Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Politically Homeless

"At this time, some Catholics may feel politically homeless, sensing that no political party and too few candidates share a consistent concern for human life and dignity."
~USCCB, "Faithful Citizenship"

And so another election day has come.

In high school I was a political junkie. Had Nate Silver's brilliant FiveThirtyEight existed back then, I would have read it with the fervor I usually reserve for Harry Potter books. I mostly attribute this politcal zeal to my love for all things West Wing; I fancied myself a northerner's version of Ainsley Hayes, though I wasn't ever as pretty.

Then I went to college.

My freshman year, before it was "embarassing" (for Madisonians at least) to associate oneself with the (gasp!) GOP, I had an internship at the Republican National Committee's Wisconsin offices downtown. Every Monday and Wednesday I walked a 2-mile roundtrip from my little dorm to the Capitol Square, where I answered phones, made coffee, ran the copy machine, and observed.

I was disillusioned. Theses were hard-working men and women, clearly. They had, so far as I could tell, genuinely good intentions. But so much of what they did -- what we did, I suppose -- was aimed at blocking "them" from doing things. It was a constant back and forth between "us" and "them." I have friends who had similar experiences working for Democrats, so I know this phenomenon isn't strictly a Republican thing. And suddenly the nice, clean cut, Sorkin-esque lines between "good guys" and "the others" were blurred. Life is messy. Eventually I decided that my non-confrontational nature would not be very happy working in an environment that thrives on arguing, so I dropped my Poli Sci aspirations and focused solely on science.

And now election days fill me with discontent.

The idea of voting is awesome. I love the ability to vote, which is something we Americans take so for granted in a world where the right to vote is often limited (by either laws or circumstances) to a privileged few.

But the actual casting of a vote for a person is complicated. The cult of celebrity makes me uncomfortable. The cult of political celebrity makes me even more uncomfortable. How can someone claim he or she is a panacea to all the problems that ail us? The only person who can claim such a thing with any read credibility is Jesus Christ. Yet self-promotion to the point of arrogance is part of the game for anyone in either party, no matter their platform or beliefs.

And then Catholic Social Teaching comes in. There are so many important issues. There are, of course, the non-negotiables outlined by the USCCB's Faithful Citizenship.

My father likes to accuse me of being a bleeding heart liberal. "Thank you," I say. "So was Jesus." Jesus's favorite people were the poor and marginalized. They should be my favorites too.

But my bleeding heart doesn't have any sympathy for candidates, groups, or persons who think that murdering innocent unborn children is an acceptable solution to a problem.

The problem, of course, is that there are never any (so far as I know) candidates whose platforms line up with Catholic Social Teaching. Those who are vigorously in favor or a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, who uphold the dignity of work and the rights of workers, who understand that treating the earth respectfully is key, who have, as my father would say, "bleeding hearts" like mine so often have little regard for the "least of these" in the womb. Nor do they recognize (because of poor catechesis and and misunderstanding of its nature) what really constitutes the Sacrament of Matrimony.

On the other hand, candidates who espouse respect for human life and marriage often support things I detest, like war, the death penalty, health care for only the privileged, and deny practical ways to offer dignity and support to the poor, especially immigrants. Their hearts are soft when it comes to "the least of these" in the womb, but hard when it comes to "the least of these" in the world.

What's a Catholic to do?

The answer, of course, is obvious: I prioritize the right to life first, because without the right to life, rights to property, freedom, and citizenship become negligible.

And it drives me crazy.

I am going to vote in a few moments. I will fill in the lines for candidates who are pro-life in their voting records, but I will cringe as I do it, because I know that while this most important of issues lines up with my faith and belief, so many other of their positions do not. And I could weep for it. But I have no solution.

I pray for the day when killing innocent children isn't acceptable. On that day, I will finally get to "vote my conscience" and weigh other issues on their merits. But until that day comes, I am stuck.

St Thomas More, how we need your prayers!


Leila @ Little Catholic Bubble said...

Popped by to say thank you for commenting!! Read this great article while I was here, and thought I'd show you something similar I wrote:


Yep, it's tough out there, sigh.

Maggie said...

Thanks Leila! Recently discovered the Bubble because of Jen F, and I'm so glad I did!

Sarah Badger said...

I'm a little late, but I find your thoughts on politics interesting, particularly when it comes to right to life issues and the well being of the (already born) marginalized. The reason I tend to support GOP or libertarian candidates is that those candidates tend to (but definitely not always) implement policies that better allow churches and private organizations to help and serve the poor. I believe that the Bible teaches that this is our duty as individual followers of Christ and as a church body rather than going through Caesar to do so. But I can definitely relate to being frustrated on the death penalty issue! For me, pro-life means pro-life. Always. Hopefully my Mennonite ancestors would be proud, haha.

caite said...

I understand your problem...but I thing we have to realize that no party, not even any candidate will every be perfect.
I think we do have, as voters, to prioritize issues and Life has to be number 1. A child who is killed in the womb will never have to worry about any other issue, will they?

As to other social issues, I think I have to agree with Sarah's post. Yes, we certainly are called to help and protect the poorest and the most needy. But really, looking at the last decades, can we say that government social programs, at great coast to the taxpayers, has done the job? I think not..

Maggie said...

Hi Caite! Yes, you're absolutely right, and I do vote pro-life above all, even if I don't always like it. And no candidate can ever say that he actually stands for perfect morals... because we are all fallible.

You said, "looking at the last decades, can we say that government social programs, at great coast to the taxpayers, has done the job? I think not."

That's an interesting question. It's certainly true that despite huge pushes for social programs in the last few decades poverty is still insane, morality has plummeted, etc. I actually looked at poverty statistics today for a class and there was a pretty significant dip in the late 60s and early 70s, which my professor attributed to the Johnson administration, but I don't think it's that simple.

However, not to oversimplify myself, but I think so many of our terrible problems as a society can be traced back to sin, especially the sin of lust. Christopher West is fond of saying that lust is the number one cause of poverty, especially in the West. Why? Because it is lust that allows a contraceptive mentality to flourish, lust that allows women to become pregnant out of wedlock, and all economists agree that one of the biggest contributions to poverty is single parent homes, especially children raised by moms alone.

There are far more factors, to be sure, but yeah, there is no panacea.

However, I try to use two criteria for judging the vote-worthiness of a candidate: the five non-negotiable outlined in Faithful Citizenship (abortion, marriage, euthanasia, stem cells, and cloning) and if a candidate passes that litmus test, then the next factor is how well he fits with the holistic vision of Catholic Social Teaching. (fuller explanation of CST is here.)

Also, Archbishop Chaput of Denver wrote a BRILLIANT book on Catholic political life called Render Unto Ceaser, which is also a great resource.

Leila @ Little Catholic Bubble said...

Archbishop Chaput is amazing!!!

I love all your comments on my blog, and I have been meaning to answer you about your comment regarding the Church's social justice teaching and your hope that I will do a post on it someday.

I must be honest and say that I haven't done much studying on that, mostly because I think that most people (Catholics and even secular folks) want to help those who need help. It's a matter of how best to do that. And we are free to disagree on that point, so I don't think it fits my "style" for a post, which is to be very clear on a teaching. And since the non-negotiables are so rarely understood or followed by Catholics and secular folk, I tend to stick to those.

I didn't want you to think I was ignoring your request, or that it's unimportant. Just that it's not where my passion is at the moment.

I am glad you have passion about it, of course!! I hope you will keep commenting, and be sure to teach the readers in that way.