September 25, 2012

Here's what's wrong with the Republican and Democratic conventions...

I must confess that I'm not a big fan of the speeches given at national political conventions. Even the most banal observations are met with thunderous applause. I watched Bill Clinton's speech at the DNC and it was interrupted by ovations every twenty seconds. It was much longer than his notoriously long 1988 speech...


  1. A very fine exposition, Father, but my understanding of Catholic moral thought is that the ultimate issue, the controlling one which permits no equivalence, is the right to life.

  2. Thoughtful, as always. The twin principles of American political thought, liberty and equality, exist in a dynamic tension and that tension has defined our political policy and discourse from the Founding. The two national conventions showcase the extent to which each of our major parties uses one understanding of each of those principles to organize its message. And so, Democrats appeal to a radicalized notion of equality and Republicans to an equally radicalized notion of liberty.

    The genius of the American form of democracy, as deToucqueville and others have pointed out, is that it's institutions (both civil and governmental) helped force our social and governing practice to the center. The great economic middle class (created by allowing a free people to pursue their material self interest) and the intermediary institutions created and maintained by those people (religious, civic, and charitable organizations that helped root individuals by emphasizing our responsibility to one another) would guarantee that this experiment in democracy, unlike all the previous ones, would long endure.

    What is happening now is that Democrats want to sweep away the those intermediary institutions in pursuit of statist solutions to every issue and Republicans would sweep them away with empty and dangerous talk of individual rights.

    The Catholic principles of subsidiarity and solidarity bear a resemblance to the American principles of liberty and equality. I would submit that when brought to bear on political issues they result in the same tension.

    I am not sure that the these Catholic ideas will help resolve the political tension...but I certainly believe they help us to see why we must fast and pray for politicians and government officials.

  3. Sorry Father. I simply can't agree with you. The current Democratic Party is in no way a book-end to Catholic Social teaching. Have you read their platform? This is no time to seek compromise. Speak plainly preacher! They must be defeated this November. Go ask Alice.

  4. Fr. Barron's thesis will not stand up to scrutiny. First Catholic social teaching will not help us sort out Republican versus Democrat, Conservative/ Liberal policy proposals. Catholic social teaching defends broad goals that virtually all policy proposals agree are laudable. So everyone agrees the poor should be helped, the common good served. It seems there should be a bias in terms of solving these problems using forms of social organization that are smaller and closer to the individual ( civic associations, state and local government) with the federal government as a last resort. This should bias us to conservative solutions to problems. Fr. Barron begs the question whether the large federal entitlement programs like Medicare which are now headed for bankruptcy were wise programs ( he assumes they were) solely because they are now popular. It should be obvious that they may have been less efficacious at solving the problems then different solutions that did not expand the federal government might have been. At the end of the day however the problem is that Catholic Social teaching does not specify how any given goal should be reached. Specific policy questions are based on empirical results, so whether low tax rates on high income earners are helpful to the poor because the increase economic growth and job prospects or whether they hurt the poor by failing to redistribute income and do not have the offsetting beneficial effect of increasing economic growth and opportunity is not settled by Catholicism. It is a question answered by resort to economic study. This sort of conundrum is what makes Catholic Social teaching unhelpful in our current debates. No one is taking a position that the least fortunate do not matter,, Conservatives believe that the usual Democratic policies have in fact hurt the poor.

    All that said watching the conventions did give us a useful insight into the parties that Fr. Barron neglected to mention. It was pretty clear that the Democrats favor abortion as a right. Of Course Abortion was categorized as an "unspeakable crime" by Vatican II and as murder by John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae. It seems to me if you advocate for "unspeakable crime and legalized murder this should disqualify you from holding office. So my questions to Fr. Barron are as follows:

    1) Do you agree with Vatican II and Blessed John Paul II that abortion is an "unspeakable crime", essentially legalized murder?
    2) Do you think that a Catholic can vote in support of someone who favors making unspeakable crimes legal rights?
    3) If the Answer to (2) above is "NO" would you say that a Catholic can not vote for the Democrats given the party platform advocates for abortion?
    4) If you say you can still vote for the party of "unspeakable crime" Do you have a limiting principal, does anything disqualify you? Would it be permissible to vote for a racist or an anti-Semite? I hope the answer would be no, but if so why is abortion treated differently in your mind?

    You see I think one could learn all one needed to know about the parties watching the convention.