Thursday, April 29, 2021
It has become something of an online joke that "_______ is infrastructure", the point being that the Biden Administration's current "infrastructure"-funding proposal includes funding for a whole lot of things that have not generally been regarded as "infrastructure." This is, of course, an entirely understandable marketing move, given the relative popularity of public spending on roads and bridges (remember the Trump Administration's recurring "Infrastructure Weeks"?) and the, perhaps, lesser popularity of some of the spending items that are included in the proposal.
I was reminded of this "let's call everything we like 'infrastructure'" move when I read John Gehring's recent piece, "Vow of Silence?", in Commonweal. Gehring contends that the Catholic bishops in the United States have been "quiet on voting restrictions." He writes: "The silence from Catholic bishops when it comes to systematic, partisan, and racist efforts to undermine voting rights is a failure to apply Catholic social teaching to one of the most brazen injustices of our time."
Now, let's acknowledge, and put aside for the moment, what I take to be the facts that (a) former President Trump attempted to interfere in Georgia's election (and, indeed, in the presidential election) and lied repeatedly about asserted, but made-up, election-law violations in Georgia, thereby (probably) swinging that state's Senate seats to Democrats and (b) at least some of the Georgia legislators who supported that state's recent election-related law did so for partisan reasons and because they believe Trump's (and others') false claims about "stolen" elections, etc. Nevertheless: "Catholic social teaching" does not, in fact, tell us much about, say, how many days of early voting should be permitted and does not, at all, rule out, say, requiring state-issued identification for voting. Indeed, given the high regard for political participation on display in the documents Gehring cites, it would seem that those documents call for careful attention to the important work of ensuring the integrity of elections and the regularity of voting procedures. (Again, and to be clear: There is no basis for partisans' claims that Georgia's election, or the national presidential election, was meaningfully compromised or undermined.)
Gehring's piece does not reveal much familiarity either with the specifics of the Georgia law or with voting- and election-related regulations in the United States generally. In fact, Georgia's rules are not outliers, and they do not "restrict" anyone's right to vote. There is, among people who embrace the Church's social teaching, (plenty of) room for reasonable and good-faith disagreement about how the time, place, and manner of elections should be regulated and there is nothing about, say, regulating absentee and mail-in ballots that is contrary to that body of teaching, let alone "racist." Comparisons to "Jim Crow" (or, in the President's words, "Jim Eagle") are tone-deaf and historically ignorant. Not everything we like is "infrastructure" and not every policy arrangement we prefer is dictated by Catholic social teaching.