Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Catholic ≠ Democrat, Republican or Libertarian

Would he were alive ... and American ....
One of the things that frustrates me about the American two-party system is that there’s no viable third party a Catholic can join without rationalizing the odd platform plank or five that a Catholic should at least have some qualms with, if not outright oppose.  But this is equally true of the two major parties as well. 

So during every presidential election cycle, you have to wade through scads of blog posts and comments in which the author attempts to square support of (Mostly Protestant) Party X with Catholic social and moral teachings … usually to the detriment of Catholicism.  It’s one thing to rationalize support of Candidate N, who holds positions in conflict with Catholic teaching, in order to promote other good policies that aren’t in conflict.  As well, we do have to recognize that, within the teachings of Catholic social justice, there’s some room for prudential judgment as to which policies would better serve social justice.

But it’s another when support of Candidate N becomes not just a matter of being a “leftist”, “right-wing reactionary”, “pinko commie” or “fascist” but also prima faciae evidence of heresy. 

In this blog, I’ve taken progressive Catholics to task for reading the progressivist agenda into Catholic teaching, for blatantly ignoring or openly deriding irreformable doctrines and creating a “good Church/bad Church” paradigm for rationalizing disobedience and disrespect for the Church’s magisterium.  But if it’s wrong for liberals to make the Church a party organ, it’s wrong for conservatives and libertarians as well, as my friend Julie Robison said about another issue.  Sauce for the goose, Mr. Saavik.

The War on Terror
One of the ironies of this presidential election cycle is that, in terms of the War on Terror, there’s actually very little to distinguish between the various Republican candidates and the Democrat incumbent: almost all of them seem willing to sacrifice Constitutional liberties and moral warfare for the sake of religious rights and economic de-regulation … including my own choice, Rick Santorum.  The only exception is Ron Paul, and as Simcha Fisher put it, “Every good idea he has brings a brain damaged twin along with it.”  (In fact, Paul doesn’t scare me as much as some of his disciples do.)

On the other side of the fence, to defend key progressive agenda items — abortion and gay rights — Democrats are willing to back an incumbent who has betrayed over forty years of cherished party principles.  As Glenn Greenwald (himself a liberal) so trenchantly observes, “Progressives like to think of themselves as the faction that stands for peace, opposes wars, believes in due process and civil liberties, distrusts the military-industrial complex, supports candidates who are devoted to individual rights, transparency and economic equality.  … [The] leader progressives have empowered and will empower again has worked in direct opposition to those values and engaged in conduct that is nothing short of horrific.  So there is an eagerness to avoid hearing about them, to pretend they don’t exist.”

Economic policy
Speaking of Pres. Obama’s betrayal of long-standing Democrat principles, shall we talk about the billions of dollars of corporate welfare thrown at various “too big to fail” companies with little in terms of oversight or accountability?  Here’s one scathing indictment by Greenwald: “He has empowered thieving bankers through the Wall Street bailout, Fed secrecy, efforts to shield mortgage defrauders from prosecution, and the appointment of an endless roster of former Goldman, Sachs executives and lobbyists.”  Twenty years ago, had George H. Bush distributed government largesse with such abandon and so little effect, Democrats would have called for his impeachment; as it was, Bill Clinton was able to defeat him only with the help of Ross Perot’s quixotic candidacy.

But what’s the Republican response?  De-regulation, reduction of income taxes and reduction of entitlements.  First, the policy of “starving the dragon” has only led the dragon to eat Chinese money.  Second, we have all those “burdensome” regulations, as I’ve pointed out in a post on Catholic Bandita, because businessmen have overwhelming financial incentives to not regulate themselves; their self-interests are rarely if ever enlightened.  Third, with all due respect to the principle of subsidiarity, I have yet to see a credible explanation of how the private-charity sector will suddenly grow large enough to replace the billions of entitlement funds to be (theoretically) cut … but I guess that’s the welfare moms’ problem, right?  (The most infuriating comment I’ve seen advocating this position said, “Let’s face it, the war on poverty is lost” … a pseudo-Christian defeatism as indefensible as the most outrageous Randian diatribe about the undeserving poor.)

Health care
It doesn’t matter whether you say “Obamacare” or “Romneycare”, you’re still talking about a system that does no more than put a Band-Aid on a cancer lesion … and government funds in corporate pockets.  And that’s without the increased federal funding of what’s laughably called “women’s health care”, considering the health risks of both abortion and contraceptive pills.  Neither Democrats nor Republicans are facing up to the massive challenges that making healthcare affordable would really entail.  But while I don’t buy Dr. Bill Oddie’s argument that a British-style National Health plan isn’t to be compared to Soviet-style socialized medicine, a so-called “market solution” pulling federal funds out of health care would be functionally an agreement to let the health-care system run amuck until it collapses under its own weight, leaving medical services only to the wealthy and saying about everyone else, It’s not my problem.”  (Okay, I found something about Ron Paul that scares me.)

Because Catholic social doctrine as laid out to date speaks mostly to general principles, there can, is and will be room for disagreement as far as the best way to carry them out.  However, a lot of what’s passing for political discussion in the Catholic blogosphere is merely the trading of buzzwords and memes, leavened with casually-considered anathema sit’s[*] as writers who ought to know better fail to distinguish the non-negotiable from the merely prudential, the de fide from the opinio tolerata.

The fact is, none of the candidates are saints.  They all carry considerable baggage from their pasts; they all have issued agenda items that, when considered closely, should cause the orthodox Catholic to flinch in dismay … or keep you up nights worrying about the future of our country.  And as the two parties come closer to mirroring each other (“Meet the new boss, /Same as the old boss”), eventually we may have to force the formation of another party to represent us rather than slightly different flavors of the Élite Oligarchy.  Since we can’t vote for a dead Englishman, we must settle for a living American.

But let’s try to remember in charity that none of us bloggers or combox warriors have the right or duty to excommunicate others.

[*] Anathema sit = “let him be accursed”; sometimes abbreviated A.S., many conciliar dogmatic definitions have been accompanied by parallel condemnations: “If anyone says thus, A.S.