Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Democratic Party and Catholic Social Doctrine

Catholics like Doug Kmiec, Chris Korzen and Alexis Kelley, as well as Evangelicals like Jim Wallis and Brian McLaren have claimed that, even though the Democratic Party is on the wrong side of the abortion issue, it deserves support because its platform as a whole better reflects Catholic social doctrine as a whole. I dispute the premise in this argument. I think Kmiec and the others are wrong about the Democratic Party being much closer to Catholic social thought than the Republicans in general for several reasons.

1. First, the right to life is fundamental to all the other rights. You can’t be in favor of children having a right to an education or health care if the children are killed before birth. In order for health care and educational rights to mean anything, there has to be respect for the right to life and a society not committed to the basic right to life is not going to respect other rights for very long.

2. Second, the Republican Party has more respect for the principle of subsidiarity than the Democratic Party and subsidiarity is a major pillar of Catholic social teaching. Subsidiarity is the principle that decision-making authority should be at the lowest possible level that it can be without being ineffective. So power in society should be dispersed to local communities, workers and families rather than being concentrated in beaurocracies or central government. The Democratic Party answer to everything is big government and centralized power.

3. Third, the Democratic Party advocates the use of state power to re-define marriage and the family rather than recognizing the family as an institution that historically and logically precedes the state and is not subject to the state. In other words, both human rights and family rights exist independently of the state’s say so. The state overreaches and becomes tyrannical when it tries to place itself above the family. Tyranny is not consistent with Catholic social doctrine.

4. Fourth, the Democratic Party does not stand against the culture of death in the areas of infanticide, assisted suicide, euthanasia, etc. Speaker after speaker at the recent Democratic National Convention railed against the refusal of George Bush to allow scientists to create, experiment on and destroy human beings at the early stages of life. Aside from embryonic stem cell research, on which they are against Catholic social teaching, the Democratic party platform does not even address these issues. This is incredible in light of the fact that assisted suicide is already legal in Oregon and on the ballot in Washington. At best, they are indifferent. It is not just abortion, but a range of sanctity of life issues.

5. Fifth, the Democratic Party does not have a coherent philosophy for the protection and support of handicapped people and thier families. They support eugenic abortion in which handicapped babies are killed just because they are handicapped, which sends a chilling message about how much Democrats value handicapped people.

6. Sixth, Kmeic presumes that increasing the size and scope of the welfare state through high taxation and high entitlement programs supports the family, rather than undermining it. This is at least highly debatable – unlike the moral clarity that exists on the taking of innocent life for the convenience of the more powerful. There are some areas in which the Democratic Party is better like labour issues and health care. But I must stress that these are, unlike issues surrounding marriage and the sanctity of life, matters of prudential judgment on which honest people will disagree. They are not of the same order at all; this is what the bishops have been saying and they are exactly right.

So it is not just abortion that is involved here; it is a range of issues relating to the culture of death plus other principles that make the Democratic Party unfriendly to Catholic Social Doctrine. The Democratic Party used to be a big tent party that included Catholics and many working-class Evangelicals within it until it was taken over by the 1960's radicals. Now the cultural left dominates the party and it is impossible to be economically left without swalllowing the whole cultural left agenda. Will this ever change?

I think there is one scenario under which it might change. If the Democrats lose election after election until they come to the realization that they cannot win without the social conservative vote, then and only then will they change their party platform and limit the power of the cultural left. Then the Democratic Party will become a big tent again and many Evangelicals and Catholics will find it congenial.

But clearly this has not happened yet; the so-called "outreach" to Evangelicals and Catholics this year is all style and no substance. The thought was that they would not really need the Evangelical and Catholic vote, since the Republicans were so unpopular. The attempt to moderate the party platform on abortion failed miserably and Obama has not made abortion reduction a priority in the campaign. The only hope is that Evangelicals and Catholics will be so mad at Bush that they will vote Democratic to punish their own party. But that would only slow down the process of forcing the Democratic Party to extricate itself from its culture war extremism and open up to the center. So it makes no sense for Evangelicals and Catholics to vote Democrat this year if the long term goal is to change the Democratic Party.

Here is an excellent short article by George Marlin expanding what I have said here in this post:

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