Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Religion and politics in Virginia

E.J. Dionne, Jr. might be onto something here, though I’d want to hear Lucas Morel’s take on it:

Democrats all over the country will study how this devout Catholic explained his opposition to the death penalty as a matter of deep religious concern. The strangest thing is that because the death penalty issue encouraged Kaine to talk about his faith, it may have helped him with conservative voters.


"This is a very good proving ground for the belief that Democrats can talk about values and their faith and it will make a difference," said Karl Struble, a top Kaine adviser.


David Eichenbaum, another Kaine adviser, noted how faith immunized Kaine from the dreaded L-word. Focus groups were shown "the worst attacks against Tim that they would use to make him into a big bad liberal." The groups were then shown footage of Kaine "talking about the importance to him of his religious values and convictions." The result? "Almost to a person, they would say that he must be a moderate or a conservative, and that he couldn’t be a liberal."

I have two thoughts. First, everyone liked Joe Lieberman’s faith, and look how far it got him in the Democratic primaries. Times have changed a little, but have they changed that much for the Democratic primary electorate? Second, I’d want to know what Kaine said about abortion. If his position on abortion lined up with his opposition to the death penalty--following what the Catholic bishops have called the "seamless garment" approach--then I’d give him points for sincerity, but wonder about how well that position would fare in the presidential primaries. And if his opposition to the death penalty is "faith-based," but he doesn’t oppose abortion, I’m not sure he should have gotten the kind of pass Dionne says he got from the voters.

Stated another way, while abortion isn’t and shouldn’t be a litmus test, how seriously a candidate grapples with it and how willing he or she is to take on the NARAL wing of the Democratic Party ought to tell voters something about how sincere or stategic the talk about religion is.

Discussions - 17 Comments

Yes, it would clearly violate the Catholic view on the sanctity of life to support the killing of the innocent unborn and oppose the just killing of a guilty murderer.

Making an "official" dismissal of Dionne as "a spokesman for Moveon.org and all the other left wing interest groups" one minute and conceding that he "might be onto something" the next... Perhaps he’s just a lot smarter and more nuanced than you’d like to admit?

Tony and Joe (sounds like you could open a pizza place):

I think you two gentlemen fail to see the issue from the other side. People who are pro-choice do not view abortion as killing an infant, so it’s not a matter of "kill a baby or kill a murderer" to them. I understand that if you believe life begins at the moment of conception, then an abortion is murder and is as morally wrong as executing an adult. But couldn’t Kaine be in the former category, in which case his view on abortion wouldn’t have to "line up" with his feelings about the death penalty?

I started reading Dionne when he published this book some fifteen years ago. He’s smart, sophisticated, and...an ideologue, who has been driven off the deep end by George W. Bush. I liked him a lot more when his evident passion didn’t regularly cloud his vision.

Kaine’s opposition to the death penalty is explicitly rooted in his Roman Catholicism. His church teaches that because life begins at conception, abortion is murder. He is, apparently, personally opposed to abortion, but adopts a variant of the "safe, legal, and rare" line that the Clintons popularized.

The more I read about Kaine, the less convinced I am that he has anything new to offer on the faith-and-politics front.

Hey Knippenberg, do you ever attend funerals for miscarriages? If you really believe life begins at conception, it seems like every miscarriage would be just as horrific a tragedy as the death of a 6 month old baby or a 4 year old child. I know a miscarriage is a sad event, but almost NO ONE treats it the same as the death of a child, unless it’s abortion. Then it’s somehow more serious. Strange.

This op-ed on Kaine’s victory is a pretty sensible read of what Kaine did to make himself palatable to Virginia voters. Allow me a few comments about the issues raised therein, with selections from Kaine’s campaign website (which is a model of how to communicate both one’s views and personality to the voter):


Kaine and the death penalty--(website blurb) "Kaine has repeatedly said that, while religious convictions lead him personally to oppose the death penalty, as governor he would follow the law and would exercise his clemency powers sparingly." Because Kilgore was disingenuous about Kaine’s approach to enforcing the death penalty, this issue was a loser for Kilgore.


Kaine and abortion: (website blurbs) "I have a faith-based opposition to abortion. As governor, I will work in good faith to reduce abortions by:


Enforcing the current Virginia restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother;


Fighting teen pregnancy through abstinence-focused education;


Ensuring women’s access to health care (including legal contraception) and economic opportunity; and


Promoting adoption as an alternative for women facing unwanted pregnancies.
We should reduce abortion in this manner, rather than by criminalizing women and doctors.


Too often politicians are interested in scoring political points, rather than in reducing the number of abortions. Many of the legislative proposals introduced in the General Assembly, like the ones to require unnecessary building standards for doctor’s offices that perform abortions, are just political grandstanding. They encourage division and lawsuits rather than contributing to the goal of reducing abortions."


Kaine and the faith factor in politics: (website blurb)
"When I was a young man, I took a year off from law school to work with a great Christian missionary, Brother Jim O’Leary, teaching carpentry, welding, and religion to poor children in Honduras." There is more, but suffice it to say, Kaine neutralized faith as a litmus test for this gubernatorial race by mentioning a brief stint as a missionary in early (second wave) tv ads. Simply put, there was more than one "Christian" candidate, so Kilgore did not have a lock on that constituency.


As I mentioned in another blog comment, Kilgore blew a 10% lead earlier in the contest with abysmal ads that had die-hard Republicans holding their nose. He simply was less likeable to the everyday voter, whereas Kaine’s ads (and there were many of them early on, which were issue-light but personality-heavy) were Reaganesque in their positive, upbeat approach to his candidacy. I don’t think either party thought their respective standard-bearers were particularly strong candidates. In the end, Kilgore’s campaign was negative enough to turn the tide toward Kaine.

Eric,

IF Kaine is "in the former category" then his thinking is not really influenced by Catholic teaching. Such a "category" is a glaring contradiction and hypocrisy in Catholic teaching. It is as absurdity. So the question:

"in which case his view on abortion wouldn’t have to "line up" with his feelings about the death penalty? "

is YES, his thinking (not his "feelings") would have to line up if we are to take seriously his assertion that he is a Catholic.

Nick,

You reasoning is a bit heartless. Have you ever seen a mother and father grieve over their miscarried child? I have. True, a traditional funeral is not the custom. So what? Are you seriously trying to assert that Catholic dogma teaches that the child miscarried is in fact not a child? If you believe this fine, but this is not what the Church teaches us is the Truth....

Nick,

You obviously have never been through a miscarriage, and I sincerely hope that you never do. My wife and I recently went through this process, and I can assure you that we grieved every bit as much as if the baby had been born and then died.

Now, I may not have had the same amount of time to bond with my lost child as I have had with my 19 month old daughter, but how dare you write on here that because we didn’t have a funeral that our baby somehow meant less to us than if the baby had been born or that we valued our child’s life less because it was so tragically short.

I can tell you from personal experience that a miscarriage is a horrific tragedy. After three months, I still deal with the sense of loss on a daily basis, and my wife feels the sadness in a way that I cannot imagine. Your post seeks to minimize our loss in the most vulgar form of political debate.

While I know and respect many pro-abortion advocates, your post shows the absolute worst and lowest form of the movement. You should be ashamed, but I’m sure that you’re not.

Joe- I think that because Kaine is a politician and has to put getting elected before everything else, he has to take a more pragmatic approach than what you seem to be demanding of him. He has said that he will continue to carry out the death penalty, even though he is personally opposed to it. Obviously he had to do this because Virginians are big on capital punishment. Well, could it not be the same for abortion? Couldn’t he be personally opposed to it but realize that it’s an unfortunate fact that people will still have them one way or the other? And that he can’t say he’d like to eliminate abortion if he wants to be elected?

Also, you say that his religion teaches that abortion is murder, but many people choose to disagree with certain teachings of their religion. I’m not saying that this is right or wrong, but people do it all the time. There’s no guarantee that a Catholic will oppose abortion simply because he is a Catholic.

Eric says:

"Also, you say that his religion teaches that abortion is murder, but many people choose to disagree with certain teachings of their religion. I’m not saying that this is right or wrong, but people do it all the time. There’s no guarantee that a Catholic will oppose abortion simply because he is a Catholic."

The problem with this statement is that it assumes one can be "Catholic" and not believe in crucial Dogma. According to the definition of "Catholic", one can NOT disagree with these dogmas and still be a Catholic. Catholic Dogma does not believe in such a radical view of personal autonomy. To assert it does is to misunderstand the fundamental nature of what it means to be a "Catholic"...

Oh for God’s sake, I’m not saying that a miscarriage is no big deal. I didn’t say that in my original post, either. I’m only making the point that if a couple seemed extremely depressed and one asked, "What happened to them?" and the response was "They lost their child a few years ago. He was 5," one would say, "Oh, that’s horrible." But if the response was "They had a miscarriage a few years ago," one would think "Hmmm, that’s really sad," but one certainly wouldn’t have the same degree of sympathy for them.

So Kyle, I am sorry that this happened to you and your wife. I am certainly not saying that it’s a trivial matter. Perhaps my analogy is a bit crude and seems harsh, but I just think that this idea that abortion is MURDER, that it’s the equivalent of drowning an infant in a tub, is a bit much.

I never should have gone down this road because it’s an emotional topic and no one is going to have his mind changed. Kyle, once again, I AM sorry that I offended you.

Nick,


I see your point, and I hear this view stated often. Try to follow me on this. Let’s assume that a mother is drowning her 5 year old in a tub. Now let’s assume that she is some scientist in the future, and has built a machine that can "see" into the future. Using this machine, she has determined that her 5 year old will be hit by a bus sometime in the future, and that it will take several painful hours for him to die a gruesome and pain filled death. Based on her past experience, she has determined that she can not directly alter the future (say, by determining to keep the child in doors for the next several years), so she drowns this child in an merciful attempt to spare him more pain (a drowning after all is only a few minutes of pain). Is this Murder?


This admittedly contrived example will help one to see the Catholic view. Rather than an abortion being "a bit much", a "MURDER" is exactly what it is. A miscarriage, an accident, a disease, etc. are all out of the control of man’s will. They are sometimes called "acts of God" and to is some sense God is responsible for them. Murder however is "an act of man", and man is directly responsible for it. Murder is the correct category to apply to this willful taking of a human life...

Christopher- I’m not saying there’s no difference between abortion and miscarriage. Of course I understand that one is deliberate and one is an "act of God." Again, my point is that the murder of a child is obviously a tragedy, the death of a child is obviously a tragedy, and, to the pro-life crowd, an abortion is a tragedy. Few people put a miscarriage on the same level as these others, yet if you consider abortion a tragedy, it stands to reason that you SHOULD view miscarriage as being equal to the others.

Kyle Farmer - I am sorry to hear about your loss, which I am certain is all too genuine for you, but you should take it easy with the indignation overkill directed at Nick! "How dare you," "most vulgar," "worst and lowest form," and "you should be ashamed"? Perhaps he was being a little harsh with Mr. Knippenberg, but he clearly wasn’t accusing you of caring for your unborn child any less than one that would have been born. I do not in any way see how he was "seek(ing) to minimize your loss." That’s absurd. He was however, indirectly making a valid point about how society (even the Bush-voting dominant "moral values" society like the U.S.) opts not to TREAT miscarriages in the same way as the deaths of post-natal people, despite the strong presence of a lot of life=life rhetoric. As a kid, I learned that funerals were a way to love, honor and respect those who have passed on. Where I live, even the homeless who have no family or friends are given a no-frills memorial service of sorts and a spot at the cemetery. And pet cemeteries are hardly unheard of. As far as I know, there is no law preventing parents from having funerals and burial plots for miscarriages; they can do so if they wish, but clearly the vast majority (essentially all?) opt not to do these things. What is wrong with asking "why not?" Perhaps it is these realities that you find vulgar, I don’t know. Rather than demanding Nick’s shame, you could, maybe at a later point in time, just offer your experienced viewpoint on why society does make this distinction. Frankly, I think it’s an issue entirely separate from abortion. Your loss is very real, but the abstract question about society is nonetheless legitimate.

I, and the Church, do not consider abortion a "tragedy" if by it you mean it is "equal" (your term) to a miscarriage. It is a different category. An abortion is a willful taking of another’s life. A miscarriage a more true "tragedy" in the sense that it is an "act of God" - not within man’s will/control and not within his judgment (unless you want to make man the creator of good and evil). So yes, the Church does see a nuance here. However, according to your view (if I am following you correctly), you would want reduce the moral impact of an abortion because it is "like" a miscarriage. You want to see hypocrisy where there is none, by subsuming a miscarriage and an abortion into the same moral category.


The crux of your failure IMO is that because you do not see the supernatural basis of man - his soul - you can not see how any reasonable person would see the small group of "cells" that is "lost" or "dies" in a miscarriage as a true or major moral lost. It most certainly (in your view) not on the same level as a child that you see walking around living and breathing. Contrary to "Few people" as you put it, most of mankind living on this earth, and most of mankind throughout history have recognized the high moral and existential "value" of these "cells". Indeed, one does not have to admit Christian dogma to see a conceived child ("embryo", etc.) as what he (or she) is, namely a child. Even a modern atheist can admit the "potential" of these cells and thus see his/her humanity. Your attempt to reduce the humanity of an miscarried child is not reconcilable to Catholic dogma or the facts...

Mr. Scanlon, "

You say Nick! was:


"but he clearly wasn’t accusing you of caring for your unborn child any less than one that would have been born. I do not in any way see how he was "seek(ing) to minimize your loss." That’s absurd"


Yet, he clearly WAS "seeking to minimize" Mr. Farmer’s loss, and all such losses. His philosophy, as he himself admits, does not recognize the humanity of the unborn. The rest of your post demonstrates why (despite Mr. Nick!’s assertion that only "a few" people consciously or otherwise) most of mankind find such philosophies so abhorrent. Your willingness to "abstract" something as inherently valuable as human life is, quite naturally, repugnant. It is as if you were to ask us to consider the elimination of some class of people, say the handicap, "in the abstract". Most folks rightly recoil from such heartless suggestions...

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