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!