Friday, May 14, 2004

"I Have to Represent All the People"

In the current controversy over CINO politicians who support the so-called "right" to abortion in open defiance of Church teaching, and yet claim to be "good" Catholics, one frequently hears remarks of this nature:
In her own defense, [Wisconsin Senator Julie] Lassa pronounced in the article, "When I was elected, I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, and that means I have to represent all the people of all faiths in my district." "But I can't let my religion take precedent over my duties as a legislator."

That a Catholic politician who may be "personally opposed" to abortion must nonetheless support and defend the "right" to abortion has been echoed by a number of politicians, such as Senator John Kerry.

This. Idea. Is. Sheer. Nonsense.

The politician who uses this red herring either doesn't understand his duty as a legislator, or is relying on the supposition that you don't understand it.

A legislator's (and I use that term to encompass all elected officials) duty is not exhausted by the concept that he must represent his constituents. First and foremost, he or she is responsible to promote and defend the common good. (CCC 1897-98, 1903) The common good is not "what is good for the majority", but the conditions and structures necessary to support and extend those goods which, by their nature, belong to all human beings. (CCC 1905-1912)

Chief among those goods which belong to all is respect for the human person. That respect for the human person entails respect for each person's fundamental rights. The foremost human right is the right to life. As Archbishop Chaput of Denver recently wrote, echoing the Catechism, the US Bishops, and the Holy Father, "The right to life comes first. It precedes and undergirds every other social issue or group of issues. The right to life is the foundation of every other right."

Since abortion attacks that right to life at its foundation, permitting it is inconsistent with the common good. A politician who supports abortion or fails to act to stop it, then, is failing in his fundamental duty. Far from representing his constituents' best interests, he is in fact undermining the very foundation of their rights. A politician who supports abortion is simply failing to do his job.

We all, in fact, recognize that "representing" the desires of his or her constituents is not the be-all and end-all of the legislator's responsibility. In fact, if we look at our own history, we can see instances in the not-too-distant past where politicians perpetrated monstrous injustices in the name of representing their constituents. Many Southern states enacted "Jim Crow" laws relegating African Americans to second-class citizen status. They no doubt did so with the support and at the behest of their constituents. In the late 19th century, the State of California enacted "Coolie" laws which placed Chinese immigrants under every manner of discriminatory burden. Those laws were wildly popular with the electorate. Now we look back at such measures with shame and disgust, and rightly so. The fact that the Jim Crow and Coolie laws were enacted by legislators representing the will of the people does not morally justify them.

The Supreme Court decisions which legalized abortion and extended its license are today's Jim Crow and Coolie laws. But they are even worse, because they deprive an entire class of persons the most basic right of all, the right to life. Politicians who support and defend the abortion license in the name of "representing" their constituents are using a cowardly dodge to justify their failure to live up to their duty as legislators. Their authority is given them to exercise it for the common good, and they will have much to answer for if they fail to exercise it in vindicating the most basic right of all.