Douthat does Kennedys

Over at the NY Times Ross Douthat does the Kennedy(s) Story better than anyone has in the past week.

Liberalism’s most important legislator probably merited a more extended send-off than his sister. But there’s a sense in which his life’s work and Eunice’s deserve to be remembered together — for what their legacies had in common, and for what ultimately separated them.

What the siblings shared — in addition to the grace, rare among Kennedys, of a ripe old age and a peaceful death — was a passionate liberalism and an abiding Roman Catholic faith. These two commitments were intertwined: Ted Kennedy’s tireless efforts on issues like health care, education and immigration were explicitly rooted in Catholic social teaching, and so was his sister’s lifelong labor on behalf of the physically and mentally impaired.

What separated them was abortion.

For abortion opponents, cruel ironies abounded in this sibling disagreement. Because of Eunice Shriver’s work with the developmentally disabled, a group of Americans who had once been marginalized and hidden away — or lobotomized, like her sister Rosemary — was ushered closer to full participation in ordinary human life. But because of laws that her brother unstintingly supported, that same group was ushered out again: the abortion rate for fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome, for instance, is estimated to be as high as 90 percent.

I never read something in the NY Times and wish I’d written it. This, I do; you’ll want to read the whole thing. Well done, indeed.

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  • saveliberty

    Thank you for posting that outstanding item.

  • Adam Rasmussen

    Very good article. How things might be different if our Catholic politicians had stayed true.


  • Bender

    explicitly rooted in Catholic social teaching

    No, not really.

    Not unless Catholic social teaching is interchangeable with utopian, leftist, neo-Marxism. Now, I know that many post-Vatican II liberals insist just that, having hijacked Catholic social teaching and twisted it for political purposes, but that is a gross distortion of authentic Catholic social teaching. And, sadly, this piece in the NYT merely reinforces that fallacy, even setting abortion aside.

    As for that “eminently Catholic goal — expanding access to medical care,” the authentic Catholic means to that goal is not to coerce and force others to provide it, for that would violate both charity and truth, rather, the authentic Catholic means, which was once understood and pursued in this country, would be for the Catholic Church to provide such care itself to those who need it, i.e. Catholic hospitals, and not merely abdicate its responsibilities and shift them upon the government.

  • Jim

    Catholic social teaching is also expressly against socialism. I think it was Pius IX who declared that no one can be a true Catholic and socialist at the same time.

  • saveliberty

    BTW I forwarded this link to Mom as she wanted to read it once I told her about it. Doubly good.

  • Bobfan

    Bender, do you think Medicare and Medicaid violate charity and truth by forcing the well to do to pay for the care of the less well off? I wish I lived as simply as I could and gave the rest of my money — not to mention more of my time –, and not just a tithe, to charity. I don’t, so it seems only just to me that the government take some of my money to do what I should but won’t.

    Thanks for posting this, Anchoress. Douthat sure is a fresh and welcome voice in the Times.

  • Pingback: One Kennedy Legacy; Tribal Warfare » The Anchoress | A First Things Blog

  • JuliB

    Bob -

    I believe the point of Christ’s teaching was not that we need to ask Caesar to do something, but rather that it is our responsibility.

    Of course, your point is not without merit, and I never used to know how to reply to it. While I am still in the infancy of a reply, I would like to recommend a book I am currently reading called the Tragedy of American Compassion.

    It is heavy on supporting fact (almost overkill) from the inception of the colonies. It explains the different moral and theological schools of thought that have developed over the years, and how the problems that people were concerned about over that time period have come true.

    I’m in the time period of the early 1900s, but so far, the author traces 3 schools of thought which include social darwinism, the traditional thought of personal responsibility and individual salvation, and what is now in vogue – universal materialism. The differences between the 2 Christian schools of thought (no social darwinism) relate back to how people view sin, salvation and society.

    It is a FASCINATING book! I wish I could go into more detail, but it will some additional research before I can start to summarize it any better.

    In brief – there used to be many ‘points of light’ with some success. There was a biblical view of ‘deserving poor’, and they/we believed that not everyone goes to Heaven, man’s fallen nature causes sin and poverty, etc. And that people (undeserving poor) who were given too much in terms of welfare would develop a sense of entitlement and would fall into ‘pauperism’.

    The flip side was that the environment caused sin (crime) and poverty, take the person out of the environment and things would automagically be better. People were basically good (forget Original Sin) and everyone pretty much would go to Heaven. Thus it was unfair that there were people who were considered ‘undeserving’.

    Aggh – my premature summary and thoughts do no justice to the arguments… If you are interested in the origins of such things, I would highly recommend this book. Otherwise, I am sure I will be able to tie a better presentation of these ideas at a later date.

  • Bender

    If force and coercion are any part of charity, why doesn’t God, who is Caritas, simply impose His will and force people to be good?

  • Bobfan

    JuliB, the book sounds fascinating. I’m a conservative inasmuch as I don’t think there are any perfect policies capable of producing a perfect society, and inasmuch as I agree and have seen myself that the welfare state easily produces all too dependent people. But I guess I’d prefer to err on the side of mercy. Clearly some policies work better than others, but in general we can’t help the needy without being taken advantage of by some of the non-needy.

    Bender, I have an answer for you that I’ll be happy to post if you’ll answer my own question.

  • Bender

    Oh Bob — I was trying with my question to help you overcome your confusion so that you could answer your own question yourself.

    I’ll try again. The premise of my question is faulty. Force and coercion are NOT any part of charity (love) or truth. The use of force is contrary to and a violation of love, and coercion is contrary to and a violation of the truth of the dignity of the human person.

    Now, if we apply that to the question of the use of force with respect to some government program, what must the answer necessarily be?

  • Bobfan

    Bender, your premise was perfectly clear. But Democratic governments don’t make laws by force and coercion.

    More directly to your question, God couldn’t change our hearts by just forcing us to be good; force wouldn’t suit he purposes there. We can, however, help the needy, something he commands us to do and calls true religion, through the government. Again, he commands us to care for them. Practically speaking, the churches aren’t doing all the work, so how else are we going to do it?

    I will also point out again, since you wouldn’t answer my question, that Medicare and Medicaid take from the rich to aid the poor. If you are consistent you will oppose them as contrary to charity and truth and also won’t accept any government help yourself in a time of need.

  • kyle

    I can’t understand why anyone thinks Kennedy did anything positive for our nation.

    Does anyone think public education has improved since the department of education was created in 1979?

    Kennedy was a failure as a legislator and he was a terrible moral example.

    His ideas and actions hurt people. I know of nothing he did that helped America.

    I’m not being rhetorical. Please offer evidence to change my opinion if you can.

  • Bobfan

    kyle, it seems like if you wanted to know, you could read an obituary or two. Beside education, which you don’t count, his legislative achievements include Meals on Wheels, S-Chip, minimum wage increases, voting rights security, Americans for Disabilities Act, and Medicare drug presciption benefits. And very often the much needed spirit of bi-partisanship.