Don't Dismiss Your Political Opponents

Photo: Win McNamee/AFP

*In response to "Lip-Service to Christian Ethics.*"

On October 13th, The Envoy published an article that took me aback. The paint hit the canvas, to be sure, but it was all over the place and had been applied with a confidence befitting someone who actually knew how to paint. With the broadest possible brushstrokes, the author systematically misconstrued Republicans, Catholics, Israel, and gun control all within the same article!

The author begins with the premise that "Republicans, historically (and whenever an election rolls around) grandstand on Christian ethics, and wrap themselves up as defenders of Christian values," and uses Pope Francis' recent visit as evidence. However, the fact that the author never mentioned abortion or gay marriage in the entirety of the article leads me to believe that he was only interested in smearing Republicans. If he were after the truth, he would note the Pope's supportive visits with Kim Davis, the woman who refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, and the Little Sisters of the Poor, the nuns who sued the federal government for forcing them to pay for their employees' birth control, and Francis' condemnation of abortion to the US Congress. But the problems with this article do not end with its omissions.

For example, neither Mike Huckabee nor Ted Cruz are Catholics, so writing "the Vatican formally recognized the State of Palestine this year (which includes the West Bank), thus placing Republican Christian conservatives like Huckabee and Ted Cruz at odds with the spiritual leader of most of the world's Christians" is sort of irrelevant. Believe it or not, the Pope's position on the Arab-Israeli conflict really isn't too important to most American Baptists. And since the author both thinks so highly of Pope Francis' foreign policy views and repeatedly uses the word "zionist" pejoratively, he should be reminded that the Pope recently said this: "Anyone who does not recognize the Jewish people and the State of Israel — and their right to exist — is guilty of anti-Semitism.”

The author continued to harp on the supposedly un-Christian and nonsensical Republican position on Israel, asking "So Republicans, why not listen to Pope Francis on this one and realize that a lasting peace will require concessions on both sides?" Unfortunately, there is no Republican candidate who would disagree that both sides need to make concessions. Even Israel agrees with this, and indeed, has made several substantial peace offers for that reason. Republicans just reject the author's view that both sides have erred in morally equivalent ways and feel that badgering Israel about each apartment block in East Jerusalem is probably not the most productive way to achieve peace. They prefer, say, getting Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas to stop inciting Palestinians to stab Jewish civilians to death.

However, the author was not finished letting the world know how misinformed he is about Israel, writing "The path to the presidency need not come from pandering to the militant supporters of an Israel with Jerusalem as its capital. Instead, one could please liberal voters in favouring a two-state solution all while appealing to conservatives by justifying the stance with Christian ethics and the support of the Pope." Putting aside the unbelievably simple-minded political advice (Mike Huckabee appreciates it, believe me), it is worth noting that Israel is never not going to have Jerusalem as its capital. It is a central tenet of the two-state solution that both nations would have Jerusalem as their capitals.

I saved the best Israel quote for last: "For Republicans seeking the presidency, the Holy Land has become a campaign stop used to shore up the wealthy pro-Israel vote." It couldn't be that these Republican politicians genuinely feel strongly about Israel as the chief moral litmus test of our time; they're just in it for Jewish and Evangelical money. Next time, the author should just go full Ann Coulter and save us some time. It's easy to talk in generalities, but the author libels Republicans as both corrupt and dishonest without naming a single person or offering a speck of evidence, all the while feeding the dangerous lie that Jewish money controls our politicians and explains America's longstanding pro-Israel stance.

The author also makes the elementary mistake because of confusing the difference between a line in a speech from the current Pope and official Catholic doctrine in his discussion of the death penalty. Without boundless conceit, the author labels Rick Santorum a "cherry-picking Catholic" for his support for the death penalty, which the Pope opposes. Clearly, the author has never read the Bible, in which Mosaic law names 36 capital offences in the Old Testament with express authorization from God in the case of murder, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image” (Genesis 9:6). In the New Testament, the right of the state to execute murderers seems to be taken for granted. Jesus cites with approval the apparently harsh commandment, “He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die” (Matthew 15:4; Mark 7:10, referring to Exodus 2l:17; cf. Leviticus 20:9). The Early Christians had no problem with capital punishment, and the Fathers and Doctors of the Church were virtually unanimous in their support. Indeed, The Catholic Church's Magisterium does not and never has advocated unqualified abolition of the death penalty.

The author goes on to use misleading statistics and libel Republicans as un-Christian for their desire to stop illegal immigration, and seems to believe that their opposition to specific gun control measures is driven by a lack of concern for human life. Opposition to abortion is also presented as further evidence of hypocrisy on gun control. I trust that your readers will not need my responses to reject these tenuous arguments.

Ultimately, it is both wrong and unhelpful to slander the representatives of around half of America as terrible people. They support Israel because they see it as a lone island of decency in a sea of despair — not for the donations, an offensive claim. Their opposition to illegal immigration comes from a desire to keep America safe, assert sovereignty over its borders, and build a fair immigration system — not un-Christian goals. Their support for the death penalty falls within — not outside — a long religious tradition. Their opposition to gun control relies on empirical claims (right or wrong) that it does not work, and a constitutionally-grounded belief in the importance of self-defence — not a disregard for human life.

Politics would be really easy if we could dismiss all our opponents as unfeeling, selfish hypocrites. It is the mark of a mature thinker to accept the difficulty of debating real human beings with legitimate motives and beliefs.

Elliot Kaufman

Elliot Kaufman is an undergraduate from Toronto studying Political Philosophy at Stanford University.

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