I, like many other oles went to see Newt Gingrich tonight, Thursday, April 10, in Boe Chapel. I was excited for the talk as I had only been exposed to Newt’s ideas in as far as the Republican primary debates went (which lets be honest, wasn’t a very in depth look at particular positions).
I sat near the back, and at times had trouble hearing, so I most certainly missed some of the points Newt raised, so I will focus on a few topics.
First of all is Newt’s speech. While he opened well with some mostly well placed humor, I found that much of the speech felt a bit shallow. We got to hear a lot about the future of “new conservatism”, which in very general terms I summarize his description of the term as a refocusing of conservatism on solving pragmatic problems in U.S. government and policy. While this sounds well and good, it begs the question, what is Newt saying about current conservatism if it needs to be refocused on finding solutions as he suggests? Does this mean that today’s conservatives are not searching for such solutions, is it a reference to the constant squabbling in Washington? I would say the latter, considering Newt’s later metaphor of Congress as dancers who dance over the surface of our nation’s true problems. He also seemed to like to invoke freedom, American freedom, freedom of choice and freedom in the marketplace. However, like it might sound, all of this was done in a sort of vague way. He never talked specifically about the nature of freedom beyond that it is what makes us American (or something to that extent, I can’t remember word for word quotes) and he never really addressed how exactly government could stop “dancing” over the issues.
In short, the speech sounded good, it was eloquent, it had humor, and Newt was composed and prepared, but it was hard to determine a succinct point Newt was arguing, and the content underneath it all felt lacking. It seems to me that a campus full of intelligent students could have handled more concrete, substantial stuff than what we got. The essence of intellectualism just didn’t seem like it was quite there at times, especially with all the vague references to “American freedom”, what the founding fathers would have wanted, and his suggestion that we will be the most creatively productive generation since the founding of the nation (on what grounds does he make this claim?). I would have liked to have seen this kind of empty talk to have been left at the doors and rather had a substantial discussion of the political theory behind his views or something of that nature.
To illustrate my critique I will refer to Newt’s response to a student who asked about his stance on the requirement of religious employers to provide coverage for female reproductive health services such as contraception, counseling and abortion. We essentially got the standard conservative stance, that to force a christian to use their own money to support something sinful is restriction of the freedom of religion, and of course, restricting our freedoms is exactly the kind of thing our founding fathers wouldn’t like.
We have this recurring theme of freedom, freedom is important and don’t let government take our freedoms. Newt used the word coercion to describe the requirements. He is right, actually, that making employer’s provide health coverage is, in essence, coercive. But, so is every law in some way shape or form. Taxation is coercion, as is the use of a police force, and the enforcement of traffic laws. All of these things, and most laws in general, restrict our freedoms in some way. To use the general suggestion that freedoms are being restricted to argue against a law is simply shallow, as restriction of freedom is a common theme among all laws. You cannot give full freedom to all, since this would result in the strongest man controlling all the weakest, not a true freedom at all.
The Affordable Care Act aims to make accessible and affordable healthcare a right for all citizens. Say we make an exception for religious groups to not have to provide reproductive services to women. Problem solved? Well the religious group has not had their rights or freedoms restricted, but we now have a portion of the population who does not have access to the same range of healthcare options as the rest of us, in other words, their right to accessible and affordable healthcare, their freedom, has been infringed upon. In this way we see that all laws restrict freedoms in a way that is designed to benefit society. If Newt does not consider this synthesis of the balance of loss and gain of freedoms, then he is missing an important aspect of lawmaking.
Lastly let us consider this, if I am a religious employer and I am exempt from providing reproductive healthcare to my employees because having to pay for a service which you see as morally decrepit is a restriction of religious freedom, then reasonably I should be able to avoid paying a significant amount of my taxes by the same logic. Say I’m a Christian pacifist; it is a restriction of my religious freedom and hence unconstitutional to require me to pay for something I believe is immoral. Therefore I am then exempt from all taxes that go towards supporting our military? This doesn’t sound logical. But to the best of my understanding the logos of the arguments is identical. We see then that society cannot be run effectively on such standards. The idea suggests that citizens can opt out of participating in society at their whims and discretion, a basis for government which would see society come to a grinding halt.
I’m sure many of my fellow Amconners also went and saw Newt speak so I’d be interested to hear what others thought!
P.S. Colin and Judy, I am just realizing that I was supposed to post last week, not this week. Sorry about that. I had the dates mixed up.