What This Catholic Wants in a President (And How the Candidates Measure Up) – Part Three

Welcome to Part Three of my first-ever series:

These Walls - What This Catholic Wants in a President Part Three

Today’s post covers some of the “hot” political issues that I care most about. I had been hoping to cover all such issues in this post, but long enough is long enough. So today you get: the Social Safety Net, Abortion, Religious Freedom, and Capital Punishment/Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide. On Monday (updated to correct to next week, at some point), I’ll cover the remaining issues on my list: Immigration, Foreign and Military Policy, The Economy, The Environment, and Education.

For an introduction of the series and an explanation of how my Catholic faith has influenced my political outlook, please see Part One.

For a discussion on some of the qualities I want in a president and a few of the broad issues that impact the more specific, controversial issues (like those in this post), please see Part Two.

For my thoughts on how the presidential candidates (of both parties) measure up to my (unreasonably high) standards, please come back next week and beyond for parts Five through however-many-I-get-to.

(Mostly) Hot on the Hot Stuff

Alright, now that I’ve gotten past those general, boring, impacts-everything-else issues, how about we get into the juicier stuff?

I tend to run pretty hot on the social issues. They’re where my Catholicism really comes to bear: I’m for a social safety net for vulnerable populations, against abortion, for religious freedom in the workplace, against capital punishment, for immigration, against euthanasia, and for an active foreign and military policy that aims to resolve conflicts and protect persecuted communities.

On a few other issues – the economy, the environment, and education – I guess I have a vague, limited opinion, but I’m just not too wrapped up in them. You can’t be hot on everything.

— Social Safety Net —

First, a decidedly un-Republican thing to be for: a social safety net that helps vulnerable populations actually move forward with their lives. And by “vulnerable populations” I mean the chronically poor, the mentally ill, the addicted, the disabled, and the (practically, if not officially) orphaned.

This is an issue (or rather, a collection of issues) I never knew much about until I worked with it/them. (I used to lobby on poverty-related issues on behalf of the Catholic Church.) There’s so much to the topic that I could write an entire series on it alone, so I won’t try to be exhaustive here. (Lengthy, perhaps – but not exhaustive.) I’ll just make three general points:

One, there are fewer resources for help than you think. I can’t begin to tell you the number of phone calls I’ve fielded from those in need, or whose loved ones were – and I didn’t even do the actual work of trying to connect people to resources. I just lobbied on such issues.

Just lost your job and need a few hundred dollars to tide you over with the rent so you’re not evicted? Sorry – our state’s rental assistance program is teeny tiny and not accepting any more applicants. And eviction prevention programs are so specific that few people qualify for them.

Need longer-term help with the rent because you can’t find a job that pays enough for you to stay afloat in this expensive housing market? Sorry, there’s a seven-year waiting list for Section 8 in your county.

Need a place for you and your kids to stay tonight because you’re (rightly!) trying to get away from an abusive home? Sorry, neither your county nor any of the neighboring ones have a public homeless shelter. And though the Church does operate two women & family shelters in this metropolitan area, both are full, with waiting lists.

Have an adult child showing signs of serious mental illness for whom you want to get help? Sorry, we can get him admitted to the hospital for a day or so, but we can’t do anything else.

Have a child suffering from addiction? Sorry, private rehab programs are expensive and public ones are mostly full.

On public assistance already, but want to take a better-paying position so you can move up the ladder at work and build a small savings to eventually by a car (so your job options won’t be limited by those accessible via public transportation) or put down a rental deposit on your own apartment or just have a little cash in the bank for emergencies?  (You know – the things that would enable you, ultimately, to not need assistance?)  Sorry, if you make any more income you’ll lose your assistance entirely. Same if you start saving. You’d better just stick with that lower-paying job so you don’t end up worse off than you are now.

(Sorry for the length on that last one – it just had to be said.)

The truth is, most of those living in poverty or experiencing other serious hardships have very few options for help. Government programs are often insufficient, understaffed, and restrictive. And though private, charitable programs do wonderful work, their resources (and therefore efforts) are more limited than anyone would like.

For all the complaining we hear about entitlements, most government assistance programs for the poor are not entitlements, meaning that when they’re full, they’re full. They’ve no obligation to take you. Entitlement programs (like Food Stamps), in which any eligible person must be served, are the exception and they’re limited to very specific purposes. Political talk about how large entitlements are and how very much of the budget they consume primarily reflects the size of the Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid programs. (Of which only the third is exclusive to the poor.)

For many who live in poverty, the odds are simply stacked against them: difficulties related to housing, transportation, education, health, family life, and criminal backgrounds often conspire to make self-improvement literally impossible. And poverty aside, even most middle-class families are ill-equipped to handle the costs associated with addressing severe mental illness, addiction, or disability.

Two, the government is the most effective way for us to collectively support people in need.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could depend on our churches and charities and families and neighborhoods to support those who find themselves in a bind? Absolutely. All of the above do good, important work. But they don’t do nearly enough of it for us as a society to be able to depend upon them alone. Many churches and charities struggle from declining participation and donations. (Note: If you don’t already, please give to your local Catholic Charities!) And many families and neighborhoods, sadly, are not equipped to help their most vulnerable members. Some – the really dysfunctional ones – already do them more harm than good.

Three, simply, I believe that it’s important to help those in need. Just as simple as that: we should help those in need. That’s common human decency. But it’s also one of my calls as a Catholic. I should help the neighbor I know and the one I don’t. I should give of my time, talent, and treasure. And I should care whether the help that’s given is sufficient and effective.

In sum, I want something from a president that most Republicans are unlikely to deliver: a commitment to policies and programs that provide for real, useful assistance for vulnerable populations. If I can find a candidate who seems to fit this bill and is also pro-life, well then, he (or she) may well be my guy.

— Abortion —

Next up, the biggest of the don’t-bring-it-up-at-a-dinner-party topics, the one that’s lighting up our newsfeeds nonetheless: abortion.

If you couldn’t tell by now, I’m really, very much against it. (I’ve written about it in greater detail here.) And I want a candidate who is too.*

Honestly, there is no one issue that is more important to me than abortion. I consider myself pro-life in the fullest sense of the word – I’m against the death penalty and euthanasia, and for programs and policies that help individuals attain the necessities of life. But when it comes down to it, I think there can hardly be anything more wrong in this world than ripping apart an innocent child in her mother’s womb.

Social moderates in the Republican Party advocate, quietly and not, for the Party to shift its focus away from divisive issues like abortion. But this social conservative is here to say that if you give up the stance against abortion, Republican Party, you will lose me. I already disagree with large factions of the Party on immigration and bi-partisanship and social welfare. If the Republican Party ditches its traditional commitment to pro-life policies, then I will have no compelling reason to stay.

In short: I refuse to vote for a Republican candidate for president who isn’t convincingly pro-life. And absent a dire turn of events (i.e. Trump winning the nomination), I can’t see myself voting for a pro-choice Democratic candidate either.

*I think any (eventual) law prohibiting abortion will have to include an exception for when the mother’s life is in danger. Such cases may be exceedingly rare, but politically and legally, I think we’ll have to allow for that possibility.

— Religious Freedom —

Maintaining full, real religious freedom is exceedingly important to me. As I wrote here, I firmly believe that there are no more fundamental rights than those to (life,) speech, and religion. “When I am able to speak freely, my mind is free. When I am able to worship freely, my heart and soul are free too.”

Honestly, I don’t worry that the government is about to start dictating which religious doctrines are or aren’t acceptable for churches to be teaching on Sunday. But I do worry that the government is beginning to sacrifice religious freedom to secular, liberal ideals in seemingly mundane ways: compelling religious organizations to enable their employees to be provided with contraception, requiring private individuals to provide goods and services that violate their consciences, and soon, I expect, requiring even churches to employ and accommodate (via, for instance, the rental of a church hall) individuals who flout their teachings.

I worry when so many of my friends and fellow Americans hear that the government aims to force people to do things that violate their deeply held religious beliefs and they… don’t care. Or worse, they fly to the defense of the government and demonize those targeted by it because the things that are to be done involve those most sacred of secular cows, contraception and abortion.

The fact is, there are slippery slopes all over the place. It’s quite fashionable to be concerned about government overreach insofar as it applies to email and phone records. But what about government overreach concerning what we believe and how our everyday lives reflect those beliefs?

I worry that we might not realize we’re on a slope until we’ve already slipped.

I want a president who will recognize the vital importance of real, full religious freedom and who will oppose policies that have the effect of limiting it.

— Capital Punishment and Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide—

Consistent with my desire to protect newly-conceived life, I also want to preserve the lives of the condemned, the sick, and the elderly. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: All human life is sacred – no matter its age or condition or station.

As capital punishment is primarily the purview of the states and execution for federal crimes is very rare, I don’t at all expect this issue to be a focus of the presidential campaign. Nor do I expect Euthanasia or Assisted Suicide (which I wrote about here) to make waves. But on all these counts, I’ll be looking to see what hints the candidates give.

I want a president who values human life in all of its stages – who, like me, opposes capital punishment, euthanasia, and assisted suicide. Most candidates, I imagine, will not join me in that across-the-board opposition. But at the very least, I plan to avoid candidates who speak of capital punishment with relish, or who dismiss the concerns that accompany euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Alright! That’s enough for tonight. (Do you see now why I couldn’t fit all my “hot stuff” into one post?) I hope you come back Monday next week for the remaining topics in this section: Immigration, Foreign and Military Policy, the Economy, the Environment, and Education. Have a great weekend!

~~~

Just as I have for Parts One and Two, allow me to close by clarifying two points. (I may do so at the end of each of these posts.)

  • First, though I prioritize the Church’s teachings in my own political decision-making, and though I used to lobby for the Church, I do not claim to speak for it. For the Church’s official positions on national-level policy questions, please see the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Some of the issues I discuss in this series will have a clear connection to those the USCCB advocates on. Others will not.
  • Second, though I may hold a degree in political science, I am no political scientist. I’m a stay-at-home mom who pays a greater-than-average attention to the news. Feel free to call me out on anything you think I’ve gotten wrong.

Thanks again for joining me. I hope to have you back next week for Part Four!

6 thoughts on “What This Catholic Wants in a President (And How the Candidates Measure Up) – Part Three

  1. I really struggle with the pro-life question. It now seems, God help us, as if candidates are either pro-torture (sorry, we’re calling it “enhanced interrogation”) or pro-choice. What do you do in this situation?

  2. Interesting discussion! I do want to point out that the Church does not have official teachings about national level policy questions unless as a general guideline regarding faith and morals (ie abortion). The USCCB is also not a mouthpiece of the Vatican but a collegial body. And the opinions it presents are not necessarily weighted with doctrinal authority. When a letter from the bishops is released, it may or may not have the support of all the bishops. It may or may not have binding authority. It is possible for the bishops to err in there opinioms or to speak outside of their teaching authority (or to even flirt with heresy like the German bishops). It depends on the subject matter. For example, the Church herself does not have an official position on immigration policies in the US… But some bishops have given their opinion (and those opinions do vary). Not the same as official teaching. So you might want to consider changing the wording on that lest someone think that every political document issued from the NCCB/USCCB is binding on American faithful. God bless!

  3. Way to go, Julie! I’m so impressed that you’re taking the time to articulate exactly what you want in a President. It looks like your work, time and attention is paying off. And I admire your thoughtfulness about all of the issues. Makes me want to clarify my own thoughts for myself. Thanks for this!

  4. Just a thought about the social safety net stuff: I am absolutely for helping the downtrodden; I just don’t think the government does that (or much of anything else) very well. You make a good point that charitable services can’t fill the gap on their own. But if the government got out of the charity business and focused on the stuff the Constitution says they’re authorized to do only, then they wouldn’t have one hand + three fingers in our paychecks in the form of crippling tax burdens, therefore allowing those of us who are so inclined to be a LOT more charitable.

    (Not that anyone is really proposing such a thing. It would just be the genuinely small-government approach.)

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