Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Catholic Vote: Caroline Kennedy and Obama

Catholic Vote: Caroline Kennedy for Obama

Richard G. Malloy, S.J., Ph.D.
Author of A Faith That Frees: Catholic Matters for the 21st Century (Orbis 2007)

Who speaks for the Catholic Voter? Certainly the Bishops, and, as Vatican II teaches, lay persons also, who are especially called to engage in and order temporal affairs (cf. Lumen Gentium, # 31). Caroline Kennedy is a practicing Catholic who knows something about politics.

When I was five years old, I was hoisted up onto the bar in a Philadelphia neighborhood tavern, and my Father had me lead the whole crowd in singing McNamara’s Band. I liked the sodas and the hot dogs and didn’t really understand that we were celebrating the election of one of our own, an Irish Catholic. But I soon understood that there was a little girl in the White House who was the luckiest kid I’d ever heard of. She had her own pony, named Macaroni, and the pony lived right there.

So, in the summer of 1961 (or 1962?) my family piles into the car and takes a day trip to Washington, DC. We are going to visit the sites including the White House. I’m thinking, “This is great! I’ll be able to play with John-John and Caroline and get to ride her pony!” I am too young to realize the Kennedys and the Malloys are not quite in the same league. We get to the White House but cannot get in. It’s too late. We missed the tour. We’re walking away, when I see Macaroni. My Father yells at me not to stick my hand through the fence, but it’s too late. I have my arm stretched out, and Macaroni comes over… and bites me. Just a little nip, but enough to draw blood. That’s the day I learned life in the White House and politics can be rough.

Caroline Kennedy knows that much better than I. Hers has been a life graced and gifted with much, but also a life touched by tragedy and tribulations, pains and privations many of us will never suffer. Through it all she has been a woman of courage and compassion, grace and gravitas, a harbinger of hope, and the essence of dignity in a too often undignified age.

A graduate of Radcliffe/Harvard University and Columbia Law School, Caroline Kennedy is the co-author of two books, In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action (1990) and The Right to Privacy (1995) and has edited several volumes. Her Profiles in Courage for Our Time, continues the legacy of her father’s Pulitzer prize winning Profiles in Courage. As a young adult, she interned for her uncle, Senator Edward Kennedy. For a time she worked at The New York Daily News. While working for the paper, she attended the funeral of Elvis Presley and wrote about the experience for Rolling Stone magazine (so you could say she really saw Elvis leave the building).

She is currently the President of the Kennedy Library Foundation, and director of both the commission on presidential debates, and the NAACP legal defense and education fund. She is also an adviser to the Harvard Institute of Politics, a living memorial to her father. She is the founder of the Profiles in Courage Award, and, in 2002, presented the award to all the brave men and women who were among the first responders to the events of 9/11. For the past several years she has been working to improve New York City Schools. She is married and the mother of three.

As arguably the most famous Catholic of my generation, and as a woman accomplished and influential, her thoughts and opinions on matters count. Caroline Kennedy is supporting Senator Obama.

In Jan. 2008, she published an op-ed piece in The New York Times entitled “A President like My Father” announcing her support for Senator Obama. She wrote: “I want a president who understands that his responsibility is to articulate a vision and encourage others to achieve it; who holds himself, and those around him, to the highest ethical standards; who appeals to the hopes of those who still believe in the American Dream, and those around the world who still believe in the American ideal; and who can lift our spirits, and make us believe again that our country needs every one of us to get involved. I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans” (Kennedy, The New York Times, January 27, 2008).

A cover story in Time magazine once called her a champion of civility. The well known historian David McCullough, who sits on the panel that picks the Kennedy Library’s Profile in Courage awards, said, “She has a strong sense of personal responsibility. She knows she has serious work to do.” Of one of her books she once said, “I hope it will show people there is a process for working things out. To the extent that we are all educated and informed, we will be more equipped to deal with gut issues that tend to divide us” (Time, Aug 1, 1999).

As a quietly public person, Kennedy strives to help us overcome the divisions in our society and culture. As a Catholic, her support of Senator Obama fulfills our Christian duty to participate in the political process.

The teaching of the Catholic church on matters political is well articulated, and is more nuanced and complex than some would like to admit. See the Catholic Bishops’ website http://www.faithfulcitizenship.org/ . There is no major candidate in this election who is 100% pro-life. Senator McCain will allow abortion in the case of rape and incest, and has stated in 1999 that he would not be in favor of repealing Roe v. Wade. The only candidate in favor of abolishing the death penalty and protecting unborn life is Ron Paul. No candidate stands unequivocally with the Catholic Bishops and the Popes in opposition to the war in Iraq, but of the leading three candidates, Senator Obama comes closest.

Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, wrote in July 2004: “When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it … can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons” (Ratzinger 2004. http://www.catholicsforcommongood.org/election.htm). That’s not some Jesuit spin on moral theology. Those are the present Pope’s own words.

Caroline Kennedy and other Catholics recognize the truth of the Bishops’ teaching that “a political commitment to a single aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility to the common good” (http://www.catholicsforcommongood.org/election.htm). This election, Catholics ought to listen to all our Catholic leaders, especially women like Caroline Kennedy.