How I Will Evaluate the Presidential Candidates
The Election of 2008 is one of the most important in our history
How I Will Evaluate the Candidates in the Presidential Campaign of 2008
By Deacon Keith A Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
The Presidential election of 2008 is in full swing because the primary system is so front -loaded. It is also because there is a growing dissatisfaction in the American people concerning the state of our Nation. This has fed a sincere hunger for new direction and new leadership. This rising tide is buoyed by an innate optimism that seems to be a part of the American character. We Americans always want things to improve!
The candidates who will end up on the final Presidential ballot have probably already emerged. It is doubtful that anyone new will even make his or her way onto the playing field. The political pundits are hard at work. The talking heads have already begun their babbling on what are called news networks. They purport to analyze this coming election by using the same old tired characterizations and labels that long ago lost their meaning.
I write as one who rejected these labels from their inception. I am a Catholic Christian who simply seeks to inform my life by the great truths proclaimed by my ancient yet ever new faith. I know that many of these truths can be found in the Natural law and are confirmed by Revelation. Efforts to paint me with a political brush have not and will not work. I am not liberal, nor am I conservative- and I am most certainly not neo-conservative. I am also not beholden to any political party. I approach my civic duty informed by a hierarchy of values. I then seek to order the contemporary political issues based upon them.
As we approach one of the most crucial elections of my lifetime, I offer these thoughts to my readers as a framework for evaluating each one of the presidential candidates. I consider these four pillars of life, family, freedom and solidarity to be what could be called first principles, those things that matter most. These principles cannot easily be categorized as right or left, liberal or conservative. However, without the right to life, the freedom to be born and the right to a future, we would not even be capable of even having this discussion. That is why I begin with the first principle, the Right to Life.
I reject all efforts to refer to my bedrock conviction that every single human life from conception through every age and stage of life and up to death is a single issue approach to politics. Whether such a charge of single issue is leveled by the left or the right, it is absolutely incorrect. My position on the right to life, one which I call Whole life - Pro-life, is not a single issue approach at all. Rather, it provides the entire framework within which I evaluate every single political and economic issue.
All public policy must be at the service of the human person, the family, and the poor. It should also be ordered toward the common good. If we are going to make any honest claim of concern for the poor we must recognize the poor in all of their manifestations, including those whose voices are muffled by the walls of their mothers womb, weakened by their infirmities or muted by their age. The persons in the first home of the whole human race, their mothers womb, were rightly called the poorest of the poor by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.
All candidates who claim a concern for the poor must be pro-life, period.
In the undertow of the 1973 United States Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade, an entire class of persons in America, children in the first home of their mothers womb, became chattel. Chattel is an old legal term that refers to personal property. In effect, a new form of slavery was introduced into the American experience. This new slavery is now protected by the institutions of government. This evil is hidden with a language which is rooted in a counterfeit notion of freedom and privacy. This evil is also perpetuated by any candidate who hides behind the language of choice when human life is at stake. It is the contemporary equivalent of a candidate stating that they personally oppose slavery but will protect the choice to own a slave.
Treating certain people as products to be used rather than persons to be protected by law has eroded the foundation of authentic freedom. By denying the pre-eminent right to life, and denying to an entire class of people the freedoms both to be born and to have a future, the entire structure of human rights has been put at risk. The recognition of the right to life as fundamental and unalienable must be the very first question we ask in evaluating any Presidential candidate in 2008, no matter what the political label and no matter what other positions they hold. If we expect to truly engage in a healthy political discourse concerning the very notion of the common good, we need to recognize that there is a hierarchy of values and that the right to life is first on that hierarchy.
Rejecting this first principle affects every other issue. This rejection not only threatens more children in the womb, but, by promoting a utilitarian approach to persons it threatens the elderly and the ill. Through the misuse of words such as mercy and the application of ever changing concepts such as quality of life, the rationale has been introduced to promote euthanasia as acceptable behavior rather than an unspeakable crime. What masquerades as mercy is a lack of concern for the weak, the vulnerable, the sick, disabled and the elderly.
This anti-life thinking has turned the use of some promising medical research. It is creating a new kind of Frankenstein laboratory where people are the subject of experiments. The acceptance of the rhetoric of use and abuse has made the once unspeakable sound somehow acceptable. It began with accepting the idea that children in the womb are disposable. It follows by characterizing human embryonic life as clumps of cells from which we can extract stem cells, when the medical science is clear that every such extraction kills that human embryo. Science must be at the service of life.
To be acceptable, candidates must affirm the inviolable dignity of every human life from conception to natural death, at every stage and every age. Any candidate who refuses to recognize this right to life must be rejected. Along with that bedrock position, they should support every legitimate effort to ensure that the dignity of the human person becomes the polestar of all public policy. This insistence upon a right to life is not a "single issue" approach to politics but rather the framework within and against which every other issue should be measured.
Using legal precedents associated with the concepts of privacy that led to almost fifty million deaths of children from legal abortion, we are experiencing an orchestrated strategy by social, cultural, verbal and legal engineers to redefine the words marriage and family. If successful, the resulting change in positive law will undermine the first vital cell of human society and threaten the primary institution upon which civilization has been built. Any acceptable candidate must affirm that the two- parent, marriage bound family is the foundation of civil society.
They should pledge to defend the primacy of the two parent marriage bound family as the first cell of society, the first church, first government, first school, first hospital, first economy, and the first mediating institution of society.
Only through such a robust defense of the two- parent, marriage bound family can we ensure a stable social order wherein single parent families and others who have suffered from the ravages of the break down of the family can find the greatest support.
The understanding of freedom which informed Western Culture is threatened when the word choice is used to justify aggression against the weak. This misguided notion of freedom as a power over others and a right to do whatever one wants with no obligations to the other is actually the opposite of freedom. We should listen closely to every candidate when they speak of freedom in order to discern their underlying definitional presuppositions. Freedom has two sides to its coinage; it is both a freedom "from" and a freedom "for."
Though we may be free to choose we are not free to determine what is good or evil, right or wrong. That determination has been made and finding it does not require adherence to a specific religious faith, it is revealed to all in the natural law which binds us all together. Thus, the exercise of authentic human freedom must be made within a moral constitution. The choices we make have consequences not only individually and personally, but within our community.
At the heart of freedom is also a respect for religious freedom. We need candidates who view religious freedom for all men and women as a paramount human right that must be respected and protected by civil government. Religious faith is a human and social "good" and the values informed by faith are a safeguard of liberty. Rightly understood and applied, religious freedom means a freedom for religious expression not a freedom from such expression. This entails a freedom for people of all faiths, or no faith, along with all people, to participate in the public conversation and in the public square.
There is callousness in our culture toward those who are in need. While some overly centralized efforts to help those in need, even if well intended, have proven not to be the most effective vehicle for fulfilling our obligations in solidarity to one another, we need to be cautious. The market must be at the service of the person and not the other way around. We should support those candidates who acknowledge this obligation to care for the poor, the underprivileged, the needy and those who have no voice while at the same time are committed to opening up the promise of the market economy to all. We simply are our brother (and sisters) keeper.
Economic life is not meant solely to multiply the production of material goods and increase profit. Truly free enterprise should be infused with a social conscience and consider such important concerns as the just or family wage, encourage the right to free association, and place the primacy of concern on persons and the family. We should expand economic opportunity by opening the promise of the market economy to everyone as a part of promoting human flourishing.
Though candidates may have differing opinions concerning how to best implement this obligation of solidarity, we should reject any candidate who fails to recognize the primacy of persons over profit. We really can build a just and truly free economic order, one which fosters authentic human freedom within an economy of communion.
It is these first principles that I will use in evaluating the Presidential candidates. I do not care which political party they have noted next to their name on the ballot. I encourage all of us to exercise our call to faithful citizenship and help to ensure that the American promise becomes a reality.
Deacon Keith Fournier holds degrees from Franciscan University of Steubenville (B.A., Theology and Philosophy), the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University (M.T.S., Theology) the University of Pittsburgh School of Law (J.D.) and is currently a Ph.D. student in Moral Theology at the Catholic University of America. He is the author of hundreds of articles on issues of faith and culture and the spiritual life and eight books. His latest book is entitled, "The Prayer of Mary: Living the Surrendered Life".