It’s sort of like ‘winter is coming, allergy season has arrived.’ In other words, be prepared.
I hate politics. There, I’ve admitted it. When I’ve said it out loud among friends, some have said ‘Really?! But you cover them all the time, and do so much work in research, and talk with politicians and members of government, and you have for a long time!’ Yes, precisely. Those who believe in Purgatory will understand this, but maybe I can get a soul or two out by offering it up.
Not everything is political. Full stop. But everything has been politicized. Everything. It’s a nasty world with still plenty of good people, and many of them are afraid by how large and ferocious the nasty part of the world has become. Not including ISIS, which is its own beast…Another post on that coming…
In my professional and personal life, I’ve been striving for ‘clarity with charity’ (my catch-phrase for years), and more and more so in the past couple of years. Many people use their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and even blogs to fight battles, often politically partisan ones, posting news articles that no doubt point squarely to certain realities. Then they opine and vent and that’s their prerogative. It can be a certain catharsis for them and people, people who jump in to comment and engage the conversation, or those who even read them and move on without commenting. We need communal gatherings where we can share, challenge, be challenged, debate, defend, disagree, discern.
Ah, that’s the challenge. To discern what’s being said and how we react to it, and hold our views accountable to standards, a set of principles and virtues. Yes, virtues. At least for those of us who hold certain standards for being virtuous. Not according to a relativistic rendering of the word or concept, but an objective standard, first principles, universal principles which have stood the test of the history of civilization, with plenty of warring against them along the way.
These thoughts flow from the heart, but also experiences lately, especially this week. Tuesday, my show guest for the hour on radio was the brilliant Fr. Robert Spitzer of the Magis Center. One of his considerably challenging and highly esteemed books I use as a reference is Ten Universal Principles. Highly recommended reading. Therein are the principles to which I refer. Those who can and do debate all the day long should check out the website and watch the videos with an open mind. Maybe read one of Fr. Spitzer’s other priceless books.
Wednesday I had conversations with three guests about our obligation in an elected representative government to participate in the political process to make a difference in shaping moral policy and serving the common good. How interesting. My final guest for the hour was a young woman with Susan B. Anthony List who works to emphasize the election, education, promotion, and mobilization of pro-life women. Because, as I emphasize in my book (bad photo), if you have the first principle of human dignity and the right to life and resources right, you’ll be able to make a coherent argument for other rights.
The guest’s last statement before the end of the hour was about her commitment, in all public discourse, dialogue and debate, to speaking truth with love. She repeated that, “it’s important to me to always try to speak truth with love.” And the music came up, I wrapped, show was over.
At home afterwards, just as I was taking the dogs out to the yard and they had pent up energy ready to wrestle and play and demand the attention they craved, the doorbell rang, at the precisely wrong moment (when is it ever the right moment?). Holding back two barking, energetic dogs, the male ready to leap out to the porch to check out this intruder, I was met with a political opinion solicitor, and just wasn’t up for it. He persisted with hand held device ready to enter anything I said, and I could barely think of his questions and the barking dogs ready to leap through the plate glass deck doors to get outside. I tried to beg off, saying ‘look, I can’t answer these questions now but…’ and he kept asking. The first question was ‘in a word, what would you want the next governor to do first after the election.’
I struggled with the dogs, strained for a pithy one word answer, and succumbed. ‘Can you come back?’ I practically pleaded. He prodded, ‘what’s the first thing that comes to mind?’ After I fought it, telling him I had no time, I turned around and started delivering what I thought would be a sentence or two, and it turned into a whole soliloquy. I remembered the thought at the end of the radio show that we must speak truth with love. I said something like…’Look. No matter what the party of any candidate for any office in the state or federal government, they have to get fundamental respect for the right to human life right, or they won’t be able to make a coherent argument for anything else a ‘good life’ deserves or requires. Once a government servant – and that’s what they are – gets that right, once they understand the primacy of human dignity in all things, they’ll be pretty good on the other issues.’
He was jotting on his device as fast as possible, and I frankly had no idea who he was or who he represented. Although he had my name and the names of other family members without ever asking. He tried to wrap with the simplistic question of what party I would vote for, I repeated that I would vote for a candidate of either party who had first principles in order. Then I noticed that his T-shirt said something in big letter, under which it identified AFL-CIO. So I pointed to that and said ‘So you’re affiliated with the unions?’ As he nodded I said ‘Good, that helps me make my point. Then I launched into the rapid response of how policies trump politics, how I see issues through the lens of the Catholic Church which over many decades and longer has issues writings and teaching and encyclicals about human dignity, the common good, peace and right order, even the dignity of work and the right to work for all people. And how the Church stood as a vanguard in the formation of the unions, to uphold the rights of workers. And as he was sort of nodding while sort of staring at me searching for what I meant, I continued.
‘So if a candidate or a member of government understands and is willing to stand up for the preeminent right on which every other right is grounded, I’m behind that effort.’ Then I named an Illinois Democrat in Washington who has been a champion for pro-life causes across the spectrum, and said a candidate who ‘gets it’ will get the rest pretty close to right. Then I said ‘sorry, after saying I had no time I proceeded to bend your ear, but at least I made it fast’, because I had to go. All he wanted to know, showing me his hand-held device, was which of the three boxes he could check of for me: the Democrat, the Republican, or Undecided. I was frustrated, and said ‘call me undecided.’ But wait…the Democrat is against all the pro-life issues, while the Republican is not a good candidate on most of them, but has shown signs of openness to common sense legislation of the broadest sort, so an ‘Undecided’ vote could be construed as more lukewarm and non-committal than I am.
I am for life and human dignity. If you get that right, you’ll probably, like the US bishops, get the issues of labor, wages, immigration, and other issues related to the common good of a dignified human life right. We don’t have to over-think this. It’s not complicated. It shouldn’t be politically wrenching. It is fundamental human respect.
He showed me how he would mark me as a voter, and I was frustrated with him and the whole process. But at least I had a chance to say something that may go no further than a young man at my door, tasked with checking boxes.
Anybody who does not participate in the political process, even engaging someone at your door when you can (or must), is abdicating our responsibility to be involved and help shape social policy. It’s darned frustrating, yes. But it demands participation.