Catholics & Party Politics

Commonweal, September 14, 2012 | Go to article overview

Catholics & Party Politics


Both presidential campaigns are calling this election a choice between two starkly different visions of America. At least on that score both are right. The crucial question has to do with the role and scope of government, especially in the economy.

President Barack Obama contends that he wants to rebuild the economy "from the middle out," rather than from the top down. Like his party, the president believes that the federal government has a limited but indispensible role to play in regulating commerce and the financial industry, protecting the environment, funding education, providing health-care coverage, and maintaining a safety net for the elderly and those who cannot provide for themselves. He would raise taxes on top earners to do this. Mitt Romney, like his party, would severely limit the role of government in the economy and opposes any expansion of the welfare state. In fact, he wants to shrink it. He thinks the economy is built from the top down, and that the so-called job creators need to be rewarded and encouraged by lowering taxes and curtailing government regulation. He argues that the private sector is better equipped to meet the needs of the poor, and the federal government should play no role in providing health care to those who are currently uninsured. In addition, of course, Romney and Obama have opposing views on abortion rights, same-sex marriage, and critical aspects of foreign policy.

Obama and Romney have chosen running mates who reflect their political philosophies. Curiously, both vice presidential candidates are also Roman Catholics, the first time this has happened in American history. Like Vice President Joe Biden, Congressman Paul Ryan is a regular churchgoer who speaks openly of the role Catholicism has played in his life and in shaping his political convictions. Both men have suffered tragedies that evidently deepened their faith--Ryan was only sixteen when his father died, and Biden's first wife and infant child were killed in a car accident. Yet despite the obvious sincerity of their Catholic faith, both men's moral and political views reflect the positions of their political parties more than those of their church. In a venerable Catholic tradition, Biden has been an advocate for the poor, the elderly, and the marginalized, and a strong defender of the role of government in cushioning the harshness of modern economic life generally. Yet he has also been a staunch defender of abortion rights, and recently a champion of same-sex marriage. …

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