Monday, September 10, 2012

The Ryan Budget and the Pro-Life Ethic: Keeping Discussion Real

Scads of political commentary as the U.S. elections near.  Here are a few tidbits that speak to me this morning:

In Thomas Edsall's crisp, helpful fine-toothed-comb analysis of the sleight of hand in Paul Ryan's budget, two sentences leap out:

"The Ryan budget will kill everybody," said Aura-Lee Nicodemus, another woman I met, who works at the V.A. Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt. and is active in the advocacy organization, Disabled American Veterans. 

Nicodemus went on to tell Edsall that she's a registered Republican who cannot vote for Romney--since, it appears, she isn't especially enthralled by the notion of "killing" everybody.

And then this:

[Maryland Democratic Representative Christoper] Van Hollen is frustrated that the damage to which he alludes has not become a campaign issue: "The magnitude of this budget gimmick takes your breath away."

A hidden shell game that is entirely about making massive cuts in the budget for social safety-net programs palatable to the American public--by soft-selling and disguising those cuts.  By lying.  By refusing to name them while representing oneself and one's agenda as a life-serving agenda.  A shell game that not even some lifelong Republicans are buying this election cycle, insofar as they become aware that the cuts would affect their own entitlement programs and not merely programs for lazy, dirty, immoral, despised others.

A radically immoral lie-based shell game brought to the nation by a Catholic.  Who is being defended by his bishop, Robert Morlino.  A gentleman who is still at it with the misleading talk about the intrinsic evil of socialism and the unquestionable rights of private property and the laborer being worth his hire.  Except that Morlino reads that parable to mean precisely the opposite of what the gospels actually say: in Morlino's reading, it's a story about how the property owner employing the laborer earns the fruits of his workers' labor--and so the right to private property is all about the owner's right to appropriate the fruits of his worker and call them his own.  

A Catholic vice-presidential candidate being defended by his own bishop and by the leader of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan, who keeps telling us what a friend he has in Jesus Paul Ryan.  What a great public servant Ryan is!  What solicitude for the poor he has!  How pleased as punch the bishops are with Ryan's strong, family-oriented Catholicism.

There's all that, all that Catholicism with its gaudy official stamps and seals of approval.  And then there's the American public, lifelong Republicans, observing (rightly) that the economic plan pushed forward by this Catholic public servant with such solicitude for the poor "will kill everybody."

And I hang my head in shame as I listen to those words.  This is what the Catholic tradition of respect for the poor and for the value of life has come to in the eyes of the American public.  This is what it now means, in its officially stamped, USCCB-approved version.

Catholics threatening to kill the nation. 
All the while claiming that the overweening value they serve implicitly and without question--the supreme value on which all moral decisions ride--is the value of life.

Catholicism in its officially stamped pro-life form as a colossally dangerous vehicle of death to the nation and to the planet, in the 2012 U.S. elections.  While Catholic centrists like J. Peter Nixon, folks who should long since have had the critical acumen to understand the shell game that is afoot in this misleading counterfactual rhetoric of life, and who should have placed themselves long since squarely on the side of those exposing the shell game, haggle about whether Sr. Simone Campbell ought to have uttered the word "abortion" in her remarks to the Democratic convention.

As if the game we're playing is a word-count game in which I see  your reference to God in your party platform and raise you with two allusions to God in mine.  And as if it's not about spelling out how values that serve life must be woven into party platforms and policies at levels that go far beyond the level of verbal shibboleths, of gotcha talk.  Of who says "abortion" when and how many times.  

Of how many times women, in particular, say the word "abortion" unambiguously and dismissively, since it's women who must be corralled and controlled and not men.  Of whether religious women, above all, drop the word "abortion" (and the word "homosexuality") as often and dismissively as possible when they represent the church to the public, since these shibboleth words are the words we've agreed to insist on to define whether errant religious women belong inside or outside the Catholic fold.

And so the pro-life game as we currently intend to play it is all about coercing religious women who spend their lives assisting the values of life in concrete ways to demonstrate that they're "pro-life" by descending to the level of prelates who love to shower empty words across t.v. screens and public stages--and to call this representing the Catholic church faithfully in the public square.  Of prelates who love to shower empty words across t.v. screens and public stages while never descending to the level of the sick to be nursed, the homeless to be taken in and clothed and fed, the child in the classroom to be comforted and taught and shielded from rape, the pregnant woman to be counseled and assisted as she wonders about abortion while she struggles to pay her bills and feed her family.

Prelates who love to talk life but don't do life, insisting that religious women who do life while they're too busy to talk it in empty symbolic gestures begin to act like prelates and not like themselves as disciples walking in the way of Jesus.

Prelates who never descend to the level at which the real struggles to affirm and cherish human life are lived out, who, even as they talk the pro-life ethic and the value of life, continue to spend millions of dollars to deny humanity to their brothers and sisters who are gay or lesbian.  To prevent public acknowledgment of those who are gay and lesbian as fellow human beings deserving of the same human rights accorded to everyone else in society.  Fellow human beings to be embraced and taken into the fold, not denigrated, kicked, and expelled.

I might one day believe that Catholic centrists really believe in that Catholic pro-life teaching of which they've made such a verbal shibboleth if they began to act as if we who are gay and lesbian are actually in the room when they parse the meaning of Catholicity for the rest of us.  That we who are gay are fellow human beings and fellow Catholics.

And I might begin to believe that they really mean what they say about serving the values of life when they begin to act as if the evil practiced towards us by the pro-life Catholic hierarchy these centrists defend--whom they defend as the guardians of an ethic of life!--matters intently.  And as if this evil should be stoutly opposed.  As if it should be shouted about and pushed back against.  As if it matters to stand side by side in solidarity with fellow human beings whose humanity the pro-life hierarchy is spending millions to rip away from them.

I might begin to believe in the sincerity (and depth and breadth) of the pro-life commitment of centrist Catholics when they stop assisting in the hierarchy's brutal attack on the lives of gay and lesbian human beings, when they start admitting the extent to which their own unmerited heterosexual power and privilege has blinded them to what's being done to those who are gay by the pro-life Catholic hierarchy, and when they begin to stand with us as we assert our humanity against the lavishly funded brutalizing attacks of the pro-life hierarchy on us.

Meanwhile, in the real world in which I live, what I actually have to go on is this: one of the candidates for the two top offices in my land is a staunchly pro-life Catholic who has the official stamp of approval of staunchly pro-life prelates.  Even though the economic proposals of that staunchly pro-life political leader are (rightly) perceived by some lifelong members of his own party as a killing machine.

And in that real-life context, in the real world in which we're all living, the intellectual arbiters of the definition of what it means to be Catholic in the United States today are niggling about whether women who live the values of life in demonstrably effective ways are adequately pro-life if they don't scatter empty words about a pro-life ethic around while they serve the values of life in their daily lives and work.  While those very same intellectual arbiters who are so intently concerned about shoring up the Catholic pro-life ethic and communicating it clearly to the public at large never once open their mouths as the pro-life leaders of our church, and the pro-life political candidate who is their darling, viciously assault the humanity of a targeted minority.

That's the real world in which I think most of us now find ourselves--American Catholics as well as registered Republicans like Aura-Lee Nicodemus, who are trying to ascertain where the values of life really fall as we cast our votes several weeks from now.

The graphics, from Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, are incorporated into an article by Ezra Klein in Washington Post analyzing the Ryan budget.  Clicking on the charts should enlarge them for better viewing.

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