Political Orphans In 2008
In this political season, with all the talk about the role of faith in public life, we as a Catholic couple feel very much at home in the conversation and yet still homeless with respect to a perfectly compatible political party or candidate.
When we were born in the early 1960s, it was possible to be both a Democrat and a Catholic without any agonizing pangs of conscience. John F. Kennedy was president; John Courtney Murray was a public theologian; Pope John XXIII was opening a window to the world at the Second Vatican Council. But as we came of age politically, we felt orphaned by the Democratic Party, whose pro-life positions on war, poverty and the environment did not extend to the life of the most weak and vulnerable, those not yet born.
While the moderate wing of the Republican Party provided us a foster home when we worked on the Senate staff of John C. Danforth (R-Mo.), with the likes of former senator Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) and others, the Grand Old Party's move to the right, including its hardening, dominant positions on the Iraq war, access to guns and the death penalty, among other issues, have made it an inhospitable place for us to dwell permanently.
During many elections we find ourselves facing the same dilemma: Which of our values must take a back seat when we go to the voting booth? Do we let our moral concern for peaceful resolutions of conflict, the environment, addressing poverty and aggressive enforcement of civil rights guide our choices? Or do we stand firm on another important issue of conscience and signal our hope for an end to abortion? Often, both choices leave a bad taste in our mouths.
Another option is to simply forget the moral questions and vote our pocketbooks. The two of us have slightly different perspectives on the wisest economic policies to be followed by the federal government, neither of which is embodied perfectly by the dominant political parties. But adopting a moral blindness in the voting booth is simply not an option for those of us who hold religious values dear.
Today's March for Life in Washington brings home this problem. The assumption of abortion opponents is that anyone serious about his or her desire to see an end to abortion will vote for the "pro-life" candidate. Yet there is rarely a candidate, and certainly not a political party, that embodies the consistent ethic of life that would make casting a truly pro-life vote a simple or straightforward choice. If the Democratic Party could adopt a much less disdainful, more welcoming, perhaps even "pro-choice" stance toward those under its tent who have conscientious objections to abortion, we would be much less squeamish about supporting its candidates, and we know that we are not alone in that conviction.
As the 2008 campaign unfolds, we will look for a candidate who will not use rhetoric or a tone seemingly designed to alienate those of us who simply cannot cheer for speeches celebrating the availability of abortion.
We don't see the right to abortion as an example of everything that is right with our democratic system. In fact, we mourn the poverty of a culture that views it as an option to harm the most vulnerable, even in the name of protecting other vulnerable people such as impoverished women and pregnant teenagers. While we may disagree with one another on the correct balance of legal restrictions, social policies and moral suasion that would best reduce the number of abortions, we both hope and pray for its eventual disappearance.
A party and a candidate that truly respect this viewpoint are ones that can adopt these two political orphans.
Liz McCloskey is a doctoral candidate at the Catholic University of America. Peter Leibold is former general counsel of the Catholic Health Association. The views expressed here are their own.