Monday, January 30, 2012

Obama's jujitsu on health care: Using Catholic power for good

Subtitle 1: "Where I agree with the Roman Catholic diocese..."
Subtitle 2: "The merciful end to employer-based health insurance."

President Obama's recent announcement that he would delay, but definitely require, religious organizations to provide health coverage for birth control, was a mystery to me. Why was he picking a fight with large employers like the Catholic Church who have the ear of millions of voters? Now the fog is starting to lift and I can see his rationale as the Catholic Church shows unease with the federal mandate.

Bishop Olmsted
Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix is renown as one of the more conservative office holders in the US; if you remember he was the outspoken critic of the nun who approved a life-saving abortion for a pregnant woman with pulmonary hypertension a couple years ago, winning the bishop the undying admiration of authoritarian orthodox Catholics everywhere.  Now Olmsted is in the news for drawing a line in the sand over providing health care for his employees that includes birth control. From Mike Clancy in the Arizona Republic:

According to Catholic News Service, bishops in nine of the nation's 195 dioceses are preparing letters to be read at Masses on Sunday encouraging churchgoers to lobby against the measure....
Of the group that has gone public so far, Olmsted appears to be the only one who has said specifically that Catholics should defy the law, according to the Catholic news agency.
"Unless the rule is overturned," Olmsted wrote, "we Catholics will be compelled either to violate our consciences or to drop health coverage for our employees."
Olmsted added, "We cannot -- we will not -- comply with this unjust law." [bold mine-- Tony].

It's not surprising that a hard line bishop would take a hard line stance on the issue, after all he is merely honing to the standard Catholic dogma, and frankly, I can see Olmsted's point. Okay, but doesn't this emphasize that President Obama should not be picking a fight with a huge organization that influences so many people?  Then I started reading the comments to the paper's on-line edition and the light bulb went off with this one comment from a Catholic:

Olmsted is an idiot and an embarrassment to the Catholic Church as a Catholic whose son and daughter attend BCP and Xavier [two local Catholic schools in AZ] he does not represent the thinking within the congregation his conservative socialist extremism would be better served with the other conservative communist teachings of Stalin. We within the Church support pro choice. We pray every day for his soul to be relieved of his conservative corrupt leanings.

What can I say? This particular Catholic commenter is just plain wrong. He doesn't understand Roman Catholicism. He's been basking in democracy too long and doesn't understand what a top-down authoritarian hierarchy is all about.  Leila, on her conservative Catholic site , puts it best:

Oh, how I love our shepherd [ie, Bishop Olmsted]! He is a gentle, humble soul, but he has courage in abundance! A true disciple of Christ!

But isn't she the outlier? Almost every Catholic woman in the United States has used or is currently using birth control, 98%*.  The Papal stance is very clear--- this is sinful-- and counting the men who have had vasectomies or have used condoms, well over half (if not close to all) of nominal Catholics are willfully defying the Catholic hierarchy and will go to hell.  Period. Up til now the Vatican has seemed content on looking away from this travesty within it's power mandate and has happily accepted donations and financial support from sexually active hell-bound Catholic sinners.

Which brings us to President Obama.  Why on earth would he insinuate his presidency, his legacy of health care mandates, into this primordial struggle over Catholic sexuality? Two reasons that I can see.

The first is the obvious but less likely: moderate and liberal Catholics may realize that their Church is still operating on the antique and medieval principle that women must bear 10 or 12 children to ensure the survival of 3 or 4 necessary to harvest the crops and do the household chores. Thomas Aquinas would be so proud. The Catholic Church has missed the whole 98.5 % reduction in infant mortality with which science has blessed us.  Maybe Obama is hoping this battle will help the scales fall from the eyes of the the faithful and they will leave the Church altogether, since most have effectively left the Church long ago anyway. Frankly, I doubt Obama cares too much about the Catholic hierarchy.

The second reason is more likely: the destruction of employer-based health insurance . All employees, not just Catholics, will view this debate and begin to see the complete silliness of having your employer, any employer, make decisions about your health insurance. Does my employer provide my auto insurance? Let's face it, the Catholic Church is correct, it is unjust.  If some law required that I furnish coverage for a service I felt was immoral, I'd be pissed too, and isn't that the ultimate point? The Affordable Care Act, like it or not, is a product of our democracy and reflects our essential view as a society that health care is 1) necessary for all  and 2) should include certain things like hard-on pills and birth control as well as heart surgery and cancer treatment. We recognize human sexuality as equal to life-saving therapies, like a pursuit of happiness thing.  Just ask Newt.

By making this an issue, President Obama is pushing us one more step to the eventual single-payer (or at least single payment) system we will one day enjoy. It will start next year when employees of Catholic organizations will be required to obtain health insurance outside their workplace, then others will follow and will realize how painless the process can be. Soon, the whole charade of employer-based health insurance will be seen as pointless. The government will regulate coverage on secular democratic principles, like they do all other necessary commerce, eschewing 16th century Church dogma spewed from men in dresses a world away. Obama is willing to have this debate.

President Obama is using the vast resources and power of the Catholic Church to undo employer-based health insurance coverage. Citizens overwhelmingly want health insurance and view it, correctly or not, whether they realize it or not, as a right...and if they cannot get it from their employer they will take it from the government.  If the Catholic Church wants to fight this, they will be fighting Obama's battle for him. 

And the good news: we become a tiny little bit more like Finland.

* this number seems improbable if you consider that 8-10 of women are homosexual and are likely engaging in other sins, but whatever, I'm confident the percentage is still high.


antipundit said...

eleventy-dimensional chess playa!

Libby said...

Tony, well-analyzed and concisely written. Bonus for me is that you had me laughing hard too!