Was Jeb Bush right to insert love into a political debate? Such was the gist of a question I was asked on talk radio in response to the former Florida governor’s assertion that some immigrants come into the United States illegally as an “act of love.”
It would be trite to echo the Beatles and say, “All You Need Is Love.” It would also oversimplify and obscure rigorous policy differences. But it also could be a start.
It was decades ago when I first heard someone suggest “higher fences” — wired for electricity — as the optimum solution for any and all immigration problems. The commenter may have been half-joking, but the sentiment exists, and it’s distressing. To borrow a phrase from “Boys Town” — “He’s not an illegal, he’s my brother.”
That’s the point Cardinal Sean O’Malley and others were making earlier this month when they celebrated Mass at a Mexico border crossing in Phoenix.
For two decades, O’Malley, the current cardinal archbishop of Boston, worked with immigrants in Washington, D.C. At the Mass, he said: “I often share the story of my first days at the Centro Catolico, when I was visited by a man from El Salvador who sat at my desk and burst into tears as he handed me a letter from his wife back in El Salvador, who remonstrated him for having abandoned her and their six children to penury and starvation.”
The man in O’Malley’s anecdote had been putting all his earnings in an envelope, which he put in what he’d been told was the mailbox on the corner. In truth, it was a fancy trash can, and his money was being stolen.
When we talk politics, this is what we ought to bear in mind: people, humiliations, hopes and dreams, pain and heartache. And, yes, love.
To circle to another contentious issue, thanks to the relentless work of the Chiaroscuro Foundation, it was recently revealed that tanning salons in my homeland of New York City are more frequently visited by health inspectors than abortion clinics.
At the Mass at the border, Cardinal O’Malley and other bishops of the United States were following in a model set by Pope Francis, who has implored us to stop ignoring our brothers on the side of the road, to refuse to be indifferent to the plight of our brothers and sisters in pain.
Perhaps that’s what Jeb Bush had in mind. And perhaps that’s why Bishop James D. Conley recently wrote about in a pastoral letter titled “The Language of Love.”
He, too, like Pope Francis and Cardinal O’Malley, is imploring people. The topic of his letter was contraception.
“We live in a world short on love,” Conley observed.
Who could disagree?
He continued: “Love — real love — is about sacrifice and redemption and hope. Real love is at the heart of a rich, full life. We are made for real love. And all that we do — in our lives, our careers and our families, especially — should be rooted in our capacity for real, difficult, unfailing love.”
All that we do includes politics. And it starts on the front lines, with people devoted to letting troubled women and men know that they are not alone. Where people know that there is a pastor who cares for their souls and their lives, and a doctor who will bring their baby into the world and a team at a local maternity home that will help them with the skills they need to face the challenges of parenthood.
Love keeps us from abandoning our neighbor and makes us work harder to craft policy that always keeps the human person and her dignity in mind.
Maybe it remembers a fake mailbox with some humility and compassion.
Love makes it intolerable for us to let a governor campaign for extending abortion access in a state where the rates are already abysmally high and no one is paying attention.
Kathryn Lopez is a nationally syndicated columnist.