The story of the recent strike by National Football League referees will inevitably focus on the last-minute blown call that cost the Green Bay Packers a win against the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 24. Very few will remember one of the principal reasons for the strike, which ended just a few days later: a pension dispute. The N.F.L. owners proposed ending pensions for referees in favor of 401(k) investment accounts. The referees balked, then ultimately agreed to a deal that kept their pensions but ended the practice for future hires.
So ends another chapter in the sad story of workers’ rights. Pensions, a traditional form of retirement support, are very quickly going the way of the leather football helmet. Meanwhile, 401(k)’s and other individual savings accounts managed by employees are proving too anemic to support workers after retirement. People are simply not saving enough, and the market is proving too fickle to provide for workers in their retirement. (See “Our Ridiculous Approach to Retirement,” by Teresa Ghilarducci, in The New York Times, 7/21). The pension benefits would have cost N.F.L. owners $3 million, the price of a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl. Their intransigence was not a matter of fiscal prudence but of cold-hearted management. Unfortunately, their position reflects a growing consensus among the American public, who are increasingly skeptical of pensions for public workers and others. The referee lockout could have brought this issue to the public consciousness. It did not. The referees signed a deal to protect their pensions while abandoning them for the next generation of officials. Now we can all get back to watching football. Everybody wins (except the Packers), right?
The Obama campaign has issued a “faith platform” that describes how the president’s religious convictions relate to his political stands. The platform begins with President Obama’s belief that we must recommit to being “our brother’s keeper,” and it quotes St. Paul: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it…” (1 Cor 12:26). Accordingly, the platform highlights Mr. Obama’s commitment to strengthening the economy, reforming health insurance, caring for military families, opposing the war in Iraq, preventing a massacre in Libya, forbidding torture, abolishing nuclear weapons, protecting the environment and cooperating with faith-based organizations to serve the common good.
In other areas, however, Mr. Obama’s policies contrast sharply with what it means to be “our brother’s keeper.” The platform describes Mr. Obama as “pro-choice” and focuses on his belief that we should “work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions.” But Mr. Obama wrongly opposes even common-sense restrictions on access to abortion.
In foreign policy, the platform conveniently ignores Mr. Obama’s support for indefinite detention (see Editorial) and profligate use of drones. Under Mr. Obama, U.S. drones have hit targets in Pakistan 264 times. With Mr. Obama personally approving most hits, the U.S. has intentionally killed at least one American citizen. A report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates between 474 and 881 civilians, including 176 children, have been killed since 2004. In this light, Mr. Obama should be cautious in citing Cain’s question to God after killing his brother. God may respond, “What have you done! Listen: your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil!” (Gn 4:10).
Who Shall Lead Us?
While we dissect and discuss this month’s presidential debates, we should reflect on how it all got started: the seven debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas during their 1858 U.S. Senate race. That year the debaters spoke for three hours before a crowd of 15,000, typically—one a short, portly senator with a booming voice in a fashionable blue suit, who traveled in a special train; the other a tall, thin, homely lawyer with a high, piercing voice and wearing an ill-fitting black coat, who traveled as a regular passenger and chatted freely with his fellow riders.
The voters’ choice then was not merely between two personalities but between two views of what America was all about. One way to understand the difference, says the Lincoln biographer David Herbert Donald, is to view Douglas as a defender of majority rule and Lincoln as a defender of minority rights. In 1858 that meant to Douglas that the government, Mr. Donald writes, was “made by the white man for the benefit of the white man.” Lincoln too favored self government; but in his judgment, no majority should limit the rights of a minority. In effect, the principal issue was slavery.
Today’s ideological split concerns the role of government in promoting the public welfare. The choice is perhaps not as dire as the one that faced the antebellum United States. Still, the differences are clear enough: President Barack Obama says that the federal government is a vital force for good; Gov. Mitt Romney says it should get out of the way of progress. At the first debate, both men showed up wearing similar blue suits and American flag lapel pins. They differed only in the color of their ties and their skin. That itself is progress, a long way from 1858.