Sub Spike not-so-subtly requested over email that I comment on the following WaPo editorial (and because he is my father, I shall oblige him):
Catholic Republicans’ political beliefs, challenged by their faith
by Michael Gerson
The Catholic tradition asserts the necessity of limited government. The establishment of justice and acts of compassion should be done at the lowest, most human levels of society, instead of by distant, centralized bureaus – a perspective fully consistent with the designs of America’s founders. But gaps in the justice and compassion of a society require government intervention to secure the common good, which is not common until it includes the poor, the immigrant, the sick, the disabled, the unborn. Catholic teaching elevates the primary importance of families, charities and strong communities – while rejecting the simplistic notion that such institutions render government unnecessary. In determining the proper balance between civil society and government, there is much room for political debate. But the search for that balance is a source of sanity in our political life, involving the rejection of both collectivist and libertarian utopias.
So how will Catholic Republicans respond to these arguments? The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, after all, has no canonical standing, just a moral authority that has been recently diminished by scandal.
But there will probably come a point when red lines get crossed and Catholic and other religious leaders declare: Contempt for immigrants, even illegal immigrants, is not a moral option. Or, cutting AIDS and malaria funding violates pro-life principles. Or, health-care repeal without a serious alternative is not responsible.
At that moment, one hopes, the faith of politicians has sunk deeper than the skin – and that they will be less nasty than they otherwise would have been.
Gerson is basically right about Catholic teaching. That’s why you will never see me espouse the kind of radical libertarianism which declares that government is good for nothing but mustering a police force. I don’t object to the existence of a basic social safety net.
Where Gerson goes wrong, I think, is in his assumptions about the Tea Party movement. There are hardcore libertarians and militia members who attend Tea Party rallies, but I think most Tea Partiers are just like me. They’re not opposed to government full stop. They are opposed to the bloated and wasteful government supported by Obama and his coterie of followers in the Congress.
The paragraph I highlighted above reveals Gerson’s incorrect interpretation of the Tea Party movement most distinctly. When he declares, for example, that contempt for illegal immigrants is not a moral option, he simultaneously implies that we Tea Partiers are guilty of such contempt. In my case at least, the exact opposite is the case. I believe we should curb illegal immigration not because I hate Latin Americans, but because I care for them.
Allow me to expand upon my last statement: Because our immigration laws have been imperfectly enforced – and because we have backed away from assimilating new-comers – we have now within the United States a virtually permanent underclass of unskilled laborers. Because these laborers live off the grid, they are extremely vulnerable to exploitation — and more often than not, this wretched status is passed down to these laborers’ children. I have personally worked with Hispanic adults who failed to get even an elementary education even though they were born and raised in the U.S.. That is how stratified our society has become.
Amnesty advocates claim that simply declaring these laborers legal residents after the fact will correct this pervasive injustice, but amnesty does nothing to bring such people into the true mainstream — and it certainly doesn’t ameliorate the dangers of the illegal entry itself. (“Oh, yes. We can get you over the border — if you agree to work as a sex slave.”) If, on the other hand, we insist that people have their documents in order before they cross our border, there is, in my conservative opinion, a far greater chance that we can protect them from abuse.
Thus, to summarize: I believe we should enforce our immigration laws because their lack of enforcement has resulted in more social injustice, not less.
Gerson is also wrong to imply that we conservatives wish to repeal Obamacare without proposing any “serious alternatives”. At the same time Congressional Republicans decided to vote for repeal, they also put together a committee whose very mission is to come up with alternatives. Just because you personally don’t consider free market solutions to be “serious” doesn’t mean they aren’t, Mr. Gerson. Be careful not to present your opinion as an objective fact.
In general, I’ve experienced very little substantive conflict between my political beliefs and my Catholic beliefs. I am perhaps a bit more hawkish than our current or previous pope, but the Catholic principle of subsidiarity and the Church’s consistently fierce denunciations of both Communism and secular humanism make me quite confident that I am sitting in the right political camp. What I find most challenging as a conservative Catholic is keeping a Christian tone. Because I am, shall we say, a young woman of passion (heh), I find the nastiness of our political discourse to be a constant source of temptation. My first urge is always to punch back when I feel I’ve been wronged; Jesus’ admonition to turn the other cheek is, for me, a very difficult thing to put into practice — particularly on the faceless medium that is the Internet.