"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Super Tuesday thoughts

It is for good reason that I keep my posts about American politics, especially presidential politics, rather few and far between. Much like my theology, my political views tend to offend partisans on each main side equally. And since, in today's polarized environment, odium politicum gets much nastier than odium theologicum, I see little to gain by stirring up the former against myself. But after talking about the Super Bowl, I can't restrain myself from talking about the more serious "super" competition. Catholic social teaching is clear about the duties of citizenship, and I can best exercise mine by trying to get people thinking about politics from the standpoint I believe to be the most important.

First, the newsy part. On the Democratic side, the choice has come down to a woman and an African-American. Unless one is a racist or an old-fashioned sexist—as opposed to a new-fangled sexist who, like NOW, really wants more rights and privileges for women than for men—one has to see that as good news for the country. Last night's results have kept Clinton and Obama locked in a close race that could remain undecided all the way to the convention. That is also good for the country: it means that everybody who wants to have a say is more likely to have one than they would otherwise be. On the Republican side, things also remain far from decided, even though the pundits are already anointing John McCain, once broke and supine, as the presumptive nominee. As a "social conservative," I myself came out gingerly for Huckabee a few months ago; but despite his gamey performance last night, he now looks most unlikely to get the nomination. It's pretty much McCain vs. Romney, with the true-red conservatives favoring the latter and everybody else the former.

Now let me make clear that I am not a registered member of either major party. I am not a registered Republican because, even though my social conservatism often disposes me better to Republicans than to Democrats, I don't think the party as a whole deserves my allegiance or that of any rank-and-file voter. It harbors too much corruption and shows too little philosophical coherence. The only common denominator I see in the GOP is a tendency to favor wealth and power: the affluent at home, and throwing US weight around abroad. While that doesn't always produce policies I disagree with, I am unimpressed on the whole. And yet, like many Catholics, I cannot vote for any candidate who supports the Roe regime. For that reason and others, I cannot be a Democrat. While the Democrats are less taken with wealth and power than the Republicans, what I see in that party is a set of tendencies that would make sense only for a polity with a collective death-wish. Whatever some individuals within the party may profess, the Dems as a whole favor abortion and "gay rights" at home, and retreat in face of our enemies abroad. One might sum up the choice presented to Americans by the two major parties as that between Daddy without Mommy and Mommy without Daddy. It's like being forced to choose between one's divorced parents.

And that's what brings me to my main point. I make my voting decisions mainly as a "social conservative" because I believe the most important set of issues for this country's future are those concerning the integrity of the nuclear family: marriage, divorce, and abortion. That's the spiritual message I get from, among other things, our choice between the Mommy Party and the Daddy Party. But aside from Huckabee, none of the major-party candidates talk about such issues. I find that dispiriting. It is possible for reasonable people, even reasonable and orthodox Catholics, to disagree about the issues most often discussed, such as the war, the economy, immigration, and the best way to deliver health care to more Americans. And I don't deny that such standard issues are worth debating. I even agree with the Democrats that a certain level of health care for every American ought to be accounted as a right, not as a commodity, and paid for accordingly by the people as a whole. The health-care mess we have now—with its inequities and runaway costs—is just unconscionable. But the basis of civil society is the family, and the family in America today is in even bigger trouble than the health-care system. It is not possible for reasonable people to disagree that the American family needs to be strengthened.

Yet, despite a marginal increase in pro-life sentiment, especially among the young, there are still over one million abortions a year. Among women who choose not to kill their children in the womb, more and more choose to bear them while unmarried, which is a good predictor of poverty and crime. The divorce rate remains among the highest in the world, which has led to a vast expansion of the power of the state over the family and its individual members. Millions of men in particular get the shaft in our family-destruction courts: divorced against their will, they pay stiff support, on pain of debtor's prison, for children they either never get to see or relate to only within the confines of legally sanctioned "visitation." A huge industry, much of it funded as well as sanctioned by government, has grown up around that. And men have no "reproductive rights," only duties: if their wives want to abort, men have no legal say even if they want the child and can pay for the child; if their girlfriends get pregnant and choose to bear the child, men must pay accordingly, for 18 years, even if they don't want the child. Regarding the nature of marriage itself, the pressure for "civil unions" continues to grow and bear fruit, one state at a time, thus reinforcing a decades-old tendency to sever marriage and sexuality generally from procreation. Through media and the fashion industry, children are sexualized at ever-younger ages. Next to photos of mangled fetuses, that's the most visibly disgusting aspect of the decline of the American family.

If such trends continue indefinitely, this country will kill itself at the very root. The demographic collapse of Western Europe is only a harbinger of things to come here. Perhaps few politicians—other than clergymen such as Huckabee—talk about all that because things are pretty much the way "the people" want them to be. That's certainly the best explanation for the status quo I can come up with. If it's correct, then what this country needs is a leader to wake people up and lead on that set of issues. So far, though, what we're most likely to get is a follower.

I don't know whom I'll write in when November rolls around.
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