Last Night's Big Losers
I just got off an overnight flight to Milan. Polls were just beginning to close when the plane pushed back from the gate, and the election had pretty much been called by the time the plane landed at 2am eastern time.It seems to me that, besides Mitt Romney and the tea party right, two of the biggest losers in tonight's election are the conservative Catholic hierarchy and Catholic Social Teaching. The Catholic hierarchy has made its hostility to the Obama administration plain from the beginning. From the bishops' inflexible opposition to the Affordable Care Act, to the decision to file dozens of lawsuits in an election year against a rule the administration had already promised to change, to the several high profile partisan statements by bishops across the country, there can be no question that the Catholic bishops decided this year to cast their lot with a single party in a way that is genuinely new (at least in my lifetime). This shift is based on the belief that opposition to same sex marriage and legal abortion trump everything else -- inequality, tax justice, immigrant bashing, and even coded appeals to racism. On issues related to sexuality and abortion, it's their way or the highway. On all other issues, literally anything goes, as long as you mouth some tired aphorisms about wealth trickling down or rising tides lifting all boats. The bishops' claims to be above the partisan fray are increasingly impossible to believe.
The consequences for the Catholic hieararchy seem clear enough. Romney came much closer to winning than seemed likely in mid-September. The bishops' gambit almost worked. Had Romney won, they would have had access to the highest levels of government. But he fell short. And now the hierarchy finds itself identified more closely than ever with a single party in the United States, a party that is on the wrong side of inexorable demographic change. The result will be diminished influence for the Church in American politics and greater hostility towards requests for accommodation from the Democrats in power.Why do I call Catholic Social Teaching a loser? In support of their losing effort, numerous bishops said things that make it perfectly clear that, in their opinion, Catholic social teachings have little to contribute to our political deliberations when abortion and gay marriage are at stake. Here's Archbishop Chaput, of Philadelphia, in NCR:
Im not a Republican and Im not a Democrat. Im registered as an independent, because I dont think the church should be identified with one party or another. As an individual and voter I have deep personal concerns about any party that supports changing the definition of marriage, supports abortion in all circumstances, wants to restrict the traditional understanding of religious freedom. Those kinds of issues cause me a great deal of uneasiness.What about the wing of the church that says a party that supports the Ryan budget also ought to cause concern?Jesus tells us very clearly that if we dont help the poor, were going to go to hell. Period. Theres just no doubt about it. That has to be a foundational concern of Catholics and of all Christians. But Jesus didnt say the government has to take care of them, or that we have to pay taxes to take care of them. Those are prudential judgments. Anybody who would condemn someone because of their position on taxes is making a leap that I cant make as a Catholic. ... You cant say that somebodys not Christian because they want to limit taxation. Again, Im speaking only for myself, but I think thats a legitimate position. It may not be the correct one, but its certainly a legitimate Catholic position; and to say that its somehow intrinsically evil like abortion doesnt make any sense at all.That said, do you find the Ryan budget troubling?The Ryan budget isnt the budget I would write. I think hes trying to deal with the same issue in the government Im dealing with here locally, which is spending more than we bring in. I admire the courage of anyone whos actually trying to solve the problems rather than paper over them. I think a vigorous debate about the issues, rather than the personalities, is the way through this problem. Its immoral for us to continue to spend money we dont have. I think that those persons who dont want to deal with the issue are, in some ways, doing wrong by putting it off for their own political protection or the protection of their party.
Here's Springield bishop Paprocki a few weeks ago:
There are many positive and beneficial planks in the Democratic Party Platform, but I am pointing out those that explicitly endorse intrinsic evils. . . I have read the Republican Party Platform and there is nothing in it that supports or promotes an intrinsic evil or a serious sin . . .[I]am not telling you which party or which candidates to vote for or against, but I am saying that you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote, because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.
Abortion and gay marriage are intrinsically evil and must be opposed at every opportunity, but when it comes to cutting taxes for the rich and slashing social spending will help the poor . . . what is truth? I think this decision to throw the social teachings of the Church under the bus will have lasting consequences.I have no doubt that there are bishops who disagree with the likes of Chaput and Paprocki. But their silence conveys consent. Perhaps the disastrous implications of this election for the bishops' influence will empower dissenting voices within the hierarchy, but I sort of doubt it. The bureaucracy is already too committed to its one-party strategy.One final thought. Race. The time has come for proponents of the Catholic two-issue, one-party approach to confront the poisonous tolerance of racism within the Republican party. It is true that not all Republicans are racist, and not all racists are Republicans. But racists are more likely to be Republican, and Republicans know it. Arecent AP poll found that 79 percent of Republicans (compared to 32 percent of Democrats) expressed explicitly racist attitudes in response to their questions. Implicit racism was the same between the two parties -- we all have a long way to go -- but the Republican party has coddled and relied on overt racists (people like Joe Arpaio, who was elected to a sixth term last night) for far too long. In this election, it looks like Obama won almost 100% of the black vote and almost 80% of the Latino vote. Those are incredible figures. They should give all Republicans pause. The nearly universal rejection of the Republican party by African Americans is significant enough in its own right. But the numbers among Latinos are mind-blowing. Latinos historically have not voted in a block, and yet only 20% voted for Romney (down from the 40% who voted for W.)Many, many of the black and Latino voters who filled out their ballots for Obama last night agree with the Catholic hierarchy on abortion and gay marriage. But they simply will not vote for a party whose political strategy relies on repeated use of racist and nativist dog whistles. When members of the Catholic hierarchy like Paprocki say those who vote for a Democrat are endangering their souls, they are implicitly indicting virtually the entire black and Latino communities. What is the conclusion of this syllogism?1. Right thinking people must vote against the Democratic Party, because it supports intrinsic evil.2. Nearly all Black and Latino voters support the Democratic party.3. Therefore, ?It's not the fault of black and Latino voters that the Republican party refuses to clean house or that its Catholic enablers refuse to call the party on it. Of course, all the heated rhetoric about the intrinsic evil of abortion and gay marriage trumping all other issues diminishes their bargaining power, even in Republican circles. After all, where are they going to go? To the Democrats?
About the Author
Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the Allan R. Tessler Dean of the Cornell Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.