Saturday, October 8, 2016

#morethanredandblue: Toward A Final Vote: Getting Closer

In college political science class, I learned about "the myth of the independent." While around one-third of voters identify as independent, many of their voting patterns remain fairly predictable. Most independents who admit a leaning toward one party or another tend to vote almost as predictably as voters who explicitly identify with that party. Only about one-third of independents are "true independents," in the sense that they don't lean either way consistently and thus their voting behavior is less predictable because their decisions differ from election to election, candidate to candidate, office to office.

I am a true independent. I voted for President Obama in '08 and Governor Romney in '12. I voted in Illinois Senate seat races to reelect Senator Durbin (D-IL) and to promote Mark Kirk (R-IL) to the Senate to succeed Obama. While a resident of southern California, I helped oust Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R) in favor of immigrant and self-made doctor Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA). And in Spring of this year, I utilized the open primary system in Illinois to pull a Republican ballot and support the only reasonable, pragmatic, and thoroughly well-rounded candidate in the race from either party, Governor John Kasich (R-OH).

My approach and my voting record would drive pollsters and political scientists crazy. Some feel that if you don't know who you're voting for soon after the nominating conventions, then you're not paying close enough attention. I disagree.

Whereas lifelong Democrats might not ever entertain the ideas of a Republican candidate or vice-versa, I rarely disqualify any candidate for any basic reason. Unless the person is a known racist or white supremacist or a dictatorial fascist or something crazily extreme, I'm happy to hear the arguments and proposals of any candidate before I entertain opposition or support.

So maybe for people whose opinions and ideologies match more closely with a particular party, the decision can be simpler and easier to conclude more quickly. However, for me as an independent, a moderate, and a Catholic, I want to take in as much information as I can. On the one hand, 24-hour-news has skewed the quality and shallowed the depth of news, but the technology and social media age gives us huge amounts of news, reporting, analysis, and commentary that can inform us. And if we can responsibly curate the data - for me, via (most of) my Facebook friends and my Twitter follows - there's lots of good sources out there to look to for information.

I look especially to Catholic media like America Magazine, Crux, Catholic News Agency, Millennial Journal, and more as well as various secular media for political coverage like NPR, New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, and more.

In the case of this election, I knew from the moments Trump began to rise in the polls, through his insurgence in the primaries, and his winning of the delegate majority, that I could probably not vote for him. Even with the primacy of opposing abortion and upholding the consistent ethic of life that is usually found in the candidates of the Republican Party, I just felt his demeanor and brutishness did not translate to presidential leadership. Each time he opened his mouth, this was confirmed more and more, but it was from sifting through the reporting and reaction that I first found the incisive language to match my discomfort with Trump as a candidate:
It was from this well-written opinion piece that I was able to grasp exactly what bothered me most about Trump the candidate: he values power more than anything, and ignores or even belittles marginalized people. Trump's pomposity as a reality TV star and egotistical personality are galling, but it was by reading this story and connecting the dots that I found why I could likely never vote for him for president. I set the likelihood at 1%, knowing the DNC was toughening their stance on abortion in the platform and fussing over the reasonable compromise of the Hyde Amendment, thinking that I might yet want recourse to the ticket with a more moral stance on abortion.

So as the summer rolled on into convention season, I wanted to hear the RNC's speakers, vet the acceptance speeches, and see what the campaign would talk about. I especially wanted to see how, without the crutch of a hand-picked crowd and control over how the event would unfold, Trump would avail himself in a one-on-one conversation with Hillary Clinton. Here's my thoughts on Trump as I watched him in the debate (see all my tweets in the homepage sidebar or by visiting my profile or clicking through to my hashtag):

The debate just confirmed that Trump's ego and personality preclude him from paying any attention or giving any due justice to people who we have marginalized in our society. He solely values power and wealth. And any time he explains a policy or position, those motivations are clear while any attention to marginalized people is missing.

Trump's running-mate Governor Mike Pence (R-IN) had some promising language in the tail-end of the Vice Presidential debate, but the whole of his comments in debating Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) showed that Trump and Pence are not on the same page with each other or with earlier comments they've made in the campaign versus their current stances. Pence's pro-life influence appears solid, but his influence is suspect; plus, he has his own issues in rejecting refugees and losing a showdown with the Archbishop of Indianapolis over admitting Syrians to Indiana.

I abhor the recourse to abortion that our law protects, but I am now certain that the vague chance (because why would we believe this one thing when so much of the other things he says are lies) that a Trump administration would appoint judges to overturn Roe v. Wade or reform laws to protect the unborn is not worth a vote for him in any scenario. (Note: this was drafted even before the 2005 video was released!)

Image result for never trump

So that leaves me with three options remaining:

1. abstain, which I feel if done actively can be a responsible use of one's right to vote (or not)
2. vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate for President
3. vote for Hillary Clinton, whose addressing of poor and marginalized people has been strong and sturdy but whose ticket's platform on abortion is awful

One month to go. Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

#morethanredandblue: Mr. Biden, Mr. Kaine, and Irresponsible Dissent

The past few years have been intriguing and engaging for Catholicism and politics. Reaching back to 2012 when Catholic politician Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) was tapped to run with Mitt Romney on the Republican presidential ticket, opposite the sitting Vice President Joe Biden, also a Catholic, we're now in a campaign season where Ryan has ascended to Speaker of the House, the Democrats have tapped a Catholic for their VP slot on the ticket, and the bishops have been active and outspoken in confronting issues like religious liberty, contraceptive and abortion access, and gun control.

I think a lot of us, myself included, are excited whenever new Late Show host Stephen Colbert wears his Catholicism on his sleeve. I especially enjoyed the candor that Colbert and Biden shared early in the new Late Show's run, which brought the centrality of their faith to the forefront as they discussed tragedy and hope acutely (below).

All along this route, I've been excited. I think the best way to confront issues is to get them out into the open, into the mainstream, and foster activity - get people talking, making suggestions, trying to articulate positions, and work toward deeper, clearer understandings of what is right. I am an agitator at my core, so I love the opportunity to recognize frictions and find ways to respond in faith.

Unfortunately, some of the activity hasn't been positive. As we seek to find better, stronger, clearer ways to live out our faith, some of our leaders have faltered in ways that are significantly damaging and regrettable for the public image of our faith, which needs all the help it can get.

Earlier this year, Vice President Biden openly and publicly officiated a gay marriage. While it's maybe a little debatable whether or not it's ok for a Catholic to officiate at a non-religious marriage ceremony (though I'd discourage Catholics from doing so), it's not really debatable whether or not a Catholic can officiate a same-sex marriage. We believe marriage to be a lifelong bond between a man and a woman for the procreative and unitive creation of a family.

Then a few days ago, Senator Kaine, who has already publicly come out in favor of same-sex marriage, went even further by addressing the Church directly. As reported by America Magazine, Kaine elaborated on his position:
“I think [the Church's position on marriage is] going to change, too,” he said to applause, invoking both the Bible and Pope Francis as reasons why he thinks the church could alter its doctrine on marriage. 
“I think it’s going to change because my church also teaches me about a creator in the first chapter of Genesis who surveys the entire world including mankind and said it is very good, it is very good,” he said. 
“Pope Francis famously said, ‘Who am I to judge?’” Kaine continued, referencing the pope’s 2013 comment when asked about gay priests in the church. 
“To that I want to add, who am I to challenge God for the beautiful diversity of the human family?” Kaine asked. “I think we’re supposed to celebrate it, not challenge it.”
Here's a few things I'm not out to do in my writing:

I'm not here to call for Mr. Biden, Mr. Kaine, or other public figures to be denied Eucharist. That is the decision of the Church's local leaders according to their application of Church norms and the discernment of their leadership.

I'm not here to claim that Mr. Biden, Mr. Kaine, or other public figures are not "really Catholic" for acting like this. We are Catholic by our baptism, our membership in the Church and in Christ, and our reception of the Word and Sacraments as celebrated by our Church.

I'm not here to judge the souls of Mr. Biden, Mr. Kaine, or other public figures. I don't know the content of these people's internal character. I do know that discerning a call in complicated, and I hope that these people are in consistent prayer and discernment over how to do what God calls us to do, just as all of us should be as we live out our vocations.

Here's what I am out do to in my writing: make some suggestions on how to dissent responsibly.

For starters, every Catholic - and really even non-Catholics - should presume the good will of the magisterium as teachers. The bishops and priests do not set out to hamper or constrain people. Their intentions and aims are to empower us in our moral lives to live out the faith according to the Gospel of Christ.

There is some extent to which it is awkward for older celibate men to tell us how to live out our sexuality, for example, but their vows and spiritual commitments, in collegiality with their brothers throughout the Church, as well as the authority vested in the bishops from Christ and apostolic succession, give framework and context for the teachings they unpack.

Moreover, I don't know that Mr. Biden or Mr. Kaine is guilty of this but other critics and some Catholics often are - learn the Church teaching thoroughly. Study what the Church actually teaches. I would also add that it's important to distinguish principle from practice.

For example here, the Church does not hate or exclude gays; it teaches that we must be warmly hospitable toward homosexual people with compassion, respect, and sensitivity. However, some communities may ignore this principle and practice inappropriate discriminations or mistreatment of LGBTQ people. We need to be sure to chastise wrongly practiced teachings as deviations from the teaching rather than excoriating the whole Church for those few who ignore her teachings.

Now, when it comes to dissenting actions and public comments, one needs to first evaluate their motivations. What are the sources of your dissent? What leads you to disagree with the Church's positions? One needs to first make sure they are not out to smear the Church for their own gain or satisfaction. It can't be about attention or arrogance for oneself with the Church as the easy target.

Next, dissenting people need to examine one's qualifications for disagreement. Does one have the breadth and depth of formation and study to lodge legitimate criticisms? If your dissent comes from first-hand experience, have you carefully reflected upon it and sought to filter it through natural law and grounded, humble reason?

We need to be careful at claiming personal expertise or overselling experiences; all of our process of reflection must be grounded in the ecclesiology of the Church and its leadership and authority.

Finally, dissenting Catholics need to proceed with humility. I'm not sure how Mr. Biden and Mr. Kaine fared with those previous pieces, but their public actions went quite astray with this last part. One should ask will my public comments hurt the Church? What is the fairest, most compassionate way for me to investigate and share my dissent in dialogue with others and with Church leaders? Dissenting Catholics need to be careful that their actions and comments do not call undue attention to themselves, compel others to dissent, or highlight divergences between themselves and the Church to which they belong.

There's not really a way to square Mr. Biden's and Mr. Kaine's public actions with this last but far-from-least piece of dissent framework.

Mr. Biden's publicly officiating a same-sex marriage might be motivated by humble service of others and their love, but it flies in the face being a humble believer. It actively disrespects the Church teaching. His action made him a personal agent in an action that breaks Church belief in marriage. And his action took place in the most public way possible - in a public building, with certification from a public agency, and broadcast widely on media. I was disappointed to see Joe do this.

Then Mr. Kaine's comments - he is already on record supporting gay marriage - went even further as to publicly put call out Church leadership by predicting that a change in Church teaching was coming. He does his own interpretation of Genesis 1 and then cites the disposition of Francis - including an oft-quoted and misconstrued quote of Francis on gay clergy - as evidence that the teaching will evolve.

Not only is this not humble, but it becomes deeply presumptuous. Mr. Kaine's usage of Genesis 1 does not match that of our Tradition, which upholds it as a bedrock of our marital theology. Then, he presumes a trajectory and agenda for Pope Francis that is reductive and self-serving. Francis is reform-oriented and has worked to reshape the curial offices, streamline bureaucracies like annulment tribunals, and renew Church teachings on issues like ecology and perhaps the diaconate. However, Francis has not and will likely not change any core teachings of the Church, as he is simply the lead bishop steering the magisterium as it discerns the deposit of faith.

I will say that I am sympathetic to those who feel strongly to advocate for LGBTQ people. I have learned a lot as society and culture have grown in the past decade, and I am looking for ways that the Church can respond better.

I think inclusion is key, inviting LGBTQ to engage in Church life Eucharistically. That includes making sure we do not hold LGBTQ people to higher moral standards than we do straight single people or married people; for example, we should not target LGBTQ people by placing tighter scrutiny on their sexual behavior (they may have homosexual activity) than we do single people (who may have premarital sex) or married people (who may use artificial birth control, IVF, or other immoral behaviors). I also wonder if there's a way for us to provide a communal support, perhaps even a blessing or commissioning, for LGBTQ people who may never marry but wish to consecrate themselves to the service of the communion of the Church. On a secular level, too, I support non-discrimination clauses, equality before the law and in hiring, benefits for same-sex partners with hospital visits, information services, and taxes and estates, and more.

However, I cannot fathom taking such public actions, that overtly contradict the Church, as performing a same-sex marriage or calling out the Church to change its teaching. I pray for Catholics to find courage in answering calls to public and civil service. But I cannot celebrate such dissenting actions by these people of faith.

I will continue to admire their courage in tackling the dilemma-laden seas of American politics, but I will also hope that they can act and speak with greater nuance and fidelity, that they can stay grounded in the faith that has sustained them to this point, and that they can choose their words and actions with greater humility.

Monday, September 5, 2016

#morethanredandblue: Mr. Trump on Immigration

This past week, Donald Trump visited Mexico and also made a domestic speech in which he laid out more of the specifics on his immigration proposals. Here's a summary of his main points, via the New York Times:
As I've written on the implications of campaign policies for Catholic Social Teaching, I've tried to explain how different issues prompt difference responses from our tradition. For instance, with respect to specific immoral actions like abortion, physician-assisted suicide, or use of artificial birth control, there is a clear call from our teaching to oppose them directly. On the other hand, more complex issues involve a more complex response.

Take gun control: the bishops generally support the second amendment, even if mildly, but their emphasis is on firm, strict controls and limits. We have a right to defend ourselves but have the responsibility to limit the kinds of guns we own, the who and how of acquisition, and more...

Take universal health-care: we are called to advocate for universal health-care access as a thrival human right. On the one hand, no one has to support ObamaCare explicitly as the path toward achieving that, yet on the other hand, our tradition calls us to actively choose some sort of path toward universal health-care...

Then take immigration: I think the core principle at play here is the dignity and value of human beings as well as the dignity of their work. I think this is another issue where there isn't a cut-and-dry path made clear by our teachings, but there is a basic minimum we have to start from as we approach this issue.

At the root of immigration issues, the people involved must be acknowledged and affirmed for their dignity. One way to start assuring this is to watch our language. Our word choices can often show internal biases for or against someone or something. When it comes to these people, words and phrases like "illegals" and "illegal immigrants" are too depersonalized. I think we ought to remember people-first language or at least people-centric language and use phrases like "people who are undocumented," "undocumented people," or "undocumented immigrants," at least.

From there, it is difficult to pin down an exact Catholic Social Teaching response, beyond our Rights and Responsibilities and Call to Family, Community, and Participation, built on Jesus' call to welcome the stranger. Certainly, acknowledging and responding to this issue is also a form of opting for the poor and marginalized.

We must be hospitable to those who come to us in need from a place of trial and hardship. On the other hand, we do have concerns for our safety and security if people come with violence or malevolence. I tend to want to err on the side of welcome over paranoia, and at the least, think that the dignity of all people must be at the heart of our response. Even amid these greys, my gut says the dignity of all people is absent in all of Mr. Trump's remarks.

He first reiterates the necessity of building the border wall between the US and Mexico. This action goes against so many of the principles of our teaching. It deals a palpably terrible blow to solidarity, blocking off our brothers and sisters to the south from our social consciousness. It scoffs at community and participation by closing off a connection to another culture and people.

I think of the disciples, scared and locked up in the upper room following Jesus' crucifixion. Jesus visits them, passing through the locked doors and breathes peace into them; the Holy Spirit then animates their mission as they spread the Gospel throughout the region. I think of Paul in prison, consoling fellow prisoners, as the locks and walls are destroyed by God's angel. Paul reassures the guard of God's love and goes forth to continue his mission across the world. These separators that try to confine humanity - both in the Bible and in Mr. Trump's policies - are no match for the mission spirit of love that nurtures human solidarity and pushes us to make global connections.

Then from there, Mr. Trump hints at how he would respond to the undocumented people who are here: no more catch-and-release (a phrase usually used for fishing, not people!), zero tolerance for criminals, repealing executive order protections and work permits restricting visas, forcing reacceptance from origin countries, and upping biometrics.

When it comes to those people already here, I again wish to start with their human dignity and acknowledge their humanity. How does our response affirm or belittle their humanity? Mr. Trump is not for amnesty of any kind; however, I would support amnesty as a one-time occurrence that coincided with a reformed entry system and consolidated border patrols. The people here now broke the law by entering, but they are contributing to society, working in our economy, and participating in our communities. Tax or fine them once and then integrate them formally into our economy. I don't think we must be for an amnesty as Catholics, but I believe exercising it is certainly befitting of the dignity of those who are here.

Deportation is justifiable, in my understanding, as people who have broken the law must accept the punishment for what they have done; the nature of civil disobedience is that rule-breakers have to accept the consequences of their crime, even if against an unjust law. Though I don't support it and don't believe our tradition compels us to support it, I understand the argument for it.

From there, I actually support some of the other pieces of Mr. Trump's plan. To affirm the community of the US, to be true to our rights and responsibilities, to support and uphold the balance of work and workers' rights, we do need to be more responsible in our border controls. We do need to have a thorough system of biometrics, identification, and vetting that facilitates legal entry to our country and strives to filter out violent or dangerous people. So here, there is some reasonable consensus ideas buried in his policies.

However, again building on the dignity of people and acknowledging our place in the world, we need to be as liberal as reasonably possible in setting forth this system. We need to have generous maximums in admitting people, attainable processes for prospective immigrants, and efficient systems that don't make people wait so long that they feel compelled to instead break the law. and enter illegally.

Mr. Trump and others who are anti-immigrant hang their hats on citing the violence or crime of a few immigrants, and few would argue that those offenses aren't a tragedy. But Mr. Trump portrays this as being the whole picture of immigration in his remarks to the American people, even while telling Mexico out of the other side of his mouth that Mexicans are a people "beyond reproach." These few bad apples cannot ruin it for the millions who may resemble them physically or metaphorically.

So whether you are for or against deportation, whether you are for or against amnesty and/or fines, whether you are for or against stricter border controls and immigration policies, I think the baseline of our Catholic Social Teaching calls us to engage these challenging issues with the dignity and value of each human life at our core. And then we go from there in discerning a socially just response.

Mr. Trump, when it comes to immigration, as usual, does not give voice to the dignity and value of human life and certainly never in any way opts for the poor and marginalized.

Monday, August 29, 2016

#morethanredandblue: What about a life caucus?

As I discussed before, Catholics face a perennial discernment when wading through our firmly entrenched, self-perpetuating two-party system. Our two main parties use the rules (ballot access, government funding, etc.) to their advantage to maintain their monopoly over virtually all government offices, and when third parties make gains with voters, one of the two main party historically succeeds in co-opting the main issue of that party and subsuming its voters into its bloc. As these two parties endure, neither of their platform evolutions have made one party or the other a great fit for Catholics as voters.

It leaves us to do some seriously heavy lifting as we discern a conscientious vote. I'm not afraid of doing this, but I am increasingly wary of the way that the two-party system leaves us with a much-less-than-desirable candidate or party to support. So let's look at some alternatives.

Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of New Mexico, has teamed with William Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, to form a fairly recognizable and credible third-party ticket. While Libertarian platform ideals are a little more unknown, they nonetheless comprise a third-party candidacy that has more coherency and professionalism than many that have tried before. Their challenge in getting legitimate traction and bringing significant agitation to the status quo lies in the 15% threshold: they must earn a poll average of 15% to garner a lectern in the major debates.

So one could consider entertaining their personal conscientious compatibility with a libertarian, "hands-off" approach. Can removing government from the business of moral decisions be a positive step for social issues? One could consider that the best thing in this climate is getting our government's involvement in major issues scaled back, perhaps motivated by subsidiarity. There are definite pros and cons.

Another alternative out there is the American Solidarity Party.
This is a third party that is explicitly Christian and espouses Christian principles. Their website explains:
Common good. Common ground. Common Sense. These are the three principles that guide the American Solidarity Party, the only active Christian Democratic party in the United States. We seek to promote the common good and the material and spiritual welfare of all people, thereby raising consciousness of the Christian worldview. We don’t seek to be a proselytizing party but, in a broken and increasingly callous, secularized world, we offer a positive vision bringing communities together. Guided by these three principles, The American Solidarity Party stands for the sanctity of human life, the necessity of social justice, responsibility for the environment, and hopes for the possibility of a peaceful world.
This all sounds good to me, and their content sounds like that of a classic grassroots, people-based, feisty upstart that is fairly pure and direct in its initial pursuits. I am a little wary of a party that is explicitly Christian. However, I am interested in the specific ways the party names our social teaching values as cornerstones of their aims. I'm gonna keep an eye on these folks, and I've already liked them on Facebook.

One can also more seriously consider abstaining from voting - an abstinence only education!? - which I discussed at greater length in my last post.

While I certainly don't mean to poo-poo any of these third parties or abstaining, another idea has come to mind. Reading the work of Charles Camosy a few weeks ago on Crux, in which he dreamt of a party that is founded on the dignity and value of human life, got me thinking. While I support his ideals toward a new party, my amateur political science background tells me that the rise of a third party is darn near impossible in the midst of these two dominant parties. It made wonder about a different way to accomplish something similar.

What if we built a life caucus?

Congress is full of caucuses. In case you were wondering, here's a full list of Congressional Member Organizations (CMOs). It will make your head spin.

Not far down the list is the Bi-Partisan Pro-Life Congressional Caucus. It's a real thing. It's chaired by Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). Though there's only two Democrats, this CMO has got some size, comprised of a few dozen representatives. In remarks on the floor on January 2014, when the caucus was given time to speak, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said:
"As members of the Pro-Life Caucus, we have worked to eliminate taxpayer funding for abortion, fought to preserve pro-life health care providers' rights of conscience. We have followed medical research that indicates infants can feel pain in the womb as early as the 20th week of pregnancy and passed legislation that would eliminate abortion after that time."
It's hard to find much substantial information on what the caucus does, but I have an idea of what I'd hope for. What if we created a slate of public policy positions that align with the consistent ethic of life and then offered it as the criteria for certification and membership in the Life Caucus? What if such a caucus designation could be a way for Congressmen from both parties to rally support together for the dignity and value of human life? What if voters could then look to the Life Caucus' vetting as a means of helping to identify candidates who we can support.

While I like the idea of a life party, and I support the progress of the American Solidarity Party, I wonder if something along these lines isn't more practical and feasible. There could be great synergy in this caucus/certificaiton.

First off, Catholics are a massive bloc of voters; we comprise around one-quarter of the US population. We tend to be totally up for grabs as a swing vote, going back and forth as the parties take turns winning a majority of us. That might be due in part to the increasing diversity of opinion within the bloc, as more Catholics soften their birth control and/or abortion stances, for instance. Conversely, could our swing vote be tied partially to the lack of consistently appealing parties or candidates? Would we stick together more if we could solidify around the consistent ethic of life and candidates who upheld it?

I wonder also, if Catholics did consolidate even just incrementally, could Democrats who oppose abortion and Republicans who are more liberal - relating to universal health-care, immigration reform, and other preferential option stances - have more cover within their party? Could the certification of the life caucus and the probability of Catholic votes justify and protect their oddball positions within their party by increasing their chances of holding their seats?

In other words, if Catholics strongly supported life caucus candidates, could conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans return from the brink of extinction to become viable again? I have a dream that Catholics would come out in fuller force to support the consistent ethic of life in their votes, that candidates would find the courage to holistically uphold all aspects of it, and that these two things could build each other up.

I wonder if Democrats like Tim Kaine and Joe Biden would be less afraid to apply their personal stances against abortion by standing for it in their votes, too. I wonder if card-carrying Republican Catholics like John Boehner and Paul Ryan could lead their parties with greater commitment to marginalized people than simply cutting taxes to keep money in local hands. Could a life caucus certification and likelihood of carrying the Catholic vote bring their Catholicism out of the political closet and into their politics?

Maybe we can help American politics get a life.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

#morethanredandblue: Toward A Final Vote: One-Issue Voting, Abstention, and the Wrestling Match

We've moved from the main parties' conventions into the first weeks of the final campaign stretch. Two major questions that are deeply interconnected have emerged to me as the key points for Catholics, and likely many Christians and others of various religions or generally of good will, seeking to vote conscientiously as we live out our faith:

1. Can a Catholic (or others) conscientiously vote for a politician who is openly and clearly pro-choice?

2. How seriously should a Catholic (or others) consider abstaining from voting?

Let's start with the issue of abortion. The every-four-years guide that our bishops offer us to facilitate conscientious, faithful voting gives clear advice here:
As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet if a candidate's position on a single issue promotes an intrinsically evil act, such as legal abortion, redefining marriage in a way that denies its essential meaning, or racist behavior, a voter may legitimately disqualify a candidate from receiving support.
So, we should not support candidates based solely upon their policy toward a single-issue, yet we are justified in not supporting candidates that go on record in promoting something we oppose as morally wrong. The bishops add:
In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose policies promoting intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching.
So, we shouldn't vote for candidates who support morally evil things but we can if we feel like we conscientiously can. So that's settled... not really.

The key is that we need to engage with the fullness of the picture. What has the candidate shown their character, integrity, and morality to be? What do their speeches reveal about their intentions? What does their voting record show with respect to policies they've supported? What do their platforms, stated issue stances, and campaign comments add up to? There's a larger picture to every candidate.

However, abortion rightfully grabs a lot of our attention. When it comes to abortion, there's a few degrees with respect to politicians' direct policies:
  • completely oppose abortion
  • oppose abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, or health of the mother
  • oppose abortion personally but vote in favor of it
  • support abortion but favor some limits (ex: partial-birth abortion ban; illegal for minors)
  • support abortion liberally
I think the interpretation for where one can draw the line is subject to conscientious understanding.

Some Catholics feel perfectly comfortable voting for politicians who support abortion liberally or with minimal to moderate limits. Often, this approach contends that making something illegal doesn't stop it from happening, and the focus should instead be on education, health-care, and other rights that lift up at-risk populations. I think this approach is dangerous - as with many things Catholic, this is best confronted by a both/and, not an either/or. We need better support to at-risk populations and legal reform. Direct advocacy of an evil act is tough to square.

Then we come to politicians like Sen. Tim Kaine, the Democratic candidate for vice president. Sen. Kaine is Catholic; he went to a Catholic Jesuit high school, did post-graduate service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and goes to Mass at a parish in his hometown and sings in the choir. Sen. Kaine has affirmed his personal belief that abortion is wrong, but he has maintained a virtually absolute pro-choice voting record during his time in politics.

Some Catholics feel perfectly comfortable voting for politicians like Sen. Kaine who sustain their personal belief but don't extend it into their political life. The argument here is that if their personal stance doesn't match the views of their constituency, the politician shouldn't vote that way; another view might suggest that the religiously informed views of a candidate shouldn't dictate the candidate's voting decisions.

I think the dialogue should continue here, but I'll admit I struggle to endorse such an approach. Even while reflecting one's constituency and respecting religious and moral pluralism are valuable, I think American politicians are an undefined blend of trustees (elected to use their best judgment as they determine) and delegates (elected to reflect the consensus of their constituency), which forces them to weigh the two out. When faced with a moral evil, I don't see how the perceived consensus of a constituency can overwhelm a moral objection that a politician might have; majority sentiment doesn't outweigh moral truth. So this option is tough too.

Finally, you have politicians who mostly or entirely oppose abortion. These politicians - increasingly only Republicans, as conservative Democrats become nearly extinct - are easier to support in this regard, as they typically support legal reforms that tighten abortion laws and seek to appoint or confirm justices who will interpret the Constitution such that abortion is not a guaranteed right.

So with respect to abortion, supporting them comes without the major moral hangup. Furthermore, many Republicans advocate for religious freedom and conscience protections for religious institutions. Unfortunately, many Republicans, including the presidential candidate, Donald Trump, are a mess on other issues that are hugely important to Catholic Social Teaching.
  • Republicans widely oppose comprehensive immigration reform and instead want to restrict immigration and refugee admissions.
  • Republicans widely oppose the Affordable Care Act and seek to repeal and replace it, though it's unclear what the replacement would be as repeal would move us further away from universal health-care.
  • Republicans widely oppose reasonable restrictions on gun purchase and use...
So, how much focus do we put on the abortion issue? If we make it a significantly elevated first priority, does that render issues on other socially crucial issues irrelevant? Or, do we put it on the same plane as other socially pressing issues? Can we then instead evaluate politicians, platforms, and parties based on the full landscape of social good?

One response is to abstain.

In talking about these issues with many friends, I've advocated for wrestling, dialoguing, researching, and praying one's way to an active vote rather than an abstention. I am a big believer that by working together with others, by sharing wisdom, by asking questions, by sharpening one's own perspective with the insights of others, one can come to a sound decision.

Then I got into a cordial back-and-forth with one friend in particular who was about ready to commit to abstaining. As we volleyed with each other, he finally declared, "There is nothing holy about the disintegrated life." To him, if choosing a candidate means compromising something that is central to our faith, then it is not worth placing that vote. Voting should not entail bracketing off any of the things that we believe to be essential to who we are and how God calls us to live.

That insight has stuck with me as the best argument I've heard yet to justify abstaining. I've always felt that my best witness as a Catholic is to be active, thoughtful, and forthright in humbly but authentically wearing my faith on my sleeve. I thought of abstention as sitting on the sidelines, but I think if it's done in the same spirit of engagement as an active protest, rather than a passive separation, then it can have the same effect as a conscientious vote.

Another response is to discern your way toward weighing out the various social positions of the candidates you are offered. I will admit that I am considering abstention more in 2016 than I ever have before, but I continue to reserve it as more of a last resort and a sort of theoretical threat. I really want to wrestle my way toward an approach that can apply social teaching to this mess of a landscape.

So I'll stick to my guns on two key questions as I continue to vet these candidates, including Mr. Johnson and Dr. Stein as I hope for one or both to somehow wiggle their way into the debates, in the lead-up to the election:

1. Who will represent our country and humanity with integrity and character? Not just in economic interests and military might but in cooperation and global solidarity.

2. Who will more thoroughly and completely uphold the consistent ethic of life? From abortion to child care to education to health-care to care for the elderly to end-of-life ethics.

I want to continue searching for answers to these two big questions as I look for the strength of Catholic Social Teaching in the candidates' social actions. I do have an evolved understanding of the reality of abstention as an actively chosen and deliberately communicated decision, but I remain hopeful that there is a conscientiously sound possibility to discern a vote.

I look forward to reading more thoughts from conscientious Catholics who are trying to weigh out these same concerns, in the presidential race, in the down-ticket elections, and throughout the campaign. Let me know what you think!

Friday, August 12, 2016

#morethanredandblue: Tax Plans

This week, the main parties' candidates unveiled their plans on taxes and other related economic issues. Here are some reactions to the content as it relates to the calls of Catholic Social Teaching.

Mr. Trump emphasized the need for simpler laws and regulations, calling for simplified brackets in taxes, a halt to added business regulations, and less tax code overall.

These emphases may be good jumping off points to keep money in the hands of citizens, to restore their ability to spend their money as they decide. This can even sound like subsidiarity at work. However, there's not much talk of the poor and vulnerable, or the need for private citizens to take ownership of supporting whatever public and social services are cut by the government.

The Republican philosophy of cutting taxes, shrinking government, and minimizing state involvement is only just if the services which the government will no longer provide can be filled in by private citizens and community organizations. If the economic philosophy is geared entirely toward financial gain and personal wealth, if doesn't cut it as a just way to behave socially.

Indeed, in Mr. Trump's speech, the rhetoric relating to legal simplifications all has to do with a particular type of financial gain. These reforms will make companies more profitable. They will make private citizens wealthier. They will make America richer.

Mr. Trump makes some passing references to how lower- and middle-class Americans will benefit most from these measures, but they are not followed by any specificity.

Instead, Mr. Trump continues to take shots at marginalized people who are, in his view, sapping money from the American revenue streams. Take this quote for example:
"When we were governed by an America First policy, Detroit was booming... When we abandoned the policy of America First, we started rebuilding other countries instead of our own... Our roads and bridges fell into disrepair, yet we found the money to resettle millions of refugees at taxpayer expense."
In really confronting poverty, Mr. Trump says President Obama and Mrs. Clinton's policies raise tax rates and ratchet up onerous regulations, which he says kills jobs and induces poverty. I don't know what the facts bear out, but I find it hard to give his policies much credit for doing anything much for the poor and marginalized as stated here and so far.

Mr. Trump also goes after President Obama and Mrs. Clinton for energy policies:
"As a result of recent Obama EPA actions coal-fired power plants across Michigan have either shut down entirely or undergone expensive conversions. The Obama-Clinton war on coal has cost Michigan over 50,000 jobs. Hillary Clinton says her plan will 'put a lot of coal companies and coal miners out of business.' We will put our coal miners and steel workers back to work. Clinton not only embraces President Obama’s job-killing energy restrictions but wants to expand them, including going after oil and natural gas production that employs some 10 million Americans."
Mr. Trump adds several ways in which unrestricted energy can raise GDP and revenues, again focusing on wealth of people, businesses, and the country, but not really adding anything about the positive ripples of that wealth for the poor or marginalized.

Additionally, on another social teaching front, these policies are terrible with respect to Care for God's Creation. Unrestricted energy usage and consumption may open up capitalistic competition, but such a marketplace only considers wealth and not stewardship.

Reasonable restrictions on pollution-creating energies are a good starting point to help us manage the negative impact that we are having on the earth and ease us toward alternative energy solutions, which can be good for our economy, our national security, and the environment. The trouble with these policies is that they take widespread consensus, mutual agreement in limiting ourselves voluntarily, and a steep and frustrating climb through transition - none of which are popular or immediately financially advantageous.

One other noteworthy item that is a positive for our social teachings is that Mr. Trump intends to make childcare costs, up to the average amount of care, fully tax deductible. While this doesn't quite stack up to wider concerns like paid family leave for new parents, health-care access for at-risk mothers and families, and other elements, it's a nice step in the right direction for family life.

Overall, there's not much to get worked up about, but the common thread throughout the speech focuses on personal, corporate, and national wealth without much attention to how that can have a positive impact on the poor and marginalized.

And once again, the make-America-great-again candidate is sure to tell the rest of the world, its problems, and its marginalized people, that all of that matters explicitly less than looking out for #1: "Americanism, not globalism, will be our new credo," Trump said.

Here are the thesis questions of Mrs. Clinton's approach:
"So here are four questions that I hope the American people will ask of both candidates – and that the answers should make your choice in November crystal clear:
First, which candidate has a real plan to create good-paying jobs?
Second, who will restore fairness to our economy and ensure that those at the top pay their fair share of taxes?
Third, who will really go to bat for working families?
And fourth, who can bring people together to deliver results that will make a difference in your lives?"
So we start from a point of creating jobs and taxing the rich but also doing so for the sake of families and community and collaboration, according to her remarks.

Mrs. Clinton starts to answer her first question with a reference to her mega-jobs stimulus plan, and she does so with attractive vocabulary:
"I believe every American willing to work hard should be able to find a job that provides dignity, pride and decent pay that can support a family. So starting on Day One, we will work with both parties to pass the biggest investment in new, good-paying jobs since World War II."
How the government will pay for this is unclear, but the focus is on helping people help themselves with dignified work on American infrastructure, which social teaching can easily support. She also wants to tie this prosperity growth to universal broadband internet access, which sounds like a good step toward an important social responsibility.

Building on this infrastructure emphasis, Mrs. Clinton adds that some country will emerge as the "clean energy superpower of the 21st century," and she wants it to be the US. This commitment to energy evolution to work toward cleaner technology is a much better observance of caring for God's Creation. The economic struggle up front could yield an economic advantage if and when American groups make the advances first and best, and such progress would help us be better stewards of the earth.

Another wrinkle here is Mrs. Clinton's "New Markets Tax Credit":
"Let’s also expand incentives like the New Markets Tax Credit that can bring business, government, and communities together to create good jobs in places that have been left out or left behind. From neglected neighborhoods in Detroit and Flint, to Logging Country, Coal Country, Native American communities, from rural areas ravaged by addiction and lost jobs to industrial regions hollowed out when factories closed."
This is the first mention, explicitly, in either speech, specifically about marginalized people. This initiative specifically targets areas that have been left behind and not supported for recovery after hardship has beat them down. Such an initiative is one of the more clear-cut, direct things I've seen in this campaign season that opts for the poor and marginalized. Cheers to that. Mrs. Clinton even piles on a bit more good stuff in calling for a better living wage for service industry workers, including those in child-care.

Building out on this message to economically marginalized people, Mrs. Clinton shrewdly points out that a four-year degree shouldn't be expected for all and it shouldn't be the primary path to make a living. She singles out trade school as a valuable way for people with the right skills and determination to make a solid living, supported in part by increased emphasis on apprenticeships and community colleges. This is good for the Dignity of Work and Workers' Rights, good for Preferential Option, and good to give rising students more options and less pressure as they seek stability for themselves and perhaps a family.

Moving on to child-care, Mrs. Clinton pans Mr. Trump's tax credit for child-care, saying that it doesn't help poorer families with affordability much while giving a break to wealthier families. I'll confess that the tax code is over my head here, and the best help I found was from NPR's fact-check: "Trump's proposed income tax deduction on the average cost of childcare was criticized for likely being more of a help to higher-income families than to many working-class families. However, the Trump campaign has also said that it will allow lower-income families to deduct the cost of childcare from their payroll taxes. The campaign says it will offer more details in coming weeks on their childcare plans." Mrs. Clinton doubled down here with emphases on equal pay for women (shout out to couples and families like mine where the woman is the primary bread-winner!) and paid family leave for new parents.

On the health-care front, Mrs. Clinton recommitted to the Affordable Care Act, affirming the state marketplaces and their competition in working toward universal coverage and lowered costs to consumers. I'll reiterate that I believe Rights and Responsibilities calls us to support and advocate for universal health-care, either through the ACA, a reform, or an alternative law, but not doing anything cannot be an option.

On the whole, given that Mrs. Clinton steered clear of abortion implications in family issues during this speech, there's not much by way of red flags in this plan. A lot of Mrs. Clinton's social policies, as manifested here in economic terms, square fairly well with many core principles of Catholic Social Teaching.

Stay tuned as the messages develop and the policies and positions are clarified...!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

#morethanredandblue: Dr. Stein's Acceptance Speech

Following up on a closer look at the Libertarian Party platform, I also want to look at Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for president. Her acceptance speech transcript was posted to her campaign website, so I'll be reviewing excerpts from her remarks as she accepted her party's nomination.
"[The Green Party has been] ahead of the curve in so many ways - on climate change and green energy, on marriage equality, free public higher education and health care as human rights, on stopping the Trans Pacific Partnership, on reparations for slavery, opposing Saudi war crimes in Yemen, and Israeli human rights abuses and occupation in Palestine, on recognizing indigenous rights... That arc of justice is moving through us as we mobilize to make black lives matter, and to end violent policing – as the Frisco Five and the Millions March NYC just did. The arc of justice is moving through us as we sit in and lock down to stop fracking pipelines, fossil fuel bomb trains, coal and LNG export terminals, and all manner of fossil fuel and nuclear infrastructure... From living wage campaigns, to fossil fuel blockades, to the fight to end mass incarceration, to cancel student debt, to restore the rights of immigrant rights, indigenous rights, LGBTQ and women’s rights and disability rights."
That is just a sampling of some of the litanies from the first chunk of her speech... starting to wade into Dr. Stein's remarks unveils quite an enormous swath of claims. Starting from quite the broad appeal, she simultaneously claims successes in ecology, marriage rights, education, health-care, war crimes, and social unrest as basically being the purview of Green Party progress. As an amateur political scientist, I will say that third parties have it rough in America because any time they make progress in emphasizing a social issue, one of the main parties co-opts it along with their voters. As a result, it can be difficult to trace the third parties' impacts depending on the genealogy of these issue progressions. My gut just says Dr. Stein is painting with quite the broad brush here as she kicks off.
"There are 43 million young people – and not so young people – who are locked in predatory student debt, with no prospects for getting out. And there is only one candidate who will cancel that debt – and you’re looking at her. And by the way, we bailed out Wall Street, the guys who crashed the economy with their waste, fraud and abuse. It’s about time we bailed out the young people who are the victims of that abuse. So if young people come out on election day 2016 to vote green to cancel their debt, they can actually take over the election, not only to cancel student debt, but to advance the whole agenda for justice. And the world will be a better place for it! And millennials are the self organizing demographic that can do this."
Here, Dr. Stein starts to hone in on a specific issue - student loans and debt. She promises a righteous bailout of student debt, juxtaposed with the wasteful bailout of Wall Street. Her appeal is largely to grassroots organizing and mobilization, which is a good move for subsidiarity and community participation. However, she doesn't build a bridge from debt forgiveness toward the way to pay for it. Hooray for idealism, but misgivings over how such a giant amnesty can work.
"We also have the power to create emergency jobs program, with 20 million living wage jobs as part of a Green New Deal. It’s like the New Deal that got us out of the Great Depression… but a Green New Deal to fix the climate crisis as well as the economic crisis. It creates a wartime level mobilization to green our energy, food and transportation systems, and restore critical infrastructure, including ecosystems."
Here's where I get a bit intrigued: an FDR-style New Deal that's focused on economic stimulation and driven by infrastructure and ecological improvements. This is appealing on many levels. It reflects a better Care for God's Creation by moving us toward more sustainable fuels and lower pollution. It puts people to work to be able to realize their dignity as workers and potentially earn a just and living wage, upholding bits of Call to Participation as well as the Dignity of Work. It mobilizes society to take charge of some of its problems.

I like where her head's at for this one, as the social ramifications are positive and the financial factor is clearer her as stimulus spending than for the student debt idea. Dr. Stein even claims that this strategy "pays for itself in health savings alone" because it will reduce pollution- and climate-change-related health problems so drastically, so that's bold and maybe exaggerated but hints at an additional positive.
We can create health care as a human right through an improved Medicare for All system of everybody in, nobody out, and you’re covered head to toe and cradle to grave. You get your choice of doctor and hospital, and you and your doctor are put back in charge of your health decisions, not a profiteering insurance company CEO.
Dr. Stein here comes out in clear support of universal health-care, and her plan is to universalize the Medicare system as the new coverage for all Americans. This is a necessary right that we are called to support, and she states a specific approach for pursuing this universally. Again, whether you're for the ACA, for repeal or reform, or for a third way, I think Rights and Responsibilities calls us to choose a path that actively moves toward universal coverage.
We can create a welcoming path to citizenship for undocumented Americans who are critical to the diversity and vitality of our communities, economy and culture. We must end the shameful night raids, detentions and deportations of hard working, law abiding immigrants. In fact, one of the most important things we can do to fix the immigration crisis is to stop causing it in the first place with predatory policies like NAFTA, the war on drugs, military interventions, CIA-supported coups and US trained death squads.

We say to Donald Trump, we don’t need no friggin wall. We just need to stop invading other countries. And by the way, the Republicans are the party of hate and fear mongering. But Democrats are the party of night raids, detentions, and deportations.We will put an immediate halt to deportations, detentions and night raids for people whose only crime was to flee the poverty and violence created by predatory US policies across the border. And we can end racist violence and brutality not only in policing, but in courts and prisons, and in the economy at large.
Dr. Stein charts a clearly divergent path from Mr. Trump here. Dr. Stein is all for diversity and welcome while being anti-exclusion, anti-profiling, and anti-targeting. She is clearly for community and participation here and rings true to our rights and responsibilities in welcoming the stranger. She might go a bit too far in widely blackballing trade negotiations, drug enforcement, and military defense, but her general support of immigrants is strong.

Also, she said "friggin," so that's fun.
We call for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to get to the bottom of the crisis of racism, and to provide reparations to acknowledge the enormous debt owed to the African American community for the unimaginable price they paid in building this country and sustaining our economy for generations while they were denied dignity and freedom.
This is one of my favorite pieces of her speech. Though I'm uncertain on the efficacy and necessity of reparations, I love the idea of restorative-style justice through this kind of dialogue. The opportunity for people involved to give public testimony and enter into an open forum. It's a great way to gather witness and get people's stories and history out into the open and hopefully to discern a communal response. This would be an interesting project to undertake in areas of the country with heavy racism issues.

Bits and pieces from her campaign's issues page:
  • Dr. Stein identifies education and health-care as rights: thumbs up.
  • She calls for a $15/hour minimum wage: iffy.
  • Dr. Stein emphasizes work to limit climate change, protect resources, and take care of Creation: thumbs up.
  • Dr. Stein says nothing about abortion or life issues explicitly: thumbs down.