Preferential Option for the Middle Class?

In discussion with my more politically progressive Catholic brethren, I’ve had it put to me that the American political party which receives by preference has at its heart a “preferential option for the rich.” Supporting a Democrat such as Obama may mean compromising on the abortion issue (while hoping that the economic miracle that will spontaneously occur when a Democratic posterior inhabits the chair in the oval office may in fact do a better job of “decreasing the incidence of abortion” than actual restrictions) but at least we can be sure that there will be an end to senseless war mongering, a “preferential option for the poor”, health care for all, an end to the cruelty of capital punishment, restriction of those murderous pieces of inanimate metal called “guns”, etc.

This long list provides the “proportionate reasons” to vote for the most pro-abortion presidential candidate in history, not merely with a sense of reluctant necessity, but with a moral righteousness that scorns all others.

Thinking back over this election in particular, however, I find myself wondering how much there is to all these other threads of the “seamless garment”. Senator Obama, as with all recent Democrats who want to be elected at the national level, is in favor of the death penalty. He’s said that he’ll never seek to “take away our guns”. He’s gone well out of his way to insist that he’s no pacifist, and indeed promised to prosecute the war in Afghanistan more vigorously, making incursions into Pakistan if necessary.

In regards to health care and economic assistance — Obama’s proposals are heavily focused around providing more benefits to the middle class. Oh, sure, the poor are not actually excluded from Obama’s tax cut/credit for everyone — nor from his child health care mandate. But have we really heard much of any mention about “the poorest Americans” out of the Democratic nominee this year? Much less programs specifically targeted to relieve or eliminate poverty?

Not really. Instead we have the Obama campaign trumpeting the fact that he has used the phrase “middle class” far more times than his opponent.

Let me broaden this attack and criticize both parties: Over the last twenty years both parties have increasingly competed to see who can promise the most benefits to the American middle class — a demographic which by global standards is already incredibly well off. McCain has been heavily criticized by Obama and his surrogates for providing no “middle class tax cut” in his plan. But the real reason for this is that the Republican originated series of tax cuts which began in the 1980s has brought us to the point where half of Americans simply do not pay any Federal income taxes. The only way that Obama manages to provide a “tax cut” to “95% of Americans” is by giving tax credits (give-away checks) to people who do not end up paying any taxes in the first place.

It’s often pointed out that the American middle class lacks benefits that the middle classes of some other countries (such as Europe) enjoy. (“Free” health care, “free” college tuition, etc.) On the other hand, our median incomes in the US are higher. We live in 2,000+ sq/ft houses instead of 600sq/ft apartments. US homes (even in the decidedly working class and minority heavy neighborhood I live in) feature SUVs and full size cars in the driveway, not 50cc scooters and micro cars. One may argue that we don’t spend out money well, but we unquestionably have it.

However, politicians realized some time back that helping the bottom 20% of the population provided limited electoral advantages, while piling give-aways upon the middle 60% provides endless benefits at the polls. (Buying votes through government give-aways goes back as far as voting — just ask the Athenians.)

Conservatives at least have some degree of consistency here, since principled conservatives hold that government should limit itself to a very small number of activities and leave the populace to provide for the common good through private/charitable activities. And indeed, statistically conservatives do give more money and time to charity than their ideological opponents. (“Moderates” give the least money and time to charity — which perhaps fits with the theory that a “moderate” if often someone who doesn’t believe in much of anything.) That’s something, but I remain leery of a situation in which a very small percentage of the very highest earners provide nearly all the tax revenue. Cutting taxes is all very well, but I think conservatives would do well to keep in mind that a Republic can probably not long survive a situation in which the majority funds itself entirely out of the pockets of a minority, without succumbing the temptation to become spendthrift with the state’s money.

On the progressive side, it may be that the idealists have told themselves it is necessary to package increased socialization as something which primarily benefits the middle class in order to get it in — all the while assuming that it’s actually best for the weakest among us. However, if they want to be seen as anything other than self-serving, I would suggest a return to ideals. Most of those who make their livings in the American middle class are smart enough to realize that any really serious form of socialization would pull their lifestyles down rather than up — so the self interest approach wouldn’t work anyway.

It is also, perhaps, time to ask the equal and opposite of the “How much have Republicans really done to end abortion over the last thirty years” question: If war, capital punishment, immigration and help for the poor are remaining threads of the “seamless garment”, are they really forcefully enough present in the Democratic party at this time to make any argument for “proportionate reasons”? Or in this election, is the seamless garment in which progressives have long clothed themselves actually composed of the same airy fabric as the emperor’s new clothes?

16 Responses to Preferential Option for the Middle Class?

  • Mark DeFrancisis says:

    One of Obama’s ‘advisors’ is economist James Galbraith, author of the recent book, “The Predator State”.

    Read that expose of this administration’s decimation of our economy and intentional tranfer of wealth upwards, and you will understand where many of us are coming from.

  • Bret Ramsey says:

    Mark,

    Why don’t you look at the wealiest 10 people in Congress? And look at campaign contributions from the Fortune 500 Companies… it is telling picture of the lies liberals spread about helping the poor.

  • Money, money, money,

    All that talk about money. This argument that Mr. Obama is acually the real pro-life candidate, robin-hood of change comes, in my opinion from a mis-informed conscience, not an informed conscience.

    Mr. Obama’s stance on abortion, in all extremes in very evident from his factual voting record, yet there seems to be a denial of these records for one of Hope and Change.

    We HOPE his election will equal less abortions, although he will continue to advocate for them with those in power in congress.

    We hope he will be able to CHANGE the taxation of the middle class and 95% of the people disspite the 700 Billion bailout and any future billion dollar bailouts to the States and Auto industry and whatever else comes up.

    All empty promises again in my opinion with a trillion dollars of new proposed expenditures. Just doesn’t add up.

    Church teaching is not as grey as many catholics are claiming it to be and all the twisting to rationalize the “Means Justifies the Ends” arguments just don’t add up to a well informed conscience.

    “I’m voting for a pro-choice candidate in HOPE that there will be less abortions”

    Wow…

    I’d rather meet my maker with a life of an unborn life saved and empty pockets rather than an extra dollar in my hand and pocket full of empty hopes and changes.

    WCC +<

  • Folks,

    While I agree that support for legal abortion is a dealbreaker for me as a voter in any readily forseeable circumstance, I’d like to see us as Catholics be able to discuss policy without always falling into a “Yeah, but abortion!” discussion. Mark brings up an economic point which I disagree with (and I’ll get to that in a moment) and which is tied to an Obama advisor, but disagreement with the economic point need not (and indeed in the interest of civil conversation probably should not) be tied in with the abortion issues — even though Obama is clearly terrible on the abortion issue and that’s one of the (many) reasons I would never vote for him.

    Mark,

    Actually, I agree (to an extent) with Galbraith’s complaint that we are often not pursuing fully free market (or free trade, come to that) policies. That’s been a huge frustration of economic conservatives, especially from 2000 to 2006 as DC insider-ism really went to the GOP’s head. (Keep in mind, conservatives and Republicans are sets that overlap but are not at all identical. The fact that we have no other options as regards to political party does not mean that we approve of everything the GOP does.)

    However, I think he goes seriously off the rails in asserting that the solution to our current situation, in which we have a semi-free market but lots of corrupt seeking of advantage by large corporations, is to move _more_ in the direction of a command economy.

    Further, it seems odd and a little scarry that he several times takes inspiration from the Chinese combination of government control and economic growth. Many would argue that it is precisely the centralization and state control of the Chinese economy that results in so much waste and poverty there — while developing nations such as India which have moved farther in a free market direction have done much better than China.

    So while I agree with his point that corporate favoritism has too much traction in our country, I think his proscriptions are almost entirely wrong.

  • fus01 says:

    I am not as skeptical of government intervention as DC generally, but it is odd that many people who argue for the expansion of government spending/regulation seem shocked when expansion leads to increased corruption and/or more concessions for the dreaded ‘special interest groups’. It seems fairly obvious that the expansion of government control provides higher incentives for individuals to influence government, and that an increase in corruption and inefficiency is a more or less inevitable consequence of government expansion. That is one of the reasons why I am strongly opposed to the type of cap-and-trade programs advocated by McCain and Obama. This doesn’t mean that we should never increase the size of government or scope of government regulation, but it does mean that we should approach such expansion cautiously.

  • First off I’l like to say that my comments were not directed at any one individual in the comments.

    Mark, my appologies if that was your impression.

    However, I do stand by my comment. In the body of the original post both abortion and economics were linked together and as such I responded more to the post than an individual.

    Thanks DC though on your ‘civil discussion’ reminder.

    I do believe sparating the two can and does lead to a disservice to both issues. It’s like separating politics and religion in the public forum. but as DC pointed out one can make a specific point about one or the other.

    Caution: the following statement is on economics. ;-)

    I don’t believe the current efforts of Mr. Obama to frame his economic plan as “I’m helping the poor and to heck with the rich” will end up actually helping the poor at all. At least not in the long run. Nor will it punish the rich (if that’s the goal).

    We all know that greed and corruption are existant but a re-distribution of wealth doesn’t in my mind seem to resolve the matter. It, in my opinion doesn’t give any incentive to achieve and overcome adversity.

    Peace

    WCC +<

  • WCC,

    Yeah, sorry to semi-single you out there. (If I’m coming off as a hard-ass in the comments latey, it’s partly in trying to work towards what will hopefully be our normal tone around here.) It’d been striking me on the more general level we were experiencing a lot of loop-back-to-abortion, and so I took the opportunity to comment on it when it sort of showed up on this thread. (And you’re right, I linked the two in my post.) It’s a hard balance to hit because it really is true that the Dems are pretty much closed off in my view because of that issue — and yet one wants to be able to talk about other issues as a Catholic as well.

    On the economics: I think you’re right.

    Obama’s plan to tax the top 5% hard and keep high corporate taxes (he claims that our corporate taxes aren’t functionally high compared to the rest of the world because of loopholes — but then he promises to fund his programs by closing loopholes so go figure) strikes me as unlikely to help much in the final analysis — and it may actually do quite a bit of harm.

    Getting a tax credit at the end of the year is going to be precious little help if you get laid off in the meantime. And Obama’s pledge to start off a big public works program strikes me as way too warmed-over-1930s.

    (On a side note, I would sure love to see someone use this opportunity to make a serious proposal for cutting government spending by means testing Medicare and Social Security.)

  • Mary says:

    Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, issued in November of 2007, offers clear guidelines (at least in my understanding) for how to deal with the abortion issue, that so many people seem willing to view from a ‘proportionate’ perspective. So if I may, I took the liberty of quoting below, a few KEY paragraphs from this document, put forth by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I can not, in good conscience, put any other issue above that of human life – particularly with regard to abortion which is BLACK and WHITE no matter the angle from which it is examined. And if I am wrong, then I hope that some good bishop or priest out there will correct my thinking – abortion is an intrinsic evil, and I do not believe that there is any other issue of this campaign that trumps that fact or that can be relegated to the category. Not taxes, not immigration, not the War in Iraq, and not the bail out. If you’ve not taken the time to read this document – you can find it here http://www.priestsforlife.org/magisterium/bishops/fcstatement.pdf

    22. There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed thatthey are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called “intrinsically evil” actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia. In our nation, “abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others” (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 5). It is a mistake with grave moral consequences to treat the
    destruction of innocent human life merely as a matter of individual choice. A legal system that violates the basic right to life on the grounds of choice is fundamentally flawed.

    27. Two temptations in public life can distort the Church’s defense of human life and dignity:
    28. The first is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.3

    34. Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods. A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.
    35. There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan
    preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.
    36. When all candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely
    to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.
    37. In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions.
    These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching.

  • Mary,

    I agree with your judgement that there simply aren’t any proportionate reasons that outweigh abortion on the table in this election — but if we bring every conversation around to that we’ll never get to talk about any other issues.

  • Paul says:

    DC,

    You’re right that it’s important to discuss other issues and exchange ideas and opinions about them. However I think Mary’s main point (and I agree) is that although there are other issues, as soon as a candidate adopts a hard pro-choice stance, those other issues become (for our purposes) moot. Sure, you can discuss them, but they’re going to have little or no impact on who we can in good conscience vote for.

    This is a kind of clumsy analogy, so please excuse it, but…
    Imagine a scale, if you will. Each side represents a candidate. Each issue is represented by a marble (although of varying sizes). Well, abortion happens to be a boulder, none of the other issues coming remotely close in size. So yeah, you can debate and weigh the other issues, but they’re not going to tip the scale back the other way…so some might argue there’s no point in putting them down at all.

  • I have read comments on blogs this year where catholics are saying they will vote Democratic because they think the abortion issue is a “non-starter,” and Roe won’t be overturned any time soon; therefore, they justify voting on such grounds as immigration, etc.

    I find this utterly irresponsible in terms of a “catholic informed conscience.”

    I think the catholic Bishops are also conflicted by the immigration issue. They rightly show humane concern for illegals, but they fail to instruct the faithful that breaking sovereignty laws and the over-burdening of social structures, crime etc that that sin precipitates is also morally wrong.

    What results from this “selective” moral position is that many catholics end up voting pro-choice because they sympathize with illegal immigration.

    Sorry, if this seems off topic–I just thought of it as I was reading the arguments for discussing other issues even though abortion is pre-eminent.

  • rob says:

    -as soon as a candidate adopts a hard pro-choice stance, those other issues become (for our purposes) moot.-

    At times in my life I have been practically a socialist, now I am a free market type. I would readily admit that I can be convinced in either direction. Economics is not doctrine. My mind is open.

    But abortion is always murder. I can’t get around that. Others have said it: if the Democratic party wasn’t pro-abortion, these dialogues would be much different (and likely more civil).

  • I do agree with folks that a pro-choice stance is a deal-breaker as far as voting.

    In that sense, I think I see now that I framed my post rather poorly. I’d primarily wanted to make the case that, even setting the abortion issue aside, the Democrats are not currently a party primarily focused on aiding the poor and oppressed, but rather on providing centralized benefits to the middle class.

    However, since I brought up abortion (and the argument about “proportionality”) people naturally addressed themselves to the question of whether there are in fact “proportional reasons” to vote for a pro-choice politician at this time.

    As Rob says: Things would frankly be a lot more interesting politically without the abortion issue, because the votes of serious religious people would be much more in play.

    So I’ll make sure that I frame things more clearly in future if I’m attempting to do a post dealing with issues in separation from the abortion question.

    Which, incidentally, I think it’s important to do. After all, even if the GOP remains the only party open to pro-life candidates at the national level, as we’ve seen with candidates ranging from Huckabee to Ron Paul to John McCain, there’s room for a huge amount of diversity in the GOP as regards economic policy — and I think that sorting out new balances of power on those issues will be very important over the next 2-4 years, whoever wins the election. And who knows, perhaps we will even see a resurgence of the pro-life wing of the Democratic party some day, or a viable Christian Democrat thirty party. While I’m myself conservative to libertarian on most issues — it seems to me that the forced marriage of economic conservatism and traditional morality is often an uneasy and unhappy one, at least for some people.

  • I agaree with what you’re saying DarwinC. I too think the debate would be less volatile if abortion were not THE issue.

    The fact that, with “feminism, for example, it’s really all about abortion, ie. see how Sarah Palin is being mistreated, shows us the ultimate spiritual truth which is at stake regarding that issue.

    Generally, the economic argument revolves around bigger government vs. smaller government. Aside from Bush’s inability to veto spending and ear mark corruption run rampant in both parties, I side with conservatives, against the inordinate dependency and victimhood culture that big government engenders. But, the lines are not always easy to define in terms of policy.

    Our founding fathers would “turn over…” to see the large hand of government, taxes, etc. to which we have succumbed.

    Career politicians are a big part of the problem. No one should be allowed to make a career out of congressional service. We should go back to citizen government servants…who serve for a short time…then, go back to private life. That would end “earmarks” which are really just re-election bribes, and it would prevent the odious naked corruption.

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