Friday, August 24, 2012

What is a Catholic Voter to Do?

It is ironic that in the 2012 election there are two Catholic Vice Presidential candidates and no good options for Catholic voters. The Washington Post writes:
While Catholics don’t vote as a bloc, they comprise about one-quarter of the electorate and the candidate who wins Catholic voters usually wins the White House. Obama won the total Catholic vote in 2008, 54 percent to 45 percent, but lost white Catholics, 52 percent to 47 percent.

So far this year, neither Obama nor Romney has established a consistent lead among Catholic voters. 
That is not surprising, given that neither platform is morally or intellectually satisfying. An article in Mother Jones gets at part of the issue:
When the US Conference of Catholic Bishops declared war on the Obama administration on religious freedom grounds, the GOP was right there with them. Republicans cited the bishops' complaints as they blasted the administration's contraception mandate in health care reform, and gave the bishops a prominent platform on the Hill to air their grievances...

In September, the bishops lost a $19 million contract to provide services to trafficking victims after refusing to make accommodations so that their clients could have access to a full range of reproductive health services...The lost contract was just one more piece of evidence the bishops invoked to prove that the Obama administration discriminates against religious groups and follows an "ABC—anybody but Catholics" policy, and House Republicans were happy to parrot that charge as well...

But even as GOPers have been piggybacking on the [US Conference of Catholic Bishops'] USCCB's skirmish with the White House, they seem to have forgotten that the Catholic organization is hardly a Republican proxy. Even though they may align with Republicans on contraception, abortion, and gay rights, the bishops have traditionally been much more in sync with the Democrats. The bishops supported the nuclear freeze movement during the Reagan era, have consistently opposed the death penalty, and backed comprehensive immigration reform.

Despite some GOP claims that the Pope himself has said that the national debt is a moral hazard, the party leaders seem to have missed the part where the church has said that debt is bad because it hurts the poor. USCCB has been a leading advocate for debt relief in Third World countries because the bishops believe debt has to be relieved in a way to help the poor, not simply to placate bankers and rich people.

So Republicans seemed a little taken aback, when [the USCCB] took aim at the GOP for backing draconian cuts to government programs for the poor. The source of the controversy dates back to a an interview House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) gave to the Christian Broadcasting Network earlier this month, in which he suggested that his Catholic faith had inspired him to draft a budget that takes an axe to social welfare programs...

In response to these comments, as well the broader Ryan budget, the bishops have sent a series of letters to House GOP leaders criticizing the plan for the dire impact it would have on the poor and disadvantaged. Contrary to Ryan's insistence that the budget is in keeping with Catholic tenets, the bishops insist that many of the budget choices are actually immoral.

Now that the bishops are taking on the House leadership, top GOP lawmakers, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), have suddenly decided that the USCCB doesn't really represent the church or all its bishops, and thus, they are free to ignore it. "These are not all the Catholic bishops, and we just respectfully disagree," Ryan told Fox News last week. The argument didn't fly so well with the USCCB, which shot back in The Hill that the group does, in fact, represent all the bishops.
Last year I wrote a post on Papal Economic Teachings. It is interesting to see what Pope Pius wrote during the Great Depression, critiquing communism, unrestrained capitalism, class conflict, and inequalities. The current Pope, Pope Benedict XVI, also has applicable writing for the current electorate, such as:
Economic activity cannot solve all social problems through the simple application of commercial logic. This needs to be directed towards the pursuit of the common good, for which the political community in particular must also take responsibility. Therefore, it must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution.
The Catholic economic teachings and social teachings are based on the same principles: here is a good link to the major themes of Catholic social teachings. They are inextricably bound together, and together form a coherent vision: At the most fundamental level, "the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. This belief is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching." It is an unfortunate coordination problem, that even though Catholics are one quarter of the electorate, no party gives us a good option.

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