February 8, 2012

Why the Obama Administration’s Contraceptive Rule Is Twice Wrong

White House spokesman Jay Carney defends
the new HHS rule:"The President concurs in the
decision" (January 31, 2012)
In his column today, David Brooks—a political and cultural commentator for the New York Times who considers himself a moderate, not a conservative, despite what the NYT thinks of him—criticizes the Obama Administration’s Contraceptive Rule (see my previous post). Yet, unlike Conservatives, what he is concerned with are not the limits on government power established by the U.S. Constitution, but rather with more practical aspects.

“Every once in a while,” he writes, “the Obama administration will promulgate a policy that is truly demoralizing.” A willingness to end the District of Columbia school voucher program was such one case. And this is the case of the above mentioned rule, too. “These decisions,” he says, “are demoralizing because they make it harder to conduct a serious antipoverty policy.” Let’s follow his reasoning. There are a million factors that contribute to poverty (economic, historical, familial, social, etc), and they interact in a zillion ways. This “complex system of negative feedback loops” requires “an equally complex and diverse set of positive feedback loops.” In short , we need “to change the whole ecosystem:”

You have to flood the zone with as many good programs as you can find and fund and hope that somehow they will interact and reinforce each other community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood.
The key to this flood-the-zone approach is that you have to allow for maximum possible diversity. Let’s say there is a 14-year-old girl who, for perfectly understandable reasons, wants to experience the love and sense of purpose that go with motherhood, rather than stay in school in the hopes of someday earning a middle-class wage.
You have no idea what factors have caused her to make this decision, and you have no way of knowing what will dissuade her. But you want her, from morning until night, to be enveloped by a thick ecosystem of positive influences. You want lefty social justice groups, righty evangelical groups, Muslim groups, sports clubs, government social workers, Boys and Girls Clubs and a hundred other diverse institutions. If you surround her with a different culture and a web of relationships, maybe she will absorb new habits of thought, find a sense of belonging and change her path.
To build this thick ecosystem, you have to include religious institutions and you have to give them broad leeway. Religious faith is quirky, and doesn’t always conform to contemporary norms. But faith motivates people to serve. Faith turns lives around. You want to do everything possible to give these faithful servants room and support so they can improve the spiritual, economic and social ecology in poor neighborhoods.
The administration’s policies on school vouchers and religious service providers are demoralizing because they weaken this ecology by reducing its diversity. By ending vouchers, the administration reduced the social intercourse between neighborhoods. By coercing the religious charities, it is teaching the faithful to distrust government, to segregate themselves from bureaucratic overreach, to pull inward.
I wish President Obama would escape from the technocratic rationalism that sometimes infects his administration.

Well, it is also my firm belief that, as Wesley J. Smith argues, “even if this rule helped the hypothetical 14-year-old, it would be wrong,” but the reasoning seems pretty sound to me. Let’s put this way: The decision to force Catholic social service providers to support contraception and other practices that violate their creed is (at least) twice wrong.