Author archives: Rob Schwarzwalder

John Paul Stevens and the Constitution

by Rob Schwarzwalder

April 22, 2014

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, a stalwart member of the Court’s liberal phalanx, has published a book calling for six amendments to the Constitution he believes would benefit the nation.

I have not reviewed his proposals carefully, although should I do so it is likely I would disagree with most, if not all, of them.  However, Justice Stevens should be applauded at least for this: He recognizes that the text of the Constitution is sufficiently clear that what he thinks should be changed demands amending, as the Founders envisioned, not reinterpretation to facilitate legislation from the bench.

We have a written Constitution precisely because the Founders did not want a national government with expansive, broadening, and undefined powers.  For this reason, they gave us the Tenth Amendment, which says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  They also gave us the process for amending the Constitution, which we have done 27 times since the document’s ratification.

In other words, the text of the Constitution has a fixed and understandable meaning sufficiently definitive and clear that torturing it into meanings (or “penumbras,” as one Justice infamously put it) its drafters never intended is intellectually dishonest.

Legislating from the bench” has become the Left’s tool of choice for advancing an agenda they cannot enact legislatively.  Neither ideology nor personal sentiment should drive judicial decisions; rather, a common sense reading of the plain text of the Constitution should be any court’s guide.  As Alliance Defending Freedom’s president Alan Sears has written:

If you are in court, and you are in the right, you don’t want to be fearful that the judge might let empathy for your opponent affect his or her decision instead of ruling impartially according to the law. That wouldn’t be true justice or true compassion … (As) Thomas Jefferson noted in 1804 … “the opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action but for the Legislature and the Executive also in their spheres, would make the judiciary a despotic branch.”

Judges are tasked with evaluating arguments and evidence and making just decisions about the issues confronting them.  They are not unelected politicians who have a constitutional right to make law based on personal preference or subjective conviction.

Have they become, as Jefferson predicted, “despots?”  Not in the sense of sending shock troops into the streets or denying anyone the right to vote.  But in the sense too often they are finding in the Constitution pretexts for action that no reasonable person rationally can deduce from the Constitution’s language, a penchant toward law-making rather than law-interpreting seems increasingly entrenched in their minds. 

At the swearing-in of Justice Anthony Kennedy, Ronald Reagan described the role of judges and the danger imposed by “bench legislation:”

The role assigned to judges in our system was to interpret the Constitution and lesser laws, not to make them. It was to protect the integrity of the Constitution, not to add to it or subtract from it—certainly not to rewrite it. For as the framers knew, unless judges are bound by the text of the Constitution, we will, in fact, no longer have a government of laws, but of men and women who are judges. And if that happens, the words of the documents that we think govern us will be just masks for the personal and capricious rule of a small elite.

Arguably, Justice Kennedy has failed to live up to this standard in a number of his key decisions (e.g., rulings on abortion and same-sex “marriage”).  But the charge given him by President Reagan, one applicable to all federal judges in any jurisdiction, remains compelling.

Conservatives should thank John Paul Stevens for acknowledging, even if indirectly, that the Constitution means what it says and says what it means, which is why amending it rather than elasticizing it is needed if changes to the document are desired.  The amendment process can be slow and difficult, for good reason: Altering the charter text of man’s “last, best hope” should always be done with deliberate caution.

Kirsten Dunst Is a Good Sociologist

by Rob Schwarzwalder

April 21, 2014

I know virtually nothing about contemporary stars and starlets, other than having consistently to turn away from the images of the substantially disrobed young “entertainers” displayed on the jumbotron across from my office in advertisements for their latest performances. Pornography, by any other name, ain’t art.

But I’m aware of the actress Kirsten Dunst for two reasons: Her memorable performance as a child in 1994’s “Little Women” and the fact that “Dunst” is a fine German name, not unlike my own (she apparently has dual U.S. and German citizenship; warum nicht?).

Now, however, Ms. Dunst is much in the news for having the audacity to say what she thinks of gender roles, to wit:

I feel like the feminine has been a little undervalued … We all have to get our own jobs and make our own money, but staying at home, nurturing, being the mother, cooking – it’s a valuable thing my mum created. And sometimes, you need your knight in shining armour. I’m sorry. You need a man to be a man and a woman to be a woman. That’s why relationships work”.

Wow - how revolutionary! The idea that gender is not a social construct but actually has to do with biology, neurology, morphology, physiology, etc. is an affront to the received orthodoxy of the feminist left, many of whom have piled-on with a predictable combination of derision, illogic, non-sequitur reasoning, and obscenity.

Yet Ms. Dunst’s view corresponds with the science far more than do the opinions of her attackers. Consider the words of Oxford-trained neuroscientist Zeenat Zaidi: “Studies of perception, cognition, memory and neural functions have found apparent gender differences. These differences may be attributed to various genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors and do not reflect any overall superiority advantage to either sex”.

So, men and women are different, and being a stay-at-home mother who cares for her children is something to be honored, not scorned: For affirming these self-evident truths, Ms. Dunst is being labeled “dumb” and ‘insufferable,” among the more printable adjectives.

Whatever the merits or demerits of her various film roles, Ms. Dunst has “committed truth” in the public square, and for this deserves strong support from those who believe that a child needs a male dad and a female mom, and that the distinctions between the two are immutable and beneficial.

So, to my fellow German-American Kirsten Dunst: Herzlichen Glückwunsch, fraulein. Können Sie Ihren Stamm Anstieg (sincere good wishes, young lady; may your tribe increase)!

For more FRC resources on male-female complementarity, see “Complementarity in Marriage” and “Truth is the Greatest Weapon

Obamacare Open-Enrollment and Statistical Reality

by Rob Schwarzwalder

March 20, 2014

On this first day of spring, the brilliant Avik Roy of Forbes Magazine asks two questions about the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare:

First: how many people who have signed up for coverage were previously uninsured? Second: will the botched rollout and design flaws lead to even higher health insurance costs next year?

Roy suggests that health care premiums might soar by as much as 40 percent in 2015, and concludes by asking, “For those who already struggle to afford their health insurance bills, the worst is not yet over.” One of the sounds you do not hear is Tony the Tiger saying, “Grrrrr-eat!”

National Public Radio reports today that enrollment in Obamcare is “surging,” and is now over five million. That’s two million less than the White House’s original prediction of seven million by the end of the open-enrollment period, which comes on the 31st of this month.

Even the five million figure is in dispute, but let’s be charitable and accept that figure — and even go one better, and believe the White House that one million more people might enroll by midnight, March 31. Yet as Washington Times columnist Joseph Curl points out, we were told repeatedly by the President and his top aides that as late as last June, there were 46 million Americans without health insurance. What are the rest of them doing?

According to a January 2014 McKinsey survey of more than 4,500 Americans eligible for a “qualified health plan,” of the 28 percent of Americans who signed-up for personal health insurance in 2014, only 11 percent “reported themselves previously uninsured.” How can a dribble be mistaken for a surge?

The Administration also continues to qualify and postpone various provisions of the plan. The Galen Institute says that as of March 5, there have been at least “37 significant changes already have been made to ObamaCare: at least 20 that President Obama has made unilaterally, 15 that Congress has passed and the president has signed, and 2 by the Supreme Court.” Obamacare is, as Avik Roy notes, being made up as it goes along.

A final note: Contrary to the claims of many on the Left, Republicans have offered several comprehensive health care reform plans, alternatives to Obamacare that are market-focused and patient-driven. Included among them:

  • H.R. 3121: “The American Health Care Reform Act” – U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, M.D.(R-TN) (Dr. Roe outlined his plan at FRC in November.)


  • H.R. 3400: “The Empowering Patients First Act” – U.S. Rep. Tom Price, M.D. (R-GA).


  • S. 1783: “Ten Steps to Transform Health Care in America Act” – U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY).


  • In process: “The Patient Choice, Affordability, Responsibility, and Empowerment Act, or the Patient CARE Act (PCA)” – U.S. Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK), Richard Burr (R-NC) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT). A framework of the measure has been developed, and its language is now being written.

I don’t suggest that each of these measures is perfect, complete, or even affordable. Rather, when the President asserts that the GOP has no alternative to his plan, he’s wrong. He might not like what conservatives are offering but he cannot claim they have not provided encompassing, beginning-to-end medical system reform plans.

It is wearisome to debate all the motivations of those who support the Affordable Care Act. Let’s say all of them mean well for everyone (except for the unborn, whose destruction is subsidized by Obamacare). Fine. But let’s also look at reality in its cold, steely eyes: Obamacare is a mess, a fiscal and practical disaster.

There is no shortage of thoughtful and, sometimes, rightly biting commentary on Obamacare on the FRC website. I’ll let my distinguished colleague Ken Blackwell have the last word: “ObamaCare cannot be salvaged, because government-run health care cannot work better than free markets. Government safety nets work only when relatively few people are in those nets.”

Perfect Together: Social and Defense Conservatives”

by Rob Schwarzwalder

March 12, 2014

My friend Bob Patterson has written a perceptive piece in National Review Online on what should be recognized as the natural alliance between national security conservatives and socially conservative Christians.

As he notes, “(President Obama) anticipates spending $844 billion on federal welfare programs in 2015, a whopping 4.6 percent of projected GDP. In comparison, President Reagan whittled federal welfare spending to 2.2 percent of GDP in his second term. To put it another way, in 1985 we spent nearly two and a half times as many dollars on defense as on welfare, but if Obama gets his way, next year we’ll be spending 35 percent more on welfare than on defense. And that doesn’t count state-level welfare spending, which accounts for the highest single line-item of state budgets.”

Read Bob’s piece in its entirety here.

Friendship, Feelings, and Homosexuality: Thoughts on Truth and Love

by Rob Schwarzwalder

March 7, 2014

In an arresting piece about his denomination’s struggles in dealing with homosexuality, United Methodist Pastor Talbot Davis writes:

When therapy turns into theology … our experience and our empathy determine our doctrine. I’ve been in those counseling sessions. Asked to officiate a same-gender wedding. Invited to bless a same-gender union. And the pastor in me longs to tell folks what they want to hear, yearns to affirm the narrative I’m privileged to be part of. And yet over against that personal, pastoral desire, I hear another question: have we become so good at empathetic listening that we have lost the capacity for critical thinking?

Because it seems to me that the role of the Scripture has been precisely to guard against what so many of us now do in elevating personal experience to the level of revealed truth. Theologically, then, Scripture protects us from ourselves. Which is why Paul tells Timothy: “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (and) why Jeremiah declares: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

Personal experience and individual feelings — even when others share those experiences and feel those feelings — are among the weakest of rationales for shifting theology and changing doctrine. The reason the church does theology and arrives at doctrine is to protect us from our natural tendency to turn what we feel into what we believe.

Feelings of warmth and acceptance are natural with respect to people we love, like, and respect. To lack them is virtual sociopathy. Yet the Bible calls Christians to stand for truth - not with rancor or anger, but with the right balance of kindness and firmness.

Not to uphold the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality is to show a lack of love. Sexual intimacy as God intended it - within the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman - is beautiful, life-affirming, and life-giving. Sexual intimacy outside these parameters, however enjoyable transiently, leads to the withering of the soul and the erosion of society.

Pastor Davis is right: We cannot derive our theology from our emotions. Theological doctrine stems from another source, the unchanging Word of God, and is as it is because a loving Designer enables us to realize our sexuality best in the context of heterosexual, monogamous marriage.

Bowdoin College and Religious Bigotry

by Rob Schwarzwalder

February 20, 2014

Bowdoin College, one of America’s elite institutions of higher education, has now “banned a local lawyer and his wife from leading campus Bible studies with students after the couple refused to sign a non-discrimination agreement they say violates their Christian faith.”

For nearly the past ten years the couple, Rob and Sim Gregory, has been volunteers with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Bowdoin Christian Fellowship (BCF). They have been told they will no longer be welcome on Bowdoin’s campus after May because of their commitment to the Bible’s teaching that sexual intimacy is reserved for a heterosexual couple within the covenant of marriage.

The following excerpt from The Maine Wire explains the story well and succinctly:

For nearly a decade, the Gregorys have been a fixture of Bowdoin’s community and source of counsel and comfort for college-aged Christians. But last year administration officials informed the Gregorys they would be required to sign a non-discrimination agreement in order to continue serving as an advisor to BCF.

If someone’s participating in an organization and they are LGBTIQA [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Questioning, Asexual] and they are not allowed to participate in that organization because of their sexual orientation or they cannot lead that organization because of their sexual orientation, then that’s discrimination,” said Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster, according to the Bowdoin Orient.

According to the Orient, Foster said the initiative grew partially as a reaction to the Penn State scandal in 2011 in which assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of multiple counts of child molestation. “One of the things we realized,” Foster told the Orient, “is that we have people on our campus working with students, spending a significant amount of time with students, and we don’t know a lot about a lot of these people.”

Gregory, who runs a Damariscotta-based law firm and is also a minister, had no qualms submitting to a background check. But for him, signing the agreement would constitute a violation of his Christian faith. So he offered a revision to the agreement that would protect his right to teach the historical Christian faith - without Bowdoin’s censorship. Similar religious exemptions have been adopted at other American colleges and universities.

The suggested amendment to the agreement read, in part, as follows: “Reservation of Rights to Religious Beliefs and Practices: The signature on this agreement shall not be construed to limit in any way the right of the undersigned Volunteer to hold, teach and practice his/her sincerely held Christian religious beliefs and to follow, hold, and teach the religious beliefs and practices of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in the conduct of its campus ministry at Bowdoin College.”

In a Feb. 5 email obtained by The Maine Wire, Nathan Hintze, associate director of student activities, rejected Gregory’s compromise language.

I’m sorry that you have decided not to agree to the College’s volunteer policy,” said Hintze. “Both the Muslim and Catholic volunteers have in fact agreed without reservation.. It is simply unacceptable to have College-recognized student organizations effectively discriminate against individuals in violation of Maine law, which protects students’ right to fully participate as members of an organization and to lead that organization regardless of one’s sexual orientation.”

The stern, unbending voice of crypto-fascism is all too prevalent in the college’s condescending comments. For Rob Gregory, as quoted in Bowdoin’s student paper, The Orient, the fundamental issue is fidelity to Scripture and to historic Christian teaching: “The Bible teaches that human sexuality is expected to find its fulfillment inside of the twoness of persons and the twoness of genders.”

For this affirmation of biblical teaching on human sexuality, the Gregorys are being forced off the Bowdoin campus.

A friend of mine, who is associated with Bowdoin, sent me the following in a confidential email:

Rob and his wife, Sim, have hosted students countless times at their homes, taken on pro bono an internationally-covered cause to help a Bowdoin student, and spent thousands of dollars to love Bowdoin students out of their love for Christ. I know this firsthand, though Rob doesn’t say this publicly at all. In short, Bowdoin could not be targeting and smearing a better man (and his wife). Rob is gospel-centered, a man of oak, and does all this work (usually 35 hours a week) when he’s not being a high-powered Maine attorney. He and his wife aren’t paid a dime for this! They serve Bowdoin’s students selflessly, and Bowdoin has the temerity to try to crush them.

The historic Judeo-Christian understanding of morally valid human sexual expression is not bigoted, intolerant, or whatever other tired terms-of-political-art its opponents use whenever their social suzerainty in our decomposing age is questioned. And if the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality is true, then there is no ground for compromise with those who insist it not be taught. There is no common ground here, which is scary for anyone who cares about liberty and justice in a self-governing society.

The Gregorys deserve our thanks for their willingness to stand unequivocally “for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:2). They are losing access to the Bowdoin campus in time, but for them, a well-deserved eternal reward awaits. Not a bad trade-off, that.

Conservatives: Keep Calm and Carry On

by Rob Schwarzwalder

February 4, 2014

It is political sport to write endlessly (and often gleefully) about perceived schisms in the two major parties. Following are but a few examples of recent such articles:

Scenes from the Republican Civil War,” Eleanor Clift, Daily Beast

The Democratic Party’s Civil War,” Jacob Heilbrunn, The National Interest

The GOP’s Growing Divide,” Eugene Robinson, Washington Post

The Emerging Democratic Divide,” Josh Kraushaar, National Journal

Republican Party seems as divided, angry as ever,” Steve Peoples, Associated Press

Angry Liberals in America,” Daniel Greenfield, The Jewish

The parallelism of these headlines is comic, but also revealing: Discord sells papers and draws viewers. And such headlines are sure to continue, because comprehensive unanimity within political parties is as likely as Harry Reid joining the National Federation of the Grand Order of Pachyderm Clubs.

Political successes almost invariably are transient, and partisan discord is inevitable. Contention and politics are intertwined, not necessarily because the contenders are obnoxious but because convictions run deep. Thus, competition becomes rigorous and “civil wars” break out.

In 1937, a persistent has-been named Winston Churchill wrote a book called, Great Contemporaries. In his chapter on Spain’s King Alfonso XIII, Churchill penned this: “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities, because, as has been said, ‘it is the quality which guarantees all others’.”

Conservatives need to remember Churchill’s admonition. We stand for principles immune to erosion and beliefs too resilient to be abandoned. Grounded in divine revelation and affirmed by our consciences, they are bequests to us not from any state or politician but from our Creator.

Political victories usually are both impermanent and incremental, but the ongoing nature of our struggle is a poor reason to walk away from it. To do so is merely to hand over the future of the country to those with an agenda we can never accept and a program we must never endorse.

Within three years of the publication of Great Contemporaries, Churchill became Britain’s Prime Minister. He was followed by the socialist Clement Attlee, and decades later by Margaret Thatcher who was succeeded a few years after her tenure by Tony Blair. Wins, losses, ups and downs. But if the struggle for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is worth anything, we must be undaunted by defeat and undeceived by victory.

Courage, in pursuit of the right and good and true, eternal things whose relevance to public policy is constant, is what counts.

The Poverty of Nations: Practical Solutions for a World in Need

by Rob Schwarzwalder

January 27, 2014

My friend Dr. Wayne Grudem, one of America’s leading theologians and a man of great compassion for those in need, has published a new op-ed in  Titled, “The Only Way for the Poor to Escape from Poverty,” the piece is a short, introductory summary of Dr. Grudem’s book, Poverty of Nations (both the book and op-ed are coauthored by economist Barry Asmus). Here is an excerpt:

The Bible’s teachings support the idea that nations must produce their own prosperity. When Israel came into the Promised Land God did not promise them perennial donations of riches from other nations, but hills filled with iron and copper (which they would have to dig and refine) and fields of vines and fig trees (which they would have to tend and harvest each year).”

Dr. Grudem gave a longer presentation of the arguments in his important book last month at the Family Research Council headquarters in Washington, D.C. You can watch it in its entirety at no charge and learn the principles that, when applied, can elevate the poor into prosperity and hope.

Likeability, Character, and Barack Obama

by Rob Schwarzwalder

January 23, 2014

A new Associated Press-GfK poll on President Obama finds that “while (President) Obama’s likeability numbers have recovered somewhat, doubts about his decisiveness and honesty persist. More than half of Americans wouldn’t describe him as decisive or honest. Fifty-two percent don’t find him particularly inspiring.”

Yikes. “Taking stock of President Barack Obama at the five-year mark in his term, less than a third of Americans consider him to be an above-average chief executive. Nearly twice as many find him likable,” the study finds.

A couple of years ago I wrote a column on likeability and politics. My comment then: “Character counts far more than likeability. A person can be winsome, charismatic, and funny, and also be a serial adulterer.” Or a chronic liar.

No president has an easy time in the Oval Office. The stresses and demands inherent in the job of being leader of the free world are enormous. On any given day, a president has to engage with a host of frequently unrelated issues.

Additionally, every president has flaws, character and managerial and philosophical. Expecting perfection or exact consistency of anyone is a standard no one can meet.

But we have a right to expect bedrock honesty and intentionality of purpose from the leader of the country. Telling falsehoods (“if you like your doctor and your health insurance, you can keep them”) and repeatedly splitting the difference on critical policy matters represent a failure of leadership.

Indecision and a lack of integrity are not character qualities we need in a President. As one’s character is capable of change, let’s hope (and, more importantly, pray) Mr. Obama will determine to be a person of honesty and wise and certain judgment in his final years in office.

Barack Obama: Public Musings, Liberal Activism

by Rob Schwarzwalder

January 20, 2014

President Obama likes to think out-loud. His public comments often sound like the musings of a graduate student in a coffee shop conversation with his peers. Here are some of his recent ruminations:

On federalism: “You can be somebody who, for very legitimate reasons, worries about the power of the federal government — that it’s distant, that it’s bureaucratic, that it’s not accountable — and as a consequence you think that more power should reside in the hands of state governments … (but) that philosophy is wrapped up in the history of states’ rights in the context of the civil-rights movement and the Civil War and (South Carolina Sen. John C.) Calhoun. There’s a pretty long history there.”

On the reasonableness of the Left: “The more left-leaning media outlets recognize that compromise is not a dirty word. And I think at least leaders like myself — and I include Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi in this — are willing to buck the more absolutist-wing elements in our party to try to get stuff done.”

On the power of repetitive rhetoric: “I’ve been in Washington long enough now to know that if once a week I’m not talking about jobs, the economy, and the middle class, then all manner of distraction fills the void.”

On U.S. foreign policy: “We remain the one indispensable nation. There’s a reason why … everybody asks what the U.S. is doing. It’s because the United States continues to be the one country that people expect can do more than just simply protect their borders. But that does not mean that we have to get involved with everything immediately. We have to think through strategically what’s going to be in our long-term national interests, even as we work cooperatively internationally.”

And so it goes: continuous qualification, judgments tempered by counter-judgments. As a conservative, I disagree with most of them (including most of those above). I am also wary of their purpose; are his public contemplations merely a mask, something he uses to hide his dogmatic liberal opinions? And given that he governs from the Left so consistently, is it not fair to question whether such musings matter, or if his appearance of empathetic understanding is really a mere pose?

Nuance only matters so much. Understanding both sides, or suggesting that you do, might lower the political heat a bit, which can be beneficial. But at some point, anyone in leadership has to decide. He or she has to come down on one side or another. And Mr. Obama always governs to the Left.