No Common Ground?
“This is not a matter of political compromise or a matter of finding some way of common ground,” said Bishop Daniel Conlon of Steubenville, Ohio. “It’s a matter of absolutes.” His comments came during a discussion on abortion at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which led to a statement addressed to President-elect Barack Obama, released on Nov. 12. “Abortion kills not only unborn children; it destroys constitutional order and the common good, which is assured only when the life of every human being is legally protected,” the conference wrote. Some bishops expressed frustration with the election’s outcome. Despite statements from some bishops, Catholics favored Senator Obama over Senator John McCain. There is no evidence, however, that the bishops failed in their effort to form consciences in advance of the election. To draw that conclusion, one must conflate church teaching with a partisan political victory.
In response to the election outcome, the U.S.C.C.B. decided to focus its efforts to an even greater extent than before the election. But a one-issue approach may be risky, and putting abortion at the center of the dialogue may leave the church with less sway in the new administration. Abortion is the pre-eminent life issue, but it is not the only one on which the bishops hope to have a voice. And that voice must be one that people, including the new administration, can hear. Without a search for some small piece of common ground, the bishops may find that they have ceded the ground to less informed parties, or find themselves with no ground left on which to stand.
The bishops might also take the president-elect at his word. In April 2008, during a forum in Pennsylvania, Senator Obama spoke about the divide between pro-choice and pro-life forces: “We can certainly agree on the fact that we should be doing everything we can to avoid unwanted pregnancies that might even lead somebody to consider having an abortion.” Surely this points to common ground and the possibility of working together. As the bishops wrote in their document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, when morally flawed laws already exist, “the process of framing legislation to protect life is subject to prudential judgment and ‘the art of the possible.’”
A Forgotten Battle
Senator Barack Obama will be the first American president in a generation who has not faced some controversy over his military service or lack of same. George W. Bush served in the National Guard (well, more or less), while both his opponents in the general election, John Kerry and Al Gore, served in Vietnam, the latter as a reporter. Bill Clinton’s infamous draft deferment during his student days was the subject of much derision by his two presidential opponents. In this campaign Obama’s opponent, John McCain, was a decorated veteran widely praised for his heroism; yet Obama’s lack of military experience did not become a major issue in the presidential race. Could it be that Americans are sick of games of patriotic one-upmanship?
Or is the issue simply one of age? In fact, Barack Obama was too young to have been drafted. He was 12 when the draft was suspended and barely into his teens when the last U.S. marines left Saigon in April 1975. Has time done what our politicians and pundits could not—has it made military service irrelevant as an indicator of a candidate’s suitability for office? Only momentarily, perhaps. We may have ended the draft, but we have not ended our wars.
In All Things (Really)
Milwaukee was abuzz last month with news that the Milwaukee Public Museum’s exotic titan arum bulb was blossoming for the first time since it was planted six years ago. Native to Sumatra, the titan arum is a very unusual plant. It requires sustained humidity and heat of at least 80 degrees for a number of years; then it suddenly sprouts and grows rapidly to a height of as much as 10 feet before blossoming for just 48 hours.
Along with the blossom comes a stench so nasty that the titan arum is commonly referred to as the “corpse flower,” or “Get that thing outta here!” The odor draws certain bees, as well as beetles and flies that mistake it for a dead animal. The plant traps the insects in its leaves until they are covered in its pollen, then releases them to find another corpse plant (and take a long shower).
Considered from a distance, an enormous flower that smells like rotting flesh sounds less attractive than a pooper-scooper. Yet in the course of eight days over 6,500 people came to see it. Uninformed coastal types might wonder, what else is there to do in Milwaukee? (They know not the glories of Kopp’s Custard, the Milwaukee Art Museum and fresh air.)
No, the attention given to this most strange and noisome of life forms would seem to point instead to that fundamental intuition of our faith—somehow all of God’s creations are wondrous and good. In the kingdom of God, even the fetid get feted.