CAMPAIGN 2008 – Life in These United States

According to the conventional wisdom, American elections are usually determined by pocketbook economic issues. This may give too little credit to the American people’s concern for how a superpower exercises leadership in the world; it certainly doesn’t take sufficient account of how “culture war” issues can be decisive (as they were in settling the electoral college vote in 2004). Still, Ronald Reagan’s famous question in a 1980 debate with Jimmy Carter—“Are you better off than you were four years ago?”—plays a considerable role in shaping voters’ choices.

Catholics seeking to bring themes from the Church’s social doctrine into American public life will thus have many domestic policy questions for the major presidential candidates:

1. Is the much-deplored “partisanship” in Washington an expression of unprecedented nastiness on the part of legislators, or does it reflect genuine, deep-set, and significant differences of opinion on serious issues?

2. How will you help save inner-city Catholic schools, which are crucial lifelines for at-risk children?

3. How can U.S. immigration policy combine respect for the rule of law and concern for national security, on the one hand, with generosity toward those who wish to contribute to our national life and improve their own condition? Will you tell Mexico that a lot of the immigration problem in the American southwest is due to Mexico’s own public policy-driven economic incapacities?

4. Do you believe that “global warming”—in the sense of dramatic, man-caused climate change with predictable, deleterious, and potentially catastrophic effects—is an established fact? If so, how should we address this issue without wrecking our economy and those of developing and transitioning nations? Are you at all concerned that today’s environmental movement displays some of the features of a cult?

5. Let’s forget the mantra of “energy independence,” which is a pipedream. Can we significantly decrease our dependence on foreign oil without a major national investment in nuclear power? What can the federal government do to encourage the development of plug-in hybrids and other more energy-efficient cars? What do you make of the resistance to oil-drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, which some argue puts the migratory patterns and amorous interests of caribou above national security and economic rationality?

6. How would you reform American health care without making doctors de facto employees of the federal government?

7. How would you rationalize homeland security, so that legitimate concerns about terrorism are addressed without wasting vast amounts of travelers’ time and taxpayers’ money?

8. What role, if any, does the federal government have in fixing the broken mess that is the American air transportation system? The Interstate highway system, once a marvel, now suffers from age and neglect; what’s the solution there? And while we’re on the subject of transportation, why isn’t high-speed rail the answer to both transport and energy issues in our major urban corridors?

9. How would your administration’s policies encourage a culture of saving and personal financial responsibility?

10. Everyone who can read a balance sheet knows that the Social Security system is heading over the fiscal cliff. What does “social security reform” mean to you? What role, if any, do individual retirement accounts play in pension security in America?

11. What can be done to address the well-documented link between abortion-on-demand and higher rates of divorce and extramarital pregnancy?

12. What role should Washington play in elevating our national cultural life? How will you use the presidential bully pulpit to address the cultural sewer of the popular entertainment industry? Pornography is a highly profitable American export; does that concern you, morally and in terms of our public diplomacy?

13. What is the relationship between tax rates and economic growth?

14. To listen to some candidates and commentators during this campaign, you’d think we were all living in a dysfunctional hellhole like Equatorial Guinea. Take a deep breath, avoid hyperbole, and give us your honest judgment of the present state of the U.S. economy. Is it fundamentally sound or not? Would you swap the U.S. economy, even-up, for any other major national economy in the world? If so, with whom would you trade?

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash