Reading Anthony Annett’s article, “This Economy Kills: Catholics Shouldn’t Defend It” (June 16), reminded me of Alan Wolfe’s similar article in the September 25, 2015 issue, “Libertarianism’s Iron Cage: From Ayn Rand to Rand Paul,” in particular because I had just finished the first chapter of Jane Mayer’s Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.

Toward the end of the chapter, Mayer explains how the Republican Party has been taken over by libertarian oligarchs, led by Charles and David Koch, whose goal was “patently political: to undo not just Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal but Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Era, too.” Their aim was to repeal every major political reform since the Progressive Era, and reduce government to the sole function of protecting individual and property rights.

After the Libertarian Party, with David Koch as its vice-presidential candidate, won only 1 percent of the vote in the 1980 election, the Kochs turned to the propaganda wars. They wanted to supply, preferably in secret behind the scenes, the money for and content of libertarian propaganda scripts for political actors through “think tanks” like the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council). No wonder we hear their echoes from recent Republican avatars like Grover Norquist, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz, and no wonder they got away for years with phony front groups like “Americans for Prosperity” and other “Tea Party” shenanigans.

The Republican bills in the House and Senate to “repeal and replace Obamacare” are the shameless expression of this far-right philosophy of government. Even if Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell fail to pass some version of this libertarian Halloween candy, this gross promotion of immoral economic and political -inequality—with contempt not only for poor people but for anyone who does not belong to their favored social class, the millionaire and billionaire recipients of almost a trillion dollars of federal tax cuts—which is the real purpose of their bills, should offend the conscience of anyone not swearing allegiance to the cult of Mammon.

After the fiasco of 2008, when finance capitalism self-destructed, the great libertarian enemy, “government,” had to rescue capitalism’s high priests (Mayer describes how the Kochs ended up supporting the government bailout, though they kept it quiet). That should have put an end to all the hypocritical pretenses of libertarians, “conservative” Republicans and Democrats, and all other proponents of unregulated “free markets” and government “austerity” (no austerity for the favored class of course): Not a bit; the propaganda mills soon returned.

Those of us who have been marinated in Catholic Social Teaching, and perhaps have been compelled to try to find an audience for sanity in the presently pathetic Democratic Party, feel a bit like Rip Van Winkle. We have to wonder, where are the “labor priests,” the Bishop Shiels, the Msgr. John A. Ryans (“Right Reverend New Dealer”), when you need them? Pope Francis is doing his bit to oppose the libertarian propaganda. So far I’m underwhelmed by the response of the bishops and priests to the political and economic insanity of the Obamacare repealers. If it is not stopped, all of us will wake up in a libertarian dystopia.

Michael L. O'Neill
De Land, Fla.


Thank you for Gilbert Meilaender’s article on assisted suicide (“More Bathos than Pathos,” August 11). It resonated with me, as I am inclined to oppose the use of assisted or unassisted suicide as a remedy for prolonged illness.

I am a retired mental health counselor in the state of Oregon, where we have an assisted-suicide law. As a specialist in geriatric mental health working in the public sector, it was part of my assignment to assess and consult on nursing-care patients. At times that assignment came from the nursing-home staff to assess patients who were requesting approval for assisted suicide, to determine if they were suffering from Major Depression Disorder, which would disqualify them for the assisted-suicide option. What I found was complex. Yes, at times some patients were suffering from major depression and the recommendation was for more aggressive treatment. In other cases, the finding of my assessment was that these patients, who may have stopped eating, experienced an existential withdrawal from life that was simply a natural result of their physical illness. In nearly every case, by the time I submitted my report they had died a natural death. What was more troubling to me were the cases of patients whose motivation was determined by the fear of not receiving adequate pain control and compassionate care, in some cases because they already weren’t receiving enough of these things.

This brings up an issue that wasn’t mentioned in the article, especially at a time when we have a president and a political party who claim to be prolife, who are seeking to dramatically cut Medicaid and other health-care coverage for millions of Americans, including the disabled, the poor, and elderly nursing-home residents. The fear of lack of medical care, of lack of pain control, of the bankruptcy and destitution of the surviving spouse and family can and most certainly would be a major motivational factor in both assisted and non-assisted suicide for those confronting major illness. As a senior citizen with a spouse, I can safely say that if I became dependent on institutional nursing care and believed that my spouse would become destitute and homeless as a result of the loss of Medicaid nursing coverage, I would seriously consider and most likely choose to end my life rather than inflict that kind of unnecessary tragedy on her. The Catholic Church, in its public statements and advocacy, has largely ignored that potential result from cuts in health-care funding and access. Seemingly you have ignored it as well in this article, which is focused on an example of a privileged white person. The fear of financial and medical abandonment for ourselves and our loved ones when we are sick and in pain is a reality-based fear. When the immorality of treating health care as a consumer choice rather than an essential, universal human right is the agenda of the party in power, sadly enabled by some Catholic hierarchy, how can the Catholic prolife teaching have validity or salvific power?

William Ryan
Salem, Ore.


It has been a gift to me to accompany quite a few people in the moment of death, and in the journey leading up to it—yes, “up.” Allowing nature to take its course, even when that involved suffering, did not diminish their personal dignity. Accepting diminishment admittedly makes us dependent, but this is not an evil. Autonomy is not what gives our lives value. The New York Times article about the dying and death of John Shields lacks perspective and intellectual rigor, and serves as a marketing piece for a new industry. Gilbert Meilaender rightly projects a slippery slope. Holland, for example, demonstrates how slippery it is.

Mary-Cabrini Durkin
Cincinnati, Ohio


Gregory Orfalea’s plea for gun control (“Self-Inflicted Carnage,” August 11) echoes much of the sentiment and statistics found in editorials across the Fourth Estate, usually written after a massive shooting. Orfalea’s viewpoint comes from a tragic firsthand experience with easy gun availability, and one can easily feel his anger and frustration.

What might be added to his assessment is a stronger condemnation of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the spineless members of Congress who bow to the organization’s agenda. What Orfalea and some editorial writers fail to see, I think, is the absolute need for the scores of gun-control organizations to coalesce into one powerful, unified force that can compete with the NRA. As it now stands, there are dozens of independent groups (the Brady Campaign, Newton Action Alliance, Moms Demand Action, etc.) that hold meetings, marches, candlelight vigils, prayer meetings, and other well-meaning but often fruitless activities.

Orfalea is correct when stating “the millions of dollars that gun manufacturers…pump into NRA lobbying efforts have successfully bought Congressional votes.” As he points out, the NRA ignores its moderate wing, bending to the wishes of the weapons builders. His “eight common-sense suggestions” all require legislation, and that’s not going to happen—at federal or state levels—while the NRA pours millions into campaign coffers. To organize, as Orfalea suggests, “a series of peaceful demonstrations (as was done recently in Chicago) in front of gun shops throughout the country” is a noble idea, but ineffectual (ask the Chicago police).

What’s needed is a single, nation-wide organization that collects membership dues, hires lawyers and lobbyists, proposes legislation, contributes to political campaigns, and goes toe-to-toe with the NRA. To all those who support sensible gun control, I say get organized, nationally, and emulate the NRA’s tactics. You’ll find legislators more responsive.

W. E. Mueller
Chesterfield, Mo.


I was thoroughly impressed by Andrew J. Bacevich’s article, “The New Normal” (July 7). He has the proverbial ability to pack ten pounds of material in a two pound bag. Trump’s shallowness and incompetence guarantee that social changes such as the evolving definition of autonomy, the role of religion, and LGBT rights will bear no impact from Trump. However, other norms could undergo a profound change if 35 percent of the voters continue to approve and Republicans in Congress continue to ignore or even explain away all his weekly, even daily, indiscretions. What if this continues for three-and-a-half more years?

It will be okay to bully and undermine your competitors and spread lies and conspiracy theories about them. It will be okay to foment violence against people who oppose your positions. It will be okay to belittle people of other religions and immigrants from certain countries and falsely accuse them all of heinous crimes. It will be okay to call women you don’t like fat, pigs, slobs, and disgusting animals, and vengefully tweet about blood coming out of their bodies as some kind of (sick) joke. The list could go on and on.

Clearly this is not the social change that will make America great again. How do we change the minds of the Republicans who are willing to grovel and do his bidding?

Vidya Kale
Lake Oswego, Ore.

Published in the September 8, 2017 issue: View Contents
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