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Issue Date:  October 8, 2004

John Kerry is the only choice

A seamless-garment Catholic switches his vote from Sr. Joan


The sad political homelessness of the seamless-garment Catholic has driven me in the past to reject the major-party presidential candidates and write in someone else’s name.

Not this time.

More than three decades ago, I enrolled as a blank, not as a Democrat or a Republican, because I was covering politics. And partylessness still makes sense for me, journalistically and theologically, because both parties are so deficient.

As NCR has demonstrated, Democratic positions are far closer to Catholic social teaching than Republican dogma is. But the Democratic Party has become a wholly owned subsidiary of the abortion lobby. More recently, it has cravenly capitulated to mad Republican schemes such as the Iraq invasion and endless tax cuts for the rich.

The Republicans make pro-life noises, but have delivered nothing real on that score -- or on any of the phony “values” issues that divert attention from their actual public policy. When they do achieve power, they bash immigrants, crush the poor, weigh down our grandchildren with borrow-and-spend deficits, indulge their lust for capital punishment and war, despoil God’s Earth and enact economic policies that mostly reward the rich. That falls far short of the Matthew 25 standard: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

So it’s been impossible to find a presidential candidate who fully embraces the seamless-garment ethic championed by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago.

In 1992, for example, how could I vote for Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, who cynically returned home during the campaign to profit politically from the execution of a mentally impaired man? How could I support President George H.W. Bush, who had led the ravaging of the Iraqi infrastructure and the imposition of sanctions, which together helped kill countless thousands of Iraqis? So I wrote in the name of a national treasure: Sr. Joan Chittister.

Sorry, Joan, but I can’t vote for you this year. You were a great shadow president for me during the Clinton years: no bombings, no sex scandals, no Republican-lite policies, no misguided welfare reform. But there’s something profoundly different about the race between George Bush the Lesser and John Kerry: It’s about the survival of the republic.

For the true seamless-garment Catholic, rejecting Bush is easy, starting with his record-setting execution spree as Texas governor. His invasion of Iraq has killed more than 1,000 young Americans and anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 Iraqis. A reelected Bush would have four years to indulge other crazy neocon dreams such as invading Iran and Syria. Those adventures would cost thousands more lives. In contrast, his policies may have averted a few dozen abortions, at most.

If there is another terrorist event, with Bush returned to the Oval Office, national security would continue to trump constitutional rights. Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the invasion of Iraq, predicted chillingly in a magazine interview that a new attack could “cause our own population to question our own Constitution and begin to militarize our country to avoid a repeat of another mass-casualty-producing event.” It’s easy to imagine Bush discarding the Constitution, while blasphemously invoking God’s name.

Kerry is much more complicated. I admire his intelligence, his seriousness, his depth of experience, his commitment to the environment. But his vigorous pro-choice stand truly bothers me. NCR has already covered the efforts of some bishops to weaponize the Eucharist. So I won’t go there, except to say that in forming my conscience on this, I relied on two factors. One was bloody Bush math: dozens of lives saved, thousands destroyed. The other was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who told our bishops that Catholics can vote for pro-choice candidates so long as they vote despite the pro-choice stand, not to support it.

Then, of course, there’s Kerry’s military record. There, my own biography makes the choice complex. Drafted in 1965, I went to artillery officer candidate school and served in Korea. My brother Richie wasn’t as lucky. He got drafted, served in Vietnam and died later at home, at age 36. I still believe he died because his own government dropped Agent Orange on him and so many others in Vietnam. The use of this toxic agent was surely an atrocity. So, to those who hate Kerry for saying back then that Americans were committing atrocities, I say this: The whole war was an atrocity.

Unfortunately, two decades in Washington have made Kerry a cautious politician. His vote to give Bush authority to use force in Iraq was a terrible mistake, and he has been slow to sufficiently separate his position on Iraq from Bush’s. But the return of Bush to the Oval Office is so unthinkable that I have no choice but to vote for the young John Kerry, whose 1971 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was one of the few truly shining moments of that whole sorry war, and to trust that he still lives inside today’s Kerry. I believe he does, and I believe that America will be far less likely to launch further illegal invasions, far less likely to trash the Constitution, far less likely to stride across the globe as a dumb and bloody giant, if Kerry is president.

So I plan to pull the lever for Kerry. I hope Joe Bernardin would understand. I know Joan Chittister will.

Bob Keeler is a member of Pax Christi and an editorial writer for Newsday.

National Catholic Reporter, October 8, 2004

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