In a mid-September webinar on “The Church and Catholic Voters in the 2020 Election,” Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, weighed in on a question often asked these days: Can a Catholic vote for Joe Biden?
Cardinal Tobin, long a stalwart of the U.S. Church’s liberal wing, dissented from the reigning consensus. “I think that a person in good conscience could indeed vote for Mr. Biden,” His Eminence announced. “I, frankly, in my own way of thinking, have a more difficult time with the other option.”
The justification for this dissent is predictable. Yes, the Democrats support abortion. But the Republicans carry with them their own catalogue of moral horrors—immigration restrictionism, welfare skepticism, anti-feminism, etc. We are told to embrace a “consistent life ethic” and to avoid the temptation to become “single-issue voters.” (The omission of any qualifier on this latter caution is a tacit confession that we all know what the paramount issue is.)
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Such obfuscations suggest that if we can simply look past the tiny obstacle of abortion, we will see the gates of paradise ahead and that Saint Peter has lent Joe Biden the keys. Leo XIII’s ghost stands at his side, a ready nominee for Secretary of Labor. Dorothy Day militates for the 2020 platform. An army of sainted nuns flanks our American King David—each one (he will be sure to tell you) an instrumental part of his upbringing in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
What they ask of us is hardly insignificant. Anyone with a conscience would be hard-pressed to ignore the genocide of the unborn. But some have managed: just this past Friday, a number of prominent abortion opponents—all people of faith—launched Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden. Meanwhile, exhortations like Cardinal Tobin’s have not gone unheard among Catholics either. They have been echoed by a number of prelates and priests, including a notable few with substantial followings on social media. Enough innocent voters have been taken in by the “big picture” sloganeering that we can no longer afford to just ignore it.
So let’s entertain it. Let’s allow, for the sake of argument, the astronomical concession on abortion. Why then should we as Catholics, or—in the cardinal’s waffling verbiage—why could we in good conscience, cast our votes for Mr. Biden?
The first redoubt of the candidate’s Catholic defenders is economics. Vague references are made to Republicans’ hatred of America’s poor, which they hold to be so obvious it need not even be argued. This impulse is somewhat understandable given the not-so-distant memory of a free trade, free market GOP which struck recklessly at the roots of American social economy. It’s also a hangover from a time when blue votes and blue collars could still be found within ten miles of each other.
But this is hardly the situation we find ourselves in today. President Trump’s redirection of his party on trade, for instance, has set American production back on a road that may once again ensure security and dignity of work. Mr. Biden now carries the standard of a party bent on turning back around—inexplicably convinced foreign production will bring lower prices, and lower prices will bring increased consumption, and increased consumption will bring heaven on earth.
Even where he has obvious opportunities to channel a traditional Catholic vision of the economy, Mr. Biden misses the mark by a mile. “Transform,” “expand,” “cutting edge”—these are the words that mark the Biden Plan for Rural America. There is little talk about stability, subsidiarity, or an economy centered on people and place instead of ethanol and wind turbines. It’s all about innovation, innovation, innovation. Nobody in Mr. Biden’s camp has yet paused to consider that maybe such “innovations” were the problem all along.
Besides that, the 2020 Democratic ticket’s shared economic record is shaky at best. Over three and a half decades on Capitol Hill, Senator Biden showed himself the friend of the credit card companies and the enemy of the bankrupt. A number of outlets reported in the wake of Kamala Harris’s announcement as vice presidential nominee that big banks and big businesses were overjoyed. This is the most pro–Wall Street, anti–Main Street duo to run for the Democratic party (and perhaps for either party) in living memory.
Much of the Democrats’ new free marketeering is couched in the language of progress and personal opportunity. Take, for example, the Biden Agenda for Women. Its focus is almost entirely economic. Some of it, in fact, has very little to do with women at all, such as raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Nearly every point of the plan is aimed at making women more enthusiastic participators in the labor market—especially by obviating any inconvenient reproductive functions. The capitalistic motivations of this particular feminist agenda are never disclosed in the pitch to voters. “Deliver Mary Unto Mammon” is a less attractive slogan than “Build Back Better,” even if only slightly. But we can know it by its fruits, and, having tasted the fruit of this particular tree, we ought to be looking for an axe.
In the Agenda for Women, as everywhere else in his campaign, Mr. Biden relies heavily on the Affordable Care Act—lending some credence to the theory that the world really did end in 2012. This is another area in which Mr. Biden scores big points among some Catholics simply for branding a bad policy as vaguely concerned with social justice. But the ACA is more than a bit of dog whistling for the left. When Mr. Biden promises to defend it, he is promising just as much to uphold government subsidy of abortion and contraception as he is to maintain an inefficient and ineffective health insurance system. Let’s not forget that Mr. Biden has promised to revive the just-resolved persecution of the Little Sisters of the Poor, lest the nuns whom he claims to so admire be exempted from Obamacare’s birth control mandates.
Nor is the social radicalism of the Biden camp limited to making nuns pay for the pill. A robust plan for “LGBTQ+ equality” promises to wipe away any last vestiges of a public sexual ethic that isn’t completely insane. Mr. Biden’s campaign website proudly touts his endorsement in 2012 of redefining marriage, a pet cause of the Obama-Biden administration that ended in the judicial imposition of same-sex marriage nationwide in Obergefell v. Hodges. Beyond bolstering these innovations in the marital arena, a return to the White House would apparently see Mr. Biden working around the clock to secure, by any means available, transgenderism’s place in the American mainstream.
Mr. Biden himself is far from a race radical, but he has no problem giving them both latitude and publicity. He probably views this as an electoral necessity, but there may well be a sincere commitment here, too, i.e., a well-intentioned concern over some real societal problems. But what overly hopeful Catholics (including, maybe, Mr. Biden himself) might construe as a promising push for racial justice is really just a crude and coarse identitarianism, overtly opportunistic in its pursuit of woke votes. The Biden campaign plan includes a neat, unsubtle pitch to each racial identity group, whose bluntness displays an almost endearing lack of awareness. No doubt the red man, between sips of firewater, will find great comfort in “Joe Biden’s Commitment to Indian Country.” (This is far from the only bit of indelicate titling. The poorly named “Biden Plan for Violence Against Women” makes me worry that Bill Clinton might be playing an active role in a Biden White House.)
The substance of Mr. Biden’s agenda—a distinctly Democratic amalgam of the clearly dangerous and the merely confused—reminds us that to justify a Biden vote requires more than just forgetting the child in the womb. Yes, we would have to figure out what magical combination of good policies might outweigh the systematic slaughter of 60 million unborn Americans. But beyond that, we would have to scrutinize the fine print of Mr. Biden’s proposals and his party’s platform and actually locate that redemptive alchemical mix somewhere in the tangle of quack economics and social destruction.
Therefore, take Cardinal Tobin’s invitation: look beyond abortion. Peer over into the vast expanse of Catholic Joe’s agenda. It’s a dismal sight.
[Photo credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images]