In its regular series of portraits of undecided voters, CNN.com this weekend featured a profile of Mary Roberts dated Oct. 5. The series lists several kinds of “undecided” in several swing states: Roberts is “The Catholic from Ohio.”
Roberts, a middle-aged African American woman, is a happy member of her urban parish. She works with the poor. She worries about her future.
But CNN pulls a classic Pravda move in telling her story. It sets out to say why Mary Roberts is undecided, but only tells us why she has not yet decided to vote for Romney.
The political argument Roberts gives goes something like this: She liked Obama’s sincerity regarding the poor and voted for him in 2008. She isn’t quite ready to vote against Obama in 2012 because she is worried about health care, and she fears “they” (the Republicans, we assume) are out of touch with the common person.
So … why doesn’t she simply vote Obama again? CNN skipped that part.
Does she object to Obama’s abortion extremism? To his attack on Catholic rights? His abandonment of marriage (which polls very poorly with African-American women)? His warrior ways? Only the video editor knows.
The Catholic community has two jobs to fulfill with Catholics like Mary Roberts.
The first is to inform her about the moral issues in the election: She needs to understand why voting for abortion and against the Church’s freedom is simply not an option.
But second, pro-life, pro-Church candidates have to politically marry the moral issues she has with the economic concerns she has.
My dear friend Peter Wolfgang, Connecticut’s King of Common Sense, recently pointed to a David Brooks article. This was before the debate, when Romney-Ryan looked weak.
Wolfgang’s disclaimer: “Yes, I too roll my eyes every time a ‘conservative’ publishes a what’s-wrong-with-conservatism piece for the Times, and yes, Brooks gets some things wrong. But every word in his last paragraph is right.”
That last paragraph:
Writes Brooks: “Some people blame bad campaign managers for Romney’s underperforming campaign, but the problem is deeper. Conservatism has lost the balance between economic and traditional conservatism. The Republican Party has abandoned half of its intellectual ammunition. It appeals to people as potential business owners, but not as parents, neighbors and citizens.”
This is the same point made in a recent Yuval Levin argument in the Weekly Standard, called The Real Debate.
It is nice that Brooks and Levin are making it; but it’s a Catholic argument that Catholics should be making.
The point: If we make America’s ideological battle the Market vs. the State, with Republicans taking the side of the Market and the Democrats taking the side of the State, we will leave the Mary Roberts of the world unable to choose a side.
Or to put it another way, if we make the battle Subsidiarity (moving responsibility as close to the family as possible) vs. Solidarity (our charitable duty to each other), with the conservatives defending Subsidiarity and the liberals defending Solidarity, we will still leave undecideds undecided.
Don’t take my word for it.
Says Pope Benedict: “The principle of subsidiarity must remain closely linked to the principle of solidarity and vice versa, since the former without the latter gives way to social privatism, while the latter without the former gives way to paternalist social assistance that is demeaning to those in need” (Caritas in Veritate, No. 58).
Obama’s plans uniquely mix the State (federal abortion and contraception mandates) and the Market (pharmaceutical companies and the abortion industry) to threaten the Catholic agencies in her neighborhood.
One of the reasons Mitt Romney’s first debate was such regarded such a resounding success was that he began to translate his platform into terms of how it helps particular individuals. Next debate, he should do more of that, and specify families.
“I like to feel with my community that I belong and that they belong with me,” she says.
“I work at a food pantry and I see families from one to 10 or 11 in the family that needs food. It makes me feel really really sad that at a country like the United States we still have people who are struggling just to survive day to day. ”
He should tell Mary Roberts that he wants to help the families in her neighborhood – by unshackling the people like her who know best what those families need.