The Democrats: The Party of the “Common Good”? Print
By George Marlin   
Monday, 29 September 2008

Democratic Party insiders know that they must persuade practicing Catholics to return to the party of their forefathers if they are to win the presidential election this November.

To achieve that goal, the Democrats are throwing rhetorical crumbs to Catholics voters. In their 2008 national platform, for instance, they claim they “will empower grassroots faith-based and community groups to help meet challenges like poverty, ex-offender reentry, and illiteracy” so long as they “do not endanger First Amendment protections… [and] ensure that public funds are not used to proselytize or discriminate.” In other words, Catholic institutions need not apply because they support the tenets of their Church and oppose homosexual couple adoption or distribution of contraceptives.

As for abortion, Democrats, on the one hand, try to schmooze Catholics by claiming support for education and health care that will “help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.” Yet, on the other hand, they have employed the strongest pro-abortion language in their history: “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.”

Democrats also frequently refer to the Roman Catholic social concept of the “common good” when describing their approach to governing.

In their party platform preamble, they demand that “leaders abandon the politics of partisan division and find creative solutions to promote the common good.”

During the 2008 primary season, The Wall Street Journal reported that Barack Obama defined “common good” as “shared duties and responsibilities not only among classes but between the two parties.” For John Edwards it meant “leveling the economic playing field.” As for Hillary Clinton, she “use[d] it both ways.”

The Journal also pointed out that many liberals employ the “common good” when promoting “universal health care, more public work jobs, stronger union protections, fairer global-trade rules and tax rules that favor workers over investors.”

The “common good” is a term with a long pedigree, running from Aristotle through the “Angelic Doctor,” St. Thomas Aquinas, to Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, which declared the “common good” the foundation of Catholic social thinking.

According to this doctrine, man, made in the image and likeness of God, is something special; he has intrinsic value. By his nature, he is a social being who possesses inalienable rights. The state, having received its power from God, has the duty to protect man’s God-given right to life and to uphold his dignity by maintaining and enhancing the common good.

The term, “the common good,” is much maligned, in part because it is frequently used by people to rationalize and promote their special interests. Few would argue that the purpose of society and government is to achieve good, but the question remains: What kind of good? Individual, collective, or common?

The individual good benefits only one person. When I spend my money to purchase a meal in a restaurant, I am the only beneficiary. Starving people standing on the street outside do not benefit. If a government existed for the sole benefit of an autocrat, it could not possibly provide for the common good, although it might benefit the leader very nicely.

If one group benefits to the exclusion of other groups, it is a collective good. In Nazi Germany, for instance, the state benefited so-called Aryans and other members of the Nazi party while Jews, Gypsies, Catholics, and many others were excluded and even executed. Political systems based upon some version of collective good are little better for a whole society than those based upon individual good, and in some cases – Nazi Germany again – they can be worse.

Under a government dedicated to the common good, however, all members benefit. Possession or privilege by one person or group does not diminish or exclude possession or privilege by others. This inclusive character, distributive good, is expressed in the words of the Pledge of Allegiance: “with liberty and justice for all.”

The “common good” espoused by the Democratic Party is not consistent with Roman Catholic teachings. Their calls for “stronger union protections” and “tax rules that favor workers over investors” are examples of the “collective good,” where one special interest group benefits over another.

Since the McGovernites took over the Democratic Party in 1972, they have been under the thumb of leftists who promote special interests. These social engineers pursue a program that the late Theodore White described as “not equality of opportunity, but equality of results stipulated in goals, quotas, and entitlements, based not on excellence or merit, but on bloodlines.” To promote their agenda, they adopted the caucus system, which spawned the Lesbian-Gay Caucus, Asian-Pacific Caucus, Black Caucus, Women’s Caucus, and the Liberal-Progressive Caucus – all examples of the “collective good” not the “common good.”

To recapture the loyalties of an integral part of Franklin Roosevelt’s electoral coalition, urban and blue-collar Catholics, the Democrats are disingenuously appealing to the “common good” to lull them into believing the party is in sync with their beliefs. Catholics should not fall for this ruse.

George Marlin is the author of The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact. (St. Augustine’s Press)

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