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

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Electile dysfunction

I'm not ashamed to admit suffering from that condition. Now that we know which two major-party candidates will be squaring off in the general election, I resemble many Americans in finding myself unable to sustain interest in, never mind enthusiasm for, either of them. I wonder whether I will be able summon the self-discipline to register and vote at all; if I do, I will vote for McCain. That's because of my answer to a question Catholics as such are obliged to ponder this year: can a Catholic vote, in good conscience, for a man who wouldn't even require protecting babies born alive during botched abortions?

The case of Catholic "Obamacon" Doug Kmiec, who for his trouble was recently refused communion by a priest, has got some press but doesn't really tell us anything new. Keeping to form, Prof. Scott Carson has some trenchant observations about the Kmiec case and its lessons. I agree with what he says; it is indeed from one of his commenters on a related post that I cribbed the title of this post. But even if we're wrong about the Kmiec case in particular, it is important to expose anew the whole "seamless-garment" business, revived by Kmiec along with the Pelosis and the Kennedys, for what it is.

Catholics of a certain age will know what I'm talking about. First popularized by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the idea was that Catholic "pro-life" teaching is like a seamless garment weaving opposition to war and capital punishment—along with support for universal health care, easy immigration, and lots of other expensive things—into a self-consistent pro-life position that also opposes (sort of) abortion. The argument was that to rend the seamless garment by not donning it whole was to be self-inconsistent as a Catholic. That sounded good to many; wearing the SG was quite a fashion statement for Catholic Democrats in the 1980s and 90s. But as soon became clear, the fashionistas only ended up justifying the old joke that the U.S. bishops' conference was "the Democratic Party at prayer." Anti-Roe Catholics did not get far in the party, not far at all. Many Catholic Democrats were, and to a large extent still are, quite adamant about preventing US military adventures abroad and executions at home; they were and are rabid supporters of something on the order of "Hillarycare"; but they have long since ceased being interested in striving to to have Roe overturned—a legal desideratum which, if achieved, would not even end abortions itself, but have only the modest effect of returning the abortion issue to the states where it belongs. The SG-wearers believe that making substantial progress against abortion is such a hopeless prospect that we might as well focus on stopping or doing the things that the majority of Democrats, regardless of religion or the lack thereof, want stopped or done. Gee, what a surprise.

Of course, SG-wearer Doug Kmiec is a bit cannier than that. He has marketed himself, at least until recently, as a conservative. Though Scott exposes that as the pretense it is, it's still very good PR if you want to appeal to that substantial segment of Catholic ethnics who still consider themselves "Reagan Democrats." But from a theological standpoint, the SG-ers are at best uncompelling.

The Vatican, including the man who is now pope, has made very clear over the years that abortion is a far less negotiable issue politically than, say, war or capital punishment. It is perfectly possible for a Catholic with a well-formed conscience to disagree with the Vatican about whether this-or-that war or execution does, in fact, meet the conditions for a justified war or execution; but it simply is not possible for such a Catholic, precisely as such, to disagree with the Vatican about whether this-or-that direct, voluntary abortion is justified or not. No abortion is objectively justifiable, even if the ignorance and/or desperation of some pregnant women makes it quite understandable they would seek abortion. Any Catholic who thinks otherwise either doesn't know or doesn't care about the distinction between what's always and intrinsically wrong, such as abortion, and what's wrong only for the most part, such as war or capital punishment. To put that which is intrinsically wrong on the same plane, either morally or politically, with that which is not is hardly a requirement of self-consistency. It is sheer confusion. And on the part of those equipped to be unconfused, it is willful sophistry.

Even so, the etiology of my electile dysfunction involves McCain too. I say so despite believing him when he says he considers abortion immoral and would appoint to SCOTUS the sort of judges who might consider Roe to have been judicial overreaching. I like his courage, his wit, and his relative independent-mindedness. The problem is that he isn't really addressing the long-term acids eating away at this country: the breakdown of the family; the absurd energy non-policy that is slowly bankrupting us; the inability of an all-volunteer military to keep doing indefinitely everything we ask of it; the slow, steady erosion of the position of the working poor and lower-middle class; the scandalous inequities of our health-care system; our prisons overflowing with non-violent offenders; and so on, and so on. Obama talks more about some of those things than McCain, but I often disagree with his prescriptions and couldn't vote for him anyway because of his abortion stance. Opposition to abortion may not be the ne plus ultra for a candidate, but for me it's certainly a sine qua non.

Sigh and yawn. You can wake me up when somebody figures out a way to stop the Thug-in-Chief. At least I'd enjoy seeing that done.
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