Tag Archives: social issues

Remedy for A Killer Disease

They call it Potomac Fever. Named after the river that borders half of Washington, like a moat around a castle, this disease is prevalent: affecting both political parties, many (though not all) lobbyists, and even faith-based groups headquartered in our nation’s capital. A lack of consistent physical symptoms make it difficult to diagnose, as all indicators are moral and ethical: Deception, manipulation, hidden agendas.

It’s a cancer that eats away at the soul, a hunger for power, control, money and recognition that decays one’s character and decision-making ability. Its spread is rampant, its damage deep … and the Cure little-known.

Reality looks bleak. “What can men do against such reckless hate?” as King Theoden mourned in The Lord of the Rings. Is there no place for people of conviction and courage in the halls of power?

Unbeknownst to them, a group of Washingtonians were recently introduced to Potomac Fever’s antidote by a former White House staffer named Tim Goeglein. Though advertised as a premiere for his book The Man in the Middle, they were in for much more. Tim spent his half-hour in front of these experts and government officials (plus a few stragglers like me) sharing what few had ever heard in a public speech: A confession without excuses.

Tim had worked for eight years in the White House, serving at the pleasure of President George W. Bush. Those years teemed with God’s work in and through his life. Tim saw firsthand a friendship develop between the President and Pope John Paul II, directly influencing our nation’s shunning of embryonic stem cell research and partial-birth abortion. When two Supreme Court vacancies came up, Tim had a hand in ensuring these two new justices would be leaders who upheld the original intent of our Constitution.

And in America’s darkest hour, the president called on Tim to plan a remembrance service at National Cathedral. On Sept. 14, 2001, a truly red-letter day, Rev. Billy Graham consoled the grieving with God’s Word and preached the Gospel to hundreds of millions worldwide via every major TV news network.

Yet a decade later here was Tim, speaking not of these great deeds but revealing his own dark night of the soul.

In 2008, during the heightened political tension of an election year, a reporter sent Tim a simple e-mail on a Friday. He asked about a column Tim wrote for his hometown newspaper: had he taken the work of other writers and passed it off as his own? Yes, he had. Tim knew his own pride and self-interest had caught up to him. He knelt at his desk and prayed. His life was about to change.

Tim resigned from the White House after nearly eight years of working for President Bush, a tenure stretching back to campaign days in Austin, Texas, and the election recount debacle in Florida. Now the media sharks smelled blood in the water. Evidence of their feeding frenzy can still be seen on Google.

That weekend he grieved, both the shame he caused the president and his loss — as he expected the plagiarism scandal meant an end to any connection with the Bush family. But that’s not what happened.

Going back to his old office to retrieve personal items the next Monday, Tim was stopped by the Chief of Staff: “Could you come to my office in the West Wing?” Surely this would be the woodshed moment.

Not long after, Tim found himself standing once again before President Bush in the Oval Office.

“Mr. President, I owe you a …” he began.

The president stopped him. “Tim, I want you to know I forgive you.”

He pressed on: “But, Mr. President, you should take me by the lapels and toss me into Pennsylvania Avenue. I embarrassed you and the team; I am so sorry.”

“Tim, you are forgiven,” President Bush said again, “and mercy is real. Now we can talk about this, or we can spend some time together talking about the last eight years.” They did. And before his former staffer left, the president had only one request: For Tim to come back with his wife and sons, so they could hear personally how he felt about Tim’s years of service.

A hush fell over the Washington crowd as Tim recounted his story of forgiveness. It wasn’t political maneuvering, clever marketing or anything he did that gave him that glorious moment of redemption. It was undeserved, only received in a place of humility. Once again, the Gospel was preached by an unlikely mouthpiece in unexpected circumstances.

No one is immune from Potomac Fever. Thankfully, God gives us forerunners who’ve gone ahead to tell their stories, make us aware when we’re susceptible to the disease and identify certain mindsets as “quarantine” for His sons and daughters.

Salvation is the only Cure. And it’s a process, not an event.

Cross-posted at Crosswalk.com

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The Religious Right Grows Up

Two weekends ago, over 3,100 Americans from 49 states descended on Washington, DC for the sixth annual Values Voter Summit. As expected, the media conjured up controversy from the event—centered around the seven presidential candidates who addressed the summit—yet a larger narrative was at play.

All the major presidential candidates addressed the 2011 Values Voter Summit

While summit attendees came from all walks of life and a cross-section of generations, they held certain core values in common. Marriage and family are to be protected. Each human life is sacred. Families (and nations) should live within their means. Religious freedom and the ideas of the Constitution are to be upheld.

These truths animate life everyday for values voters. But how do these values illuminate a vision for public policy and government?

We saw it in how Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, wisely addressed the controversy surrounding Mormonism. When a Dallas-area pastor commented on Governor Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, reporters took it out of context to show a “split” among values voters.

“We clearly recognize the fact that Mormon theology includes doctrines that are distinct from Evangelical theology and Catholic theology. At the same time, the goal of the values voter movement is not to build a ‘National Church,’” Perkins wrote after the event.

“Our goal is to build a national coalition based on shared values… And when we successfully work together with those who share our values, we are preserving and strengthening our religious liberty, so that we can freely share the truth of the gospel with everyone.”

Perkins’ vision for coming together around common ideals borrows from coalition-builder Grover Norquist. Longtime head of Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist authored a book tellingly titled Leave Us Alone: Getting the Government’s Hands Off Our Money, Our Guns, Our Lives.

Drawing on his decades of experience rallying diverse groups to a common cause, Norquist contrasts America’s coalitions of the right and left.

Conservative ideology is driven by liberty. Home-schooling families desire to teach their children without interference. Small business owners need freedom from excessive regulation to create wealth. Hunters want to exercise their right to bear arms. Churches and religious organizations pray they can freely hire God-fearing people, without Uncle Sam (in the name of “employment non-discrimination”) mandating church staff consist of people who do not share their values.

All these parties are not asking for a piece of the pie, for a special handout from the government. Their driving interest is freedom from Washington control.

The right’s hands-off stance to government contrasts starkly with the left, which delights in trying to “correct” the problems of society and free markets with social engineering. Their “takings coalition” has been on full display in recent years.

Environmental activists want your tax money for windmills and solar subsidies (see: Solyndra). Powerful labor unions can only solidify their influence with public funding (see: UAW bailout). And Planned Parenthood, which has snuffed out over 5 million lives since it began practicing abortion the day it became legal in 1970 in New York, can only keep its murderous mission going with taxpayer support.

Values voters are waking up. Clearly our national budget is tightly linked to the expression of our values in public policy. Why does the left constantly advocate for taxes, even when it’s unpopular as during an election season? Because they must dole out public funding to an ever-increasing cast of shady characters.

I only know of three effective ways to combat this dominant coalition. First, sunlight is a powerful disinfectant. Fearless, truth-telling reporters do a world of good in exposing corruption. Many now work at state think tanks and local watchdog blogs as some newspapers close up shop. Second, we can starve the beast by lowering taxes where possible.

A third vital strategy is encapsulated by Benjamin Franklin: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” In the world of policy and activism, I have met people—even leaders—whose personality, political emphasis and theology are different than my own. While I may not look up to them in every respect, I choose to stay focused on the goals we have in common: life, liberty, limited government and the freedom to pursue happiness.

Politics is rough sport. The key to getting things done is building a solid team, and many candidates will be vying for your support in the coming months. By no means should you get on-board without discernment: examining past votes, knowing present positions, considering future policies.

I would encourage you not to swear off the good guys due to a secondary or tertiary issue. Your voice in the process matters. Your vote matters. Don’t let small differences keep you from making a real impact.

Cross-posted at The Oracle

Give Politics a Chance

“The people are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” – Thomas Jefferson

Interior design isn’t my thing. I enjoy a nice home, sure, but start talking about spackle, crown molding – or colors spelled with more than six letters – and I’m out of my depth.

The extent of my furniture buying is to venture into Ikea every four years or so, flanked by friends or family as backup. Overall, except for rooms with little visual jazz, this lack of interest results in no harm done. It’s livable.

How I treat interior design is how many treat politics. The problem with that is, public policy isn’t a boring room you can just ignore.

Even here in Washington, where people breathe this stuff, some friends cynically brush off discussion of the debt ceiling, energy depletion or defense strategy. “It’s all just theater… partisan bickering… a worldly pursuit.” In the right company, the rant will likely end with, “Throw the bums out!”

Every four years many of these folks “hold their nose” and vote—which is a good thing. The truth is, battles are raging every day in the halls of power, deciding where your tax dollars are spent – and how much. It’s worth your time and attention to follow what’s going on and make your voice heard. If people of faith, energy and creativity stayed involved, America would right itself.

I was a cynic about all this not long ago. Sometime during the ’08 election cycle while listening to talk radio and laughing at their put-downs of the other side, a question began to nag at me: What’s really going on? And if it is important, could I contribute in some way? The truth of the matter had to be more complex than these entertainers made it seem.

The journey towards that truth led me to leave a job in Colorado Springs, facing 14 months of internships and unemployment in the DC area. It’s a story too long to tell here. Suffice to say, God provided and guided my steps. Through mistakes, false starts and lost debates, a few guideposts have helped me make better sense of politics.

Sources Matter

Everyone has a reason for believing what he or she does. Yet what passes for solid conventional wisdom (say, ending foreign aid would solve America’s budget problem) is often flat wrong. And our personal experiences often supersede the bigger picture revealed by trends.

To arrive at anything near truth, take in a lot of reliable information from many sources. That’s the heart of writing research and intelligence: the ability to collect diverse facts, reams of data, wildly different perspectives – and fairly synthesize that information into summary points. Otherwise, it’s just your opinion.

It’s why I make an effort to tune in to NPR as well as Dennis Prager, subscribing to The Hill and The Morning Bell e-newsletters, and watching for updates at both census.gov and the Fortune 500. As Proverbs 25:2 says, “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.”

Tone Matters

Let’s assume you successfully discover some new reality from multiple sources, on an issue you believe matters. Time for the talk. (No, not the one about the birds and bees.)

It’s easier to discuss the weather and your health instead of politics and religion. Agreeing to disagree is common even among allies. As a friend told me recently: “She knows what I think, and I know her side – we just don’t bring up those issues where we disagree.”

But then no one learns anything. I talk politics with friends (and strangers) to gain from their perspective. When we differ on the big questions, I try to listen and be persuasive. This is sadly a rare thing in political circles. TV and radio airwaves are blasting with people talking over each other rather than to each other.

Back to that same chapter in Proverbs, verse 15 states: “With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.” Conceding a point, being empathetic, and refusing to call names all help bring people around to your point of view. Where it gets tricky is when a kind tone collides with core moral priorities.

Priorities Matter

Voices like Jim Wallis regularly call for Christians involved in politics to “broaden their agenda” and stop focusing so much on issues like abortion and traditional marriage. True enough, the Gospel has a lot to say about poverty, the rule of law, stewardship, education and even transportation.

From where I stand, we also cannot kid ourselves. There is a true hierarchy of issues when we consider the world in moral terms. How oil drilling affects the environment, and what’s economically feasible to be a good steward, has a moral angle to it. But the violent killing of over 14 million babies worldwide every year by sucking their brains out is a horrific injustice.

On this, I don’t come across as very nice to some in Washington. The goal is to be truthful, not spineless.

We will never live in a perfect world this side of eternity. Each of us have different roles to play to make our nations, our cities, and our families better, more alive, and more reflective of God’s Kingdom. As a new school year begins, I pray you will discover more of that calling. Sometimes it’s a process of elimination; interior design is not in my future, I’m fairly certain.

No matter your major, I hope you realize the value of understanding and staying involved in politics. Yes, the issues are complex. Yes, my eyes glaze over too after looking at one page of our national budget. Still: this stuff matters.

A former ORU student and University of Colorado graduate, Josh M. Shepherd works at a think tank in Washington, DC.

Cross-posted at ORU Oracle

Capitol Hill Staffer Aaron Welty Faces Life Head-On


This week Emmy Award-winning TV show Facing Life Head-On features the inspiring story of Aaron Welty, a Congressional staffer whose belief in the value of life stems from his own remarkable story. Born with cerebral palsy, Welty has proven that a negative medical prognosis can be proven flat wrong – and quality of life can be limitless in a land of opportunity that respects life.

“I was born in America,” Welty answers when asked how he first felt the pull to work in Congress. “I could’ve been born somewhere else in the early 80′s where I would not have been safe and life wouldn’t necessarily have been as secure as it is. I had to find a way to give back, and friends of mine suggested, ‘Why don’t you go to Washington?’ I grabbed that idea and ran with it.”

Since 2006, Welty has worked for Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI), currently as a legislative assistant. Prior to that, he served as an intern at The Heritage Foundation as part of the Young Leaders Program. The FENX, an experimental electric vehicle built for Welty by his father (a carpenter involved in aircraft design), provides him a high degree of mobility in the nation’s busy capital despite his physical challenges. Welty chronicles the origins of his electric vehicle at the FENX Project blog .

Now in its fifth season on air Facing Life Head-On provokes thought and promotes awareness of life issues, from adoption to disabilities to end-of-life care. Watch the complete two-part episode “Turning Disability into Opportunity” at the show’s website.

Cross-posted at The Foundry

Seven Questions with Bob Moffit, Co-Author of Why Obamacare Is Wrong for America

Released this past Tuesday, the important new book Why Obamacare Is Wrong for America has gotten noticed by Fox News, NPR, Town Hall, National Review, and readers nationwide, who keep it climbing up the Amazon bestseller charts. The Foundry interviewed Heritage’s Bob Moffit—one of the four co-authors—who reveals how the book came together and why it matters.

Josh Shepherd: Other laws passed in the last two years also have their critics. Why devote a whole book to just this one new law?

Bob Moffit: Because the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as “Obamacare”) is historically unique. Never before has Congress enacted a comprehensive overhaul of one-sixth of the American economy, affecting all 300 million Americans, in one giant bill over 2,700 pages in length. Never before has Congress enacted major social legislation on a narrowly partisan basis in the teeth of popular opposition. Never before have 28 regionally diverse states united in challenging Washington in the federal courts. Health policy dominated the last election; it will play a major role in the next election. And the outcome of this national debate will shape the life of every person reading these lines.

JS: When did you, Grace-Marie Turner, and the other co-authors first discuss writing a book together about Obamacare?

Moffit: Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, called me during the summer of 2010. After the mass protests and the demonstrations and the backlash from the previous summer’s town hall meetings fresh in their minds, congressional leaders were clearly on the defensive over what they had done in March. Turner pointed out to me that ordinary people, from all walks of life, were desperate to learn as much as they could about what was in the law and how it would affect them, and we needed to make the law accessible to them in plain English, devoid of the jargon that routinely accompanies health policy discussions. She also suggested asking Tom Miller of the American Enterprise Institute and James Capretta of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. I agreed that they would be terrific collaborators on a project like this.

JS: Tell us about the writing process. How did you all collaborate and still ensure that the book has one voice?

Moffit: We all shared the same basic approach to the subject, and, despite some differences over the significance of items in the law, we all shared the same approach to health policy. We all agreed to write each chapter in the second person. The target of every thought, every sentence, every paragraph was to be: you. This was to make the narrative appealing to the reader and encourage clarity and simplicity in the language. We agreed among ourselves to write chapters on different areas of the law and its impact on different classes of Americans. The writing started over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and continued non-stop until mid-February. Beyond the assigned chapters, we would each review all the draft chapters. Grace-Marie Turner was the project leader. Not only was she the lead writer, but she and her team at the Galen Institute edited and integrated the authors’ different styles into a seamless book. Our editor, Adam Bellow at HarperCollins/Broadside Books in New York City, really helped shape the book and organize the approach that we took in the book. The authors also had sessions where we would meet in person and go over the chapters, sometimes line by line, making corrections and offering suggestions. All the while, the team at the Galen Institute were proofreading, fact-checking, and working to get the book completed on a very tight deadline.

JS: What strengths does each co-author bring to the table?

Moffit: One of the great advantages of our collaboration is that we have known each other for years, and we were familiar with each other’s work in the media and professional journals. But health care is the domestic policy equivalent of China. While I brought to the table a strong background in Medicare based on my duties at the Department of Health and Human Services during the Reagan Administration, Turner had focused heavily on health insurance, the impact on vulnerable Americans, and federal tax policy governing health insurance. Capretta, a former top official at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget during the Bush Administration, was a nationally recognized expert on health-related tax and budgetary issues. And Miller, a lawyer by training, had closely followed the legal controversies, including the court cases and the regulatory issues flowing from the enactment of the law as well as on the impact of business. All of us worked together on the overview of the law and on what we should do instead.

JS: The book gives the facts in clear language, yet there’s a lot to get through. Why should busy American families care about a complex law passed in far-away Washington?

Moffit: This law guarantees that Washington is not far away at all but deeply involved in your personal life. The law will dictate what kind of health plan you have, what medical benefits and treatments you will have, what you will pay in new taxes, what it will mean for your employer and your compensation, and what it will mean for your doctor in his medical practice. Moreover, many decisions that will affect you and your family will be made not by Members of Congress but by bureaucrats you will never know and never meet.

JS: Since last year, Americans have consistently told pollsters that repealing this law is the best route. But could Obamacare be fixed?

Moffit: Repeal is the only answer. You cannot rebuild a health care system based on personal freedom and market competition on bureaucracy and central planning. The poisonous tree yields bad fruit.

JS: What should we do instead to get health care reform right?

Moffit: We have a chapter in our book about what we should do instead, moving to a system that puts consumers in charge of choices, provides new incentives for a properly-functioning market, and fixes policy flaws at the root of many of the problems in our health sector. Just this week, Nina Owcharenko, director of Heritage’s Center for Health Policy Studies, has recently outlined the roadmap for reform in “Restarting Health Care Reform: A New Agenda.” There are a large number of specific policy changes that need to be made. Broadly speaking, if you want to fix the health care system, you need to make tax policy fair and rational, give individual tax relief to persons to buy the private coverage of their choice, promote competition in the health insurance markets (including the right to buy health coverage anywhere in the country), fix the broken entitlements (Medicare and Medicaid) and introduce market forces into those programs to control cost and secure higher quality of care, and encourage state innovation—including health insurance market reform and medical malpractice reform.

Learn more about Why Obamacare Is Wrong for America (a publication of HarperCollins/Broadside Books) at WrongForAmericaBook.com; you can get your copy today at Amazon.com or in bookstores nationwide.

Cross-posted at The Foundry

Interview with author Joel Vaughan

Joel Vaughan, author of The Rise and Fall of the Christian Coalition, served with the Christian Coalition for ten years in addition to his experience in political campaigns and organizations. He currently is Special Assistant to the President of Focus on the Family. [Full disclosure: he’s also a good friend, and his wife was my manager when I worked at Focus.]

Josh Shepherd & Joel Vaughan at Values Voter Summit 2009

The Civil Roar: Your book has a provocative title. But you start out saying that you disapprove of “tell-all” exposés. So why did you write The Rise and Fall of the Christian Coalition?
Joel Vaughan: Well, this isn’t a “tell all” book. It’s a “tell most” book. It’s PG-13 rated at worst. But a history of that great organization deserved to exist, so I wrote one.

TCR: Today the Christian Right finds its voice at Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, as well as other organizations not as religiously motivated (The Heritage Foundation, etc.) Is the message getting out to the culture as effectively as in the glory days of Christian Coalition?
Vaughan: The difference, the gap we face now, is that no one is working in the trenches, to identify voters and organize precincts. That’s what set Christian Coalition apart.

TCR: What do you think of Ralph Reed’s new organization, Faith & Freedom Coalition?
Vaughan: I think it’s much needed, although faces an uphill battle. But if anyone can make it happen, Ralph can, provided he doesn’t get distracted with other things, such as another run for office.

TCR: Who are the current voices in the conservative movement you listen to closely – in media, politics or elsewhere?
Vaughan: Well, you can’t avoid Rush. He’s everywhere – at lunchtime in the car. But he’s as much entertainment for me than informational. I also like Hannity. Glenn Beck is a little scary to me. He’s so convinced that the nation will crash – and maybe it will – but it’s a little much to hear every day. Jim Daly at Focus is a fresh voice who believes in reaching out to those we disagree with in order to present a Christian approach, rather than opening fire on every opponent.

Jim Daly, Juli Slattery, John Fuller

TCR: There are many parallels between present-day politics and the 1994 conservative Republican victory – which Christian Coalition played a big role in winning. How can everyday conservatives help achieve that goal again?

Vaughan: There really needs to be a national organization to motivate, train and activate the workers. I hope Faith & Freedom Coalition can do that, but it remains to be seen. But the parallels are there, no question. November ’94 would have happened even without the CC, I believe, so likely it will again. But after being elected, the conservatives must also govern, which the Republicans who won in ’94 failed miserably at.

TCR: What is the TEA Party movement doing well (or not) as they rally for change?
Vaughan: I really don’t know much about it. But they resent what’s happening to the country, for certain. They need to organize and focus on precincts and voter identification. That’s the key.

TCR: Can economic and social conservatives work together effectively?
Vaughan: If James Carville and Mary Matalin can live together, anything can happen. The econs have to accept the socials as bonafide Republicans, not treat them like unwanted guests at the party, and the socials have to stop ruling out another Republican simply because he’s wrong on one or two issues. It’s a big tent and we all have to work together against a common enemy: liberalism. Having said that, we can fight it out within the party, but be unified in November.

The Rise and Fall of the Christian Coalition: The Inside Story is available from Amazon and direct from the publisherOnce you’ve read the review here, see more over at the book’s blog. You can become a fan of the book or a friend of Joel’s on Facebook.

We do not remember days, we remember moments

We stand at a pivotal time in America, in politics and in the conservative movement. And since my political philosophy is “faith-based” at its foundation, it is vital to understand how faith and American politics have intersected over the years; I don’t speak of WallBuilders or ChristianHistory.net, though those are great resources – I mean all the way back to the 1990s.

Only recently did I learn that—during that storied decade when I was playing basketball and growing up—the Christian Right achieved its highest point of mobilization and impact through an organization I knew little about: Christian Coalition. In the span of ten years (1989-1999), this political arm of Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network rallied over 2 million believers to astounding political success… and just as quickly, fizzled out to become a shell of its former self. What was their secret? And what happened to implode it so quickly?

The Rise and Fall of the Christian Coalition is an informative, fast-paced tale revealing behind-the-scenes moments that changed how Christians interact with politics. Those Voter Guides you often see in churches now? Christian Coalition perfected that strategy before Focus on the Family or Family Research Council ever tried it.

Some players in the story are ambitious, some holier-than-thou, some current stars on the political scene… all very interesting. But beyond being good history, this narrative is also extremely relevant to the current political climate. From the stories you’ll glean insights on church-and-state issues, effective media strategy, organizing precincts—basically, the entire political and policy process in America. Take this passage, about setting up a political event:
The first thing Ralph [Reed] did was begin removing chairs from the room, saying that you want only half enough chairs in the room at first. Then, afterwards, people will remember that you had to bring in extra chairs. [The lesson:] make it easy to exceed expectations.
Whether this is a tactic that should or should not be emulated, it’s the moments like these that teach us something. Joel has a keen memory for little moments that matter, whether it’s reveling in election night excitement or coping with the monotony of office work. (Actually the author has painstakingly compiled 14 pages of source endnotes to back up his memories, which trumps most political insider books.) It’s a rare sort of book that sees the big picture by looking at the small stuff.

Skip the “conservative” fluff on the best-seller list, order The Rise and Fall of the Christian Coalition instead. You’ll learn something; I sure did.