America’s Path to Social Justice “Nuns on the Bus”

America’s Path to Social Justice Rests on Jobs, Growth, Equity—and Legislative Action

By John D. Podesta

In the ancient wisdom of St. Augustine, there is the City of God, a contemplative place of peace, truth and communion with God, and the City of Man, a selfish place driven by greed, corruption and lust for power. Although most Catholics long for the former, those of us committed to advancing human dignity and greater social justice in American life must contend with the world as it exists. And this means dealing with Congress, not exactly the New Jerusalem.

Connection readers know that the 2012 presidential election will be one of the most important elections since 1980. The outcome will likely determine whether the United States pursues a course of strong and effective public action on behalf of working families and people in poverty, or one of contempt for the “99 percent” and more servicing of the well-to-do and privileged.

Tea Party Congress

The skewed morality of the Tea Party Congress was most evident in the recent fight over the extension of the payroll tax holiday, which provided tangible benefits to millions of working class, low-income families. Instead of taking necessary steps to aid hard-pressed Americans and sustain economic recovery, congressional Republicans focused on two things to the near exclusion of everything else—helping the wealthiest 1 percent and hurting President Barack Obama.

Looking to the Future

If the past is any predictor of the future, it seems clear that 2012 will be consumed by further partisanship and gridlock ahead of the elections. Republicans will continue to impede effective governance and stymie the president’s attempts to create jobs and grow the economy. The president will continue to make the case that he is on the side of middle- and working-class families while Republicans favor the wealthy and the powerful.

Lessons Learned?

We understood this instinctively when I served in the Clinton White House. Throughout his presidency, Bill Clinton worked to help the forgotten middle class and to build a society that would provide opportunity for all, expect responsibility from all, and build a community of all. Facing the then biggest budget deficits in U.S. history, his strategy was to modernize the government; challenge the bureaucratic status quo; invest in people, in education, in science and innovation; and increase taxes on the wealthy while cutting them for the working poor.

How Should We Move Forward?

For any of these ideas to become more than just fodder for journals and conferences, progressive Catholics must acknowledge and seek to overcome the hardship and frustration that accompany electoral politics, legislative advocacy, and sustained moral and political action on behalf of those without the high priced lobbyists to advance their agenda.

None of this is easy, and reelecting President Obama won’t be enough. In order to create a nation that better embodies Augustine’s idyllic City of God, we as Catholics must engage with the City of Man to ensure that our communities, our parishes and our institutions better reflect a common mission of justice, mutual respect and opportunity for all.


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