The National Catholic Review

Newsweek revved us up for both the State of the Union address and the coming election campaign with two articles: Andrew Sullivan (January 16) tries to show how President Obama’s long game will outsmart his critics. When he took office the United States was losing 750,000 jobs a month. “Economies take time to shift course.” He says Obama continued the Bush bank bailout, initiated a bailout of the auto industry, and worked to pass the huge stimulus package of $787 billion. He has lowered taxes, reduced the deficit, and reversed Bush’s policy by going after Osama Ben Laden. A depression was averted. His process in foreign policy is slow and deliberative, but working.

David Frum (January 20), to prove that Obama’s policies are reorienting the public to depend on the federal government, says that applications for disability have risen steeply and so the Social Security Administration must hire more staff to take car of the needy. Obama, says Frum, is championing a more active government — which, in Frum’s values, is bad.

I watched the speech and hours of TV commentary, read the text and the New York Times, Washington Post and New York Post and Daily News editorials the next day. One poll of a focus group in Denver reports that Obama scored. Voters agree with his tax reform—that the one percent should shoulder a greater burden. To me the address was above all rational, balanced and compassionate. He states well that the “defining issue of our time” is how to keep alive the American dream: work hard, raise a family, buy a house, send your kids to college and put a little away for retirement. But the evidence is that standard American Romney capitalism, redesigned under the Reagan-Bush administrations, sucks the money up into the already rich top one percent of the population. “Folks at the top saw their incomes rise as never before,” says Obama, and the paychecks of the workers were left behind.

But in my limited space I register three disappointments.

(1) The emphasis on the middle class, who are more likely to vote, leaves out the bigger problem of the lower classes. Specifically the inner-city black population where the crime rate is high, where young men drop out of high school to sell drugs, where men sire children from women with whom they have no permanent, responsible relationship. Whole generations of young men and women are going down the drain or into prison because of lack of opportunity. Too many men in particular are untrained for the work force and ill-equipped to marry and support a family; and the young mothers must call upon the grandmothers to be the home-builders. Of course, we say, Obama cannot talk about this—although he has often touched upon it—lest he fall into the role of the “black” president from Kenya.

(2) He talks about gratitude for our soldiers’ sacrifices and also about the need to bolster higher education. The post-WWII GI Bill of Rights saved a whole generation of young men—and universities as well—by sending them all to college at government expense. There is no comparable support for veterans today. Every returning veteran of the Iraq or Afghanistan war should receive a full-tuition scholarship to whatever college accepts him or her.

(3) The President’s framing of his address—starting with the return of the troops from Iraq and climaxing with the Navy Seals’ expedition into Pakistan to get Ben Laden—was to illustrate the virtues of teamwork, as exemplified by one soldier’s absolute dependence on his comrades to make the mission succeed. He’s right on the principle of mutual dependence in a military unit. He may have heard it from his grandfather in Patton’s army; I heard it from my father, a World War I veteran, when I went on active duty in the artillery after college. If Congress could put aside its differences and work for a common goal the way soldiers do, he says, America could solve it problems.

That’s true. But in goals and structure, the military and Congress are very different institutions. Congress is not subject to military obedience and its members often see themselves as representing not the common good but their immediate constituencies—banks, corporations, death penalty devotees, gun owners who see pistols as extensions of their own personalities, oil companies, and wealthy contributors who would allow no cap on their billion-dollar fortunes. Sometimes these interests cannot be moved by rhetoric, reason, compassion. They must be fought.

Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.

 

Comments

Amy Ho-Ohn | 1/28/2012 - 7:48pm
I agree with Peter Schwimer on government assistance for the poor (not on Obama.) I do not live in what most people think of as the stereotypical "inner-city," but there are two large public housing neighborhoods and a few smaller ones within a few blocks of my home. In my experience, the money that taxpayers spend on public housing, food assistance and support to families with children is well-spent.

There are, of course, people who scam the system. But there are many more who work as hard as they can, often in atrociously difficult circumstances, to use it to learn to contribute productively to society and to provide a better life for their children. In the long run, it's a bargain.

I see their kids every day, on their way to and from school.  Wihout public assistance, a lot of them would be homeless, maltreated, prostituted, addicts or drop-outs. Instead, they're clean, safe, relatively healthy, literate, hopeful, friendly and generally cheerful. What the hell is money, compared with that?

And they're the next generation of Bostonians. When we're all in the nursing home, they'll be pushing the wheelchairs, filling the prescriptions and answering the file alarms. Like I said, it's a bargain.
J Cosgrove | 1/28/2012 - 12:46pm
I rarely comment on religious comments or OP's even though I have very strong beliefs on these issues.  I find the discussion of life issues here to be extremely illogical and full of non sequiturs and a lack of appreciation for other people's opinions and thus not a fruitful place to have a logical discussion.  My belief is that one's position on these issues comes more from political beliefs rather than theological ones.  Given that here are my thoughts in brief:


I understand  the issues concerning the burdens of bearing another child or just the first child when the mother or the family is not capable of raising the child but still this is a human life that is being sacrificed for the convenience of others in 99.9% of the occasions and this human life has not done anything yet to deserve any punishment let alone such a harsh one.  How one justifies abortion and still be a Catholic is beyond me.  But they had help from the Jesuits who met with the Kennedy's in 1964 at Hyannis to plan the Catholic response to abortion long before Roe vs Wade.  From there emanated the now familiar phrase ''I am personally opposed to abortion but...''


Now to use this same phrase, I am personally opposed to the death penalty and have been since my sophomore year at a Jesuit college when I analyzed the pros and cons of the death penalty.  I wrote an impassioned paper saying that it should be eliminated and was taken apart by the Jesuit professor on my superficial logic and my lack of understanding of Catholic theological thinking.  I went away from this still thinking that eliminating the death penalty was a good decision but with some appreciation of the thinking on what justifies it.  Those who defend the killing of close to a hundred million lives in the last 40 years around the Western world and worry about the death penalty for humans that have committed often atrocious acts, is amazing to me.   I am ambivalent on the death penalty for war crimes or mass murder when the origin of the killing is so obvious and of such a mass nature as to be completely reprehensible and people must be stopped or more will be killed.  As I said I would not support the killing any criminal as long as there was assurance that they could never again affect the taking of another human life.


But it is this last sentence that leads me take positions on what many here or in the Catholic liberal left believe are reprehensible.  There is a basic principle that most people use to justify the taking of lives and while a lot of people disagree with it, they should recognize the basis for the beliefs of others.  Namely, when an action results in the death of someone but it is judged that the action will save lives in the long run, then the action becomes justified.  I am sure there are all sorts of nuances of this simple statement that should be considered but it is a good starting point to begin a discussion.


Thus, I support a lot of what the US had done militarily in the last 50 years and I also support a lot of actions of what many like to call torture even though it does not result in the taking of a life or even the long term discomfort of the individual involved.  This point of view which I hold is fairly common amongst Catholics as well as large groups in our society and it will get a lot of people very upset.  However, those who get upset over this or rail against it are doing those who support it a disfavor because in reality those who are against it might actually be causing more lives to be lost while those who support these principles believe they are saving lives in the long run.  Disagree if you like but to be taken seriously one has to understand why the opposite side takes their position.


And to emphasize a point, I believe a lot of the left's views on this flow from politics and not theology.  What their true religion is, is the adherence to a political philosophy and not theological.
Tom Maher | 1/28/2012 - 10:55am
Obama is back?  Back from the oblivion of last years polling numbers?  But for how long?

Obama's State of the Union message showed political weakness in his failure to mention and deal with critical issues that impact America such as our 15 trillion national debt which contnues  to grow out of control, -grow and his formally embracing class warfare themes as a central issue to his politcal campaign.  This is a Presidency without a plan and without real direction.  Effectively Obama is still reclaiming support from his base which he was losing.

Potentially Obama may be on his way to being another Lyndon Johnson or Jimmy Carter both of whom lost significant parts of their Democratic base never mind the wider electorate. .  Democrats have a very nasty way of turning on thier politcal leaders.  Look at Lyndon Johnson and his numerous Great Society achievments of just a few years before were completely ignored by 1968 when he decided not to re-run for the Presidedncy.  How quicky Democrats forget when they are not completely satisfied and served.  Too bad.  Perfection in a complex modern society is very hard to achieve.   And there are just so many different interests to resolve.  But it makes great sense for Obama to first satisfy his highly demanding base of support even though this will not likely help him with the wider electorate.  But this is a clear sign of politcal weakness.

Obama as a very smart guy would never stop the highly politically favored Keystone Pipleline Project from Canada as he did the other day if he did not first have to appease the evironmentalist in his base.  He gets their support and loses everyone else including many union voters  who want to be employed. But the President is selling the idea we are making progress in getting more green enery not that bad energy we actually use to drive our cars and heat our homes. Sone environmentalist  hope that if we have less oil, oil prices will go so high people will be forced to use super-expensive green enegry?  What you have to do to keep the environmentalist vote is extreme. But Obama needs their support at almost any politcal price.  This is antoher sign of politcal weeakness.  

But Obama out does himself by embracing the class warfare theme in the State of the Union address.  This may be an actual case of being poorly advised and lacking good personal economic judgement. Obama's economic policy have been consitantly bad.    What a dream like quality to his anti-capitalist theme has.where Obma thinks the wider electorate will be influence by  19th century socialist agitation attacking Capitalism.  Just how politically insulated is the President?  Does Obama think that Mitt Romney is going to apoliogize for being economically asute and  successful  or overlook Obma's failed economic policies?  As they said in the 1992 election its the economy (stupid) .  Obama is going to have to have real answers and not class warfare excuses on the handling of the economy.  And rasiing anyone's taxes during a recovery just does not make sense but to appease Obama's radical base.  The class warfare theme is a sign lack of sound economic judgement and extreme politcal weakness. 
Louise Kaegi | 1/27/2012 - 10:33pm
Thanks, David Power. Yes, unfortunately the crossover back and forth across the Consistent Life spectrum is not generally a two-way street.  Certainly not in our parts (I live two blocks south of Obama's house in Hyde Park). In ''anti-death penalty only' circles, I don't get much movement in a pro-life direction (though they tolerate me and approve my activism on their behalf in my parish); I think its moving better the other way.  National examples include ''conservatives''/Republicans etc. such as Gov. Sam Brownbeck (who when senator and on a Judiciary Subcommittee said he was going to try to construct a ''bridge'' to the right on his death penalty subcommittee), old ''new Right'' direct mail wizard Richard Viguerie, and very conservative Notre Dame emeritus lawyer Charles Rice, and some non-national young pro-life Republicans interested in running for office and stressed out between what their conscience tells them about the death penalty now and their likely constituency's  inclinations.

I also hear surprisingly knowledgable use of USCCB insider jargon in secular circles on related ''life'' issues-e.g. at a University of Chicago Law School Conference on the traditional police use of ''the third degree,'' an ABA official speaker (Jewish name as I remember) excitedly announced that the Catholic Bishops had declared torture to be an ''intrinsic evil.''  Also, I encounter grudging praise of pro-life Catholics for their work to repeal the death penalty from Amnesty International speakers and co-activists (I have not renewed my old AI membership because of their departure from neutrality on abortion, but I contribute to and go on lobbying trips specific to the death penalty and torture-and I explain my pro-life resistance to every AI caller begging me to renew my membership-a lot of them).  As for Europe, the last memory I have of France on abortion, when I lived in Paris1978-1979, is seeing ''avorter-c'est tuer'' on the Metro.  However, I have found pro-life sympathy among Magribi Muslims as well as Europeans in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco (2004-2005 when we lived there)-though Tunisia as a country vigorously supports abortion going back to its independence and the mid 1960s, when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer there (and, by the way, vicariously trained by Saul Alinksy through Peace Corps standard community development training).

In my parish, my first uninvited verbal ''engagement''with a fellow Catholic (I was a shy, cowardly outreacher) was with a social worker who came up to our pro-life table in front of a grocery store and hissed at me ''You are the scum of the earth.'' That was around 1984.  Several times afterwards I saw Ms. Scum of the Earth proclaimer going up the aisle for Communion, and I wondered . . .  I first ''came out'' publicaly as a prolifer in a  national anti death penalty conference (in Chicago) at the end of 2006 and announced my presence after their agenda introduction mentioning ''progressive'' and ''pro-choice'' rights and I suggested they not limit themselves to such audiences.  My remarks were met by two activist people who stood up and saying theiy too were ''Respect Life Coordinators'' (one from Texas, one from Chicago), and later students from a Georgetown group came up to me to talk. I cherish those occasions, which have made me braver.

Thanks for your concern in responding. No pro-life paradise here, but it's better than it was  in the 1980s!

Louise Kaegi  Chicago.  Jan. 27, 2012
david power | 1/27/2012 - 9:23pm
Dear Louise, 

I appreciate all of those who embrace the seamless garment of Bernardin.I am Pro-life and have been all my life.
Equally against the death penalty and abortion.I have made it a point to check the moral pulse of those around me and what have I found in my travels?.
That those who are quick to the point incondemning the death penalty very rarely have a problem with abortion.
Latin Cultures being an exception but again when the origin of those values was liberal instead of catholic the results were the same.  
If  you think that I am inventing this then you must live  in a Pro-life paradise.I am talking about 3 continents and all age groups. Most europeans will just go silent on abortion.Ask them what "pro-choice" means and watch for the silence.
How many articles has America dedicated to the unborn children slaughtered every day in America,Europe and the rest of the world?
Obama is Pro death penalty and pro -abortion even in the most extreme cases and yet we have people who procalim themsleves to be Pro Obama and catholic. Jim Morrison was right, people are strange.   
Tony Podlecki | 1/27/2012 - 7:44pm
Fr.  Schroth, I thought your appreciation of Obama's speech, with its strengths and shortcomings, was fair and balanced. I'm proud to be an Obama supporter - and a Catholic.
Peter Schwimer | 1/27/2012 - 7:19pm
I too have seen many folks who scam the system.  And Lord knows they will always be with us. But I have also seen a homeless single parent family, mom and two kids, living in a shelter who managed to complete college. obtain good jobs and are by anyone's definition ''successful''.  I am sure that there are some folks I've met in the last 40 years who scammed me and fooled me.  Good for them.  I've never worried about them.  I worry about the folks I haven't met and should have, the folks I might have helped but didn't.

Obama might not be the best candidate we can find, but who is the alternative?  The Republican Party seems to think that a choice between a guy who thinks paying a 13.9% tax rate is more than enough; and a Catholic who has been married three times, and remakes history at whim. 

Truth be told, Americans should stop voting for individuals and start voting along party lines.  Because somehow your neighbor whom you thought you knew well, suddenly votes the party line when elected.

Obama has done reasonably well the last two years despite the Congress or perhaps in spite of the Congress.  I for one have no desire to return to the America of 1925 which is apparently what conservative want!
Peter Schwimer | 1/27/2012 - 7:18pm
I too have seen many folks who scam the system.  And Lord knows they will always be with us. But I have also seen a homeless single parent family, mom and two kids, living in a shelter who managed to complete college. obtain good jobs and are by anyone's definition ''successful''.  I am sure that there are some folks I've met in the last 40 years who scammed me and fooled me.  Good for them.  I've never worried about them.  I worry about the folks I haven't met and should have, the folks I might have helped but didn't.

Obama might not be the best candidate we can find, but who is the alternative?  The Republican Party seems to think that a choice between a guy who thinks paying a 13.9% tax rate is more than enough; and a Catholic who has been married three times, and remakes history at whim. 

Truth be told, Americans should stop voting for individuals and start voting along party lines.  Because somehow your neighbor whom you thought you knew well, suddenly votes the party line when elected.

Obama has done reasonably well the last two years despite the Congress or perhaps in spite of the Congress.  I for one have no desire to return to the America of 1925 which is apparently what conservative want!
Louise Kaegi | 1/27/2012 - 4:10pm
Correction in my just posted (no. 10) Comment: I referred to ''David Reeder'' comment-I meant comment no. 2 by David Power. Sorry.  And to clarify: I am attacking ''same people who'' forced choice politics and ''dialogue''-not any individual, neither one nor the other (or third) party.  or ''wing.''
Louise Kaegi Jan. 27, 2012 
Louise Kaegi | 1/27/2012 - 3:29pm
As a 24/7-make that 48/14- ''same person who''  Catholic volunteer activist and or officer in both pro-life and anti-death penalty groups (and for Catholics, the latter should be a subset of the former), I want to register my dismay at ''same people who'' politics and forced binary-ism, reflected in commenter David Reeder's claim that ''the same people [whom he sees]who cry to the heavens at the death penalty do not even bat an eyelid at partial birth abortion'' -and you see this from both the so-called left and right.  Please everyone, pro-lifers and social justice people, get out and around and check the facts  and your logic (beware the fallacy of the undistributed middle). And do some remedial work on Catholic social teaching. We pro-lifers get tired of hearing that ''you don't see'' us caring about the child after birth, or the woman, and of course ''you people love the death penalty''  and ''don't care about the poor.'' For famous starters, think Sr. Helen Prejean, Fr. Daniel Berrigan, Dorothy Day and many in the Consistent Life Network today. As for much maligned Catholic institutions and dissed Cardinals and Bishops-in Illinois our Catholic Conference put repeal of the death penalty at the top of its legislative agenda in 2011 with assistance from the Respect Life Office-with success in repeal in 2011.  And guess what the Zogby poll found following the new USCCB initiative to End Use of the Death Penalty: Catholics' movement toward repeal of the DP was more prevalent among ''regular'' (read conservative, possibly) Catholic church goers, and the reason most frequently given for changing their mind was that it would be inconsistent with the ''culture of life'' command to support the death penalty.  We serious grounded Catholics need some ''rules of engagement'' as for Just War to move our people to protect all human life, dignity, and flourishing.

P.S.  I don't know who I'm going to vote for yet-I always agonize. Let's help each other in honest ''Christian Community'' (cf Bonhoeffer).
Louise Kaegi, Pres. of Hyde Park/Kenwood Pro-Life Association, St. Thomas the Apostle parish Respect Life/Consistent Life com., and Campaign to End the Death Penalty volunteer/activist, Chicago.
Katherine Schlaerth | 1/27/2012 - 1:36pm
Father Schroth,

  Get real! Come with me to the inner city, where I work up to 60 hours a week, and meet some of the "poor".  Beats me how they can always purchase their marijuana, beer, cigarettes, and junk food, but need my taxes to pay for their rent, clothes and fancy cell phones. I have seen true poverty in the third world, but these people are gaming the system. My respect goes to  those individuals who work, often at menial jobs, and teach their families the value of the ancient virtues of hard work, honor and self reliance. Many do not even speak English!
I just wish politicians and churchmen like yourself would, instead of spouting pious gobbelty gook about the "poor" actually spend some time in their "real world". (Please note, I am not talking about the mentally disabled. They are dealing with challenges which are true crosses.)
Joshua DeCuir | 1/27/2012 - 10:52am
I appreciated David Brooks's take in this mornings' Times op-ed.  The speech was fine as it was, but in favoring rousing applause lines from the liberal base, it totally ignores the looming crises on the horizon.  Mitch Daniels didn't ignore those crises, but all the sunny progressives (who talk endlessly about how the fat cats on Wall St. - most of whom support Obama FYI - are raping the country) derided it as "gloomy."  Well.

"In normal times, that sober, incremental approach would be admirable. In normal times, the best sort of change is gradual, flexible and constant. But these are not normal times. This is not Clinton’s second term, or Eisenhower’s. The fiscal train wreck is coming. The current U.S. growth model is insufficient. The American family and the American political system are cracking up."

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/27/opinion/brooks-hope-but-not-much-change.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

Rick Malloy | 1/26/2012 - 11:23pm
Sorry,  I thought the above comment was being entered on the O'loughlin thread Wealth isn't the  problem.  I think I've got it there now.  Feel free to delete from this thread.
Rick Malloy | 1/26/2012 - 11:12pm
Thanks to many for toughtful and articulate comments. 

To those who think free market capitalism is what we practice, please note that corporate capitalism run amok in 2008 was bailed out to the tune of $750 billion tax payer dollars.  If we had practiced capitalism, all those recipients of government generosity (i.e., corporate welfare) would be broke.  Instead, we bailed out the banks, Wall St., GM, etc.  In other words, we practiced family economics. 

The problem is we favored some sons and daughters (the rich, Wall st.)  and abandoned othjers (those with home mortgages underwater).  The stimulus was too small and we continue to abandon the 9% unemployed.

Capitalsim doesn't work unless you want a world of the very few rich and a vast impoverished majority (the result BTW Marx predicted).  Not a strategy for peace let alone justice. 

Free market capitalism doesn't work unless you want to abandon Biblical principles like love your neighbor and care for the widow, the orphan and the sojourner.
Shayne Labudda | 1/26/2012 - 10:37pm
The author did not ascribe the last paragraph only to Republicans; he refered to the congress in general.  He is correct, generally speaking, that both parties' members will not defy the NRA, and will operate at the behest of their wealthy contributors, personal and corporate.  It is a human nature that must be diminished if not defied. 
Amy Ho-Ohn | 1/26/2012 - 8:49pm
"The post-WWII GI Bill of Rights saved a whole generation of young men—and universities as well—by sending them all to college at government expense. There is no comparable support for veterans today."

I think this is incorrect. The Montgomery GI Bill has been enhanced and the new package, the "GI Bill for the 21st Century" pays 36 months of a full tuition as defined by the states, plus housing benefits for some veterans. Additional funds are available for some shortage MOS's. There is also a loan repayment program for those who have run up student debt before enlistment.

It won't pay for any university, but it's a great deal. I served four years on active duty in the Army (including most of a year in Desert Shield/Storm) and went to college on the GI Bill. It only paid for a public university, but I incurred no debt and simultaneously qualified for a substantial Pell Grant. (Veterans are evaluated for financial aid without regard to parental assets.) It got me off to a great start in life and I would absolutely recommend it to any high school graduate.
J Cosgrove | 1/26/2012 - 6:24pm
''I too noticed he left out the poor, but I do believe he cares about them much more than any of the Republican candidates do.''


What makes you think he cares for the poor or that he cares more for them than Republicans do.  I find that offensive.  You have just labeled a group you do not like as caring less for the poor than you do.  Have you any indication that Democrats care more for the poor?  I have never seen it.


The poor have done particularly badly under Obama.  What people voice is adherence to a particular political philosophy more than any real caring for the unfortunate.  If they did then they would look more closely at what certain programs have done but I do not see that here with any of the authors or for many of the commenters.
Jacqueline O'Boomer | 2/2/2012 - 12:59am
I appreciate what was written, but I am just so tired of everyone going to all the trouble of researching each and every word of President Obama, merely to (what appears to be) belittle him in some way.  Seemed as though you tried real hard to find what you could criticize, if you'll forgive me for writing that.

He is a Christian man, doing his best for our country.  He certainly cares about the poor, about the troops, about all of us.  No one else in politics at the federal level is trying as hard as he is, with so much negative pushback from all quarters.  It's a shame, but I'll keep praying for him and his family, every night. God knows we need prayer.
david power | 1/26/2012 - 5:50pm
"Congress is not subject to military obedience and its members often see themselves as representing not the common good but their immediate constituencies—banks, corporations, death penalty devotees, gun owners who see pistols as extensions of their own personalities, oil companies, and wealthy contributors who would allow no cap on their billion-dollar fortunes. "
Fr Schroth ,you must live in a bubble. You just described what you perceive to be all of the negative traits you see in Republican candidates and why people would vote for them.
Could you try to state why people would vote for a Democratic candidate?Would we be back at Eden?
Show me where your paycheck comes from and I will tell you who you vote for.I have worked in Trade Unions and I saw the dependency that is developed in that mindset.The same people who cry to the heavens at the death penalty do not even bat an eyelid at partial birth abortion.Obama was for it and you thought he would wince at taking out Bin Laden??.People who think that money grows on trees because they have never had to create it like the private sector. No Priest in the last 100 years has ever had to make a buck and so they all think that it grows on trees and hence they spit out "wealthy contributors". Obama is I think the best candidate available but the whole holier-than-thou routine  in this article is offputting  
Crystal Watson | 1/26/2012 - 4:59pm
Thanks for at least mentioning the speech.  I was beginning to think I was the only Catholic who had watched it.

I thought it was a pretty good speech - I too noticed he left out the poor, but I do believe he cares about them much more than any of the Republican candidates do.  I also winced at the reference to the seal team, but when I told this to my sister, she said he was talking about the seal team that had just that day rescued hostages from Somolian pirates.

Almost everywhere Catholic I visit online has bad things to say about Obama, but though he's not perfect, I really do think he's the best candidate for the  poor, for the environment, for healthcare, etc.