Life in these United States

According to the conventional wisdom, American elections are usually determined by pocketbook economic issues. This may give too little credit to the American people’s concern for how a superpower exercises leadership in the world; it certainly doesn’t take sufficient account of how “culture war” issues can be decisive (as they were in settling the electoral college vote in 2004). Still, Ronald Reagan’s famous question in a 1980 debate with Jimmy Carter — “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” — plays a considerable role in shaping voters’ choices.

Catholics seeking to bring themes from the Church’s social doctrine into American public life will thus have many domestic policy questions for the major presidential candidates:

1. Is the much-deplored “partisanship” in Washington an expression of unprecedented nastiness on the part of legislators, or does it reflect genuine, deep-set, and significant differences of opinion on serious issues?

2. How will you help save inner-city Catholic schools, which are crucial lifelines for at-risk children?

3. How can U.S. immigration policy combine respect for the rule of law and concern for national security, on the one hand, with generosity toward those who wish to contribute to our national life and improve their own condition? Will you tell Mexico that a lot of the immigration problem in the American southwest is due to Mexico’s own public policy-driven economic incapacities?

4. Do you believe that “global warming” — in the sense of dramatic, man-caused climate change with predictable, deleterious, and potentially catastrophic effects — is an established fact? If so, how should we address this issue without wrecking our economy and those of developing and transitioning nations? Are you at all concerned that today’s environmental movement displays some of the features of a cult?

5. Let’s forget the mantra of “energy independence,” which is a pipedream. Can we significantly decrease our dependence on foreign oil without a major national investment in nuclear power? What can the federal government do to encourage the development of plug-in hybrids and other more energy-efficient cars? What do you make of the resistance to oil-drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, which some argue puts the migratory patterns and amorous interests of caribou above national security and economic rationality?

6. How would you reform American health care without making doctors de facto employees of the federal government?

7. How would you rationalize homeland security, so that legitimate concerns about terrorism are addressed without wasting vast amounts of travelers’ time and taxpayers’ money?

8. What role, if any, does the federal government have in fixing the broken mess that is the American air transportation system? The Interstate highway system, once a marvel, now suffers from age and neglect; what’s the solution there? And while we’re on the subject of transportation, why isn’t high-speed rail the answer to both transport and energy issues in our major urban corridors?

9. How would your administration’s policies encourage a culture of saving and personal financial responsibility?

10. Everyone who can read a balance sheet knows that the Social Security system is heading over the fiscal cliff. What does “social security reform” mean to you? What role, if any, do individual retirement accounts play in pension security in America?

11. What can be done to address the well-documented link between abortion-on-demand and higher rates of divorce and extramarital pregnancy?

12. What role should Washington play in elevating our national cultural life? How will you use the presidential bully pulpit to address the cultural sewer of the popular entertainment industry? Pornography is a highly profitable American export; does that concern you, morally and in terms of our public diplomacy?

13. What is the relationship between tax rates and economic growth?

14. To listen to some candidates and commentators during this campaign, you’d think we were all living in a dysfunctional hellhole like Equatorial Guinea. Take a deep breath, avoid hyperbole, and give us your honest judgment of the present state of the U.S. economy. Is it fundamentally sound or not? Would you swap the U.S. economy, even-up, for any other major national economy in the world? If so, with whom would you trade?

George Weigel


George Weigel is an American author and political and social activist. He currently serves as a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Weigel was the Founding President of the James Madison Foundation.

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  • answer to final part of question 8: Because high-speed rail systems cost about 100x as much to implement as roads (see Charlotte, NC for a recent example) and the trains run for the convenience of the drivers, not the passengers.

  • Warren Jewell

    All good questions, I guess, but 1. they aren’t going to be debated in this campaign and 2. how many of the rest of us have the time-and-leisure resources to debate them much at all before the 2012 election? And, while killing unborn, ‘expensive’ ‘useless eaters’, etc., are more compellingly ‘legal’ in our communities, are not these latter fourteen points more than a little tame and tepid for much resource expense?

    Besides, as Arkanabar noted, many of these just leave us open to more bureaucratic, judical, ‘earmark’ boondogles, to be pursued among the politicians.
    So, maybe question number one should be
    “When are you representatives going to develop backbones, principles, a servant’s spirit, etc.?”

  • I nominate George as a moderator for a future debate. That is if the commission ever wants a moderator not totally in the tank for the pro-Death, pro-Taxes, Pro-Big GOvernment Candidate.

  • Grace Harman

    As I see it,
    1. It’s pure nastiness and deliberate “spin” to make conservatives, pro-lifers, and religious people look foolish or negative and done mainly by the liberals.

    2. The Dept. of Education needs to be abolished and schools put back under local control to stop the liberal agenda it pushes. This could lower costs I think.?

    3. Illegal immigration is a political reaction to worker shortages due to abortion. The open border and amnesty were political decisions that temporarily hid these imbalences.

    4. The earth went through many ice ages and temperate to tropical periods, long before man even came to be. This is just nonsense and political spin. The glaciers were melting back in the 1950’sand ’60’s and uncovered mastadons quick-frozen as they munched buttercups.

    5. We need to do some drilling somewhwere as we’re funding our own demise now. Notice that Mexico City has a great “light rail” system, but the poor people camp in the parks under sheets of plastic and hold “naked protests” because no one helps them.

    6. Costs began to rise when insurances entered the picture – probably due to over- pricing or outright deliberate fraud. It just needed closer oversight then, but socialized medicine will bring rationing, caps, and eventually euthanasia.

    7. ??? 8. See #5,- massive cost. 9. Don’t tax savings under a certain amount?

    10. Keep Congress from RAIDING the trust Fund. They owe us trillions! The imbalance is also made worse by abortion.

    11. Teach abstenance and morality & stop pushing the “pill” which is polluting our water – extremely.

    12. Pornography is one of the reasons we are seen as “the big satan” it’s un- American and immoral & NOT a “freedom”.

    13. High taxes fight growth and hurt small bisinesses.

    14. The problem was due to government interference and trying to give “some” people something for nothing – at taxpayer expense.

    But these ARE thought provoking questions and would reveal a lot about the people who are running – and their party agenda.

    Government is supposed to be protecting its subjects & not killing them off by the millions -as in abortion, euthanasia, or embryonic cell research. This is what we have seen in the past in Nazi Germany, Communist nations, and recently in Sudan. WE cannot vote for such people and that must not happen here.