Saturday, September 5, 2020
I was struck, the other day, by the realization that the upcoming presidential election in the United States is the fifth one since the launch of this blog, back in 2004. Skimming through old posts, I was reminded that the "for whom should Catholics vote?" and "what considerations should guide Catholics' electoral decisions?" and "what are 'prudential' considerations, anyway?" questions were consistently, sometimes energetically, engaged.
This has not been the case this year, and not only because these conversations and arguments migrated to Twitter. And, I'll confess to not missing them very much. Very little seems to change (although, in 2016 and 2020, unlike -- in my view -- 2004, 2008, and 2012, candidates' manifest and deep character defects might add new ingredients to the mix).
There was some controversy, a few days ago, about former V.P. Biden having been referred to as a "fake Catholic." No, he's baptized, and the sacrament, we believe, works. (Questions about scandal, excommunication, etc., are different.) And, there was a published account that, on the contrary, his "Catholic roots have shaped his public life." Interestingly, that account stated that "[Biden's] is . . . a faith that has come into conflict with Democratic policy positions, forcing him to change and evolve along the way to keep up with shifting uniform stances within the party." "Forcing him"?
Pushing back on the "fake Catholic" charge, John Gehring conceded (phew!) that it is "legitimate for Church leaders and others to challenge Biden on his positions, including his support for abortion rights," if it's done with "civility." (Gehring claims that this requirement rules out "distorting Biden's position as “pro-infanticide”, but one suspects that the entirely accurate statement that "Biden believes that American positive law should protect abortion on demand, for any reason, at any time, at public expense" wouldn't make him much happier.)
There's been an interesting contest about how to read the USCCB's "Faithful Citizenship" document , and about that document's explicit emphasis on the immorality and injustice of our abortion regime, and about the significance of Pope Francis's statement in Gaudete et exsultate that "equally sacred [to the lives of the "innocent unborn"] are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.” Of course, the Holy Father's statement is precisely the heart of the pro-life, anti-abortion position: All human persons, because they are human persons, are radically equal in dignity. It is precisely because of this "equal sacred[ness]" that abortion -- and its legal protection -- is gravely unjust. Nothing about Pope Francis's statement could plausibly be understood as in tension with the bishops' observation that, given the American legal givens, the need to remedy our unjust abortion regime remains "preeminent", and efforts to suggest otherwise seem opportunistic and misplaced. Similarly, efforts to suggest that the regular and longstanding emphasis on "prudence" in the Catholic approach to politics calls into question the immorality of the American abortion-regulation regime are sophistical.
The launch of a "Catholics for Biden" looks to make the case (in Michael O'Loughlin's words) to Catholic voters that, all things considered, the policy-outputs of a Biden-Harris administration would be better, in terms of Catholics' "shared values", than those of another Trump-Pence administration. There's the rub (once again), I guess. Even assuming "shared values" among American Catholics, it is not at all clear that we share a "metric" for identifying better or worse policy outputs. The "Catholics for Biden" effort, for example, probably does not weigh too heavily the clear and negative effects a Biden-Harris administration would be for Catholic schools and school choice. The "Catholics for Trump" analogue (I haven't checked) probably does not put into the balance, say, the downsides of deregulation. And so it goes.
St. Thomas More, patron of statespersons and politicians, pray for us!