In his column today, Michael Gerson discusses the relationship between Catholic Republicans, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Tea Party. I think he provides a decent summary of Catholic social teaching. He also makes the following observation:
Catholic social teaching is simply not libertarian. Neither, of course, are most conservatives. But where Republicans veer toward libertarianism, they will run smack into the bishops.
The context for this statement is Gerson’s reflection on the role and influence of the Tea Party in and on Republican officeholders. His operative assumption seems to be that the Tea Party is basically or essentially libertarian. I’m not sure that I agree with that.
But I do mostly agree with this:
The Catholic tradition asserts the necessity of limited government. The establishment of justice and acts of compassion should be done at the lowest, most human levels of society, instead of by distant, centralized bureaus - a perspective fully consistent with the designs of America’s founders. But gaps in the justice and compassion of a society require government intervention to secure the common good, which is not common until it includes the poor, the immigrant, the sick, the disabled, the unborn. Catholic teaching elevates the primary importance of families, charities and strong communities - while rejecting the simplistic notion that such institutions render government unnecessary. In determining the proper balance between civil society and government, there is much room for political debate. But the search for that balance is a source of sanity in our political life, involving the rejection of both collectivist and libertarian utopias.
Let me repeat one of his statements: “In determining the proper balance between civil society and government, there is much room for political debate.” Is there any debate about that in the Tea Party? (As it’s a fractious, though civil, group, I assume there is. But it’s hardly monolithically libertarian.)
In the end, I find myself unpersuaded by Gerson’s picture of Catholic Republicans caught between the bishops and the Tea Party.
But there will probably come a point when red lines get crossed and Catholic and other religious leaders declare: Contempt for immigrants, even illegal immigrants, is not a moral option. Or, cutting AIDS and malaria funding violates pro-life principles. Or, health-care repeal without a serious alternative is not responsible.
He may be right about the social witness of the bishops, but to attribute contempt for immigrants and advocacy of “health-care repeal without a serious alternative” to the run-of-the-mill Tea Partier strikes me as a caricature.
Am I wrong about Gerson? Wrong about the Tea Party?