Obama: echoes of Catholic social justice teaching

by Maureen Fiedler

View Author Profile

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts to Letters to the Editor. Learn more

It was the conclusion of President Obama's address on health care that truly moved me. I heard strong echoes of Catholic social justice teaching, in both the words of Sen. Ted Kennedy, and in Obama's own embrace of the philosophy of the "common good."

Obama quoted a letter written in May by Sen. Kennedy reminding him that health care "concerns more than material things." "What we face," he wrote, "is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country."

"Social justice!" How long has it been since we've heard a president utter that phrase? Too long.

Obama continued on that theme as he laid out, almost professorially, a mini-history of the competing philosophies that have shaped our political history … rugged individualism and self-reliance with its skepticism of government vs. a concern for the other and a realization that justice and fair play demand a positive role for government. And then, he came down squarely in favor of the latter:

"That large-heartedness -- that concern and regard for the plight of others -- is not a partisan feeling. It is not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character. Our ability to stand in other people's shoes. A recognition that we are all in this together; that when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand. A belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgment that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise."

As I heard those words, I wondered if Obama's own experience as a community organizer, working with Catholic Charities on the south side of Chicago, had more influence on him than we knew.

PS: Read Tom Fox's earlier blog post for an extended excerpt of this part of the president's speech: Obama's moral case for health care

Latest News


1x per dayDaily Newsletters
1x per weekWeekly Newsletters
2x WeeklyBiweekly Newsletters