John F. Kavanaugh
'I imagine a world less hostile, a nation less arrogant and a politics less calcified into ideology.'
Image
Im not making this up, folks. Thats Bill Clinton, the man who somehow could say he was against the Iraq war from the beginning, making up a story about himself as if he really had been against the war from the beginning. I am tired of politicians making things up with stories, usually prefaced by the now ugly word frankly. Thats why I am so relieved that we will have only one more year of a president who promised a compassionate conservatism with a humble foreign policy. The last two times I voted for a party nominee were for Jimmy Carter and Bob Dole. All the rest were disgruntled write-ins, born of frustration, boredom or anger.

Well, I am no longer frustrated or bored, although I am still a little angry.

That has something to do with my own hopes for change in the United States of America. Although I have no doubts that our country is remarkably blest in its commitment to give everyone a voice, in its economic, health, educational and media achievements, and in its great victories won for religious liberty, women, blacks, labor folks and the poor, I have deep-seated worries about the path set by the last few administrations. Power, property and popularity have driven many of our communal and political decisions, but these goals are essentially divisive within our country and alienate us from most of the worlds nations.

It is not surprising, then, that the themes of change and hope stir in me the dream of another way of doing things. But those very words, if you could smear them in inkblots, are little more than a political Rorschach test.

When I look at the blot of hope I imagine a world less hostile, a nation less arrogant and a politics less calcified into ideology. I hope at least for reasoned conversation based on evidence rather than name-calling and screeds. I hope for a community of nations, the majority of which do not regard my country as the major threat to peace in the world.

And change? I would like a change on the life issues. Although I think the genetic evidence dictates that human life begins at fertilization, I think we could reach consensus that, once you have a unified organism with a beating heart, youve got a human being; and that only when that organism has shut down, do you have death. This would modify all our discussions on abortion and euthanasia. I think we could find a consensus concerning human dignity: not a dictate of the state, not legality as an immigrant, not innocence of crime, not being an American, but the fact that one is a member of the human family. This would modify all our discussions on capital punishment, universal health care, illegal immigration and the sea of humans dying in poverty.

The range of my hopes for change has newly engaged me in the present presidential campaign. These days, I am tempted to hope for true change.

But where, how, who?

If I were a Democrat, I would bemoan the fact that Biden, Dodd and Richardson were eliminated so early. They probably had the most experience, but maybe that was their problem. People do not want the old way of doing things. This is Hillary Clintons problem, the shackles of a dynasty and the rigidity of a party line anchoring her in the past. John Edwards, although a trial lawyer and former senator, at least has a populist message; but he is harsh and divisive.

That leaves Obama. He is, in some ways, as Bill Clintons sly innuendo puts it, a roll of the dice. But Obama does offer real change and real hope. He wants to change the habit of our relationships with each other and our relations with other nations. He ignites the hope that we might deal with our problems and differences in more civil, reasonable and virtuous ways.

If I were a Republican, Romney would appeal to me as a person grounded in his identity. His family is telling evidence of who he is, and his Mormonism is an asset. (Have you ever met a Mormon you did not respect and admire?) But he does not exhibit the moral vision I hope for.

Huckabee does. His Christian humanism, his take on the penal system (despite his support for capital punishment), his concern for illegal immigrants and the plight of the poor draw me as much to him as they repel some conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, Fred Barnes and the editors of National Review. These issues, by the way, are the same that infuriate some conservatives in the case of John McCain.

McCain elicits my greatest trust among the Republican candidates. He is able to enter into coalition with opponents even Ted Kennedy on the burning issue of immigration. He is willing to lose an election on principle. He listens to the people: They want us to secure the borders before we give access to guest worker programs and citizenship. And he is willing to take a stand. Disagreeing with him on the Iraq war, I am with him on torture. So where am I?

The election might easily be overtaken by events. Disaster in Iraq or mad terrorist acts could swing the vote to McCain or Giuliani. An economic collapse might promote Edwards or Romney.

But right now, if I were left to choose between Obama and McCain, I could vote for either of them. Could you? If you are a Democrat, is there any Republican you could vote for? If you are a Republican, is there any Democrat?

John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., is a professor of philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Mo.

Comments

John Stabeno | 2/18/2008 - 3:13am
As a committed republican, I to look for change from Bush/Clinton/Bush dynasties and party politics as normal. I know I am voting for McCain in November, but if Obama wins the nomination for the Democrats, I know I can sleep at night because I can live with him be elected president. I would love for McCain and Obama, as party nominees to agree for the other to be the VP. A split ticket.
ANN ODONOGHUE | 2/16/2008 - 5:40pm
Bill Collier says "McCain is pro-life on abortion and embryonic stem cell research, though not as comprehensively pro-life as I would like" He is? McCain has been all over the map on abortion and has consistently voted in favor of embryonic stem cell research. At least Obama is honest enough to state his true positions. I wonder how Dr. Jaramillo (post #3) feels about the human rights of women and girls who become pregnant through rape (incestuously or otherwise)? Are we to go backwards to a place where we are going to force pregnancy on women who have been forced to have sex? Also, perhaps as he has been through medical school he can help me understand that if the zygote is indeed a human being, who then is responsible for the termination of that human life if it doesn't implant in the uterus and is expelled? God?
Melinda Henson | 2/15/2008 - 10:23am
Dear Readers of the Ethics Notebook column, I appreciate your responses and challenges, all of them. My point on consensus is not to legitimate abortion in the early stages. It is to start legally protecting the unborn by at least the first semester. If we cannot do that, we will never get legal protection at the earlier stages. For those of you against Obama, if it is because of the pro-life position on abortion, would you then vote for Obama if his position were more pro-life than any republican? I am presently writing a column as an open letter to Obama on how he might reach out to people in conscience who judge that they cannot vote for him because of the abortion issue. Maybe it will get into his hands. Thanks for the conversation.
David Pasinski | 2/7/2008 - 10:09am
It appears unfortunately inevitable that once again there will occur within those of Democratic persuasion a name-calling fight about the multiple issues related to abortion. This may once again assure a split in the Catholic vote that will lead to a Republican presidential victory. Some see this as a principled stand, others see it as folly, other as a selectivity about the range of life-issues. What would help me a great deal to discern what priorities to favor would be to see what those who propose a new NATIONAL law on this issue would really want to be the law of the land. To be persuasive to a majority, it would include a clear statement by moralists and legislators about what is proposed in place of the current law that has resulted from Roe. Specifically, I would like to see what and how such a law would be enforced and what penalities there would be for whom. I am among those who believe in the "sanctity of life," but am not convinced that a radical change of legislation or a new Supreme Court decision is the wisest governance. It still needs the devilish work of details to understand what is desirable and possible in helping political parties and our nation into a more respectful position. Can Fr. Kananaugh or anyone propose a practicable policy, approach, and broad outlines of legistlation? I have seen nothing truly coherent and concrete from political, religious, or other websites that address these very specific issues -- especially around enforcement and punishment.
Bill Collier | 2/4/2008 - 1:12pm
In the past, Fr. Kavanaugh has written eloquently and passionately about abortion and embryonic stem cell research, including the intersection of these issues with politics. In the 11/29/04 issue of America, for example, Fr. Kavanaugh explained in detail why he could not vote for either Bush or Kerry and instead voted for the Green Party candidate. He excoriated both the pro-life position of the Republican Party--i.e., pro-life for events in utero, but unwilling to financially support safety nets for pregnant women contemplating abortion, and unwilling to take a stand against the death penalty--and the decidedly pro-choice position of the Democratic Party, the party Fr. Kavanaugh said he used to belong to. "The most oppressed faction in the Democratic Party is Democrats for Life. Democrats don't want them even to have a place at the table, much less to offer an opinion." I know that Fr. Kavanaugh continues to be an ardent supporter of a consistent ethic of life, so I was very surprised to read that he could vote for Obama, who, as an Illinois legislator, was strongly pro-choice. His views didn't change when he joined the U.S. Senate, and to the chagrin of this lifelong Democrat, neither have those of the Democratic Party as a whole. Democrats for Life of America, of which I am a member, is a still a pariah within the party. McCain is pro-life on abortion and embryonic stem cell research, though not as comprehensively pro-life as I would like. And he is enough of a moderate on some other issues I care about that I can bring myself to vote for him. In conscience, however, my vote will be against the Democratic Party for (again) allowing Planned Parenthood, NARAL, etc. to dictate the party's platform on abortion and embryonic stem cell research, and for (again) stifling the voices of pro-life Democrats within the party. If enough pro-life Democrats vote as I do, and the DP loses the November election, perhaps the message will finally get through that the party has to move away from the pro-choice political and financial influence that has made it unidimensional on the abortion and embryonic stem cell research issues. I hope Fr. Kavanaugh will reconsider his statement that he could vote for Obama.
A & G MICELI | 2/4/2008 - 12:09pm
I hope and pray that the choice narrows to Obama and McCain. They are the two best candidates left in the field. They have intelligence and integrity -- a rare combination for politicians. Hillary Clinton, however, would not be where she is without clinging to the husband-in-chief who apparently has made a habit of being unfaithful to her, and -- giving her the benefit of the doubt -- probably taught her the art of the political lie. She has made her Faustian pact. With her in office we would have a co-presidency with more agonizing years of doublespeak. Can't this nation of a quarter of a billion people find someone to run the country whose last name is not Bush or Clinton?
ELEANOR LUNN | 2/3/2008 - 8:28pm
I really don't care what you think about the candidates,Father Cavanaugh. I don't think that you should be using "America" to tell us what you think. Say a prayer that the best candidate wins. This country can't afford another creepy president!
ROBERT MCNULTY | 2/3/2008 - 12:00pm
The Church has always taught that it is possession of an immortal soul that distinguishes us from other creatures. Teaching as to when God infuses the soul(and life begins) has varied from seven months to conception If God infuses a soul at conception, what happens if twinning occurs 8 days later? Further, the conceved zygote is genetically diffrent from the 8 day. One is totipotent , the other pluripotent. Among people of the Book, the Anglicans use 14 days when the possibility of twinning does not exist.
CONNIE STOWE | 2/3/2008 - 12:06am
I am a little confused about a couple points in Fr. Kavanaugh's editorial. First, regarding Mike Huckabee's position on immigration: Huckabee signed Alabama Senator Session's pledge on immigration which was designed to defeat the McCain-Kennedy bill in the U.S. Senate and the bill was defeated. How is this admirable? Secondly, Bill Clinton's opinion that a vote for Obama is a "roll of the dice" should not be repeated. In fact, Obama has MORE ELECTED experience than does Hillary. She claims to have 35 years experience but she is counting years being First Lady. How does that prepare one? Most of the things the Clintons have been saying about Obama are untrue and sometimes disgraceful and should be taken with a grain of salt. Bill didn't get the moniker "Slick Willy" for nothing. They want to win at any price. Today on a stump speech, Hillary said that Obama was not committed to universal health care--also untrue. Obama seems to have good judgment. Character counts. I think it would be more helpful to the electorate--the readership of the magazine--if there was an article in which some of the issues were more thoroughly researched.
JUAN JARAMILLO M D MR | 2/2/2008 - 8:48pm
I can't believe that a Jesuit who teaches Philosophy is willing to negotiate on the issue of abortion. "...I think we could reach consensus that, once you have a unified organism with a beating heart, you've got a human being" ? Says who ??? Those who want to have some window of opportunity to kill unwanted babies ? I went through medical school and I don't see how anyone can tell at what time a fertilized cell becomes a human being. Therefore, the position of the Popes is extremely wise--from the moment of conception. And and I don't believe that "a consensus" is needed for that.
MARIAN GRAY | 2/2/2008 - 7:06pm
When November comes around and the decision to vote for the leader of this appears on a ballot, it will so easy to choose as only one candidate will be pro life. If you are not pro life than anything lese you have to say does not make any sense at all and leaves the voter with only the vote for the one who will protect life from conception until natural death. The oath of office for the President demands that he or she be pro life. The President’s duty is to protect life. It is a simple choice for Roman Catholics and most Christians.
David Pasinski | 2/2/2008 - 4:20pm
I appreciate John Kavanaugh's candor about his preferences and voting history. His support for the respected, if uninspiring, Bob Dole surprises me, and whoever was his choice of protest write-ins(Ralph Nader?) is intriguing regarding the issues he highlights. This year's race has just passed a few of the candidates he mentions,and Super Tuesday could possibly, if unlikely, yield an almost insurmountable by one of them. I hope that his narrowing the field does not thus become some type of generic Catholic or America magazine endorsement. I think that his "I could vote for either of them" is at best premature at this point, as if they really represent equal -if different- attributes and liabilities. While it may come down to this choice, I do not feel so sanguine that it could be either one and expect the same kind of country and governance. They are quite different, for all of their similar integrity, and we best know who we are personally choosing and why. We would be served quite differently by these two and the party priorities they would bring to power.

Recently in Columns