Fr. John Rauschby Fr. John S. Rausch,
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

(This article originally appeared in a Peaceweavings in 2004.)

When George Ryan ran for governor of Illinois in 1998, he brought to the gubernatorial race impeccable credentials as a Midwestern conservative. A Republican pharmacist from Kankakee, he joined the Illinois legislature in 1970 as a law and order candidate. Later, he could boast, “I supported the death penalty, I believed in the death penalty, I voted for the death penalty.”

During his tenure as governor, Ryan oversaw one execution, but the experience triggered a flood of moral anguish. A study released after the execution revealed that one-third of the 285 capital convictions in Illinois since reinstating the death penalty were reversed because of fundamental error. No fewer than 13 men were completely exonerated.

In January 2003, shortly before he left office, Governor Ryan issued a blanket commutation that saved 156 inmates from execution, because he was convinced that capital punishment could not be justly administered. Confronted by the facts, Ryan stretched his thinking to embrace a greater, and more consistent, life ethic.

In this election year 2004, many Catholics feel no one candidate reflects fully the social teachings of the church. No candidate appears to have stretched his thinking to adequately include the life issues that range from abortion to cloning, from fair trade to a living wage, from poverty to war.

The U.S. Catholic bishops in their document, “Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility,” highlight our moral priorities. The church must protect human life, promote family life, pursue social justice and practice global solidarity. Unfortunately, politics pivots around ideology rather than principle. Presidential candidates bow to special interests, big contributors and assorted political realities. So, how can a Catholic choose a presidential candidate?

Some voters emphasize abortion to the exclusion of other political considerations. While the right to life stands as a primary human right, getting the child born does not finish our moral, economic and political responsibilities to defend life. Indeed, the bishops proclaim a consistent life ethic. Human life is also assailed by hunger, poverty, violence, the death penalty and modern warfare. The bishops write, “A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good.” A single-issue voter trivializes the complexity of the life process.

At the heart of political decision-making stands the common good. That common good, constrained by political realities, consists of the moral values necessary to achieve a just society. The bishops ask, “What kind of nation do we want to be? What kind of world do we want to shape?”

Presidential candidates project that vision. Sometimes voters get half a loaf; sometimes only a slice must suffice. The example of George Ryan could prove instructive. People of faith might vote for the candidate most open to life issues. Which candidate might stretch his thinking to embrace a greater, and more consistent, life ethic? Who possesses enough integrity to admit mistakes, apologize, change and show genuine compassion?

Since a president appoints key administrators, who will select people respectful of the immigrant, the working poor, the most vulnerable in society? Who will hold corporations responsible for the care of creation and the rights of workers? Who has the vision to alleviate global poverty by fair trade and challenge terrorism through international law and collaboration among nations?

Political greatness is defined as someone who puts the common good ahead of party and career. Given the political climate today, how can people of faith set the expectation for a candidate to meet that challenge?

Click here to read the original Peaceweavings in which this article appeared in 2004.

Fr. John Rausch, a Glenmary priest, is the director of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia and works against mountaintop removal.  He was the recipient of the Pax Christi USA’s Teacher of Peace Award in 2007.

9 thoughts on “REFLECTION: Choosing a presidential candidate

  1. I so disagree. When has Romney held corporations responsible for the care of creation and the rights of workers? He currently seems to advocate for war with Iran – truly not a pro-life position. Each candidate has views whichare inconsistent with Catholic Social Teaching. It is definitely not “very clear” and I will take half a loaf and vote for Obama in 2012.

  2. It would be wonderful if the answer was so clear; it is not. As a catholic who would never contemplate having an abortion because I believe all life is sacred, I cannot find it within me to support candidates who are champions when it comes to protecting the unborn but show very little respect for life beyond that. Poverty, lack of healthcare, substandard schools, gun control, the death penalty, favoring war over peace (or diplomatic solutions)… these are all issues that are just as important to me; all of them, because I am a Christian. No, this is no easy decision and one that requires deep prayers and reflections. Thanks to Pax Christi for helping with those reflections.

  3. My assessment on both: Neither will be able to move the country on the abortion issue one way or the other.
    I don’t like Romney’s war talk. But I don’t think that the outcome will be any different whichever is president.
    For sure, Obama will have a big impact on the homosexual ‘marriage’ issue.
    Regarding concern for the poor and social programs, a bankrupt country is in no position to be of help to anybody and that is where we are headed. The key issue facing this country above all others is the national debt. And the best chance we have to get a handle on it is Romney.
    We just have too many naive people who have no conception of the road to disaster that we are on and who are more than willing to sell our grandchildren into slavery.

    1. I believe Obama will be a lot more cautious than Romney about engaging us into another war. I also happen to believe that as long as we are engaged in wars, our national debt will keep on rising. How is Romney going to tackle the national debt? He does not believe in making the wealthy pay their fair share (many of whom agree they should pay more taxes). He does not believe in more regulations for the banking sector to prevent disasters like the last housing bubble…Do we need to tackle the national debt? Absolutely. How to go about it is the key issue. I personally believe that there are ways to gradually reduce the debt without making drastic cuts in social programs, which are vital to so many people. We just need to have our priorities straight and invest in what can make us truly prosper as a nation. We all know that right now we have to “import” brains from China and India to fill many of the high tech/engineering jobs that are vacant when unemployment is so high; this simply should not be. The mess we are in did not happen overnight and it will take a lot more than a president to get us out of it: it will take all of us learnig to value the things that really matter in life, the kind of things that can have a lasting and positive impact on the future of all our children, regardless of whether they are born poor or rich.

  4. If our goal is to decrease the national debt, then tax cuts (and keeping tax breaks for high-earners) are as effective as using kerosene to put out a fire. President Ronald Reagan’s and President George W. Bush’s tax cuts significantly increased the national debt.

  5. I cannot support a candidate who has changed his mind on every social issue on the radar screen. Compare Romney’s position on scores of issues while governor of Massachusetts to those he professes to advocate for now. He has flip-flopped countless times and even during this most recent presidential debate, now seems to agree with Obama more than not. Regarding abortion, I would never have had one and do not ever promote it. However, it is equally morally unjust to diminish programs that provide food, clothing and shelter to those babies once they are born. No one has mentioned the environment. If you are a true Christian then you believe that God created our mother earth. How can you not then wish to protect and preserve this planet and all it’s wondrous natural beauty? What would Jesus do?
    Romney’s quote: “It won’t be my job to preserve the earth”. Sorry Mr. Romney, it’s the only one we have.

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