At two separate GOP debates in the last two weeks, we have witnessed the heart-breaking spectacle of studio audiences exuberantly cheering the preventable deaths of their fellow citizens.
Last Wednesday, the crowd at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library cheered Texas Governor Rick Perry's appalling record of having executed over 230 individuals during his tenure in office:
And during last night's debate, the crowd again erupted into cheers of affirmation when moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Republican congressman and medical doctor Ron Paul whether society should simply allow an individual without medical coverage to die.
These callous displays of disregard for the health, well-being, and the very lives of their fellow citizens - indeed, their fellow humans - should disqualify the Republican Party from ever again attempting to claim the mantle of the "pro-life" party. The legitimization and incorporation of the Tea Party's anti-government histrionics into the mainstream of Republican politics has apparently been achieved at the expense of whatever regard for the common good the Grand Old Party could hitherto have been said to hold.
The two-fold tragedy of these outbursts lies in the fact that, beyond the heart-breaking lack of compassion they demonstrate for those in need, the two questions which elicited the cheers both pertain to governmental systems in desperate need of reform. If achieving these reforms under the current administration seems a sufficiently daunting challenge, it is wholly impossible to imagine the prospect of substantive, meaningful change to our nation's justice or health-care systems under a Republican administration.
To situate the desperate need for reform within both these systems in an international context, according to Amnesty International, last year the United States trailed only China, North Korea, Iran, and Yemen for the number of persons executed by the state. At the same time, the last World Health Organization ranking of national health care systems placed the United States at a shameful 37th.
But consider the precedent on these issues set by the contemporary conservative movement. As we reported in an article earlier this week, Governor Perry's record of executions is riddled with questions about improper convictions and incarcerations, and the Governor has sent at least one man to his death with serious doubts remaining about the scientific evidence on which he was convicted. By the same token, obdurate Republican resistance to even the modest advances made under President Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act demonstrates the patent unwillingness of the Republican Party to employ even limited governmental regulation and oversight for the good of those in need.
Ultimately, these matters represent not only pressing political problems, but pressing theological concerns as well. Truly we are, each one of us, called to be our brother's keeper. Our sister's keeper. The keeper of strangers whom we may never meet. The keeper of generations yet unborn. The keeper of any and all people who fall victim to the vagaries of injustice.
In the Book of Genesis, God confronts Cain after the murder of his brother: "What have you done? Your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground!" Can the Republican Party, can the audience members cheering the preventable deaths of hundreds and thousands of their fellow citizens, not hear their blood, needlessly spilled, crying out from the ground?