Another One Bites The Dust? Reflections on Political Parties and the Future
By: Keith A Fournier
(c) Third Millennium, LLC
"Another one bites the dust Another one bites the dust And another one gone and another one gone Another one bites the dust Hey I'm gonna get you too Another one bites the dust"
I still remember these driving words from the old rock and roll anthem by Queen. It was released in 1980, the year that I graduated from Law School. The tune is so driving that it seems to have stuck somewhere in the recesses of my mind. Frankly, it seems to have an angry edge. So do I these days when I think about politics. I am tiring of both major political parties.
I have been a lawyer for twenty four years and a political "wonk" of sorts for many more. I have always believed that political participation is a great opportunity of freedom and an indispensable ingredient of the vital task and duty of citizenship. This is particularly true for Christians but even more for Catholic Christians who have been given the great treasury of the social teaching of the Church!
I spent my first few years in the practice of law building my own law firm, trying to blend what I have always called my "two professions", the practice of law and the practice of my Catholic faith. After all these years, I see where blending the two has led to an interesting career with many unique opportunities.
In 1986 I was a Dean at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio. I had a long association with that wonderful Catholic school beginning when I followed my friend Fr Michael Scanlan to what was then the College of Steubenville, in 1974, after he became President. Right out of a monastery, I moved to Steubenville to finish my undergraduate work and become a part of that work of the Holy Spirit.
I graduated from the College of Steubenville in 1977 with a degree in Philosophy and Theology. I was deeply involved as a student leader and in building a local lay community and stayed in the Steubenville area to continue to help in the "re-building" of that Catholic school. I went to law school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1980, I graduated with my J.D. from the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law. I entered law school specifically because I wanted to be a part of the class action lawsuit that would one day be brought on behalf of all pre-born children wrongfully killed in the sanctuary of their mothers' womb.
Though I spent the first half of the eighties practicing law in my own law firm, I went "in house" with the University in the middle eighties so that I could be more fully involved in "ministry" and, as a part of that, in helping others to understand the implications of their faith on their political and social participation. Back then, I was a Democrat.
Let me explain why.
I was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts in a working class home. I always believed that the Democratic Party was the party of the "little guy", the voiceless and the underprivileged. Naturally, when I became politically active, I registered as a Democrat.
One of my heroes during those years was the last of a now almost extinct breed, the Honorable Robert Casey, a pro-life Democrat. In 1986 he was the Governor of Pennsylvania. He still made me proud to be a Democrat. However, that party was quickly leaving me, and many like me, behind. I admired the candor and courage of a Republican named Ronald Reagan. He seemed different than my perception of Republicans and his vocal, unwavering commitment to the inalienable right to life inspired me.
I knew back then what I know even more profoundly now, after all these years of activism; a belief in the inviolable dignity of every human person at every age and stage is about more than ending abortion, though it of course involves that. It is about how one views the entire social order, human and civil rights, freedom and civic obligation. In short, it is a hermeneutic, a lens through which we inform our entire worldview, especially our obligation to social participation and human solidarity.
In September of 1987, a shockwave hit Presidential politics; Pat Robertson resigned from his ministry to pursue the Presidency of the United States. I vividly remember speaking to a mutual friend, Reverend Harald Bredeson (a stalwart in the early days of what was to be called the "charismatic renewal" - and a wonderful Christian leader) concerning the news. I was quite excited. I told him that I admired Robertson's clear stance for life. Harald knew Pat very well and immediately got me on the phone with the candidate. I found myself suggesting that I head up something I was going to call "Catholic Democrats for Robertson." Though I was invited to go to New Hampshire and campaign, I did not do so. I stayed in Steubenville.
However, that initial contact with Pat Robertson would open up a relationship that would later grow and lead to my move to Virginia in 1991 to build and lead the American Center for Law and Justice, a pro-life public interest law firm that he founded and I led as Executive Director from 1991-1997. Also, during those years, while practicing my Catholic faith openly and without apology at the campus of Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia (where the national headquarters of the firm was located), I had a growing evangelistic ecumenical outreach. I was also called to ordered service by my Bishop and ordained as a Deacon in 1996 for the work of evangelization, apologetics and authentic ecumenism.
It was during my leadership of the ACLJ, that I would again encounter the heroism of Bob Casey. Still a registered Democrat (and a Catholic), and heading a group founded by Pat Robertson (that certainly broke some stereotypes) I was very excited to discover that there was a growing momentum to form an exploratory committee to nominate Governor Casey for the Democratic nomination for President. I called to express my support!
I remembered his courageous effort to speak at the 1992 Democratic convention. He only asked for 20 minutes, whenever the Democrats wanted to schedule him, to present the case for being a pro-life Democrat. The answer was an emphatic "no"! I knew then that the Democrat affiliation part of my youth had been co-opted. Or, perhaps, I simply did not know what was really going on in this Party that I thought was a voice for the poor and marginalized.
It made no sense to me that the party that had billed itself as giving a voice to those who had none, failed to hear the cry of the poorest of the poor, the children in the first home of their mothers womb. Unfortunately, this disdain for an entire class of persons, the children in the first home of the whole human race, has become the litmus test of candidacy in that party.
In 1997 I moved to Northern Virginia and engaged in pro-life, pro-family lobbying, trying to organize Catholics to vote in a manner consistent with their faith. I later accepted an invitation to advise a Presidential campaign, a Republican candidate named Steve Forbes. When the truth about life grabbed Steve, it truly grabbed him! He was (and is) a man seriously who understands the truth of this fundamental human rights issue and is unwavering on his position. Serving that campaign was a wonderful experience. It certainly strengthened my belief that at least some Republicans were truly pro-life. It also rekindled my love for politics and belief that activism can indeed make a difference!
Several years have now gone by and I have be come, what I would call, a "reluctant" Republican in our current quagmire. I am distraught, disillusioned and really considering what to do next, as it relates to party affiliation at least.
While living outside the beltway, I had the privilege of doing further graduate work, studying the teaching of this wonderful Pope and the social teaching of the Catholic Church at the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University. Though I had read and studied the teaching of this wonderful Pope my whole life, that formal graduate work deepened my convictions that Catholic social teaching is neither liberal nor conservative, republican nor democrat. It also confirmed me in my growing lack of comfort with either major political party in America. That lack of comfort is rooted in my commitment to the truth and my understanding of Catholic social teaching as true.
There is little choice for me anymore in Democratic politics. At least at the national level, there is no Bob Casey. He has gone home to be with the Lord whom he loved and served so well. Oh, there are voices such as my good friend, Ray Flynn, the former Mayor of Boston, former Ambassador to the Vatican and now the president of the activist arm of the Your Catholic Voice Movement that I have helped to found with Michael and Sandy Galloway. Thank God!
However, it is clear that the current national leadership of the Democratic Party has never met an abortion it would restrict by law. There is something in me that is still profoundly saddened by this unavoidable fact. I also do not like the idea that either party takes the votes of people like me for granted.
I am not first Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. I simply try to be a faithful Catholic and inform my political participation by my faith. I think it would be wonderful if there were pro-life Democrats and pro-life Republicans. I would welcome the opportunity to vote for a true Democrat or a true Republican. By true, I mean someone who understands that the dignity of every human person from conception to natural death must be the polestar of any truly just public policy.
I guess that is why I was so distressed and outraged when the firebrand, Dennis Kucinich, announced his Presidential campaign and then sold out to his long standing pro-life position! He was a pro-life liberal. It was refreshing in politics. This is the man who coined the great phrase "co modification of life" when he passionately opposed the intentional manufacture of human embryonic life for experimentation that always leads to destruction. I have used that phrase repeatedly and have given him the attribution whenever I could. I used him as an example of a courageous pro-life Democrat. But "another one bites the dust!" I joined the throngs of those who mourned his defection from the truth and have been appalled at how quickly he jettisoned the truth for political opportunism. Now, he is joined by Wesley Clark and so many other Democrats who have sold out.
On the Republican side, the Governor elect of California has also sold the infallible teaching of his professed Catholic faith for a bowl of power and porridge. Look, let's be honest. The current approach of far too many Catholics in political life is despicable. It is a scandal. They are being unfaithful to the Church they belong to and they are selling out. They should be ashamed.
Still, I confess, my lifelong love for politics and hope in its potential for good still abides. It started early on in my life and it was rooted in the right to life.
I was born in Massachusetts and I still have the "holy card" my mother gave me when President Kennedy was shot, with his picture and a prayer for the repose of his soul. I remember Ted Kennedy writing in 1971, while I was in High School: "The legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life. Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized -- the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old."
I fancied myself a "hippie" back then and felt that one of the things that the predominantly Republican "establishment" didn't understand was that every life, no matter what stage, color or economic status, had inviolable and inalienable rights. I opposed the War in Vietnam back then for similar reasons to why I now seriously question our growing militarism, the current hostilities in Iraq and our apparently new found concept of some kind of "manifest destiny" that seems to be leading us into further bloodshed.
Every life is precious - even the lives of our "enemies"
Because of this foundational conviction concerning the dignity of life I have also long opposed every evil that treated persons as a form of property, an approach wherein people are seen as instruments of use rather than unrepeatable gifts. One such evil, still entrenched in our culture, is racism. It is what the Catholic Church rightly calls a "structure of sin."
Having grown up in a family that was passionately against racism or prejudice of any kind, I admired Jesse Jackson and still remember his comments: "It takes three to make a baby: a man, a woman and the Holy Spirit. What happens to the mind of a person, and the moral fabric of a nation, that accepts the aborting of the life of a baby without a pang of conscience? What kind of a person and what kind of a society will we have 20 years hence if life can be taken so casually?" Now I ask, what happened to you Reverend Jackson?
In 1998, while lobbying against partial birth abortion, I ran into Reverend Jackson in D.C. in an elevator and tried to ask him what ad happened. It did not go well. He seemed perturbed. Well, I was angry. He is a sell out!
The list of politicians who have changed their mind on this, the pre-eminent human rights issue of our age, is legion. It includes Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Dick Gephardt, and now, even Joe Lieberman, once a faithful orthodox Jew who defended life. It also includes a growing number of Republicans who have either "overtly" rejected the truth or have simply decided to worship at the altar of political expediency.
However, what disturbs me the most are all the Catholics who have done so. Lets be honest, most of them are in the Democratic Party. However, with the Republicans following suit, what does a Catholic do? Of all those Christians in public life, the Catholics should know the fullness of the truth and they are bound by their baptism to stay faithful to that truth. This position on life is not simply a "religious" position, but a human rights position rooted in the natural law. The obligation of Catholic politicians to remain faithful on it is binding without exception.
Pope John Paul II (The Gospel of Life, Par. 62):
"Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops--who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine--I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church."
I will always remember when maverick Dennis Kucinich joined the ranks of the unfaithful Catholics because I found him so unique, a consistent contemporary "liberal". The last of a dying breed! He once had an admirably consistent pro-life voting record. He got it...or rather, it got him. That is what always happens when the truth about life becomes clear to a man or a woman. In May of 2002 his press secretary stated: "He absolutely believes in the sanctity of life and that life begins at conception."
Then, when he proclaimed his candidacy as a Democratic nominee for President he wrote a letter to The Cleveland Plain Dealer stating "I don't believe in abortion; few do. I do, however, believe in choice." What choice?
In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he added: "I am going to continue to take a thoughtful approach, and that doesn't preclude the poor from having the government support their right to choose." Then, he finally did the "apostate shuffle" with Tim Russert on "Meet the Press": "The position I'm taking now is an expansion; it's not a reversal,"
Dear Congressman, now Presidential candidate, it WAS a reversal. You sold out. Shame on you! The truth must now be shouted from the housetops, "another one bites the dust". Another Catholic in public life has become unfaithful. This latest defection by this "practicing" Catholic is really dangerous. Perhaps it touches upon one of the most dangerous situations in the political arena today--unfaithful Catholics failing to live a "unity of life".
In his letter to the Family, John Paul speaks of this unity of life:
"There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called 'spiritual' life with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called 'secular life', that is, life in a family, at work, in social relationships, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture."
In our lives, and in our service politically, we are supposed to be what the Bishops of the United States so aptly called "faithful citizens." We do not check what we know to be true like a coat at a restaurant when we enter a political campaign.
The scriptural adage is so relevant in this matter: "To those to whom much is given, much more will be required..." As Catholic Christians we have been given the great gift of the "fullness of truth." That is not to make us haughty but humble. It also raises the water level, if you will. We are the most culpable.
We also have a "teaching office" ("Magisterium") that provides a sure guide for our faith. That teaching office, in keeping with the unbroken deposit of the Sacred Scripture and tradition for over 2,000 years, has repeatedly spoken on this writer's error. The excerpt from the Encyclical letter "the Gospel of Life" with which I began this piece is only one of a myriad of absolutely crystal clear pronouncements.
Equally clear is the direction to every Catholic in public life. If they fail to act in a manner consistent with this truth they are being unfaithful. When they lead others astray as to the clear teaching on this pre-eminent issue, they are committing scandal and actually jeopardize their own salvation.
A "Pro-Choice" Catholic is both an oxymoron and an unfaithful Catholic.
And, while we must pray for their conversion to the truth concerning this preeminent human and civil rights issue of our age, we must also expose their error, oppose their efforts and propose the clear truth. To be Catholic is to be Pro-Life. In fact it is also to be what I call "Whole Life/Pro-Life." Our pro-life position is not about a single issue. It is a lens through which we view every issue and not just the fundamental issue of protecting innocent life in the womb. It provides a whole cloth, a consistent ethic!
The oratorical skills of unfaithful Catholics in public life must no longer be allowed to lead the faithful astray. Whether they are former governors, current senators or a congressman running for President, when they claim that Catholics can hold a "Pro-life" position personally and a "pro-choice" position in the exercise of their civic obligations, failing to protect children in the womb, they are absolutely wrong. Recent directions on this vital fact from the Vatican directly to politicians seem to have had little practical effect. The sophistry continues! It is time to expose every one of them.
The following excerpts are only a sample of some of the wonderful words of one encyclical letter from Pope John Paul II concerning this issue.
It is entitled "The Gospel of Life"
*"The Gospel of life is not for believers alone: it is for everyone. The issue of life and its defense and promotion is not a concern of Christians alone. Although faith provides special light and strength, this question arises in every human conscience which seeks the truth and which cares about the future of humanity. Life certainly has a sacred and religious value, but in no way is that value a concern only of believers. The value at stake is one which every human being can grasp by the light of reason; thus it necessarily concerns everyone....
*...When the Church declares that unconditional respect for the right to life of every innocent person--from conception to natural death--is one of the pillars on which every civil society stands, she "wants simply to promote a human State. A State which recognizes the defense of the fundamental rights of the human person, especially of the weakest, as its primary duty".
*...The Gospel of life is for the whole of human society. To be actively pro-life is to contribute to the renewal of society through the promotion of the common good. It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. A society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized. Only respect for life can be the foundation and guarantee of the most precious and essential goods of society, such as democracy and peace.
*...There can be no true democracy without a recognition of every person's dignity and without respect for his or her rights. Nor can there be true peace unless life is defended and promoted.
*...To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others."
This unqualified and clear truth concerning the inviolable dignity of every human life is a part of the ordinary magisterium (official teaching) of our Catholic Church. It is infallibly taught and cannot be discarded by any faithful Catholic. To do so not only puts their own soul at risk, but, when they encourage others to adopt such a position they commit an egregious sin called scandal.
There is a lot of talk about a "Catholic vote," surfacing once again as we move toward the next Presidential election. But the problem is--there is none. Perhaps there never truly was in the sense of a fully informed and activated Catholic voice. Gone is the past demographic, rooted in the large cities with their ethnic neighborhoods, of a predictable blue-collar "Democrat" Catholic vote. Those days are over.
There is no real "Republican" Catholic vote either--in the sense of a Catholic rush to the G.O.P., no matter what some of our friends in engaged conservative evangelical political movements suggest or what certain "Neo-Con" Catholics (who have convinced the current administration they speak for Catholics) proclaim, or what some Catholic pundits seek to tell the world. Catholics are still reluctant to vote for Republicans.I know it is changing but the recent election in California does not advance the efforts of the Republicans to convince Catholics that there is a place in that party for us.
Also, Catholics still worry about that party's "country club" image because most Catholics, even if not 'theologically trained", care about the poor and seem to know of our "special option" to do so! It has been difficult for most Catholics to truly identify with the movement that was known as the "religious right". Actually, I think that many of us, like me, currently identified as "conservatives" really do not fit the contemporary notion of what that means either. Our "Republican" identification is not very strong. I never officially even registered as a Republican--though I have usually voted that way.
Don't get me wrong; it is possible that there could be a "new" Catholic vote built--and that is why I am helping to build "Your Catholic Voice." However, a lot of work has yet to be done on the popular level.
Until then, too many Catholics are still wrongly listening to some of "their own" in public life. That is a huge problem. The scandal caused by Catholic public officials who are openly unfaithful in applying the values informed by their faith to their exercise of public office is highly visible ... with a few noteworthy exceptions. Fortunately, other Catholics in public life (or running for office) are being faithful, recognizing that although Catholic social teaching covers a broad spectrum of concerns, there is also a hierarchy of values. The right to life precedes every other concern because without life, there can be no other rights!
Though it is true that in politics there are many areas of prudential judgment, there are also areas where there is absolute crystal clarity. We must inform our political participation by the truths revealed to us by the teaching of the Church. They form a framework for our exercise of a faithful citizenship.
The intrinsic evil of every procured abortion should compel (where there is a choice between candidates) all faithful Catholics to refrain from voting for someone who is unapologetically opposed to any protection of any unborn child from any procedure, or chemical, aimed at his or her demise. Here is a message to every candidate as we proceed toward the next National cycle-you can tell us all you want that you care about the poor--but when you close the ears of your heart to the defenseless unborn, we don't believe you ... and we will not vote for you!
Since both major party candidates now tow the same line in racing to promote the execution of capital offenders (even though bloodless means are available to protect the common good), there, sadly, is often little practical choice on that issue. We must work to bring about change on that front as well. To be whole life/pro-life means to follow the full teaching of the Church including her opposition to capital punishment in the contemporary age where bloodless means are available to protect the society and promote the common good.
But there is a crystal clear choice on the issue of the killing of the new holy innocents as they are partially delivered or allowing the use of chemicals against them in the womb or now, manufacturing "petri dish people" to experiment on them in a way that always ends their life. Without the right to be born there are no other rights!
Any Catholic politician, no matter what their party affiliation, who fails to hear the cry of the ones whom Mother Theresa called "the poorest of the poor," the innocent pre-born children, is being unfaithful--to his or her baptism and to the obligation of faithful citizenship.
Catholic public servants who continue to confuse the faithful over these issues are engaging in reprehensible behavior. They should be exposed and opposed. Similarly, when a candidate for office supports the unrestricted right to abortion, every Catholic must reject him/her at the ballot box.
Faithful citizenship is the special and particular task of the lay faithful. As a deacon of the church, I am a member of the clergy. Though, I am not prohibited from openly expressing my position on these issues as a private citizen or, with permission, from running for public office, so far, with what I have seen, I have run from public office!
I would welcome the day that a Pro-life Democrat ran for the highest office in the land. Ironically, it may be the only hope for a party that once prided itself on concern for the poor and is now controlled by those who worship at the altar of self centered utilitarianism disguised as freedom.
As I conclude, I return to discussing the two major political parties. Though I never registered as one, I have apparently become a Republican. I know that because I get their fundraisers all the time! Frankly, I am seriously considering leaving the Republican Party soon, just as I once left the Democrat party.
Why? Because I am growing increasingly concerned about the surging militarism, the compromise with the truth about life, the lack of real and demonstrated care for the poor, the failure to offer any real solutions to very real problems like the lack of health care for every American, the lack of concern for social and economic justice, the expansion of economic participation, a true family wage and the growing lack of a real social conscience.
Emerging notions like "pre-emptive war" in our international relations are, quite frankly, spooky to this former hippie! They also find absolutely no support in Catholic social teaching-no matter what some American Catholic intellectuals are trying to tell us to the contrary. We need to listen to the representatives of the Holy See before believing what some "neo-con" Catholics are trying to tell us the Vatican "really" thinks or should think.
I believe that it is time for a serious reflection on the current climate in American political life and our role in it.
Where is the party that understands and serves the "common good?" Well, maybe it has yet to be formed.
Who knows, maybe this reluctant Republican will be singing "another one bites the dust" soon but for a different reason. As mentioned earlier, I am considering leaving the Republican Party. I have considered registering as an "independent", but I am not independent at all. I am profoundly dependent on the truth and my obligation to the common good as informed by that truth.
Maybe it is time for a new political party?
Keith Fournier is a constitutional lawyer, a graduate of the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University, Franciscan University of Steubenville and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law. He is one of the founders of the Your Catholic Voice Movement and the President of the Your Catholic Voice Foundation. He is a member of the Catholic clergy, a Deacon.
Your Catholic Voice is a movement to promote faithful citizenship based on the fundamental truths of the Catholic Church relating to Life, Family, Freedom and Solidarity. For information go to Your Catholic Voice
Your Catholic Voice Foundation
http://www.ycvf.org VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - President, 757 546-9580
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