August 31, 2009
A Different Kind of Liberal
Earlier this month, John Breen noted that the New York Times in its obituary for Eunice Kennedy Shriver, as well as the Washington Post obituary linked by Rick Garnett (here), had conspicuously neglected even to mention that she had been "forthright and
courageous in maintaining that one could be true to the fundamental
values of the Democratic Party and a principled opponent of abortion."
By way of an editorial column today, the New York Times partially attones for that omission. Michael Perry, who does not have access to posting at the Mirror of Justice at the moment, passes along the following column by Ross Douthat, contrasting the two eldest Kennedys of their generation on protection of unborn human life. With the full column available by this link, herewith a couple of excerpts:
"Liberalism’s most important legislator probably merited a more extended send-off than his sister. But there’s a sense in which his life’s work and Eunice’s deserve to be remembered together — for what their legacies had in common, and for what ultimately separated them.
What the siblings shared — in addition to the grace, rare among Kennedys, of a ripe old age and a peaceful death — was a passionate liberalism and an abiding Roman Catholic faith. These two commitments were intertwined: Ted Kennedy’s tireless efforts on issues like health care, education and immigration were explicitly rooted in Catholic social teaching, and so was his sister’s lifelong labor on behalf of the physically and mentally impaired.
What separated them was abortion.
Along with her husband, Sargent Shriver, Eunice belonged to America’s dwindling population of outspoken pro-life liberals. Like her church, she saw a continuity, rather than a contradiction, between championing the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed and protecting unborn human life.
* * *
It’s worth pondering how the politics of abortion might have been different had Ted shared even some of his sister’s qualms about the practice. One could imagine a world in which America’s leading liberal Catholic had found a way to make liberalism less absolutist on the issue, and a world where a man who became famous for reaching across the aisle had reached across, even occasionally, in search of compromise on the country’s most divisive issue.
That was not to be. And it’s entirely fitting, given his record, that Kennedy’s immediate legacy is a draft of health-care legislation that pursues an eminently Catholic goal — expanding access to medical care — through a system that seems likely, in its present design, to subsidize abortion.
But his sister would have written it a different way."
symposium on Kraynak
The Catholic Social Science Review published a very interesting symposium (here, see volume 9 (2004)) on Robert Kraynak's book Christian Faith and Modern Democracy. That book and the symposium take up some of the questions raised by Rob in his recent post.
Conscience at Fordham
A while back I blogged about a lovely evening I spent at Fordham engaged in a rollicking (and eyebrow-raising) debate about conscience with Marc Stern, Nadine Strossen, and Doug Kmiec. A couple of readers had asked if a transcript of the event is available, and I now see that one has been posted here.
August 30, 2009
What does the Christian belief in human dignity owe to Kant?
In his essay, Made in the Image of God: The Christian View of Human Dignity and Poltical Order, Colgate poli sci prof Robert Kraynak writes that Kantian philosophy
seems to match most closely the contemporary Christian concern for the rights and dignity of the person and to account most precisely for the terminology of personhood and personality that Christians now employ. The change can be seen in the new understanding of the image of God, which no longer reflects the traditional hierarchy of being and perfection with its sometimes harsh implications of judging according to created, natural, conventional, and ecclesiastical hierarchies. Instead, the image of God now means the infinite worth of every human being as a ‘person’ – and as a moral agent claiming respect as a matter of right and capable of determining his or her own identity. Consequently, the Imago Dei now includes a moral imperative to establish democratic political structures where the rights of persons are fully recognized and where all share equally in the goods of the world and indeed in the blessings of the afterlife . . . . If this account is accurate, then contemporary Christianity is essentially Kantian Christianity.
So is Kant driving the contemporary Christian understanding of human dignity? If so, does that represent a potentially dangerous corruption of Christianity, or a welcome example of the fruits of Christianity's engagement with the surrounding culture? E.g., was Maritain's genius his ability to mesh Thomism with the language and insights of Kant? Thoughts?
August 29, 2009
Ted Kennedy's Humanity
By E. J. Dionne
Commonweal (web only)
August 27, 2009
WASHINGTON — Ted Kennedy was treasured by liberals, loved by many of his conservative colleagues, revered by African-Americans and Latinos, respected by hard-bitten political bosses, admired by students of the legislative process, and cherished by those who constituted the finest cadre of staff members ever assembled on Capitol Hill..
The Kennedy paradox is that he
managed to be esteemed by almost everyone without ever becoming all things to
all people. He stood for large purposes, unequivocally and unapologetically,
and never ducked tough choices. Yet he made it his business to get work done
with anyone who would toil along with him. He was a friend, colleague and human
being before he was an ideologue or partisan, even though he was a joyful
liberal and an implacable Democrat.
He suffered profoundly, made large mistakes and was, to say the least, imperfect. But the suffering and the failures fed a humane humility that led him to reach out to others who fell, to empathize with those burdened by pain, to understand human folly, and to appreciate the quest for redemption.
That made him a rarity in politics. Never pretending that he knew everything, he had a magnetic draw for talented people who stayed with him for years. He trusted them and gave them room to shine. Their guidance and his own intelligence and feverish work made him one of the greatest senators in history.
There was another Kennedy paradox: Precisely because he knew so clearly what he wanted and where he wished the country to move, he could strike deals with Republicans far outside his philosophical comfort zone.
He worked with Orrin Hatch, one of his dearest friends, to bring health coverage to millions of children, with George W. Bush on education reform, with Lamar Alexander and Mike Enzi to improve child care, with John McCain on immigration reform. It was hard to find a Republican senator Kennedy had not worked with at some point during his forty-seven years in Washington.
Kennedy’s willingness to cross party lines only enhanced his credibility when he needed to stand alone as a progressive prophet. In early 2003, while so many in his party cowered in fear, Kennedy stood against the impending invasion of Iraq, warning that it would "undermine" the war against terrorism and "feed a rising tide of anti-Americanism overseas."
And for his entire career, in season
and out, Kennedy had a righteous obsession with the profound injustices and
shameful inefficiencies of an American health care system that bankrupts the
sick and inflicts needless agony on those who cannot cross a doctor’s
threshold. It would be an unforgivable tragedy if Kennedy’s death were to
weaken rather than strengthen the forces battling for health care reform, which
Kennedy called "the cause of my life."
Yet Kennedy’s liberalism was experimental, not rigid. Principles didn’t change, but tactics and formulations were always subject to review. He gave annual speeches that amounted to a report on the state of American liberalism. He always sought to give heart to its partisans in dark times—"Let’s be who we are and not pretend to be something else," Kennedy said in early 1995, shortly after his party’s devastating midterm defeat—but he did not shrink from pointing to liberal shortcomings.
In that 1995 speech, he insisted that "outcomes," not intentions, should determine whether government programs live or die. In 2005, he criticized liberals for failing to harness their creed to the country’s core values.
Many who didn’t know Kennedy will wonder about the sources of the cross-partisan affection that will flow liberally in the coming days. It goes back to his humane identification with those in pain. Literally thousands of people have stories, and I offer my own.
In 1995, Kennedy was at our church on a Sunday when a call for prayers came forth for a hospitalized member of our family. Kennedy eventually learned that it was my three-year-old son James who was stricken with a rare condition. I returned home late that night after spending the day at the hospital. Waiting for me was a message from Ted Kennedy. A quiet voice described his own son’s youthful illness and expressed a total understanding of the fear and pain I was experiencing. My son recovered, thank God, and I will never forget what Kennedy did.
His compassion was real, not contrived, and it extended to individual human beings and not just to the masses in the crowds who cheered him, and will keep cheering for a long time.
Discussing Kennedy and His Legacy
I am truly sorry that Steve Shiffrin finds a discussion of Senator Kennedy's legacy -- including noting lost opportunities -- to be insensitive. But I do think his description of the two postings here on Mirrror of Justice as "cold-blooded" is unfair. Those posts, as well as the articles linked in them, can be found here and here, for readers to determine for themselves whether we and others, on the Mirror of Justice and elsewhere, have been "cold-blooded." In particular, I submit that Rev. Sirico's reflection addressed both the man and his public legacy in a thoughtful, prayerful, and conscientious manner.
When a major public figure passes, an assessment of their public life, the choices they made, the actions taken, and how they made things better or worse for culture and society is not only appropriate but expected, with proper sensitivity of course. When Richard John Neuhaus died near the beginning of this year and when Pope John Paul II died four years ago, both general commentators and Catholic thinkers immediately began discussing and assessing their theology, Catholic leadership, and public actions from all angles and perspectives.
In the case of Rev. Neuhaus and Pope John Paul II, that public assessment was hardly delayed until after their funerals. And in the case of Senator Kennedy, many have seized the moment of his death to try to advance political agendas, most notably the stalled health care legislation, in his name. Nonetheless, I will say that, speaking for myself and in retrospect, Steve's suggestion to wait until that point would not have been too much to ask.
Here and elsewhere, in the period after his death and before his funeral while many are mourning, Ted Kennedy has been judged in a cold-blooded way. To do so at this time seems insensitive – at least to me.
This interesting and deeply troubling article will appear in tomorrow's (Sunday's) New York Times:
"Strained by Katrina, a Hospital Faced Deadly Choices," here.
Mark Stricherz: How Will the Church Mark the Passing of Teddy Kennedy – Both of Them?
I strongly encourage everyone to read Mark Stricherz’s essay at True/Slant entitled Good Teddy Kennedy, Bad Teddy Kennedy.
In the piece, Mark provides a balanced retrospective on Senator Kennedy: his love for his Senate colleagues and devotion to his children and his nieces and nephews and his notorious carousing and womanizing; his legislative efforts on behalf of the poor, disabled and marginalized, and his reprehensible support for the abortion license and dismissal of the weakest and most vulnerable of human beings.
The question that Mark raises in the essay is how will Catholic prelates “send this most outsized of politicians to his eternal rest. Do they honor his good side, forget his bad one or acknowledge that, maddeningly, he was both?”
My own preference would be for honesty – to acknowledge both his genuine virtues and his real shortcomings. In this regard, I think that, no matter how awkward it might be, it would be a mistake to simply ignore his deplorable change from defender of the unborn to staunch advocate for an absolutist version of the abortion regime. (It will be interesting, to say the least, when his memoirs are published and his Senate papers are made available to historians, to learn the details behind Kennedy’s tragic reversal on this issue). Indeed, for the bishops to remain silent on this point would work to perpetuate the current, sad state of affairs in which many Catholic politicians proclaim their adherence to Catholic principles of social justice while undermining the foundation upon which those principles are based – the inherent dignity and inviolable right to life of every human being.
Regardless of how the bishops (and in particular, Sean Cardinal O’Malley) choose to reflect on Teddy Kennedy in public, we can all join Kennedy's friends and family in praying for the repose of his soul by asking God to pour forth His abundant mercy. Requiem in Pacem.
August 28, 2009
Kennedy the Catholic
Rev. Robert A. Sirico writes about Senator Kennedy’s passing and about his personal encounter with “arguably the most prominent Catholic layman in the country, scion of the most prominent Catholic family, perhaps, in U.S. history.”
Herewith a sample of Father Sirico's thoughts:
"I had mixed feelings on the news of Ted Kennedy’s passing. A
memory of a pleasant encounter, but knowledge that despite our common baptism,
Senator Kennedy and I differed in some very radical ways on issues of public
policy, economics, heath care, marriage, and, most fundamentally, on matters
related to life.
James Joyce once remarked that the Catholic Church was “Here comes everybody,” and while I relish the experience of being part of a Church rather than a sect, a Church in which there are a host of matters on which faithful Catholics can disagree, I also recognize that there are some defining issues from which are derived the very sense of a shared identity.
* * *
What might the face of the Democratic party, indeed American politics, today look like if Ted Kennedy had, instead of reversing himself, maintained the unflinching stance of his late sister Eunice in her consistent defense of vulnerable human life — whether that of a mentally handicapped child or sister or an infant in the womb?"