A Memo to the Obama Campaign

Deal W. Hudson
March 27, 2008

I am writing this unsolicited memo to help the Obama campaign understand the Catholic vote. It has been the practice of Democratic presidential candidates, including former Vice President Al Gore and Sen. John Kerry, to enlist the help of well-known Catholic dissenters as advisers to their campaigns (no need to name names). As a result, the Democratic presidential candidates have failed to understand Catholic voters, much less connect with them.

Your “Catholic” advisers have told you that Catholics are unhappy with their Church – that they like the popes (both John Paul II and Benedict XVI) personally but reject their emphasis on protecting unborn life, marriage, and the traditional teaching on sexuality. They have told you that Catholics have lost respect for the “moral authority” of their bishops since the priest sex scandals and are ripe to be wooed by a message of “choice.”

These advisers are wrong, and the election results of 2000 and 2004 are proof of it. In the last two presidential elections, President Bush regained 15 percent of the Catholic vote Senator Dole lost to President Clinton in 1996.

I don’t want Senator Obama to win – our political positions are too far apart – but I do want both political parties to understand the Catholic voter. I would like to see the Obama campaign reach out to Catholic voters knowing who they really are, rather than who the dissenting advisers say they are.

Perhaps this will force the campaign to rethink its fundamental policy positions. I have doubts that this can happen, but your strategy has been to tout Senator Obama’s “openness,” so I offer these thoughts in that spirit.

No matter what your Catholic advisers tell you, the Obama candidacy begins with the disadvantage of being pro-abortion, weak on the defense of marriage, and surrounded by pro-abortion Catholics like Sen. and Mrs. Ted Kennedy. This constellation of negatives will lose you the Catholic vote if it is not addressed directly.

Remember that active Catholic voters attend Mass regularly, adhere to Church teaching, and vote based on convictions formed by their religious practice. Messages about the minimum wage will not trump the non-negotiable life issues with these voters.

Your greatest asset, apart from the attractiveness of your candidate, is the support of former Congressman Tim Roemer, who is Catholic, pro-life, and well-respected. You should give Roemer as much visibility in the media as possible, and keep him away from public associations with the pro-abortion Catholic wing of the Democratic Party.

The campaign should seek to find some area of common ground with pro-life, pro-family, socially conservative Catholic voters. The tired critique of pro-lifers as “single issue” voters, not caring about children “after they are born,” has never worked before and won’t work now. The candidate must show respect for the pro-life movement rather than criticize it for narrow-mindedness or, even worse, a lack of compassion.

Catholic voters care about social-justice issues, and they care about the plight of the illegal immigrant. It’s important, however, that the candidate recognize the contribution of church-related institutions to these causes and encourage them, rather than oversell the government’s ability to solve every social problem. The candidate should understand the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, which promotes addressing social problems locally before they are addressed regionally or nationally.

Can the candidate re-affirm the faith-based initiative? That would be an excellent idea.

The candidate should avoid speaking in Catholic parishes and other Catholic institutions. Such appearances will stir protests, and perhaps official sanctions, against a Catholic institution hosting a pro-abortion political candidate. The bishops themselves are on record, along with the Vatican, stating that Catholic platforms should not be given to pro-abortion candidates.

The campaign should study closely the Kerry campaign and the long list of mistakes it made in seeking the Catholic vote. It is especially dangerous to recruit pro-abortion Catholic members of Congress to claim that Senator Obama is “more Catholic” than Senator McCain, in spite of Obama’s being pro-abortion. That will backfire – Catholics know that not all political issues are equal.

Senator McCain’s consistent opposition to abortion gives him a natural advantage with the Catholic voter. Rather than ignore that fact, as your dissenting advisers will tell you, it should be acknowledged.

Realize that Catholic figures like law professor Doug Kmiec may offer some voters cover for supporting Senator Obama, but the candidate would have gotten those votes anyway. In the big picture, the negative response to Kmiec’s endorsementunderscores the contrast between socially conservative Catholics and Senator Obama’s record. Roemer helps; Kmiec does not.

The candidate’s decision in a televised debate to call his vote on Terri Schiavo a “mistake” turned off many sympathetic Catholic voters – especially young people – displaying an amazing lack of insight regarding the Catholic voter. Again, it suggests he is getting bad advice.

Senator Obama will have to stretch himself to reach Catholic voters, and should not deceive himself into thinking that he’s a “natural” for them. He needs to be himself, act humbly toward social conservatives, and acknowledge the differences while looking for places where he can connect with them.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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