UPDATE at bottom of post.
There has been considerable chest-pounding in the wake of the Massachusetts Senate race. The conservative pundits have been celebrating the dawning of a new era, a paradigm shift, for the American electorate. President Obama promised "change", and he most certainly delivered. Not all of the change, though, was the same change he promised. Some of it was (e.g. coddling our enemies, selling-out our friends, massive government solutions for all those who earn less than average) and some of it wasn't (e.g. bipartisanship, line-by-line budget cutting, tax breaks for the middle class), but it was most certainly a change. As his presidency passes the first anniversary, more Americans are realizing that misdirected change is actually worse than the status quo. On January 19th, that reality was manifested in the election of Scott Brown. But is this the first gust of the winds of change, or was this a tempest in a tea party pot.
One thing that struck me was how amazingly brazen was his competition. Martha Coakley, among her many striking statements, declared that devote Catholics, you know, the ones who actually believe in the sanctity of human life, "...probably shouldn’t work in the emergency room," on the chance that they might be in a position to treat a rape victim and refuse the abortifacient morning after pill. Killing the unborn is so important to Martha that she made this her most vocal issue. Keep in mind, Scott Brown is not pro-life. He only believes in the so-called "common sense" provisions, like parental notification, a ban on late-term abortions, and conscience rights for medical personnel.
In Martha's world, a woman's right to an abortion supersedes all other rights. The reason she declared that devote Catholics need not apply for medical jobs was to make that distinction between her abortion absolutism and Brown's softer pro-abortion position. Her campaign used this distinction to paint Brown as a heartless extremist. This tactic resonated well with a good portion of the electorate.
Massachusetts is 44% Catholic, more than all the other religious affiliations combined. Martha herself is Catholic. Yet she made it clear that belief in what the Catholic Church teaches is extreme and justifies nixxing their rights expressed in the 1st Amendment of the Constitution in favor of a right which is no where expressed in the same document.
We have a strong Catholic voting population. And we should also be able to assume that, among the rest of the 56% of the population, there resides a substantial number of people of good conscience who would recognize this blatant disregard of fundamental human rights.
Rather, what we find is that this woman, whose positions should make her disqualified for any office this side of the free world, garnered 47% of the vote. That tells me that her radical statement on the second-class status of faithful Catholics might have changed a few minds, but it did not move the voting numbers like such a revealing statement should.
Phil Lawyer breaks down the real reason for the Brown victory and the likely fallout, and unfortunately, despite all the giddy pundits, there isn't much to celebrate.
It was, I am convinced, a long-overdue manifestation of independence on the part of the state's voters, who have been held in thrall for years by liberal ideology and Kennedy mystique. That's progress.
It was also a reminder that American voters, even in true-blue Massachusetts, resent the idea that their representatives in Washington might ignore their wishes and enact a sweeping federal policy-- like health-care reform, in this case-- despite heavy public opposition. With the arrival of Senator Scott Brown on Capitol Hill, the
unpopular plan is apparently dead. That's progress, too. (As C.S. Lewis pointed out, when you realize that you're headed in the wrong direction, the best way to make progress is to turn back.)
However, I hope no one who read my analysis concluded that political sanity has returned to Massachusetts. We have a long, long way to go before a healthy political climate is restored. Consider: Senator-elect Brown is not pro-life. On the issue of health-care reform his vote may benefit the pro-life position; the state's largest pro-life group saw that as reason enough to endorse his candidacy. But Brown did not appeal for pro-life support, did not use pro-life arguments, did not mention pro-life issues. On the contrary, while his opponent Martha Coakley made her unswerving support for abortion the #1 issue in her campaign, Brown did his best to dodge the issue. He may now suspect that he won despite the support of pro-lifers, and liberal journalists will encourage him toward that conclusion. Republican consultants will tell their candidates to imitate Brown's campaign strategy, avoiding the abortion issue. Already the new Senator from Massachusetts is being touted as the ideal GOP candidate: populist in approach, patriotic, conservative on fiscal questions, and silent on social issues. In the long run, the upset in Massachusetts is more likely to benefit the "big tent" Republicans than the pro-life movement.
The Church remains silent. The majority of voters in Massachusetts are not registered in any political party. These independent voters swung the election for Scott Brown, demonstrating that they have finally escaped the magnetic force of the Kennedy family. But what will replace that influence? There's an old common-sense principle in politics: You can't beat somebody with nobody; you can't beat something with nothing. For 45 years Ted Kennedy offered a vision of what the political system should accomplish, and Massachusetts voters embraced that vision. When Martha Coakley put forward a very similar vision, the voters rejected it. But Scott Brown had no compelling vision. The Republican Party-- in Massachusetts, at least-- has no vision at all. And politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Someone will provide a new vision: a new model for politics. Who will it be? As I explained in my book The Faithful Departed, the Catholic Church was once, not too very long ago, the dominant force on the local scene, and set the agenda for discussion of public issues. But for more than a full generation now the Catholic influence has been waning, and Church institutions have been co-opted to serve the purposes of a secular liberal ideology.
If ever there was a time for a genuine Catholic revival in Massachusetts, now is that time. But it won't be easy; we have miles and miles to go.
This vote, and the general current of the country, is a rejection of the policies and tactics of the Obama administration. But one should soberly recognize that despite all that's happened in the last year, this nation hasn't embraced everything that is anti-Obama. There very well could be big victories for the loyal opposition over the next few years. This represents the ebb and flow of the political landscape, with the recent spike only came about because we have an aggressive administration that played too strong of a hand in too short of a time span. We haven't fundamentally changed. The liberals and their media allies only have to keep tearing down American values until something sticks, and they'll be back on top again.
As Catholics, we need to reclaim what has been lost. How can so many Catholics feel just fine in the pro-abortion camp? As Phil stated, we have such a long way to go. So don't take the wrong message from this election. If anything, this election shows what a terrible state we are in today. The victory for Scott Brown was a great thing, a very great thing indeed. However, it doesn't mean a collective light bulb went off in Massachusetts. Politicians on both sides of the aisle didn't stop being liars and cheats, for sale to the highest bidder. The only paradigm that shifted was that voters realized that Obama wasn't the transcendent leader that they believed he was only a year ago. And many of them will forget that lesson as soon as they learned it.
What we need is to begin to reclaim the Cafeteria Catholic into the genuine fold of the Church. Our bishops and priests are incrementally moving in that direction as best as I can see. This is one long road, though. The ranks of our priests are poisoned with some bad apples. Our parish and diocesan staffs are infiltrated with Marxists, feminists, and pragmatists. Our schools seem more of a reflection of the modern culture than an escape from it.
We will know we are there when we can have open and frank discussions on moral issues like abortion with our neighbors. Abortion's worst nightmare is an honest discussion. Abortion cannot stand up to any logical construction. It stands upon lies and convenient sound bytes. Yet a real discussion can't take place. Even conservative talk radio avoids the issue. In public, both sides throw long-standing phrases past each other, and the real questions are never addressed. Bringing up a topic like this could even get you fired at work.
How can any one's mind change if we can't talk about it? A unified Catholic Church is the first step in that direction. We can't transform the culture if we can't get our own house in order. If we have the Church as a solid base, the citizenry will find the courage to put abortion, and all other "extreme" issues, back into the public square.
The message of this post: Hurrah for Scott! Now the rest of you, don't get your hopes up or let your guard down. Nothing earth shattering happened or is likely to happen soon. Our best hope is to support the Church in her movement away from silence and more towards cultural confrontation.
UPDATE: So, you ask yourself, what did he mean when he said, "Yet a real discussion can't take place?" If I could write good, maybe I would have wrote something like this here:
A survey of the justifications advanced by scientists, philosophers, and other members of the elite class, such as judges, to justify the legalization of induced abortion reveals that they have abandoned rational inquiry in favor of ideology. For although their arguments have the trappings of the objectivity of scientific method and other marks of rational inquiry, it is clear that they subvert reason and manipulate evidence to actualize an ideal that they perceive to be above all rational criticism. This enslavement to ideology is but a reenactment of what happened in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia to the detriment of science and philosophy, not to mention the degradation of human life.
Inatius Insight has a detailed explanation as to why we can't argue the case for life. Part II is here. That ought to make Andy's eyes glaze over.