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Who would Jesus vote for?

Boston-area conservative talk show host and syndicated columnist Howie Carr (presumably unrelated to our own David Carr) wrote a column accusing Bernard Cardinal Law, archbishop of the beleaguered Archdiocese of Boston, of hypocrisy. In Carr’s words:

Until the recent unraveling of his corrupt empire, the sanctimonious prince of the church annually went to Beacon Hill to bang his tin cup on the State House steps, demanding ever more generous handouts for the shiftless, the indigent and the promiscuous. But now that it’s finally Law’s turn to buy a round, he’s tipping over tables in his unseemly rush to get out of the room. Money for sodomized altar boys? Don’t push me, pal. Ever hear of Chapter 11?

Now, this is a little off the mark. After all, bankruptcy laws don’t exist to help debtors weasel out of their obligations; they exist to provide for orderly payment of creditors. The point of filing under Chapter 11 isn’t to avoid paying out potentially massive liabilities; it is to ensure that you will be able to continue operating — and paying your creditors — under a worst-case scenario.

(For a quick refresher on US bankruptcy law, here is a nice little e-pamphlet from the Securities and Exchange Commission.)

But Mr. Carr may have tapped into a richer vein of thought here. (Even a blind squirrel finds a few acorns.) This is what I want to know: when did morality stop being about how you conduct your own affairs, and turn into a referendum on your political views?

Maybe there’s some of that in Rand — who wrote at great length about the moral superiority of capitalism and individualism, etc., and who remained a stern moralist in this arena despite a personal life marked by marital infidelity and other peccadilloes. But I think that Carr is correct in hanging this one largely on the liberal left. Carr skewers the limousine liberals, the likes of John Kerry and the Clintons who support an expansive welfare state but who are notoriously averse to supporting actual charities. For an excellent discussion of the motivations of these types, turn to Allan Levite’s Guilt, Blame and Politics (Stanyan Press, 1998.)

How many Democratic senators riffed on this theme during Clinton’s impeachment saga: “Clinton may have done (fill in misdeed here) but he is a man of resolute morality because he supports (fill in liberal cause here)”? Even morality has become politicized; how can Clinton be immoral if he believes in the Brady Bill, and midnight basketball and such?

Taking this concept to absurd heights, White House correspondent Nina Burleigh famously remarked:

“I would be happy to [pleasure him] just to thank him for keeping abortion legal. I think American women should be lining up with their presidential kneepads on to show their gratitude for keeping the theocracy off our backs.”

Carr is also correct in observing Cardinal Law’s long history of political advocacy. In 1986, the US Catholic Bishops published a treatise called Economic Justice for All, which might just as easily have been written by a bunch of staffers in Sen. Kennedy’s office. Bernard Law played a key role in the creation of that document, and frequently conducted “forums” on issues such as universal health care and housing. Cardinal Law also testified before Congress on social justice issues and the “just war” doctrine during the war against Afghanistan. All of that sort of rings hollow now, doesn’t it?

People ask me frequently how I can be a Catholic and a Libertarian at the same time, as if those two are mutually exclusive. Invariably, I will play on the theme of morality being defined by one’s actions and not by one’s political ideology. Jesus of Nazareth lived under one of the most corrupt and brutal governments the world has known; but he cast his harshest words not on the Roman justice system but rather on the self-righteous leaders of the Jewish church.

As UPI columnist Joe Bob Briggs put it, in a recent column mocking the “what would Jesus drive” campaign:

In other words, [Jesus] wasn’t a political sort of guy. He was the Son of God. If you really wanna ask what he would do, I hope you’re prepared to go the whole nine yards. After all, the most important thing he did … was die.

Well, the first time I see a “WWJVF” (Who Would Jesus Vote For) bumper sticker, that’s when I’ll know that morality is dead.

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