Brown won and now everyone gives their opinion on what this means. Usually their opinion can be summarized as “See! I was right all along! Victory shall soon be mine!…er, ours!”
How to interpret events is a tricky business, especially when they’re so unexpected. I was very surprised to see my facebook page light up with many congratulations and celebrations from pro-lifers, despite the fact that Brown is pro-abortion.
Presumably this celebration can be explained because of what Brown’s election will mean to the pro-life movement: namely, the probable death of the health care bill (though in truth, I’m kind of disappointed that it may die now instead of putting the pro-life Democrats to the test to see if they would be strong enough to kill it. Then again, they still may be put to that test and I should just be glad that the Planned Parenthood Stimulus bill seems destined to the oblivion of nothingness it so richly deserves). But still we have to ask the question: what to make of so many pro-lifers supporting Brown?
There are a few ideas, I’ll toss out a few of them with their names (names I just gave them, to take a cue from Russell inUp-
Theory 1: the Pessimist. This reveals how closely wedded Catholics & pro-lifers are to the Republican party. They are willing to abandon their ideals in favor of party politics; preferring no health care in pursuit of fiscal conservativism rather than a true pro-life agenda.
Theory 2: The Apologist. This election just shows that pro-lifers can be prudent and can be pragmatic. (I think our own Matt Bowman gives us this position in his post).
Theory 3: The Liberal-This election shows that Catholics can put aside their abortion opposition, so hopefully this will lead to more a left-leaning and left voting Catholicism.
Now, it’s hard to sort out which of these is true, in part b/c I think a little of each is true. There are certainly many pro-lifers who have sold out to the Republican party, believing the party line that abortion will end only w/ Republican victory, and so Republican victory is the goal. But I tend to think that this is a small group (and the 08 election and the lack of enthusiasm for McCain may validate that). And the apologist is true; the pro-life movement did show prudence in holding their noses and cheering, supporting, and even voting for a pro-abort in order to make sure Coakley went down. But this is a different line from what we are used to hearing (which gives “The Liberal” some hope and grain of truth).
We used to hear that abortion was a “non-negotiable” and that any candidate who favored abortion rights shouldn’t be voted for. There wasn’t any exceptions for if both candidates had abortion; instead the argument was that if you voted for the candidate you voted for the abortion policies.
That’s going to be a much harder argument to make now that the pro-life movement just supported Brown (and I do agree with those criticizing pro-life groups for pushing Brown; attack Coakley but don’t support Brown that way you can not be entangled and try to get a pro-lifer next time). I think it may be fair to say that from the Catholic angle, that Catholics are ditching the “non-negotiable” approach.
So this isn’t merely “how we’ve always worked” as the Apologist might say. Is this a bad thing though? Will this mean more GOP loyalty as the Pessimist thinks or a chance for Democrats as the Liberal hopes?
I don’t think either. Instead, it’s about time this framework vanished. It’s unworkable in modern politics. When the GOP was pro-life and the Dems were pro-abort, then sure. But now we have too many Republicans merely paying lip service to abortion and family values; pro-lifers competing in red states in different parties and pro-aborts competing against each other in blue states, not to mention the left’s (rather astute) observation that Republicans post 9/11 are very much into the intrinsically evil stuff as well (see Bay, Guantanamo).
Indeed, this is exactly the kind of framework that Cardinal Ratzinger was encouraging in his famous letter addressing in part voting on abortion. The relevant part
[N.B. A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.]
I think many Catholics have been wary of applying this b/c of the gross abuse it has received by the left to justify voting for terrible candidates (including Coakley). “Proportionate reasons” is a much more difficult test than say “non-negotiable” in forming and defending a voting decision.
But it’s a test that pro-lifers need to embrace. We should be eager to demonstrate that abortion is so damaging that there exists almost no issues that outweigh its damage, hence making the “proportionate reasons” that Benedict calls for impossible. Besides the liberty of not being beholden to a candidate if they merely lip the words “against abortion,” it allows us to argue why abortion is THE political issue of our time. Saying it’s the most important issue b/c it’s intrinsically evil or b/c it kills so many is true but lazy. The destruction abortion has wrought in such areas as racism, sexism, the family unit, homosexuality, poverty, etc are areas that desperately need to be explored, explained and defended by every pro-lifer. Benedict XVI has given us a great example in his latest encyclical Caritas in Veritate, which connects so many issues to the loss of human dignity, a loss reinforced so much by abortion.
This moment is then a great opportunity for the pro-life movement to embrace an intellectual rigorous and prosperous approach to defending the pro-life vote, and approach that I think will help broaden our appeal, untie our fortunes from that of the GOP, and ultimately achieve our goals of an end to legal abortion and a pro-life culture.