Tuesday, October 26, 2010
According to Kommers, "Catholics who take the social teachings of their church seriously will reject any candidate who would wish to dismantle social security, oppose universal health care, get rid of the income tax, weaken trade unions, disparage the need for environmental protection, or disdain the creative role of government in the face of acute poverty and rampant unemployment." Later, he contends that "state intervention in the economy is as essential today as yesterday when, for example, federal laws were necessary to abolish child labor, to eliminate industrial sweatshops, to prohibit unsafe places of work, to outlaw union busting, to force employers to pay a living wage, to ensure the safety of food and drug products, to prevent companies from discriminating on the basis of race or sex, and to clean our air and water. To cut back on any of these features of the regulatory state or to oppose the great social achievements of the New Deal and Great Society, as some politicians are advocating today, flies in the face of all that Catholic social thinking calls for."
Well, maybe. Prof. Kommers is an excellent scholar, and a friend, but . . . it is not the case -- at all -- that one who takes Catholic Social Thought seriously (as Don does, and as I do) is thereby estopped from thinking that, for example, today's public-employee unions undermine, rather than contribute to, the common good; that the health-insurance policies recently enacted into law will do more harm, at great cost, than good; that some measures that purport to be environmental-protection or social-welfare measures are actually, well, not; that government programs like Social Security and Medicare are in need of dramatic reform, etc. It is a mistake -- a common one, but a mistake nonetheless -- to (a) identify certain principles that matter in the Catholic Social Tradition; (b) describe those principles in a way that ties them too closely to particular attempts to translate those principles into policy; and then (c) say that those who think the attempts fail thereby demonstrate their lack of devotion to the principles.
It is just as easy (and at least as accurate) to say that "Catholics who take the social teachings of their church seriously will reject any candidate who" opposes school choice, wishes to impose intrusive regulations on the hiring of religious institutions, social-service agencies, and schools, supports public funding for abortion and the selection of judges who will invalidate reasonable regulations on abortion, and enmesh the government in embryo-destructive research as it is to say what Prof. Kommers said. I'm inclined to think we should not be over-confident about saying either. Such Catholics will probably want to vote for someone, and they should not be *too* comfortable with their choice. I think it's important, though, to not suggest or imagine that those who vote differently than we would like thereby demonstrate their lack of "seriousness" about the tradition.