Clarifications, puzzlements and apologies…

Clarifications, puzzlements and apologies… August 20, 2012

I am still mulling over Bonchamps’ argument from last week, which says that with the advent of Obama’s naked war of aggression against religious liberty which specifically targets the Catholic Church for persecution (and, I would add, their incredibly dangerous attempt to insert themselves into who Lutherans can and cannot ordain which, thanks be to God, received an overwhelming 9-0 smackdown from SCOTUS), a new element of overt ideologically-driven state hostility to the Church has been introduced into our political life by Obama that makes a vote for Romney/Ryan justified by proportionality.

Recall that my reason for not voting for either candidate has been simple: They both advocate grave intrinsic evil and I could not give a proportional reason to vote for one over the other. If there is a proportional reason to vote for Romney, I will. (indeed, if there were a proportional reason to vote for Obama, I would, with, I might add, the blessing of Pope Benedict XVI.) But hitherto, I could find no proportional reason.

My complaint here has primarily boiled down to the fact that the arguments put forward for proportionality often seem to me to be rubbish that boil down to “opposition to abortion taketh away the sins of the world”. Indeed, many “Catholic” argument of the “Shut up and vote GOP” variety seem to me to only drive home the fact that the Catholic nuptials between the Thing that Used to be Conservatism and Catholic faith boil down to an abusive relationship in which Catholics must perpetually sacrifice their Church’s teaching in order to fit the demands of the Party. It has even seemed to me to induce Stockholm Syndrome since I have witnessed over the years countless Catholics right here in my comboxes willingly sneering at Catholic teaching as “liberal” or wussy or whatnot in order to be More Conservative, rather than holding the human tradition of conservatism up to the light of Catholic teaching. The embarrassing spectable of “conservative” Catholics eagerly defending GOP torture enthusiasm is the most egregious example of this, but there are many other examples.

And so I have been highly skeptical of the Get On Board demands for Romney/Ryan, because they pay almost no attention to the reality of the Romney ticket’s near-indistinguishability from Obama on many issues of grave evil and instead try to pretend we are looking at some clearly superior and Deeply Catholic choice, instead of the Sucks Less ticket. In the process, they ignore Romney’s extremely clear record on abortion (and, by the way, the ticket just clarified that in a contest between Ryan’s admirable opposition to abortion in cases of rape and Romney’s standard GOP boilerplate, Romney wins), his record on gay “marriage” (summary: meh–and Boy Scouts should have gay scoutmasters), his use of torture as a surefire applause-getter with the Rubber Hose Right, his surrounding himself with the same cadre of fools who cheer-ed for the Iraq war, his fundraisers at the home of the guy who makes the morning after pills and (what is germane here) his ordering Catholic hospitals to dispense contraceptives like the morning after pill exactly like the HHS mandate orders them to do.

I get, as I say, the Sucks Less argument. And I am inclined to think that Romney is such an unprincipled cynic that, since he knows the US is not Massachusetts, he no longer thinks it politically advantageous to stand atop a mound of dead babies and ask for our vote or strongarm Catholics into knuckling under to the HHS mandate. I get the principle: “Better a jerk who doesn’t care about you than an enemy who hates you.” But I’m also not particularly sure that this will lead to the desired result of at least breaking off the attack on the Church. In the case of the HHS mandate, I think it is an even guess as to whether Romney would rescind it to secure his base (my hesitant bet is yes) or whether he would see how popular free contraceptive candy is with the general population and go ahead and keep it in place with a lot of rhetoric about rights and the need for Catholics to be pluralistic Americans in a diverse society, blah blah (frosted with something something wrestling with my conscience something something).

In short, apart from the main issue most Americans are actually thinking about with respect to these candidates (namely, money, money, and money and the economy and jobs and money) I have only the shakiest confidence that in one very narrow area of grave and intrinsic moral evil–the war on the Church and religious liberty–Romney is better than Obama. My guess is that he will be, and that may tip the scales for me. But then, a reader writes:

First, let’s assume Romney is going to do anything about Obamacare. (He’s not, it will remain the same — HHS mandate included). But let’s assume he will try and get a Democrat House and Senate to do something about it. Fine, 20% less evil than the other lizard. I get it.

But how is ordering Catholics to perpetrate torture somehow less evil than ordering Catholics to pay for condoms? I know the SS would often informally allow men who were too “weak” to serve in concentration camps to opt out (provided they paid the price in terms of 0 career advancement and unpleasant reassignments). I’m not aware that Catholics in the US military have the same option. Is participating in “rendition” leading to torture material cooperation with evil? Is guarding a camp where torture is performed material cooperation with evil? Since Romney believes that torture is not torture, what protection will Romney give the Church when its members join the military and are ordered to administer “officially non-torture” torture?

….and I’m back to my puzzlement. For my *main* point all along has been that the overwhelming impact a vote has is not on the outcome of an election (mathematical reality: you vote has the same impact on the outcome of the election that the movement of a molecule in a freight train has on the outcome of an imminent train wreck), but on the soul of the voter. And the massive amount of rationalizing grave evil, calling evil good (in the case of Catholic torture apologetics) and attempts to paint enemy of God Ayn Rand as some sort of Aristotle only serves to fill my heart with deep foreboding that this is the best way to evaluate voting in this or any election. So I’m still between two stools. I may vote for Romney on the thin proportional argument that Obama’s war on religious liberty is a game changer (since a culture that have moved from mere passive hostility to an active war of legalized destruction of the Church is a much worse culture). But I won’t pretend that the way in which the GOP subverts and undermines Catholic obedience to the Church is not also a dangerous and sinister thing. With enemies, you know where you stand. With pretending friends such as Romney, there is always the danger that conscience will be subverted “for fellowship” (as, for instance. Ryan’s newfound approval for abortion in cases of rape).

By the way, my apologies for being so snippy about all this political stuff. A number of readers have remarked on the tone of my commentary and they are right. This stuff brings out the worst in me. I will try to do better–and I will try to find other things to talk about. The world is a lot bigger and more beautiful that the stifling world of American national politics. So: mea culpa.

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  • Good post, Mark. I’m in exactly the same boat you are in terms of not having a sufficient reason to vote for 90% of evil to defeat 100%. The main thing keeping me from capitulating at this point is 2016. The “Better a jerk who doesn’t care about you than an enemy who hates you” only works if you look only at this election. However, if “the jerk who doesn’t care about us” proves to be a fraud and a surrender monkey on a whole host of issues that Catholics as well as social and fiscal conservatives hold dear, he will be dead meat in 2016. And my greatest concern of all is that the Democrats will nominate someone even more radical, more inimical to Catholicism, and (most frighteningly) more effective than the current bum–and that person will get elected with huge majorities in Congress. At least if Obama wins in 2012, we’ll be primed and ready to try again in 2016 without having to defend “the jerk who doesn’t care about us and now has a record to prove it” for yet another campaign.

    As depressing as it may sound, I think the 2012 primaries were the last hope for Christians in this country. The trajectory we’re on, I fear, will lead to the Cardinal George scenario within our lifetimes.

    • Mark Shea

      It’s possible. But “Do not worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will worry about itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

      • antigon

        Yes, but there’s also our Lord’s remarks about counting your bricks.

    • Marthe Lépine

      On the other hand, maybe by 2016 those people working on starting a Christian Democratic party will have made some headway. You can find more information about this idea by looking for a blog entitled A Different Perspective. I don’t have the address at hand right now, but it has been mentioned on Mark’s blog.

      • JDH

        I don’t know if this is related, but there is a project getting started at CUA that is geared toward bringing Catholic minds together to talk about how Catholics are to engage in political life when there is no even remotely comfortable political choices in serious elections (this is a bigger problem in two-party systems than in multi-party parliamentary systems). I hope there are some good fruits to come out of that.

  • It is hard to address difficult issues without having one’s heart rendered by the lack of a satisfying answer. It is a case of having immoral choices all around us, with not doing anything being as not satisfying as a choice as voting. The problem we face is the meat grinder process that leaves only what has been ground up, what human being that wants to remain human, would choose to step onto the public stage?

  • SpasticHedgehog

    A legal quibble: At the heart of the Hosana-Tabor case you cited is not ordination but the ministerial exception. Ordination falls under the ministerial exception but generally so do things like theology teachers, directors of religious education and, if I recall, music directors. As churches do more outreach it becomes a more complicated question of who falls under the exception. If I recall, this particular case was about the dismissal of a teacher at a church school.

    • Jay

      The school fired a teacher because she had a disability, then claimed that employment discrimination law didn’t apply to its decision because she was an “ordained minister.” In other words, it adopted a strategy of ordaining teachers it employs in order to avoid generally applicable laws against discriminating against disabled people. How classy and Christian!

  • I don’t think there’s any question that Romney will kill the HHS mandate. Not because he’s a Republican, but because he’s a Mormon. His church has been outlawed much more thoroughly – heck, Mitt’s grandfather was literally driven out of the country for his beliefs. He won’t forget that.

  • Andy

    Let me begin by saying that I find both tickets equally repulsive, for different reasons. I think that part of the problem is the war on the church rhetoric. There is a war/campaign to create a secular society I agree, and both tickets will go the extra mile to do so. Obama is in your face with his abortion support and Romney is in your face now with some abortions may be OK, but with his economic beliefs as well. The creation of the secular society is the problem and the Church has played into that. In The Economist, link on New Advent, I read that Catholic Charities got 62% of its funding from government sources. That churches are now issuing municipal bonds to cover debt and construction. Those two actions place the church square in the secular camp. This only makes the war to create a secular society even easier and both sides love this. I can not see where Romney sucks less makes sense anymore.

    • SpasticHedgehog

      I am curious where you found the info about churches issuing municipal bonds?

      • Andy

        It was in the same article – hopefully I am putting the link in correctly

        • SpasticHedgehog

          Thanks — it looks like they are taking money for hospitals and schools which makes more sense than what I first thought from your comment. Here’s the relevant quote from the article:

          “Growing financial pressures have encouraged the church to replace donations from the faithful with debt. According to figures from the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board over the past decade, state and local authorities have issued municipal bonds for the benefit of at least 50 dioceses in almost 30 states to pay for the expansion and renovation of facilities that would previously have been largely paid for through donations. Overall church muni debt has increased by an estimated 80% over that period. At least 736 bond issues are currently outstanding.”

          • Andy

            However, then they can’t claim that the schools and hospitals are purely Catholic – that is the problem. It seems like to me they want to be both.

  • Surely, the right to religious liberty is not absolute. For, if it were, only a tyrant would legally prohibit segments of the Muslim or Mormon population to keep multiple wives–or, for that matter, ban animal sacrifice. I recognize that these examples may seem extreme, but let it not be forgotten that most people–including most Catholics–find the Church’s position on contraception extreme.

    Ultimately, what’s at stake in the HHS mandate is not religious liberty or, conversely, “a woman’s right to preventative services,” but a choice between rival conceptions of the Good. One side of the debate defines religious liberty as an inherent right; the other defines access to contraception an inherent right. The two sides even disagree as to what is entailed by religious liberty. To accuse Obama of waging a “naked war of aggression against religious liberty” is to overlook the basic incommensurability between the two standpoints.

    Now, it may be true that the Catholic Church is ultimately the most reliable guide that we mere mortals have to faith and morals. If so, the HHS mandate is not primarily wrong because it infringes upon religious liberty: it is primarily wrong because it legally imposes a false morality on Catholics. Similarly, one might vote against Obama not because he is a Catholic Church-hating tyrant (which seems to me wildly implausible), but because he is seriously mistaken on a significant moral issue.

    • Chris M

      “Similarly, one might vote against Obama not because he is a Catholic Church-hating tyrant (which seems to me wildly implausible), but because he is seriously mistaken on a significant moral issue.”

      I think the latter can lead, has lead, and in this particular case is inexorably leading towards the former. After all, if you’re seriously mistaken on significant moral issues, after a while you can’t help but see the Catholic Church as being opposed to morality, and therefore an enemy to be overcome for the sake of moral justice.

    • Mark Shea

      I think Obama does have it in for the Church, as well as being radically wrong on this issue.

  • Debra

    I think Romney will rescind the mandate, or at least put in the expanded religious exemption necessary to protect rights of conscience. He is a Mormon, after all, so he surely realizes that after government is done with Catholics, his church is next. In fact, the LDS church has been our ally in fighting for proposition 8, etc. So yeah, I think he sucks less, and while I do have serious concerns and disagreements with Ryan on a lot of details, I think he does at least try to move in concert with his faith. His response to the bishops’ criticism of his budget was to explain his reasoning and open a dialog with Cardinal Dolan, as opposed to Pelosi and Biden appointing themselves better interpreters of Church teaching than the bishops and attempting to rationalize their abortion stance with St. Augustine and St. Aquinas before receiving communion at a papal Mass in defiance.

    • Mark Shea

      You might be right. Though given that the sole acheivement the Romney campaign has to its credit so far is that it has gotten Really Truly Deeply Catholic Paul Ryan to publicly compromise his position on abortion in cases of rape, I’m seeing nor particularly reason to suppose Romney has a burning interest in the HHS Mandate, particularly when he ordered Catholic hospitals to dispense contraceptives.

      • Has he compromised it? Or has he just said that the official position of the ticket is in favor of such exceptions and he’s not going to get into a public argument with his boss over the issue? Because I would say that. I’d even support a bill with such exceptions if I thought it the only realistic way of restricting abortions.

        • Mark Shea

          What’s the difference?

          • The difference would be if someone asked him, straight out, “Do you agree with Romney on this issue?” If he said, “The next President of the United States and I have no significant differences over this,” then I would say he had compromised. If he said, “I disagree with my running mate on this, but I think his position is mostly right and light years ahead of his opponent’s, so I’m not going to let the press turn this into more of a significant issue than it should be in this election,” then I would say he was being honest and legitimately politic.

          • JLH

            The difference is a candidate who supports infanticide vs. a candidate who supports actually restriction abortion. Even if you think that Romney is a complete political opportunist and supports restricting abortion rights to satisfy his base, it’s hard to see where you could make him out to be to the left of Planned Parenthood on abortion rights issues, as Obama was when he argued against the Born-Alive protections in Illinois.

            It’s pretty clear that if the election were only about abortion alone, there would be a clear choice to limit harm.

  • MattyD

    Very interesting post. But I’m scratching my head in befuddlement at these accusations of a “war of aggression on the church” from Obama. I’m trying to find the evidence, but I can’t. To me, the HHS mandate is no more a “war against the church” than the invasion of Iraq was a war against John Paul II. IMHO, the fact that two worldviews partially conflict is not evidence of a “war of naked aggression”.

    • Mark Shea

      Was JPII forced to fight in Iraq? American Catholics are being forced to pay for things that are intrinsically and gravely immoral. And not out of economic need. Contraceptives are so cheap and easy to get they screw up the water supply. This is being done out of spite, because the Church needs to be punished.

      • MattyD

        Mark, I admire your insights on sooo many topics, but Obama wants to “punish” the Church? To me, that’s starting to sound like back-woods militia paranoia. I’ll grant you that he, ultimately, did not give the bishops what they wanted. But he’s “punishing” the Church? I don’t see how that is tethered to reality. The NYT had an excellent piece on the administration’s internal debates on religious liberty pre-mandate. We know that Obama sought the input of Catholics he respects, like Keegan and Biden (whether you agree with those Catholics is a different matter. The germane point is that *Obama* sees them as Catholics and he reached out to them, among many others). Obama has *repeatedly* stated that he admires the church’s service work and that his own work with the church had an impact on him as a young adult. And his language on the matter has always expressed a desire to *balance* competing legitimate interests. And, lastly, he walked back the mandate (albeit insufficiently) when the public objected. Please help me see how that resembles a “naked war of aggression” and a desire to “punish”.

        • MattyD, I think you have a major problem separating Obama’s language from his actions. And you apparently take him at his word, which I find amazing after everything that’s happened. Almost as amazing as the fact that you seem to think that the NYT can write a good article on religion or the Catholic Church.

          Sure Obama talks about finding a balance, but it’s all blather. Balance is something that is usually the result of negotiations on both sides. He would not negotiate on the mandate or engage in substantive talks in any way, but just offered a one-sided “accommodation” (that insurance companies would actually pay for the contraception and abortifacient drugs); this was not “walking it back” as you state, partly because the bishops rejected it, and partly because he was never really serious about it. The mandate is now on the books exactly as originally written, without the accommodation.

          I don’t know about Obama’s stance on the Church itself being a war, but he is definitely knowingly attempting to divide the Church. He gets all the “right” kind of Catholics – the ones, of course, who agree with him – on his side, and ignores and freezes out the bishops, who have been set up to guide the flock and are the ONLY ones who have any authority to say what is right or wrong in regard to Church teaching. He is not dumb; he knows what he’s doing. He wants an American Catholic Church, much like the Chinese patriotic Church, one that will do his bidding. I think it might be reasonable to call that a war on the Church as traditionally understood.

          Obama is also definitely at war with our nation’s long-standing concept of religious liberty. It’s not just a matter of interpretation. His attempts to control religion and religious people are blatantly unconstitutional. His first attempt (the Hosanna-Tabor case) where the administration argued that the government can decide who constitutes a minister of religion, was smacked down 9-0 by the Supreme Court – yes, even the two Obama-appointed judges, Kagan and Sotomayor, were against it. When the decision on Obamacare was handed down, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, probably the court’s most liberal justice, as good as warned the Administration that attempts to curtail religious liberty (as in the HHS mandate) were not going to be looked on kindly.

          The mandate is unconstitutional primarily not because it runs up against a particular Catholic Church teaching, but because it tries to separate the practice of religion into compartments – do it within the walls of a church, and you’re okay – you get First Amendment freedom of religion protection; but the minute you step into the public square and engage in public activity, whether healthcare or just running a business, you lose all protection. This is against everything our country has ever understood on this issue, and it is going to be struck down.

          The ultimate goal of all these attempts at control of the Church, I firmly believe, is to permit the Adminstration to engage in the social engineering, and control of our nation’s healthcare system especially, that it so clearly wants. If the mandate (God forbid) were to be upheld by the courts, and if Obama wins re-election, you can expect by this time next year to see HHS regulations going forth saying that all religious-run clinics and hospitals must perform abortions, sterilizations, and euthanize the elderly, because that is coming, believe me.

          In regard to abortion in particular. Planned Parenthood wants this; they want it bad. They are already fretting that there are scarcely any doctors who will perform abortions, and clinics are closing all over the nation. Who better to get to do it than those nasty Catholics who have always been in their hair? And for Obama, whatever PP wants, PP gets.

          Maybe now you can understand what we’re talking about.

          • MattyD

            Lori, thanks so much for that thoughtful response. The problem, that I find with your argument, however, is that it’s only about 5% evidence and about 95% speculation/assumptions/assertions. How, for example, you can *know* that Obama is “definitely knowingly attempting to divide the Church” is mind-boggling to me. Perhaps I missed something, but the only additional example you cite of Obama’s alleged nefariousness against religious liberty is the Hosanna-Tabor case. Does that prove he has a different interpretation of a constitutional protections than others have? Yes. Is it a cause for concern? Yes. Does it prove he’s “waging a naked war of aggression” “wants to punish the Church” “wants to divide the Church”? That’s where it, for me, becomes totally unsubstantiated and very possibly bearing false witness. As for Obama’s rhetoric, my point is not that I automatically take his words at face value. My point is that, if he, in fact, wanted to destroy the Catholic Church, you might expect even a hint of hostile or confrontational language. For example, how Reagan called the Soviet Union an Evil Empire. Or how Glenn Beck encouraged Catholics to leave parishes that preached social justice. So far, Obama’s ferocious sabre-rattling against our Church includes such devastating broadsides as, “I’ve always deeply admired the Catholic Church’s service to the poor” and “It had a strong impact on me early in my career.” In the absence of spoken hostility, the only evidence I see is of questionable executive overreach, in a conflict between two legitimate interests. That’s not a war.

            • Oh of course! Obama doesn’t do these things because he wants to divide the Church; he’s perfectly sincere in his love for the Church, and is basically just too stupid and blind to see how his policies are hurting us! Is this really the scenario you prefer?

              I think in all probability Obama does have a warm fuzzy feeling when he thinks of his early work in Chicago with Catholics in social causes. It’s largely because they cared about something he really cared about, not because he cared about what they cared about.

              You see, Obama is a perfect example of what C. S. Lewis called “Christianity And”. It was a term he used for those people who adopt Christianity as a useful prop to whatever their real interest is — in this case, pursuing social justice goals. Now the Catholic Church does care a lot about social justice – but as an outgrowth of the central and essential meaning of the faith — the immense dignity and infinite worth of every human being as a divine image. Every other aspect of our faith also comes from that. Without that, our social justice goals are hollow.

              Obama comes along; he has some — undoubtedly sincere — intent to help improve the lives of the poor. So he works along with Catholics, but cares only about the social justice aspect of the faith, not the faith aspect. (In spite of his professed Christianity, his understanding and acceptance of Christian doctrine is iffy at best).

              Obama also hangs around with Catholics like Biden, Pelosi and Sebelius, who also have a very poor grasp of the faith aspect of their faith, who don’t support Church teaching, and give the back of their hand to their bishops and their teachings. One of the prime “social justice” teachings of these Catholics are that contraception, abortion and the rest of the modern kit and kaboodle on sex are just fine, and the Church’s opposition to them is silly. And so the setup is complete. Obama “loves” Catholics like the ones he hangs around with and gives the back of his hand to the hierarchy of the Church. Contraception and abortion are a good, as far as “his” kind of Catholics are concerned. I’m sure he does know that bishops are supposed to be authoritative — he’s not dumb, as I said — but in all probability there’s no contradiction in his mind in what he’s doing.

              He also ironically is crippling the very Catholic social outreach he claims to love with his mandate and by his destruction of the cooperative relationship that the Church and the government used to have – Catholic bishops are told no, you can no longer work to protect immigrants or victims of human trafficking because you won’t support contraception or abortion – even those have nothing to do with that particular kind of work. Catholic hospitals and other health-care problems will be destroyed if he has his way — and all the time he “loves” Catholics.

              It can’t ALL be manipulative lying on his part. It might be he just doesn’t see the contradictions. But the results are no less deadly. And it is no less sheer madness to simply take his platitudes about loving Catholics at face value as you do.

  • Blog Goliard

    It’s possible that attacks on the Catholic Church will continue under Romney. It’s certain that they will under Obama.

    It’s possible that Romney will nominate to the Supreme Court justices who have no respect for the Constitution or for the rule of law. It’s certain that Obama will.

    It’s possible that Romney will do nothing significant to prevent the United States from going off a fiscal cliff, causing the most predictable disaster in our history. It’s certain that Obama will continue to hit the accelerator, Thelma & Louise style.

    None of this is enough to make me want to put a Romney bumper-sticker on my car, much less send him money. His prior record of standing by his principles inspires little confidence in any of those “possible”s. But when it comes to the decision of whom to vote for in November? The above is all I need…much more than I need, really, since while I can think of many many reasons to dislike the Republican ticket, I honestly can’t think of a single issue where I would actually prefer Obama’s approach.

    • Irenist

      “I honestly can’t think of a single issue where I would actually prefer Obama’s approach.”
      What if you preferred Romney to Obama on abortion and the HHS mandate, but preferred Obama on everything else? I notice a lot of the statements hereabouts about voting for Romney are from people who don’t really abhor G.O.P. positions on economics, foreign policy, or the environment the way your humble interlocutor here does. Now, I could quite obviously just be totally wrong not to prefer Romney on those issues. But what I’m really interested in is how to counsel Catholics in my boat. I think the decision ends up being “Nobama” (i.e., either Romney or 3rd party) strictly on the strength of abortion alone, but I’d like to see that actual case. What I tend to see instead is “I basically disagree with Republicans from the right, yet I will hold my nose and vote G.O.P.” That’s logical, but hardly requires any interesting casuistry to arrive at. Since you started commenting a lot recently, Blog Goliard, I’ve noticed the consistent thoughtfulness of your contributions, and I’d be interested to read your take. (Of course, I’d love to hear from the rest of you all on this, too.)

      • MattyD

        Great question, Irenist. I’d go so far as to say that Catholic Social Teaching, in all its richness, is more broadly addressed by the Democratic party than the Republicans. There are obvious, and important, exceptions, obviously (like abortion). But the common perception that Republican values are, generally speaking, consonant with Christianity strikes me as one of America’s greatest lunacies.

        • Blog Goliard

          Well, then, either the millions of your co-religionists who vote Republican are lunatics, or you need to try harder to see around your partisan blinders.

          What I’ve found to be the most common difference in perspective is in focus on intentions versus results. When it comes to poverty programs, for instance, liberals tend to equate spending more government money, on any and all (non-military) programs, with good intentions and compassion; and this spending must continually increase, substantially, year after year. Dare even to trim the rate of increase, as Ryan proposed, and one will be met with wailing and gnashing of teeth. Liberals often see good intentions and compassion as reasonable proxies for actually helping the poor. When it comes to government spending and regulation, there does not seem to be a limiting principle at work: for liberals, more is always better–hence the famous “ratchet effect” that ensures Federal spending can either increase or hold steady, never decrease–and “we’re from the government and we’re here to help” only instills fear if it’s being spoken by someone from the military or intelligence communities.

          Conservatives (at least those of us who are students of the literature on unintended consequences, going back to Charles Murray’s landmark Losing Ground) regard spending more government money as a necessary evil at best, and refuse to put it in the same virtuous category as voluntary private and religious charity. Conservatives have a great suspicion of anyone who wishes to demonstrate his great love of his fellow man by spending money confiscated from others. Conservatives have a greater suspicion of Federal programs than state and local ones, because of their high regard for the principle of subsidiarity. Conservatives bring much more skepticism in examining whether a government program will actually accomplish what it claims it will; they have seen the classic Great Society-type programs fail to decrease poverty, while increasing dependency and other pathologies and damaging human dignity and responsibility…and all the while wasting trillions. Better to not do anything at all than to do something that makes things worse…especially since, in Washington, once a new program or department is established, it can prove impossible to kill even if everyone knows it’s doing more harm than good.

          Many religious conservatives would see a reduction in ineffective “anti-poverty” spending–or in spending on programs that redistribute money from the poor young to the affluent rich, like Medicare and Social Security–as not just as a chance to eliminate waste, but as an opportunity for growth in private charity. In freeing up money (if some of the eliminated waste is returned to the taxpayer) and societal space to operate (with the Federal government taking less of a central role and providing less of an “I gave at the office; I paid my taxes” excuse for individuals) for more effective and more localized private and religious organizations, such a step could very likely provide more and better care for the poor in the end. (Americans are an incredibly generous people; and there is data to suggest that the less you tax them, the more generous they are.)

          • MattyD

            BG, 1) I don’t mean to split hairs but you’ve written a very good explanation for how one conservative perspective on one issue (social safety net) might be morally defensible. No disagreement here. I find the conservative critique of potentially harmful spending valid, along with a smattering of other Conservative insights. What I condemned is the perception that Republican (not Conservative) values (plural, not singular) are, generally speaking, consonant with Christianity. By Republican values I’m referring to an array that includes torture, wars of aggression, willful disinterest in environmental stewardship, indefinite detention, enthusiastic embrace of capital punishment, sociopathic defense spending, a general disinterest in the concept of the “common good”, and others. That this heap of sociological feces would be seen as generally consonant with Christianity IS lunacy. 2) The fact that millions of my co-coreligionists fail to see this has no bearing on whether or not it’s lunacy. Widespread social madness happens all the time, among the religious and non-religious: Rwanda, Nazism, carpet bombing of Vietnam, abortion, KKK. All involved large numbers of people participating in a vast madness. So, yes, I think the perception that Republican values are, generally speaking, consonant with Christianity is one of America’s greatest lunacies.

            • Blog Goliard

              MattyD, your description of “Republican values” is tendentious at best, and bears a strong whiff of partisan lefty Kool-Aid. To take just two of the items in your litany:

              “Willful disinterest in environmental stewardship”…are you aware of just how many landmark environmental laws and regulations were made law under Republican presidents? Also, the position that “the EPA is out of control” (common among Republicans of my acquaintance) is not at all equivalent to “screw the environment” (rare among Republicans of my acquaintance).

              “A general disinterest in the concept of the ‘common good'”…just because the conservative view of what is in the public interest is different than yours–and just because Republicans are far less likely to conflate feeding the Federal leviathan with pursuit of the “common good” than Democrats–does not mean that Republicans do not have a conception of it and care deeply about it.

              You’d get much farther in understanding why those millions of co-religionists are lunatics if you didn’t start from such a strong presumption that those who favor markedly different policies than yours must be insane or evil or horrifically uncaring.

      • Blog Goliard

        Irenist, I’m glad you’ve found what I’ve written to be thoughtful.

        It’s hard for me to give recommendations to those who find the bulk of Obama’s policies congenial, as that perspective is so opposite to mine (I try my best to understand it but we all have our blinders).

        But the general principle that I would tell conservatives to apply would also apply to liberals:

        Yes, both candidates present grave moral problems for the Catholic voter. Welcome to the fallen world. The question is, which side’s evils are better offset by their virtues (or, less cynically, which side’s virtues are less diminished by their evils).

        If you believe that the marginal difference between Obama and Romney on abortion, for instance, would be slight (and there’s certainly evidence to support that), while the difference between them on whatever good things you would expect Obama to do in a second term (you can come up with your own examples, because as I said, my list of those items is completely blank) is much greater, then you’re well within your rights to conclude that you should vote for Obama.

        (Just please, nobody tell the crazies over on Simcha’s NCRegister post. They already think I’m a liberal, Obama-supporting, okay-with-abortion, gay-marriage-supporting, pretend-Catholic, closet homosexual–yes, I’ve been accused of all those things in as many words. If it were possible for them to go more batguano crazy, that last bit above would certainly do it.)

        • Irenist

          Thanks for your generous-spirited reply, Blog Goliard.
          That was very helpful, so I’m going to greedily pester you for more.
          Here’s my problem restated: My whole family have been New England Democrats since they got off the boat from Ireland. Every small-“c” conservative instinct in my being is to root for the Democrats against the party of whom my sainted mother frets whenever I call home “Why do those evil Republicans hate poor people so much?” And yet, and yet: abortion may not taketh away the sins of the world, but it is, quoth Biden, a BFD. Assuming arguendo that the Republicans are what MarkyD calls them–i.e., the party of “torture, wars of aggression, willful disinterest in environmental stewardship, indefinite detention, enthusiastic embrace of capital punishment, sociopathic defense spending, a general disinterest in the concept of the “common good”, and others” would abortion be enough to make it arguably my duty to vote for them anyway? I live in a non-swing state, so this is not a pressing question for me this year. But the implications of my rising feeling that maybe abortion *is* enough make my conservative tribal Democratic self queasy. If I agree with MarkyD’s perspective, is abortion enough, alone, to change the advice I give my swing-state relatives? Why or why not? If you have thoughts on that, I really will be very grateful.

          • Blog Goliard

            What follows is long. I apologize to Mark for consuming so many of his pixels…but I’m just trying to fully answer sincere queries here (and thank you, Irenist, for the good discussion).

            As I note above, I find that sentence from MattyD to be a rather cartoonish vision of what Republicans are all about…sorta makes me wonder why I haven’t grown a Snidely Whiplash moustache yet.

            But let’s just focus on the seriously death-dealing parts of the controversy: war, torture, capital punishment, and abortion.

            In a Federal election, capital punishment is barely relevant. The Federal government has executed just 18 prisoners since World War II, and only three since 1963. If you’re a hard-core death penalty opponent, that’s of course 18 too many, and if you want that to be one of your make-or-break issues, I can’t stop you. But I’m only mildly anti-death-penalty myself (I’d rather we not execute people and would never vote for it if on a jury; but on the other hand if I told you I’d ever been troubled even slightly by the fact that Timothy McVeigh is no longer drawing breath, I’d be lying), so with these numbers it just doesn’t seem a sensible issue to focus on in Federal elections. (If you’re voting in, say, Texas state elections, that’s a very different story.)

            Regarding war and torture and detention…oh, I’m so tired of re-litigating the mistakes of the Oughts. Suffice it to say that both major-party tickets seem much too willing to involve us in new foreign wars, so in that aspect the issue is a wash to me. (I think, in fact, there’s an added danger with Obama’s directionless and incompetent foreign policy; the less we are respected and/or feared abroad, and the less clear and predictable our policies, the more we invite miscalculations and even attacks from our enemies. And why on God’s green Earth are we still in Afghanistan? But your view may well be starkly different.)

            If we treat Romney’s and Bush’s foreign policies as roughly equivalent: Bush was more willing to countenance waterboarding; Obama kills more people with drone strikes instead. Personally, I’d much rather be waterboarded than killed; but even if your mileage might vary there, surely this is at best a wash. Bush captured more people to hold indefinitely; Obama, again, prefers to kill them instead (and hasn’t been in as much of a rush to close Gitmo and release the prisoners he inherited than one might have expected from his 2008 campaign–and from my perspective, thank God for that, but again your mileage will likely vary). Again, a wash at best.

            After considering all this muddle, things look so much clearer when we turn to abortion. Yes, we may quibble over things like the ticket going wobbly on rape/incest/life-of-the-mother exceptions…but it seems churlish to me to complain much about that, especially since the one overwhelming criterion here is whether Romney will attempt to appoint Justices to the Supreme Court who will vote to strike down Roe. And being able to choose a ticket that stands for eliminating 95-99% of abortions, in place of a man who fought for flat-out infanticide and shows no signs of regretting it…well, considering what’s possible in American politics right now, arguing at the margins of this issue and condemning people for not being reliably 100% pro-life seems more self-indulgent than productive to me. Politics is the art of the possible and of compromise…it’s no wonder that even good people in politics trying their best have a way of driving moralists into a frothy rage.

            Think what you want about Romney and his flexible principles…I trust him to at least do what is in his best interest. And it will be in his best interest, in numerous ways, to be more friendly to both his church and the Catholic Church, and to remain markedly more pro-life, than the present administration. There’s at least a shot that this could get us a sound Supreme Court appointment or three; and if it does, that will strike such a blow against both the culture of death and Constitution-warping judicial tyranny that, to me, it dwarfs all the lesser and iffy pluses and minuses on life-and-death issues that I outlined above.

            Now of course, it’s a bigger task to demonstrate that the abortion issue should outweigh non-life-and-death issues as well, to a Democrat who generally finds Republican economic and domestic policies abhorrent. But I would leave you with this suggestion.

            The United States is headed towards fiscal meltdown. No serious, well-informed person disputes this. We cannot run trillion-dollar-plus yearly deficits forever…and even if we could, our entitlement obligations–especially Medicare–will sink us without drastic reform. (And talk about Robin Hood in reverse…we’re going to bankrupt the country and ruin the prospects of future generations to protect a program that is fundamentally a massive transfer of wealth from the minimal-net-worth young to the high-net-worth old?)

            The Obama administration promises to buy us a couple of more years here and there, then slips into class warfare rhetoric to create the misapprehension that if we just tightened the screws on the rich a bit more, we could somehow pay for it all. (Not true; even if we confiscated everything the top 10% had, income and assets alike, we’d still go broke within the lifetime of most Americans.) Ryan is one of the few people in Washington who has dared put forward serious plans to try to address the problem. Bash his plans all you want–if you do so intelligently, he’s actually likely to adjust and accommodate your concerns in his next iteration of his budget, as he’s done before–but at least he has one.

            The famous exchange between Rep. Ryan and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner sums it all up for me. It concluded thusly:

            GEITHNER: “We have millions of Americans retiring every day, and that will drive substantial further rise in the growth of healthcare costs. We’re not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution to our long-term problem. What we do know is we don’t like yours.”

            I’ll take Ryan’s still-evolving, good-faith efforts–which, for all people howl about their “extreme”ness, reflect serious engagement with Democrats such as Sen. Wyden and former Clintonistas Alice Rivlin and Erskine Bowles–over demagoguery and sheer irresponsibility any day.

            • Irenist

              Thanks very much, Blog Goliard!

  • Scott

    Mark if you follow this stuff even a little bit you would know that it took Obama less than one day to can the Mexico City Policy thus opening the floodgates of our tax dollars to funding abortion, contraception and sterilization all over the world. Bush did and I presume Mr. Romney would literally save lives by reversing this. Elections have consequences. It makes a difference whose sitting in the oval office whether they live up to your standards or not.

  • Tom

    You’re giving this way too much thought. The state of Washington will go for Obama and you have a lot more chance of getting killed driving home from voting than you will of throwing off the election.
    Have a beer, stay home and watch and laugh from your lazy boy recliner.

    If voting had the power to change anything, it would be made illegal.

    • Mark Shea

      Voting has the power to change you, which is why it matters. Just yesterday, the Romney ticket had its first major impact on the prolife movement. It got a nationally prominent Catholic to compromise his faith and sign off on abortion for babies unlucky enough to be conceived in rape. Next, it will exert pressure on Catholics bothered by that fact to shut and stop talking about it. So voting has a powerful impact on people. It just doesn’t have a powerful impact on the outcome of elections.

    • Todd Weaver

      So true. Voting changes us in a negative way. In makes us complacent:

  • Sterling

    I think the whole Sucks Less business is a perfectly legitimate rationale to vote for Romney, but imo it’s a tremendous red herring in any event.

    Why can’t we start from the proposition that Mitt Romney is an astoundingly great candidate, and mark down from there as appropriate? Mark likes to pretend that the idea that Mitt Romney supports intrinsic grave evil is a fact when in fact it’s a highly speculative hotly contested interpretation of various political stances.

    And furthermore, that Mark would rightly upset if the same sort of speculation were applied to him, various Church authorities, or the Church corporately.

    Here’s a hint: “Romney’s foreign policy guys are a bunch of Iran-bombing neocons.” is not support for intrinsic grave evil. It’s not even in the same area code.

    • R. Howell

      Concur. I can see only one moral issue on which Romney is worse than Obama, and that is torture. But even there, it is not clear that Romney advocates torture. He claims to oppose torture. He has also stated that he does not believe waterboarding is torture. He is wrong on that, and maybe he is even wrong in bad faith. I think a vote for Romney is a vote for somehow who is more likely to restore the evil torture policies of the Bush administration than Obama is. But that is on a different moral plane from where Obama stands on abortion. Obama clearly, unequivocally supports abortion rights and government funding of abortion, and his actions have continuously supported his words.

      There can be no doubt whatsoever that a vote for Obama is a vote for the grave moral evil of abortion. I can see no such clear curt argument for how a vote for Romney is a vote for grave moral evil. Would a President Romney do some evil things? It wouldn’t surprise me. Probably all presidents have, and I see no reason to think we would be exceptional in this regard. But if he has made a crystal clear endorsement of a position that is unambiguously evil, comparable to what Obama has done with abortion, I’ve yet to see it.

      • Irenist

        Well, I think the neocons are capable of launching WWIII-lite in the Mideast or the South China Sea, and the fossil fuel lobby is capable of bringing on civilizationally disruptive climate change. Both of those would be cataclysmic–but neither is *intrinsically* evil the way abortion is. Am I duty bound to vote for WWIII-lite, a new Dust Bowl, and flooded cities because of abortion alone? I am very open to the argument that I may be, but I’d like to actually read it. If you could assume for argument’s sake that my take on WWIII-lite/Climate Change is correct, is abortion enough, on its own, to force me to vote G.O.P.?

      • Irenist

        To reformulate my question:
        Are prudential concerns *ever* enough to outweigh intrinsic evils? E.g., say that a pro-choice Republican were running against a pro-lifer who wanted to nationalize the economy and run it along Maoist lines. Could I vote for the Republican in that scenario, given the obvious disastrousness of Maoist economics? Or do I have to vote Maoist over the abortion issue?

        • R. Howell

          I dunno. One can’t figure out every hypothetical. I don’t think that case applies here. I’m more concerned with trying to figure out Mark Shea’s position, since it’s his blog. He seems to believe that Romney supports intrinsic grave evil like Obama does, and I don’t understand that.

          • Mark Shea

            Romney favors the murder of innocent human beings for the crime of being conceived in rape. He also built his career on a mound of dead babies in Massachusetts and compelled catholic hospitals to dispense the morning after pill. His conversion is so fake that he was holding a fundraiser at the home of the guy who makes that Pill just a couple months ago. He surrounds himself with the same fools who were the architects of the Iraq War and he uses support for torture as an applause line. Still confused?

            • Blog Goliard

              But other than that, why don’t you like the guy? Aren’t you on Our Side?

  • Thomas R

    I say, in your case, don’t vote for Romney. I’m thinking I might not either as I’m not in a swing state. Just maybe worry a little less that other people vote for Romney or want you to. Usually people will back off about it if your solid on it and if they don’t just ignore the chatter about it.

  • Since the main focus of the Bishops seems to be the HHS mandate and its assault on religious liberty, I’m inclined to break from the keen insights of our lizard obsessed commentator and think that the main focus of our concern ought to be the HHS mandate and its assault on religious liberty. That doesn’t translate as ‘therefore everyone must vote for Romney!’, it does say, however, that we ought to see that as the primary concern facing us.

  • Todd Weaver

    I won’t vote for either but I hope Obama wins. This nation deserves to be punished and its leaders tortured. The Church herself, throughout her history, has made judicious use of torture ,though not as frequently (hardly ever in Spain) as those who hate her suggest.