In 2004, the organization “Catholic Answers” distributed voting guides in many parishes. They highlighted five “non-negotiable” items for voters to consider: abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem call research, human cloning and gay marriage. If you needed to find five wedge issues, designed to divide the American people, that would be the list. Alas, dividing the nation seems not to be a “non-negotiable” item for the good people at Catholic Answers. Despite that fact, the guide was widely distributed. Archbishop Ray Burke ordered it distributed throughout his diocese even though other dioceses specifically forbid it being distributed at churches.
Despite the designation of their guide as one “for serious Catholics” the evident bias of Catholic Answers fails the test of seriousness. If you don’t have health care on your list, you are not serious about the challenges facing America. What is more, if you don’t have health care on your list, you don’t understand what is required to prevent abortions. You can put four more Scalia’s on the Court, but as long as poor women have unplanned pregnancies and no health insurance, they will be seeking abortions, legal or otherwise.
In 2008, the group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good have put out a very different voter guide. They list 10 key issues: Dignity of work, economy, environment, education, foreign policy, health care, immigration, Iraq war, life, and poverty. For each issue, they highlight some key positions held by both Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama.
There is no negative condemnation of either candidate. And, unlike most such guides, this one is very specific, noting that McCain authored legislation that requires HUD to give abandoned housing units to community organizations and that Obama co-sponsored the Climate Stewardship Act of 2007. It notes their differences on the right to life as well as on the right or workers to organize. It also records that they both voted to build a fence along the Mexican border.
Most importantly, the voter guide directs you to the group’s website for more information. The problem with all voting guides is that they simplify the most important issues. It is hard to analyze who has a better plan to lower the federal debt in three short sentences, yet unless the debt is lowered, the government will not have the resources to fund Social Security, achieve universal health insurance, maintain our armed forces, etc.
Campaigns turn on little mistakes, but a candidate can get away with big lies about big issues like the federal budget because the complexity is too great for our sound-bite driven culture.
The Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good is the kind of organization the nation needs. After years of letting James Dobson and Jerry Falwell speak for Christendom, it is nice to discover a saner and more balanced voice. The group’s voice is beginning to be heard within the Beltway’s cacophony. Archbishop Burke may even hear it from his new perch in Rome.
Michael Sean Winters