A group of prominent Catholics, led by Robbie George, has decided to endorse Ted Cruz for president. The case they make is a weak one. Instead of appealing to the principles of Catholic social teaching, they appeal to the American secular constitutional order. “[Cruz] will foster a culture, from the top down, that honors the Constitution,” says George. No word about a culture than honors the gospel or the common good.
How should we judge this endorsement, or indeed, any Catholic discernment of current political choices? I would argue that the best yardstick is Pope Francis’s address to Congress last September. More than anything else, this speech lays out the pope’s views on the moral principles that should animate American political life and policy choices at this particular moment in history.
If you recall, the speech was structured around the relevance for today of four exemplary Americans—Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton. Lincoln defended liberty for all. King pushed for full rights and inclusion for all people. Day worked for justice and for the oppressed. And Merton promoted dialogue and peace between peoples and religions.
Pope Francis discusses the contemporary relevance of each of these exemplars. To keep things simple, I will try to distil it into two takeaways from each (and I am simplifying—please read the speech for the full flavor). And for each category, I will attempt to assess Cruz’s positions against these yardsticks.
- Avoid all kinds of fundamentalisms, either religious or any other kind. Avoid a simplistic reductionism that sees only good or evil, that polarizes and divides people into two camps. Instead, embrace a spirit of fraternity and cooperation on the world stage.
- Promote the common good and the dignity of every person. This means that politics cannot be a slave to finance. The common good requires the sacrifice of particular interests for the shared social life.
What about Cruz? Cruz is actually notorious for polarization, and is one of the worst offenders when it comes to a stark Calvinist “us versus them” mentality. This colors his foreign policy, and it relates his dominionist theology—the idea that evangelical Christians are called upon to take control over all aspects of the culture. This is surely one of the fundamentalisms condemned by Pope Francis. Cruz is even on record calling for the policing of “Muslim neighborhoods.”
His vision of the common good centers on a grossly irresponsible tax cut that would cost more than $10 trillion, increase the national debt by 36 percent of GDP, and gut essential services. Possibly worst of all, it showers its bounty on the super rich—29 percent of it goes to the top 0.1 percent. And he seeks to take healthcare away from 20 million people with nothing to replace it—he even hinted that he would be fine with people dying on the street if they could not afford to pay for healthcare. The only sacrifice for this vision of the common good is the sacrifice for the poor and the excluded.
And in terms of finance, Cruz supports repealing the Dodd-Frank Act and returning the economy to the pre-crisis financial Wild West—and in turn, to a culture that both undermined virtue and crashed the global economy.
- Treat immigrants and refugees in a way that is humane, just, and fraternal. We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but view them instead as persons. Instead of discarding what proves troublesome, we must be guided by the Golden Rule—if we want security, give security; if we want life, give life; if we want opportunities, provide opportunities.
- Protect and defend all human life. In particular, fight for the abolition of the death penalty.
What about Cruz? On the issue of immigration and refugees, he is second only to Trump in his callousness. He opposes immigration reform, and seeks instead to build a wall, deport all undocumented, and end all sanctuary policies. He also supports banning all Syrian refugees, victims from a conflagration that the United States helped to light.
And while he opposes abortion, not only does he support the death penalty, but he seems to delight in it. As a Supreme Court clerk, the death penalty was his leading cause. And he is on record calling for “carpet bombing”, which would be a war crime.
- Embrace global solidarity to end poverty and hunger. This encompasses not only the creation, but also the distribution, of wealth. It also calls for business to orient itself toward the common good, mainly by prioritizing job creation.
- Protect our common home from human-induced environmental degradation. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies to deal with this urgent problem—for an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and protecting nature.
What about Cruz? He shows no real interest in global solidarity, and he opposes UN-led attempts to foster it. He also adopts an extremist laissez-faire approach toward business, and opposes raising the minimum wage. I have already mentioned his preferential option for the super-rich tax policy, and his desire to repeal every bit of the Affordable Care Act.
On the environment, he lies about climate change, seeks to rip up the Paris Accord, and supports ramped-up investment in fossil fuels. He also promises to get rid of vital EPA regulations like the Clean Power Plan (a plan explicitly endorsed by Pope Francis during his first public address in the United States).
- Work to build peace and overcome differences between nations. The pope recognizes recent positive efforts—he is surely referring here to the Iran deal and the opening to Cuba.
- Stop the arms trade. Deadly weapons are being sold for money, money drenched in blood, often innocent blood.
What about Cruz? His signature foreign policy stance is a bellicose warrior pose. He wants to rip up the Iran deal. He opposes any opening to Cuba. He famously walked out of an event dedicated to protecting Christians in the Middle East, because he felt that the attendees—representatives from persecuted communities—did not demonstrate sufficient support for Israel.
He also wants to increase military spending by $2.4 trillion. And he is beholden to the arms dealers condemned by Pope Francis—fighting all attempts to control the sale of firearms and even elevating “second amendment rights” as one of the core themes of his campaign.
In supporting Ted Cruz, therefore, it is clear that Robbie George and friends are not really taking this exhortation from Pope Francis to heart. Ask yourself: does Cruz embody the virtues of people like Lincoln, King, Day, or Merton? Not even remotely.
Of course, there is no ideal candidate, especially in these crazy times. But in my opinion, for what it’s worth, the most Christian candidate by these standards is the one candidate who is not even Christian…