Column: Congressman’s courageous stance restores faith in the system

Michael Schuttloffel is the executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference.
Michael Schuttloffel is the executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference.

by Father Michael Schuttloffel

Just as Americans are at long last being inoculated against the H1N1 virus, perhaps it is fitting that Washington has simultaneously made available an antidote to another dread malady afflicting our population: cynicism.

According to a Gallup poll, a mere 12 percent of Americans believe that congressmen have high ethical standards, ranking them higher than only a small number of even less-admired professions, such as lobbyists. (We prefer the term “public policy advocates,” thank you very much.) If Gallup also asked respondents what these results say about Americans’ competence as electors is not known.

What is known is that they are not “all bums” — “they,” being politicians. That was never more clear than the morning of Nov. 7, when Washington awoke to find to its great surprise that the mighty Speaker of the House had capitulated to the demands of a dogged contingent of pro-life Democrats led by Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak.

For months, Stupak had been under enormous pressure to relent from the apparently radical idea that people should not have to pay for other people’s abortions. As a Democrat, he became the single biggest obstacle to passage of the health care reform bill that, for better or worse, represents the centerpiece of the Democratic Party’s domestic policy agenda, and that he himself supports.

Along the way, he could have availed himself of several opportunities to endorse a phony compromise or other half-measure, providing himself political cover and removing himself from the cross hairs of his intensely frustrated party leadership.

He declined, placing, among other things, his subcommittee chairmanship — normally reserved for team players — at risk. And in the wee hours of a rare weekend session, he prevailed. For now at least, the House bill forbids federal funding of abortion.

If this is not enough to restore one’s faith in the power of individuals to influence events for good, there is also the matter of the effect the Catholic Church had in bringing about this outcome. Every major media report of the effort to force a vote on the Stupak amendment has cited the decisive role played by the Catholic bishops and by the millions of Catholics nationwide who unleashed a tidal wave of advocacy on behalf of the seemingly selfevident proposition that feticide is not health care.

Needless to say, not everyone appreciated Catholics’ exertions. One California congresswoman, eager to test John Marshall’s dictum that the power to tax is the power to destroy, has already suggested that the IRS should revoke the church’s tax-exempt status.

But taxed or no, the church will endure, as will the ability of ordinary Americans, despite whatever the cynics might say, to make a difference and to shape the destiny of this great nation.

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