Thursday, October 23, 2008

Seven Key Themes of Catholic Social Teaching: Caring for God's Creation

This blog is called "Catholic Democrats," even though I've been focusing almost entirely on the political side of things lately, so I decided I needed to bring the "Catholic" part back into the mix before election day. What better way to do that than to examine both candidates based on the seven basic Catholic themes of social teaching? Using the tools provided by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on their Faithful Citizenship website, over the next week or so I'm going to briefly examine each of the seven themes and rate each of the candidates based on the policy statements on their campaign websites. The themes are:
Back in 2004 the USCCB issued a "report card" based analysis of voting records of members of the Senate that I found to be very enlightening. Essentially it showed that the Republicans scored highly in the areas relating to abortion and stem cell research while the Democrats scored highly in every other category. In the end the lowest-scoring Democrat still had a significantly better score than the highest-scoring Republican when scores from all categories were added together. (Bet you didn't hear much about that report with all the news about Kerry being denied Communion for his views on abortion, did you?)

I wish the USCCB would have revised that report this year. It would have been especially helpful since both candidates are Senators, but alas, they did not. In fact, I can't even find a copy of the previous report on their website, even though they still have other documents from 2006 and earlier. I'll let you draw your own conclusions about that...

I could use prior voting records to make my own analysis for this series, but given that McCain has changed his stance on several key issues since campaigning began, and Obama is running a more centrist campaign than his voting record would indicate, I figured I should use what they say they want to do rather than what they've done. Plus, I have a day job and don't have time to pull Senate voting records from the past two years. I know it's not perfect. Feel free to disagree with this rationale on your own blog.

At the end of the week I'll crown a victor, although really my point isn't only to name a winner but to also get people thinking about issues, where their guy stands, and where that fits into what I consider to be (mostly) reasonable, rational, and justifiable Church teachings.

The first topic is:

Caring for God's Creation careful stewards of God's creation and to ensure a safe and hospitable environment for vulnerable human beings now and in the future.

McCain's environmental/climate change plans on his campaign website are rather shallow. Some of the points are even repeats from his energy plan page. Obama has an extensive environmental plan that goes into quite a bit of detail. (Did you know Obama includes plans for superfund cleanup sites and protecting children from lead poisoning in addition to climate change, clean air, and clean water plans, among other things?)

Both have decent energy plans outlined on their websites, but Obama's offers a more detailed PDF in addition to the highlights on the site. That aside, both candidates offer similar plans for fuel efficiency standards, alternative energy research, reducing greenhouse gas emissions to pre-1990, greenhouse gas cap and trade system, increasing the efficiency of the government itself, encouraging alternate fuel vehicles, etc.

(Yes, I recognize there are differences, some of which are significant, but I don't have the time or space here to explain how Obama's greenhouse gas reduction plan would reduce emissions to 80% below 1990 levels compared to McCain's 60%. Or how they differ on flex-fuel and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Or any number of other differences that are too specific to go into here. I'm just going to hit what I see as the high points in this series.)

Personally I like Obama's plan better. However, you can argue the details until you're blue in the face. Bottom line is that both environmental and energy plans are better than the last 8 years. So are there any differences worth highlighting? Yes. Besides the environmental differences I mentioned above, there are energy policy differences in two big areas: oil exploration and nuclear power.

Obama has stated that he would be for limited offshore oil exploration if proposed as part of a comprehensive energy policy, while McCain is running around yelling "Drill, baby, drill!" and "Drill here, drill now." As I've written in an earlier post, I think that's a mistake. I believe we'd be better served by using our limited financial resources to advance new energy sources instead of plugging it into temporary, polluting sources. That's a win for energy and environmental policy at the same time.

McCain also intends to build 45 nuclear power plants by 2030, but he doesn't explain how we could do that when we haven't built a new plant in 30 years - and many of the engineering and construction requirements for the new plants can't be handled domestically. Three larger concerns, however, are securing the nuclear fuel, disposing of the spent nuclear fuel, and the fact that nuclear power has never been cost effective - our existing plants were often way over budget and highly subsidized by local, state, and federal governments. Obama's plan does not rule out nuclear, but it states that plans for the security and disposal of the nuclear fuel must be greatly improved from where we stand today before undertaking any new development.

Go to the campaign websites. Read their plans. Make up your own mind. But I give this one to Obama. His plan better shares the values of the Church.

Obama: 1
McCain: 0

Next up: Solidarity


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