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Voices / Column

A moral referendum

How are we to grasp, let alone embrace, the moral compass of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan?

Saxtons River

This year’s election is more than a political event of vast consequence. It is a collective decision on the future of morality in the world’s leading democracy, a democracy founded on principles that rejected the oppression of ordinary citizens by an aristocracy run amok.

Grounded in vital human rights and guided by compassionate intelligence, the documents that have been the cornerstones of our country were written with such care and insight that they continue to be a model for other nations — and a clarion call to their citizens who seek a better life.

How, then, are we to grasp, let alone embrace, the moral compass of the Romney-Ryan ticket?

Where is the morality in an economic plan that will cost millions their jobs, a social agenda that will end federal programs aimed at sustaining our sick and elderly, our bright but impoverished students, and our children’s health and well-being?

What is moral about an environmental agenda that continues to turn a blind eye to the disasters plaguing this fragile earth in order that businesses may thrive?

How can one claim the moral high ground while interfering with women’s health and reproductive rights and denying same-sex couples the privacy and respect we afford others in loving relationships?

What is moral about war, guns, and overcrowded jails?

* * *

Much has been written about vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s adoration, then refutation, of author and philosopher Ayn Rand, whose worship of capitalism was one thing, but whose views on abortion, war, women’s rights and religion have caused Mr. Ryan to step back and declare himself more enamored of Thomas Aquinas.

So let’s be clear: Ayn Rand’s theory of “objectivism” really espoused self-interest over altruism, which she viewed as “evil” and a kind of passive suicide. She thought laissez-faire capitalism, defined and led by “producers,” was the only way the world would survive in spite of its copious and cumbersome “moochers.”

This kind of pejorative, binary thinking made it all too easy for Rand to see the world in stark, black-and-white terms, so that it all came down to individualism vs. collectivism (read communism, or in today’s terms, socialism). Nuances be damned.

But Rand was also a staunch atheist who advocated for women’s equality and freedom and was thus avidly pro-choice.

Enter Flip-Flopper the Second (a.k.a. Mr. Ryan), who now claims that his bowing at the feet of Ms. Rand was an “urban legend” and that he has been influenced by his faith and devotion to the Catholic Church.

However, as Stanford University professor Jennifer Burns noted in The New York Times recently, “This retreat to religion would have infuriated Rand, who believed it was impossible to separate government policies from their moral and philosophical underpinnings.

“Policies motivated by Christian values were inherently corrupt [according to Rand, who claimed that] free-market capitalism needed a new, secular morality of selfishness,” she continued.

* * *

Which brings us to the Nuns on the Bus.

For many Catholics, and others now, the representatives of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), led by Sister Simone Campbell, are the true standard bearers of Christianity. In defiance of the church’s antiquated patriarchy and its medieval-minded leaders, but with full faith in and love for their religion, these brave, intelligent, compassionate women are the face of Catholicism as it tries to salvage the true meaning of Christ’s teachings.

In connecting their personal faith with the politics of our time, the sisters are forging an agenda for the future that encompasses “hope, faith, and charity” along with respect and compassion for all human beings.

That is why they are such a threat to politician and Pope alike: neither party wants to yield power to the millions of “moochers.” (As the saying goes, “what would Jesus say” to that?)

Some in the church hierarchy, who think the nuns should be less concerned with social issues that emanate from economic policies and more concerned with same-sex marriage and abortion rights, have called the liberal sisters heretics. Others, I among them, think “the nuns’ moral compass is working just fine.”

Barbara Marx Hubbard, an 82-year-old self-defined “futurist thinker,” recently gave the keynote speech at a LCWR conference. She thinks attempts to clamp down on the activist sisters is “an act of grace” because “it’s got the world’s attention” and requires the sisters to probe what their next steps will be.

Hubbard sees the LCWR women as social entrepreneurs whose leadership qualities will lead to cooperative governance.

“They are a seedbed for a global agenda of cooperation that can lead to individual responsibility,” she said.

That idea would probably make Ayn Rand a bit happier about their endeavors.

As for Romney and Ryan, who knows from one day to the next?

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Originally published in The Commons issue #168 (Wednesday, September 5, 2012).

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