Ross Douthat: Love is a Bowl of Sugar


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.

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.

I’ve noticed that we have no more private contractors, because we have an army. Before 1776, life was paradise for Blackwater but the minute we formed militias, they were fucked. Such a sad state for a glorious private enterprise.

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.

Or to Applebees. Won’t the government think of the jalapeno poppers?

This is another “reasonable conservative” tic I’ve noticed from acquaintances of late: “I, personally, would give more money to charity or hire more people at my office if I paid less in taxes and various fees.” And yes, you, nice person that I know, probably would. Ross might actually give more to charity if he had that money laying around. Does that mean we should give EVERY rich person free money on the off chance one or two of them might kick in $25 to the local food pantry?

How is that any less governmental social engineering?

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

There is distinct lack ofsoup kitchens and food pantries, now we have a welare office. What a fucking idiot.

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.

This is exactly the choice that theWhite 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 asella, which can work as an abortifacient.

A) No, it doesn’t.

B) This does not, actually, violate the consciences of anybody, and here’s why: Hospitals and insurers only have to COVER contraception, andonly if they employ large numbers of non-Catholic employees. Nobody who is Catholic has to take it. Therefore, we should be counting on the large numbers of Catholics who are so serious about this shit that they won’t take the pill to stand up for their own morals and against the horror that is Obamacare.

I’ll give you a minute to stop laughing.

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.

Yes. Catholic hospitals are justin this for the decency of serving others. I’m not saying some of them weren’t, in the beginning, but you can’t pretend that a lot of this isn’t profit-driven, and a lot of that profit isn’t helped by massive tax exemptions.

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.”

Actually, that is exactly what Catholics leaders are saying by choosing not to follow the law. You know, this is a thing I keep hearing from Catholic officials in other contexts, this constant talk about church canon law, as if that should supersede actual real-life American law. I’m pleased as punch we all have our own ways of doing things and our own rules, but when you get right down to it, if you want to be a member of a community, you have to do more than just loudly demand that the entire community “respect” your beliefs by changing its morality to suit yours.

The larger point Ross is making is actually more offensive, though: We can either have government or charity but not both. Our government cannot pursue any common good, because that will mean that everybody will assume shit is all handled and we can go back to watching the Super Bowl. If someone else has it taken care of, then I don’t need to give a shit.

I don’t know if Ross has met any of his fellow humans, but we’re actually not like that. I post a lot of stuff about how stupid and selfish and mean we can be, but I believe people are basically decent and that given half a chance we will help one another. Given half a chance and a bit of encouragement, we will feed the stranger and clothe the naked and take care of the grandma whose car broke down on the freeway. I know this because I’ve seen it happen at least as often as I’ve seen people be awful, and I choose to believe that love isn’t a bowl of sugar. There isn’t only so much. If our government takes care of many of us, we will still take care of each other, because that’s what we do. It’s in our bones and blood, and hundreds of years of inhuman cruelty haven’t beaten it out of us, not entirely.

Decent government that acts in our interests doesn’t kill the charitable impulse. It encourages it. It offers official approval of the nagging feeling in the pits of our stomachs that says, “somebody should be helping these people.” It represents, outwardly, the best of us, and the only reason Ross or anybody like him has a problem with that concept is they don’t want to be forced to give a shit about anybody but themselves.

And that’s fine, really. There are nice libertarian islands being built for people like that.



12 thoughts on “Ross Douthat: Love is a Bowl of Sugar

  1. Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in the last decades we’ve cut taxes on the rich a lot and cut them a little bit for everybody else. By Douthat’s logic, the charities cannot possibly be hurting for money, since everyone MUST be giving them more.
    Why are these guys the ones that get to have PTSD-amnesia from the Bush years, instead of the rest of us?

  2. Right-wingers do not believe insubsidiarity. They pretend to believe in absolute exclusive black-and-white categories in everything, but this belief fails the basic test of reality. (Search that site for “subsidiarity” for more).

  3. Odd that he would try to apply the crowding out principle to hospitals. It was the expansion of Catholic hospital ownership that crowded out private as well as publicly funded County Hospitals all over this country.
    There is some very ugly history behind the reason that the birthing unit is at the only non Catholic hospital in this area. Catholic doctrine has always trumped patients needs and the law of the land where women are concerned.

  4. I take it they’re not noticing that the conservatism of Gingrich et al is a return to the good old days of the 50s. Not exactly a time that promoted alternate cultures.

  5. I find it so very interesting that the Catholic Church would take a “moral” stand on birth control and abortion, but cover up their complicity in sodomy and pederasty. The latter two are actually mentioned in the Hebrew Bible they love to thump the first two…um not so much.

  6. I’m much more radical than Douchehat can even imagine — Iprefer governmental assistance to private charity; government is much more accountable (how many times have you heard of a charity whose higher-ups get huge salaries and yet they run most of their operations with volunteers, and divert a lot of money to marketing?), government doesn’t discriminate (well, ideally) — especially important in thwarting the “pray to play” crowd, and government hashuge economies of scale.
    Also, things that are paid for by taxes don’t have to depend on philanthropy or generosity, nor are they nearly as affected (in terms of intake) by economic downturns. (I’d love to see how Douchehat explains how things like food banks are supposed to keep operating without governmental subsidies, once everyone below upper-middle-class is in penury thanks to the financial MOTU, and the people who donate most — which would be the “everybody not in a position to have their own personal foundations — areusing food banks, not giving to them…)
    Also, I’m basically anti-volunteering. Volunteering, in my experience, is a way for rich, white Republicanoids to get a metric shitload of for-free out of people a lot poorer than they are, while they allocate themselves all the perqs (pay if it’s available, the skim off the top if it isn’t) and leave people who should be getting minimum wage or better with a crappy t-shirt and maybe a few slices of pizza.
    Oh, yeah, then there’s the low-level accountability thing: I used to know this (upper-middle-class, not wanting for anyone) woman who volunteered at a local church-run food bank. She used to come home with all kinds of free groceries (including, once, an entire case of bottles of Welch’s grape juice), on the grounds that “we can’t distribute these.” No public-sector employee of my knowledge (and there have been many, given that I’ve been intermittently unemployed for most of the past 10 years or so) hasever perpetrated as much graft and grifting as the private charity people…

  7. Outstanding takedown of this pathetic character and an excellent analysis of what is really going with Catholic hospitals, which can be excellent institutions outside of this ideological bias (morality is individual; ideology is institutional).
    Why NYT can’t get a better “conservative” op/ ed writer says volumes about the depleted intelligence of the right wing. Douthat is a Catholic. Big deal so was I. Ok, I am lapsed; that’s another discussion but I know almost no American Catholics who have any problem with the pill or any other form of contraception – have not known any for a really, really long time, in fact. Abortion is another story but even there younger Catholics outside the really Conservative side tend to be pro-choice. So this is the Catholic clergy in action, especially the Bishops.

  8. When the Grey Lady gave him a platform, I suspect it had to be their budget was so tight they couldn’t figure out any other way to resupply their entry closet with coat hangers.

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