A Response to Thomas Peters’s Defense of Rick Santorum

January 6, 2012, 11:57 am | Posted by

Rick SantorumThat John’s piece this week outlining the Catholic case against Rick Santorum garnered a response from conservative Catholic blogger Thomas Peters is unsurprising. That Peters’s argument is so thin, however, is a little disappointing.

The biggest problem with Peters’s rebuttal is that he missed the ultimate point of John’s piece. While Peters reads it as a “theological assassination” of Santorum in defense of President Obama, John wasn’t trying to make the case for any other presidential candidates. He doesn’t even claim that Catholics can’t or shouldn’t vote for Rick Santorum.

As John makes clear in his conclusion, he simply wants to caution against anointing Santorum as some kind of ideal Catholic candidate. And to make his case, he lays out a series of issues on which Rick Santorum is publicly and clearly at odds with the position of the Catholic bishops and the Church at large. These are factual and historical points that exist regardless of either John’s or Peters’s opinions about any of these issues.

A review of Peters objections:

Immigration
Peters dismissively acknowledges that Santorum has “room to grow” on this issue, but then goes on to blame the President and Democrats at large for not reforming the system in the last three years. As I explained before, such comparisons are distractions from rather than rebuttals of John’s point, but I’ll humor Peters for a minute.

While Catholics have a very legitimate critique of this administration’s record on overzealous deportations, when it comes to the kind of comprehensive reform the Catholic bishops support it’s not any kind of secret which party has prevented it from passing over the last ten years.

I’d particularly encourage Peters to revisit the vote count for the DREAM Act last December, which was filibustered by 36 Republican and 5 Democratic Senators. The Catholic bishops, of course, emphatically supported the bill, and Rick Santorum has attacked his rivals over the issue.

But Peters “doesn’t see where…Santorum is saying something different” than the bishops on immigration reform. I find this statement puzzling, as John quoted Santorum openly acknowledging his disagreement with the bishops on this issue word-for-word in his original post:

“If we develop the program like the Catholic bishops suggested we would be creating a huge magnet for people to come in and break the law some more, we’d be inviting people to cross this border, come into this country and with the expectation that they will be able to stay here permanently.”

Poverty, Inequality and Financial Reform
Peters doesn’t even really try to engage with the substance of John’s points here — instead he just makes vague taunts about “lefty Catholics” at large and FPL’s “agenda”. As our “agenda” on these issues is pretty much the same as the Bishops, Peters should probably take his complaints up with them. I’ll just reiterate the facts:

The Bishops expressed serious reservations about Paul Ryan’s budget because of its refusal to raise adequate revenues, the disproportionate cuts to programs that protect the poor and vulnerable, and the unfair way it put the burden of Medicare cost-cutting on seniors. Santorum full-throatedly endorsed Ryan’s plan and proposed one of his own that would do the same things.

The Church is concerned with reforming the kind of unregulated capitalism and financial misconduct that led to the global recession. As a Senator, Santorum voted for deregulation that helped precipitate the crisis, and he continues to get his facts wrong on the cause of the meltdown.

Rick Santorum has adopted Randian “makers/takers” language and derided calls for more progressive taxation levels as “redistribution of wealth.” The Pope doesn’t even know this is supposed to be a dirty word.

Workers Rights
Here Peters just asserts that the issue is complex, but his view lines up with Santorum’s so there’s apparently nothing to see here.

Climate Change and the Environment
Peters’s bizarre lecture on the actual motivations of the environmental movement aside, the facts again here are simple. The Pope is concerned about the dangerous consequences of not addressing climate change; Rick Santorum thinks it’s a liberal conspiracy. The Catholic bishops celebrated the EPA’s recent mercury ruling; Santorum condemned it.

Torture and War
This one is a mess. Once again, rather than rebut the substance of John’s argument, Peters has to change the subject and introduce specious arguments. Accuse “the left” broadly of refusing to criticize President Obama? Check. Compare torture to drone assassinations without any explanation of the point? Check. Reduce Iranian foreign policy to a choice between bombings and nuclear apocalypse? Check. Excuse Santorum’s Catholically indefensible policies because they at worst prove “Santorum cares most for the safety of American citizens and interests”? Check.

Again, simple point: Santorum supports torture; Church doesn’t. Pope cautioned against Iraq war; Santorum championed it.

Peters ends with a long complaint that John didn’t bring up abortion and marriage. Unfortunately, that’s because they’re not related to the ultimate point of John’s post. Peters is, of course, right — there’s no debate about whether Santorum is in line with the Church’s opinions on these issues. He’s pretty vocal about his stances, and religious and political commentators don’t seem to have any trouble recognizing and noting them.

John’s goal was to help bring to light some of the issues that get less attention as “moral issues” in the media — and help political commentators avoid making the mistake of suggesting that examining a candidates’ positions on abortion and marriage is sufficient to determine whether they’re representative of Catholic political thought.

Now, I recognize that Peters and many other conservatives might argue that these two issues are so important that they essentially overwhelm a candidate’s divergent views on any other topics. Making tough calls between imperfect candidates is the nature of our two-party democracy, particularly for Catholics, and I wouldn’t have any problem if Peters’s contention just boiled down to that personal judgement.

To go further, I don’t really care if Peters wants to argue this is the only acceptable voting standard for Catholics at large, or that the only appropriate candidate for Catholics to vote for Rick Santorum because his Catholic “pluses” outweigh his Catholic “minuses.” The U.S. Bishops voting guide, Faithful Citizenship, asks all Catholics to weigh that exact kind of judgment, and such an opinion is certainly a reasonable one worth debating.

Even further, Peters is welcome to join Rick Santorum and argue that the Church is wrong on these issues — that any of these particular policies are matters of prudential judgement in which he and Santorum have reached different conclusions than the Church hierarchy. I would probably disagree with many of their conclusions, but I don’t think it would make either of them “bad Catholics.” Discrediting and demeaning my fellow Catholics’ faiths when I disagree with them just isn’t really something I’m interested in.

But, of course, Peters didn’t engage in a substantive debate about John’s factual arguments. Nor did he have the courage to admit he and Santorum just have a different position than the Church. In his eagerness to claim the mantle of Catholicism for his favored candidate, Peters seems not only willing to overlook Santorum’s discrepancies on a wide range of Catholic issues, but also to actively deny that they even exist. Combined with his propensity for putting words in people’s mouths and dishonestly ascribing ulterior motives, this dangerous obfuscation of fact in service of partisan politics damages Peters’s credibility and emblemizes the concerns many of us in the faith and politics have about the Catholic right more broadly.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Flickr

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Keystone XL Pipeline Decision on Fast Track

December 28, 2011, 8:00 am | Posted by

Keystone ProtestCongress’ pre-Christmas approval of a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut came with a lump of coal for President Obama: a provision that forces him to make a decision on whether to allow construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline, which would carry millions of barrels of toxic tar sands from Canada across 1,600 miles to Texas, has been fiercely opposed by the faith and environmental community. A petition by Faithful America opposing the pipeline already has over 5,000 signatures and Interfaith Power & Light, which works with over 14,000 congregations nationwide, has mobilized its network in opposition to the proposed project.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped proponents of the pipeline from making inflated claims about its ability to create jobs and using the issue as a political hostage. Moreover, the entire debate has brought into sharp focus the influence that the oil and gas lobby has over our political process. Until our leaders decide to seriously invest in a national clean energy strategy, Big Oil’s lobbyists will continue to have a stranglehold on our environmental and energy policy.

The good news is that President Obama still has the ability to delay or stop this dangerous project. But even that is unlikely to be enough to permanently stop the pipeline. If the oil companies make a renewed push, expect the faith community to raise their voices even louder in opposition to this assault on God’s creation.

Photo credit: tarsandsaction, Flickr

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Catholic Cardinal Warns of Inaction on Climate at U.N. Talks

December 5, 2011, 2:15 pm | Posted by

cardinal rodriguez maradiaga.jpgAt the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, Catholic Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, president of Caritas Internationalis, said a special Mass at Emmanuel Cathedral. In his homily, Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga highlighted the moral imperative to develop global policy solutions to the climate change crisis and the great humanitarian crisis from climate change that will result if we do nothing.

From the Cardinal’s homily:

Barely a week ago, torrential downpours caused a great deal of suffering and death in Durban. Don’t we realise that the climate is out of control? How long will countless people have to go on dying before adequate decisions are taken?

It’s true that in faith we wait “for the new heavens and the new earth” as the second Reading told us, but this does not mean indifference or complicity with those who destroy this land where we live. “Living holy and saintly lives” means living in justice with creation and the environment, and especially with the poor people who are the primary victims of this serious problem.

In the desert John “cried out” the need to prepare a way for the Lord. Today, in the desert of our planet Earth, and in the desert of our hearts, the same voice is ringing out. This conference of delegates from so many countries cannot remain as a voice silenced by economic power.

Read the whole thing at Think Progress

Photo credit: Christoph Muller-Girod, Flickr

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Faithful America Runs Petition Opposing Keystone XL Pipeline

November 4, 2011, 1:00 pm | Posted by

tar sands arrest.jpgAs the Obama administration debates whether to approve the permit for the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline–which would carry millions of barrels of toxic tar sands oil from northern Canada over 1,700 miles to refineries in Texas–the faith community continues to raise their voices against this dangerous project.

NASA climate scientist James Hansen has said that “if the tar sands are thrown into the mix, it is essentially game over” for the earth’s climate. Reaching the oil in the tar sands will require cutting down hundreds of thousands of acres of boreal forests — a natural carbon reservoir. And a rupture in the pipeline could poison the source of drinking water for over two million people.

The pipeline was relatively unknown until climate activists spent two weeks protesting and getting arrested in acts of civil disobedience outside the White House to draw attention to the issue. Religious leaders played a key role in those protests and are planning to do the same when they return to DC this Sunday.

Faithful America is running a petition to show solidarity with these faith leaders and demonstrate their opposition to the pipeline. The petition is directed at President Obama, who is expected to make a final decision on approval soon:

President Obama,

The tar sands represent a catastrophic threat to our communities, our climate and our planet. We urge you to stand by your religious tradition and your commitment to clear moral leadership on climate change by rejecting the requested permit for the Keystone XL pipeline and instead focus on developing safe, clean energy that manifests reverence for God and God’s creation.

You can sign the petition here.

Photo credit: Josh Lopez, Tar Sands Action

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Obama Administration Disappoints Faith Community on Environment, Trade Deals

October 13, 2011, 5:33 pm | Posted by

tarsands.jpgThe Obama administration is facing some necessary scrutiny from religious groups who care about global justice. New “free trade” deals pushed by the administration and passed by Congress last night were broadly opposed by faith-based organizations, including the Presbyterian Office for Public Witness, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns and the Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment.

Meanwhile, diverse religious leaders are still protesting the $7 billion Keystone Pipeline Project designed to run from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast. President Obama is set to decide by the end of the year whether the project gets a green light, but the State Department has, according to Catholic News Service, “cleared the way for construction in a report that found the project poses no serious threat to the environment and will enhance national security.” And earlier this week, five health and environmental groups sued the Obama administration over its rejection of a stricter standard for ozone pollution that would have improved inadequate Bush-era regulations.

Trade and environmental justice have long been central, and interrelated, issues, for many in the faith community. NAFTA-style trade agreements are a boon to multinational corporations but have a devastating impact on local jobs, wages, food and product safety and the environment. The trade deals just passed with Colombia, South Korea and Panama expand this failed NAFTA model.

Faith-based activists and others found the Colombia trade deal particularly troubling given the country’s shameful record in targeting union leaders. Last year, 51 trade unionists were murdered in Colombia – more than the number killed during the same time period in the rest of the world combined. As a candidate for the White House, Obama himself opposed the Colombia free trade deal and promised to change course from the Bush-era model of corporate globalization.

At Fire Dog Lake, Lori Wallach, the director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, notes that while the mainstream media framed the story this morning as a rare bipartisan victory for the White House, discontent from the president’s own party was significant:

This represents a complete flip-flop for President Obama, who won crucial swing states by pledging to overhaul our flawed trade policies. So it is no surprise that a sizeable majority of Democrats in Congress voted against these agreements, against Obama and for American jobs.

Today a larger share of House Democrats voted against a Democratic president on trade than ever before. It took Bill Clinton nearly eight years of NAFTA job losses, sell outs and scandals to have nearly two-thirds of the House Democrats vote against him on trade.

Given the strong Democratic opposition, ultimately it was the Tea Party GOP freshmen who passed these job-killing deals despite their campaign commitments at home to stand up for Main Street businesses, against more job offshoring and for Buy American requirements.

For faith-based advocates who generally commend President Obama’s politics of the common good, his promotion of Bush-era trade deals and weak environmental standards is a major disappointment.

The president of late is sounding a more populist note on economic issues and more forcefully taking it to Tea Party Republicans who make obstructionism into an art form. But this president can do better, and in the past has encouraged social justice advocates to keep pushing him. I’m guessing there will be no shortage of progressives taking him up on that offer.

Photo credit: ElvertBarnes, Flickr

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