Common sense lost in our polarized society

Should it be so difficult to come to an agreement over the proper regulation of military-style assault weapons?

Should it be so divisive to require abortion clinics to comply with the standards of ambulatory surgical centers?

Apparently the answer in our nearly 240-year-old nation is “yes.”

Those are just the latest examples of societal problems that would seem to have common sense solutions, but not when viewed through the contrasting lenses of a polarized society and political system too often unable or unwilling to work toward the common good.

The gun control debate came front and center again after the horrific massacre in Orlando. House Democrats held an overnight “sit-in” to protest Republican leaders’ inaction on guns. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, and others called it a publicity stunt.

The U.S. Catholic bishops are reportedly weighing a statement as the gun debate continues. Since the mid-1990s, the bishops have called for “sensible regulation” and “reasonable restrictions” on firearms. Gun rights advocates, meanwhile, say that any effort to limit the sale and acquisition of firearms would violate the Second Amendment of the Constitution.

One of the most outspoken bishops on the issue is Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas. When he recently used his blog on the diocesan website to point to the rising use of semi-automatic rifles in attacks as a cause for concern, readers overwhelmingly opposed his views in comments.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s ruling last week striking down regulations on Texas abortion clinics (see story, page 5) would seem to defy common sense. In fact, that’s the term the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ spokesperson used in reacting to the ruling.

“The court has rejected a common-sense law protecting women from abortion facilities that put profits above patient safety,” said Deirdre McQuade, assistant director for pro-life communications at the USCCB’s Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.

Recognizing that tensions are inherent in our democracy, how can we hope to bridge the great divides in our nation — also seen in approaches to immigration, racism, poverty, etc. — as well as our state, where our leaders can’t even agree on a budget.

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington gave some clear directions in a talk in our nation’s capital last week. (See excerpts on page one.)

He called on politicians, for example, to “lower the decibel level and increase the respect with which we address each other.”

He also urged that religion and religious principles be welcomed — not banned — in the public square because they “enhance, they don’t diminish, our search for the common good.”

And if we want good public policy, he said, we need virtuous citizens guided by solid moral and social justice principles.

That’s common sense advice to reflect on as we celebrate the Fourth of July. — Thomas J. Dermody


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