As a Catholic, I'm voting for President George W. Bush on Nov. 2. The reason is simple: Although Bush isn't a Catholic, and not all of his positions are always consistent with Catholic teaching, it is he, not his nominally Catholic opponent, John F. Kerry, who promises to foster and defend the Catholic ethic of life.
At the core of that ethic--and I'll say it bluntly--lies abortion, the life issue that most sharply divides Bush and Kerry. Bush supports at least some restrictions on abortion; Kerry supports almost none. Related to it are the Catholic Church's positions against euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research.
Opposition to these three practices is not an idiosyncratic Catholic "tenet" (as Kerry put in a speech this past weekend)--a specifically Catholic doctrine like the immaculate conception of Mary that Catholics might affirm in private but should refrain from imposing on their fellow citizens. Rather, the sacredness of each individual human life is a moral proposition: every human entity, no matter how small, unformed, weak, disabled, or decrepit, deserves to be treated with dignity as a member of the human family. We were all once "dots," as Sen. Thomas Harkin calls human embryos, and we are all destined to die in helplessness.
On the issue of embryonic stem cells, Kerry fails utterly. Not that Bush is perfect in this regard; far from it. It was Bush, for example, who in 2001 permitted federal funds for the first time to be used for limited embryonic stem cell research, on the dubious rationale that the embryos used for the authorized cell lines were already dead. That opened the floodgates for the current relentless pressure to increase such research funding exponentially.
Yet Bush is at least trying to hold the line on embryonic stem cell research. Kerry isn't. In his view, unrestrained scientific "progress" trumps all other concerns. And just as Kerry has caved without ethical qualms to the ESCR lobby, he has caved (all the while nodding perfunctorily to his "faith") to the most extreme demands of the abortionists' lobby and their radical feminist allies. Kerry supports the use of federal money to pay for abortions, opposes even the mildest restrictions on the procedure (not only the ban on the ghastly "partial-birth" procedure but even the law that makes it two crimes, not one, to murder a pregnant woman), and has vowed to appoint judges who will keep "Roe vs. Wade" the law of the land forever. Bush has done none of these things. When Bush declared during the second debate, "No tax dollars will be spent on abortion," Catholics should have cheered.
Bush's willingness to recognize the worth of unborn human life, at least to this extent, comports with the principle of solidarity--the belief that we are all family and have a duty to help our weakest members. This principle is fundamental to the Catholic social teaching articulated by a long line of popes culminating in John Paul II.
Bush's policies further the Catholic vision of society in other ways. His social policies may seem, on first glance, coldly individualistic. On closer examination, however, it is Bush, not Kerry, whose philosophy of government promises a broadly and genuinely pro-family society.
Bush takes seriously the institution of the family, as contrasted to the government, as the first-line fosterer of life and support for its members--just as Catholic teaching does. Pope John Paul II has stressed not only the principle of solidarity but that of subsidiarity: that we should look to and strengthen the smallest, most intimate, and hence most personally responsive of our social units: families, churches, voluntary associations, private charities.
We have seen over the decades what happens when government takes over the responsibilities of supporting and caring for children. First the families weaken and wither, as they have in western Europe, plagued with low birth rates, and in the welfare-cursed inner cities of America, where most children grow up without fathers. Then the services themselves, provided by bureaucrats without emotional or moral investment, decline in quality, as they have so appallingly in our urban public schools.
That is one reason why Bush, unlike Kerry, is reluctant, say, to endorse marriage-undermining gay unions or to switch precipitously from America's admittedly imperfect but medically superior health-care system. By bucking European or Canadian-style socialized medicine, with its attendant horror stories of delayed operations and filthy hospitals, Bush ensures that sick children receive the most sophisticated treatment in the world.
Nor has Bush neglected the elderly and the poor, whose welfare is paramount in Catholic social teaching. He expanded the Medicare program--to the consternation of many fiscal conservatives--to include steep discounts on prescription drugs, while permitting beneficiaries and their doctors to choose the most effective medicines and encouraging the drug companies to make them.
As for the poor, a fast-growing sector of poverty in America is its Hispanic immigrant population. These immigrants bring to this country self-reliance, a willingness to work hard (and eventually lift themselves out of poverty), strong families, and often, deep Catholic faith. Bush's immigration-reform proposals, which are also controversial among conservatives, would encourage more of them to enter this country legally as temporary workers and duly seek citizenship. Expanding the benefits of our prosperous society to as many immigrants as possible (while stopping short of rewarding lawbreakers via amnesty) is highly consonant with Catholic values.
Finally, there's the war on terrorism. To Bush, fighting terrorists is no mere "nuisance," as Kerry has called it, but a realistic undertaking to protect American lives in a violent and fanatical world. Bush understands--as his conduct of the war in Iraq indicates--that protecting a people's freedom and physical safety via force is, in the long run, pro-life. Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 divided Catholic opinion and was opposed even by the Vatican.
Yet, as the Catholic theologian Michael Novak has pointed out, Bush entered Iraq for reasons completely in accord with Catholic just-war theory: A fearful dictator, Saddam Hussein, who had gassed, terrorized, imprisoned, and murdered his own people, had refused to comply with conditions set by the U.N. Security Council that he provide sufficient proof that he had disposed of his arsenals of mass destruction. Under Bush, U.S. armed forces deposed Saddam promptly, strove to minimize civilian casualties, and remain in Iraq to oversee that country's transition to a viable democracy. The culture of terrorism represented by Saddam, by Al Qaeda, and by other radical Islamic organizations that strike at will worldwide is a true culture of death. Only by taking a firm and fearless stance that admits no hesitation or negotiation--as Bush has done--do we stand a chance of preserving a society that embodies the Catholic ethic of life.
Kerry professes Catholicism but subscribes to an ethos that attacks on every front--including, but not limited to, the abortion front--the Catholic concern with protecting life. Bush isn't a Catholic and implements Catholic pro-life teaching imperfectly. Yet it is Bush's leadership that will better protect the vulnerable--from the human embryo and the unborn child, to the elderly and the poor, to those threatened by terrorists--and will support the family as a strong, self-reliant social unit. So I'm casting my ballot for Bush, not to impose my Catholic doctrines on others, but to further a moral vision that leaves no one out.