In preparation for the election year, the United States Catholic Conference (USCC) issued a statement on “Political Responsibility.” Numerous critics have asserted that the statement, despite its claim to be nonpartisan, aligns the Catholic Church with the positions of the Democratic Party, with the notable exception of abortion. Defenders of the USCC have vigorously challenged that assertion. A close comparison of passages from the USCC statement with passages from the 1992 platforms of the two major parties on the same topics (the platforms available to the writers of “Political Responsibility”) provides, I believe, the information necessary to judge the partisanship of the USCC statement.
I. Jobs

USCC:

The most urgent priority for domestic economic policy is to create jobs with adequate pay and decent working conditions. High levels of unemployment and underemployment are morally unacceptable in a nation with our economic capacity. The minimum wage should be raised to help workers and their families live decent lives. We reaffirm the Church’s traditional teaching in support of the right of all workers to organize and bargain collectively and to exercise these rights without reprisal. Democrats:

Our workplaces must be revolutionized to make them more flexible and productive. We will reform the job safety laws to empower workers with greater rights and to hold employers accountable for dangers on the job . . . . We will honor the work ethic”by expanding the earned income tax credit so no one with children at home who works full-time is still in poverty, . . . by supporting the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively without fear of intimidation or permanent replacement during labor disputes. Republicans:

The engines of growth in a free economy are small businesses and jobs . . . . To create jobs and keep small businesses growing, the Republican Party supports increased access to capital for business expansion, exporting, long-term investment, opportunity capital for the disadvantaged, and capital to bring new products and new technologies to the market . . . . Unlike the Democrats, we believe the private sector, not the federal government, should set prevailing wage rates.

II. Health Care

USCC:

Our criteria for reform include respect for life, priority concern for the poor, universal coverage, pluralism, cost containment and controls, and equitable financing. Democrats:

All Americans should have universal access to quality, affordable health care”not as a privilege, but as a right . . . . We will enact a uniquely American reform of the health care system to . . . cover all Americans regardless of preexisting conditions . . . provide a safety net through support of public hospitals; provide for the full range of reproductive choice-education, counseling, access to contraceptives, and the right to a safe legal abortion Republicans:

Americans . . . have the best health care providers, the best hospitals, and the best medical technology . . . . Republicans believe government control of health care is irresponsible and ineffective. We believe health care choices should remain in the hands of the people, not government bureaucrats . . . .

III. Welfare

USCC:

We are not defenders of the welfare status quo; however, we oppose abandonment of the federal government’s essential role in helping families overcome poverty and meet their children’s basic needs. We advocate welfare reform which protects human life and human dignity. (We therefore oppose family-cap and child-exclusion measures, which encourage abortion without addressing the fundamental contributors to illegitimacy.) . . . The goal of reform is reducing poverty and dependency, not cutting resources and programs. Democrats:

Welfare should be a second chance, not a way of life. We want to break the cycle of welfare by adhering to two simple principles: no one who is able to work can stay on welfare forever, and no one who works should live in poverty. We will continue to help those who cannot help themselves . . . . We’ll invest in education and job training, and provide the child care and health care they need to go to work and achieve long-term self-sufficiency. Republicans:

Welfare is the enemy of opportunity and stable family life . . . . Today’s welfare system is anti-work and anti-marriage. It taxes families to subsidize illegitimacy. It rewards unethical behavior and penalizes initiative. It cannot be merely tinkered with by Congress and legislators; it must be recreated by states and localities . . . . Welfare can no longer be a check in the mail with no responsibility. We believe fathers and mothers must be held responsible for their children.

IV. Children

USCC:

We urge a reordering of priorities to focus more on the needs and potential of the nation’s children. If society seeks to help children, it has to support families, since children’s lives are nurtured or neglected, enhanced or diminished by the quality of family life. The undeniable fact is that our children’s future is shaped both by the values of their parents and the policies of our nation. Democrats:

Governments don’t raise children, people do . . . . We need a national crackdown on deadbeat parents, an effective system of child support enforcement nationwide, and a systematic effort to establish paternity for every child. We must also make it easier for parents to build strong families through pay equity. Republicans:

Republicans believe government should strengthen families not replace them. Today, more then ever, the traditional family is under assault. We welcome change that corrects the mistakes of the past, particularly those at war with the family. For more than three decades, the liberal philosophy has assaulted the family on every side . . . . Republicans trust parents and believe they, not courts and lawyers, know what is best for their children.

V. Taxes

USCC:

We support effective incentives for charitable giving, an earned-income tax credit that ensures that working families will not have to raise their children in poverty, and a tax code that reflects traditional Catholic teaching that tax rates should reflect a person’s ability to pay. Democrats:

Instead of a sweeping capital gains windfall to the wealthy and those who speculate, we will create an investment tax credit and a capital gains reduction for patient investors in emerging technologies and new businesses . . . . People should share in society’s common costs according to their ability to pay. Republicans:

When state and local levies are included, the tax burden exceeds one-third of family income. The increase in the effective federal tax rate since 1950 has now swallowed up an ever-increasing share of a family’s earnings. Instead of working to improve their family’s standard of living, they must work to feed government’s gluttonous appetite. This is a scandal.

VI. Crime

USCC:

In confronting the culture of violence our church calls for: . . . Curbing the easy availability of deadly weapons. Supporting community approaches to crime prevention and law enforcement . . . . Attacking the root causes of violence, including poverty, substance abuse, lack of opportunity, racism, and family disintegration. Democrats:

The pervasive fear of crime disfigures our public life and diminishes our freedom . . . . The simplest and most direct way to restore order in our cities is to put more police on the streets . . . . We will combat street violence and emphasize building trust and solving the problems that breed crime . . . . It is time to shut down the weapons bazaars. We support a reasonable waiting period to permit background checks for purchases of handguns, as well as assault weapons controls to ban the possession, sale, importation, and manufacture of the most deadly assault weapons . . . . Republicans:

Violent crime is the gravest domestic threat to our way of life . . . . It is the legacy of liberalism that elevates criminals’ rights above victims’ rights, that justifies soft-on-crime judges approving early-release prison programs, and that leaves law enforcement officers powerless to deter crime with the threat of certain punishment. [We should] restore the severest penalties for the most heinous crimes, to ensure swift and certain punishment, and to end the loopholes that let criminals go free . . . .

VII. Civil Rights/Affirmative Action

USCC:

Signs of increased racial hostility poison our society. Such discrimination constitutes a grave injustice and an affront to human dignity. It must be aggressively resisted by every individual and rooted our of every social institution and structure. Discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or other arbitrary standards can never be justified. Where the effects of past discrimination persist, society has the obligation to take positive steps to overcome the legacy of injustice. We support judiciously administered affirmative action programs as tools to overcome discrimination and its continuing effects . . . . Racism is not merely one sin among many. It is a radical evil dividing the human family. Democrats:

Democrats will continue to lead the fight to ensure that no American suffers discrimination or deprivation of rights on the basis of race, gender, language, national origin, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, or other characteristics irrelevant to ability. We support the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment; affirmative action; stronger protection of voting rights for racial and ethnic minorities, including language access to voting; and continued resistance to English-only pressure groups. Republicans:

The protection of individual rights is the foundation for opportunity and security . . . . We declare that bigotry and prejudice have no place in American life. We denounce all who practice or promote racism, anti-Semitism, or religious intolerance. Promoting opportunity, we reject efforts to replace equal rights with quotas or preferential treatment.

VIII. Education

USCC:

All persons . . . have an inalienable right to a quality education . . . . We advocate . . . adequate public and private funding to make a quality education available for all citizens and residents; government and voluntary action to reduce inequalities of educational opportunity . . . ; orderly compliance with legal requirements for racially integrated schools and additional voluntary efforts to increase racial and ethic integration . . . ; equitable tax support . . . ; salaries and benefits of teachers and administrators that reflect the principles of economic justice. Democrats:

Education is a cooperative enterprise that can only succeed if everyone accepts and exercises personal responsibility. Students must stay in school and do their best; parents must get involved in their children’s education; . . . government must end the inequalities that create educational ghettos among school districts and provide equal educational opportunity for all . . . . Republicans:

Parents have the right to choose the best school for their children. Parents are the first and most important teachers of their children. They should have the right not only to participate in their child’s education, but to choose for their children among the broadest array of educational choices . . . . We also support the right of parents to provide quality education through home-based schools . . . . We believe that . . . quality is best encouraged by minimizing government regulation.

IX. Environment

USCC:

The whole human race suffers as a result of environmental blight, and generations yet unborn will bear the cost for our failure to act today. What is needed is the will to make changes in policy and lifestyles, to arrest, reverse, and prevent environmental decay and pursue the goal of sustainable, equitable development for all . . . . Democrats:

For ourselves and future generations, we must protect our environment. We will protect our old-growth forests, preserve critical habitats, provide a genuine “no net loss” policy on wetlands . . . . Republicans:

We hold the resources of our country in stewardship . . . . Cleaning up America is a labor of love for family, neighborhood, and nation . . . . First, environmental progress is integrally related to economic advancement. Second, economic growth generates the capital to pay for environmental gains. Third, private ownership and economic freedom are the best security against environmental degradation.

X. Abortion

USCC:

We support policies and laws that encourage childbirth over abortion and urge government and the private sector to provide programs that assist pregnant women and their children, especially those who are poor . . . .We reject the 1973 Supreme Court abortion decisions which deny legal protection to unborn children, and we support efforts to prohibit or restrict abortion legislatively, and to provide constitutional protection for unborn human life. Democrats:

Democrats stand behind the right of every woman to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade , regardless of ability to pay, and support a national law to protect that right. The goal of our nation must be to make abortion less necessary, not more difficult or more dangerous. We pledge to support contraceptive research, family planning, comprehensive family life education, and policies that support healthy childbearing and enable parents to care most effectively for their children. Republicans:

We believe the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We therefore reaffirm our support for a human life amendment to the Constitution, and we endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children. Comment:

The similarity of policy messages in the Democratic and USCC documents is striking. Both stress egalitarianism, government action, and redistribution of resources. The Republican platform, in contrast, emphasizes the limits of government and the potential of nongovernment institutions”family, free market, and civil society”in meeting human needs. Defenders of the USCC statement notwithstanding, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the statement provides a religious gloss on the policy directions advanced by secular Democrats, a gloss that is otherwise missing because of the secular interest groups the Democratic Party has served for decades. Whether the “political responsibility” of Catholic voters requires them to support the directions favored by the Democratic Party is, to say the least, open to challenge. Robert A. Sirico is President of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Michigan.