The conscience of Cao

Indicted CongressmanLast week, Terry wrote about the curious absence of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops in stories about health care reform. I looked at some of the media coverage describing abortion as an obstacle to passing reform.

Last week there were a couple amendments dealing with abortion funding under reform efforts — but they got very little coverage. Or, as reader Jerry N wrote, after saying he was looking for mainstream media coverage of the fate of these amendments:

Here’s the thing. I knew of the amendments and more or less how the surnames of the sponsoring Representatives were spelled. I *still* had a hard time finding anything.

He found this Politico snippet but that was about it. The story was well covered in the ideological and religious media. But it didn’t generate much interest in the mainstream media. Here’s The Hill‘s version of events by reporter David Shalleck-Klein:

In a series of late night votes Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed, then went on to reject, an amendment that would prevent a healthcare “public option” from covering abortion.

The amendment, offered by Rep. Stupak (D-Mich.), Reps. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) and Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), originally passed 31 to 27. Republicans voted unanimously for the measure. On the Democratic side, all but one Blue Dog-Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio) who did not vote-supported the amendment. (“I just missed the first vote,” said Space, who went on to vote against the amendment.)

But before the first round of voting closed, Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) changed his vote from NO to YES. The switch let him to take advantage of a House rule that allows supporters to bring an amendment back for consideration later. The tactic paid off: Waxman brought the amendment up for another vote, and the committee defeated it 30-29.

The amendment would have prevented the public plan from covering abortion unless the mother’s life was at risk.

“I misunderstood it the first time,” said Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), who originally voted for the amendment but opposed against it the second time around.

Here’s the Associated Press saying much the same thing.

One mainstream report, however, did a great job of covering the story of the defeat of this amendment — the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Reporter Jonathan Tilove elicits some great religion-infused quotes to boot. The story gives a play-by-play of the procedural vote described above. But first it says that Democratic Rep. Charlie Melancon voted in committee against the health care reform bill Friday night over, among other things, concerns about opening the door to public funding of abortion. He says that he is “personally pro-life and represents a deeply pro-life constituency” and is worried that the bill doesn’t ensure that taxpayer funds wouldn’t be used to fund abortion. But this was the section I found captivating:

Earlier in the day, Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao, R-New Orleans, the only member of the Louisiana House delegation who had not weighed in on where he stands on the health reform bill, said that he cannot support any bill that permits public money to be spent on abortion.

“At the end of the day if the health care reform bill does not have strong language prohibiting the use of federal funding for abortion, then the bill is really a no-go for me,” said Cao, who studied to be a Jesuit priest.

“Being a Jesuit, I very much adhere to the notion of social justice,” Cao said. “I do fully understand the need of providing everyone with access to health care, but to me personally, I cannot be privy to a law that will allow the potential of destroying thousands of innocent lives.

“I know that voting against the health care bill will probably be the death of my political career,” Cao said, “but I have to live with myself, and I always reflect on the phrase of the New Testament, ‘How does it profit a man’s life to gain the world but to lose his soul.’ “

To understand that powerful last quote, the story explains that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had just announced that Cao would be targeted with radio ads.

The day after Terry wrote about the absence of the Catholic Bishops, Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali, who chairs the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, wrote to the Energy and Commerce Committee about his concerns with the bill. To my knowledge, the only mainstream paper to cover that was the Washington Post.

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  • Chris Bolinger

    “At the end of the day if the health care reform bill does not have strong language prohibiting the use of federal funding for abortion, then the bill is really a no-go for me,” said Cao, who studied to be a Jesuit priest.

    “Being a Jesuit, I very much adhere to the notion of social justice,” Cao said. “I do fully understand the need of providing everyone with access to health care, but to me personally, I cannot be privy to a law that will allow the potential of destroying thousands of innocent lives.

    “I know that voting against the health care bill will probably be the death of my political career,” Cao said, “but I have to live with myself, and I always reflect on the phrase of the New Testament, ‘How does it profit a man’s life to gain the world but to lose his soul.’”

    Wow. Powerful, indeed.

  • dalea

    Every day 50 Americans die from lack of health insurance. Every day hospitals must proform emergency care that will never be paid for. Our health system is in crisis.

    So, why does the objection to a remote possibility of funding abortions trump all other concerns? And why is the press not pushing the bishops to explain their reasoning. The presentation is one I find unintelligable. The press needs to explain just how the conclusion that torpedoing all health care over the abortion issue makes any sense.

  • Ed Mechmann

    There is no doubt that the media has imposed a virtual blackout on the Catholic Bishops. Perhaps it’s the “dog bites man” aspect to the story — “Catholic bishops against abortion again? Ho hum.”

    As for the rationale behind the Catholic position, it’s a question of justice. We believe that all human beings, from the moment of conception until natural death, have the right to be free from lethal violence, and the right to equal protection of the laws. These are the rights on which all others are predicated, and without which no other right has any substance or meaning. Our current legal regime not only refuses to recognize those rights, but the health care proposals would involve using taxpayer money to pay for the violation of those fundamental rights, by paying for the use of unjustifiable lethal violence against members of the human family.

    There — one paragraph. Could the news media fit that explanation into a story somewhere?

  • http://www.opinionatedcatholic.blogspot.com jh

    “So, why does the objection to a remote possibility of funding abortions trump all other concerns? And why is the press not pushing the bishops to explain their reasoning. The presentation is one I find unintelligable. The press needs to explain just how the conclusion that torpedoing all health care over the abortion issue makes any sense.”

    Maybe it is because Cathlolics are not suppose to be consequentalist

    Sort of like Hey why does the Vatican not look kindly on the atomic bombing of Japan. I mean it saved lives in the end they say.

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  • will47

    I very much respect Rep. Cao, but if he loses his seat in the next election, it will be because the political realities of his district are very unfavorable to him, rather than any one particular vote. His district leans heavily Democratic (75% voted for Obama), and he won his seat mainly because the incumbent, William Jefferson, was under indictment. It would be much better for his long-term future within the Republican Party to vote against any Obama healthcare plan rather than for it.

  • michael

    Dalea,

    If it is indeed true that 50 Americans die every day from a lack of health insurance (I would have thought the number higher in fact) or from the fact (which you do not mention) that insurance sometimes faails to pay for necessary tests and treatments, then that is indeed a tragedy that needs to be rectified. But since this sort of statistic appeals to a kind of utilitarian calculus for its strength, I would only point out that there are assuredly more than 50 abortions performed nationwide each day and that this number would surely increase exponentially with government subsidy. So I fail to see how this complaint succeeds even on its own terms, unless you’ve already judged abortion to be a trivial matter in which case it could easily be be reversed: if a widespread lack of health insurance (or poor insurance) is such a crisis, why delay the prospect of universal coverage by insisting that the government fund abortions?

    Though I am willing to be corrected, I am skeptical about ‘unpaid’ emergency care being the straw that breaks the camel’s back of the system. No doubt there are many instances in which emergency care goes unpaid by the patient or his insurer–one place where the current system, mercifully, leaves room for human charity–but that does not mean that it goes unpaid simply. (Isn’t this one reason why other expenses are so high, because the costs of this unpaid care are distributed throughout the system?) So while I agree that lack of insurance or poor insurance constitutes a crisis, I don’t see how the fact that some hospitals extend pro bono emergency care to the uninsured constitutes a crisis simply because it is pro bono.

    In other words, I don’t really understand the logic of your objection other than as a variation on the knee-jerk refrain: “if they were really pro-life they would support x or oppose y.” And of course the assumption is always that x and y (abortion and the death penalty, poverty, etc.) are morally and ontologically equivalent. The church rejects this calculus for myriad reasons which are readily available to anyone remotely interested in considering (rather than just repudiating) them: because the human person is not reducible to its interacting parts, because there is something ontologically basic about paternal and filial relations, because abortion denies these ‘truths of the human person’ and thus poisons reason, because abortion and related ills therefore inflict deep internal damage not just upon innocent life, but upon the persons and societies who countenance them, because it calls into question the meaning and intelligibility of human being in a way that these other social ills, while grave, unjust and even scandalous, do not, because incipient human life is life at its most innocent and most in need of defending, etc., etc., etc.

    You may not agree with the logic of these positions, and it is certainly debatable, but it is far from unintelligible if indeed one really cares to understand it. And I find that the media are no more remiss in asking the bishops to explain it than they are in seeking to understand the reasoning behind just about anything. If they are, it is not because it is letting the bishops ‘get away’ with unintelligible reasoning, but because there is little to no interest in understanding it.

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  • dalea

    Michael says:

    But since this sort of statistic appeals to a kind of utilitarian calculus for its strength, I would only point out that there are assuredly more than 50 abortions performed nationwide each day and that this number would surely increase exponentially with government subsidy.

    The number of abortions can only increase exponentially if the number of pregnancies also increases exponentially. What do the bishops see in the bill that would do this? Why don’t reporters ask the bishops about this? Probably because doing so involves math, which the religious reporters are rarely good at. Talking about absolute numbers is not helpful, it is the rate that provides usefull information. And the rate has been in decline for years. I would respond that many women who contemplate aborting would choose to go ahead with a pregnancy were they assured health care. So, why do the bishops jump to the conclusion that health care reform will increase the rate. The press simply acts as stenographers here, they do not ask relevant questions.

    From the coverage I have seen, the health care bill is abortion neutral, taking no position on the subject.

  • Jordan

    Cao isn’t just being targeted with radio ads by the DCCC, he represents the most Democrat seat in America currently held by a Republican. It’s a nearly 70 percent Democrat seat.

    Cao won in large party due to Rep. William Jefferson’s legal troubles. (The guy with the money in the freezer whom the FBI raided?) He’s public enemy number one for the Dems in 2010. There is simply no overstating the guts that it took for him to do this.

  • michael

    Dalea,

    The number of abortions can only increase exponentially if the number of pregnancies also increases exponentially. What do the bishops see in the bill that would do this? Why don’t reporters ask the bishops about this? Probably because doing so involves math, which the religious reporters are rarely good at.

    What? There are more card tricks in this argument than I can keep track of. It seems to me that the only thing actually required for an exponential increase in the number of abortions is an exponential increase in the number of pregnant women to decide to have them. But then, maybe this is a complicated form of numerical reasoning that I am incapable of. Anyway, the point was mine and not the bishops (so far as I know), and you shouldn’t attribute it to them. Whether the increase in abortions that would result from including it in universal coverage would prove exponential or arithmetical or even negligible is really beside the point to me, since I don’t judge the rectitude of this policy in the same utilitarian terms as you but regard it as wrong in principle. I only include it to suggest that your position is weak even in those flawed terms, unless of course, you’ve already judged that abortion is no big deal.

    Even so, it is naive (I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt) to suppose that the inclusion of ‘abortion benefits’ in universal coverage will have no effect on abortion rates, particularly as costs give future administrators of the system future incentives to restrict the number of people included in that universe (for example, by restricting the number of times a woman can receive the child birth benefit). And even if these effects in the rate are offset by universal coverage, beneath this statistical abstraction are particular persons being aborted who would not be in a universal system with no such abortion provision. So it is disingenuous to suggest that the bishops oppose “health care reform” (and are thus complicit in abortion) when you the opposite is true. What they oppose is the idea that health care reform must include a taxpayer subsidy for abortion on demand and require Catholic hospitals either to comply or refer.

    So again, if universal coverage is so all-fire important, why is it so important to include abortion benefits in it? Why not just drop that provision? Wouldn’t that help speed passage?

  • Davis

    There is simply no overstating the guts that it took for him to do this.

    Actually there is. He wasn’t going to win his seat in 2010, having already voted with Republicans against the stimulus. He was considered a single-termer the moment he was elected in a fluke.

    So to vote against health care reform at the behest of the Republican party and the pro-life lobby isn’t all that brave when you know your votes probably aren’t going to get your re-elected. It’s not brave to vote against the interests of your constituents, who are overwhelmingly urban poor who will benefit from health care reform and who support health care reform (I question how “deeply pro-life” his constituents actually are, given the voting behavior of this district).

    But back to the journalism. Doesn’t Rigali’s statement underscore why no one is really paying attention to the Catholic Bishops? They just don’t seem that interested in being a part of the policy discussion, beyond abortion. They aren’t offering solutions, they aren’t offering suggestions, they aren’t even offering philosophical grounding, beyond the issue of abortion.

    So what’s the case for a journalist paying attention to them, given their disengagement from the debate?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Dalea et. al.,

    This is absolutely NOT the place to be bashing Catholic teaching or practice. Here we discuss how well the mainstream media discuss religious issues.

    Many comments have not even tried to stay on journalistic issues.

    I will be deleting all future off-topic comments and removing incendiary comments from others.

    If you want to discuss things that are off-topic, take it up over at the Coffeehouse. That’s what it’s there for.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I suspect the liberal media is not covering the pro-life position on the health-care plan because many recent polls show that Americans are now more pro-life than ever (including a majority in some reputable polls.) So the liberals in the media and the Democrats don’t want to stir up something else that will add to their rapidly sinking pet government power grabbing and enlarging program.(Funny how the media couldn’t do the simple math and compare how wrong they were on the cost of the Clunkers For Cash Program and how much they are likely to have been wrong on the cost of federalizing our health care. They Obama Administration now admits the clunkers program will eventually need 2 or 3 times more than expected. Does that mean federalized medical care will cost 2-6 TRILLION Dollars instead of the one Trillion heretofore talked about??

  • http://www.opinionatedcatholic.blogspot.com JH

    As a Louisiana guy that has been involved in Louisiana politics for some time I don’t think people realize how complex the political situatuon is in NOLA. Lets recall this district is about to go bye bye after the next Census. Needless to say perhaps it is some Democrats interest to keep CAO in this district till the new district in 2012. I have been through this two times with Jefferson and lets say it is a jungle.

    THis was a tough vote for CAO because while he has a uphill stuggle he is by no means dead in that district. There is a ton of politics going on down there.

    Needless to say this did not help him. It was not a “what the hell vote”. He might have put that final nail in the coffin but maybe not

    But what about this more interesting story line. Most victims of abortion in Orleans Parish of abortion ae black
    .Is anyone going to them and hold them to the fire on this or do we not do that.

  • dalea

    Found a site for the Catholic Hospital Association, which appears to be involved with Health Care Reform. First is Sr. Carol Keehan and VP Biden explaining part of the plan less that a month ago.

    http://www.chausa.org/Pub/MainNav/AboutCHA/Announcements/whitehouse.htm

    Second a commitment from CHA to work with the Obama Administration to reform Health Care. PDF warning.

    http://www.chausa.org/NR/rdonlyres/8970BCBA-5FB7-4279-B5DD-B30240709721/0/whitehouseagreement_jointstatement.pdf

    More on the subject:

    http://www.chausa.org/Pub/MainNav/Newsroom/NewsReleases/2009/w090708a.htm

    “We know how urgently change is needed for both moral and economic reasons, and today’s agreement marks major progress in advancing reform and working together to finance health care in this country,” said Sr. Carol Keehan, DC, the association’s president and chief executive officer.

    Representing the Catholic health ministry at the White House announcement event hosted by Vice President Joseph Biden was Sr. Carol, and from the CHA Board of Trustees, Colleen Scanlon, RN, JD, chairperson and senior vice president for Advocacy, Catholic Health Initiatives, Denver; and Anthony Tersigni, EdD, FACHE, vice chairperson and president, Ascension Health, St. Louis.

    Statement of Purpose for CHA:

    “As CHA states in its reform principles, all health care stakeholders should contribute to ensuring that everyone is included in the system,” Sr. Carol said. “We are pleased to be working closely with our hospital colleagues and leadership in Congress and the White House to make meaningful and responsible health care reform a reality.”

    This is their statement on how their religious freedom is being treated; they are pleased with the way things are going. The CHA also states that the Hyde amendment is part of health care reform.

    http://www.chausa.org/NR/rdonlyres/9923FA00-0E40-4CA7-A8A4-DED7B81C8079/0/090722HydeWeldonLtr.pdf

    This looks like a major religion story. It involves clergy and religious assets. And it took me all of 7 minutes to put this together. Has anyone seen any MSM coverage of this?

  • Dave

    Deacon John, the instant oversubscription of Cash for Clunkers can be attributed to pent-up demand for cars, according to the Automotive section of today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer. That’s not the same as an inherent government infacility at math. Cash for Clunkers would have been a failure if no one had subscribed; it is in fact an unanticipated success.

    A PD story a couple of days ago showed a huge increase in MPG between traded-in clunkers and cars bought in consequence.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Dave–you gave the reason WHY the expectations for the cost of that program were so wrong. There always is a reason for miscalculating expected costs that are finally seen after the financial damage has been done. Noone apparently (in the media or elsewhere) expected the Cash For Clunkers program to massively undercut used car donations to charities (more power and money to the bloated Leviathan government instead), or destroy the market for used cars (less cars for sale, much higher prices). Every time the government bloats some more, the unexpected consequences seem to bloat even more and the media is so enraptured with Obama and massive government as saviours today that they, lately, have completely fallen down on the job (except for Fox and radio talk shows) of prophetically probing the schemes of government and politicians lest more harm than good be inflicted on us. The whole moral purpose of freedom of the press as envisioned by our Founding Fathers was that it should be the needle that punctures politicians’ balloons and schemes to make us servants of the government instead of the government just leaving us alone to be free. The 20th Century in Europe proved how horribly dangerous it can be for a populace to be brainwashed to look to politicians and governments as saviours. Only government has the power and the ability to
    create and carry out the horrors we seem to have lost our fear of– primarily a deep-seated rational fear of government most of our wise Founding Fathers seem to have had.
    Now I just heard on TV that the White House wants names forwarded to it of people whose opposition to its health schemes seems “fishy.” If enemies lists were immoral for Nixon then the media should be just as up in arms now as it was (rightly) then under Nixon. But this horrible fascistic
    move seems of little interest to today’s MSM today.

  • Dave

    Deacon, you raise three issues here and you’re dead wrong on all of them.

    First, the market for used cars undercuts the intent to put cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars on the road. I hardly think this was an accident, though I can understand why it wasn’t touted as an aspect of the program.

    Secondly, it’s entirely too easy to make baseless claims on the Internet and let them go viral without taking responsibility for them. Obama’s fishy-email program is no more than an effort to bring to this medium the transparency that exists for MSM editorialists and columnists. Kevin O’Brien, a columnist who give conservative intellect a bad name, made the same complaint in today’s Plain Dealer. He just isn’t used to a liberal who plays hardball.

    Thirdly, the MSM is not in the pudding for Obama. Last night I saw the PBS News Hour exploring places in dire unemployment straits where the stimulus package has done bupkis, in the wake of Obama’s victory tour of Elkhart, Indiana, which is getting a green-tech boost from electric-car research grants.

  • Julia

    Dave:

    Are you saying nobody should be able to re-sell their cars?

    Nobody looked into my letters and phone calls for speech against the president back in the day. Why should the govt be monitoring my e-mail or talk with friends today? Why is this different than marches in Washington on behalf of black men or against the Viet Nam War or protesting in Selma? First Amendment – have you heard of it?

    One PBS piece on the stimulus package not working in Elkhart neutralizes all the usual pro-Obama pieces in the media?

  • Dave

    Are you saying nobody should be able to re-sell their cars?

    Absolutely not. I’ve never bought a new car in my life. But the cars I’ve bought have been VWs, Saabs and Toyotas (including a Chevy Nova, which is a Toyota built under license by Chevrolet). Not all used cars are clunkers.

    The Cash for Clunkers rebate doesn’t forbid purchase of used cars. It provides an alternative.

    Nobody looked into my letters and phone calls for speech against the president back in the day.

    If you’re as old as I am, they did. Do you remember the Church Committee’s revelations of what the FBI and the CIA did to the anti-war and civil rights movements?

    Why should the govt be monitoring my e-mail or talk with friends today? Why is this different than marches in Washington on behalf of black men or against the Viet Nam War or protesting in Selma?

    The government isn’t monitoring your email or chat. It’s asking people who receive the kind of email that has poisoned politics in the past to pass them along to the still-active Obama campaign. I’d do so in a shot; I’d love for someone to hold these right-wing slime-meisters to account.

    First Amendment – have you heard of it?

    Early and often. I’ll exercise my First Amendment rights in passing along any Swift Boat garbage that comes into my computer.

    One PBS piece on the stimulus package not working in Elkhart neutralizes all the usual pro-Obama pieces in the media?

    It wasn’t about the stimulus package not working in Elkhart — we don’t know the outcome there yet — but about other counties with unemployment nudging 15% that hadn’t gotten anything from the stimulus package.

    It puts the lie to sweeping claims that all to often make GR read like another quotidian conservative complaint board.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Not that these discussions aren’t interesting, but they’re definitely not about mainstream media coverage of religion. I think some of you need to move these conversations over to the Coffeehouse — linked above.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    It is a serious moral (therefore religious) issue if the White House is urging people to collect data on average citizens that Obama acolytes believe is “fishy” and urging people to report it to them. Such government data collecting and spying on citizens was outlawed during the Watergate era.
    At first, the media seemed uninterested, but I just saw a liberal activist who is horrified by this interviewed on TV–but it was Fox. In flipping around I’ve seen nothing on the other news channels.

  • Dave

    Deacon, the White House is asking people to collect information about political action committees that have not declared themselves as such — information that those pirate PACs have made public themselves. This is at the level of collecting the opposition’s handbills in the pre-Internet era, nothing rising to the level of invoking Watergate.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Dave–I guess you weren’t the horrified liberal interviewed. I don’t think that what is immoral or illegal to do to single average citizens, in a situation like this, is moral or legal to do to citizen groups.
    Some in the media should realize Freedom of the Press exists so that an informed public can keep the Leviathan government beast in its cage. The media has no business being shills or protection racketeers for that beast. Fox seems to be doing its job (at least lately). Too bad some others in the media aren’t doing theirs.
    The White House is only degraded and debased when it is used as a hack political headquarters. Its malfeasances do not have to reach the Watergate level to be be acts of attempted government intimidation of citizens and breaking the laws passed at that time.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Guys,

    Take your conversation to the coffeehouse. Thank you.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Taking the conversation in a different direction…

    I understand that Cao spent six years in a Jesuit seminary, but is he properly able to call himself a Jesuit if he wasn’t ordained? I mean, I’m sure he knows the technicalities better than I do, but I’m a little surprised he wasn’t questioned on it, since most reporters at least know that Jesuits don’t generally have wives and children.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Joel,

    I’m pretty sure you can be a lay Jesuit.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    I had wondered about that too, because my wife is a lay Carmelite. But it turns out the Jesuits don’t have a lay order.

  • JonathanR.

    “But it turns out the Jesuits don’t have a lay order.”

    It is probably just shorthand for “educated in the Jesuit tradition”.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Cao didn’t say he was in a lay order of Jesuits. He did say “as a Jesuit.” This page http://www.jesuit.org/WhoAreJesuits/Associates/default.aspx has further information on the lay role in Jesuit ministry but I’m not sure it clarifies anything.


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