"Why was Chris Matthews on the dais?" This remains the most frequently asked question I get about the presidential election. It refers to the Al Smith dinner, an annual event that raises money for Catholic charities, (many of which are threatened by Obama administration policies), just weeks before the big day. Both presidential candidates attended the dinner, hosted by the Archdiocese of New York.
To answer the question, permit me to say that I was elated at the post-election news out of Boston -- obviously, not at the results at the top of the ticket. I celebrated the defeat of Question 2 in Massachusetts, a ballot initiative that would have legalized assisted suicide in the Bay State.
The ballot measure looked like a sure thing. In October, two-thirds of voters supported it, according to polling. But then something happened. Unexpected sources started supporting Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, who had been urging opposition to the initiative. Vicki Kennedy, Sen. Ted Kennedy's widow, in particular, was a merciful break in the trajectory of the campaign. Very clearly, she called Question 2 antithetical to her late husband's legacy, writing that it "turns his vision of health care for all on its head by asking us to endorse patient suicide -- not patient care -- as our public policy."
When he was diagnosed with brain cancer, Sen. Kennedy had been told he would have two to four months to live. Had the assisted suicide law voters struck down this Election Day been in force then, Kennedy could have asked a doctor to end his life. A doctor -- and this is where disability groups in particular were especially worried -- could have urged him to give up. Less money spent, fewer medical resources, and, of course, the suggestion that his family would be better off if they didn't have to watch him suffer.
But Mrs. Kennedy pushed against these inclinations. And the prognosis turned out to be wrong. Kennedy would go on to cast more votes in the Senate, speak at the 2008 Democratic convention, finish a book and throw a pitch at a Red Sox game, among other things. His widow went on to talk about the gift she had in those last 15 months, a gift that might never have existed if assisted suicide were legal.
The lesson of this successful campaign is something of a testament to truth-telling. In politics -- in human relationships -- telling the truth can be a challenge. It can be uncomfortable. But we owe it to ourselves and to one another. And on issues of literally life and death!
The truth won out in Massachusetts. And the victory, made possible by a diverse coalition of Catholics, black pastors, disability rights activists and liberal Democrats, stands as a lesson on other issues impacting the dignity of human life.
The truth was not heard on a wide-scale level this election cycle. Much of the country had very little idea that the administration has redefined religious liberty while in office, making the claim that basic health care includes abortion-inducing drugs, as well as contraception and female sterilization, and that religious employers and others would have to provide coverage of these things they find morally objectionable or face grievous penalties.
And so the answer to the question about Chris Matthews is this: A limited number of people are going to listen to a pro-life Catholic columnist from a conservative magazine writing about the Obama administration policy she objects to. A finite number of people will be in the pews every Sunday to hear about why we should value religious freedom. But people are open to unexpected joy, even in suffering. It's why people pursue all kinds of pleasures that only wind up bringing them more heartache.
And so even though the MSNBC host had likened his own church's stance on abortion to Shariah law days before the dinner, he was on that dais because if you see a truth about the fullness of human life and freedom, you have to share it with all. You have to welcome all. And you have to make them feel welcome and loved. And then you tell them the truth. And you live the truth. And it might just catch on. It worked in Massachusetts this November.