The November Elections, Pope Francis, and the Catholic Vote

romneyryan

On September 6th, the Washington Post published a report called “White Catholics Struggle to Get on Board the Trump Train.” The article’s assumption was that obviously Caucasian Catholics are expected to vote Republican. However, the report noted, some are having second thoughts in the light of the Trump candidacy – presumably because of his waffling on the issue of abortion.

Unexplainably, the Post article completely ignored the overall progressive thrust of Pope Francis’ teaching and the un-Republican influence it might be having on Catholic voters. Instead, it bolstered its “of course” assumption about Catholics voting Republican by puzzling over the fact that four years ago Catholics who attended Mass at least once a month favored Mitt Romney by 38 points. This year, Donald Trump’s lead among such Catholics has shrunk to 17 points..

True, the WaPo article did suggest that Pope Francis might have something to do with the trends it described. After all, Francis had explicitly intimated that Mr. Trump was unchristian for intending to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. Followers of Jesus, Francis said, build bridges, not walls. In response Trump dismissed the pope as “very political.”

However, the Post completely ignored the issues of climate change, a world economy based on arms manufacture, capital punishment, and world-wide income disparities – Pope Francis’ signature issues that he himself highlighted in his speech last year to the U.S. Congress.

The Post carried on as if that speech and the pope’s landmark encyclical on climate change had never occurred. It was as though the Church were still mired in the reactionary era of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, when Catholics seemed obsessed with one issue alone: abortion without connecting it (as Francis has done) to problems of poverty, war, environmental destruction, and an overwhelmingly punitive “justice” system.

So how should Catholics vote who are tuned into Pope Francis’ more comprehensive moral concerns? According to the pope’s eco-encyclical, his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, and his address to the U.S. Congress, Catholics should vote:

  • Against climate change deniers and for those who share the pope’s climate concerns.
  • Against champions of dirty fossil fuels and in favor of those supporting alternative, renewable energy sources.
  • Against those who would exclude refugees from finding shelter in the United States and in favor of those advocating sanctuary.
  • Against those who favor arms sales abroad and in favor of proponents of divestment from the arms industry.
  • Against champions of capital punishment and in favor of those calling for its abolition.
  • Against those proposing tax cuts for the wealthy and in favor of increased redistributive taxes on their incomes.
  • Against those whose answers to global terrorism are war, bombing, and drone assassinations, and in favor of those who offer legal and diplomatic solutions to the problem of national security.
  • Against those who are selective in their “pro-life” advocacy, and for those who connect respect for life not just with abortion, but with providing care for unwanted children brought to term, with clean energy, environmental protection, universal health care, investment in public education, and opposition to capital punishment and war.

In the run-up to the elections, these are the issues Catholics should quiz Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump about – as well as candidates for other public offices.

How Was Your Election Day? This Was Mine

Nov. 6, 2012

6:00 a.m.  My first thought this morning is the same as my last before dropping off to sleep last night: Election Day.   This is it. It’s been such a long campaign season. I’m glad it’s finally almost over. I’m sick of it all. Are we actually about to elect as president one of those plutocrats who crashed the economy four years ago? Only in America . . . .

6:15-7:15: A mighty struggle this morning to keep thoughts of the election out of my mind during meditation and spiritual reading. I keep directing my mind back to the words of my “passage meditation”: “All that we are is the result of what we have thought; we are formed and molded by our thoughts . . .”

7:30: On my way to the gym, I go over the list of people I pray for each day. I stumble over the last inclusion – the prayer for President Obama.  I’ve been praying it over the last four years: “May the president be remembered as the best the United States has ever had. May he be filled with loving kindness. May he be safe from dangers, internal and external. May he be well in body, in heart, and in mind. And may he find peace and be truly happy.”

8:00-8:30: I’m on the elliptical machine at the gym now. I think about that Obama prayer. A lot of good it’s done! This guy has been such a disaster: droning, torture, a Bush-like “surge” in Afghanistan, renewal of the Patriot Act, restrictions on civil liberties, extension of tax cuts for the wealthy, surrender on the public option in healthcare, refusal to explain and defend himself in the face of relentless Republican attacks and GOP rejection of bipartisanship . . . . If he’s reelected, he’ll probably immediately abandon his base again. I feel so angry about that. He just failed to grasp which side his bread is buttered on? Maybe he’s not as smart as we thought.

8:50-9:00: I’m walking home now. Obama actually called us “professional leftists” and “whiners.” I can’t get that out of my mind.  And now he’s ever so cooperatively begging for our vote! What gall!  How arrogant! I feel so insulted, I could almost vote for Romney!

9:15: Now I’m preparing breakfast. Would things really change that much if Obama lost? Can Mitt Romney be much worse? Well, there are those Supreme Court nominations in the offing. All we need are more Clarence Thomases. . . . I’m confused.

9:30: While eating breakfast, I tune in to Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now.” Election Day focus is on the Republican campaign to suppress the vote. Their crusade strikes me as outrageous, unpatriotic, and treasonous. Why didn’t the Democrats do something about reforming the electoral process when they had the chance? The whole thing is so corrupt, what with “Citizens United,” voting machine conflicts of interest, redistricting, and voter suppression aimed at minorities and Democrats? Why are we still discussing these things on Election Day? The electoral system should have been reformed immediately after the 2000 “hanging chad” disaster. Obama really screwed up by not taking advantage of the mandate for change and the super majority he enjoyed in Congress in 2008. I’m so pissed.

10:00: I’m off to vote in the Madison Southern High School gymnasium. It’s busy there. This is a Red State. I catch myself thinking harsh thoughts about Kentuckians. Then I see some friends. We exchange pleasantries. I approach the desk to sign in to vote. They ask for my ID. I search my wallet for one without a photo – I just don’t want to give in to this voter ID nonsense. I’m white, so the ID works.  I guess they don’t require a photo of whites.

10:15: I sign in to vote. The ballot is a single page and surprisingly uncomplicated – nothing like the 12 page ballot they’re using to suppress the vote in Florida. I’m directed to a desk (with privacy shields) alongside two other voters. This is different from what we used to do in Madison County. In 2000 and before we went into a curtained booth and voted via Diebold machine. I never did trust those things; still don’t.

10:25: I fill out votes for City Council members – searching for names I recognize, most of them former colleagues at Berea College where I used to teach. They’re all “liberal” enough, I guess.

10:27: I VOTE FOR GREEN PARTY CANDIDATE, JILL STEIN. I’m thinking, the Democrats and Obama simply have to get the message that they’ve lost people like me. Anyway, since Kentucky’s such a red state, my vote for president is otherwise meaningless. Now if I were in Ohio or Florida, it would be a different story. I would vote for Obama there. (In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I spent a Saturday afternoon phoning Ohioans to get out the vote for Obama. That’s how conflicted I am.)

11:30: I Skype a friend of mine in Amsterdam. He’s a self-exiled former priest who holds dual citizenship in Great Britain and in the U.S. He’s chosen to boycott this election.  Over the last few weeks he’s been chiding me for supporting Obama. “How can you do that? he’s been asking. Didn’t you watch the third debate? On foreign policy, Obama and Romney are on the same page. It’s absolutely selfish to vote for Obama because he’ll somehow protect your Social Security. The man’s a war criminal – droning, torturing, eliminating civil liberties, suspending habeas corpus. . . . The Democrats are as corrupt as the Republicans. The whole system has to come down, and that means going through a period of purgation that will be hard as hell, but it has to happen.” My friend is pleased when he hears I’ve voted for Stein.

12:00: I have to break away from the Skype conversation to answer a knock on the door. It happens to be another ex-priest. (Our parish is loaded with them – four of us.) We sit on our front porch and talk politics. My friend agrees that the system must come down. What form do you think it will the disintegration take, I ask? “Last week answered that question,” he says. He was referring to Hurricane Sandy. “That even woke up the business suits,” he says. “Did you see that Bloomberg’s magazine ran a headline last week, ‘It’s Global Warming, Stupid’?  Once the suits wake up like that, you’ll see changes.”  He continues, “The dollar’s going to be devalued; the European Union’s going to hell, and simple demographics are running against the fascists. I mean, the whole thing’s disintegrating before our very eyes. And you’re asking ‘what form will it take?’ Open your eyes, man.  And hang on to your seatbelt!” Then he added with a nod towards our status as septuagenarians, “I don’t think you and I will live to see this particular ‘Berlin Wall’ fall. Thank God.”

1:00-5:00: All afternoon I compulsively check my Kindle Fire for . . .  I’m not sure for what. Am I hoping for some news about “who’s winning?” I know the polls won’t close for hours. Still, there might be something about exit polls. All I find though are more last-minute appeals for money from Move-On and others. They’re still asking for telephone calls to undecideds on behalf of Elizabeth Warren. Those appeals have been making me feel guilty for months. Instead of phoning, I watch the end of “Platoon.” It reminds me of Obama’s broken promises about Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo, and the likelihood that no matter who wins, we’ll soon be attacking Iran at Israel’s behest.

5:30: I go for supper to the home of a friend of mine (also a former priest!). We warm up with Manhattans. Then a spaghetti dinner with my friend’s famous meatballs. Always a treat. My friend, yet another one of us ex-priests, is a self-identified curmudgeon. He’s claims he has given up completely on politics. He’s convinced that nothing in the world ever really changes. Romney and Obama are essentially the same. Life goes on no matter what. The best we can do is tend our own gardens. I think about “Platoon” and find myself thinking he may be right.

7:30: The first returns are coming in now. We keep switching back and forth between FOX, MSNBC, and CNN. The reporters are obviously enamored of their “magic boards” and high tech gadgets. By 9:30 Romney has a lead in electoral votes. But a subtext of the evening (except on FOX) is that Obama will close the deal in Ohio and even, it seems, in Florida. We’ll see.

10:00: I return home and tune into Amy Goodman’s Election Night Coverage. She’s interviewing Green Party candidate, Jill Stein along with Ohio Congressman, Dennis Kucinich. Instead of simply reporting on the “horse race,” they discuss the need for a third party in the U.S.

10:30: Still on Amy Goodman, Lee Rowland of the Brennan Center for Justice along with author Greg Palast report on voter suppression efforts in Florida and Ohio. Palast talks about his experience in Toledo where voters waited in a line of more than a thousand people. Once they got to their destination, they were not allowed to vote, but were given applications for absentee ballots. Incredible!

11:15: They’ve called the election for President Obama. Reportedly, his camp is already talking about a”Grand Bargain” with the Republicans. Bob Herbert of Demos says it’s going to hurt the most vulnerable. Incredible!

12:00: I finally go to bed.

Beggars, Takers and Faith Healing

Today’s Readings: Jer. 31:7-9; Ps. 126: 1-6; Heb. 5:1-6; Mk. 10: 46-52

(http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/102812.cfm)

A few weeks ago a “secret” video was released involving presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The video showed Mr. Romney speaking with deep-pocketed campaign supporters and, in effect, addressing the issue of blind beggars – one of whom is centralized in this morning’s gospel reading.

According to Mr. Romney, 47% of Americans “never take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”  The Republican candidate’s running mate, Paul Ryan, called such people “takers.” He estimated that 30% of Americans fall into that category. In language associated with the philosophy of Ayn Rand, a hero of Mr. Ryan (whom our diocesan paper Crossroads describes as a “devout Catholic”) just under half of us are “moochers” and “unproductive eaters.”

I’m sure many of those who tried to silence the blind Bartimaeus in this Sunday’s gospel selection thought of him in those terms. After all, he was a beggar – and a pushy one at that. When they tried to silence him he just shouted out louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!”

In fact, Bartimaeus shouted so insistently that Jesus heard above the din of the crowd, and asked that the beggar be brought to him.

And what did Jesus say? Did he say, “What’s wrong with you, Bart? Why don’t you get a job? Don’t you care about yourself? Take some responsibility, man. I’m tired of seeing takers like you just sitting around all day producing nothing and eating at the expense of others! Someone, call the police and get this guy off the street. And as for the rest of you, follow my example of ‘tough love’.”

Of course Jesus didn’t say such things. As compassion itself and as a prophet, Jesus instead followed in the footsteps of Jeremiah whose words were proclaimed in this morning’s first reading. There Jeremiah was a spokesperson for a God announcing good news specifically to women, their children, the exiled, blind, and lame. As today’s readings from the Book of Psalms recalls, that God makes those people’s dreams come true, and turns their tears to laughter, not to guilt and shame.

So Jesus’ real words to Bartimaeus were “What do you want me to do for you?”

Bartimaeus answers, “My teacher let me see again.”

The Great Faith Healer responds, “Go, your faith has made you well.”

It was a simple as that. Then we’re told the beggar immediately regained his sight and followed Jesus “on the way.”

Note that Jesus’ prophetic example was enough to change the attitude of the crowd. One minute they were “sternly” ordering Bartimaeus to be quiet. But as soon as Jesus said “Call him here,” they changed their tune. Their words became encouraging and enthusiastic. They said to Bartimaeus, “Take heart; get up; he is calling you.”

Someone has said, “If you want to become invisible, become poor.”  That means that where the poor – where blind beggars like Bartimaeus – are concerned most of us are blind. We just don’t see them. Above all, we don’t see our own condition as beggars. I mean all of us are in many ways “takers.” No matter how we may protest our self-sufficiency, we did not “build it” without help from others. And that’s true even of the “donors” Mitt Romney was begging from.

Elizabeth Warren who is running for a Massachusetts Senate seat against Scott Brown put it best. She said,

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there – good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory . . . Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God bless! Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

Prophetic words like that can cure our blindness and establish solidarity with those the self-made see as takers, moochers and useless eaters.

The reason we are here this morning is to have our liturgical encounter with the faith-healer, Jesus of Nazareth. He can cure our blindness to the ones who in our tradition are closest to God’s heart – the exiles, beggars, blind, lame and the mothers who hold up half the sky that blesses us all.

Let our prayer this morning be that of Bartimaeus, “My teacher, let me see again.” I am blind and a beggar. Let me see with your eyes, Jesus. Let my faith in you make me well. I want to follow you “on the way” you have trod.

The First Debate: Was He Ill?

I had high hopes for last night’s first presidential debate and the signals it would send for a second Obama term that looked more assured every day. I was looking for signs that the president had learned from his “Why can’t we all just get along?” bipartisan failure, and come out swinging.

He’d use his gift of eloquence to truly take full advantage of the bully pulpit the debate format provided. He’d confront Mitt Romney over his chameleon conversion to Tea Party extremism. He’d ask him about Bain Capital and the policy it represents of sending U.S. jobs overseas and sheltering money in the Cayman Islands. Mr. Obama would ask for clarification about the governor’s “47%” gaffe and the signal it sent to Middle Americans.

He’d call Republicans on their lies and for being the “Party of “No,'” and for thwarting his valiant efforts at bipartisanship. He’d ask Mr. Romney why they’ve filibustered specific programs that would help Main Street and  war veterans

He’d have a clear narrative of exactly how deregulation, tax cuts, and Republican disregard for deficits have gotten the country into its present mess. He’d tell a story of American healthcare as clearly as Michael Moore’s “Sicko.” Naming the fundamental deceit of the phrase “clean coal,” he’d make a clear and unambiguous case for green energy to protect the environment from corporate predators. He’d force his opponent to explain his party’s denial of the reality and threat of global warming.

President Obama’s victory in the first debate would once and for all set a tone for (what before last night) seemed to be the likelihood of a second Obama presidential term.

But none of that happened.

Instead the president allowed Governor Romney to appear more presidential than he did. Romney looked Obama in the eye throughout the entire debate. Meanwhile, the president constantly looked down at his notes or at the debate moderator Jim Lehrer. When he did face his opponent, it was fleetingly– almost as if he didn’t belong on the same stage with the man.

And the president talked too much — a full four minutes and change more than Governor Romney. But the extra time was counter-productive. He seemed hesitant and lacking in confidence. He was rambling, unfocused, often incoherent and general. He had to apologize to Mr. Lehrer more than once for exceeding his time limit. For his part, Romney seemed confident and crisp. He had the “facts”at his fingertips ticking off points and itemizing them in groups of fives and threes. He gave the impression that he was the man with a plan, while the president was constantly on the defensive.

And there was no forceful challenge to Romney’s discredited “trickle down” narrative. Obama actually allowed Romney without counter-comment about public ownership of the airwaves to call for the end of Public Broadcasting and to twice denigrate “green energy.” It was Romney who faulted Obama for not being entitled to his own facts. And all of that without any clear response from the incumbent.

It all made me wonder if Mr. Obama was well — or if he had seriously prepared for the debate.

For the first time, I’m thinking we may have to get used to the phrase “President Romney.” Help!