CAMPAIGN 2012—What voting means

American political campaigns have never been for the squeamish. With the sole exceptions of George Washington’s two uncontested elections, every presidential campaign has seen its share of vulgarity, skullduggery, and personal disparagement. Those who imagine that “going negative” is the invention of today’s polls and focus-groups haven’t read very much about the rhetorical character of the senior Adams-Jefferson battle of 1800, the younger Adams-Jackson contest of 1824, or the Blaine-Cleveland fight of 1884, not to mention the dubious goings-on in Illinois and Texas in 1960, or in Florida in 2000. American presidential politics is a contact sport and while we may wish it were not so—while we may wish that JFK and Barry Goldwater had set a new pattern by their plan, aborted by the Kennedy assassination, to rent a plane together and fly around the country, holding something akin to the Lincoln-Douglas debates—what we’ve experienced these past months is likely what we’ll have for the foreseeable future.

But just because electioneering increasingly resembles a reality show, voters are not absolved from treating the electoral franchise as something rather different than casting a vote on “American Idol.”

In the Catholic understanding of these things, politics, for all its tawdriness, still engages questions of right and wrong, good and bad, the noble and the base. Political judgment is prudential judgment; but prudence is a virtue, a habit of the mind and heart that, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “disposes a person to discern the good and choose the correct means to accomplish it.” Prudence “guides the judgment of conscience,” and helps us “overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.”

For the vast majority of American citizens, exercising prudential judgment in politics is not a matter of framing and executing public policy, but of voting. Voting, in other words, is an exercise in moral judgment. Which is to say that serious Christians, for whom love of the Lord Jesus and fidelity to his kingdom measure all our other loves and loyalties, vote with their brains, not with their emotions.

Morally serious voters understand that casting a ballot is not an exercise in nostalgia, and that gratitude to FDR for giving grandpa a job in the Civilian Conservation Corps, or fond memories of the Eisenhower years, cannot be determinative of one’s moral judgment about the American future, and those who would lead us into it, in 2012.

Morally serious voters understand that the character of political parties changes over time, and that voting for the Democrats or the Republicans because “that’s what we’ve always done” is outsourcing one’s moral judgments to others.

Morally serious citizens recognize that voting a straight party line is an abrogation of moral responsibility, because the judgment one makes on a party’s candidate for, say, president, cannot be applied willy-nilly to that party’s candidate in House or Senate races.

Morally serious Catholics recognize that no one party in contemporary America fully embodies Catholic social teaching; but alert Catholics will also take notice when a party holds Catholic social teaching—including the Church’s teaching on such fundamental issues as the inalienable right to life and the nature of marriage—in contempt.

In this particular season of decision, all adherents of biblical religion will pay close attention to the religious liberty concerns raised by the U.S. bishops over the past year and will weigh their votes in light of a candidate’s commitment to religious freedom in full.

Voting is an exercise in moral judgment about the immediate future that must take into account the medium- and long-term future. Voters who think only of themselves, and do not take into account what kind of country their children and grandchildren will inherit, are being politically shortsighted and morally obtuse.

Voting is not simply a privilege; it is a noble privilege, because it asks each of us to bring our best judgment to bear on matters of grave consequence. The voting booth isn’t the confessional. But like the confessional, it should be entered after serious moral reflection and prayer.

COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

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The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”