The National Catholic Review
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How will the United States change after Nov. 6? The political rhetoric has verged on apocalyptic. Yet while the outcome of the U.S. presidential election will have far-reaching consequences, especially for those who live at the margins of American society, candidates and voters alike should recall the words of the Psalmist: “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save” (Ps. 146:3). That caution is especially poignant for many Catholic voters, who are once again caught between their desire to participate in civic life and the sad fact that both presidential candidates have taken positions that are incompatible with the moral law. That the candidates’ moral miscalculations extend even to the gravest questions of life and death only further vexes the Catholic conscience.

Some Catholic voters are tempted to give up, to sit out this election cycle; to choose, in effect, by not choosing. Yet this course is also problematic; the U.S. bishops’ declaration “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” reminds us that faithful citizenship is itself a moral duty. At the same time, the U.S. bishops are keenly aware of the Catholic conundrum: while there is a discernible hierarchy of moral concerns, no one party, one candidate or one issue is dispositive. The complexities and limitations of modern American politics necessarily mean that our individual political choices require a prudential moral calculus. They are a matter of conscience. The U.S. bishops, however, also caution “against misguided appeals to ‘conscience’ to ignore fundamental moral claims, to reduce Catholic moral concerns to one or two matters, or to justify choices simply to advance partisan, ideological, or personal interests.”

Unfortunately, the campaign debate thus far has been shaped almost entirely by partisan and ideological voices that find an all too-eager ear in the electorate. The Catholic voter, therefore, asks not simply whether it is morally troublesome to vote for this or that candidate, but how it is possible to contribute to the public discourse with reason and charity. In a nation as vast and complex as the United States, no general course of action can be prescribed; here, a difficult judgement of conscience is also required.

Yet one straightforward and immediate way for Catholic voters to make a meaningful contribution to the public discourse would be to draw the larger public’s attention to issues that, while central to Catholic social thought, have been neglected by the candidates and the secular media. While several issues familiar to Catholic voters, including the economy and the middle class, same-sex marriage, the legal status of abortion on demand and the ethical implications of Obamacare, have received consistent attention this campaign season, two especially pressing concerns have not been addressed: poverty and defense spending.

The important but narrow focus on the economic well-being of the middle class obscures the fact that 46.2 million Americans live below the official poverty line ($22,314 for a family of four), the highest number in more than 50 years. Over 20 million Americans, 6.7 percent of the population, have fallen into deep poverty, earning less than $11,000 a year. Many of these are without any shelter. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, for example, reports that 67,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, and that 1.5 million other veterans “are considered at risk of homelessness.” The fact that so many of our fellow citizens live in abject poverty, sleeping curled up in doorways or under bridges, is a national crisis; the fact that the country is not even talking about the problem is a national shame.

Americans must ask also whether it is just to spend six times more than any other world power on national defense during this time of increasing social hardship. Should the nation’s political leaders fight over trifling savings from cuts to the Public Broadcasting System while the well-armed elephant in the deficit debate remains undisturbed? Neither of the presidential candidates has proposed substantial reductions in defense appropriations; such cuts are politically unpopular, even viewed by some as unpatriotic. Yet apart from the moral question, Americans must also ask whether it is even rational to build the world’s most technologically advanced military when most of the contemporary global threats are represented by teenagers shouldering AK-47s. “A nation,” wrote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Conscientious Catholic voters in 2012 must once again navigate the tricky waters of contemporary American politics, avoiding the twin shoals of moral hazard and neo-sectarianism. Along with tens of millions of their fellow citizens, Catholic voters will make their choice on the first Tuesday in November. For many of them, however, it is a dreary choice. Will America change on Nov. 6th? Yes, it will; but not nearly enough.

Comments

LAWRENCE DONOHUE MD | 10/30/2012 - 11:21pm
Cover page headline "A  Historic.."  should be "An Historic..." shouldn't it?
Joseph J Dunn | 10/30/2012 - 2:11pm
As the editors suggest, one way for Catholics to make a meaningful contribution to the public discourse is to draw public attention to issues negelected by the candidates. We need not limit our own thinking to the few issues that are presented in 30-second TV commercials. Poverty and defense spending are two such issues, but they are not two antithetical positions on one issue. There has never been a clear trade-off between defense spending and human resources spending (the two broad categories into which the federal spending budget is divided in government-prepared exhibits). Lyndon Johnson was perhaps most noted proponent of "guns and butter" budgeting. There need to be two discussions: one about the defense budget needs, and one about the human resources budget which includes poverty-relief programs. 

America's editors could make a better contribution by avoiding quotes that can easily be misinterpreted by readers. For example, the use of Dr. King's quote, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death," could mislead readers into thinking that the US currently spends more on defense than on human resources aka social uplift. As the "Statistical Abstracts of the US" make clear, US federal non-defense spending (human resources) in FY 2000 was five times national defense spending. In 2005, in the midst of the Iraq War, human resources spending was four times defense spending, and that same ratio continued in 2010 and 2011. 

As we continue to make a difficult election choice, we might consider the behavior of candidates, not just their carefully selected sound bites. For example, many (not just Catholics) are concerned about President Obama's use of regulatory rule-making under the ACA to force Catholic institutions to provide health insurance including services that violate Catholic moral teachings. Others are less concerned about that particular action. But such action raises other ominous questions: might the same president use rule-making powers (under Medicare, etc) to adopt policies that force end-of-life decisions contrary to Catholic teaching, at Catholic nursing homes? Might the same president use rule-making powers under federal tuition-assistance programs or under research grant-making programs, to limit the academic freedom of Catholic universities, particularly in "secular" departments beyond theology and religious studies? 

Finally, getting back to the poverty issue identified by the editors, we should indeed consider, and urge others to consider, what human resources spending is most likely to be supportive of the poor. The editors highlight homelessness, but neglect to mention the significant progams already underway in several major cities to provide essential services to the homeless and end homelessness (of veterans and others) within ten to fifteen years. Catholic nuns are leading a number of these efforts, and doing the "heavy lifting" in others, with financial help from government and charitable funds. These efforts are far more in keeping with a principle of subsidiarity than some massive, one-size-fits-all programs coming from Washington. There is also a need for fact-based evaluation of the optimal ways of funding our national budget in ways that are consistent with innovation and job growth, which are essential to promoting the common good. 
Joseph J. Dunn   Author of "After One Hundred Years: Corporate Profits, Wealth, and American Society." 


RON DIRKS MR | 10/23/2012 - 2:20am

Note, we pay federal and state taxes even though part of our taxes will fund programs we consider immoral according to our religious principles. We connot not pay under severe penalty. We vote for a presidental candidate we judge will best lead the nation knowning that his oath of office will require him to implement and administer some legislated programs we consider immoral. (No elected officials can escape their obligations taken under oath to administer laws, even immoral laws, if they wish to remain in office). Our paying taxes and voting for president does not imply we approve and endorse the immoral programs - we can and do object in conscience to those immoral programs. In our democratic society our religious principles often are not embodied in legislation simply because the majority of law makers do not share and are not committed to enacting our religious principles into law. Personally we lobby for our values with our leaders within our abilities and resources to do so but we do not cease to exercise our citizenship responsibilities. With a clear and good conscience we take part in our democratic processes with the hope that our collective efforts will be able someday to overcome immoral laws. We pay taxes and we vote but do not personally approve the laws that are held by us to be immoral. However since there is no self-evident and universal morality binding on all people, just specific schools of morality, one group's values can only be imposed on everyone if the duly elected authorities legislate it. There are of course religious and secular groups that hold their values are privileged for various reasons, be it an appeal to a divinely inspired bible or church doctrine or values held in common by mutual association but that type of "privileged" does not de facto trump democratic judgement in our society. All knees bend, in our country, to laws proceeding from legislated authority and implemented by executive power of the state.

Antoinette Carbone | 10/23/2012 - 12:14am

I will not vote for either presidential candidate for moral reasons.  It is sad that it is getting difficult to find someone who will address social justice issues and moral ethical issues without pandering to the extremes: those who feel that the less fortunate are responsible for their situation and those who believe that rights of the person do not extend to a certain class of people i.e the unborn, the terminally ill. I will not vote on the presidential line. But I will vote for other offices.

Scott Belhorn | 10/20/2012 - 11:29pm

As a swing-voter in the Buckeye State, I probably have as much of a say in this election as anyone. Alas, as the editors point out, both of my choices seem pretty dismal. For how long Lord will we in the U.S. be forced to engage our civic duty of picking between two heinous choices? As someone who mostly travels in right-leaning circles, I am frequently told that my choice is easy. Any authentic Christians simply "must" vote Republican. After all, the Democrats support abortion-on-demand, coercion of religious conscience, and gay marriage. As an ultramontane Catholic, I oppose all those things. But unlike most on the right, I certainly do not think that my Catholic conscience ends there. When I compare the GOP's military policies to the statements of the Vatican, I am convinced that Catholics must oppose our country's policies. Not only are they unnecessary, but they risk the country's future prosperity... our children's chance to thrive. Republicans have a dialectical contradiction: they use their small government philosophy to cut "wasteful" social programs (PBS, etc.), but then increase our already exorbitant defense budget for the lucrative benefit of contractors and "red state" military bases. They have no interest in peace, but prefer perpetual imperial strategies, a Pax Americana that only fosters war. However, I disagree with the editors that a statist, quasi-socialist economy is required under Catholic social teaching. Nor do I think a big-government, low-growth system is the best way to protect jobs and families. If we want to help the poor, we would do well to have a distributist system based on less taxes, more private ownership, and greater charity... especially faith-based charities that will educate recipients on their personal moral culpability to make good choices. To use the verbiage of Catholic social teaching, solidarity requires subsidiarity. I would have liked to have voted for Ron Paul (anti-abortion, pro-growth, pro-family, but also anti-war). Maybe if I lived in another state, I would. But that would waste a vital Ohio vote. So I ask America's readers, what should I do with my precious Buckeye vote?

Bernard Campbell | 10/20/2012 - 9:08pm
Like the author of this article, my concern or frustration is that the leadership in the Church seems almost silent on the issue of military hardware and poverty.  There are many moral and social issues that seem to be neglected by Church leadcership.  Why is there no response to the deliberate inaccuracies of "talking heads?"  Why does the leadership of the Church not raise the question of racisim in the public dialogue?  Why doesn't the leadership of the Church draw the public's attention the divisive voices or provoacatures, who say they represent the Catholic Church?  Why doesn't the Church leadership talk about the greed, which resulted in the recent global financial crisis? Then there is the more than obvious economic decline of the middle class, which results in serious damage to families.  Why the silence on this issue? Why doesn't the Chruch leadership talk about the crippling student loans that can be an obstacle to young people desiring to get married?  Unfortunately, their silence is at the preseent time, deafening.  Thank you for your public voice on these and other issues.
Richard T Rodriguez | 10/20/2012 - 2:34pm
It is difficult to deal with all the problems, even when they are well articulated and  seem very immoral.  I would suggest that we look at strengthening education and the importance of parents in families.  Both President Obama and Gov Romney mentioned this in their second debate.  I know these topics seem almost trivial in the face of some social issue, but without them we miss two necessary ingredients in moving forward. We can be distracted from the more important by focusing too much on lesser problems, even if they be very pressing. For example,  I have never run into anyone who thinks that abortion is a 'good' to be advocated.  Perhaps we can live with the  sufficiently good position to focus more of our energies, limited as they are, on other serious issues we have not educated ourselves on.  Evils also shift their relative importance as civilization develops.  For example, have nuclear issues and environmental concerns moved to center stage while we have focused of other critical problems, but now, unfortunately, of lesser importance? 
Mike Van Cleve | 10/20/2012 - 1:57pm
Perhaps one way out of the quandry is to vote for neither Obama or Romney. Perhaps voting for Joe Schriner who is pro-life, against euthanasia and gay marriage- but also is concerned about the poor and about immigrants and unjust war. I plan to vote for Average Joe Schriner
Lawrence Papania | 10/20/2012 - 11:37am
While the Bishops rightly name the complete list of issues that Catholics should be aware of, they also emphasize certain issues which are intrinsically evil (abortion, euthansia, etc.) and can never be supported. We do not have two candidates supporting these intrinsically evil actions - only the present president.  BUT WE SHOULD POINT OUT THE OTHER ISUES IF ROMNEY IS ELECTED IN EVERY WAY WE CAN - LETTERS, EMAILS, MARCHES, ETC. 

As someone said - if there is a candidate proposing to kill everyone over 70 years old, we would certainly automatically exclude him.  We should do the same for the most avidly pro-abortion president we have ever had. At the same time there are many avenues to bring the other important issues to the forefront and that is up to all of us as Faithful Citizens. Christ will bless us if we take this approach.  Electing a person who supports the intrinsically evil will never make us a better society - it ultimately destroys all of our rights.
Carolyn Meehan | 10/20/2012 - 8:00am
At the chuch I go to there is so much political pressure with these elections, no names of course. They don't even touch upon defense spending and give lip service to the poor. What about the "judgment of nations?" I am planning on going to confession elsewhere and talking with the priest about this today. 
A & G MICELI | 10/20/2012 - 7:48am
Thanks for continuing to muddy the waters. It has become a tradition for me to cast my ballot for president every four years by going into the voting booth and holding my nose.
It is a tortured exercise. I agree that defense spendiing is a national disgrace. I also agree that health care should be a basic right, and that Roe v Wade should be overturned so that voters once again get a say in how abortion is legislated.
I don't remember the last time i cast my vote for president and walked out of the booth without feeling that I had blood on my hands.
 
WILLIAM ATKINSON | 10/20/2012 - 3:27am

Moral Law???? Reliigious Law, Natural Law, Political Law, God's (depending on who or what gods you have) Law; americans and especially catholic americans really have a democratic republic dilimina as to voting, So they basically ignore their faith and respond to issues as independent free thinking citizens, regardlesws of their church and political stance.

John Campbell | 10/19/2012 - 11:54pm
To not vote is to make a moral choice for whichever candidate for President is elected by the Electoral College. It does not have a neutral effect. To not vote for other candidates, including Congress, the Judiciary, and local officials and referenda, is to avoid moral choice except for the choice of whichever candidates and causes are otherwise elected. Elections in America are a zero-sum game, and staying out of it can affect the outcome. So please vote. Don't not-vote.
raymond rice | 10/19/2012 - 5:50pm
ROMNEY HAS SUPPORTED ALL THE ADVANCES IN CATHOLIS SOCIAL TEACHING THAT HAVE BEEN OBTAINED IN THE LAST HUNDRED YEARS . MY GRANDMOTHER, A NINTEENTH CENTURY SOCIAL JUSTICE ACTIVIST NAMED MY FATHER "LEO AUGUSTINE". LEO WAS IN HONOR OF THE SOCIAL JUSTICE ADVOCATE POPE LEO XIII, AUGUSTINE WAS BECAUSE "CATHOLIC ACTION FOR JUSTICE SHOULD BE BASE ON "REASON". SHE SAID THAT THOSE THAT ARE ABSOLUTE IN THEIR GOALS ARE OFTEN ABSOLUTELY WRONG. SHE WOULD BE PROUD OF ROMNEY , AND WOULD GIVE THE EDITORS OF AMERICA MAGAZINE A SCOLDING FOR THEIR CONSISTENTLY EQUATING "THE SLAUGHTER OF INNOCENTS" " IN OBAMA'S ABORTION PROGRAMS,THAT KILLS INNOCENT HUMAN BEINGS, AS A TRADE OFF POLITICALLY FOR NOT ACHIEVEING ABSOLUTE JUSTICE THROUGH PROGRAMS THAT ARE OF DOUBTFUL ECONOMIC SOUNDNESS.AMERICA MAGAZINE IS SO TIED TO LEFT WING POLITICS , THAT IT MAKES REDICULOUS REASONS FOR JUSTIFYING APPROVAL OF THE MOST SERIOUS HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS.YOU QUOTE REV. ML KING....I OFTENQUOTE HIS" LETTER FROM BIRMINGHAM JAIL' SPEAKING FROM THE HEART ,HE QUOTED THOREAU AN OTHER PATRIOT WHO URGED RESISTING UNJUST LAWS (LIKE ROE V WADE) AND THE HORRIBLE LAWS THAT DEMOCRATS PASSED IN THE SOUTH AND THROUGHOUT THE NATION TO SUBJUGATE BLACKS. AMERICA MAGAZINE,INSTEAD OF ISSUING POLITICALLY MOTIVASTED EDITORIALS , SHOULD APPEAL TO THAT "GREATER AUTHORITY", AND OPPOSE IMMORAL LEGISLATION . YOU DON'T NEED MY GRAND MOTHER TO POINT OUTTHE IMMORALITY OF OBAMA...HAS ROMNEY DONE ANYTHING AS IMMORAL AS THE DEMOCRAT SOCIAL AGENDA (EXCEPT LAY OFF CORPORATE PRESIDENTS WHO HAVE FAILED THE WIDOWS AND ORPHANS THAT WERE STOCK HOLDERS IN TROUBLED CORPORATIONS).(GOD BLESS YOU AND GUIDE YOU IN YOUR WORK)
Gerardine Luongo | 10/19/2012 - 5:41pm

Too many people around the world are literally dying for the right to vote for us to take a pass. However difficult, we must prayerfully make a choice. It is also important for all of us to help Catholics and non-Catholics alike realize the difficulties we are facing in this election. This article helps us to speak to these challenges intelligently, to help people realize that our Bishops as well as the nuns-on-the-bus understand that Catholics are not tied to one issue when they go to the poll.

7587652 | 10/19/2012 - 3:34pm
Not voting also counts. The less total number of votes counted is a measure of the investment of the population in the political will. The politician is given less direction and more room to manipulate a particular agenda. Thre is no innocence in this world!
Alfred Chavez | 10/19/2012 - 3:23pm
Can't do it. The moral downsides to either Obama or Romney are far too heinous to pick either of them. Best I can do is continue to pray for whichever one comes out on top.

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