Richard Mourdock is the Republican candidate for Senate in Indiana, following his defeat of veteran Senator Richard Lugar in the Republican primary. He is a man whose avowed mantra is never to compromise, meet in the middle, practice bi-partisanship but rather, as he said of his approach to office holding, “the highlight of politics is to inflict my opinion on someone else.” These are the words of a man with an authoritarian mindset. Mourdock is not alone. This is a clear propensity towards authoritarianism that characterizes today’s Republican party. It imbues every aspect of Republican culture and understanding of power, and it is playing out in battlegrounds of the 2012 election campaign through issues surrounding the role of Super PACS, the role of the church in politics and the role of business as a model for political leadership.
One way to look at the Citizens United Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited political donations by corporations, defined as “persons” with rights of free speech, is to see it as a license for corporations to “inflict” their views on others. Freedom of speech as defined in the Republican lexicon is the freedom to win and then inflict an absence of freedom on others. When Republicans use the word “freedom” think of them as saying “freedom to inflict.” Certainly that is a fair read on what another powerful institution, the current Catholic Bishops hierarchy wants to do to Obama’s Health Care Act. Its position is that religiously-affiliated hospitals or universities are legal persons whose religious freedom would be denied if they were forced to offer contraception in their health care plans. The Bishops continued their war against Obama (and women) even when Obama, seeking a principled compromise, shifted the mandate for contraception coverage to insurance companies. If the hierarchy eventually wins against Obama its “institution as person” can effectively “inflict” its views on non-Catholics, denying them contraception coverage.
In the Citizens United view of corporate personhood Catholic-affiliated hospitals and universities are defined as persons whose freedom to insist on adherence to doctrinal purity must be guaranteed, whether or not they serve non-Catholics. In the debate over contraception coverage, no real individual Catholic is being denied any freedom of choice or speech. An editorial in the New York Times (5/27/12) says it best: “The First Amendment is not a license for religious entities to impose their dogma on society through the law… The First Amendment also does not exempt religious entities or individuals claiming a sincere religious objection from neutral laws of general applicability, a category the new contraception rule plainly fits… This is a clear partisan play. The real threat to religious liberty comes from the effort to impose one church’s doctrine on everyone.”