SEPTEMBER 9, 2020
‘Catholics for Biden’ Is a Bad Joke
Catholics for Biden held its national kickoff call on the evening of Thursday, September 3. It was, predictably, an hour-long attempt to make us all forget that the candidate is implicit in—and his party is devoted to—the vilest crime ever perpetrated against humanity. It was a less than brilliant exercise in misdirection.
The distraction was attempted, for the most part, through sheer vagueness. Appeals to “the common good” and “Catholic values” abounded, with very little illumination of just what these words might mean and how they might be realized in political practice.
The first of the evening’s featured speakers was Dick Durbin, the Democratic Whip. The Senator’s comments aimed mainly at stirring up an emotional response to anecdotes about families separated after entering the United States illegally—a practice begun during the Obama-Biden Administration of course. And there is some sense to the senator’s aversion to the practice. As a general rule, we ought to object to state policies that undermine the integrity of the family.
As Democrats tend to do, Dick Durbin ignores the complex reality of the matter. More than ever before in human history, great masses of people are fundamentally unrooted. Countless ancestral homes and homelands stand at existential risk. The powerful, vicious forces behind this mass dislocation have pushed families to the desperation of illegal border crossings and have pushed the world at large to a state of widespread global vagrancy, as the crisis is found not among the migrant poor alone, but among the cosmopolitan elite as well. It is these underlying forces that must be addressed by any politics aiming at the common good. It goes without saying that they are best combated by a doctrine and praxis intent on preservation, stability, and the protection of everything these people feel compelled to leave behind—in a word, conservatism.
But Mr. Durbin is uninterested in this solution. Instead, he seeks to tweak the legal processes by which we address a symptom of the crisis. Substantive change is shunned; all that matters is a sentimental payoff from the self-assured feeling that we’ve won some small comfort for the sufferers we see. Let the places they come from burn, and let the places they come to sink. Just make sure we tout our “Catholic values” in the meantime.
After accusing President Trump of stirring up racism amid these last few months of riots, Mr. Durbin challenged his captive audience: “Tell me that is consistent with any moral teaching of any church on earth, let alone the Catholic Church.” Beside the dubious nature of the underlying claim, the squishy universalism of the overture is telling. This isn’t even about our undefined “Catholic values”: it’s a blind stab at “any moral teaching of any church on earth.” All that matters is a hazy appeal to some thing called faith in the focus groups.
I cannot profess to know Dick Durbin’s heart. But it would not be improper to call into question his public allegiance (or lack thereof) to the tenets of our faith. Since 2004, Senator Durbin has been barred by his bishop from receiving Communion due to his fanatical support of abortion. The immediate cause of the prohibition was Mr. Durbin’s refusal to vote against partial birth abortion—a gruesome variation on the already evil act, in which a child is partially delivered before being killed. Thanks be to God, the bill outlawing it was passed, despite the best efforts of this prominent Catholic for Biden. Never mind the heretic sects—try telling me this is consistent with the moral teaching of the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church.
Tim Shriver, a former president of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, accidentally called attention to the disconnect when he shared the fruits of his Google search for “Catholic social teaching.” “Our bishops tell us that a basic moral test for a society is how our most vulnerable members fare,” he reports. It might burst Mr. Shriver’s bubble to recall that our most vulnerable members are currently kept in bins in a back room at his local Planned Parenthood. Are their corpses the cost of our Bidenic common good?
The vague platitudes that prevailed throughout the event received their deepest exploration in the brief remarks of Peter Kellner. Mr. Kellner, a lawyer and entrepreneur with more salt than pepper in his hair, is a year older than my father and a featured speaker on the call’s “Young Catholics” panel. (The other “young” Catholics, it seems, are at least on the right side of the half-century mark.)
In defending his endorsement, Mr. Kellner told us, “Joe Biden represents all the things that my Catholicism teaches me,” listing humility, reflection, interest in social justice, open-mindedness, global interest, and intellectual curiosity.
Sure, some of these things coincide with the fundamentals of our faith. But the list as a whole seems like it was lifted from the mission statement of a self-indulgent NGO or the orientation pamphlet of a very expensive liberal arts college. If those are all the things your Catholicism has taught you, then someone along the way has failed you miserably.
A slightly more religious veneer was slapped onto the list in the remarks of Sister Simone Campbell, SSS. She was the big-ticket speaker of the night, given the non-appearance of Mr. Biden himself. (Make what you will of the fact that Catholics for Joe Biden cannot seem to count among its ranks Joe Biden.) Sister Simone is a longtime professional activist with a remarkable skill for locating progressive dogma writ in minute script between the lines of magisterial teaching.
Early in her remarks, Sister Simone admonished a large chunk of her audience. “White Catholics have gotten it wrong in the past,” apparently referring to their failure to vote for her preferred, left-wing candidates—and implicitly recalling the understudied doctrine of ethnic infallibility.
As she went on, the would-be nun repeated again and again that Catholics are “multi-issue voters,” a carefully crafted euphemism for “keep killing babies, as long as the government pays for it, and for everything else.” It wasn’t long before the mask came off: “In fact, the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the outlawing of abortion, has never been our faith.” Well, that’s just untrue. There’s no gray area here, and no line-blurring or strategic vagueness. It’s a lie and a scandal, plain and simple. The moral seriousness of the mere possibility that listeners might believe her outrageous claim cannot be overstated.
Throughout, Sister Simone peddled liberally in the left-wing Catholic’s favorite tool—a cartoon depiction of Pope Francis as some hippie warrior for the pet causes of American progressives. She pointed listeners to a website her lobbying group has created, called popefrancisvoter.org. It provides a quiz that purports to compare the respondent’s values with Pope Francis’s, and then to compare both with the respective candidates’ values. Absent, of course, is any reference to the Holy Father’s belief that fighting abortion is the “preeminent issue” in modern politics, or that abortionists are Nazis “with white gloves.” Rather, the nine questions essentially amount to nine variations on “Do you have basic human decency?” with about as much nuance as was on display in Thursday’s call. My result was:
You agree with Biden. Your Catholic Voter Score is 100 percent.
Joe Biden shares your Catholic priorities. His policies will protect people in poverty, the elderly, and migrants and reject racism. You are a Pope Francis Voter, and you must prioritize these sacred issues in the voting booth this November.
Funny how that works.
Sister Simone borrowed at length, too, from Pope Francis’s encyclical Evangelii Gaudium:
I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor. It is vital that government leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education, healthcare. We must turn to our God and ask the Divine to inspire their plans.
I have my share of reservations about President Trump, and I have never hesitated to speak or publish them. But nobody can deny that he is very much disturbed by the state of society. While many might like to, we cannot deny that he represents a massive movement aimed at reform (though not the kind of reform that Sister Simone or Senator Durbin might prefer) and centered on concern for the common people—with significant contingents explicitly concerned with reordering society toward the common good.
Joe Biden, meanwhile, is the status quo—and stasis—personified. He is not just content with the current state of affairs. He is, as one of the nation’s leading politicians over the last half a century, largely responsible for it. We can expect under a Biden presidency no changes—at least no chances in the right direction—to the social evils that currently plague us, among which abortion remains the uncontested worst. We can expect, at best, limp gestures at “Catholic values” like open-mindedness and global interest while the bloodstain on our nation grows.
“I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society.”
It would have taken a great deal of searching—more than either I or Sister Simone might care to undertake—to find a more compelling Catholic rebuke of Mr. Biden’s candidacy.
[Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images News]
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By Declan Leary
Declan Leary is the Collegiate Network Fellow at The American Conservative and a graduate of John Carroll University.