Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Liberal With A Troubled Conscience

Auschwitz: citizens cannot claim the
defense that they didn't know what
is going on around them

I know that I appear to be leftwards leaning in my views, but I must admit that I find myself wrestling with the issue of for whom to vote for President next month.  One of my regular readers sent me the following link to an essay by Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic outlining why he won’t vote for Obama. 

Mr. Friedersdorf, a conservative leaning journalist who has moral issues with the Republican Party,  advocates in this article voting for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for President, admitting that Johnson won’t win but proposing him as a candidate who represents a more moral choice than either Governor Romney or President Obama.   I am no Libertarian and I don’t expect to vote for Governor Johnson but the article does capture some of my moral dilemma about voting for Mr. Obama.  Four years ago I saw Mr. Obama as better representing my Catholic weltanschauung.  (Just so you don’t have to look that up, it means something like but not precisely “worldview.”  Perhaps one could say “my philosophy” but that doesn’t quite capture it either. )  As a Catholic I struggle with the “every-man-for-himself” (gender biased language preserved intentionally) philosophy of the Republican Party and articulated so wonderfully (in every sense of that word) by Vice-Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin.  (Poor Paul Ryan is just so turgid after Sarah’s histrionic enthusiasm.)  (I guess it is also ironic that it was Governor Palin who articulated the “every man for himself” thinking of the Party.)  Pardon me, I am using far too many parentheses and derailing my train of thought. 
In any event, I believed—and still do—that the Democratic Party better represents our Catholic understanding of the inter-dependence of members of our society.  I believe that we are our brothers’ (and sister’s) keepers and that we have responsibility towards one another both on a personal and collective level.  In line with Dignitatis Humanae I also believe that Freedom of Conscience is a God-given right and that there should be a firewall between religious doctrines of any and all religious bodies and the civil law.  (Gosh, maybe I am a libertarian!  No, it is just a coincidence in this particular point.)   I believe that people of any, all, or no religion should bring their religious and philosophically inspired values to the public forum but that laws ultimately be based on consensus rather than specific doctrine so that the freedom of conscience of minorities not be compromised.  I also find that the Democratic Party better captures and respects our Catholic understanding of the rights of labor and better favors human rights in accord with Catholic teaching especially in matters of immigration.  Also—and admittedly this does not apply to either 2008 candidate Obama or 2012 President Obama—what opposition there is (and we need far more) to the Death Penalty and to the proliference of handguns and semi-automatic weapons  in our society comes from the Democratic side of the aisle.  As pointed out in a previous posting, I profoundly disagree with the Democratic Party on the question of abortion “rights.”             
But I am troubled about more being wrong in the Obama administration than the question of protecting the lives of the yet-to-be-born.  Mr. Friedersdorf’s article raises issues for me—particularly about the effects of how our wars are being fought—that trouble me.  I am currently reading (for the second time) The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.  There can be no doubt that from 1936 through 1945 the average German-in-the-streets knew that things were going on that were fundamentally immoral.  They may not have known the details but evil on that scale cannot be totally hid from public consciousness.  They knew in 1933 that it was wrong to deprive people of positions in public service and education and the professions because of their ethnic identity.  They saw by 1938 that their government was not protecting certain citizens and their properties from mob violence.    They noticed by 1940 that neighbors were disappearing.  And certainly large numbers of them—people who saw cattle-trains crammed with Jews, who signed contracts for Zyklon B,  or designed crematoria ovens designed to dispose of thousands of bodies a day, or lived in villages from which you could see the smoke and smell the burning corpses—knew that beneath the alles in ordnung of the Reich with its on-times trains and famous Gemütlichkeit something very evil was going on.  And the change I wanted four years ago was because in the America of Cheney-Rumsfeld I knew there were things going on that were fundamentally immoral.  I may not have known specifics but I saw the potential for evil in aspects of the “Patriot Act.”  I knew that Sadaam’s “weapons of mass destruction” was no more than an invented lie to justify a war that would give the fat-cats tied to the administration a chance to enrich themselves.  I knew that Cheney was a chicken-hawk who had avoided serving in the military during Viet Nam but who was anxious to send a new generation of Americans to kill and be killed and I knew that he was only one of many in the Bush administration with those yellow feathers.    (I also have never served in the Military but I was opposed to sending Americans to Vietnam in its day and Iraq  in ours.  Chicken I may be, hawk I am not.)  I knew that there were innumerable civil rights violations of American citizens and aliens (legal and illegal alike) in the Bush era.  And I wanted change.  What troubles me about Mr. Friederdorf’s article is that while I do believe that we have taken steps towards a more moral society under the current administration, I know that there are still things fundamentally wrong, fundamentally evil, going on in our name.  I don’t think there is an easy answer on how a Christian might vote this year.  As for how a Catholic might vote, Bishops like John Myers and Bill Lori are quick to do the moral analysis for us and save us the trouble of thinking.  God bless ‘em. 

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