Monday, October 17, 2011

A Quick Word on Herman Cain, Other Republicans, and Picking Political Candidates to Support

This may be a very hasty generalization (and therefore misleading or perhaps flat-out wrong), but I intend to present some considerations, in order of importance, when picking and analyzing political candidates from a Catholic perspective. I don’t suppose this to be exact; but hopefully it’ll point to some sort of truth.

What should be the first considerations of Catholic when thinking about and analyzing political candidate, in particular, for the presidency? I submit that it should be the candidate’s attitude and belief (and political record) concerning the treatment of the dignity of the human person – especially toward those most in need of political consideration. I understand that this is a broad and perhaps vague first consideration. At the moment, I can’t think of a better way of saying it.

This is why abortion lands #1 for many Catholics and other Christians: it is the clearest and most horrendous attack on the dignity of the human person. It is not simply that the number of abortions is above and beyond other attacks on life – euthanasia; death penalty – but that it is representative of basic attack on the dignity of the person. Unlike the death penalty, which I disagree with in a 1st world country that has other means of detaining an individual, the child of the womb has never done anything to give up any of their freedoms. The “sin” of the child of the womb is unintentionally inconveniencing the life of another. This logic is an attack on the dignity of life in its most basic form. Putting the conveniences of an individual over the life of another is evil.

Second, a Catholic should consider the candidate’s stance on issues that deal with the human family and culture. JPII: “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” This is when we start dealing with marriage, effects of policy on the family, etc.

Third, we should consider the political approach to dealing with the poor. The Church’s teaching on social justice is clear about the preferential option for the poor. A politician, and those like us who vote for politicians, must always consider how policy will affect the poor among us. Ratzinger says that this is the moral test of a society: how it treats it most vulnerable.

Only when we get beyond these initial political considerations should we be discussing things like economic policies. Now, let me get this straight: a candidate’s ideas of economics can definitely be enough for us to disregard them as viable options, even if they fall securely on the moral side of the first three considerations. All I’m saying here is that the first three are more important. We should be hesitant to support someone with the “correct” approach to economics (and solving the recession) if his/her alignment on the first three issues isn’t in line with Catholic teaching, tradition, and contemporary thought.

This gets me to some difficulties I have with a brand of Republican candidates, like Herman Cain, whose approach to the poor is problematic. Before I say another word, let me be clear about what I’m not saying: I’m not saying that the Democrats’ approach to the poor is the right approach. I’m not arguing for specific political action. I’m simply expressing my internal eye-brow-raising at some of the things Cain has said – things that make me question how he will approach the considerations of the poor, dispossessed, and economically marginalized.

Cain said: “Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself! It is not someone’s fault if they succeeded, it is someone’s fault if they failed.” I think that this is a gross simplification of the socioeconomic situation of the poor and unemployed in America – simplification to the point of either stupidity or moral incompetence. I suppose I understand what he trying to say, but I still disagree; plus, I do not find a comment like this to come from a man who is even close to the Church’s teaching on the preferential option for the poor.

There’s a nonchalance with certain Republican sympathizers, who just shrug and say, “Hey, we’ll never solve the poverty-problem. Those who try to only end up putting us into more debt. It’d be nice if handouts worked, but they don’t.” Starting here and then working toward a viable and moral solution is one thing; but most often these comments are the end of the conversation, as if our responsibility toward the poor is low on the totem pole. But my point is that it should be one of the first considerations.


  1. Wonderful, politics!

    Two thoughts stemming from the post, the first leads to the second (and then right back around).

    First. Poverty IS an economic issue by definition. It doesn't make sense to discuss care for the poor as something separate from general economic policy. The two are necessarily connected—even more than connected. “Preferential treatment of the poor” is, in moral language, a way of saying, “particular economic policies”. I will admit that the upholding of human dignity is not an solely economic issue (Mother Teresa). Where the concern isn't about bringing people out of poverty but loving them, or in my case helping them to achieve some amount of justice. However, what a politician is able to do for the poor, a president especially, is about 5% that, and 95% economic. One also wonders what better treatment of the poor would do if the economic policy of the country is not only stifling but downright hostile towards the impoverished.

    Second. I liked you line about the general Republican nonchalance towards the poor; the resigned “the poor will always be with us” attitude. I think the current political climate is much worse than that. We have moved from convenient (or misguided) resignation to the inevitability of the the poor, to a downright willingness to lash em together to form a makeshift lifeboat. The willingness, from the Republican camp to intentionally gut, tax, and all around rape and pillage the vulnerable as an economic policy is startling, to say the least. One has to start wondering, even if maintaining/reducing taxes on the wealthy, etc, etc is a sound economic policy, whether the cost to the vulnerable alone disqualifies it. Which I now see as a possible valid reason for separating the two concerns in your post...

  2. Ananke, where do you get the time to post/reply? (So asks the man who is supposed to be working on his paper, which is suppose to parse through the religious and non-religious factors surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict; oh yeah, the paper’s due tonight.)

    Good point about the poor and economics. Even as I was hastily writing the first draft, I realized how much the considerations I proposed overlapped. However, I think I meant something more specific when I referred to the “economic policies” of candidates. Here I mean the overall financial plan, i.e. Will the plan be better for the country as a whole, economically speaking? This is separate from the preferential option, which asks a much more specific question: Will the plan be better for those in financial hardship?

    As Catholics, although we need to consider (and probably agree with) the overall economic policies of the candidate, we should be initially concerned with how those policies will affect the poor.

    I agree with most of your more vehement points. And although it annoys me when a Mendham elite voices these thoughts, it discourages me a heck of a lot more when a good, practicing Catholic does. I can even see the eye-rolling now. I dare to sound Marxist or overly sociological when I say that this has to do with us being raised in an upper-middle class Catholic America.

    By the way, now that I’ve mentioned Mendham, let me make a point about their politics. Mendham parents (and you learn this through what they teach their kids consciously or through osmosis) are basically concerned with their own money. One of their biggest, if not biggest, concern is how the candidates’ proposed policies will affect their own personal monies. This is their bottom line in politics.

    Although this makes sense in a Hobbesian, Darwinian political world, I operate with a belief that the deepest impulses of man are relational – and so my thought need always be with my neighbor, especially if he needs help more than I do.