Phil Lawler

Televised presidential debates have harmed America

Phil Lawler
By Phil Lawler
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October 23, 2012 (CatholicCulture.org) - Not many American voters changed their minds as a result of last night’s presidential debate, I feel sure. Voters who favored Barack Obama before the debate generally felt that the President had the better of the discussion; those who favored Mitt Romney thought he was the winner.

But then, neither candidate was really trying to change minds. Both Obama and Romney were clearly concentrating their attention on those who have not yet made up their minds: those elusive “undecided” voters. Campaign advisers essentially conceded that both candidates were posturing rather than arguing; they were more concerned about conveying a public image than explaining a public policy.

So President Obama did his best to make Romney appear uninformed and reckless on questions of foreign policy. Romney, meanwhile, strove to appear calm and authoritative: to project a “presidential” image. Each candidate had obviously polished his talking points, memorized a few one-liners, and even rehearsed a set expression to assume when his rival was talking. I cannot say with any certainty which candidate “won” the debate, but I can say that image took precedence over reality, and style won over substance.

What does it mean, anyway, to “win” a debate in which both participants are perfectly willing to sacrifice a good argument for the sake of appearances? If this had been a true debate, the candidates would have practiced winning arguments rather than winning smiles. As a student I was a competitive debater; later I coached debate teams and judged contests. Let me tell you, folks: What I saw last night was not a debate.

During televised presidential debates, the organizers usually take time to remind us that the “exchange of ideas” is the essence of the contest. Do you believe that? I’m reminded of the beauty contests in which trim young women strut around a stage wearing bikinis and high heels, we’re told by the contest organizers that this exercise helps the contestants to demonstrate their “poise.” Let’s be honest. We’re not really evaluating the women’s poise, and we’re not really comparing the candidates’ ideas, either.

Last night’s debate, which was (theoretically, at least) devoted to foreign policy, promised some fireworks. In their last previous encounter, Obama and Romney had a heated clash about the assault on an American consulate in Benghazi. Everyone expected a renewal of that dispute. But both candidates tacked carefully around the issue. Why? It is understandable that President Obama did not want to talk about the slaughter in Libya; the topic is embarrassing to him. But why did Governor Romney drop the argument? Apparently because he did not want to appear combative; if he pressed the question aggressively, that might interfere with his overriding determination to appear cool, controlled, and “presidential.”

For similar reasons, no doubt, both Obama and Romney avoided comment on the looming collapse of the European Union: a development with enormous implications for American foreign policy. Both men accepted the highly dubious proposition that the government of Afghanistan will be prepared to defend itself without American troops within a matter of months. Neither candidate spoke at any length about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

In a column for The Catholic Thing, Hadley Arkes laments that on domestic questions, too, the presidential campaigns have steered around the contentious issues of abortion and same-sex marriage. Informed voters know where the candidates stand on these issues, but they do not hear the issues debated.

An exchange of ideas? The Lincoln-Douglas debates were an exchange of ideas. In today’s political contests we have come instead to expect an exchange of barbs. Campaign advisers are not even hoping that their candidate’s logical clarity will carry the day; they are hoping to snare their opponent in a gaffe or a “gotcha” moment. Televised presidential debates have become another form of “infotainment.”

And sadly we, the voters, accept it. We don’t demand that presidential candidates address their policy differences forthrightly. We are content with a candidate who supports our favored causes, even if he wants to keep quiet about them. Since 1960, when a bad shave on debate night might have cost Richard Nixon the presidency, televised debates have contributed mightily to the dumbing down of American political discourse.

More than 200 years ago, the Federalist Papers set forth the basic principles of constitutional government with extraordinary candor and in remarkable depth. Today’s presidential candidates evidently don’t believe that the American public is prepared to grapple with such sophisticated arguments in the early 21st century. But why not? Last night President Obama kept suggesting that America’s problems—even foreign-policy problems—could be resolved by hiring more teachers. Yet the Federalist essays were written for a reading audience of American voters who had only a few years of formal schooling. The real problem is that we Americans are no longer willing to ask the fundamental questions about the future of our country, nor are our political leaders willing to answer them.

This article reprinted with permission from CatholicCulture.org


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Quebec groups launch court challenge to euthanasia bill

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By LifeSiteNews staff

As announced when the Quebec legislature adopted Bill 52, An Act respecting end-of-life care, the citizen movement Living with Dignity and the Physicians’ Alliance against Euthanasia, representing together over 650 physicians and 17,000 citizens, filed a lawsuit before the Superior Court of Quebec in the District of Montreal on Thursday.

The lawsuit requests that the Court declare invalid all the provisions of the Act that deal with “medical aid in dying”, a term the groups say is a euphemism for euthanasia. This Act not only allows certain patients to demand that a physician provoke their death, but also grants physicians the right to cause the death of these patients by the administration of a lethal substance.

The two organizations are challenging the constitutionality of those provisions in the Act which are aimed at decriminalizing euthanasia under the euphemism “medical aid in dying”. Euthanasia constitutes a culpable homicide under Canada’s Criminal Code, and the organizations maintain that it is at the core of the exclusive federal legislative power in relation to criminal law and Quebec therefore does not have the power to adopt these provisions.

The organizations also say the impugned provisions unjustifiably infringe the rights to life and to security of patients guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. They further infringe the right to the safeguard of the dignity of the person, which is also protected by the Quebec Charter.

In view of the gravity of the situation and the urgent need to protect all vulnerable persons in Quebec, they are requesting an accelerated management of the case in order to obtain a judgment before the Act is expected to come into force on December 10, 2015.


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Colorado baker appeals gvmt ‘re-education’ order

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By LifeSiteNews staff

A Colorado cake artist who declined to use his creative talents to promote and endorse a same-sex ceremony appealed a May 30 order from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to the Colorado Court of Appeals Wednesday.

The commission’s order requires cake artist Jack Phillips and his staff at Masterpiece Cakeshop to create cakes for same-sex celebrations, forces him to re-educate his staff that Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act means that artists must endorse all views, compels him to implement new policies to comply with the commission’s order, and requires him to file quarterly “compliance” reports for two years. The reports must include the number of patrons declined a wedding cake or any other product and state the reason for doing so to ensure he has fully eliminated his religious beliefs from his business.

“Americans should not be forced by the government – or by another citizen – to endorse or promote ideas with which they disagree,” said the cake artist’s lead counsel Nicolle Martin, an attorney allied with Alliance Defending Freedom. “This is not about the people who asked for a cake; it’s about the message the cake communicates. Just as Jack doesn’t create baked works of art for other events with which he disagrees, he doesn’t create cake art for same-sex ceremonies regardless of who walks in the door to place the order.”

“In America, we don’t force artists to create expression that is contrary to their convictions,” added Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “A paint artist who identifies as homosexual shouldn’t be intimidated into creating a painting that celebrates one-man, one-woman marriage. A pro-life photographer shouldn’t be forced to work a pro-abortion rally. And Christian cake artists shouldn’t be punished for declining to participate in a same-sex ceremony or promote its message.”

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In July 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins asked Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, to make a wedding cake to celebrate their same-sex ceremony. In an exchange lasting about 30 seconds, Phillips politely declined, explaining that he would gladly make them any other type of baked item they wanted but that he could not make a cake promoting a same-sex ceremony because of his faith. Craig and Mullins, now represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, immediately left the shop and later filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division. The case now goes to the Colorado Court of Appeals as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Craig.

“Jack, and other cake artists like him – such as those seen on TV shows like ‘Ace of Cakes’ and ‘Cake Boss’ – prepare unique creations that are inherently expressive,” Tedesco explained. “Jack invests many hours in the wedding cake creative process, which includes meeting the clients, designing and sketching the cake, and then baking, sculpting, and decorating it. The ACLU calls Jack a mere ‘retail service provider,’ but, in fact, he is an artist who uses his talents and abilities to create expression that the First Amendment fully protects."

Celebrity cake artists have written publicly about their art and the significant expressive work that goes into the artistic design process for wedding cakes.


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Prisoner of conscience Mary Wagner appeals her conviction

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By Tony Gosgnach

TORONTO -- As promised, Mary Wagner has, through her counsel Dr. Charles Lugosi, filed a formal notice of appeal on numerous points regarding her recent, almost two-year-long court case that ended on June 12.

Justice Fergus O’Donnell of the Ontario Court of Justice rejected every application made by the defence – including for access to abortion center records, public funding, standing for a constitutional challenge and for expert witnesses to be heard – before he found Wagner guilty and sentenced her to five months in jail on a charge of mischief and four months on four counts of failing to comply with probation orders.

He further levied two years of probation, with terms that she stay at least 100 metres away from any abortion site. However, because Wagner had spent a greater time in jail than the sentence, she was freed immediately. She had been arrested at the “Women’s Care Clinic” abortion site on Lawrence Avenue West in Toronto on August 15, 2012 after attempting to speak to abortion-bound women there. She then spent the duration of the trial in prison for refusing to sign bail conditions requiring her to stay away from abortion sites.

Wagner is using the matter as a test case to challenge the current definition of a human being in Canadian law – that is, that a human being is legally recognized as such only after he or she has fully emerged from the birth canal in a breathing state.

Wagner’s notice states the appeal is regarding:

  • Her conviction and sentence on a single count of mischief (interference with property),
  • Her conviction and sentence on four counts of breach of probation,
  • The order denying public funding,
  • The order denying the disclosure of third-party records,
  • The order denying the admission of evidence from experts on the applicant’s constitutional challenge concerning the constitutional validity of Section 223 of the Criminal Code,
  • The order denying the admission of evidence from experts concerning the construction of Section 37 of the Criminal Code,
  • The probation order denying Wagner her constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion on all public sidewalks and public areas within 100 metres of places where abortions are committed,
  • And each conviction and sentence and all orders and rulings made by O’Donnell.

In the notice of appeal, Lugosi cites numerous points on which O’Donnell erred:

  • He denied Wagner her constitutional right to make full answer and defence.
  • He denied Wagner her right to rely on Section 37 of the Criminal Code, which permits “everyone” to come to the third-party defence and rescue of any human being (in this case, the preborn) facing imminent assault.
  • He decided the factual basis of Wagner’s constitutional arguments was a waste of the court’s time and that no purpose would have been served by having an evidentiary hearing on her Charter application because, in the current state of Canadian law, it had no possibility of success.
  • He misapplied case law and prejudged the case, “giving rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias and impeding the legal evolution of the law to adapt to new circumstances, knowledge and changed societal values and morals.”
  • He accepted the Crown’s submission that it is beyond the jurisdiction of the courts to question the jurisdiction of Parliament legally to define “human being” in any manner Parliament sees fit.
  • He ruled Section 223 of the Criminal Code is not beyond the powers of Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
  • He ruled Section 223 of the Criminal Code does not violate the Preamble to, as well as Sections 7, 11(d), 15 and 26, of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  • He denied Wagner standing to raise a constitutional challenge to the validity of Section 223 of the Criminal Code.
  • He ruled that Section 223 of the Criminal Code applied generally throughout the entire Criminal Code and used it to deny unborn human beings the benefit of equal protection as born human beings under Section 37 of the Criminal Code.
  • He denied the production and disclosure of third-party records in the possession of the “Women’s Care Clinic” abortion site, although the records were required to prove Wagner was justified in using reasonable force in the form of oral and written words to try to persuade pregnant mothers from killing their unborn children by abortion.
  • He denied Wagner the defence of Section 37 of the Criminal Code by ruling unborn children did not come within the scope of human beings eligible to be protected by a third party.
  • He ruled Wagner did not come within the scope of Section 37 because she was found to be non-violent (in that she did not use physical force).
  • He ruled the unborn children Wagner was trying to rescue were not under her protection.
  • He denied Wagner the common-law defences of necessity and the rescue of third parties in need of protection.
  • He denied Wagner public funding to make full answer and defence for a constitutional test case of great public importance and national significance.
  • He imposed an unconstitutional sentence upon Wagner by, in effect, imposing an injunction as a condition of probation, contrary to her constitutional rights of free speech, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.

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Among the orders Lugosi is seeking are:

  • That an appeal be allowed against conviction on all counts and that a verdict of acquittal be entered on all counts,
  • That Section 223 of the Criminal Code be found unconstitutional  and contrary to Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982, as well as the unwritten constitution of Canada,
  • That the sentence be declared unconstitutional and contrary to Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and the unwritten constitution of Canada or that a new trial be conducted, with Wagner permitted to make full answer and defence, be given standing to make a constitutional attack on Section 223 of the Criminal Code, with the admission of expert witnesses,
  • That the Women’s Care Clinic abortion site be made to produce third-party records pertaining to patients seen on August 15, 2012 (when Wagner entered the site),
  • And that there be public funding for two defence counsels at any retrial and for any appeal related to the case.

No date has yet been established for a decision on the appeal or hearings.

A defence fund for Wagner’s case is still raising money. Details on how to contribute to it can be found here.


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