Foggy Controversies, Empty Protests, and Faux Freedom

What health care mandates and Wall Street protests have in common

“But we make a distinction between health care and killing…” — Cardinal Justin Rigali, November 20, 2009.

“This is not about left versus right … It’s about hierarchy versus autonomy.” — A 25-year-old “Occupy Wall Street” protester (as reported by The New York Times)

“The fifth moral error of political liberalism is perfectionism. According to this notion human effort is adequate to cure human evil; according to Christianity our sin, like our guilt, can be erased only by the grace of God through faith in Christ. Perfectionists also think the cure can be completed in human time. Some even believe it can be arranged for whole societies at once.” — J. Budziszewski, “The Problem With Liberalism”

Nancy Pelosi, considered by some to be among the most devout Catholics around, raised some eyebrows and inadvertently lightened the mood last year when she stated that Congress had “to pass the [health care] bill so you can find out what’s in it, away from the fog of controversy.” That is, away from voices—including those of the American bishops—uttering prudent warning and informed concern.

Now that the health care bill has passed and its troublesome, conscience-choking innards are spilling out like Leviathan, the USCCB has taken the rather remarkable step of establishing a “new Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty to address growing concerns over the erosion of freedom of religion in America.” Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the USCCB, wrote grimly of the need “to protect our people from this assault which now appears to grow at an ever accelerating pace in ways most of us could never have imagined.” Among other reasons, states the USCCB site, there are clear and specific assaults on religious liberty:

• Federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations that would mandate the coverage of contraception (including abortifacients) and sterilization in all private health insurance plans, which could coerce church employers to sponsor and pay for services they oppose. The new rules do not protect insurers or individuals with religious or moral objections to the mandate.

Or, in the words of Catholic University of America President, John Garvey: “It does not take a college education to see the hypocrisy in offering to pay for the very services we condemn in our theology classes and seek forgiveness for in our sacraments. It should not be the business of the federal government to force Catholic schools and other Catholic institutions into such a collective violation of our own conscientious beliefs.” Well, no, but it might take an advanced college education to not see the hypocrisy, or to confidently hold that “hypocrisy” is only plotted, planned, and pursued by right-wingers, fundamentalists, and Papists.

The Harvard-educated President of the United States, who has long supported easily-accessible abortion and contraceptives, took a rather informal but Hobbesian tact toward the topic in an October 4th speech in St. Louis:

Insurance companies can’t drop your coverage for no good reason.  They won’t be able to deny your coverage because of preexisting conditions.  Think about what that means for families all across America.  Think about what it means for women.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Birth control –

THE PRESIDENT:  Absolutely.  You’re stealing my line.  (Applause.)  Breast cancer, cervical cancer are no longer preexisting conditions.  No longer can insurance companies discriminate against women just because you guys are the ones who have to give birth.  (Laughter.)


THE PRESIDENT:  Darn tooting.  (Laughter.)  They have to cover things like mammograms and contraception as preventive care, no more out-of-pocket costs.

Because, as we all know, mammograms and contraception save women from the two most deadliest things this side of an ancient patriarchal religion based in Rome: breast cancer and unwanted babies. Meanwhile, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius—like Pelsoi, another Catholic with a disdain for Catholic moral teaching—”told abortion rights supporters at a Chicago fundraiser Wednesday that Republicans want to roll back women’s health gains 50 years.” And:

“We’ve come a long way in women’s health over the last few decades, but we are in a war,” Sebelius said at a NARAL Pro-Choice America luncheon attended by about 300 people, who gave some of their loudest applause at her mention of the Obama administration’s support for requiring insurance plans to cover birth control without copays.

No sane person will or should mistake the Republican Party for the Catholic Church (or vice versa), but Sebelius may as well have taken a shot or two at the Catholic Church, as the Church also has some serious issues with tax dollars funding responsibility-challenged fornication and the killing of innocents. Perhaps that is what she intended to do with this bit of cutting rhetoric:

“Forty percent of unplanned pregnancies end in those women seeking abortions,” Sebelius said, then grew sarcastic: “Wouldn’t you think that people who want to reduce the number of abortions would champion the cause of widely available, widely affordable contraceptive services? Not so much.”

Come to think of it, how could this not be aimed squarely at the Catholic Church? In 2009, then-Gov. Sebelius, you’ll recall, made the statement: “My Catholic faith teaches me that all life is sacred, and personally I believe abortion is wrong.” Two years later, she is talking “war” against those who publicly opposed abortion. Hmmm. The pattern of such “Catholic” politicians is as obvious as it is disturbing: cave on contraception, then collapse on abortion, then openly criticize the Church and her teachings.

The sad fact is this: once you publicly mock your mother, you’ll ingratiate yourself to nearly anyone, as long it suits your immediate, power-hungry needs. Pelosi’s record on this account is long, but no need to recount it since she provided a perfect example of this past week when bestowed (in less than 1,200 pages, thankfully) her pontificating blessing on the excitable youth loitering, camping, drumming, and—oh yeah!—protesting on Wall Street:

During a press conference Thursday afternoon, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi praised those participating in the “Occupy Wall Street” protests. “God bless them,” Pelosi said, “for their spontaneity. It’s independent…it’s young, it’s spontaneous, and it’s focused. And it’s going to be effective.”

Spontaneity and independence have nothing at all to do with it, otherwise Pelosi and friends wouldn’t have been so angry when Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), rashly shouted, “You lie!” during President Obama’s speech before Congress in September 2009. More importantly, it has nothing to do with being “focused” or “effective” either, as the most brilliant minds in the liberal world—that is, the pundits at the New York Times—cannot figure out what the focused and effective protesters are trying to accomplish. I know this because I somehow, against my better judgment, read a column by Nicholas D. Kristof, who after praising the Internet skills of the protesters (they, gasp, know how to use Twitter!), states, “Where the movement falters is in its demands: It doesn’t really have any.” Oh. Bummer.

Which means, I suppose, that we just have to let the occupying movement have its way so that we, to borrow a Pelosi-ism, “can find out what’s in it, away from the fog of controversy.” But it might be hard. “After spending two days at the epicenter of the Occupy Wall Street campout,” writes Charles C. W. Cooke on The Corner, “I have yet to encounter anybody with a serious platform, or to glean any coherent sense of why they are there.” Have the fogs of controversy that once obscured the clear affronts to religious liberties in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act have caused them to lose focus? Or did they even have any in the first place? But, really, do the confused motivations of pawns and puppets really matter to those controlling the board and the strings?

To me, the most maddening and common quality shared by the afore-mentioned issues is the complete lack of logical, practical purpose save power, power, and more power. Pelosi didn’t need to know the health care bill details because she knew it would eventually accomplish one thing: increase statism and further cripple the opposition. Keep tearing away at the last vestiges of moral fiber until they are replaced with pseuo-populist pablum that scoffs at responsibility and mocks virtue while demanding an all-regulating, all-controlling, all-everything central State. In the blunt words of the U.S. Court of Appeals (Eleventh Circuit), in an August 12, 2011, ruling (PDF file) against the embattled health care legislation:

In sum, the individual mandate is breathtaking in its expansive scope. It regulates those who have not entered the health care market at all. It regulates those who have entered the health care market, but have not entered the insurance market (and have no intention of doing so). It is overinclusive in when it regulates: it conflates those who presently consume health care with those who will not consume health care for many years into the future. The government’s position amounts to an argument that the mere fact of an individual’s existence substantially affects interstate commerce, and therefore Congress may regulate them at every point of their life.

Yep, from womb (that is, if you make it out) to tomb. Or, in the direct words of Jeffrey Sachs, the author of The Price of Civilization: “Yes, the federal government is incompetent and corrupt—but we need more, not less, of it.” Such a “need” is neurotic; it speaks to a misshapen and warped understanding of man, duty, government, and the purpose of life. It is the unapologetic and deformed desire described by Pope Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est as the “State which would provide everything”:

The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. (par. 28)

The Holy Father then warns of “a materialist conception of man”, which is comes from “the mistaken notion that man can live ‘by bread alone’ (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3)—a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human.” Pelosi, Sebelius, and many of the Wall Street protesters apparently share this mistaken notion, intent on failed materialist solutions (contraceptives, abortion, forms of socialism, and egalitarianism, etc.) that rob the soul and destroy the spirit.

In addition, neither Pelosi or the protesters seem much interested in taking responsibility or giving an account for what they have done or are doing; both worship ultimately at the altar of the almighty State, the benevolence and wisdom of which is rarely questioned or challenged (unless, of course, the State isn’t doing enough right now). The contemporary liberal state, as James Kalb notes in The Tyranny of LIberalism, “is not simply a guardian of procedural fairness or a broker among competing interests. It is an enormous and all-pervasive system of power dedicated to the control of and transformation of human life…” The issues at hand are not merely political or policy-oriented, but spiritual, metaphysical, and soteriological.

The fog, in fact, has not lifted. Nor has the controversy died; it might just be getting started. The increased push for society-wide acceptance and acquiescence to “same-sex marriage” is another battlefield. Some of the thin, tin soldiers have surrendered with barely a whimper, let alone a bang. “So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative,” declares the British Prime Minister, David Camerson, “I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.” Some nine decades ago, another Englishmen wrote, “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” Chesterton’s point (made in The Everlasting Man, by the way), applied to these various moral issues, is not that support for them is dead, but that supporting things contrary to life—abortion, contraceptives, violence, anarchy, homosexuality—is to participate in death. And in death there is, finally, no longer fog, but simply darkness and complete, damning freedom from truth, goodness, and God.

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About Carl E. Olson 1234 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.