Enhancing Biden’s Image with Catholics

Enhancing Biden’s Image with Catholics

For many decades, Democrats have been able to count on the votes of a majority of Catholic voters, mainly because Democrat candidates have been seen as respectful of the Catholic Church and supportive of its social teachings. However, 2020 campaign ads seem to indicate that the Party is less confident about that support than it used to be and therefore more cautious about what the candidate says.

A modest example of that caution is a current commercial by Joe Biden in which he says that Pope John Paul II reminds us to “Be Not Afraid,” adding that the words are from Scripture. It is a strange statement. The standard way of citing Scripture is simply to cite Scripture, not to mention the names of others who have cited it. That is especially relevant in this case, since the phrase appears 60 times in the Old/New Testaments.

So why did he mention John Paul II at all? Was it because the person who wrote the speech wanted to remind the audience that Biden is Catholic? For that matter why did the speechwriter choose that particular passage from Scripture? Was it because pollsters determined it was not attached to any specific teaching or doctrine that could create a trap for the candidate? Am I making too much of a modest example of the cautious shaping of Biden’s image? Perhaps.

The second example is clear-cut. It concerns a presentation, seemingly designed as a flyer, titled “Equally Sacred Priorities” (ESP) and subtitled, “For voters in the 2020 Presidential Election.” It was created by a group called Network Associates for Justice, Inspired by Catholic Sisters, which calls itself “a Catholic leader in the global movement for justice and peace, [that] educates, organizes and lobbies for economic and social transformation.”

The title “Equally Shared Priorities”raises two important questions. The first is “What are the priorities that are equally shared?” The answer, it seems, is any and all important campaign issues other than abortion. The second is “What exactly are all these priorities shared with?” Answer: abortion. This understanding is made clear throughout the document, which features a picture of Pope Francis on the first page, together with the statement that “in his writing and speaking, [Francis] makes it clear [that] abortion is not the only issue that matters,” but that other issues are “equally sacred.” [Emphasis in the document]

The rest of the three-page document is arranged with five quotations from Pope Francis in a narrow column on the left, and a larger Biden/Trump “scorecard” on the right. Here are excerpts from Francis’ statements: 1) “Equally sacred [as the Church’s teaching on abortion], however, are the lives of the poor, those already born.” 2) “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.” 3) “Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.” 4) “Today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.” 5) “A politician looking for votes” might say “the situation of migrants . . . is a lesser issue [than abortion] . . . but not a Christian.”

The scorecard is printed in bright red x’s (bad) and green checkmarks (good). Not surprisingly, the final tally is a resounding 18 to 1 win for Biden. The image of confetti descending is palpable. (Note: Trump’s only plus and Biden’s only minus is the issue of abortion.)

All that is missing is a page-wide banner proclaiming: Catholics who love God and the Church, respect Pope Francis, and embrace the Gospel must vote for Biden.

On its face, the flyer is without question cleverly done, and those who read it casually will no doubt be impressed. But those who read more carefully will note a deep flaw—the scorecard is shamelessly stacked against Trump. Every one of the 18 positions ascribed to Trump is either Flatly False or, because of the issue’s complexity and the need for qualification, Unfairly Stated. Here they are:

1. Would NOT increase pregnant women’s access to health care and nutrition Flatly False

2. WOULD NOT ADDRESS maternal mortality, particularly for Black women Flatly False

3. DOES NOT SUPPORT families in the tax code and family-friendly workplace policies Flatly False

4. DOES NOT ADVOCATE for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors Flatly False

5. DOES NOT REJECT racism, xenophobia; supports policies that address systemic racism Flatly False

6. DOES NOT SUPPORT Native American tribes’ sovereignty and prosperity Flatly False

7. FAVORS discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and disabled people Unfairly Stated

8. FAVORS the death penalty Unfairly Stated

9. DOES NOT BELIEVE housing is a human right Unfairly Stated

10. OPPOSES the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Unfairly Stated

11. Would NOT protect people from predatory financial practices Unfairly Stated

12. OPPOSES the Affordable Care Act Unfairly Stated

13.  FAVORS cuts to and restrictions on Medicaid Unfairly Stated

14. OPPOSES the priorities of the disability community Flatly False

15. OPPOSES the health and wellbeing of older adults Flatly False

16. OPPOSES the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act Unfairly Stated

17. OPPOSES raising the minimum wage Unfairly Stated

18. OPPOSES workers’ right to organize Flatly False

The Sisters’ flyer deserves a split grade—“A” for creativity; “F” for honesty. Mainstream media evaluators, of course, would give it an “A+” not only because it trashes Trump thoroughly but also because it reflects the media’s own well-worn narratives. Of course, a nitpicking liberal commentator or two might fault the Sisters for not adding an image of Trump pushing Granny off the cliff, but that would be quibbling.

Other examples of the effort to enhance Biden’s image might be cited, including keeping him hidden as much as possible and making sure he uses a teleprompter whenever he speaks, even when answering questions planted in the audience! But the ones I have offered make the point.

As for the question that hangs heavily over the entire enhancement enterprise—How do Biden’s handlers sleep at night knowing the harm they could be causing?—I haven’t a clue.

Copyright © 2020 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved

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Vincent Ryan Ruggiero