Last week, I blogged about the waning moral credibility of a major religious tradition that has come to focus much of its moral analysis on hypotheticals--on what ifs--rather than on real human beings living real lives. I wrote,
My question is, what kind of tradition of moral thinking that expects to be taken seriously and treated as morally credible ends up talking about hypotheticals, about what ifs, about human beings that aren't even there, while ignoring human beings that actually are there? How is the moral tradition dominating Catholic intellectual life at present, with its obsessive focus on hypothetical, what-if claims about slippery slopes and non-existent abortifacients, but its total inability to see real human beings who are being radically affected by these debates, any different from the moral tradition that led so many Catholics in Nazi Germany to ignore the humanity of Jews being carted off to crematoria?
I asked what makes the moral leaders of a church with a venerable tradition of profound moral thinking so shockingly morally obtuse, and what kind of moral deformation has occurred among many Catholics, especially our moral leaders, that we could have ended up at a place in which many real human beings simply don't count for us, as we split hairs and hypothesize about sperm, ova, and zygotes and what might happen if we allow women access to contraception through their health-insurance plans.
And I ask these questions all over again today as I see Richard Doerflinger's essay at America entitled "A Careful Reading: Could Federal Health Care Money Be Used for Abortion?" Doerflinger is, as Laura Parker has noted for NPR, the U.S. Catholic bishops' point-man on abortion. He's the USCCB point-man who, as Nick Baumann notes for Mother Jones, almost single-handedly killed healthcare reform several years ago. He is, as Tom Gallagher has observed, one of the high-profile "Republican-friendly" staff members of the USCCB team who has spearheaded the U.S. bishops's attack on the Affordable Care Act.
Which is about extending basic healthcare coverage to millions of citizens who did not have such coverage before the implementation of this act. Which is about providing basic healthcare coverage to millions of real human beings who lead real lives.
But, instead of talking about those real human beings who live real human lives, Mr. Doerflinger and the U.S. bishops keep inviting us to talk about hypotheticals, about what ifs, as the real and burning moral issue of our time: "Could Federal Health Care Money Be Used for Abortion?" In Doerflinger's brief essay, the word "could" occurs 13 times.
As Jean Brookbank points out in a comment responding to the essay, it is simply a propaganda piece. As she notes, it employs for its graphic a piece of propaganda that alerts careful readers to the fact that we're dealing not with careful rational analysis of an issue--the sort of careful rational analysis one expects from a venerable moral tradition deeply rooted in faith coupled with reason--but with bald propaganda.
The graphic in question is a Reuters photograph of a bill for food at a Florida restaurant chain, Gator's Dockside, which has added an "Obamacare surcharge" to customer tabs. As Kevin Short pointed out last month, this surcharge is for Affordable Care Act charges that don't even exist yet.
They are hypothetical charges. They are what-if charges.
Mr. Doerflinger's hypothetical, what-if discussion of what the Affordable Care Act "could" do is prefaced by a snapshot of a receipt for hypothetical, what-if charges passed on to customers at a restaurant chain that has chosen to mount a political stunt to express its displeasure with the current federal administration--charges that don't even exist yet.
And so I ask again: what kind of moral thinking representing a major Christian tradition which expects to be taken seriously in the public square focuses such obsessive attention on hypotheticals, on what ifs, on slippery slopes, when real people exist? And are in real-life need?
What kind of bona fide "pro-life" tradition obsesses about non-existent human beings while it tries in every way possible to torpedo healthcare plans that extend basic healthcare coverage to real and already existing human beings?
America should be very ashamed of itself for permitting itself to be used in this yellow-journalism propagandistic way.