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University Ethics Center’s Near-sighted Vision

| Friday, March 24, 2017

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives wrestled with easily repealing — but woefully replacing — the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a., “Obamacare.” Their consternation derives from self-inflicted wrist cuttings eight years ago whenever they refused to participate in drafting the legislation. This “all or none” political mindset was born after the GOP congressional takeover in the 1994 election. House speaker Newt Gingrich’s four brief years at the helm poisoned the decorum between parties when he governed with the notion that he was correct and the opposition was simply expendable. The previous 40-year Democratic Party House control confirmed that the American public approved of sharing legislative content, albeit sometimes at an 80-20 or 55-45 percentage split, depending on how many opposition party votes were needed to pass a bill. But alas, those legislative days without gridlock occurred nearly three decades ago.

Given that congressional gerrymandering arising from the 2010 “Obamacare” backlash election has locked the House of Representatives in the GOP column until 2022 at the earliest, political gamesmanship today is stuck with short-term vision. In 2009, President Barack Obama took a long-term view of providing health coverage and walked his Democratic Party majority in Congress into healthcare quicksand. Republicans countered by refusing to participate in hopes of making Obama a one-term president. While the GOP attempts to dismantle the act, Democrats are now excluded even if they so chose to participate. As a result, the GOP must ironically narrow its twilight zone vision to “out-conservative” a conservative draft in order to appease those whose extreme conservative ideology opposes government programs in the first place.

Today’s national political crisis stems from shortsighted, narrow, dogmatic visions espoused by any manner of political interests, including Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture. It is this writer’s belief that a person elected to represent a constituency is not required to impose a personal religious belief upon the office to which elected or the constituency represented — of course, unless that person solely represents the Vatican. It is refreshing to finally follow a pope like Francis who approaches life with an outlook centered on one’s heart rather than one akin to obeying strict rules seemingly derived from the Inquisition. Imagine living in a district represented by a fundamentalist Muslim or Orthodox Jew or Buddhist who sought to maintain minimum rules of behavior upon the constituency to eat certain foods, believe in reincarnation or not use modern conveniences on the Sabbath. A Catholic elected official is not obligated to enforce Church teaching when legislating on behalf of non-Catholic constituents.

However, too many American Catholics sustain an entire political philosophy on one issue — abortion — describing anyone “pro-life” despite an indifference to capital punishment or war deaths. Many of those American Catholics who publicly advocate against abortion do so while turning a plank-blinded eye away from scrutinizing politicians like Notre Dame class of ‘76 alumnus and former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who passed the anti-abortion test but was given a pass on capital punishment when he refused clemency and allowed a 41-year-old grandmother, Teresa Lewis, with an IQ of 72 to be executed. About 6,000 people signed a petition to McDonnell, claiming that she found God and that it was unfair for her two accomplices to receive life sentences. It would be interesting to hear if Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture found McDonnell culpable in either ethical or cultural transgressions.

In January, during the March for Life in Washington, I accepted an invitation to the alumni reception at the National Press Club (NPC), partly because I am a NPC member, partly to visit with fellow alumni, but most importantly to hear firsthand from my alma mater. I had never seen or heard from O. Carter Snead, director of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture. His exuberance at the impending end of Roe v. Wade was a bit over the top for me. I later surmised that Snead has a one-pony act after reading the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, John Gehring’s column. Gehring is the author of “The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church.” He attended the recent “Public Policy and Our Catholic Faith” two-day, $1,250 per person symposium and wrote an account of Snead’s participation with other politically active conservative Catholics at Trump Hotel.

Despite Snead’s legal theoretically mumbo-jumbo rah-rah rhetoric being well received by “Catholic Disneyland” enthusiasts, his laser focus to end abortion in the United States leaves behind real solutions affecting real people in our real world society. Snead advocates defunding Planned Parenthood without offering alternatives to service poor women for other illnesses or screenings. Is Catholic Charities ready and able to service women’s health needs and support all the children who are born if Snead accomplishes his anti-abortion goal? Certainly a GOP cost-conscious Congress has no appetite to nibble at minor cause-and-effect ripples that demand new funds.

At quick glance, Snead declaring that the pro-life movement is back at the White House is correct. But to include presidential adviser Stephen K. Bannon — someone whose temperament and tolerance I, personally, do not trust — is singing to his choir audience. Will Bannon courageously help the plight of poor women of color from southwest Washington? I doubt it, but Pope Francis would. To me, that is the divergence between Snead’s ethical writings and the Church’s cultural goals.


Gary J. Caruso, Notre Dame ’73 American Studies major, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director at the U.S. House of Representatives and in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. Contact him on Twitter: @GaryJCaruso or e-mail: [email protected].

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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