Catholic and Conservative:
A Conversation with
Ponnuru is a senior editor for National
Review, the venerable magazine of conservative politics founded
by William F. Buckley, Jr., in 1955.
Ponnuru grew up in Kansas City and graduated summa cum laude from
Princetons history department. He has published articles in numerous
newspapers including the New York Times, the Washington Post,
the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, Newsday, and
the New York Post. He has also written for First Things, Policy
Review, The Weekly Standard, The New Republic, Reason, and other publications.
He is a regular guest on television programs, including CNNs "Inside
Politics," NBCs "The McLaughlin Group," MSNBCs
"Buchanan & Press" and "Donahue," CNBCs "Kudlow
& Cramer," PBSs "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,"
CSPANs "Washington Journal," Comedy Centrals "Politically
Incorrect," Fox News, and NPRs "Morning Edition."
Ponnuru lives in Washington D.C. with his wife April, a policy adviser to
the Majority Whip in the U.S. House of Representatives.
IgnatiusInsight.com spoke with Ponnuru about his recent conversion to Catholicism,
the current state of politics in the United States, and the upcoming presidential
IgnatiusInsight.com: You recently entered the Catholic Church. What was
your religious background and what led you to become Catholic? Were you
surprised by anything as you journeyed toward becoming Catholic?
Ponnuru: My father is Hindu, my mother Lutheran. I was raised without
much religious instruction, except that of example. The process by which
the Church drew me to her was long. It would be presumptuous for me to say
that I myself entirely understood how the Holy Spirit worked here. To summarize
the intellectual aspect of the process: I first came to see that many of
the virtues the Church inculcates were good for people, and then to see
that they were good for people because this was the way we were meant to
live--and so forth until I saw that I now believed the Churchs claims
for itself to be true.
IgnatiusInsight.com: Youve been a senior editor for National
Review for several years. Have you always been politically conservative?
Who or what had the most influence in shaping and informing your political
Ponnuru: When I first became interested in politics, in high school,
I tended toward liberalism. But I was cured of that well before I became
an adult. Richard Nadler, who gave me my start as a columnist for a conservative
newspaper in Kansas City, was a great influence on me. So was my reading
of The Economist, National Review, and various books about the Vietnam
IgnatiusInsight.com: The tension between Church and state seems to be intensifying,
especially when one considers both older issues (abortion), more recent
issues (euthanasia), and current ones ("gay marriage," stem-cell
research). In your opinion, what are some effective ways for Catholics to
be involved in the political realm and make a difference in these important
Ponnuru: Catholics should become informed about these issues, about
Church teaching on them, and about the best arguments on both sides. And
they should be able, e.g., to explain why opposition to the intentional
destruction of innocent human life is binding on the consciences of all--including
IgnatiusInsight.com: What other areas of tension or conflict are coming
up on the horizon that people might not yet be aware of?
Ponnuru: It is possible that in years to come we are going to have
to grapple with polygamy, the ethics of cloning-to-create-babies, and age-of-consent
laws regarding sexual activity.
IgnatiusInsight.com: Do you think that "gay marriage" will
be largely accepted in Western society in, say, ten years? Why or why not?
Ponnuru: I suspect so, for many reasons. A belief in the biological
givenness, and immutability, of homosexuality; a privatized understanding
of marriage; an instrumentalized view of the purpose of sexual activity;
a desire not to persecute or even offend homosexuals; hostility to governmental
attempts to promote morality: All of these are very widespread (in some
cases, as in the desire not to persecute, rightly so).
IgnatiusInsight.com: Youve written several articles on stem-cell
research. What misconceptions do many Americans have about stem-cell research
and what do you think the future holds for stem-cell research?
Ponnuru: Immortality is popular, and suffering rather less so. So
long as research is believed to promise to reduce suffering and prolong
life, many people are going to find that prospect more compelling than adherence
to moral norms they dimly understand. So we may be dealing with this and
similar issues for a long time to come.
There are more misconceptions than facts in this debate. In the second presidential
debate, John Kerry made it sound as though there were hundreds of thousands
of human embryos available for research if only the federal government would
fund it. This does not appear to be true. A recent study suggests that most
of the frozen embryos have been deliberately frozen by their parents, who
have chosen not to exercise the option, which they are usually given, to
destroy those embryos or to donate them to research. Either because they
want to be able to use those embryos in future pregnancies or because they
cant bear the thought of destroying them, they are paying to keep
them stored. Kerry would have to seize them over their parents wishes
if he wanted to use them for federally funded research.
IgnatiusInsight.com: You recently wrote that President Bush, in his speech
at the Republican National Convention, " proposed a practical plan
to end American liberalism." How so?
Ponnuru: We are living in a time of economic transition to what has
often been called a post-industrial society. Liberalism exploits the insecurities
that attend that transition. The welfare state will provide people with
security. In his convention speech, Bush offered an alternative: the security
of ownership. That concept has great promise with regard to both health
care and retirement.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What do you think are President Bushs biggest
Ponnuru: Bushs instincts, and especially his moral instincts,
are good. But his administration has been secretive, unwilling or unable
to communicate its thoughts, stubborn on some points and unimaginative on
IgnatiusInsight.com: What do you think are Senator John Kerrys
biggest strengths? Weaknesses?
Ponnuru: Kerry is an intelligent man who seems to have given some
thought to the challenges facing the United States and how to address them.
But his moral vanity is hard to overlook, and his views on abortion and
embryonic human beings license barbarism.
IgnatiusInsight.com: Care to make a prediction about the presidential
Ponnuru: Bush wins, with the first absolute majority any presidential
candidate has received since his father got one sixteen years ago.
Recent Articles by Ramesh Ponnuru
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