage if splashed in the eyes or swallowed”, and some “destroyed the flame-retardant qualities of infants’ clothes” (page 241).  In contrast, Evans states, phosphates had a “rather wholesome record” in that they were not known to harm anyone (page 241).

On DDT, Evans argues that banning it has resulted in more malaria-related deaths.

Regarding where Evans’ discussion of the environment intersects with his comments on the energy crisis, Evans on page 255 refers to a 1972 report by the Office of Science and Technology estimating that environmental regulations and environmental protection equipment will be costly for businesses, and that there are many areas in the country in which such equipment is unnecessary.  According to Evans, the report also says that pressuring businesses with time-limits hinders them from developing better technology that is good for the environment.

On page 253, Evans argues that government regulations have resulted in gas-guzzling cars, which are inappropriate when the country supposedly has an energy crisis.  Evans says that EPA-mandated emission-control equipment reduces gas mileage and that the push to remove lead from gasoline “meant that fuel for efficient high-compression engines became appreciably more expensive.”

Evans may have legitimate arguments on the environment.  I don’t know enough to comment one way or the other.  I will say, though, that my impression has been that liberals tend to support fuel-efficient cars, whereas there are a number of conservatives and Republicans who glorify gas-guzzling SUVs and believe that stringent fuel-efficiency standards hurt the economy.  But was that always the case?

2.  Regarding the energy crisis, Evans advances a variety of arguments.  He argues that government price-controls on natural gas has discouraged development and contributed to demand outstripping supply (page 250), yet he also contends that they have hurt the coal industry, which cannot effectively compete against the low price of natural gas (page 251).  Is this contradictory, or can both be true?

Pages 256-259 had some interesting discussions.  Evans says that the U.S. produces 75 percent of its own energy needs, while getting only 8.1 percent from Middle Eastern and North African imports (Evans refers to the October 29, 1973 U.S. News and World Report); that domestic production increased since the protectionist policies of Eisenhower; and that oil profits have been modest compared with other industries.  Evans is arguing against the narrative that oil companies are deliberately creating shortages in order to boost profits.  Evans is open to the notion that oil companies are “shipping oil to foreign nations” and are “holding back supplies to wait for better prices” (page 257), but he believes that lifting government price controls could ameliorate this situation, as the lifting of price controls on meat resulted in more meat being brought to the market and thereby a reduction in meat prices.

On page 260, Evans refers to Chase Manhattan’s insight that taxes have inhibited oil companies from keeping up with their capital needs, and so it’s no surprise that petroleum is “in short supply” (Chase Manhattan’s words). 

The thing about the last observation, though, is that an energy bill passed during President George W. Bush’s Presidency gave energy companies tax credits, and yet the price of gasoline remains high. 

Clear and Present Dangers 8

In my latest reading of M. Stanton Evans’ Clear and Present Dangers: A Conservative View of America’s Government (copyright 1975), I finished the chapter on health care, read the chapter on “The Population Scare”, and started the chapter on the environment.  Here are three items:

1.  On page 211, Evans quotes economist Herbert Klarman, who said that Medicare and Medicaid’s reimbursement of hospitals was based in part on the hospital’s cost of operation, and that discouraged hospitals from keeping down costs because having a higher cost of operation could get them more money from the government.  Klarman states: “The hospital administrator can no longer deny requests for higher wages or more supplies on the ground that money is lacking; to get money, he need only spend more.”  According to Evans, government intervention has increased the cost of health care.  Evans is critical, however, of government attempts to solve this problem, since it entails government bureaucrats snooping through medical records to see that doctors are behaving themselves and imposes high fines if the government concludes that they are not.

Evans may have a point that government intervention has increased the cost of health care.  At the same time, I doubt that health care prices were especially low before the government stepped in, which was why the government stepped in in the first place: the poor were having problems paying for health care, and many private health insurance companies were reluctant to cover the elderly because there was more illness among that particular population.  Consequently, I don’t favor getting the government out of health care, for I believe that this would leave many people vulnerable.  But I do support reforms.  If Obamacare, for example, is living up to its claim to control costs, then I support it.

Evans also critiques federal drug regulations.  I don’t know if he’s for eliminating them, but he does believe that the rigor with which the government practices such regulation hinders the supply of potentially life-saving medication.  Evans is often a critic of the European health care systems, but he notes that a number of new drugs are appearing in Europe, but few have made it to the U.S.  Evans doubts that even penicillin would have passed the FDA’s “‘safe and effective’ meter’”, for it has caused “unfavorable reactions in some people [and] is less effective in certain cases than in others”, even though it has saved many people’s lives (Evans’ words on page 215).

I do know people in the health food industry who had to put up with the FDA and its rules regarding vitamins and supplements, but, when it comes to pharmaceuticals, the complaint among many today is that the pharmaceutical industry has too much power.  It’s interesting that Evans notes that new drugs were appearing in Europe, which many conservatives regard as socialistic in its health care policies, for conservatives often have argued that the U.S. system’s stress on the profit-motive provides incentives for the development of new drugs in the U.S.  Since Evans in the 1970′s appeared to lament that new medications were not sufficiently making their way into the U.S., I wonder if Evans would support the importation of cheap prescription drugs, something that a number of Republicans have opposed.

2.  Evans does not buy into the population scare, the notion that the number of people is rapidly increasing even as space and resources are limited.  For one, Evans notes that the birth rate is decreasing in the U.S., even as there is a lot of space in the country.  While Evans is not into scare tactics regarding population, he does appear to be concerned about the decline of the birth rate, for that would result in a smaller workforce, which would not be able to adequately sustain the Social Security system.  Second, even in the Third World, Evans argues, people having children may be helpful because it could result in more human-power and thus increased productivity.  For Evans, productivity is important because that entails that there is more food to go around.  Evans notes on page 220 that Malthus wrote “before the full effects of industrialization became apparent”, and that “it is precisely this neglected factor that makes all the difference.”

I first heard about the population crisis when I was in seventh-grade social studies, which was in 1989-1990.  And, in the 1970′s, there was a lot of concern about over-population, as was evident in such movies as Soylent Green (which is made of people!).  I don’t hear much about the population crisis nowadays, though I do think that there is a belief that overpopulation is a problem in the Third World, and thus we should encourage contraception there.  And yet, it seems to me that contemporary discussions about contraception revolve more around women’s rights than over-population. 

3.  I started the chapter on the environment.  I’ve encountered some of Evans’ arguments in other conservative and libertarian writings that I have read: that businesses pollute public lands that nobody owns, and thus privatization of parks and beaches can reduce pollution; that DDT is not a danger to humans, for too much of it was pumped into animals when it was tested on them and it had ill-effects; that nature causes more pollution than human beings do (and Evans documented this claim better than Ronald Reagan did when Reagan claimed that Mount St. Helens caused more pollution than cars, or that trees cause pollution, for Evans refers to a team of Harvard researchers), etc.  Evans also made arguments that I had not read as much before: that human-caused pollution was decreasing prior to the onset of federal anti-pollution legislation, that there is no evidence that leaded gasoline harms human beings (Evans quotes Dr. Robert Kehoe of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and a 1972 National Academy of Sciences Report), and that there is a potential danger that oil refineries could substitute something more hazardous than lead (Evans quotes E.P.A. Administrator William Ruckelshaus).

Evans may make some good points, here.  But there’s probably more to the story than what he presents.  While Evans may be correct that pollution declined prior to the onset of federal anti-pollution legislation, and this was probably due to improved technology, I’ve still heard stories about how smog was at one time a problem in major cities.  Moreover, if businesses would do a good job by themselves in keeping the air clean, why would they have a problem with federal mandates for air quality?  Granted, they may feel that there are better ways to keep the air clean than what the government is prescribing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, on some level, companies think that pollution is an unavoidable side-effect of the services that they provide.  On DDT, I’m somewhat skeptical that scientists wouldn’t have recognized that there is a difference between animal and human ability to absorb DDT and that the quantity of DDT injected into the animals is important, and that the scientists didn’t take that into consideration in their studies.  On privatization, I wonder if that would hinder businesses, since businesses would be restricted in terms of where they could log or drill or dump their waste.  Wouldn’t that lead to higher costs for consumers?

Personally, though, I’m a person who hopes that we can have our cake and eat it, too: that there are ways that we can have cleaner air and cleaner water, without harming the economy.  I hope that technology, both existent and developing, can make this possible, and there are many who argue that it indeed can.

Jonathan Edwards (and the Puritans) in High School

As my readers know, I finished George Marsden’s excellent biography of Jonathan Edwards.  In this post, I’ll talk about some of my experiences with Jonathan Edwards’ works, particularly when I was in high school.

If my memory is correct, I first heard of Jonathan Edwards when I was in the eleventh grade.  We read Edwards’ sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” The sermon itself did not make much of an impression on me, to tell you the truth.  I was from a denomination, Armstrongism, that did not believe in eternal torment in hell.  My family took that doctrine in a rather generous direction, probably more generous than the church itself intended the doctrine to be.  One of my relatives thought that no one in this life could be lost, since there was no solid evidence that one religion was superior to another, plus there was a lot of deception, and so how could God judge so many people for having the wrong religion?

Even though I did not take Edwards’ fire and brimstone sermon seriously, I did enjoy my eleventh grade English class’s unit on the Puritans.  Eleventh grade was when we learned about American literature, and the Puritans were unit one.  Or, actually, we started with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, which was set in the time of the Puritans, and immediately after that we launched our study of Puritan literature.  I could really identify with the Puritans, in a number of ways.  The eleventh grade was a time when my own faith was really deepening.  I read a lot of religious literature, even carrying my Bible to school.  I rested on the Sabbath and the annual holy days.  I took walks in nature as a way to get closer to God and to appreciate the beautiful world that God made.  Similarly, the Puritans read their Bibles.  The Puritans rested on a Sabbath—-only their Sabbath was Sunday, whereas mine was Saturday.  And Jonathan Edwards enjoyed taking long walks in nature. 

I’m not sure where exactly I first learned about Jonathan Edwards’ nature walks.  Perhaps it was in our textbook’s introduction to “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”—-the part of the book that gave us background as to who Edwards was.  But I obviously learned about it sometime in high school, for I participated in an essay contest in high school on what some aspect of American history can teach us about protecting the environment.  I chose to write about Jonathan Edwards’ appreciation of God’s creation.

On a related note, when I was in the eleventh grade, I enjoyed other things by the Puritans that we read as well: Mary Rawlinson’s story of being captured by Native Americans, and Anne Bradstreet’s pious poetry.  As an adult, at the place where I am now religiously, I doubt that I would enjoy living in Puritan times—-where people are evaluating where I am spiritually and are judging me negatively, where people get puffed up on account of their spiritual experiences, where having an alternative worldview is considered heresy, and where preachers use the fear of hell as a way to keep people in line.  I much prefer living in today’s era.  And yet, I do feel rather nostalgic, warm, and cozy when I read about the Puritans, as I did when I recently went through George Marsden’s biography of Jonathan Edwards.

Take It Back 7: Energy and the Environment

In my latest reading of James Carville and Paul Begala’s Take It Back: Our Party, Our Country, Our Future (copyright 2006), I read the chapter on the environment, and I started the chapter on the media (i.e., how the media does not really manifest a left-wing bias).  My post today will be about the environment, whereas my post tomorrow will be about the media.

What did I like about the chapter on the environment?  A number of things.  I liked Carville and Begala’s point that Democrats should concentrate on climate change rather than drilling in ANWR (which many people don’t visit anyway), that they should promote good environmental stewardship as a religious value, that they should highlight how environmental damage threatens people’s health, that they should seek the support of hunters and fishermen by talking about how environmental damage leads to fewer places where people can hunt and fish, and that they should discuss how higher CAFE standards could lead to the production of more fuel-efficient cars and thus more jobs.  I also appreciated that Begala and Carville mentioned people who were being part of the solution rather than part of the problem.  They refer favorably to the advancements that Texas has made in terms of alternative fuels (and I talk about Texas Governor Rick Perry’s discussion of Texas’ environmental and clean energy record in my post here), as well as General Electric’s profits from renewable energy, “water purification and cleaner transportation” (page 182).

After talking about GE, Carville and Begala criticize how a number of Democrats approach environmental issues: “We’ll admit it: There are times when Democrats can be preachy and prissy and sanctimonious and scornful when talking about energy and the environment.  We tend to sneer at people who drive SUVs and at companies that create jobs but also contribute to global warming.  Worse, some Democratic environmentalists tend to be almost self-loathing about America’s energy consumption.  Instead, we should celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit of America; we should embrace the profit motive that is driving more and more corporate leaders to the Green/Green Solution.”

I appreciate Carville and Begala’s support for an environmentalism that is consistent with jobs, religion, and the desires of hunters and fishermen.  I remember a professor saying that, in some regions of the country, the National Rifle Association is a strong proponent of responsible environmental policies.  Why should environmentalists position themselves as extremists, when they can form alliances with a wide range of people, even conservatives?

What did I not like about the chapter on the environment?  I did not feel that Carville and Begala were sensitive to the deleterious effects that some of their proposals could have.  For example, they support cap-and-trade and the windfall profits tax.  But could not those lead to higher energy prices, as companies pass on the cost of buying carbon credits or paying the windfall profits tax to consumers?  Carville and Begala should have addressed that point.  It would be nice, though, if a windfall profits tax could work out, for I like the story about how Sarah Palin as Governor of Alaska brought in higher revenues and gave Alaskans a check through taxes on oil profits (but see here for another take on that).


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