Last night’s debate between President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney was a slugfest focusing on taxes and the economy. Romney came out swinging, commanded the stage, and set the agenda. Obama seemed listless, tired, and resigned. Both candidates appealed to middle class voters, the unemployed, and those concerned that they pay too much in taxes. But what about another type of voter…?
Next week, for the first time in our nation’s history, two Roman Catholics, Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan, will share a stage for the vice presidential debate. This would have been unheard of only a few decades ago. When Al Smith became the first Catholic nominated for the presidency in 1928, political opponents openly and enthusiastically attacked his religion. When John F. Kennedy was nominated in 1960, he too dealt with religious hostility, famously addressing his Catholicism in a speech to Protestant ministers. He went on to win the White House in an election that some historians use to signify the movement of Catholics from an outside minority into the mainstream.
The Catholic Church has much to say about important issues facing Americans, and next week’s debate should give insight as to how these two faithful Catholics would approach some of them.
First, will poverty be a major topic in the debates? Probably not. But should it be? Both tickets say they are concerned primarily with preserving an increasingly vulnerable middle class, and they are right to focus their energy here. A strong middle class is the best antidote to poverty and its solvency is in question today. The wealthy have largely recovered from the tumult begun in 2008, while the middle class continues to see wage stagnation and a soaring cost of living.
However, the poor remain irrelevant and largely ignored and forgotten by both parties.
As a Catholic, I’d like to know how each administration would combat the growing poverty rate in the U.S., and how Biden and Ryan would both respond personally to this question.
Another issue that has largely been absent from the campaign is the environment. Pope Benedict XVI is probably one of the greenest heads of state in the world: the Vatican installed solar panels to power massive generators, attempted a carbon-offset program, and recently upgraded the Pope-mobile to an electric model. The Pope has said repeatedly that climate change and environmental conservation are moral issues.
Do you think Biden and Ryan should be challenged on why their bosses are ignoring climate change? What laws would each ticket support to combat global warming and environmental degradation in light of these being moral issues?
Next, let’s consider immigration. The Catholic Church is one of the most progressive voices for compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform in this country. Catholic bishops have written forcefully in defense of the DREAM Act that would grant legal status to young people who were brought into the U.S. by their parents as young children and in favor of broader immigration laws in general.
To be blunt, the Democratic Party today has the better record in terms of welcoming new peoples to the U.S., but Biden and Ryan should both be challenged on this issue. Obama is on track to deport more undocumented individuals than any other president, and Romney has said that he wants to make life so unbearable for the undocumented that they choose to “self-deport.”
What changes would Biden and Ryan advocate the President to make to immigration law?
The Dignity of all Human Life
Finally, both parties have made their views on contraception and abortion well known, but Biden and Ryan should be challenged on other life issues, too, especially in the context of war.
Biden should be challenged on the use of predator drones in Pakistan and other countries that kill and maim innocent civilians as they seek to kill suspected terrorists. Ryan should be made to answer for the simmering calls in his party to go to war with Iran and for bringing back torture to overseas U.S. prisons. And both should be asked about the staggering amount of money we spend on the military as social services are cut.
Catholics can feel more than a little pride next week when Biden and Ryan go at it, but we should also ask both candidates how their faith challenges their political views. At its best, Catholicism transcends politics and challenges both Democrats and Republicans to care for the poor and marginalized and love everyone as Christ loves them. What do you think Vice President Biden and Congressman Ryan should be asked? If you were the debate moderator, in what ways would you bring their shared faith into the debate? Ask your questions down below in the comments section and we’ll see what happens next week.