By Russell Shaw
Although George W. Bush won't be leaving the White House for 15 months, the Bush presidency already has a winding-down look reflected in the departures of prominent administration figures such as presidential political adviser Karl Rove, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and White House press secretary Tony Snow.
On Iraq, the president means to continue fighting what he considers the good fight by hanging tough on the U.S. military role there. Barring unforeseen developments, however, few if any major new foreign or domestic policy initiatives are expected from the administration in the time remaining to it. Summings-up and evaluations of the Bush years have begun.
How should Catholics rate this presidency? Individual Catholics obviously will answer that question for themselves. In the light of official Church views as expressed by the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, though, some tentative and preliminary conclusions emerge. Not surprisingly, they add up to a mixed picture.
The two defining events of the Bush years up to now have been the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the war in Iraq. All else pales by comparison.
What happened on Sept. 11 galvanized Bush and profoundly shaped his presidency. Six years ago a stern-faced president declared what he called a "war on terror," whose elements have included the war in Afghanistan, restructuring of U.S. intelligence, creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the Patriot Act -- anti-terror legislation controversial for alleged infringements on civil liberties. Central to this broad program in response to terrorism are the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath.
The Vatican gave low-key but real support to the American-led attack in Afghanistan, which it viewed as a legitimate act of self-defense against further al-Qaida terrorism. But Iraq was a different story. Pope John Paul II and leading officials of the Holy See -- including Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI -- repeatedly spoke against war in the months leading up to the March 2003 invasion.
"War is not always inevitable," Pope John Paul told the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See on Jan. 13 of that year. And the U.S. bishops, in a statement adopted at their general meeting the previous November said "a resort to war under present circumstances É would not meet the strict conditions" for the use of force set out in Catholic teaching. Since then, the bishops have expressed serious concerns about Iraq on many occasions.
Although his approval ratings plummeted -- they are now in the 30s -- as the U.S. involvement in Iraq dragged on, Bush evidently believes history will vindicate him.
But however that may be, public unhappiness with Iraq was largely responsible for the Republicans' loss of Congress last November. It also goes a long way to explaining why the GOP faces an uphill struggle to win back Congress and hold on to the White House in 2008.
On the domestic front, Bush's record has been a mixed bag of successes and failures. Leaving aside matters related to the war on terror, like intelligence restructuring and the Patriot Act, the president's biggest domestic policy success has been the No Child Left Behind Act.
While this legislation is criticized in some conservative quarters as an exercise in big government, its setting of national standards of student achievement to measure how schools are doing is generally seen as a useful innovation.
But the list of domestic pol_icy flops also is long, even though the failures have at least as much to do with the inability of congressional Democrats and Republicans to find bipartisan consensus as they do with White House missteps.
The list of failures includes immigration reform and health care reform -- both strongly backed by the Catholic bishops and other Church groups -- as well as the government's slowness in responding to the devastation of New Orleans and other Gulf Coast communities by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
On the whole, Bush and the Church have most often seen eye to eye on pro-life issues, including abortion and stem-cell research. The president is pro-life and since taking office has regularly addressed messages to the annual March for Life held in Washington each January.
On stem cells, the Church opposes forms of research involving destruction of human embryos. Church spokespeople expressed approval when Bush announced in 2001 that federal funding would be available only for research on existing stem-cell lines.
They have applauded his willingness to veto congressional attempts to expand the funding to new stem-cell lines derived from abortion and, most recently, to veto legislation striking down the "Mexico City" policy barring U.S. support for abortion providers overseas.
In addition, the Bush administration backed a measure enacted by Congress in 2003 banning the procedure known as "partial-birth" abortion and argued for the law when it was challenged in the Supreme Court. Last April, the court upheld the ban 5-4. The administration also supports an amendment to the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, although some critics have blamed it for not doing more.
In the long term, Bush's biggest contribution to the pro-life cause may be nominating Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Roberts and Alito, both Catholics, were crucial to the pro-life victory in the partial-birth abortion case and are central to pro-lifers hopes of more progress in the future.
What issues are important to you when voting for president? Do you use your Catholic faith as a barometer to determine what issues are important? We'd like to know your thoughts. E-mail us and let us know about the role your faith plays when casting your ballots.
Russell Shaw is a contributing editor to OSV.
Please note: Comments left online may be considered for publication in the Letters to the Editor section of OSV Newsweekly.
blog comments powered by Disqus
Catholic Faith Resources | For Catholic Parishes | Order OSV Products | RSS | Advertise | About Us | Contact Us | Jobs