With a solid majority in the Senate, gains in the House and gubernatorial victories in even the bluest of states, Republicans appeared ready to sound a conciliatory tone after the midterm elections. At a press conference on Nov. 5, one of the previous night’s biggest winners, Mitch McConnell, who is expected to become Senate majority leader, told reporters: “When the American people choose divided government, I don’t think it means they don’t want us to do anything.... We ought to start with the view that maybe there are some things we can agree on.”
As the governing party, the Republicans can no longer simply pursue the path of greatest resistance to President Obama; they will need concrete legislative victories to keep their hold on Congress and in hope of putting a Republican in the White House in 2016. And while the president might be tempted to repay once-obstructionist lawmakers in kind with the veto pen, the challenges this country faces call for creative compromises. Mr. Obama could, for example, approve the Keystone pipeline project but pair it with new resources toward developing sustainable energy to point the country in the right direction on climate change. Corporate tax reform and creating jobs by investing in this country’s crumbling infrastructure are both areas where there are opportunities for bipartisan cooperation
When Gallup asked Americans what they wanted from their new Congress, the largest share, one third, responded that its first priority should be to fix itself. After the two least productive sessions of Congress in modern U.S. history, it is time for Washington to get back to work.
At another time, there might have seemed something quaintly anachronistic about a Congressional Budget Office report that the United States was preparing to spend $355 billion over the next 10 years “modernizing” its nuclear arsenal instead of selectively decommissioning it. These days, with the sights of President Vladimir Putin’s henchmen unsubtly set on the borders of Europe, some may argue that such modernization is justifiable.
It should be more critically assessed, however, as wasteful and counterproductive. Any step “forward” on nuclear weapons is sure to provoke countermeasures from other global nuclear powers. As Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, noted in a letter in October to Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, the modernization proposals undermine the U.S. commitment to global nuclear disarmament, a quest the church has endorsed since 1963. With U.S. and Russian treaties leading the way, the world seemed to be making progress in reducing its suicidal stockpile of atomic weapons. The United States should remain set on that goal, and should likewise persist in efforts to curtail the further proliferation of these weapons. That includes the recent and unjustifiably maligned diplomatic overture toward Iran.
The United States can perhaps be most persuasive by example. Spending $36 billion more each year to enhance its nuclear force is not leadership; it is a pandering to fear and political special interests. Nuclear disarmament remains as imperative an ambition today as when activists, horrified by the specter of global nuclear war, first proposed it. This enormous commitment of U.S. resources to retrofitting and refining U.S. weapons of mass destruction is a moral and geopolitical step backward.
Death and Dignity
The death on Nov. 1 of Brittany Maynard, who was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer earlier this year, has revived debate around the right-to-die movement in the United States. The 29-year-old California woman moved to Oregon in order to obtain the fatal dose of medication, which she took to end her life, surrounded by family and loved ones, on the date she chose and publicized in an interview with People magazine in October.
Such suffering is hard to contemplate, but her decision—and the widespread public support she received—raises serious concerns about the spiritual state and direction of our society. While offering prayers for all those afflicted by debilitating illnesses, we must not forget that the path taken by Ms. Maynard involves significant issues of a philosophical and religious nature—not just medical ones—that must be countered with an alternative vision.
Above all else, a fundamental question needs to be considered, a sorrowful mystery the church has always dealt with, since the time when Jesus himself underwent the agony of the cross. Can any meaning or purpose come from suffering and death? Christ’s answer, and the church’s answer, is yes. For Christians, a prescription providing a lethal cocktail of medications will never bestow dignity on death—just as pain, losing rational faculties or becoming utterly dependent on the care of others will never strip away a person’s fundamental dignity. As Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of Portland has pointed out, instead of “hastening death,” we ought to use our final days to “help us to prepare for our eternal destiny.”