Thursday, January 31, 2008

GOP Debate Analysis

I read the transcript of the debate yesterday and my impression was that McCain came across as dishonest, particularly in his mincing of the English language with respect to Romney's position on the surge. I can see why Bill Clinton says that McCain has much in common with Hillary, for who can forget the insane word games of the Clintons?

The best analysis I have seen of the debate was this by Hugh Hewitt. McCain comes across - I watched some clips on YouTube (and by far the best clips show McCain's obvious contempt for Romney and Paul) - as angry and un-Presidential. Far from being a viable candidate against either Obama or Clinton, he'll be vulnerable to attacks and that the MSM hasn't dished these up yet in his fight against Romney should be a large, flashing, neon "tell."

The Right Answer?

I Saw Mr. McCain a few weeks back, campaigning somewhere (Florida, I believe) on CNN. The thing that made me sit up a bit was this:

A woman in the audience raised her hand and said she was a teacher. Her children were starting college/in college and she wasn't able to afford to pay for her children's college, or do any of the other things she wanted with her life, unless she was paid more. She threatened that she could get a better paying job in the blink of an eye, but, ever the martyr, she just took some classes to make her a better and more valuable teacher and feels it would be a shame if she couldn't use them. She wants to keep sacrificing her time to teach but feels she simply can't afford to do so. Her question was along the lines of: "what are you going to do about getting a living wage for teachers?"

I was suddenly struck by how many times we have heard this argument and how annoying it is. I wondered what McCain's answer would be. Once again I was disappointed by the teachers are so valuable, we don't pay them enough and I hope you'll decide to keep teaching, MSM, PC babble. How many times have we heard what martyrs teachers are for our children? It's nonsense. How would that question sound coming from a store clerk, or a factory worker, or a nanny? They are making sacrifices too and in many cases they don't have the degree or training to just move to a better paying job. Aren't those jobs affecting the greater good too? Why are teachers deserving of special sainthood treatment? Are our children really such monsters that it requires a saint to teach them? I don't think so.

What was the answer I was looking for from a "conservative" candidate for president? How about this:
Ma'am, I thank you for spending part of your life as a teacher. If you need to leave the teaching profession to make a wage that will provide you with the things you feel you need in this life, go with my blessings. I thank you for your time and sacrifices, but that's a decision you need to make on your own. While I'm sure that your school will miss you, I am equally sure that there are many fine young people graduating from college this year who would be perfectly happy with the level of compensation you are receiving and who will also be fine teachers. I wouldn't want to deprive you of the choice to move on with your life and career goals by promising something that I, as president, would have very little control over.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Perhaps it is only human nature, but hammer away at us enough times with the same data and our eyes sort of gloss over.

This is particularly unfortunate given the infection which ails this country - I speak of Liberalism. Through its control of the media, we are bombarded by images and stories of the worst kind until we barely register outrage any more.

Which is why I'm glad I read this post by Mr. Darby at Reflecting Light.

Let's not be the soon-to-be victim who feels secure having obtained a restraining order. Let's not drop our guard or begin to think that perhaps the enemy has ceased his aggressive ambitions.

Florida Primary Analysis

I'm not one for long titles, so I had to cut it down to what you see above. But the appropriate title of this post should be "Inadvertently Insightful Florida Primary Analysis." See this link to the AP story.

Here's the best part:

In Florida, McCain won across a broad swath of voters: older people, veterans, Hispanics, moderates, liberal Republicans and, of course, independents, according to exit polls. And while Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee shared the lead among born-again Christian voters, McCain only trailed slightly.

Aren't "moderates, liberal Republicans and, of course, independents" the same things? Notice any group that McCain didn't carry the day with? Oh yeah, those folks: conservatives.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Go Right!

Courtesy of Reuters:

A road sign points the way to nearby towns Clinton and Prosperity in Newberry, South Carolina, January 25, 2008. US Democratic presidential candidates Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), former Senator John Edwards (D-NC) and Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) have been criss-crossing South Carolina ahead of the state's Democratic primary election. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)

The Incomparable Mark Steyn

In the most recent issue of Imprimis (brought to you by the folks at Hillsdale College), Mark Steyn unravels the idea that somehow Canada should be the model for the United States, particularly from an economic point of view. Admittedly, this appears to be an idea that has traction only among a small slice of Americans, but given that this group tends to include academics, politicians and those organizations that control what news you see on television and read in the newspaper, it's probably a good idea to debunk such nonsense wherever one finds it.

Steyn on entitlements:

And if you have government health care, you not only annex a huge chunk of the economy, you also destroy a huge chunk of individual liberty. You fundamentally change the relationship between the citizen and the state into something closer to that of the junkie and the pusher, and you make it very difficult ever to change back.

And fantastically:
Quebec has a civil service that employs the same number of people as California's, even though California has a population nearly five times the size.

Steyn then explores one of my major concerns, corporate welfare:
Among the farmers piling up the dollar bills under the mattress are Ted Turner, Sam Donaldson, the oil company Chevron, and that dirt-poor, hardscrabble sharecropper David Rockefeller. But what you may not know is that also among the number is Edgar Bronfman, Sr., who isn't just any old billionaire, he's the patriarch of Montreal's wealthiest family, owner of Seagram's Whiskey, which subsequently bought Universal Pictures. So the U.S. taxpayer, in his boundless generosity, is subsidizing the small family farms of Canadian billionaires.

Steyn closes, not surprisingly, with some demographic statistics that make the future in Canada look bleaker than Edmonton in January. It's not long and Steyn is terrific, so enjoy the whole thing.

Short Animation on Liberty

I'm out of the office sick today so I might get a chance to catch up on a number of things I've been putting off.

A colleague sent me this link to a short animation on Liberty. It's interesting. While I agree with nearly the entire content of the video, I'm left with the same thoughts I usually have when encountering advocates for Liberty. That is, there's a fine line between Liberty and License, and generally people who advocate for Liberty do so without any conditions; which is really to say that they are advocating for license, or anarchy.

The moment you place conditions on how much Liberty people may have, you're really discussing the necessity of external government. Most discussions of Liberty are based in the abstract or theoretical, and once you deign to engage in such a conversation with respect to the practical, actual, and operative nature of man, you must naturally appear a tyrant. While this may tire us, we owe it to our Liberty-loving "faithful opposition", as Mr. Morris once coined the term, to keep reminding them of the truths of human nature.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

McCain vs. Madison

I take exception with some libertarian ideas; since that's not the point of this post I won't bother rehashing them now. If you know how to search through labels, you'll likely find them in the archives.

But there is the occasional gem from organizations like Cato. You can read one such gem by the same title as this blog post here.

In the article, John Samples hits a couple of them out of the park.

Matt Welch's new book McCain: The Myth of a Maverick lays out the senator's philosophy. McCain once said "each and every one of us has a duty to serve a cause greater than our own self-interest." That cause will be the good of the collective, often defined as the nation or the national community.

That sounds fine and rather patriotic until your realize McCain's statement puts the nation before the individual, duties before rights (which are not mentioned), and denigrates the concerns of individuals to mere self-interest. None of these ideas have much to do with James Madison or conservatism.

Samples then calls McCain out for what he really is: a Progressive.

In contrast, Progressives see speech as a means to a collective good -- improved public debate -- attained by government restrictions on individual liberty. In this view, free speech and free spending are mere self-interest or selfishness, vices to be overcome by benevolent censors.

For McCain, such self-interest should be sacrificed to the higher cause of "clean government." Hence, McCain's infamous statement on Don Imus's radio show: "I would rather have a clean government than one where quote First Amendment rights are being respected, that has become corrupt. If I had my choice, I'd rather have the clean government."

Ah, yes, almost forgot about his disdain for the First Amendment. President John "Clean Government" McCain; it has a rather awful sound to it, doesn't it?

I've recently come to the point where I realized I might vote third party, or write in a candidate if I'm unhappy with who gets the GOP nomination. I've expressed it numerous times in conversations, yet never quite as well as this:

The election of a Progressive like Clinton or Obama would deprive conservatives of power. The election of a Progressive like McCain would deprive conservatives of both the government and the means to resist Progressivism. Which is the lesser evil?

I would add this: there is a means to oppose Progressivism/Liberalism/Leftism which we have discussed numerous times here. With the blessings of Providence, we may yet enact a renewal under such a banner and return strict constitutional government to prominence.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Fred Thompson and Balanced Government

In case you missed it, an interesting exchange on Fred Thompson's removal of himself from the presidential race occured over at VFR under Mr. Auster's entry Thompson. Our friend Mike Hargis (who used to comment here frequently but has been noticably absent for some time now -- where are you Mike?) rarely missed an opportunity to remind us when discussing presidential candidates, that it seemed to him that someone who wanted the job of President, the most powerful job in the world, wasn't likely to be seeking the job for purely noble reasons. It was an argument that I don't think any of us ever really raised any serious disagreement with, but that didn't keep ol' Hargis from stating it fairly often.

Well, under the aforementioned post LA replies to two separate commenters, James P. and Kilroy M., both of which state their preference for a President who is not acting out of passion or desire to lead the country, but a President who would act from genuine conservative views, as James P. expresses it. LA discusses why this is not possible under our current electoral process and what changes to that process would be necessary to elect a President of the United States who was not actively seeking the Presidency, or, passionately competing to lead the country. The relevant exchanges are entered below:

James P. writes:

Powerline wrote:

"My own first-hand encounter with Thompson generated no sense that he had any intangible quality that would add value to his generic conservative views."

Maybe, but I would be very happy with a President who acted from genuine conservative views, even if they were "generic" and he was "checking the boxes" rather than acting from particular passion. That would be a hell of a lot better than what we're going to get, which is a Democrat or a Republican with genuine passion to lead the country in a more liberal direction, and who will act with "inner intention" to achieve that goal. Indeed, that's even better than what we have now, which is a President who talks conservative (thus giving conservatism a bad name and contributing to the unpopularity of Fred and other genuine conservatives) and governs liberal.

LA replies:

I agree. And maybe if we didn't have candidates actively run for the presidency, maybe if the Electors met in each state and chose the man they thought was best, instead of their choice being determined by the popular vote, Thompson could be president. But we do have campaigns, and the Electors' choice is determined by the popular vote, and a candidate does have to present himself to the American public as someone who wants and is ready to lead the country.

Kilroy M. writes:

You write that Thomson did not appear to "want to lead the country" and that "checking off the correct conservative positions is not leadership." However, it was Thomson's principled position minus the public displays of desire for power that attracted me to him in the first place.

LA replies:

But that was my own point. We could imagine an America in which the electors are not elected already pledged to vote for a certain candidate, which is the system we have (remember that when you vote for president in the general election, you are not voting for John Smith, you are voting for a slate of electors who are pledged to vote for John Smith), but, as was the case when George Washington was elected (before the evolution of the political party system, under which each party runs a slate of electors who are pledged to vote for the nominee of that party), the people or the legislature of each state choose electors according to the laws of that state, and the electors vote for whom they please. Under such a system, there would not be presidential candidates "running" for election, trying to get the masses to vote for them, because, instead of 100 million people casting a vote, there would be (say) 535 electors casting votes. The electors, who would be the leaders and politically knowledgeable people of each state, would be familiar with the leading political figures of the country, and would choose the person they considered best qualified to be president. Under such a system, public displays of desire for the presidential office would not be needed or appropriate.

Or, if it's impracticable to dispense with political parties, we could dispense with party primaries, and go back to the smoke filled room. Each state would choose delegates to the nominating convention who would be free to vote as they choose. Again, under such a system, candidates would not "run" for the nomination, but the delegates, politically knowledgeable people, would choose as nominee the person they thought was best.

While I think it's absolutely impracticable under our current "one man one vote" democratic climate in America (can you imagine trying to convince Americans that they are better served to play only an indirect role in the choice of electors for President?), it is nonetheless interesting, and I would say the far better method to selecting a President than what we have now. However, whenever the idea of Balanced Constitutional Government is discussed here and elsewhere, at least part of that discussion must consider the ways in which we may return to a government more resembling that of a Federal Representative Republic, and less resembling that of a democracy. It may be putting the cart before the horse, so to speak, to discuss ways in which to improve upon our current electoral system, but here again it's an important consideration for anyone who believes a return to balanced government is needed. And you can certainly count me among that group.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Toyota of Naperville

I wouldn't normally do this as it doesn't seem to be a fit with this blog. But Mom started it with these comments to my prior post, so I figured I'd just let 'er fly, as the man says. Here were the comments worth expanding upon:

The idea of building things to last isn't just a comment on warranties though. I am wondering what kind of affect it would have on our economy if we were no longer willing to accept poor quality goods.

Would that create a demand for skilled workers? Would it shift our point of view back to thinking in the longer term personally as well as politically? What kind of an impact would that have on our trading partners?

I'm a big believer in quality, always have been. So given this, and that an opening was provided - and importantly, that the story is worth telling - here goes a little history and my story.

In 2002 my wife and I bought a Toyota 4 Runner from a nearby dealer in DuPage County (not Naperville). Subsequently in 2006 (because my then-employer provided wheels), I bought a Toyota Camry from the Naperville dealership. The experience was so good that when my mother-in-law needed a car, we went with her to Toyota of Naperville to help her buy her Corolla.

All of this is necessary background to what happened yesterday. We've been in the midst of a terrible cold snap - I think it made it up to 8 degrees today, and it was 1 degree yesterday when my wife and I went out for a date to see a movie. After that, we stopped at Target before we were heading home. Only we got a flat tire. I mean completely flat.

I got the car jacked up, the lugnuts off the wheel and then... nothing. I think the wheel was frozen on, although I can't be sure. What I can be sure of is that it wasn't coming off. It's not bragging, they say, if you can do it, so let me say this and leave it at that: I'm quite strong, and I wailed on that tire for probably the better part of a half hour. It wasn't budging.

The problem, then, was time. It was 6:30 when I gave up and we had to call for assistance. The first couple of calls were unsuccessful. We got lucky - and here we were thinking about how unlucky we were - when Pat answered at Toyota.

Without identifying himself, he mentioned that while the dealership was closed, he'd get someone to pick us up and get the car towed to the dealership, where once in side, hopefully it'd be easy to get the wheel off. When our ride came, it was Pat himself, who mentioned that he was just walking past a phone in the empty service department when we called.

What Pat didn't mention but we later discovered when he gave us his card, was that he was the General Sales Manager of the dealership.

1) After the dealership was closed for a half hour on a Saturday night, the General Sales Manager picked up a ringing phone in the service department.
2) He personally picks up a couple of people who had trouble with a car not purchased through their dealership.
3) He arranges for a loaner car - at no cost - until we can get our car towed to the dealership and fixed on Monday.

All of which bought him a late night at the office; we probably said good night to Pat at 7:30.

So here's the deal. I'd love to hear stories like this if anyone else has them. In today's world, we moan and crab about how bad service is and believe me, it can be bad. But there's still professionals like Pat O'Brien at Toyota of Naperville who go above and beyond and create fans for life.

If you're in the market for a car in the Chicago area, the dealership is worth the trip. Actually, the dealership is like any other; it's the people that are pretty special.

Friday, January 18, 2008

When a Tax Cut Isn't a Tax Cut

Answer: when it's a one-time rebate.

President Bush wants a quick $150 billion in "tax relief" to Americans to get the economy jump started. We could adopt a strict economic mantra which would probably yield the right decisions when faced with challenging economic questions. Perhaps: WWFBD (What Would Fredric Bastiat Do)?

Yet, I think like in most things governmental (and let's all pause for a moment and thank the Left for putting the mental in governmental to begin with, shall we?), we'd be causing the patient such a shock that it might be too much too fast, because Bastiat would probably disband the IRS and privatize the Defense Department.

For starters, though, if the President and Congress are serious about doing something, let's make it a genuine, bona fide tax cut, and not a one-time affair. Bush has done this before, of course, and as a rebate, early in his first term. The hope - and isn't it simply audacious of us to hope? - is that people would go out and spend those rebates of a few hundred dollars.

Forgive me if I'm not doing cartwheels for it was my money to begin with. And yours.

My colleague Matt made an excellent point today: we've for too long been an economy that rides the strength of consumer spending. We'd be wise to adopt policies that focus on strengthening the business base of the economy (think durable goods and manufacturing) to complement and diversify what makes our economic engine hum.

And while I'm dispensing advice, let's get the federal government out of the domestic/entitlement business. The states would be far superior in delivering services of that type to their citizens based on familiarity (a local understanding of what their people need) and proximity (being able to deliver services closer to the users).

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Illinois Continues to Fall Down

Just when you think it can't get any worse.

The GOP in Illinois is in bad shape, a point that a handful of people (yours truly included) got to discuss last night at an event called The State of the Republican Brand, hosted by America's Future Foundation in Chicago. A very lively and engaging discussion included such names as Grover Norquist of Americans For Tax Reform and local guy Dan Proft, who sort of stole the show.

Funny that we were just discussing the fall-down of the GOP, when this news comes across the wire. Hey, Seniors? Enjoy your free rides. Cost to taxpayers? $530 million in tax increases. The worst part?

If the bill had not passed, Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace riders would have faced an unprecedented level of fare hikes and service cuts, including the elimination of more than 160 city and suburban bus routes. All evening suburban bus service and many weekend Pace routes would have been eliminated. CTA fares would have jumped as high as $3.25. Pace bus fares would have increased to $2, and all paratransit, dial-a-ride, taxi-access and vanpool rides would have cost more.

So, if the General Assembly hadn't stuck it to the entire state to bail out the insanity that is Chicago's virtually free transit system, the users might have had to bear the cost of the service they are using??? Dear Lord, say it isn't so! An outrageous $2.00 to ride the bus? The inhumanity of it all! We wouldn't want people to have to take care of themselves and bear the costs of the services they use. That would be... well, it would be unfair!

Speaking of people taking care of themselves... It gets worse:

Calling it a "happy day" for riders, Daley said he now will work with members of the City Council to pass an increase in Chicago's real estate transfer tax by $3 per $1,000 of sales price, action that is called for in the legislation to help fund CTA pension and health care costs.

Ah yes, the pensions. Well, we wouldn't want people who have pensions to have to plan for their own future, would we?

OK. Enough bad news for one night. Since I want to leave you with something - anything - positive, check out this post by Eric Odom at Conservablogs. If you get a chance, watch the video, and tell me that there's not one of us who wouldn't love to read the riot act to a bureaucrat like that who's ready to inform you what you can say, write or think.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Outstanding Reform Idea

I have to hand it to Lawrence Auster at VFR (and thank you, Terry, for pointing this post out).

I've griped and groused for a long time about our primary system. It's always bothered me how, for example, Judy Baar Topinka got the nomination for governor in Illinois when there were two conservatives running against her in the primary who were far superior and either one might have beat Blagojevich.

As serious I am about government reform, I cannot stress strongly enough: go read this post.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The $1.5 Billion Giveaway

Got your attention, did I?

It disappoints - but doesn't surprise - me that the feds are giving out $1.5 Billion in coupons to help people convert from analog to digital TV. I wish I was making this up.

WASHINGTON - Millions of $40 government coupons become available Tuesday to help low-tech television owners buy special converter boxes for older TVs that might not work after the switch to digital broadcasting.

Beginning Feb. 18, 2009, anyone who does not own a digital set and still gets their programming via over-the-air antennas will no longer receive a picture.

That's the day the television industry completes its transition from old-style analog broadcasting to digital.

The converter boxes are expected to cost between $50 and $70 and will be available at most major electronics retail stores. Starting Tuesday, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration will begin accepting requests for two $40 coupons per household to be used toward the purchase of the boxes.

Viewers who have satellite or cable service will not need a box.


Congress, in ordering the transition to digital broadcasting, set aside $1.5 billion for the coupon program, which will fund 33.5 million coupons and other costs.

Emphasis definitely mine.

Look, this is the world we live in, dislike it as much as we may. Self-government is in retreat around the globe, if I can be so bold as to borrow that imagery from Mr. Paine. Only until we begin to get people talking about balanced government - what it is, how we lost it, how we get it back - we're going to continue along that high road to communism.

Survey Results: People Don't Think

I laughed when I saw this article yesterday, both for it's patent absurdity and the "news worthiness" of it. Here's the link.

And here's my point: 44% of the people "surveyed" said they don't "need" marriage to validate their relationships. I say "surveyed" because this was an online AOL Personals/Zogby poll - voluntary, and probably appealing to people who come from that point of view.

Shockingly, half of the respondents between 20-29 said that marriage wasn't necessary. Is it possible that half of the people looking for a relationship at AOL Personals between those ages might be young men in our "deferred adulthood" culture?

Other breath-taking revelations include that 20-somethings are more likely to break up over infidelity than someone in their 60s (which is a little like reporting that a survey taken shows that people in their 20s are less likely to worry about life insurance than someone in their 60s). Do you think age - not to mention the actual time in the relationship - has something to do with that?

I have asserted before, and will do so again, that liberalism's attack on traditional values has wide-ranging implications, not the least of which is the creation of large groups of people who are self-centered and fail to contribute to the continuation of society. Marriage makes otherwise average people better: you learn compromise, sacrifice, and what it means to care for others in a way that single people never can. Parenthood takes that a step further: you learn what it means to love as God does. Before your child is ever born, before they've done anything to "deserve" it, you love them unconditionally and would do anything for them. That's how God loves us. These two milestones in life, these two cultural institutions (both of which are regularly under assault by the Left) make average people good and good people great. That's why marriage and traditional values are worth defending.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Iowa Caucus Results

Huckabee and Obama; sounds like an actual ticket.

Just saw Obama's speech and it wasn't bad. Seemed impromptu and well-delivered. Of course, the substance left a LOT to be desired.

Huckabee... well, here's my problem with the guy. He's of the "compassionate conservative" cloth, which, translated, means he's not a conservative. Fantastically devoid of any logic, he's going to atone for the sins of slavery by pursuing open borders and granting entitlements to illegals. Of course, one has nothing to do with the other. Of course, such a policy might very well destroy the country. OF COURSE, there was the little matter of the War Between the States, which settled that debt.

Well, here's hoping that Huckabee's fawning support in the media finally gets through to voters that this is a bad guy. If liberals like him, he's bad for America. I'm concerned that things may have to get worse before they get better; I honestly hope that's not the case, as I thought things were bad enough as they are.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

WSJ Op-Ed: Liberty Theology

The following op-ed was in the Wall Street Journal on 12/31/07. It's encouraging to see free market principles spreading and liberalism in retreat; the lesson is that we all need to be diligent in stamping it out where ever we find it. Robert Sirico is the President of the Acton Institute.

Liberty Theology
December 31, 2007; Page A12

Catholic Church bishops, priests and other Church leaders in Latin America were once a reliable ally of the left, owing to the influence of "liberation theology," which tries to link the Gospel to the socialist cause. Today the Church is coming to recognize the link between socialism and the loss of freedom, and a shift in thinking is taking place.

In a region that is more than 90% Catholic, this change might have enormous implications. A Church that emphasizes liberty could play a role in Latin America similar to that which it played in Eastern Europe in the 1980s, as a counterweight in defense of freedom during a time of rising despotism.

For proof of the change I refer to, consider a recent statement from the Catholic Bishops of Venezuela: It blasted the political agenda of President Hugo Chávez for its assault on liberty under the guise of helping the poor. It is morally unacceptable, the statement said, and will drive the country backward in terms of respect for human rights.

The Bishops' statement from Caracas was not the first challenge the Church issued to Mr. Chávez. The late Cardinal Rosalio Castillo once laid out the Church's view of Bolivarian socialism. The government, he explained, though elected democratically was morphing into dictatorship. He worried about the results of this process. "All powers are in the hands of one person who exercises them in an arbitrary and despotic way, not for the purposes of bringing about the greater common good of the nation, but rather for a twisted and archaic political project: that of implanting in Venezuela a disastrous regime like the one Fidel Castro has imposed on Cuba . . ."

In Mexico , the Church has also found itself at odds with the hard-line left. Last month a group of 150 people associated with the socialist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) rushed into the cathedral in the capital on a Sunday morning as Mass was beginning. The mob overturned pews, denounced priests and chanted anti-Church slogans. The PRD claimed that it was not directly responsible. But there was no mistaking the message: Anybody not lining up in favor of collectivist militancy is against it.

These are but two examples of the growing tension between the Catholic Church and the extreme left in Latin America . In Argentina and Cuba , the Church is also stepping into the role of opposition.

It is important to note that Church leaders who are challenging the likes of Mr. Chávez are not recommending Church involvement in politics. Their understanding, in line with the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI, is that the relationship between the Church and the state in Latin America is complex and there should be a clean separation. But they also know the importance of preserving freedom and pluralism.

The cases of political entanglement that we have read about most often have involved collaboration with what are called "right-wing dictatorships." But in what sense they differ from the total state control of "left-wing dictatorships" is unclear. Liberation theology may appeal to socially conscious clergy, yet it also politicizes the Church's role by blessing another form of wholesale control.

Liberation theology arose some three decades ago. The Bible teaches concern for the poor, liberation theologists said, and then went a step further: Jesus was a symbol and advocate of class warfare to expropriate from the rich on behalf of the poor.

Today liberation theology remains fashionable, and, because of intellectual confusion in Latin America, many still believe that the socialism of Mr. Chávez, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil , and even Fidel Castro, offers hope to the poor. When Mr. Chávez announces that he will "democratize" property in order to smash the rich, he can count on cheers from many religious admirers.

Sincere Church leaders, who are rightly convinced of their special mission to assist the poor, are sometimes drawn to a false hope that higher taxes, land redistribution, nationalization of industry and ever more big government programs offer a way out. This is tragic because it threatens to entangle the Church in politics, staking its reputation and the message of the Gospel on a political agenda.

At least 100 years of evidence stands contrary to the claim that a more powerful state (and that is all liberation theology really offers) is the proper means to material advance. Nothing is to be gained for anyone but the state by smashing the rich. What society needs is not expropriation but ever widening opportunities for all classes to improve their living standards.

There is only one way toward liberation, and that is a genuine liberalization of economic and political life, one that separates the state, not only from the Church, but also from the culture and the commercial life of the nation.

In my travels in the region, I detect an honest reassessment taking place. Leaders and future leaders seem to be recognizing that if the middle class is to grow, there needs to be more vibrant understanding of how the market, where people make their livelihood, actually functions. There is also a need for a deeper understanding of the moral hazards and opportunities that the political economy presents.

The Church, despite terrible blows to its credibility in recent years, is in as good a position as any institution to provide leadership and assume a teaching role in this. Pope Benedict's own writings provide a solid basis. He warns of the dangers of power and its morally corrupting effects, as well as the materially corrosive effects of socialist policies.

The Church can provide independent leadership in society. Above all else, there should be an independence from politics. Let us expand that model of independence to all sectors of society. Latin America would thereby become less vulnerable to despots, develop a thriving middle class, and secure a future of liberty and prosperity. In the role of the opposition, the Catholic Church can find its true voice as a defender of human rights and freedom.