The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Boys Who Cried Wolf

Robert George and George Weigel have published an appeal to fellow Catholics "and to all men and women of good will", entreating them to oppose Donald Trump:
In recent decades, the Republican party has been a vehicle — imperfect, like all human institutions, but serviceable — for promoting causes at the center of Catholic social concern in the United States: (1) providing legal protection for unborn children, the physically disabled and cognitively handicapped, the frail elderly, and other victims of what Saint John Paul II branded “the culture of death”; (2) defending religious freedom in the face of unprecedented assaults by officials at every level of government who have made themselves the enemies of conscience; (3) rebuilding our marriage culture, based on a sound understanding of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife; and (4) re-establishing constitutional and limited government, according to the core Catholic social-ethical principle of subsidiarity. There have been frustrations along the way, to be sure; no political party perfectly embodies Catholic social doctrine. But there have also been successes, and at the beginning of the current presidential electoral cycle, it seemed possible that further progress in defending and advancing these noble causes was possible through the instrument of the Republican party.


And there is nothing in his campaign or his previous record that gives us grounds for confidence that he genuinely shares our commitments to the right to life, to religious freedom and the rights of conscience, to rebuilding the marriage culture, or to subsidiarity and the principle of limited constitutional government.

We understand that many good people, including Catholics, have been attracted to the Trump campaign because the candidate speaks to issues of legitimate and genuine concern: wage stagnation, grossly incompetent governance, profligate governmental spending, the breakdown of immigration law, inept foreign policy, stifling “political correctness” — for starters. There are indeed many reasons to be concerned about the future of our country, and to be angry at political leaders and other elites. We urge our fellow Catholics and all our fellow citizens to consider, however, that there are candidates for the Republican nomination who are far more likely than Mr. Trump to address these concerns, and who do not exhibit his vulgarity, oafishness, shocking ignorance, and — we do not hesitate to use the word — demagoguery. Mr. Trump’s record and his campaign show us no promise of greatness; they promise only the further degradation of our politics and our culture. We urge our fellow Catholics and all our fellow citizens to reject his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination by supporting a genuinely reformist candidate.
I have to say, this statement deserves the hostility with which it is being met.

Note the truncated list of issues George and Weigel list as "causes at the center of social concern in the United States": (1) opposition to abortion (the rest is frankly just there as filler; we don't, thank God, have a big eugenics movement in the United States, and euthanasia is pretty much restricted to allowing patients to refuse heroic measures and other treatment); (2) falsely claiming that the Obama Administration has been unconstitutionally refusing to grant exemptions to generally applicable statutes, when such exemptions were torn from constitutional law by arch-conservative Catholic Antonin Scalia, who was nonetheless lauded even as he rejected the "seamless garment" teaching of the Church on the sanctity of life by supporting the death penalty; (3) opposing gay marriage; and (4) preventing government from doing anything about the very "wage stagnation" and plight of the working class they suddenly allude to as "a legitimate and genuine concern.

Don't believe me about number 4? Here's Robert George, in a 2009 NY Times Magazine profile:
Last spring, George was invited to address an audience that included many bishops at a conference in Washington. He told them with typical bluntness that they should stop talking so much about the many policy issues they have taken up in the name of social justice. They should concentrate their authority on “the moral social” issues like abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and same-sex marriage, where, he argued, the natural law and Gospel principles were clear. To be sure, he said, he had no objections to bishops' “making utter nuisances of themselves” about poverty and injustice, like the Old Testament prophets, as long as they did not advocate specific remedies. They should stop lobbying for detailed economic policies like progressive tax rates, higher minimum wage and, presumably, the expansion of health care — “matters of public policy upon which Gospel principles by themselves do not resolve differences of opinion among reasonable and well-informed people of good will,” as George put it.


In practice, George and his allies have usually found the rules of sexuality quite absolute, while the church’s teachings about social justice come out more contingent. That may be why he is almost uniformly popular among evangelicals but controversial among many of his fellow Catholics, particularly those who prefer the church's peace-and-justice liberalism to its conservative bioethics.

On the question of capital punishment, George says he is against it but he considers it a matter of interpretation about which Catholics can disagree. The intentional killing of innocent civilians in war is as grave a moral crime as abortion, George says, but what constitutes a “just war” is a more complicated judgment call. Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he wrote an op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal arguing that the attack was not necessarily unjust and might even be a moral obligation. “On the evidence that Hillary Clinton voted for the war on and George Bush went to war on, I thought it was justified,” he told me.

The “rights” to education and health care are another matter, George told his seminar. “Who is supposed to provide education or health care to whom?” George asked. “Health care and education are things that you have to pay for. Resources are always finite,” he went on. “Is it better for education and health care to be provided by governments under socialized systems or by private providers in markets or by some combination?” Those questions, George said, “go beyond the application of moral principles. You can get all the moral principles dead right and not have an answer to any of those questions.”
As I have previously noted, Catholic Social teaching--and not just Pope Francis's teaching, but that of Popes Benedict and John Paul II, as well as their predecessors going back to Pope Leo XIII (more here) have argued the importance of the Church advocating for the working class. Robert George played a key role in muting that advocacy, and narrowing of Catholic social teaching to narrow partisan goals, which contributed to the belatedly recognized "legitimate and genuine concerns" of which they finally speak--while proposing, of course nothing. Just more bromides.

They helped build this monster, and now shrink from their own creation.

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