Catholics for McCain

Catholics for McCain July 15, 2008

I have no problem with Catholics organizing in favor of either candidate, and trying to make their case based on Catholic social teaching. Which is why I am a little puzzled by an outfit called Catholics for McCain. Here is their mission statement:

“Senator John McCain is pro-life and committed to nominating judges who are pro-life.  In issues of human dignity, he is guided by a spirit of compassion that was born out of great suffering as a prisoner of war. John McCain is strong on the war on Islamic terrorism, fiscally conservative and committed to national security.  A morally strong and proven leader, John McCain is ready to become our Commander in Chief.  As Catholics applying eternal truths to today’s political landscape, we stand United in Purpose:  Senator John McCain for President ’08!’

It starts with pro-life, which is fine, although they don’t really explain that pro-life is not confined to the abortion issue. It then claims he is a champion of human dignity, but provide no evidence in support of this statement. Sorry, the fact that he was a prisoner of war does not automatically buy virtue in this regard. What about his flip-flops on torture? What about his seeming indifference to human life with his bellicose talk about Iran?

But the line that most caught my attention was the next one: “John McCain is strong on the war on Islamic terrorism, fiscally conservative and committed to national security.”

I’m really trying to see the Catholic angle on this one. For a start, the fiscal point is simply not true– McCain is tough on earmarks, a relatively insignificant item of spending, but– as noted by the ever-reliable Jon Chait— his numbers don’t even come close to adding up. He wants to cut taxes by $300 billion, on top of the Bush cuts, and somehow balance the budget. Now, earmarks account for somewhere like $18 billion, and there is absolutely no chance that McCain can reduce this to zero. So I’d really like to know what basis this group has for making this claim, even if it thinks a balanced budget is a core part of Catholic social teaching (they don’t even bother to make this case).

But I divert. I’d really really like to know how a group of Catholics thinks “strong on islamic terrorism” and national security is a priority, especially when the lens through which McCain looks at it is so at odds with Catholic teaching on war and peace. We are supposed to see the face of Christ in all people, to see everybody as another self, and to work for justice to secure peace, saving war for a last resort. As Pope Benedict noted “true peace needs justice to correct the economic imbalances and political disturbances that give rise to tension and threaten every society.”

We should not regard people as aliens, viewing a “war on terror” as a war against the amorphous other. We need to avoid the situation whereby people are seen as potential enemies. Catholics should abstain from this Weigelonian lingo, owing more to Calvinism than to Catholicism. Aside from being misguided, offensive, and counterproductive, it is patently absurd: what if the UK in the 1970s and early 1980s had declared a war on “Catholic terrorism”? Hard as it is, we are called to overcome evil in the world with good, by our examples as followers of Jesus the Christ.

This mission statement leads me rather….underwhelmed. And the implicit buy-in to the militarization of the message comes with the term “our commander-in-chief”: the president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, not civilians. He is not “our” commander-in-chief, he is an elected civilian representative. Even this simple slip suggests a misguided anthropology.

It gets worse on the issues page. Here is what it says: “As President, John McCain will ensure that America has the quality intelligence necessary to uncover plots before they take root, the resources to protect critical infrastructure and our borders against attack, and the capability to respond and recover from a terrorist incident swiftly. He will ensure that the war against terrorists is fought intelligently, with patience and resolve, using all instruments of national power.” All? Including war and torture? These Calvinists Catholics have some explaining to do.

As I said at the outset, it’s perfectly fine for Catholics to make the case for McCain, or Obama. Obviously, each group will argue that their candidate is more aligned with Catholic social teaching, playing up the good points, and playing down the bad ones. But it’s a little weird to spin something bad as good. It suggests a greater adherence to secular ideology than to the gospel.

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