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Catholics for Biden

September 23, 2020 (992 words)

While I believe Catholics who identify as “conservative” in the practice of their faith should untether themselves from the Republican Party, I don’t think the newly-formed group Catholics for Biden offers a convincing rationale for doing so.

This group had its “virtual launch” on the evening of September 3, when a number of prominent Catholics who proudly identify as “progressive” said their peace. And Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, certainly no stranger to the spotlight himself, published a recent essay that laid out the group’s logic:

“A Catholic Democrat can vote for Biden, even if his policies promote abortion and gay marriage, as long as the voter’s intent is not to support those positions.

“A Catholic Democrat might feel impelled to vote for Biden despite his position on abortion and gay marriage because of other morally grave reasons, for example, his positions on racism, immigration, global warming, and COVID-19.”

Here I must say I appreciate the position I think Father Reese is trying to carve out for Catholics who find themselves dissenting from various aspects of the Republican party line. But I believe he could be far more persuasive in making the argument, if only he’d put his mind to it.

As things stand now, his approach can be too easily dismissed as an example of the “two out of three ain’t bad” sort of moral reasoning. It goes something like this: If we can improve the national response on racism and immigration, then we’ll just have to live with legalized abortion.

This sort of thinking just doesn’t fly with me.

It’s very curious Father Reese’s litany of “morally grave reasons” does not include “economic injustice,” given the nation’s ongoing preoccupation with the subject, and how it was a central focus of certain candidates who led early polling for the Democratic nomination last year.

In much the same way a majority of those primary voters were eventually scared off by a vague sense that any discussion of adjusting our approach to economic behavior was tantamount to a complete conversion to “socialism,” so too this new group Catholics for Biden seems to want to steer clear of the subject as well.

But that’s exactly where this conversation needs to go. A reform of our economic rules of engagement holds the key to ending abortion, though I don’t have much company when making this assertion. None of my favorite pro-life friends and debate partners shows a willingness to entertain my logic. In fact, just last week one of them accused me of “economic reductionism.”

To be clear, I have not fallen in love with the Democrats. It’s more a case of my having lost all faith in the other side.

For blue-chip Republicans, the abortion issue is little more than an election year “social conservative” side hustle. Oh yeah, sure, between elections they are busy “transforming the federal judiciary” by appointing judges who will not “legislate an abortion agenda from the bench.” They can be counted on to sporadically discuss defunding Planned Parenthood. And they are always looking to pack the Supreme Court with as many pro-life Catholics jurists as they can find.

These stalwart gestures may strum the heartstrings of pro-lifers everywhere, but they are extended with an incontrovertible quid pro quo understanding: Every single appointee must adhere to the hardcore fiscal policy Republicans hold dear.

It is an unwavering commitment to the “free market” and to “economic freedom” – both of which happen to dovetail nicely with our national spirit of rugged individualism – that defines Republicans and is demanded of their followers.

They stand opposed to government “interference” and resist any attempt at regulation. This “absence of obstacles” approach to economic life has obviously worked out well for the clever and the advantaged among us, and has unleashed the movers and the shakers. But it leaves far too many rank-and-file folks out in the cold.

Pro-life Catholics have been overlooking these unfortunate Republican fiscal tendencies – which amount to a pronounced disdain for the common good – ever since Roe v. Wade.

In 2016 we were told to hold our nose and vote Republican, for the same reason as always – upcoming vacancies on the Supreme Court. The entrenched pro-life strategy is all about getting the right kind of people on the high court, which will eventually lead to a reversal of Roe v. Wade.

Well folks, here’s a news flash: I don’t think overturning Roe v. Wade will end abortion. It may start a civil war, but it won’t end abortion.

The only thing that will end abortion is when women stop choosing to have one.

This means addressing the mentality behind a woman’s decision to abort. And I see this equation as largely (if not exclusively) economic in nature. The female “haves” possess more money than they know what to do with. Their lives are centered on comfort and pleasure, and the career that makes it all possible. Newborns are resisted as an unnecessary part of life, an unwanted intrusion. The female “have nots,” meanwhile, live paycheck-to-paycheck, and feel constrained from welcoming a child (or another child) into the world.

Republican fiscal policy encourages this me-first attitude among the “haves,” and prevents the “have nots” from flourishing in all aspects of American society. The Democrat approval of abortion and gay marriage is surely a worrisome thing, but that support does not translate into a mandate. Republican fiscal policy, on the other hand, does in fact dictate the harsh, kill-or-be-killed culture we are all forced to accept.

From my perspective, fiscal conservatives blithely undermine the objectives of social conservatives at every turn, with policies that contradict their stated commitment to the pro-life cause, and decimate the “traditional family values” they are always touting.

So Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, do us all a favor. Roll up your sleeves and wade into the economic nitty-gritty that could explain why a committed pro-life Catholic might actually vote for an apostate politician like Joe Biden.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr
September 23, 2020

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