Politics & Policy

The Pope, the Palins, and the Pursuit of True Happiness

At Heart, a common good.

Sex sells and the pope knows it. And so he saw the condom media frenzy coming. In his book-length interview with journalist Peter Seewald, Light of the World, Benedict XVI writes about a “sheer fixation on the condom” that “implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love.” He explains that “the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.”

Pope Benedict, of course, did not invent this for a new book. For the sake of the whole of man’s being, Pope Paul VI spoke this healthy view of sexuality against the sexual revolution’s power in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae. He saw the dangers for man and woman and children and the institution of marriage afoot. He saw the poison the Pill could inflict on society, introducing a false sense of liberation from natural law and human nature.

In a book released the same day as the papal one, Sarah Palin hits similar notes in a candidly personal way. She continues, in a sense, where Pres. George W. Bush left off in his book Decision Points, where he cites Hurricane Katrina as a dark point during his years in the White House. And she does it with a little help from one James Danforth Quayle. In America by Heart, Palin writes, “It was the mid-1960s before divorce and single motherhood really began to take off in the United States. And it was another twenty years before the country really began to feel the effects of the decline of the family in rising crime rates, drug abuse, and long-term welfare dependency.”

From here she went straight to Katrina and the “horrific images” we all saw in New Orleans in the late summer of 2005. It wasn’t just government incompetence to blame. As Palin writes, “Hurricane Katrina revealed something other than government incompetence. It revealed a population of Americans dependent on government and incapacitated by the destruction of the American family. The victims of Hurricane Katrina we saw huddled at the Superdome were overwhelmingly poor and minority.”

Kanye West may have called President Bush a racist, but, as Palin writes, “that knee-jerk reaction overlooked a few relevant and alarming facts. In a nation in which an astonishing 70 percent of African American babies were being born to single women in 2004, fatherlessness among poor African Americans in New Orleans was estimated at between 60 and 80 percent.” She adds that New Orleans’s murder rate was quadruple the average for similar-sized cities the year before the hurricane.

These were exactly the issues Vice President Quayle highlighted in his famous Murphy Brown speech, as Palin points out, calling his speech “prophetic.” In her 2007 book Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age, Kay Hymowitz focused on exactly what Palin is highlighting. While there was a brief “revived national interest in poverty, particularly black poverty,” Hymowitz noted around the time of the release of her book, it was missing a discussion of marriage. “Even the lowest income couples are better off than their single peers, with fewer spells of hardship and more help from extended family. This is not just because marriage brings the benefits of two incomes and two sets of hands. Saving and making money are in the DNA of American marriage, and have been since the first Englishmen arrived,” she told me.

It may have something to do with the genetics of marriage itself. As Paul VI wrote in the summer of ’68: “Conjugal love . . . is total [pleno]; that is, it is a very special form of personal friendship whereby the spouses generously share everything with each other without undue reservations and without concern for their selfish convenience. One who truly loves his spouse not only loves her for what he receives from her but also for her own sake. This he does joyfully, as he enriches [his beloved] with the gift of himself.”

Wisely, Palin slams the tyranny of relativism in the matter of relationships. “When it comes to raising good citizens, all ‘lifestyle choices’ are not equal,” she writes. And she does so with a self-awareness, as the mother of an unwed teenage mother who was unfortunate enough to have to live her pregnancy on national TV but fortunate enough to have a supportive family and rare opportunities. The former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate writes: “We’ve welcomed Bristol’s son Tripp into our lives with open arms. He is beautiful, and things are working out. But Bristol has paid a price — a high price. Her adolescence ended long before it should have . . . and she’s making sure other girls know it. That’s why she’s out there, speaking up about her experience and telling other young girls, ‘Don’t do what I did.’”

Or, translating for the boys of New Orleans, I’ll quote Bill Cosby: “We have to make it ‘cool’ not to become a father until you’re ready to become a father.”

We live in a fallen world, but one that’s never irrevocably severed from the good. The conversation with Pope Benedict was specifically sparked by the issue of AIDS in Africa. Africans, poor black New Orleanians, and your teenage daughter and son all deserve a chance at the full “humanization of sexuality” — a healthy, holistic view of sex and love. A condom’s not a key to true happiness; it can be a barrier. Ditto the government. Education and encouragement and love are true game changers. And, as Dan Quayle pointed out years ago, lives depend on it. When we stop ridiculing and dismissing and misrepresenting the prophets and teachers and other voices of common sense, we might just get somewhere.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. She can be reached at klopez@nationalreview.com. This column is available exclusively through United Media. For permission to reprint or excerpt this copyrighted material, please contact Carmen Puello.

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