Georgetown professor and host of CNN’s “Crossfire” Paul Begala spoke about the religious influence on his politics to a crowd of about 60 people in ICC auditorium on Wednesday. The address was one of several events planned for Jesuit Heritage Week.

Begala was also presented with a plaque of St. Ignatius of Loyola by Jesuit Heritage Week Committee chairperson J.P. Hornbeck (COL ’03).

Begala gained fame after his firm Carville & Begala helped put former President William Jefferson Clinton (SFS ’68) in the White House in 1992. He served as an adviser to Clinton before joining the Georgetown University faculty as a research professor of government and public policy.

Defining himself as a “religious progressive,” Begala expressed concern that the religious right is much more active and audible than the religious progressives. The latter position usually coincides with a liberal view of politics.

He further noted that the liberal movement has become too secular, stating that one low point he experienced was when fellow liberals protested former Penn. Governor Robert Casey (D-Penn.) for his pro-life sympathies and strong religious background.

Begala then traced back the rise of religion in politics, beginning with the presidential election of 1980 when Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson spoke in favor of Ronald Reagan, bringing Protestant Evangelicals into the mainstream. He admitted that the left too often answers these people with unfair judgment and advocated that progressives should instead provide religious justification for their own views.

Recalling his childhood as a Catholic, Begala said he gained exposure to and respect for Protestant Evangelicals and scriptures as a student at a Protestant school. He related an anecdote of two Jewish students in his school who used to go out into the hallway as the principal came over the loudspeaker in the morning to lead the student body in prayer.

“These students were ostracized and literally taken out of the community as a result of forced prayer . I don’t need someone telling my children the right prayer,” he said. “[My] faith drew [me] toward expression in political liberalism.”

Begala then expressed concern over how President George W. Bush recently made a speech to a Boys and Girls Club, calling the children “little beacons of light,” and then proceeded to cut the total budget by $10 million. “How can they be `beacons of light’ if you are cutting off their electricity?” Begala said.

He further criticized Bush for his history regarding capital punishment. He recounted a 1999 interview between Bush and conservative writer Tucker Carlson where Bush was asked about a death row inmate whose lawyer had slept through her trial and Bush proceeded to laugh and mock her. Begala then cited religious scripture in which Jesus stopped a case of capital punishment.

In regard to his views on taxes, Begala referred to the 22nd chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, where the Pharisees asked Jesus if it was lawful to pay taxes or not. In this situation, Jesus said to look at the money and to give it to Caesar, since he was on the currency. “Basically, they were asking Jesus to lead a revolt against taxes, and he said just shut up and pay your taxes,” Begala said.

He further defended his view of having wealthy people paying higher taxes as a doctrine of Jesus, referring to a passage from the Gospel of St. Luke, stating, “to whom much has been given much is required.”

Citing a passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew, Begala stated that where one puts his or her treasure is where one’s heart is as well. He then referred to Bush’s budget, with “tax cuts for the rich” as well as the cutting of pensions and “flexibility for governors to cut Medicare and HeadStart.”We can’t know where Bush’s heart is but we certainly can see where the treasure is,” Begala said.

He also maintained that redirecting tax money of the top one percent of the population to the lowest one percent would have much more impact in life or death situations for the lowest percent and would have virtually no effect on the highest.

Begala then addressed the absurdity of Bush’s campaign to end affirmative action as he got into Yale by way of affirmative action. “Why should poor blacks and Hispanics not be permitted when non-studying, heavy-drinking Bush is?” Begala said.

With regard to abortion, Begala said that he does not like when fellow Catholics reduce all sanctity of life issues to simply the abortion issue. “What about the injustices in the death penalty, health care and lack of housing . Why have people never chastised a Catholic politician for supporting the death penalty or war?” Begala said.

Recalling former president John F. Kennedy’s hurdle of convincing people that he would not take orders from the Pope, he said that it would be a mistake to tell all Catholic politicians to vote in a certain way.

Begala criticized Republican candidates for using Protestants and anti-abortion rights advocates simply to get votes, and giving them nothing in return except judges, simply because the anti-abortion rights position is unpopular. He further noted that at least Democrats who get support for opposing abortion rights make strides to support those rights groups despite any effect on popularity.

On the issue of the judiciary, Begala said that Democrats and Republicans should be honest about using the abortion issue as a litmus test for judge nominations.

During the question and answer session, Begala said that in order for the Democrats to once again achieve unity, they first need an external opponent. This character is found in President Bush. Second, they need a candidate for president, which they will eventually have. He candidly stated that there are too many leftists against religion for it to be a uniting factor among the party.

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