New Year’s Wishes

The year 2014 was an awful one for Washington, with too little leadership from the president and too much obstruction from Congress. I find liturgical litanies comforting, but 2014’s litany of Washington woes was demoralizing. The year was a roll call of crises, anger and sadness: Ferguson, “I can’t breathe,” Veterans Administration scandals, botched executions, failed launch of HealthCare.gov and 45 empty House votes to repeal Obamacare. It brought ISIS beheadings, Boko Haram kidnappings, Ebola outbreaks and bloody conflicts in Gaza, Syria, Ukraine and Africa. The 2014 elections produced agenda-less negative campaigns, record political spending and low voter turnout.

This year was supposed to be the year of immigration reform, but instead it demonstrated the worst of Washington dysfunction. The Obama administration deported record numbers to appear tough, so the president could push for comprehensive reform—which never came. The comprehensive legislation passed by the Senate in 2013 was abandoned by key supporters. Speaker John Boehner said he supports reform but refused to let the House consider the Senate bill because it would pass, but not with sufficient Republican votes. Immigrant children fleeing violence became an excuse for inaction. Republicans began the year saying they needed to reach out to Hispanics and ended the year using anti-immigrant fears to mobilize their Anglo white base. Obama finally took needed administrative steps he previously said were illegal and impossible.

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The year just ended also brought the damning Senate report on torture and the lies that came with it. Even that was politicized, with the noble exception of Senator John McCain. Washington’s year ended with Congress barely avoiding a government shutdown, passing a 1,600 page “cromnibus” bill with provisions to reduce regulation of big banks and increase the amount of money big donors can give to parties.

As 2014 ends, where are Catholic Republicans who deplore the evil of torture and inaction on immigration and Catholic Democrats who reject an obsession with “reproductive rights,” which left their party with great losses and without much of an agenda?

Let’s hope and pray 2015 will be better. Here are a few wishes for Washington in 2015:

I hope President Obama can recover his voice, values and passion at a time of racial injustice and division and growing gaps between rich and poor. Will his legacy be an unpopular but historic health care reform, “free contraception” and more vegetables in school lunches? Or can he open up an insular administration, use his last two years to defend the weak and remind the American people why we elected him twice?

I hope the Republican Congress can agree on something besides constant opposition to Mr. Obama. On immigration, they could stop condemning executive action and take legislative action to fix a broken system. The Republican Party could stop pretending to repeal Obamacare and offer its own measures to protect the lives and dignity of all. One promising area for bipartisan action could be reducing mass incarceration and dealing with injustices in the criminal justice system.

I hope the administration and Congress can make global religious freedom a greater priority, moving from occasional strong words to effective action to protect the lives and rights of those who suffer persecution, and sometimes martyrdom, for what they believe.

I hope for more civility in public and ecclesial life, not abandoning principle but not demonizing opponents, including the president. Let’s stop calling people who defend traditional Catholic teaching on marriage “bigots” or insisting that those who oppose unrestricted abortion are waging “war on women.” Let’s avoid calling people who differ on priorities or strategies for defending human life and dignity “unfaithful.”

I hope Pope Francis’ visit to our nation this fall can be a turning point. His journey will likely include stops in Philadelphia to support families, in Washington to call for greater justice and at the United Nations to promote peace. He will bring “the joy of the Gospel,” a priority for the poor and warnings against a “throwaway society” that abandons the very young and old, the poor and weak. If we hear and act on his message, our path forward will be better than the sad legacy of 2014...for Washington and for the nation.

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