Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mr. Dolan and ObamaCare: An Historian of the Future Looks Back

Suppose that, 100 years from now and removed from the artificially engineered hype of the U.S. Catholic bishops and their morally obtuse media mouthpieces of the early 21st century, you're an historian wanting to figure out what was really going on with the manufactured political controversy over the Obama administration's HHS guidelines.  To start your research, you take a look at the online Wall Street Journal article in which the leader of the U.S. Catholic bishops, Mr. Dolan, has written that the Obama administration (you notice that the article's title uses the politically loaded term "ObamaCare") is trampling on Catholic religious freedom by mandating contraceptive coverage in health care plans, and

[t]here is no free lunch, and you can be sure there's no free abortion, sterilization or contraception. There will be a source of funding: you.

You focus specifically on the comments section following Mr. Dolan's political essay.  As an historian, you want to figure out who allied himself with Mr. Dolan and the bishops in the "moral" crusade against contraceptive coverage in the early 21st century.  And why he allied himself with Mr. Dolan in this crusade, why he regarded Mr. Dolan as a pre-eminent moral leader of the early 21st century and a defender of the values of "life" . . . .

And so, as you begin scrolling through the comments bubbling over with moral outrage that ObamaCare is taking away the religious freedom of Americans and attacking the moral values of Catholics, you immediately notice something rather interesting: from the very first set of comments forward, almost 100% of those logging in to vent this moral outrage and support Mr. Dolan are men.

As a trained historian, you have no choice except to notice this and to think about its significance, since your training has taught you that ideas and moral positions always presuppose a socioeconomic location in which gender counts along with other socioeconomic indicators.  If you want to understand ideas and moral positions, you need to look at who promoted particular ideas at any given time and why they did so.

Your discovery about the gender of the defenders of life in Mr. Dolan's crusade against ObamaCare spurs you to do more digging to uncover their socioeconomic location: precisely who were these men so energized by the bishops' moral crusade against contraceptive coverage, you wonder?  Who were these men who assumed that their moral outlook and their moral interests represented morality in general for their society, and for the Catholic church of the early 21st century?  What was their predominant racial make-up, for instance?  Where did they fit on the economic scale in the society in which they lived?  Were they economically secure or economically marginal?  How did they fit into the power networks of their society: were they connected or disconnected?  Were they Democrats or Republicans?

And then it hits you: that title, Wall Street Journal.  I seem to recall something important about Wall Street in the early years of the 21st century, you tell yourself: wasn't there significant turmoil surrounding Wall Street at the same time Mr. Dolan wrote this "pro-life" essay in the Wall Street Journal?  The severe economic upheaval that made life extremely difficult for many American citizens, and that emanated from the U.S. throughout the globe: wasn't much of that economic suffering actually emanating from Wall Street itself?  And so why is the leader of the U.S. Catholic bishops, Mr. Dolan, who claims his essay about ObamaCare is all about defending "pro-life" values, choosing the Wall Street Journal, of all publications, in which to mount his attack on ObamaCare?

Did Mr. Dolan choose the Wall Street Journal as a platform to stage nationwide political opposition of Catholics to ObamaCare because the Wall Street Journal had the reputation of being a "pro-life" publication in the early 21st century?  So perhaps Wall Street itself really was all about serving and protecting the values of life, you tell yourself, and your memory of what was going on in the early 21st century is somehow radically askew.  You need to do more digging, that's clear.

You need to dig more and understand better, because surely the leader of a group that wanted to function as credible moral arbiters for a whole religious body and the society in which they lived wouldn't have been brazen and foolish enough to mount a bona fide "pro-life" political crusade against ObamaCare in the Wall Street Journal, of all places, if Wall Street was a serious part of the problem when it came to the "culture of death" the bishops were attacking. Mr. Dolan couldn't possibly have imagined that people would hop onto his crusading bandwagon that claimed to be all about attacking the "culture of death" as he chose the Wall Street Journal for his venue in launching the crusade, if there were serious moral questions circulating around at the time about whether Wall Street stood for the culture of life or the culture of death.

As a good historian (and one intrigued by this Chinese puzzle of historical argumentation in which what's on the surface seems very different from what's underneath), you keep digging, you continue reading.  And you come to a surprising and rather confusing conclusion: Wall Street, it turns out, was, indeed, considered by many citizens of the planet at the time Mr. Dolan used the Wall Street Journal to mount his "moral" crusade against ObamaCare to be a serious part of the problem vis-a-vis a pro-life ethic.  Wall Street's economic policies and practices were thought to be rapacious, cruel, all about advancing the interests of a super-rich elite called the 1%, and not in the least about protecting the 99% who were struggling merely to get by in the first part of the 21st century.

And there's more, much more to create confusion for you as an historian: the Wall Street Journal in which Mr. Dolan mounted his "pro-life" attack on ObamaCare had even published, a few months before Mr. Dolan came out all guns blazing for life and against the ObamaCare "culture of death," an essay mocking the "liberal elite" for its opposition to the death penalty!  The essay applauds crowds who cheered when the governor of Texas, Mr. Perry, a leader of the "pro-life" Republican party promoted by Mr. Dolan and his fellow bishops, answered a debate question about the 234 people he had sent to the death chambers of his state.  The essay concludes that the crowds doing the cheering were motivated by a laudable "patriotic pride."

Something seems just not to hang together with this whole story about the U.S. Catholic bishops as the defenders of life against a culture of death, you tell yourself as you keep reading.  Instead of attacking Wall Street and pointing out that its economic policies were morally unjustifiable because they were contributing to a culture of death, the bishops chose to use a journal that actually touts itself as Wall Street's journal to attack, instead, guidelines suggesting that contraceptives be made widely available in health insurance plans.  And there's more that seems not to hang together: when they took this rather perplexing moral step, they also claimed that they were defending the moral views and religious freedom of Catholics.

But all the studies you can find anywhere to demonstrate what Catholics thought and did vis-a-vis contraception at this point in history tell you that well over 90% of Catholics in the U.S. practiced contraception.  And approved of contraceptive use.  And regarded stewardship of their reproductive lives as a morally praiseworthy goal--something that served the values of life rather than contributed to the culture of death.

And then it hits you: didn't the leaders of the Catholic church have quite a bit to say about other "pro-life" issues beyond the narrow issue of contraception in the early 21st century?  Didn't they condemn the death penalty?  Didn't they link the culture of death to rapacious economic practices that treated workers as things and not persons?  Didn't they call for moral reform of unbridled capitalism?  Didn't they write major church documents calling for Catholics to assess the viability and morality of economic structures by adopting the perspective of those on the margins--and not the perspective of Wall Street and the men inclined to read the journal of Wall Street?

The men bit: you can't lose sight of that initial discovery that led you on this tortuous research path where wrong seems masquerade as right.  It was primarily men who were identifying themselves, along with Mr. Dolan and his brother bishops, as the defenders of life in the crusade against ObamaCare.  Men who were also economically affluent and socially elite.  Which is also to say, white men, for the most part.  And it goes without saying, Republican men.

And so you begin leafing through issues of the Wall Street Journal prior to the one in which the Wall Street Journal came out as unambiguously "pro-life" and a defender of Catholic pro-life values with Mr. Dolan's attack on ObamaCare and contraception, and you find the following: there's nothing at all in the Wall Street Journal for years prior to this sudden "pro-life" declaration which indicates that the Wall Street Journal endorses Catholic pro-life values.  Not in any shape, form, or fashion.  There's complete silence about all those aspects of Catholic social teaching you remember in which socioeconomic analysis goes hand in hand with analysis of cultures of life and death.

And there's more: when the Wall Street Journal does deign to mention those teachings, it does so always scornfully, always dismissively--never in support of those teachings.  And so you come to the following conclusion: when the Wall Street Journal uses the terms "Catholic teaching" and "pro-life," it's referring only to contraception and abortion.

As is Mr. Dolan, who chose the Wall Street Journal in which to mount his "pro-life" attack on ObamaCare.  Official Catholic teaching notwithstanding, Mr. Dolan is far more closely connected to Wall Street and its (male, affluent, socially elite, Republican, and white) leaders than he is to the significant body of Catholic teaching which suggests that structures like Wall Street might be at the very center of the problems that are tagged as the "culture of death."

And this is clearly why he saw no problem in choosing the Wall Street Journal to mount a political attack against ObamaCare that purports to be all about attacking the "culture of death" and promoting "pro-life" values.  But to come to this conclusion is hardly to solve the problem of severe cognitive dissonance into which you've unexpectedly walked through your historical research, since this conclusion only intensifies your problem:

Which is to explain how on earth the U.S. Catholic bishops ever imagined that people would take them seriously, when they claimed they were promoting "pro-life" values in this particular political crusade?  To figure that out, you conclude, you're going to have to do some research now to see what leading Catholic intellectuals and media spokespersons at this period were saying about the bishops' moral and pastoral leadership in this and other political crusades they led as the new millennium got underway.

Since people with trained minds and a dedication to pursuing the truth, people educated to spot sham, hype, and immoral insincerity from a mile away: these folks, surely, had some scathing things to say about how the bishops' sham, hype, and immoral insincerity in their moral crusade against ObamaCare betrayed authentic Catholic pro-life values.

Didn't they?

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