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Remember how it became a sport for reporters to try to detect the “dog whistle” lines in George W. Bush’s speeches – i.e. phrases that might excite evangelicals without generating fear, or notice, from anyone else? Joe Biden is trying out a key Catholic dog whistle expression.
In today’s big economic speech he used the word “dignity” four times.
What is John’s response to the state of the economy? Let me quote him: “A lot of this is psychological.” Let me tell you something: Losing your job is more than a state of mind. It means staring at the ceiling at night thinking that you may lose your house because you can’t get next month’s mortgage payment. It means looking at your pregnant wife and not knowing how you’re going to come up with the money to pay for the delivery of your child, since you don’t have health care anymore. It means looking at your child when they come home from college at Christmas and saying “Honey, I’m sorry, we’re not going to be able to send you back next semester.” It’s not a state of mind. It’s a loss of dignity.
Yes, this campaign is about change, but it’s about even more than that. It’s about what we value as a people. It’s not just about a job, it’s about dignity.
The “dignity of work” is a major concept in Catholic social teaching, a phrase most Catholics would have heard growing up. The Papal Encyclical Rerum Novarum explains the spiritual essence of the idea; the U.S. Catholic Bishops conference lists it as one of the key principles of Catholic Social Teaching:
The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected–the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.