Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

All Our Wombs Belong To Ross Douthat

I began this post Sunday night and in the meantime everyone else has already thoroughly covered it, but repetition has never stopped me before. Onward, mocking, ho!

Ross Douthat once again takes pen in hand to explain why we will all be very, very sorry that we do not obey his Catholic rules.

When liberals are in a philosophical mood, they like to cast debates over the role of government not as a clash between the individual and the state, but as a conflict between the individual and the community. Liberals are for cooperation and joint effort; conservatives are for self-interest and selfishness.

You know who else was for cooperation and selflessness? Ross's good buddy Jesus!

Liberals build the Hoover Dam and the interstate highways; conservatives sit home and dog-ear copies of “The Fountainhead.”

"Dog-ear"? That's not what we think they are doing while reading Ayn Rand.

Liberals know that it takes a village; conservatives pretend that all it takes is John Wayne.

While they are enjoying the benefits given to them by a cooperative government.

In this worldview, the government is just the natural expression of our national community, and the place where we all join hands to pursue the common good. Or to borrow a line attributed to Representative Barney Frank, “Government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.”

Many conservatives would go this far with Frank: Government is one way we choose to work together, and there are certain things we need to do collectively that only government can do.

Douthat goes on to ignore the fact that the government can only or best do certain things because he wants to support religious organizations over secular organizations. We want secular organizations running our military, our public benefits, our schools and our economy. Conservatives want religious laws to run our organizations so those organizations will follow their religious laws, thereby reinforcing the "truth" and power of their religion.

But there are trade-offs as well, which liberal communitarians don’t always like to acknowledge. When government expands, it’s often at the expense of alternative expressions of community, alternative groups that seek to serve the common good. Unlike most communal organizations, the government has coercive power — the power to regulate, to mandate and to tax. These advantages make it all too easy for the state to gradually crowd out its rivals. The more things we “do together” as a government, in many cases, the fewer things we’re allowed to do together in other spheres.

Douthat also ignores the fact that nobody is stopping religious organizations from doing anything. They just won't give them "secular" money to do it. Not everyone is Catholic and wants to support the Catholic church.

Sometimes this crowding out happens gradually, subtly, indirectly. Every tax dollar the government takes is a dollar that can’t go to charities and churches.

Let's see, which would I rather support--missile defense or St. Rose of Lima? The highway system or Catholic Charities?

Every program the government runs, from education to health care to the welfare office, can easily become a kind of taxpayer-backed monopoly.

That's because we want them to be a "monopoly." We don't want education or social services or national defense to rely on the free market.

But sometimes the state goes further. Not content with crowding out alternative forms of common effort, it presents its rivals an impossible choice: Play by our rules, even if it means violating the moral ideals that inspired your efforts in the first place, or get out of the community-building business entirely.

Every threat must be backed by force or it is meaningless. The threat in this case is the withdrawal or expense of money. The churches can do whatever they want, they just can't do it with public money.

This is exactly the choice that the White House has decided to offer a host of religious institutions — hospitals, schools and charities — in the era of Obamacare. The new health care law requires that all employer-provided insurance plans cover contraception, sterilization and the morning-after (or week-after) pill known as ella, which can work as an abortifacient. A number of religious groups, led by the American Catholic bishops, had requested an exemption for plans purchased by their institutions. Instead, the White House has settled on an exemption that only covers religious institutions that primarily serve members of their own faith. A parish would be exempt from the mandate, in other words, but a Catholic hospital would not.

A religious organization can refuse to pay for reproductive health care if their members are of that religion, but not if they are of other religions or are secular. By law we cannot be forced to give money to a church. (In theory, at least.) Douthat doesn't like that law. He believes that God wants him to control all women's reproductive systems. The fact that all women do not want to hand over their free will to Ross Douthat is beside the point to him. He is Catholic so all women should live by his rules. His arrogance is unreal.

Ponder that for a moment. In effect, the Department of Health and Human Services is telling religious groups that if they don’t want to pay for practices they consider immoral, they should stick to serving their own co-religionists rather than the wider public. Sectarian self-segregation is O.K., but good Samaritanism is not. The rule suggests a preposterous scenario in which a Catholic hospital avoids paying for sterilizations and the morning-after pill by closing its doors to atheists and Muslims, and hanging out a sign saying “no Protestants need apply.”

Or they could simply refuse that tainted government money and tax exemptions and do whatever they want. Usually at this point I would say that it's all about money but Douthat is one of those rare birds whose personal issue supersede even their lust for power. Douthat thinks sex with women is icky. He is the Monk of the pundit set. The thought of gettin' it on with a pretty coed nearly made him sick to his stomach.

The regulations are a particularly cruel betrayal of Catholic Democrats, many of whom had defended the health care law as an admirable fulfillment of Catholicism’s emphasis on social justice. Now they find that their government’s communitarianism leaves no room for their church’s communitarianism, and threatens to regulate it out of existence.

Douthat is terribly concerned about taking the government Danegeld for welfare but suddenly expects his religious Danegeld to come without strings attached. Too bad.

Critics of the administration’s policy are framing this as a religious liberty issue, and rightly so. But what’s at stake here is bigger even than religious freedom.

The religious freedom to take government money without following the government's rules. Sorry, when someone gives you money they have the right to set conditions. If you don't like the conditions, don't take the money. Who needs that tax exemption anyway?

The Obama White House’s decision is a threat to any kind of voluntary community that doesn’t share the moral sensibilities of whichever party controls the health care bureaucracy.

So don't take the money and do what you want.

The Catholic Church’s position on contraception is not widely appreciated, to put it mildly, and many liberals are inclined to see the White House’s decision as a blow for the progressive cause.

The Catholic Church's position on contraception is not widely appreciated by Catholics either. Almost all women use birth control at some point in their lives, which means a lot of Catholic men benefit from the use of birth control as well. Douthat and all controlled birth advocates ignore this fact. And, as TBogg notes, Mr. Douthat has one child in his three years of marriage. His wife has a career and evidently does not intend to reproduce ever year or as often as God allows Douthat to plant His Holy Seed.

If Douthat wants to make our reproductive decisions for us then it only seems fair that we get to make his. Douthat thinks that having the power--and by that I mean money--of the Catholic Church behind him means that this is all one-way: He tells us if we are allowed to use contraception and we have to do what he says. I say that his wife must use contraception because the last thing any of us want is another generation of Douthats let loose in the world, telling us what we can or cannot do with our bodies. If she refuses then we should fine and imprison her, where she will be forced to take the Pill.

They should think again. Once claimed, such powers tend to be used in ways that nobody quite anticipated, and the logic behind these regulations could be applied in equally punitive ways by administrations with very different values from this one.

The more the federal government becomes an instrument of culture war, the greater the incentive for both conservatives and liberals to expand its powers and turn them to ideological ends. It is Catholics hospitals today; it will be someone else tomorrow.

Just as Megan McArdle is constantly warning us of Armageddon if banks bonuses are cut, Douthat tries to tell us that if the government requires faith-based health care providers to pay for basic services for non-Catholic women, fascism will crush us.

The White House attack on conscience is a vindication of health care reform’s critics, who saw exactly this kind of overreach coming. But it’s also an intimation of a darker American future, in which our voluntary communities wither away and government becomes the only word we have for the things we do together.

Which is why our Founding Fathers created a faith-based government--to ensure that our public institutions are based on religious values. Oh, wait--they created a secular government, so moral scolds like Douthat can't force everyone else to live by their unpopular and almost completely ignored religious rules. Why this bizarre need for moral purity? It's hard to tell, but maybe an article from Mother Jones can give us a clue.

Ross Douthat has the hair of an older man—thinning on top, a trim beard below—and the air of one. He's had only one girlfriend since college, and they are now married.

One?! Maybe TBogg's  wrong. Maybe he's only had sex once. Twice, if Douthat took one for the team and had sex on his honeymoon.

And nowhere, at any time, do we have any indication whatsoever that Douthat takes into account what women want or need. They are always utterly absent from his little ruminations, without body or voice or will. It's all about Douthat and what he wants, and the end of civilisation as we know it if we do not do what he says.


Tom Bach said...

One thing that gets me about this is that it is Catholic dogma that God gave humanity free will that they might sin. A good Catholic ought to welcome the chance to risk the sin to prove his love of God.

Yet somehow when it comes to contraception and abortion, which all Catholics know to be sins, despite what Saint Augustine suggested, no choices allowed.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Shorter Ross: Life was awesome in the 13th Century! Let's go back.

Susan of Texas said...

Why does Ross Douthat hate God's free will???

DocAmazing said...

Strings-attached money: either there are no strings attached, in which case, the Church may say what they wish..but wait! By forbidding the insurers that they contract with (and the employees that use the insurance) from covering contraception, they are attaching strings of their own!

So we see that the moral underpinnings of Douthat's position do not hold up under the mildest scrutiny.

Anonymous said...

"The thought of gettin' it on with a pretty coed nearly made him sick to his stomach."

In his defense, she *was* chunky...

Mr.Wonderful said...

Every tax dollar the government takes is a dollar that can’t go to charities and churches.

Two can play at that game. Every dollar given to the church is a dollar spent to promote superstition and advance ignorance, rather than to invest in curing cancer.

Why does Ross Douthat hate humanity?

Kathy said...

... the government has coercive power — the power to regulate, to mandate and to tax. These advantages make it all too easy for the state to gradually crowd out its rivals...

RIVALS? Rivals in who can best help Others?

Gad, what a complete bounder Doucehat is.

But Liberals vs. Conservatives can be described as a contest between intellect and instinct. Head vs. Gut. and so on.

Mr.Wonderful said...

Now they find that their government’s communitarianism leaves no room for their church’s communitarianism...

Innit a outrage? Just like when the gummint forces its communitarianism on folks by requiring that diners serve black people, leaving no room for the white folks' communitarianism in which there aren't any black people in the community. You call that "freedom"?

Tom Bach said...

"ust like when the gummint forces its communitarianism on folks by requiring that diners serve black people, leaving no room for the white folks' communitarianism in which there aren't any black people in the community."

Yes but it's cute when churches do it. Because of God and such like.

aimai said...

On the subject of the Necessity of furnishing contraceptives to everyone who is employed I wonder why Ross never asks himself why the church doesn't just content itself with demanding that its own members--they are registered, after all, with baptisms and parish records and everything--simply sign a pledge never to use contraception and agree not to ask for it from their health care providers? Perhaps the Church should have fought to have Catholics identified, for religious purposes, with some sign, like a cross or a funny hat, which would instantly clue pharmacists and doctors in that they should be denied certain treatments?

Would there be anything wrong with putting the prohibition where it properly lies--on the confessing Catholic rather than by extending it to the public at large?

I'm really not sure why an Atheist or a Jew would be concerned with the Catholic churches prohibition against contraception. They are offering no evidence that they are not employing atheists and Jews and Muslims in the dispensaries or insurance companies that they use as a corporation so its not even like Father Whosis or Sister Whatsis has to touch the stuff to dispense it.

But, in any event, I'd like someone to make the argument for what are called "Personal laws"--like, say, Sharia law being applied to a Muslim community within a larger plural society. Because if anything could bring the Catholic Church's pretensions to a screetching halt it would be being allowed to enforce their rules on their own membership and only on their own membership. The flight from the deck would be equalled only by that of Captain Schettino.


Tom Bach said...

Aimai: it's cute when Judeao-Christians do it.

atat said...

"A good Catholic ought to welcome the chance to risk the sin to prove his love of God."

Remember when Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ hit theaters? The whole film rests on that concept, and masses of people went absolutely bonkers in protest.

Batocchio said...

There really have been so many excellent dissections of this Douthat turd... but I've enjoyed them all!

Anatole David said...


Snark's event horizon has occurred. McArdle has weighed in on this issue(with her customary clumsiness). The Blogosphere is out of joint.

Batocchio said...

"I felt a great disturbance in the Truth... as if millions of salt pigs suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced."

Downpuppy said...

Douthat creeps me out the same way in very column, so congrats on finding something to say about it.

I got sucked into the fight against the Red State Trike Force arm known as the Atlantic Monthly yesterday when at least 3 of them dumped fact free rubbish on Federal employees -

Anonymous said...

Ha, I'm so old I remember when the Obama admin was supposed to be the functional equivalent of Rick Santorum on the issue of birth control access.

Grung_e_Gene said...

LOLZ! Ross meant conservatives heart John Wayne Gacy like his buddy Michele Bachmann declared!

Anonymous said...

"When someone gives you money they have the right to set conditions. If you don't like the conditions, don't take the money." I would tend to agree with this sentiment, but I think you repeated it rotely without much thought. How would you respond to the following situation: under a Romney Administration, the HHS disburses federal funding to Planned Parenthood on the condition that they not be able to advocate abortion services to their patients? I would have issues with this, and I'm fairly sure you would as well. The Supreme Court has been fairly adamant that the government may not condition the receipt of federal funding on transgressions of the First Amendment. Which again leads me to think you have not thought this through. You would have to articulate a coherent principle by which the free speech clauses of the Amendment reign superior over the free exercise clauses. I don't think you can do this.

Susan of Texas said...

Previous administrations have already put a lot of restrictions on abortion that I don't like. Somehow, it was done anyway.

Congress has wide latitude to attach conditions to the receipt of federal assistance to further its policy objectives, South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U. S. 203, 206, but may not "induce" the recipient "to engage in activities that would themselves be unconstitutional," id., at 210.


Government and Power of the Purse.—In exercise of the spending power, Congress may refuse to subsidize the exercise of First Amendment rights, but may not deny benefits solely on the basis of the exercise of such rights. The distinction between these two closely related principles seemed, initially at least, to hinge on the severity and pervasiveness of the restriction placed on exercise of First Amendment rights. What has emerged is the principle that Congress may condition the receipt of federal funds on acceptance of speech limitations on persons working for the project receiving the federal funding—even if the project also receives non-federal funds—provided that the speech limitations do not extend to the use of non-federal funds outside of the federally funded project. (...) In Rust v. Sullivan ... Chief Justice Rehnquist asserted for the Court that restrictions on abortion counseling and referral imposed on recipients of family planning funding under the Public Health Service Act did not constitute discrimination on the basis of viewpoint, but instead represented government’s decision “to fund one activity to the exclusion of the other.”832 In addition, the Court noted, the “regulations do not force the Title X grantee to give up abortion-related speech; they merely require that the grantee keep such activities separate and distinct from Title X activities. Title X expressly distinguishes between a Title X grantee and a Title X project.... The regulations govern the scope of the Title X project’s activities, and leave the grantee unfettered in its other activities.”833

Susan of Texas said...

FOrtunately I'm not trying to argue your point, I am saying that if you take federal funds they may attach conditions to your actions, as the law allows. If you don't like it don't take the money.

You did give me an idea though. I think I will start up a SuperPac to advocate for abortions, make a documentary advertising the merits of Planned Parenthood, and finance a stirring, heartfelt drama about a woman whose life is saved by an abortion, who goes on to cure cancer and be the first person on Mars.

Susan of Texas said...

Ha, I'm so old I remember when the Obama admin was supposed to be the functional equivalent of Rick Santorum on the issue of birth control access.

Obama is a religious man and a father. He cannot get past the idea of a child like his daughters using birth control. Shame on him for not thinking about other people's daughters.

But it's also an election year and it's to his advantage to throw a little liberalism to the base. I understand nuance is hard, but try.

aimai said...

I very much doubt that Obama (or Michelle) are against birth control. They both only have two children and are clearly sexually active and both have been married for years.

Its true that Obama pandered to the far right with the OTC birth control thing and used the excuse of his daughter's at age eleven. That was wrong on the merits and wrong on the policy since there is zero evidence that children below the age of puberty would accidentally take the drug and if they are over the age of puberty and need the drug they shouldn't be prevented from accessing it.

It is, in fact, the case however that no parent of a child that young wishes their child to take any medication without their consent regardless of their stance on birth control. I'm pro abortion--not just pro choice but pro abortion--and I wouldn't want my child being given contraceptives or heck, even asprin, without my approval. I'm also allergic to penicilin so I'm quite cautious about all the shit my child might be given in any medical or non medical setting.

I freely accept that my children will and should have total control over their own bodies and their own sex lives--when they are over the age of consent. I am pretty sure that's probably Obama's attitude too, with possibly a little fantasy that they won't have "too much" sex "too early" with the "wrong kind" of boyfriend. But that isn't proof of nefarious authoritarianism. Its a fact that people who have more experience overvalue the dangerous aspects of other people's risky behavior and undervalue the experiential worth of it. That's the difference between being a child, with no foresight and little maturity, and an adult with a whole shitload of hindsight.


Susan of Texas said...

I don't think they are against birth control, except for girls under 17.

I knew too many girls who were sexually abused and therefore sexually active. No girl should have to go to the parent who abused her for permission for birth control, or because she got pregnant by someone else.