Tuesday, July 15, 2008

An Interview with George Weigel

George Weigel, Catholic theologian, writer, scholar, Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and one of America's leading public intellectuals.

I found this interview which took place in the July 13
issue of Avvenire . Mr. Weigel has some great insight.


VVENIRE: America is heading for the elections in a weak economic situation: higher unemployment rates, higher gas prices, the subprime mortgage and housing crisis, and so on. How much do these things affect U.S. voters? And how much do these problems affect the way of life of the American people?

WEIGEL: The odd thing about the polling data is that, while most people think "the economy" is in difficult circumstances, they think they're doing just fine, personally. I attribute this "dis-connect" -- things are terrible but I'm doing just fine, thank you -- to seven years of mainstream media hysteria-mongering, which tends to shape (or perhaps better, mis-shape) people's views of the large picture. The fundamentals of the American economy are sound. There is a credit crunch, which affects the housing markets, and there's a lot of pressure from rising energy costs. But there's nothing here that can't be fixed.

AVVENIRE: Food stamp requests have been increasing for two years and the cost of gas, fruits, vegetables, corn are higher. These are just examples of the problems American middle class (and not just it) have been facing. Do you think the American people are still optimistic about the future? Or have they lost trust in the ability of the country to solve its problems and make things get better?

WEIGEL: I very much doubt that the American people have lost confidence in their capacity to do what needs to be done to built better futures. What they have lost confidence in is the Congress, and with good reason -- Congress is perhaps the most dysfunctonal major institution in American life. Curiously, though, most incumbent congressmen will likely be re-elected. (Permit me to add, as an aside, that European reporting on American life would lead the proverbial "man from Mars" to think that the United States was a Third World country. The better way to measure the reality of contemporary American life, including economic life, is by immigration, legal and illegal. Assuming people aren't stupid, people don't try every means possible to move to a losing proposition.)

AVVENIRE: Election 2004 was played out, above all, on national security issues. Four years later, is the economy the key issue? Usually American voters lean toward Democratic Party when the economy is weak. Why?

WEIGEL: In fact, the 2004 election was decided by a half-million evangelical voters in Ohio who registered to vote in order to vote in defense of traditional marriage -- and who also voted for President Bush, who thereby carried Ohio and the election. Absent that issue, President John Kerry would be running for a second term. Americans turned to a Republican, Ronald Reagan, when a Democrat, Jimmy Carter, had made a mess of both the economy and U.S. foreign policy. The Democratic Party does tend to be more interventionist in economic matters, which may attract some voters who think that government is the answer to economic problems; it usually isn't, but there are still people who think that way. There's also a lot of what I call "tribal" or "genetic' Democratic voting in what my friend Maggie Gallagher describes as the "Decadent Catholic Corridor" -- the Northeast, Illinois, and Michigan, where "Catholic = trade union = Democrat." Reagan's ability to attract these voters created the Republican coalition that effectively set the U.S. political agenda from 1981 until 2006. It's also worth noting that a pro-abortion Democrat, John Kerry, carried every state in which there was a residential American cardinal in 2004.

He also has a new book out. Against The Grain

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