There are two seemingly unrelated issues floating out there that are, in my opinion, very much related. The first one is the current Republican fascination with Rudy Giuliani; the second is the controversy within Catholic circles as to whether or not the Iraq war is a just one.
First, Giuliani. There’s no question of his appeal (the 9/11 mayor, the man who cleaned up New York City and got tough on crime, and so on). Rudy is, we are told, the candidate of the economic conservatives, the man who can beat Hillary (or whomever the Democrats nominate). The objections to Rudy’s candidacy are quite familiar by now: his liberal positions on abortion, gun control, homosexual marrage, and so on. The conventional wisdom is that he'll have to moderate on at least some, if not most, of these issues in order to have a chance at the nomination.
A growing school of thought suggests ways he might be able to do that: for example, a commitment to appointing strict constitutionalists to the Supreme Court. This school, which I suspect is driven by Giuliani’s strong poll numbers, suggests that Rudy doesn’t necessarily have to change his liberal social policies as long as he takes a kind of hands-off, "let the courts and the states decide" attitude. If Rudy is the tough wartime leader the nation needs, supporters say, then we must be prepared to look away from other areas.
There’s a certain appeal to this theory, certainly. If Rudy is the man in all other areas, and if he promises not to interject himself into the dreaded social issues, then such a rationalization just might work. Or not. We’d have to wait until he actually proposes such a tack before we can measure its chances for success.
But how, you may ask, does this tie into the Catholic angst I mentioned at the start? (Other than to suggest that, based on his public record, Giuliani might not be the best example we have to offer of a practicing Catholic.) It has to do, I think, with a fundamental disconnect that exists in the debate over the proper Catholic position on the war, specifically on what is or is not torture.
This is a painful debate to watch because it has become so personal on both sides, with very little granting of good intentions, and even less desire to consider that elements of truth might exist in each position. What is likely is that both sides share a respect for the teachings of the Church and a love of country. Each side, however, would accuse the other of misplaced loyalties, idealism, an unrealistic understanding of how the world operates, an overcommitment to politics. But how to reconcile the two? The answer to this question lies in just how you look at America – what it is, what it represents, what’s happening to it now, and why.
It’s always been fashionable to ridicule people like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson (who certainly deserve their share of it) for always pronouncing some type of judgment (often straight from God’s lips) as to how [insert current disaster here] is a punishment from God for [insert current offense here]. And in truth it can be difficult to believe that God singles out any particular group for punishment, when so many innocent people wind up being hurt at the same time. It’s kind of like suggesting that God takes sides, an idea which would be anathema to our American sense of fair play.
There is nothing ridiculous, on the other hand, of looking at any particular event as being a form of chastisement from God, a warning that His patience and protection is not limitless, and perhaps it’s time for us to start paying more attention to Him. It is not that He has caused these events so much as that He’s allowed them to occur by withdrawing that protective Hand ever so slightly. Anyone who’s listened to the accounts of the Flood in this week’s readings has to have had the thought cross their mind.
There are those who would do anything to protect the country and their fellow Americans, and as one with a devout wish not to have my butt blown off, nor those of my friends and loved ones, I can appreciate that viewpoint. If you can save the lives of a lot of innocent people by wiping out that cell of terrorists, go to it, man. On the other hand, when I look at the innocent unborn being murdered, the cultural filth being promoted and exported, the corruption that’s become rife in so many parts of American society – well, one can be tempted to say, “the hell with it all.”
What kind of a country is America , and what kind of a country do we want it to be? If it is true that “unless the Lord keep the city, the watchmen waketh but in vain” (Psalm 127:1) then we’re presented with a stark choice. By choosing the man (or woman) whom we perceive to have the best chance for keeping the country safe, do we risk the alienation of God and His graces? In other words, does it do any good to save the country if it’s become a country not worth saving? It may sound like a bumper-sticker type of question, but it’s not one to be tossed aside lightly.
This, I think, is the bone of contention that really separates the two sides. One side is more inclined than the other to look at America as the world’s last great hope, a country that, for all its faults, is still the best place on earth to live. Spend any length of time with Ronald Reagan’s speeches and you’ll be hard pressed not to agree.
This may well be true, the other side would counters, but it’s not the issue. For them, America is measured not against other nations, but against God’s laws. They see, in our current situation, the dichotomy between Augustine's Cities of God and Man. The pessimists among us look at a nation seemingly hell-bent for self-destruction, full-speed ahead: homosexual marriage, euthanasia, abortion, orgiastic Hollywood celebrities, life on the edge with no sense of restraint whatsoever – and ask why God should save this country. Perhaps we're still better than most European countries, but that's grading on a bell curve if ever I saw it.
You can’t buy salvation off with good works, we are reminded. You can’t throw a buck in the cup for the homeless and think it undoes the stain of your support for Planned Parenthood, or embryonic stem-cell research, or any one of a hundred other issues. And what goes for individuals goes for countries as well. We may well be the most generous nation on earth, but also one of the most violent towards the most vulnerable. And that’s a judgment you can’t dodge through bribery, which is, of course, the American way.
One thing is clear: this nation is at war with an enemy dedicated to its destruction, and whether or not they actually have the means to accomplish that goal is a moot point, for they can do a hell of a lot of damage in the meantime. On that score I'm unequivocally with the hawks - a commitment to total victory is what is needed in order to win. But do we have that commitment? Furthermore, is it a commitment that we as a nation, in good conscience, can make? And is the war an issue that trumps all others? Rudy Giuliani or John McCain or any one of a number of candidates will make that point, but I'm not at all sure I'm willing to live with the compromises that would entail.
So we’re left with the questions with which we began. Until and unless the two sides can reach a consensus on what America currently is and is destined to be, I'm afraid we may not get much further. Rudy may be the man the Republicans need, the man who can save America , but do we really want to live in Rudy’s America? The next 21 months may give us something of an answer.