Analyzing Catholic Endorsements
Today is my birthday, which means that while I get cake, ice cream, and annoyance for having to study on my birthday, you get to realize that the November elections are merely a month and a week away. In the Catholic blogosphere, this means that the “republicath” & “Catholyc” labels are getting dusted off for use in the political war.
For example, MM has launched an
humorless satirical website a mini-crusade against Thomas Peters & CatholicVote. Specifically, he’s angry about the very high rating they gave to Sharron Angle, a Republican running against Harry Reid. While I disagree with some of the exaggerations (if he thinks that’s a racist ad, he doesn’t watch much TV during October), I think his question is a good one: when ought a Catholic group be offering endorsements?
I myself tend to shy away from endorsing candidates, b/c endorsing to me requires a very high degree of commonality between my views & the candidate. I tend to be skeptical of Catholics who endorse candidates, and criticized MM on this point during the presidential election. I tend to be more skeptical of Catholics who endorse candidates in the name of Catholicism at large. (This might be a good time to mention for disclosure purposes that I blogged very briefly at CatholicVote, but didn’t have much time to write much. When I got back to blogging, I did so at TAC’s invitation and haven’t blogged at CV for a while).
The endorsement for Angle reads thus:
John Thune shocked the world in 2004 by defeating Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
This year, Sharron Angle wants to repeat the magic with a victory over Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Harry Reid claims that he is pro-life, but we know better. Senator Reid has consistently supported President Barack Obama’s pro-abortion agenda. He blocked an amendment which would have eliminated the pro-abortion sections from the new healthcare law. Harry Reid has consistently voted to send our tax dollars overseas to organizations that perform abortions. And as Majority Leader, Harry Reid has been a vocal supporter of embryonic destructive research, despite the fact that adult stem cells have proven more useful (and don’t destroy innocent human life).
By contrast, Sharron Angle has built a strong pro-life and pro-family record during her time in the Nevada Legislature. She strongly supports marriage as between one man and one woman. She has courageously defended the right to life of unborn children noting: “God has a plan and a purpose for each one of our lives.
Angle also thinks we need to abandon the notion that government can take care of us. “We have become a country entrenched in idolatry, and that idolatry is the dependency upon our government. We’re supposed to depend upon God for our protection and our provision and for our daily bread, not our government,” she has said.
“Many people will mistakenly assume that the CatholicVote.org PAC is exclusively for Catholic candidates. Not true! Sharon Angle is a Southern Baptist, but her defense of life, marriage, and her understanding of the proper role of government has convinced us that Catholics have a friend in Sharron Angle,” said Brian Burch, President of CatholicVote.org PAC.
I don’t mind people voting Angle as a vote against Reid; that might be a message the Colbert Congress needs. I also have no problem with saying she’s more pro-life (though her statement is as “courageous” as a ham sandwich).
But the endorsement is not just that she’s better than Reid; it’s that she’s the kind of candidate Catholics should want on three grounds: abortion, marriage, and the “proper role of government.”
Huh? I get the first two in that order, but the third big issue to base a determination of Catholic-approved is the “proper role of government?” We may have our disagreements about what subsidiarity means, but even if you take subsidiarity to mean GOP-style smaller government, this is the third most important prong upon which to base a Catholic endorsement? This seemed pretty odd, even for a conservative Catholic group.
So I tried to look into what makes the rating. This is what they say (you have to click on the “score details” link):
The Catholic Church teaches that not every issue is of equal value. Some issues matter more than others. Therefore, in determining the final score of every candidate, the foundational issues of life, marriage, and religious freedom are weighed most heavily.
Catholic social teaching also recognizes the importance of the principle of subisidiarity, and thus our evaluations include an assessment of candidate positions on issues such as taxes, jobs, economic policy, healthcare, environmental stewardship, and the proper role of government in helping bring about the conditions most conducive to the common good. Unlike the issues of life, marriage, and religious freedom, these issues allow for a variance of policy approaches, and not every Catholic must agree with us (though we think you should!). We use the teachings of our Church, the lessons of history, nature, and our intellects to form our judgments in this area. And of course, we welcome your feedback.
To learn more about our approach to these issues, please visit the Issues section of our website.
This isn’t wrong. But it seems kinda disingenuous. First off, Angle’s “proper role” was mentioned pretty quick. Second, if you accept that Catholics can disagree with your assessment of taxes, then why are you making endorsements in the name of the Church on that basis?
I think there’s a problem with saying “Catholics can disagree with me on the issues of taxes” but then saying “we as a group representing the Catholic vote will make decisions based in part on a candidate’s tax platform.” As voters, this isn’t an problem. We can take taxes into account after some of the more serious issues, including abortion, torture, etc. But for a Catholic group to say “I think Catholics ought to vote for x b/c they have the right Catholic ideas on abortion, marriage, and taxes” seems to be abusive.
This might not be as big of an issue, but when I look at their “issue page” I wondered whether abortion was even that important to them (oh lord, I sound like Minion). The issue featured? “Taxes and Economy.” Below that, in order up and down, left to right, are “Catholic Church, National Security, Immigration, Healthcare.” THEN we get to “marriage and family” followed by “educational freedom, Limited government, economic justice” until we finally come to “sanctity of human life.” The last row is “environmental stewardship, religious liberty, and constitutional government.”
As a social issues conservatives, this is ridiculous. Taxes & the economy may be #1 for the Tea Party & GOP, but for a Catholic group? Sanctity of life near the end?
This shows to me why Catholic groups need to avoid endorsements like the plague. In endorsing, they often come to serve the needs of the candidates. The candidates this time need reinforcement on the issue of the day (taxes & economy). However, Catholics are called to point out not only the big issues, but also those important but neglected issues: torture, just wage, immigrant rights, etc. Right or left, when there’s an endorsement there is almost always an inappropriate dismissal of those areas where one’s candidate is clearly at odds with Church teaching.
Voting isn’t easy for Catholics, and the nature of both Republicans & Democrats makes it harder. You can make a choice, but it’ll be a difficult one. Pretending otherwise simply diminishes the effectiveness of the Catholic vote to bring the Church’s teaching on all issues into fruition.
P.S. If you look at Catholic social teaching and think “oh gee! This is exactly what I read in the Pledge to America!” you probably need to read one or the other again.
P.P.S. I note that CV does not endorse Rep. Cao, the Republican who voted for the healthcare bill with the Stupak amendment, and then voted against it the second time when it was morphed into the Planned Parenthood Stimulus Package. His deep faith, and his willingness to vote against the healthcare bill in a very Democratic district is true pro-life courage, seems to embody exactly the virtues CV promotes, particularly since he sought counsel from the bishops before his votes. I have a very hard time believing Angle ought to get an endorsement over Cao under Catholic principles.
ADDENDUM: Thomas Peters has noted on twitter in response that he has no control over the endorsements. He said he does support Angle over Reid. It will be interesting to see if he has any further thoughts on this post. He also claims Cao did not return CV’s questions, explaining why there is no endorsement.