Saturday, May 05, 2012

A Belated Word on the HHS Mandate

Truth is, if Ted Kennedy and Joe Moakley had still been alive, it wouldn’t have happened.

In the rather long hiatus I’ve taken on this blog, I’ve missed a lot of noteworthy events, both in Church matters and political matters. There’s a lot I could have said about the presidential campaign, the brief Santorum phenomenon, Paul Ryan and the bishops, and so forth... There’s a lot I could have weighed in on, but for the most part it’d be pretty stale if I said anything now.

An exception would be the HHS mandate. Any Catholic-oriented blog has to say something in regard to that. To sum up in one sentence, I felt pretty much the way Mark Shields, Michael Sean Winters, and E.J. Dionne felt about it at the time. There was a brief window of time when our views could have been considered sympathetically by others, before the bishops overreached a bit, and before we got “help” we certainly didn’t need from blowhards like Rush Limbaugh and John Boehner.

As I’m getting older, I can feel the culture shifting under my feet. It’s a fascinating thing to watch it unfold, and in some ways humbling. Things that would have been considered off-limits just a couple of decades ago are considered fair game today. What was once obvious and unassailable is now up for question and debate. With the introduction of the internet, these cultural memes that cause shifts in public attitudes have picked up a new acceleration.

When I was younger, I thought that most people could intuitively grasp what was right from wrong and wanted to live peaceably. I’m now coming to the conclusion that this was a mistaken assumption. I’m now coming to believe that people are more interested in winning, and that no idea has permanence on the basis of being self-evident. Ideas need to be fought for continually in the so-called marketplace of ideas. Nothing can be taken for granted. An idea, no matter how true or good it might appear to be as an axiom, will fade from the culture if it isn’t fought for. On the other hand, any idea, no matter how poorly reasoned or harmful, can catch on if it is insisted upon with enough patience and diligence.

Regarding the HHS matter, it was a disappointment to me. All I’ll say about it is this….

The people who first landed at Plymouth Plantation were the most anti-Catholic in the history of the planet. Their descendants who drafted the Constitution were pretty much of the same mindset, but I'll say this much for them - they stayed true to their constitutional ideals. Even though they despised us and were suspicious of us they allowed us to build our churches, schools, universities and hospitals, and they allowed us to run our institutions without interference from the government.

Somehow, in the media and in the public mind, this campaign turned into a fight about contraception, as if someone’s primary goal was to restrict women's access to it... Up until the point of the Obama administration's decision, the culture war issues were pretty much out of the picture. There had been issues percolating about the ongoing wars in the Middle East and the Justice Department’s continuing infringements upon our personal liberties, but for the most part the focus was mainly on one thing and one thing only - the economy.

Even some Catholic progressives were upset about the HHS mandate.

Obviously, there are many Catholics who dissent from the stance their bishops take on contraception. Obviously, many of the Catholic laity are also furious with their bishops over the sex abuse scandal and want to see both priests and bishops alike prosecuted under the civil law. That, however, is an internal matter for us Catholics to deal with. Even Catholic liberals can resent a government taking a cynical look at polling data and thinking they can drive a wedge between us and our weakened bishops. Our universities and hospitals serve non-Catholics and they employ non-Catholics. If you are a non-Catholic working for a Catholic institution, I’m sorry, but you pretty much know the deal going in. We weren't the ones who forced a change to a peaceful status quo.

The late Ted Kennedy and Joe Moakley were both Democrats, and both were Catholics representatives from Massachusetts. They haven’t been gone from the scene very long. One was Pro-Choice, and one was Pro-Life. However, if either of them had still been alive and been in Congress, I’d venture to guess that Sebelius’ decision never would have come down the way it did. To me, that is a testimony to how much things have changed in recent years, and how much the polarization in American politics continues.

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