The presidential election has shown us just how deeply our house is divided. I dare you to find a card-carrying Republican who has anything good to say about President Obama, or a registered Democrat who is willing to utter a nicety about Governor Romney. This great political schism has been growing for years and, unfortunately, I don’t see an end in sight.
Consider the Cardinal Newman Society, which does some excellent work around the issue of Catholic identity on college campuses. They have been near-fixated on the issue of the Health and Human Services contraception mandate largely. This is not, I suspect, because it has a direct impact on the implementation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, but rather stems from a general conservative bias against the president.
When On All Of Our Shoulders was released earlier this month, the Society attacked it on the grounds that the lengthy list of Catholic thinkers who signed it were “distorting Church teaching in favor of left-leaning politics to take political shots at vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.”
Put aside, for a moment, that the statement begins by explicitly saying that they “do not write to oppose Ryan’s candidacy or to argue there are not legitimate reasons for Catholics to vote for him.” Let’s also ignore the fact that this is only tangentially related to issues of Catholic higher education in that several of the signatories teach at Catholic colleges. Instead, let’s take a look at all the places where the Cardinal Newman Society has shown that the statement distorted Church teaching.
Sorry, I can’t find any.
They do not, in fact, cite a single instance where the statement strays from Catholic teaching. Instead, the Society makes an ad hominem attack on one of the signatories who, in all fairness, appears to have his own issues with dissent from some fundamental teachings of the Church. Lacking any substantive complaints about the document itself, they attack the credibility of one of the dozens of people who signed it, and in so doing hope to discredit the entire statement.
Like so much of our political commentary today, the Society’s response appears to simply be a Pavlovian reaction by a conservative Catholic organization to a statement critical of a fellow conservative Catholic. They are attacking our guy, so clearly they are wrong.
I would have much preferred to have read a thoughtful response, something that moved the ball forward instead of just circling the wagons. Lest you think such a discussion is impossible in today’s hyper-partisan atmosphere, I will instead point you towards a conversation taking place on what Anna Williams at First Things has called A Truly Catholic Economy.
George Weigel began with a thoughtful essay on how a “robust economy makes possible the empowerment of the underprivileged—the true “preferential option for the poor” in Catholic social doctrine, according to John Paul’s 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus—even as it helps conserve public resources by making the resort to welfare less necessary.”
It is a good start but, as David Cloutier explains, it is missing several important considerations.
Mr. Weigel presents a romanticized view of the work world as it presently exists. We need to take seriously our dependence on exploited, low-wage labor, which we manage to do without too much social chaos only because of a number of subsidies. I’m not saying here that people need to have “cushy” jobs. I’m saying that people who work erratic hours at the local supercenter still need health care and rent, and it’s pretty hard to imagine them raising a child and doing all that without the subsidies. Let’s get real about just wages, and then we can talk about the dignity of work and the need to reduce welfare spending.
Cloutier then engages even further on an informed comment left by a reader. This is the type of exchange of ideas that we as a nation can benefit from, and I hope other bloggers pick up on the thoughts presented by Weigel and Cloutier and run with them.
There are no simple answers to the problems that we will have to confront in the next four years, and I don’t propose to have any of them. What I do know, however, is that we are much less likely to find them when what passes for dialogue consists mainly of pointing fingers and calling names. What we need is a reasoned, rational debate that is all too rare today.
As Americans, we should rise above the current dismal state of political discourse. As Catholics, this is precisely what we are called to do.