For most of us, political conventions signal three more months of intense political campaigning before our national life can return to normal.
For candidates and political parties, conventions are quadrennial party rituals, replete with debates, caucuses, nominations, and more speeches. For Catholics, the 1996 conventions present an opportunity to take a serious look at the parties at work, study their messages, and evaluate differences on key social and economic issues.
Both parties’ platforms will be refined in closed-door meetings and debates and made public at the convention. They reflect each party’s approach to the role of government and the role of the individual and deserve scrutiny. Republicans will see the culmination of a struggle over the pro-life plank. Pro-abortion Republicans argue for abolishing the plank or making the language more “flexible.” The partial-birth abortion bill, supported by several Democrats, may raise questions about the Democrats’ monolithic stance on the issue. The outcome of these struggles will reveal whether the moral principle of respect for human life can survive in the battle for who can be more relativistic.
Another potential fight facing Democrats is over homosexual rights and single-sex marriage. President Clinton’s position is not fixed on these questions, and he wants the support of gay groups. They may try to force stronger statements of approval from the Democratic Party at the convention.
A significant enough division exists between the parties on welfare reform, school choice, and taxation, to warrant a close look. The Republican position on welfare reform expounded by Governor Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin is based on the principle of returning more control of these programs to states and localities so they will be more effective and create a trend of getting people off welfare. Democrats are more concerned about continuing aid to present welfare recipients than in changing the existing deficient welfare structure which tends to create the demand for help. They have offered little by way of welfare reform plans of their own, but may have something to offer at the convention. School choice, an idea whose time has come, is looking for supporters. This year the role and size of government is a key factor in the discussion of taxes.
Catholics need to keep their eye on how the parties handle the social and cultural issues. The public debate is still framed by the cultural elites. Building a culture of life is threatened by new state rulings allowing assisted suicide, harming the moral integrity of doctors whose duty is to heal and not to kill. The future of state protection for the institution of marriage is being questioned by the anticipated decision of the state court in Hawaii this summer on same-sex marriage. Candidates must make clear where they stand on this fundamental question. Parents are distressed over violence in schools and the results of outcome-based education. Which political leader will reverse the trend toward complete relativism and repudiation of traditional moral and political values? It would seem the character issue is important in this context.
Because the Supreme Court has usurped the role of moral authority in the culture, dictating the values of the cultural elites instead of letting the American people decide these questions through democratic means, candidates’ attitudes toward the judiciary are vitally important. Democrats and Republicans both have appointed judges who find in the Constitution rights that are not there. In recent decisions, abortion rights have been defended and homosexuals have been afforded protections while the freedom of the American people to decide these questions by voting, referendums, and debate, has been eroded. Many people are not aware that our democratic structure of government has been deformed by an unelected judiciary that is taking over a legislative role that belongs to the people. Pope John Paul II warned us that the value of a democracy stands or falls with the values it embodies and promotes. With an imperial judiciary moving us away from objective moral values, which presidential candidate will appoint judges who will not make law but will interpret the law?
The conventions are televised and orchestrated down to the last detail. Commentators will give hours of analysis, spinmeisters will interpret any mistakes, but for a few hours, we the voters will hear the candidates explain why we should vote for them. For Catholics much is at stake in this election, especially on the fundamental questions of the value of human life, denied by abortion and assisted suicide. Listen carefully.