Deal W. Hudson
June 26, 2008
For the past six months, I have commented regularly on Barack Obama’s outreach to Catholic voters. Looking over what I have written, I realized that taken together these articles serve as a one-stop reference for Catholics who want to know where Obama stands on the non-negotiable Catholic issues.
Before I get to the problems with the senator’s candidacy, let me say that Obama strikes me as a likable man with a great deal of personal charisma. I’m making a case against his political positions, and not against him personally. That’s an important distinction to keep in mind.
With that said, there’s no way to nuance this: Barack Obama’s record puts him on the extreme wing of the abortion movement, and has already been labeled by one critic as the “infanticide candidate.” Despite this, polls show Obama gaining traction with Catholic voters, and Catholics, in general, are trending toward the Democratic Party.
Barack Obama’s stances on life and marriage issues are simply antithetical to Catholic social teaching. From the beginning of his candidacy, this has been Obama’s greatest vulnerability in attracting Catholic voters (“Why Barack Obama Will Not Win the Catholic Vote,” 1/7/08). In the primary fight against Hillary Clinton, for example, Catholic resistance to Obama’s candidacy was obvious from the election numbers (“Obama’s Catholic Problem,” 2/27/08).
Only with the departure of Senator Clinton from the campaign has Obama picked up steam with Catholic voters. Clinton will surely use her clout with Catholics to help the Democratic nominee, which will help break down the resistance of blue-collar white Catholics to an Obama candidacy.
Obama’s breakthrough moment with Catholics came with the surprising endorsement of Prof. Doug Kmiec, a well-known pro-life Catholic jurist who served under Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush (“Preacher Man: Barack Obama and the Gospel of Liberalism,” 2/17/08). Kmiec’s reasons for supporting him echo those of Obama Catholics in general – the positions of the GOP on the war in Iraq, poverty, health care, and immigration are so objectionable that they feel justified in supporting Obama (“Doug Kmiec and the Lure of Obama,” 2/20/08).
Kmiec’s position has been picked up by various Obama-friendly organizations devoted to influencing Catholic voters (“Catholics Organize to Elect Barack Obama,” 4/2/08). Their strategy is obvious: Obama’s Catholics will do everything they can to avoid the infanticide question – along with all that it symbolizes – and will try to foster a moral equivalence between their positions on prudential matters and the non-negotiable life issues (“How Obama’s Catholics Will Dodge the Infanticide Problem,” 5/12/08).
The debate among Catholics, then, is whether this list of prudential policy issues trumps the obligation taught by the Church toward protecting unborn life and families based upon the marriage of a man and a woman.
In the past two national elections, there has been a 15 percent increase in the number of Catholics who voted for the GOP. Exit polling suggested life and family issues made the biggest difference. But in 2008, the Iraq War has destabilized the dynamics of the Catholic vote – the steady migration of Catholics out of the Democratic Party to the GOP has stopped (“Can Obama Use Iraq to Win the Catholic Vote?,” 4/8/08). Many Catholic voters are just too angry at Bush and the GOP over Iraq.
Oddly, when Obama’s list of high-profile Catholic supporters was announced, Kmiec’s name was not on it. That may have been due to the fact that nearly all of the 25 governors, senators, and congressmen on the list had a 100 percent pro-abortion voting record from NARAL (“Who Are Obama’s Catholic Supporters?,” 4/15/08). It’s very likely Kmiec was asked to serve on the advisory council, but may have demurred when he saw the list of solidly pro-abortion Catholics. Former White House speechwriter Bill McGurn called them “NARAL Catholics” in a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece.
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, made national news when he called for the disbanding of Obama’s Catholic committee because its membership was so overwhelmingly pro-abortion. One of its members, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D-KS), had just been warned by her bishop, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, to refrain from taking communion.
Interestingly enough, not long after Donohue’s appeal, all references to Obama’s National Catholic Advisory Council disappeared from the campaign’s web site. Perhaps the campaign realized that branding Obama’s Catholic outreach with a Who’s Who of pro-abortion Catholics was not a good idea, especially after the warning shot fired by the bishop of Kansas City. The last thing the Obama campaign wants is a replay of 2004, when John Kerry was dogged by story after story of bishops who said they would deny communion to politicians who obstinately support abortion rights.
Several bishops have already shown their willingness to address this issue publicly in 2008. In addition to the statement of Archbishop Naumann, Boston archbishop Sean O’alley said in an interview last November that Catholic support for Democrat pro-abortion candidates “borders on scandal as far I am concerned.”
Various pro-Obama Catholic organizations are working effectively to draw attention away from their candidate’s weaknesses on fundamental issues. They are well-funded and led by people with extensive experience in the Democratic Party and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. They are not shy about selling their candidate through official channels. For example, pro-Obama e-mails are now regularly sent to the executive directors of state Catholic conferences (several have been forwarded to me).
Probably the most sustained drumbeat of Obama’s Catholic circle will be their support for building a “Culture of Life” in spite of their candidate’s position on abortion and infanticide. They will argue that reducing poverty and improving health care, among other things, will bring down the number of abortions more effectively than passing laws outlawing the procedure.
In response to this, Catholic voters should be reminded of what Archbishop Chaput said to Obama’s Catholics. On May 19 he rebuked a group called Roman Catholics for Obama who quoted him out of context to justify voting for the pro-abortion nominee. The group had seized upon the following quote: “Catholics can vote for pro-choice candidates if they vote for them despite – not because of – their pro-choice views.”
Roman Catholics for Obama deliberately left out the paragraph following where Chaput added that he could think of no “proportionate reason” to support abortion. “It’s the kind of reason we will be able to explain, with a clean heart, to the victims of abortion when we meet them face to face in the next life – which we most certainly will.”
Archbishop Chaput also pointed out that the emperor had no clothes when it came to Obama’s candidacy benefitting a culture of life. He himself was a politically active Democrat as a young man at the time when Catholic politicians began invoking the “personally opposed to abortion” mantra. Chaput writes:
For most, their personal opposition was little more than pious hand wringing and a convenient excuse – exactly as it is today. In fact, I can’t name any “pro-choice” Catholic politician who has been active, in a sustained public way, in trying to discourage abortion and to protect unborn human life – not one.
Likewise, if Obama is elected, he has pledged to sign the Freedom of Choice Act during his first week in office, making it difficult for Catholic supporters of Obama to keep a straight face when talking about a culture of life.