Thursday, October 30, 2008

Seven Key Themes of Catholic Social Teaching: Rights and Responsibilities

This post is the fifth in a continuing examination of both presidential candidates based on the seven basic Catholic themes of social teaching. If you're new here, be sure to read the earlier posts in this series to see where I'm coming from:
Rights and Responsibilities
Every human being has a right to life, the fundamental right that makes all other rights possible. Each of us has a right to religious freedom, which enables us to live and act in accord with our God-given dignity, as well as a right to access to those things required for human decency - food and shelter, education and employment, healthcare and housing.

I sense that I'll be rehashing some of the topics I've discussed in previous posts, but there are a few new items to cover, or maybe look at from a different angle, I suppose.


We discussed his views on the right to life (incorporating abortion and stem cell research but not euthanasia since I couldn't find his position on that) in the last post, and we'll go into that topic again in more detail in a future post (only one more to go before we get there, for those of you waiting). To recap: thumbs up from the Church for his views on abortion, and maybe a sideways thumb for stem cell research since he's not against it but would specifically prohibit using human embryos for research.

Still, I'm uncomfortable with his main goal simply being the overturning of Roe v. Wade. First of all, I'm not sure it will happen. Second, if it does happen, what next? McCain has no plans for bolstering support for pregnant women and babies (religious and non-profits are already struggling to provide that support now). And his economic and healthcare policies would make life even harder for the poor, who already have a disproportionate number of abortions. put it much better than I can in the excellent piece The Conservative Christian Case for Supporting Obama. Not that I call myself a "conservative" in most circles, but Rob J really nailed this.

Food and shelter? Well, I didn't find much on either of the candidate's sites. The only thing I came across on McCain's site was a blurb about rolling back corn-based ethanol mandates that have contributed to a rise in food prices. (I'm pretty sure he bowed to the corn gods a bit in a recent speech in Iowa, however, so we'll have to wait and see what he does if he's president.)

Housing is the last topic in this section, so I'll group shelter in with that later in this post. In the meantime, the previous post discussed McCain's education policy. Recap: most likely a thumbs up from the Church. Personally I liked his pre-K plans, was unsure of his elementary plans, and felt his higher education plans could go further. Nothing that wouldn't gain the Church's approval, though.

We talked about employment in the post Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers. I was unimpressed with his lack of any real discussion about strengthening our workforce, creating jobs, or creating a living wage. I think the Church would also find McCain lacking in this area.

Healthcare is probably the biggest topic in this section. I did a post back in August (that can now be found in the August archives) called "Healthcare's Partisan Divide" that references a non-partisan report comparing the health plans proposed by McCain and Obama. I'd still recommend that you check that out. The Washington Post recently did a series called "How They Would Change Health Care." Read the McCain version for a look at the part of his plan for providing high-risk coverage. Finally, there's a detailed, well-researched post at about both candidate's plans.

I don't think I could offer any more analysis than those links could give you, so I'll wrap up this part by saying some reports I've read predict the McCain plan would cause many businesses to drop their coverage, forcing workers to go out on the open market for individual policies. Those tend to be more expensive than group coverage, so the $5000 tax credit McCain is offering may not be enough to offset insurance costs. And in a few years, as healthcare costs rise faster than inflation, the tax credit won't keep up and more people will find themselves spending more on insurance - or uninsured. I'm honestly not sure how the Church would weigh in here, although in general I think they'd be strongly opposed to any plan that would result in millions of people losing coverage or having to pay more than they already do to maintain coverage.

For housing, McCain's proposal has gotten a lot of press: buy up bad mortgages and allow homeowners to renegotiate to more reasonable terms that better reflect the current value of their homes. It's close to a policy from FDR's New Deal and would arguably be more fair than only bailing out the banks that speculated on sub-prime mortgages. But I can't help but think it was a belief in deregulation like McCain has held throughout his career that got us into this mess to begin with. (And isn't using taxpayer money to buy bad mortgages a form of wealth distribution?) In any case, the Church would probably approve of helping people out.


Again, a previous post discussed Obama's views on abortion and stem cell research (like McCain, I could find no information on his thoughts about euthanasia). Recap: Obama is pro-choice and would definitely get a thumbs down from the Church on his support for Roe vs. Wade and family planning. However, I believe his policy of promoting age-appropriate sex education, as well as his economic and healthcare plans, would raise awareness as well as standards of living, reducing abortions in the process. Again, The Conservative Christian Case for Supporting Obama at covers this (and other issues) better than I possibly could.

I couldn't find anything about food on Obama's site at all. The closest I got was his section on Rural areas that discusses his plans to help family farms. Establishing country of origin labeling and encouraging organic and local agriculture are probably the two issues that most Americans will be affected by directly (or at least most visibly).

On education, a previous post went into a fair amount of detail. In short, I liked all of his plans -- they were spelled out a bit better than McCain's (with the possible exception of pre-K), and I can't see the Church not giving them a thumbs up.

We talked about employment in the post Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers. Obama discusses employment as part of his economic plan, his energy and environmental plan, his plan for Americans with disabilities, his plans on fighting poverty, and his urban plans. He's strongly on the side of the workers, which would please the Church.

There's lots of misinformation about Obama's healthcare plan requiring coverage (not true -- that was Clinton's proposed plan during the primaries), penalizing businesses for not providing covereage (true -- for large business, but not for small businesses) or creating a huge government bureaucracy (it would actually let most people keep their existing coverage and then use existing government programs to help people who have fallen through the cracks). My main question at this point is can we afford it with everything else going on? Still, it's goals are noble and something the Church would certainly agree with.

For lots more detail about both candidates' healthcare plans, here are some links. First, to an earlier post I wrote (that can now be found in the August archives) called "Healthcare's Partisan Divide" that references a non-partisan report comparing the health plans proposed by McCain and Obama (it's the same link I provided in the McCain section above). Next, a Washington Post article showing how Obama's plan emulates the plan used in Massachusetts (except for the madates). Finally, an excellent article (also referenced above) on

Obama's policies towards providing affordable housing go much further than McCain's, starting with a universal mortgage credit for homeowners who don't itemize their returns. This would help lower income homeowners take advantage of a tax credit that currently can only be realized by people who have enough deductions to make it worthwhile to itemize them on their tax returns. He also proposes some regulations that mandates that clear and understandable information be given to homebuyers so they know in real terms what the true cost of home ownership will be before they buy, as well as rules to curtail abusive mortgage lending practices.

Obama also supports creating an Affordable Housing Trust Fund to encourage the development of affordable housing in mixed income areas, and fully funding the Community Development Block Grant program to creating housing (and jobs) for low- and moderate-income people.

To recap, the topic of rights and responsibilities touches upon the following subjects:
  • the right to life
  • the right to religious freedom
  • the right to access to those things required for human decency: food and shelter, education and employment, healthcare and housing
We didn't discuss religious freedom, although there are certainly undertones that Governor Palin's beliefs may surface in executive decision-making were she to end up in the White House. However, I think it's clear to say that with McCain and Obama, there would be little or no restrictions placed on people's religious freedom.

The other issues are a mixed bag from the Church's (and my own) perspective. While I think it's short-sighted to only target Roe v. Wade in the efforts to end abortion, McCain's efforts are certainly on the Church's side there. He's probably somewhat safe with the Church on stem cell research, while euthanasia is too tough to call without more information.

Both candidate's education plans would probably meet with Church approval, with Obama's possibly getting an extra nod for his college tax credit proposal.

Food issues aren't really spelled out on either candidate's site, so I won't try to guess here.

Employment, healthcare and housing are all strongly in Obama's favor. McCain would likely win some points with his mortgage buyout proposal, but in the end Obama's consistent policies favoring workers and low/middle income Americans would largely please the Church. I'm giving these category to Obama, as well as the entire topic.

Obama: 5
McCain: 0

Next up: Call to Family, Community, and Participation


At 10/30/2008 3:26 PM, Blogger Rachel said...

I'm enjoying your posts on this topic. Re: the issue of food, Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food, The Omnivore's Dilemma) wrote an open letter to the next "Farmer-in-Chief" that was published in the NY Times -- it's really long, but interesting. See it here.

At 10/30/2008 11:27 PM, Blogger nitsudima said...

Is there anything in the NTY Magazine that's not really long?

Thanks for the link. It is interesting reading, if a bit overwhelming to think about. There's certainly a lot more to feeding people than reducing corn ethanol subsidies or labeling country of origin. For this and so many other subjects, I hope the next President is up to the challenge.


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