Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Acta Est Fabula: Pawlenty’s Presidential Crawl Officially Begins

On Monday Tim Pawlenty made it official–he is running for president. No surprise here. He has been preparing to do this for the last two years more or less. Yet how do his prospects look? Perhaps the best thing going for him is that the GOP field is weak and he has an opening. His momentum, if any, is as a result of a void in Republican support for a presidential candidate.

Pawlenty’s presidential announcement was poor. First think of the visuals. Television is visual and you want to avoid talking heads. Pawlenty chose the Iowa state capitol as a backdrop but when I viewed it all that was visible behind him were trees and grass. No capitol, no flags, no people. It looked like he was standing in the park, speaking to a small group, running for dog catcher. It did not look presidential, it looked more amateurish. There was no interesting visuals or spark to light up the talk. Contrast to Obama or a Bachmann–there would have been crowds around them on camera cheering. Here, the applause sounded like Tiger Woods sinking a shot for par 3.

Now the message and delivery. Pawlenty has been a candidate in search of a narrative or message ever since he commenced his presidential bid. He has sought to define himself as the ”Sam’s Club Republican,” as the tax cutter, and as a social conservative.

He now appears to want to be a prophet, telling the American public the truth. Pawlenty uttered “truth” 16 times, aiming to the be straight-talking Harry Truman of his generation, telling folks not what they want to hear but what they need to hear. At the same time he also sought to copy a well-trod path of running against Washington, D.C., using Obama “change” mantra from 08 which also worked successfully for the GOP in 10. “Truth” for Pawlenty” in 12 is his version of “Change.”

Yet the narrative will not work. Obama’s narrative was positive, forward, and self-defining. Pawlenty’s is not. It was dark and depressing. Pawlenty needed a speech that defined who he was and what America would look like under his presidency. The message was dark and pessimistic–one of cuts and sacrifice. It reminded me of Walter Mondale in 1984 saying he was going to tell the truth when running against Reagan. It did not work. It was also dark like Jimmy Carter’s July 15, 1979, “Crisis of American Character” speech, even if true, it was not inspiring.

Pawlenty lacks a rationale for why he wants to run for president, as evidenced by his Time magazine interview when asked why he wants the office he stated: "I don't know. I wish I had a good answer for you on that." Pawlenty lacks an elevator speech for his presidency, he lacks a clear narrative for running, and he lacks a definition for his campaign. That came out in his Des Moines declaration. He needed an announcement with fireworks but it did not occur. He should have began his declaration with his vision and self-definition and then moved on to the case against Obama. Yet he failed to do that, leading instead with a dark message and bland delivery that failed to give his campaign a jump start.

Finally, poor Pawlenty. Tornadoes obscured his message. What next? Bachmann again upstaging him?

Pawlenty’s big hope is that no other GOP takes fire and he slips in by default.

Right now, Pawlenty may get 7-10% in Iowa, limp through New Hampshire, and then die in South Carolina.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The New Minnesota Normal: Special Sessions and Government Shutdowns

The 2011 regular session of the Minnesota Legislature limps to an end without a budget deal. No news here, it was entirely predictable. Not since 1999–the first year of Jesse Ventura’s term as governor–has a budget session of the Minnesota Legislature ended on time without a special session, partial governmental shutdown, or a controversial ending such as in 2009 when Pawlenty used his unallotment power (subsequently declared illegal by the Minnesota Supreme Court) to balance the budget.

What has emerged is the new normal for Minnesota politics. The new normal is that the completion of the budget does not occur by the constitutionally-mandated deadline in May but instead July 1–the commencement of the new budget year. That seems to be the new deadline. But even then, that date, like October 1, for the federal government, appears more suggestive than drop dead. A threatened partial shut down in 2003 and then a real one in 2007 too eased the stigma of missing July 1, in Minnesota.

Why the New Normal?

The question becomes why? Why has the new normal emerged? Why does it seem impossible to reach budget agreement? One answer is divided government, yet even back to the days when Perpich was governor and the DFL controlled the legislature there were special sessions to address the budget such as in 1985. Under Carlson and then Ventura they became more frequent and then under Pawlenty and now Dayton they have emerged as the new normal. No; divided government is only a partial answer.

There are two causes explaining the rise of the new normal. The first is a growing ideological divide over the nature of government. The second is structural, questioning the efficacy of the current budget process.

Why Government?

The governor and the GOP-led legislature are as far apart today as they were in January regarding all the essentials over the budget. Dayton wants to spend $37 billion and erase the $5 billion deficit with some cuts that do not hurt the poor or education and with tax increases on the wealthy. The GOP wants to spend $34 billion and erase the deficit with cuts alone that seem to burden the poor, elderly, education, and local governments.

At the heart of the dispute between the Governor and the GOP is a basic difference in their rival views of the government versus the market. The GOP generally seems to see government and taxes as bad, an intruding upon the wisdom and functioning of markets. Let markets act and they will generate jobs prosperity, and solve the basic problems of society.

For Dayton, while market solutions and the private sector are the preferred places to produce jobs and make decisions, they recognize markets fail. Markets fail to address needs of equity. They produce inequities in wealth and income distribution, they fail to address core problems of education funding and disparities, they fail to address problems in infrastructure investment.

No, it does not look like the GOP wants no government. Many still find it necessary to hire police and enforce basic laws, and apparently to enact laws to prevent same-sex couples from marrying and women from terminating pregnancies or give tax breaks to the wealthy. The real difference between the GOP and Dayton and the DFL is over how much government and what government should do in our society. It is a debate between rivaling views-government versus the market, the individual versus society.

The debate over “why government” is ideological. Arising simultaneously are two other phenomena aggravating the debate over why government–the triumph of ideology over pragmatism and party polarization.

Daniel Bell famously wrote in the 1960s a book entitled “The End of Ideology.” There it is described a United States where belief was that we had reached consensus on basic issues of what constitutes the good life and the role of government in society. The issue was not ideology or goals but merely technique of the means to the end. Nearly 50 years later, we now seem to be living not with the end of ideology but with its resurgence.

There are basic ideological divides over means and ends. But more importantly, the ideological divide for some means all or nothing. By that, if one side is right the other must be wrong and therefore no compromise is possible. Thus, the emergence of ideology over pragmatism.

Political parties nationally and in Minnesota seem more polarized than 20, 30, or 40 years ago. There is more ideological cohesion in the parties, especially for the GOP, than in the past. This is a product of special interest politics and caucuses which are dominated by ideological extremists.

Thus, combine politically polarized parties with a take no prisoners ideological divide over the role of government and what do you get?

A Flawed Budget Process

But the polarization is only one problem. The second is the flawed budget process in Minnesota. It is a process built for the horse and buggy days trying to operate in the 21st century. Government is so much more complex, the budget numbers so much larger, the functions more diverse, that it is perhaps impossible to reach consensus and make decisions between the beginning of January and the State Constitution forbids the legislature to meet in regular session after the first Monday following the third Saturday in May in any year. There simply may not be enough time to do the budget by law.

But think also how flawed the current budget process is right now. The old governor makes the initial budget. New governor is elected and needs to update it to reflect his priorities and the fiscal forecast in November. The Legislature comes to work in early January and then it waits until late January or so for the governor to release the budget. Then they all wait until late February for the updated fiscal forecast.

Thus, it is really not until late February or March that the work on the budget commences. And even then, there are separate hearings in the House and Senate, forcing conference committees to act. The budget also is really ten separate bills, with spending distinct from taxation, and no real work gets done until there are agreements on the different spending targets for each of the areas such as HHS, K-12, and so on.

Sound confusing? It is. It is also inefficient. At least two months are wasted at the beginning of every budget cycle waiting for the governor’s budget, the fiscal forecast, and then agreement on budget targets. Now add more wrinkle–budgets are created right after state elections when often many new legislators or constitutional officers are elected. They are green, often learning on the job while creating a new budget. In a distant past when life and budgets were less complicated (and smaller), perhaps it was possible to do all this with a part-time citizen legislature. But those days have passed. A new budget process is needed, with new time lines and ways to move the work along.

Thus, as the session ends the only real question is whether there is a budget by July 1. The bet here is 60/40 odds of a partial shutdown. The reasons are ideological and process-driven, producing the new normal.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Politics of Constitutional Amendments: Lessons from Minnesota's History

All indications are there will be at least one if not multiple state constitutional amendments on the 2012 ballot for Minnesotans to consider. Possibilities include a ban on same-sex marriage, photo identification for voting, a requirement for a 60% legislative vote to raise taxes, and perhaps others.

Supporters of these proposals contend the public has a right to vote on them, critics respond no; asserting that resorting to amending the Minnesota Constitution is unprecedented and inappropriate. Who is right? There may be no definitive answer, yet state history reveals 150 plus years of amendments, yielding interesting conclusions about constitutional politics.

Since ratification of the Minnesota Constitution in 1858, there have been 211 constitutional amendments proposed to the voters, with 119 adopted. Until 1898, constitutional amendments required a majority of both houses in the legislature to propose them to the voters, with a simple majority of those voting on the amendments to approve them.

In 1898 the amending process was changed, thereafter requiring a qualified majority of all who voted in a specific election to vote in favor the amendment. Voting in the election but not voting on the amendment counted as a no vote. Amending the Constitution was made more difficult because critics claimed special interests and groups were using the process to further their politics.

Over time, interesting patterns have developed regarding when amendments have been offered and adopted.

Era Dates Proposed Adopted Percentage Adopted
Nineteenth Century 1858-1898 66 48 73%
Progressive Era 1900-1918 45 10 22%
1920s 1920-1928 15 7 47%
Depression and WW II 1930-1944 20 8 40%
Total 1958-2010 211 119 56%

During the 19th century, 73% of the 66 proposed amendments were adopted. After changes in the amendment process, the Progressive Era—a period supposedly notable for significant social and economic reform in the Minnesota and across the country, only 10 of 45 or 22% of the amendments were adopted. Many amendments were offered during this time but few were accepted by the voters. Conversely, since WWII, and especially since the Constitution was reorganized in 1974, nearly 70% of all proposed amendments were adopted.

Constitutional amendments come in bunches. Many times in Minnesota history three, four, or more amendments have been on the ballot at the same time. The record is 1914, 11 amendments proposed, one adopted. Because of frequent amending, no definitive pattern emerges regarding whether they encouraged turnout, but there is no doubt than in their day proposals to let women vote or authorize gambling drove excitement and turnout. Moreover, in years when more than one amendment appeared on the ballot, usually one dominated the public’s attention, sometimes damaging the prospects of the other amendments from passing.

Looking at the types of amendments proposed, they fall into four groups. There are structural amendments addressing the organization of government, such as the length of the legislative session, giving the governor the veto, or regulating the size of the judiciary. Financial amendments include authorizing the state to impose taxes, bond, give special bonuses to military veterans, or otherwise to spend money. Rights amendments deal with matters of individual rights, such as franchise and jury trials. Finally, regulatory amendments dealt with various aspects of regulating private corporations, such as the liability of its officers.

Of the 211 amendments proposed, they can be classified as follows:

Type Proposed Adopted Adopted Percentage
Structure of government 97 51 53%
Finance (taxes, bonding) 82 50 61%
Individual rights 17 12 71%
Regulatory (corporations) 15 6 40%
Total 211 119 56%

What do we learn about the content of the amendments proposed and passed? Clearly many addressed contentious issues of the time. No, they did not address abortion or marriage and surprisingly none sought to ban alcohol sales. These are today’s hot button issues, or ones that we might consider contentious. But controversial is relative to the times, and amendments dealing with regulation of railroads during the robber baron era, or giving women or Blacks the right to vote were the headlines of the day. Resorting to constitutional amendments as a populist political strategy has been a part of Minnesota politics from the beginning.

But looking at the content of the amendments adopted, some interesting patterns emerge. Among the 12 adopted Amendments addressing individual rights, five of them expanded voting rights. In the entire history of the state only one constitutional amendment, in 1896, restricted voting rights. Here it limited the practice in place until then that allowed aliens or non-citizens to vote in Minnesota. This practice encouraged and welcomed Scandinavians to Minnesota.

Three other amendments also limited rights, addressing issues surrounding use of juries in civil and misdemeanors. The message is clear—amendments to the Constitution have generally expanded rights, especially voting, and not contracted them.

Second, among the 50 adopted amendments dealing with finance, 17 authorized new taxes, bonding authority, or spending, and only six restricted or made it more difficult for public spending. Of those six, four in the nineteenth century restricted the ability to use public money to help the railroads (again seeking to limit the power of the robber barons), one in the nineteenth century barred the spending of public money for religious schools (Minnesota’s Blaine Amendment, similar to those adopted in many other states about the same time), and then one amendment during the Depression prohibited the taxing of personal property and farm equipment. Minnesota’s history thus demonstrates more a pattern of enabling spending to build schools and undertake public projects than to restrict it.

Votes and not history will decide whether amendments on the ballot in 2012 will pass. Yet the current amendments directed toward restricting rights, voting, and public financing seem out of sync with Minnesota’s history. But for good or bad, resorting to the amendment process is a part of Minnesota history to address politically charged issues of the day.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Rock and a Hard Place: Why the Republican Party of Minnesota is a Victim of its Own Rhetoric

If ever a party were trapped by its political rhetoric it is the Republican Party of Minnesota (RPM). With two weeks to go before the end of the regular legislative session it is more than ever clear that there will be no budget deal by then, forcing a special session and perhaps running a risk of a partial government shutdown on July 1.

Right now it does not look like there is a common ground or room for compromise–mostly because of the GOP–and the Republicans stand to be the biggest loser if there is a shutdown, so long as the DFL can play it right. Fortunately for the RPM, the DFL is probably unable to set the political hook.

An Easy Prediction
In January as the legislative session began I argued that the issue was not whether there would be a special session but whether a deal was possible before July 1. Given that more often than not in the last 15 years the Minnesota Legislature and the governor have been unable to arrive at a budget during regular session, predicting a special session was easy. Moreover, given the respective views of the governor to spend $37 billion and balance the budget and address the $5 billion deficit with cuts and tax increases, versus the RPM desire to spend $34 billion and balance with cuts alone, finding room for compromise by May 24, seemed unlikely.

Hardening Positions
Since January the positions of Dayton and the Republican legislature have hardened even more, with them turning more firm in the last few weeks.

First, Tony Sutton, RPM Party Chair, sent a letter to the Republican legislators urging them to remain firm on no tax increases. Second, Geoff Michel has stated that the Republicans have already compromised enough in agreeing to spend $34 billion or $3 billion more than they wanted. (Yet he did not indicate how with that compromise the Republicans planned to pay for that extra spending). Third, last week the Republicans rejected racino, sending a signal that they are opposed to any revenue increases. Fourth, the Republican budget bills have delivered on their promise–significant cuts to cities, education, and the poor while not authorizing tax or revenue increases.) Whether the numbers add up here to balance the budget is another question.)

Conversely, Dayton has made it clear that he does not support these cuts. He also stated last week he would prefer a special session rather than sign these bills.

The lines have been drawn in the sand. There seems to be no room or avenue for compromise. Both sides are playing chicken, waiting for the other side to blink or give in. As of now, there seems to be no middle ground for compromise, rendering deadlock and partial shutdown a possibility.

Who is to blame?: The Republicans
Who is to blame for the impasse? It would be easy to blame both sides, but this is one time where the Republicans bare the majority of the responsibility.

For the Republicans, compromise on taxes and revenues is tantamount to surrender. Opposition to tax increases has become an article of faith for Republicans in power. They and the base of their party appear to view taxes as a line in the sand over which they do not compromise. To agree to increase taxes is a sell out and will cost you dearly with the base and in the party.

Literally, it is impossible given the special interests and entities that make up the RPM for them to give on taxes. Tony Sutton’s letter to the Republican Legislators makes that clear, and the recent hiring of Craig Westover for the RPM Party reinforces the sense that this is not the party of Arnie Carlson and David Durenburger. It is not a party about responsible pragmatic governance, but about an ideological opposition to taxes, whatever the cost to the public.

The Republican Rock and Hard Place
So here is the problem for the Republicans–they look unreasonable but cannot compromise because of their base and they face potential voter wrath in 2012 if the budget crashes and there is a government shutdown.

Dayton has played it well. His message of tax increases and some budget cuts resonates with the public. Polls support this approach and the combination of cuts and taxes sounds reasonable to most. Moreover, when deficit moved from $6 to $5 billion Dayton eliminated his onetime user fee as a token of compromise. Dayton has made it sound like he is willing to give, including considering racino and the Tom Horner type proposal that would substitute sales taxes for income taxes.

The RPM is trapped by conflicting goals. Its base and ideology says no taxes increases yet to go through with the pledge risks massive and unpopular cuts to education and health programs. It also risks a government shutdown which is not going to be popular.

Yet the RPM wants to retain control of the legislature and remain the in the majority the day after the 2012 elections. To secure that goal it has to win over swing voters, the majority of whom do not support their message. In the 2010 governor’s race, 56% of the voters supported Dayton or Horner for governor, both candidates who favored the tax increases and some cuts approach to balance the budget. These two candidates also captured the vast majority of the swing voters in the state.

If there is a partial government shutdown or if the cuts are unpopular, the Republicans stand to lose the most in 2012 since the entire legislature is up for election and the majority party generally takes the brunt of the voters’ anger. This is what happened nationally in 2006, 2008, and 2010. In all three elections the mantra or political narrative of “change" was popular. Look to see the same in 2012.

The RPM has every incentive to compromise and maintain their majority status. Yet they cannot do that or else face the anger of the Tea Party voters and their conservative fiscal base which opposes compromise.

Thus the rock and the hard place–compromise to keep majority status and face the anger of the base, or appease the base and lose the swing voters and the majority status.

The 2012 Strategy

This is what DFLers are hoping for–a RPM meltdown. They are hoping the Republicans meltdown and with 2012 potentially a better year for Democrats than 2010, they get back their majority status. Yet this requires the DFL to set the political hook and message correctly on this. One cannot bet on this.

One also cannot bet the DFL will not blink in the budget negotiations. This is what the Republicans are banking on.

Finally, in anticipating a tough 2012 year, the GOP is resorting to the placement of constitutional amendments on the ballot to reprise 2004 and motivate their base and offset a DFL year. Yet 2012 is not 2004. The ban on same-sex marriage may backfire and inspire progressives and the young to vote, and pushing social issues, while important to the base, may not be popular with the general public, thereby again alienating the swing voter.

The Republican Party of Minnesota is trapped by its own special interests and rhetoric, rendering 2011 compromise a dirty word and 2012 a possible loss of majority status.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ethical Neutrality and the State: Thoughts on my previous blog

Several of you raised good questions about my previous blog. Let me try to respond.

The core problem as John points out is how to reconcile majority rule with constitutionalism, especially in a pluralist society. I do not claim to have a solution to the problem, this is my best effort at addressing the problem. In fact, anyone who claims they know the truth about how to solve this problem or about the nature of what is the good life that we all ought to live is either lying or arrogant. No one knows, and that is my starting point.

I do not think there is no connection between law and morality. The likes of Augustine, Thoreau, and Martin Luther King, Jr. have all discussed the relationship between the two. Bu in asking whether one can use the law to impose morality, there are two questions. The first is the efficacy of using the law to impose moral beliefs or your or the majority’s conception of the good upon others. History is littered with examples of that from the Spanish Inquisition to the war on drugs to Prohibition. Seeking to force others to believe what you believe either is unsuccessful or results in a loss of the law’s legitimacy or a backlash against compliance.

The second issue is should the law reflect moral values? I would argue that in a pluralist society the answer is that the law enforces a thin as opposed to a thick theory of the moral good. A thick theory of the good is the state or the government imposing a particular view of the type of life all of us should live. This is the type of theory of the good the Puritans asserted. A thin theory of the good suggests that the state or the government establishes certain basic values regarding liberty and equality, for example, but much beyond that individuals are left to their own to define the good for themselves. This is what a free and pluralist society does.

A pluralist liberal society begins with a simple proposition–there is no certainty over the thick theory of the good. We instead intrust to individuals within a broad framework of the law the right to make their own moral choices, especially over matters that are in dispute. Because we discuss on matter of faith the law remains silent on these issues, and issues are to make their own choices while respecting the rights of others to make theirs.

When it comes to the issue of abortion, this is not a scientific issue but instead a matter first of theology and then ethics. There is no scientific answer to when life begins. This is a matter of religious faith and I may not choose to agree with the theology that another holds.

To say life begins at conception is a meaningless and empty statement. Just because something is alive and human does not give it moral rights. My kidney is alive and human, does it have moral rights? Normative choices have to be made regarding when we ascribe moral or ethical rights to something.

But having said that something is alive and human, still does not tell us anything. We then need to decide about what rights exist and how they compete with the rights of others. Given that, it is still not clear that something alive and human has moral rights that outweigh that of a woman. Thus, within a pluralist society, woman get to make the call about how to resolve a moral issue in consultation with a doctor or others as they choose.

My broader point then is that we do not know what is right, a pluralist society operates with a thin theory of the good, and we defer to women to make their choices about abortion given that no scientific fact can resolve the issue and the moral and theological issues are contested matters.

Finally, as I have argued in a couple of contexts and have been misconstrued intentionally on this, one of the hallmarks of ethical theory and a pluralist society is that we need to have a choice to hold people responsible for their actions. There are many things that I might find objectionable but others should be allowed to do those things and then be required to accept the consequences for their choices. Political society is clearly free to say many things such as spousal abuse are wrong and punish because of the violence against others. Here the party prosecuted has a choice and has violated a norm and therefore should be held responsible. Given that the issue of fetal rights is a matter of major dispute, we cannot impose our vision of the good upon others and second, we cannot take away the ability of women to make a choice. Some may chose wrong or contrary to what I would do but in a free society that values autonomy, this choice is what forces women to take into consideration the moral gravity of the situation.

I am quite certain I have not resolved all the issues posed here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Personal Values and Legislating Morality: Majorities do not always get their way

Efforts at the Minnesota Legislature to ban same-sex marriages and abortion raise an important question: Should citizens or majorities be entitled to enact their morality into law and impose those beliefs upon others? In other words, should elections translate personal morality into public policy? While values-based voting may be permissible in some situations, such a stance is contrary to the basic principles of a democratic society that values toleration and individual rights.

Constitutional republics or democracies like the United States are constructed with the premise that it is majority rule subject to the protection of minority rights. The is the logic of the American constitutional system as designed by James Madison and the constitutional framers, and this is why we have a bill of rights. Majority rule is the law of the land, subject to important checks and limitations. Majorities are generally allowed to make policy, but it does not extend to choices that are discriminatory, persecute minorities, or impose religious-moral principles upon others. It is this latter limitation that seems to be the subject of dispute in contemporary America, especially with religious fundamentalists. What we have here is a difference in contrasting views of the United States and the relationship between church and state or morality and the law.

The United States is the product of two political foundings or traditions. The first is an older religious tradition dating back to our Puritan-Pilgrim founding. Such a view—seeing America as the last great hope to found John Winthrop’s “shining city on the hill”—depicts government as inseparable from religious-moral principles. Here, the government’s purpose is to improve the moral quality of the community and it citizens by enacting into law the moral preferences of the majority—at least so long as they reflect the word of God.

But a second founding owes its origins to the Spirit of 1776. It is a political tradition—referred to as Liberalism—that traces back to the British political philosopher John Locke and to Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. It is a secular view of society where government must respect individual moral choices, opting to be neutral regarding how its citizens define their vision of the good society and life for themselves.

A critical difference between the Religious and Liberal traditions lies in their rival views on morality and government. A Religious tradition accepts as legitimate a majority using the government and the political process as a means of translating personal moral values into public policy that may be imposed upon others.

Conversely, the Liberal tradition rejects this practice as illegitimate. Be it James Madison stating that we must prevent a majority faction from using its power to threaten the public good or hurt the rights of others, or Alex DeTocqueville discussing the importance of restricting the tyranny of the majority, a hallmark value of a Liberal society is that majority rule is tempered by minority rights.

While America is the product of two political foundings, the Liberal tradition supplanted the religious one with the adoption of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The principles of a free society demand that the government remain neutral towards individual moral choices. Why? As John Stuart Mill and Liberal philosophers argued, political neutrality regarding our personal moral choices respects individual rights. It also recognizes that the majority ‘s views may not be correct or that God may not be on their side, that it is no one’s business how I live my life (if I hurt no one else), or that simply a minority may view the world differently from others. If a majority can secondguess my moral choices on abortion, or whom I decide to marry, why not also legislate to make many other personal choices illegal, such as what books I choose to read, movies I wish to view, or how I wish to make a living.

Central to the concept of a Liberal society is the idea of toleration. I may not personally have an abortion, decide to smoke, drink, or gamble, but my personal views on these subjects should not dictate how others choose to conduct their lives.

Similarly at the state capitol I hear many argue that they should not have to pay for woman’s abortions because they morally object. They miss the point. Political society is not for the selfish and anti-social. There are lots of things the government funds that I may not use or support. However, I am willing to pay taxes for them both because others find them useful or because they too will pay taxes to support things I use but cannot pay for. Political society is cooperative, not selfish. I do not expect my moral values to govern the lives of others in the same way I do not expect their values to dictate my choices.

St. Augustine wrote in On Christian Doctrine that individuals can only be held morally responsible for their actions if they have a choice. God gave humans the choice to sin in order to preserve but moral responsibility and to give us dignity. He was correct. Deny women the right to choose and you take away their moral responsibility. Force others to follow your moral values and they are denied their agency to make choices. The essence of a free society is the capacity to make a choice. “Free to choose" as Milton Friedman once said.

The error religious fundamentalists lies in failing to understand the crucial difference between voting on conscience and expecting others to live by the choices I make for myself. Political toleration and the principles of a free society recognizes that America is a morally and religiously diverse nation and that using government and the political process to impose a single moral vision upon all of us is illegitimate.