Stop the Recriminations

No one knows the outcome of the health care vote – or even when the vote will happen – but already there is an air of recrimination in the air. The stakes are high. People know that this upcoming vote is not only important, it is historic. The sinful itch, and it is a sin, to begin looking for someone to blame, for scapegoats, has begun but it should be resisted.

This morning, my good friend E. J. Dionne writes about the group of nuns who support the bill, including Sister Carol Keehan, the head of the Catholic Health Association. He notes that the nuns’ position is at odds with that of the USCCB. But, EJ does was Sister Carol most emphatically did not do. He questions the bishops’ integrity, accusing them of distorting Sister Carol’s position and that the reason for the distortion "is, to be charitable, a mystery."

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Let me clear up the mystery for you EJ. Sister Carol was most definitely not saying that the bishops should wink at unacceptable language on abortion restrictions to pass health care. As she said in the interview – and this is the money quote of the day! – "I was not going to take a little bit of abortion [in the bill] to get federal funding." I suspect that in the course of her many conversations with the bishops who lead the USCCB she made the point, which is undeniable, that health care reform is a work in progress and will continue to be so after the bill is passed. Like Social Security, or Medicare, the program will develop over time. Such shifting sands are expected in the realm of policy and the implementation of policy, but it is problematic when one is doing moral theology.

The bishops’ analysis of the health care bill, and the reason for their opposition to it, has been characterized by "worst case scenarioism" according to a very enlightening post at Commonweal. I think moral theology is always, in its abstractions, prone to this kind of thing and given the hyper-ventilation among many Catholics about President Obama in the first place, the bishops were inclined to fear the worst. Of course, they were also inclined to fear the Freedom of Choice Act which, we were assured, was going to be the first bill President Obama signed into law. Strangely enough, FOCA has not yet been introduced into either house of Congress. But, back to the plot. I think EJ is wrong to question the bishops’ motives. I think their statements show how ambivalent they are, how difficult a decision this was for them. I respect them for their consistency and their principles even if I disagree with their policy conclusions and EJ and other pro-health care reform voices should do the same.

The recriminations from the right are just as offensive and will be even nastier. If the health care bill passes, long-time pro-life advocates like Congressmen Jim Oberstar and Dale Kildee, both of whom have pledged to vote for the bill, will be cast as "Judas" as betrayers of the cause. They have made clear their reasons for supporting the bill and anyone, including any Catholic, can disagree with those reasons. Both have stated that they have reached the conclusion that the current legislation does not permit federal funding of abortion. A bill is not pro-life just because the National Right-To-Life Committee says it is.

Sister Carol, too, has already become the target of abuse. Sadly, even some bishops have questioned her, not her position or her views, but her sincerity. This is absurd. The criticism of Sr. Carol tells us more about the critics than it does about Sister Carol. It must be remembered what is at issue here: Sister Carol is not "pro-abortion." The issue is not the morality of abortion but the politics of abortion. There is room for disagreement, honest, engaged, thoughtful, respectful disagreement about the politics of almost anything.

No one should disagree with Cardinal George lightly about anything except what toppings to have on a pizza. He is a brilliant man. I read his recent book and was constantly putting it down to exclaim, "I wish I had written that sentence." I also read both of his doctoral dissertations, one in philosophy and one in theology, when he was first named to Chicago and they remain well dog-eared volumes in my library. His opinion of the bill, and that of the USCCB, has been stated with clarity and sincerity. The bishops may be right. They may be wrong. But, if health care fails, it will not be their fault. And if it passes, it is not only because of Sister Carol’s support. The day after the vote, I will still admire Congressman Stupak, and Congressmen Kildee and Oberstar, no matter how the vote turns out. And, I will still admire Cardinal George and Sister Carol. Before anyone criticizes any of them, it is good to take a breathe and make sure that we are criticizing their positions and not their persons. The debate on health care should not become an cause for fratricide.

Michael Sean Winters

 

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James Lindsay
7 years 9 months ago
The fact that Stupak got more than a majority in the House on the first bill and more than 40 votes in the Senate means that FOCA could never have passed this Congress. The FOCA campaign is a classic grassroots outreach tool to build up the advocacy and donor databases. Indeed, there are probably pro-Stupak mailings going out based on data collected by that campaign.
William Kurtz
7 years 9 months ago
Did it ever occur to Matt that Obama's FOCA promise to abortion supporters was about as meaningful as the lip service Republicans have given pro-lifers for decades?
James Lindsay
7 years 9 months ago
Kevin, thank you for the citation - that was the number although I did not have the source. It was not essential to my point, which echoed an earlier post on another blog entry. Luckily for some of our Republican Bishops, they will not have to find out what those who would have been denied care because of the defeat of the bill would say to them at their judgment for the obvious reason that the bill passed. I think Congressman Stupak had the best line of the night. His speech should be mandatory reading for all pro-life Republicans.
James Lindsay
7 years 9 months ago
I would not be so kind with the recriminations if USCCB cooperation with the National Right to Life Committee's coalition politics leads to the bill's failure. This bill is a life and death matter. Without the bill, people will die without access to health care and children will be aborted because their working poor parents can't afford to take care of a child without insurance.

You may be able to make nice with them, however I am not sure the Good Lord will. The prophet Ezekial spoke about warning your brethren should they fall into evil. Don't be shy on this.
Gabriel Marcella
7 years 9 months ago
This entire matter could have been handled better by Obama and congressional leaders. Catholics who "hyper-ventilate" over Obama don't trust his words and deeds, his moral relativism (see Notre Dame speech), and his pro-abortion record. Accordingly, Obama and congressional leaders should have inserted early on in the legislation clear and unambiguous language that the Hyde Amendment would prevail, that no public money would pay for abortions. Instead, we witnessed unscrupulous efforts like the Capps proposal and a full throttle campaign by the pro-abortion forces and the New York Times to legitimate abortion as a surgical procedure. In this highly polarized anti-life environment one logically expects Catholics to rally around the bishops. As Reagan said to Brezhnev: "trust and verify."
Think Catholic
7 years 9 months ago
We didn't get the Freedom of Choice Act BECAUSE the Bishops and pro-life groups carried out a campaign to oppose Obama's promise.  We didn't get it DESPITE your and other liberal Catholics' decision to attack the pro-lifers instead of joining the campaign. 
 
And so it happens again.  Instead of joining the pro-life Stupak coalition you are fighting to tear it apart and destroy its influence, despite your promise in July on this blog to oppose abortion funding in any way shape or form, including accounting schemes like Capps and the Senate bill which are the same thing (federal funding for plans while claiming to segregate funds), and including giving $11 Billion in abortion money to community health centers, which the USCCB has legally proven will not only be available but required because the Hyde Amendment only applies to the Labor HHS approps bill, while intellectuals like you and Prof. Jost aren't being honest about it.
Helena Loflin
7 years 9 months ago
The words and deeds that all Catholics should not trust are those of the predatory, anti-life, anti-social justice, morally relativistic, greedy and immoral healthcare insurance industry, the unambiguous core of the anti-life environment in our beloved country. 
7 years 9 months ago
"Michael might be referring to a Harvard study released in late 2009 estimating that 45,000 Americans die annually for lack of health insurance-in part because of complications from preventable diseases for which they delay or avoid seeking treatment-because they lack insurance and cannot afford such treatment (outside of the emergency room-not the best place for preventive care). "
 
A) There was no proof offered for his assertion, either.  You're guessing as to what he "might be referring to".
B) The basis for my argument is that people who need medical treatment can and often choose to go to the emergency room where they will be treated, insured or not.  We both agree on this. I further agree that the ER is not the best or preferable place for treatment of preventable diseases.   
C) Not to be callous, but I'm pretty sure if I dig around I can find a study that says 45,000 people die annually from chewing bubble gum.  My only point in responding to the argument about people dying if 216 Democrats don't vote for the bill is that its the sort of "worst-case scenarioism" that Mr. Winters & Commonweal accuse the bishops of.  It adds nothing to the argument about a particular piece of legislation & is untenable.  
7 years 9 months ago
So in objecting to "recriminations", you make the following statement with respect to conservatives:
The recriminations from the right are just as offensive and will be even nastier. If the health care bill passes, long-time pro-life advocates like Congressmen Jim Oberstar and Dale Kildee, both of whom have pledged to vote for the bill, will be cast as "Judas" as betrayers of the cause. They have made clear their reasons for supporting the bill and anyone, including any Catholic, can disagree with those reasons. 
 
How is that, in itself, not a recrimination?  It is amazing to me how this health care debate has become for you the sine qua none of, well, everything...  Meanwhile, the economy continues to bumble along, and the Democrats continue ignoring the polls showing health care is, at best, third on the list most people are worried about.  But because they "could," they "did" health care reform.  
7 years 9 months ago
"This bill is a life and death matter. Without the bill, people will die without access to health care and children will be aborted because their working poor parents can't afford to take care of a child without insurance. "
 
this is an absolute falsehood Mr. Bindner, and you should know it.  Please.
James Lindsay
7 years 9 months ago
FOCA was about getting names off of postcards for later use in lobbying and fundraising. It was a classic grass roots campaign builder, or didn't you know that?
John McGuinness
7 years 9 months ago
This change in tone is most welcome, and leaves me much more comfortable with the reform than the "the is NO DIFFERENCE between the bills, you hypocrite!" tone I've encountered elsewhere.
Most are working for the best outcome, both for the uninsured and the unborn.  I pray that we will find it.
David Nickol
7 years 9 months ago
Matt Bowman says: "We didn't get the Freedom of Choice Act BECAUSE the Bishops and pro-life groups carried out a campaign to oppose Obama's promise."
 
Of course, FOCA has never even been introduced in the 111th Congress, let alone passed, so it would have been difficult for Obama to sign it.
 
If (hopefully when) Health Care Reform is passed and no federal funds are used for abortion, I predict the pro-life movement will say that of course while the law allows for billions in abortion funding, it is because of their efforts that none of it is spent. 
 
It's like the old joke about the man standing on the sidewalk snapping his fingers and waving his arms. Someone says, "Why are you doing that?" The man replies, "To keep the elephants away." The first man says, "Why, there aren't any elephants within a thousand miles of here." And the man keeps snapping his fingers and waving his arms and says, "See! It's working!"
Think Catholic
7 years 9 months ago
"Average Americans" stopping it is exactly what happened-the Bishops and pro-life group obtained hundreds of thousands of postcards against it.  Arguments against the anti-FOCA campaign are arguments in favor of not expressing the will of the American people against it, which would have told Obama and the Democratic leadership that they were free to push forward this bill that they avidly support. 
Think Catholic
7 years 9 months ago
Obama and the Dems backed down on FOCA only because the Bishops and pro-life groups rallied grassroots efforts against it.  Its odious for "pro-life" Obama supporters to put him in power and then attack pro-lifers when they try to protect babies from the known anti-child positions that Obama promised to accomplish. 
Mike Ashland
7 years 9 months ago
Oh, puhlease..."No one should disagree with Cardinal George lightly about anything except what toppings to have on a pizza."  Yes, that's where we are.  Do not disagree, or worse yet, question motives or sincerities.  Our church leadership is being left behind by our congregants, who work and struggle in a real world that demands their efforts on behalf of social justice.
We must not disagree or question our bishops, all men, on an issue of women's reproduction and of human injustice.  But 56,000 women?  Our Roman Catholic obsessions with sexuality have swamped a boat already buffeted by the waves of so many other human problems that all it has come to care about is those left in the boat.
I am ashamed of this article and the tone of sycophancy that it carries.  The bishops have misread the legislation either by incompetence or political design.  I fear the latter.  I believe the latter.  And that injustice threatens the health and safety of millions of people, especially the unborn whose lives will might not be manifest for the lack of this legislation's increase in funding for adoption, teen pregnancy care and women's health.  Shame.
David Nickol
7 years 9 months ago
Matt Bowman says: "Its odious for 'pro-life' Obama supporters to put him in power and then attack pro-lifers when they try to protect babies from the known anti-child positions that Obama promised to accomplish."
 
I am not attacking pro-lifers for what they have accomplished. I am saying it is a fantasy to believe that the campaign against FOCA accomplished anything at all. I don't even support the passage of FOCA myself, but I never expected it to be introduced or passed, let alone signed into law, and neither did most Obama supporters.  If it did come up, no pro-life movement would be needed to stop it. It goes far beyond what the average American would support. 
KEVIN MULCAHY
7 years 9 months ago
I'm puzzled by Jeff Landry's accusation that Michael Binder is lying when he says that people will die if no health reform is passed.  Jeff could have simply said Michael was wrong, but in any case he does not explain his position.  Michael might be referring to a Harvard study released in late 2009 estimating that 45,000 Americans die annually for lack of health insurance-in part because of complications from preventable diseases for which they delay or avoid seeking treatment-because they lack insurance and cannot afford such treatment (outside of the emergency room-not the best place for preventive care).  Harvard researchers of course could be wrong, but Jeff makes no argument that such studies are biased or methodologically flawed. 

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