2008 election

An Evangelical Ponders the Presidency

Deal W. Hudson
September 25, 2006

If you know the name Huckabee it’s probably from the popular movie or the highly publicized weight-loss campaign of the Arkansas Governor. My wife is politically astute and very knowledgeable. When I told her I was meeting with Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, she quickly replied, “Oh, he’s the guy who lost all the weight.” The health programs Huckabee subsequently implemented also got national attention, most notably, the purging of junk food from public school cafeterias.

Gov. Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist minister, was in Washington last Wednesday for a series of meetings testing the waters for a potential presidential bid in 2008. I had been asked by some Evangelical friends to host a D.C. meeting with Catholic leaders and was glad to do it, given Huckabee’s pro-life and pro-family record. As a former Baptist minister myself, I was curious to see how Huckabee would connect with this town’s Catholic crowd.

As the 2008 election draws near social conservatives are restless; they have no clear choice among the leading contenders. Some Catholic conservatives are already promoting the candidacy of the estimable Sen. Sam Brownback (KS), who has established credentials on issues such as life, marriage, and stem cell research. Evangelicals, who make up the majority of the Republican religious vote, may be somewhat hesitant to support Brownback, who is a recent convert to Catholicism.

Evangelical activists have been generating some buzz around Huckabee, who capped his years as a pastor by becoming president of the Arkansas Baptist Convention. He told our group that his decision to enter politics came after some public remarks by Dr. Jocelyn Elders when she was Gov. Bill Clinton’s Director of Health in Arkansas. During a legislative hearing, Elders said, “Preachers need to get over their love affair with the fetus,” and, “Preachers need to stop moralizing from the pulpit.” Clinton called Huckabee to ask whether her comments would cause problems among Arkansas Baptists. When Huckabee told him they certainly would, Clinton arranged for Huckabee to meet with Elders to work out their differences. After the two hour meeting, Huckabee went home telling his wife, “If people like this are setting the policies that affect the way our children are educated in school and shape the culture in which we live, it is time to get out of the stands and get on the field.”

Gov. Huckabee follows the pattern of other Evangelical pastors who felt compelled by hostility to religious values to run for office. Yet, Huckabee comes across very differently from Rev. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. If you didn’t know his background as an Evangelical minister, you would assume he had been a successful Southern businessman before becoming Governor. The predictable pulpit mannerisms and rhetorical fervor are muted. His manner is straightforward and disarming; he commands attention with quiet authority. In fact, he reminds me very much of his counterpart, the Catholic Sen. Brownback.

Some of Huckabee’s remarks, I admit, were something of a surprise. After recounting his journey into politics, he concluded by making the point so often made by liberals that pro-lifers don’t care for children once they are born. “I’m not sure we have much credibility,” he said, ” if we don’t care about what happens to a child “in between” birth and death.” Most of his presentation recounted his work in Arkansas to relieve poverty and homelessness, promote health, and strengthen education. (His wife, he told us, serves on the board of Habitat for Humanity.)

The Catholics at the meeting were impressed with Gov. Huckabee. None of them were thrown by his emphasis on the kind of social issues so dear to the Political Left. This was a savvy group who did not need to be assured of Huckabee’s pro-life bona fides, and who know a single-issue approach does not get a social conservative elected president.

I told the Governor during the discussion that his remarks reminded me of Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” and asked if he thinks the GOP needs to be rebranded for the 2008 election. His answer was emphatic, “We must get rid of “callous conservatism” or we are going to lose the people we need to win elections.”

In national elections, Evangelicals tend to like a little fire and brimstone, and Catholics are turned off by it. Gov. Huckabee, striking me as someone who never pounded his pulpit, may be the kind of Evangelical who can be successful in communicating with Catholics.

Huckabee won’t make any decision, he told us, until January 2007. Gov. Mitt Romney may have already surpassed him in connecting with the high-dollar socially conservative donors. But, if the Evangelical community puts all its support behind Huckabee, he will immediately become a contender. If so, the public will soon find out the Arkansas Governor is more than the “guy who lost all that weight.”

Can Fred Thompson Win Over Religious Conservatives?

Deal W. Hudson

September 7, 2007

Former Senator, movie actor, TV star of “Law & Order,” Fred Thompson officially entered the presidential race last week.

It’s remarkable after his bumpy start – with a turnover in his campaign staff and the delay of his official announcement – that Thompson is polling only a single percentage point behind Rudy Giuliani, 23 % to 24%, according to the weekly Rasmussen Reports.

Thompson enters the race polling ahead of Mitt Romney at 13% and John McCain at 12%. (Romney’s support has been staying in the 12% to 14% for ten straight weeks.)

The key to Thompson’s candidacy will be his ability to attract and motivate the religious conservatives who provided the margin of victory for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. Many of those voters cannot warm to the pro-abortion Giuliani and have yet to embrace Romney whose pro-life convictions are of a recent vintage.

His appeal to Christian voters hasn’t been helped by the March 28 comments by James Dobson reported in U. S. News & World Report: “Everyone knows he’s conservative and has come out strongly for the things that the pro-family movement stands for,” Dobson said of Thompson. “[But] I don’t think he’s a Christian; at least that’s my impression.”

The reporter Dan Gilgoff did not call Dobson about Thompson – Dobson called him, unsolicited.

Thompson’s campaign denied the accusation, telling Gilgoff, “Thompson is indeed a Christian,” he said. “He was baptized into the Church of Christ.”

Two days later, a spokesman for Dobson released a statement acknowledging Thompson’s profession of faith but added, “Thompson hasn’t clearly communicated his religious faith, and many evangelical Christians might find this a barrier to supporting him.”

Gaining Steam?

The Dobson flap hasn’t kept some prominent religious leaders from gravitating toward the Thompson camp. On July 23, Scott Helman reported in the Boston Globe that Gary Bauer, former presidential candidate himself, and Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council are moving in Thompson’s direction.

“I see a lot in him to be encouraged about,” Perkins said in the Boston Globe interview. “I think he stands the best chance of getting evangelical support.”

Evangelical support is crucial to gaining the GOP nomination. They remain the most loyal supporters of the GOP in spite of President Bush’s low popularity. According to a January 2007 survey by the Pew Research Center, 64% of religiously-active Evangelicals will vote for the Republican presidential nominee.

The weakest support for the GOP came from non-religious voters and Black Protestants. The religiously-active Catholic (non-Latino) support for the GOP was measured at 38%, falling dramatically from the 52% attained in the 2004 election.

Thompson has already demonstrated his awareness of the Catholic vote by being the only candidate to attend the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D. C. in April. The 6′ 6″ Thompson was easy to see at a head table with his wife Jeri and two small children, one born as late as November of last year. (His forty-year-old wife is a former political consultant, including a stint at the Republican National Committee. Thompson is sixty-six.)

How to Win the Primary

Attracting the loyal Evangelical support and reinvigorating the observant Catholic vote will be the one-two punch Thompson will need to win the nomination. The early inroads made by Romney and Giuliani among religious leaders appeared to have peaked. Sen. Brownback and Gov. Huckabee are stuck in low single digits in spite of their good showing in the Ames Straw Poll.

Religious conservatives are not the type of voters disposed toward compromise – they are waiting for a leader who will comport with their sense of political mission. It remains to be seen whether Fred Thompson can assume that role. Thompson doesn’t have Romney’s problem of a recent declaration of a pro-life position. His pro-life voting record was rated 100% by National Right to Life while in the Senate. And in a video sent to the NRTL convention in June, Thompson said

On abortion-related votes, I’ve been 100 percent… On stem cell research, I’m for adult stem cell research, not stem cell research where embryos of unborn children are destroyed. It looks to me like there is a lot of promising developments as far as adult stem cell research is concerned anyway and we don’t need to go down that other road.

He also described partial-birth abortion as “infanticide.”

Not All Clear

Thompson’s position on the other key issue for religious conservatives is less straight-forward. On August 17, Thompson told CNN would try to overturn Roe v. Wade if elected, and would seek for a constitutional amendment protecting states from being forced to honor gay marriages performed in other states.

“I don’t think that one state ought to be able to pass a law requiring gay marriage or allowing gay marriage and have another state be required to follow along.”

This prompted a clarification from the Thompson campaign sent the same day to National Review Online:

Thompson believes that states should be able to adopt their own laws on marriage consistent with the views of their citizens.

He does not believe that one state should be able to impose its marriage laws on other states, or that activist judges should construe the constitution to require that.

If necessary, he would support a constitutional amendment prohibiting states from imposing their laws on marriage in other states.

Fred Thompson does not support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

So the bottom line is this: Thompson’s position allows a state to mandate gay marriage as long as it cannot be exported to another state.

His lack of support for a federal ban on gay marriage led to a statement by Gary Bauer defending Thompson. “A number of us have met privately with Senator Thompson, and he’s made it absolutely clear that he opposes same-sex marriage” (American Family News Network, August 23, 2007).

Debates such as this will be commonplace for Fred Thompson as his outreach to religious conservatives intensifies with tomorrow’s announcement. Unifying that support will be one of the central challenges of his campaign, whether his public political voice will turn out to be as “presidential” as the voice of his TV and film persona remains to be seen.

Mike Huckabee’s Anti-Catholic Problem

Deal W. Hudson
January 2, 2008

Gov. Mike Huckabee will be a major player in the run for the GOP presidential nomination regardless of whether he finishes first or second in the Iowa Caucus. As in Iowa, Evangelical voters will undergird his efforts in Michigan (Jan 18), South Carolina (Jan 26), and Florida (Jan 29).

Huckabee, however, will need Catholic voters to win in states like Michigan and Florida, not to mention the many Catholic-heavy states on February 5 and 9. Prospects for Huckabee attracting Catholic voters are not good, and they are getting worse.

That’s because Mike Huckabee is developing an anti-Catholic problem.

When the former Southern Baptist minister spoke at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio on December 23, he evidently did not know that the pastor, Rev. John Hagee, has a long record of statements about the Catholic Church that the Catholic League has labeled as anti-Catholic.

Hagee, for example, accuses the early Catholic Church of inventing anti-Semitism; the medieval Catholic Church of creating the Crusades and the Inquisition to “punish the Jews”; of infusing Adolph Hitler with his anti-Semitism; and of not standing up to the Third Reich:

In all of his [Hitler’s] years of absolute brutality, he was never denounced or even scolded by Pope Pius XII or any Catholic leader in the world.

After the controversy hit the headlines, Huckabee distanced himself from Hagee’s opinion about Catholics:

I would certainly never characterize the Catholic Church as being pro-Nazi, never.

Catholic voters surely appreciate that, but it’s not the first time Huckabee has been associated with anti-Catholic rhetoric. Back in June, in the build-up to the Ames Straw Poll, a Huckabee supporter, Rev. Tim Rude, sent out a blast e-mail containing the following:

Huckabee is an Evangelical. He has not learned how to speak to Evangelicals; i.e. Bush 41 & 43. He is one of us. I know Senator Brownback converted to Roman Catholicism in 2002.

Frankly, as a recovering Catholic myself, that is all I need to know about his discernment when compared to the Governors. I don’t know if this fact is widely known among Evangelicals who are supporting Brownback. (Emphasis added)

In the days that followed, the Brownback campaign asked Huckabee to join them in condemning Rude’s email.

He never did.

It should have been apparent then, as it is now, that Huckabee does not understand the reality of lingering anti-Catholic attitudes among some Evangelicals and other religious groups. If he did, he would never have accepted the invitation to speak at Hagee’s church.

But the problem does not stop with Hagee and Rude. Campaigning with Huckabee in Iowa has been one of the most prominent leaders of the Religious Right, Dr. Tim LaHaye, author of the popular Left Behind novels.

Carl Olson has documented the anti-Catholic comments throughout LaHaye’s writing, including the Left Behind series. The following quote should suffice to represent LaHaye’s point of view:

The Church of Rome denies the finished work of Christ but believes in a continuing sacrifice that produces such things as sacraments and praying for the dead, burning candles, and so forth. All of these were borrowed from mystery Babylon, the mother of all pagan customs and idolatry, none of which is taught in the New Testament (Revelation Unveiled, 1999, 66-67).

Someone needs to ask Huckabee if, along with the “pro-Nazi” label, he would refuse to describe the Catholic Church as “Babylonian.”

Catholics have long formed part of the ground troops of the Religious Right. Leaders like Robertson, Falwell, Reed, and Dobson have made sure that the anti-Catholic element among Evangelicals would not deter Catholics from joining the coalition.

There is nothing that will drive a Catholic voter away from a candidate quicker than a whiff of the prejudice that hounded their ancestors since the days of the Thirteen Colonies. So why is Huckabee tone deaf to this important issue for Catholic voters? Is it because, as one commentator points out, he comes from a state with the third-lowest percentage of Catholics?

Huckabee claims to be very comfortable with Catholics, says that he has worked with Catholics, and has Catholics in his campaign, including his campaign manager.

That is fine and good, but what happens when Catholic voters start to hear that some of his biggest supporters think the Catholic Church “denies the finished work of Christ,” is the product of Babylonian mysteries, and is the source of anti-Semitism, including that of Hitler?

Catholic voters will want more than the stale “Catholics are some of my best friends” explanation.

Why Barack Obama Will Not Win the Catholic Vote

Deal W. Hudson
January 7, 2008

To win the White House in 2008, the Democrats have to win back the Catholic voters they lost to the GOP in 2000 and 2004. A previous Window forecast that if the Democrats nominated Hillary Clinton, she would win the Catholic vote. However, with his commanding victory in the Iowa caucus, Barack Obama may be well on his way to upsetting the presumptive nominee.

But what will his prospects be for winning the necessary Catholic vote? Recent polling and expert analyses suggest that Obama will actually have a difficult time connecting with Catholic voters.

Pew Research Center poll released last November showed Obama trailing Clinton 17 percent to 45 percent among white Catholics. Among mainline Protestants, Obama was preferred by 25 percent; black Protestants, 36 percent; and religious but unaffiliated voters, 27 percent.

It must be troubling to the Obama campaign that his level of support among white Catholics is significantly lower than among other religious voters. In fact, this was the greatest drop for any presidential candidate between his or her overall percentage and the percentage among a specific group.

These numbers did not surprise Steve Wagner, president of QEV Analytics and an expert in political polling of Catholic voters. Wagner thinks Clinton is a bigger threat to take the Catholic vote back from the GOP.

According to Wagner, Clinton’s advantage is her ability to put forth “persuasive arguments on key social issues.” Obama has yet to make these kinds of arguments. Rather, he attracts a “substantially frustrated constituency of people far to the left who don’t feel they have representation. Catholics aren’t feeling deprived.”

Wagner’s description of Obama’s following sounds much like what I have heard from politically active Catholic liberals over the years. I asked Wagner if the Catholic left would be able to help Obama: “There just aren’t many people fitting that description. Liberal Catholics are trivial as a constituency because they are so small in number.”

Wagner predicts that the only religious voting group who will strongly support Obama is religiously active African-American voters. (There was concern recently that Obama was not connecting with African-American ministers, but he seems to have picked up some important support lately.)

The underlying danger of Obama for Democrats, according to Wagner, is that he is returning to the “interest-group politics” that started in the 1970s with the McGovern campaign.

A recent book by pro-life Democrat Mark StricherzWhy the Democrats Are Blue: How Secular Liberals Hijacked the People’s Party, describes the revolution in the Democratic Party brought about by the 1972 McGovern Commission, mandating that convention delegates be selected by a quota system of race and gender.

According to Stricherz, it was the white, largely ethnic Catholic who got pushed aside in the Democratic Party when the quota system was enforced. Most of these Democrats were Catholic and pro-life; they were replaced by pro-abortion feminists.

The Democratic Party, it is widely recognized, is still trying to recover from the McGovern revolution, which triggered the steady migration of Catholics into the GOP. If Wagner is right, Obama’s politics will remind Catholic voters why they left the Democratic Party in the first place.

Another big problem Obama will have with Catholics, Wagner says, will be his brand of patriotism. Last October, Obama suddenly removed the America flag pin he has been wearing since the start of the campaign. He said it has become a substitute for “true patriotism” since the attacks of 9/11.

Catholics will bristle at the reminder of that incident, which will inevitably come up in a presidential campaign. As Wagner put it, “Catholics are patriotic, and the Obama campaign will contain implicit criticism of America throughout its message.”

I asked Wagner whether Obama, if nominated, would be able to move toward the middle, like Senator Clinton and Governor Romney have tried to do.

“Romney had four years to remake himself, but Obama will have only four months to reinvent himself,” Wagner said. “His leftish populism is not going to play in a general election.”

Wagner’s view of Obama stands in stark contrast to the opinion of many Democrats. No less than Ted Sorensen, a former speechwriter for John F. Kennedy, has heralded the junior senator from Illinois as JFK’s heir.

Kennedy won 83% of the Catholic vote in 1960. In this respect, at least, Barack Obama will be no JFK.

Why I Don’t Trust Mitt Romney

Deal W. Hudson
January 28, 2008

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has positioned himself as a pro-life, pro-family “social conservative,” and has received the endorsement of some prominent social conservatives. But Massachusetts-area grassroots Catholics familiar with his record as governor are mystified by that support.

Their view of Romney is that his “conversion” to social conservatism was pragmatic, a tactic to win the presidential nomination. The liberal policies that made Romney governor of Massachusetts – including a pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage platform – could not win him the Republican presidential nomination, so sweeping changes in his political philosophy were necessary.

Romney, the presidential candidate, is a politician vastly different from Romney, the governor of Massachusetts.

I’ve already questioned Romney’s pro-life conversion. Anyone who simultaneously supports both the adoption of frozen embryos and destroying them for scientific research is not to be trusted on this issue.

His record on the campaign trail only corroborates my concerns. For example, he campaigns as a fiscal conservative but promised a $20 billion taxpayer bail-out to the Detroit auto industry on the eve of the Michigan primary.

I have a hard time believing a President Romney would shed all the liberal bad habits he exhibited as governor – the same habits that pop up regularly on the campaign trail as he tells local audiences what they want to hear.

In a series of interviews with pro-life Catholics in Massachusetts, I uncovered a long list of concerns with Mitt Romney – and they are dead-set in their opposition to him. This is the story they told me.

Romney on Abortion

Today Romney describes himself as “pro-life,” and explains he converted to this position in late 2004. But his public statements and actions present a mixed history of pro-choice vs. pro-life positions.

During his 1994 Senate campaign against Ted Kennedy and in his 2002 gubernatorial campaign, Romney campaigned as a pro-choice candidate. In a televised debate against Kennedy in October of 1994, Romney said he felt “abortion should be safe and legal in this country,” and he believed this because his mother took that position in her 1970 U.S. Senate campaign.

When Kennedy labeled his opponent “multiple choice,” Romney rebutted that, since the time of a close relative’s death from an illegal abortion years ago, “My mother and my family have been committed to the belief that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others on that matter, and you will not see me wavering on that.”

Romney thus suggested he may have previously been neutral or pro-life, but he became pro-choice two years before Roe v. Wade (Conversion No. 1). He maintained that pro-choice position through his 2002 gubernatorial campaign when he answered to Planned Parenthood and NARAL questionnaires by saying he supported “the substance of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade,” and “I respect and will protect a woman’s right to choose… Women should be free to choose based on their own beliefs, not mine and not the government’s.”

Oddly, Romney refused to answer the candidate questionnaire sent to him that year by Massachusetts Citizens for Life.

By spring of 2005, Romney was highlighting his personal opposition to abortion in out-of-state speeches. “I’m in a different place than I was probably in 1994, when I ran against Ted Kennedy, in my own views on that.” On May 23, 2005, Romney was quoted in USA Today saying he was “personally pro-life” but declined to say more. “I choose not to elaborate on those because I don’t want to be confusing to people in my state.”

Massachusetts Citizens for Life was “unimpressed with those moves,” and still considered Romney an abortion-rights supporter.

Romney has attributed his pro-life conversion (Conversion No. 2) to a November 2004 stem cell research discussion with a Harvard researcher. He now claims he has joined a company with other political figures such as Ronald Reagan and Henry Hyde who changed their views.

Tom McClusky of the Family Research Council summarized his view: “For a lot of people, especially Christian conservatives, it’s one of those black and white issues. You’re either pro-life or not. That’s the trouble with Governor Romney – he’s gray.”

Romney on Emergency Contraception

The Boston Globe claims that a visible result of Romney’s abortion shift was his July 2005 veto of a bill making the “morning-after pill” (Plan B) available over-the-counter at state pharmacies and requiring hospitals to offer it to rape victims.

If Governor Romney has indeed suddenly become committed to the culture of life in the past two years, why did he eliminate the conscience exemption allowing Catholic hospitals to opt-out of the intrusive law that his own Department of Public Health decided to grant them?

On December 7, 2005, the Globe reported that Romney’s Department of Public Health had determined Catholic and other privately run hospitals could opt out of giving the morning-after pill to rape victims because of religious or moral objections. A statute passed in previous years said that privately run hospitals could not be forced to provide abortions or contraception, and indeed, Article II of the Massachusetts Constitution guarantees such freedom of religious practice.

When pro-choice groups complained, Romney immediately caved-in – or “flip-flopped,” as Massachusetts Democrats described it, saying that after legal review, his own lawyer found all hospitals in the state would be forced to provide the morning-after pill to rape victims.

On December 9, 2005, the Boston Globe reported, “Governor Mitt Romney reversed course on the state’s new emergency contraception law… The decision overturns a ruling made public this week by the state Department of Public Health that privately run hospitals could opt out of the requirement if they objected on moral or religious grounds.”

Why did Governor Romney not simply abide by the state constitution and the decision of his own Public Health Department? He instead abandoned Catholic hospitals, setting them up for possible court battles if they upheld their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion.

Romney on Gay Rights

Romney has become a crusader against same-sex marriage and activist judges. But his gay-friendly positions from his 1994 campaign against Senator Kennedy have recently come back to haunt him, and documents held by Massachusetts pro-family activists and the Boston-area gay newspaper, Bay Windows, show how Romney’s pro-gay actions as governor have not matched his conservative rhetoric.

Romney’s previous comments reported by the New York TimesBoston Globe and other papers are troubling on their own. In 1994, Romney won the endorsement of the gay-advocating Log Cabin Club of Massachusetts, saying he would be a stronger advocate for gays than Senator Kennedy. “We must make equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern. My opponent cannot do this. I can and will.”

During his 2002 run for governor, Romney supported full domestic partnership benefits for gay and lesbian couples, which had been opposed by Democratic legislative leaders, and his campaign distributed pink flyers during Gay Pride events promoting equal rights for all citizens regardless of their sexual preference.

During that same 2002 run, Romney also denounced as “too extreme” an effort by pro-family groups to enact a state Marriage Protection Amendment banning gay marriage, civil unions and same-sex domestic-partnership benefits which could have preempted the November 2003 same-sex marriage court decision.

Romney’s inactions as governor that allowed the gay agenda to advance among young people are even more troubling. For example, the Governor’s Commission for Gay and Lesbian Youth promotes gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender (GLBT) education in schools via speaking presentations, films, books, dances (such as transgender proms), handouts, and the establishment of LGBT clubs.

Although Romney had legal control over the entity, he never tried to limit its use of funding, impact the membership, or dissolve the commission until after the legislature created a redundant commission several months before the end of his four-year term in office. In fact, Romney’s fiscal 2006 budget included $250,000 for the commission, twice what he proposed spending in 2005. Romney signed annual proclamations recognizing Youth Gay Pride Day.

Romney’s Department of Public Health supported publication of “The Little Black Book: Queer in the 21st Century,” a pamphlet that includes graphics instructions about safely performing gay sex acts, which even liberal Boston Herald columnists described as “filled with crude vulgarities” and a “vile little pamphlet… dirt, dummied-down poison to the mind.”

Romney’s Department of Education provides extensive instructions to schools on forming Gay/Straight Student Alliances; advocates that school children attend gay pride parades; proposes agendas for a gay/lesbian “Day of Awareness, including a panel of transgender individuals talking about transvestite/transsexual issues; and suggests top ten Gay Straight Alliance meeting topics such as “What would the world be like if 10 percent of its people were straight and 90 percent were gay?” and “What would it be like if parents wanted their children to grow up gay?”

Romney on Judicial Appointments

For all of Romney’s rhetoric about activist judges, his own judicial appointments also leave much to be desired. The Boston Globe reported in July of 2005 that Romney had “passed over GOP lawyers for three-quarters of the 36 judicial vacancies he has faced, instead of tapping registered Democrats or independents – including two gay lawyers who have supported expanded same-sex rights.”

In May of 2005, Romney selected for a district court judgeship Stephen Albany, a former board member of the Massachusetts Lesbian and Gay Bar Association who organized the group’s opposition to a 1999 bill to outlaw same-sex marriage. The MLGBA is “dedicated to ensuring that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision on marriage equality is upheld and that any anti-gay amendment or legislation is defeated.”

Ironically, the Globe reports that two days before Abany’s nomination, Romney was lamenting the liberal tilt of the state’s bench, telling Fox News that “our courts have a record here in Massachusetts… of being a little blue and being Kerry-like.”

Catholics would no doubt also be surprised to hear another Romney choice for the bench was Marianne C. Hinkle, who described herself as a longtime active member of Dignity/USA, a group that wants to reform the Catholic Church’s views and teachings on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender activity.

Romney on Gay Adoption

Massachusetts Catholics say that Governor Romney’s positions on adoption of children by homosexual couples are contradictory at best, and that inaction on his part contributed to Catholic Charities of Boston exiting their adoption ministry in 2006 after more than 100 years of service.

In terms of his public rhetoric, Romney tries to have it both ways. He has been dismissive of same-sex parenting to South Carolina Republicans, saying sarcastically that some gay and lesbian couples “are actually having children born to them,” while in Massachusetts, he says he recognizes that homosexual couples “have a legitimate interest in being able to receive adoptive services.”

Romney’s action and inaction on this issue have been different from his stated position. In late 2005 and early 2006, when Catholic Charities of Boston was under fire for having complied with a state regulation requiring adoption agencies to broker adoptions for homosexual couples, Romney initially claimed he could not unilaterally exempt them, as an exemption would require legislation “and would not be something I would be authorized to do on a personal basis.” Since legislative leaders had previously declared such legislation would be effectively dead on arrival, Catholic Charities proceeded to exit the adoption business, and Romney’s subsequent decision to file legislation asking for the exemption indeed went nowhere, with zero benefits to the agency.

Romney refused to use his executive powers to change the regulation, and even former Gov. Michael Dukakis weighed in to say Romney’s legislation was “unnecessary,” in that “the state’s anti-discrimination statutes do not preclude an exemption for the Catholic organization.” Abortion is constitutionally protected, yet Catholic hospitals that do not perform abortions on religious principle are not prevented from being reimbursed for Medicaid-eligible services.

The liberal Governor Dukakis, who signed the original gay rights bill during his tenure, said there was nothing mandated in this area and observed, “Governors can change regulations if they want to, that’s up to them.” So why did Romney back down?

Romney on Gay Marriage

On November 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled in Goodridge vs. Dept. of Public Health that same-sex couples should not be denied the right to marry in Massachusetts. Since that time, Romney has pushed aggressively for a marriage-protection amendment in Massachusetts. This amendment passed its first round in the legislature on January 2, 2007, but failed to pass in June of 2007, killing that amendment and hopes of any rollback of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts for at least four years, if not forever.

Governor Romney, however, previously opposed a 2002 marriage-protection amendment that would have preempted the court ruling of November 2003.

Romney has also been one of the more outspoken politicians on the national scene in favor of defining marriage as between one man and one woman, and against activist judges whose rulings paved the way for gay marriage.

But what many people don’t know, and what is most overlooked by the media, is that John Adams had the foresight in 1780 to write specific provisions in the Massachusetts Constitution, the world’s oldest functioning written constitution, to prevent judicial activism of this sort.

Unfortunately, Romney made no attempt to exercise most of his constitutional options in order to block same-sex marriages before they began or stop them while in office, and Catholic activists would like to know why.

Romney could have declared the ruling null and void, and therefore unenforceable, immediately after it was handed down in November of 2003. How? Article 5 of the Massachusetts Constitution says, “All causes of marriage, divorce, and alimony… shall be heard and determined by the governor and council.” Romney could have said that the court simply had no jurisdiction to rule over the definition of marriage.

The Massachusetts Constitution also has specific provision for removing judges without cause via a “bill of address.” Instead of responding to a problem of activist judges by going through a lengthy process of amending the Constitution, the offending judges can simply be removed from office for distorting the Constitution to impose their own views.

Such a procedure has been successfully used several times in the past in Massachusetts. In the spring of 2004, Romney could have supported the active grassroots effort and Democratic-sponsored legislation to remove the judges who wrote the Goodridge decision.

If Romney was genuinely troubled by the role of “activist judges” in the same-sex marriage issue, why did he refuse to support this move in 2004?

Interestingly, on the campaign trail in New Hampshire on November 24, 2007, Romney publicly called for the resignation of a Massachusetts judge after the judge released a violent criminal who then apparently murdered a Washington state couple. Should Catholics assume that the Goodridge judges’ radically unconstitutional redefinition of marriage for all of society is not sufficiently serious a matter for Romney to have called for their resignation any time in the past four years?

Next, Romney could have followed the precedent of Abraham Lincoln in the 1857 Dred Scott case – which Romney himself referred to in a Wall Street Journal editorial – and respected the decision of the Court with regard only to the litigants in that specific case.

As Hadley Arkes explained in National Review, Lincoln and his party did not try to set the slave Dred Scott free once the Supreme Court had confirmed him to remain in slavery. Lincoln only accepted the ruling for the parties in the specific case, and he did not allow the public policy of the whole country to be affected by the Supreme Court’s decision.

Romney could have announced that he would respect the decision for the plaintiffs, but he could have insisted then that clerks issue licenses of marriage only to couples who had come through comparable litigation and received a comparable order from a court.

If Romney was such an enthusiast for Lincoln’s response to the Dred Scott decision and so determined to block same-sex marriage, why didn’t he pursue the same strategy to try and block same-sex marriage from propagating beyond the small group of Goodridge litigants?

Finally, and most importantly, since the ruling stopped short of changing the previous marriage law, a strong governor could have simply refused to do anything.

Article X of the Massachusetts Constitution provided Romney clear justification for ignoring the court order. “The people of this Commonwealth are not controllable by any other laws than those to which their constitutional representative body have given their consent.” And Article XX says, “The power of suspending the laws, or the execution of the laws, ought never to be exercised but by the Legislature.”

The justices who wrote the Goodridge decision knew this – which is why they specifically did not strike down the previous law. The legislature was then given 180 days in which to act.

GLAD Attorney Mary Bonauto, representing the seven gay couples who sued the state, said immediately after the 2003 Goodridge ruling, “The only task assigned to the Legislature is to come up with changes in the law that will allow gay couples to marry at the end of the 180-day period.”

All three branches of government concurred. The SJC clarified their ruling in February of 2004, writing to the Senate: “The purpose of the stay was to afford the Legislature an opportunity to confirm the existing statutes to the provisions of the Goodridge decision.”

Romney himself in April of 2004 said, “The Legislature has yet to follow a directive from the SJC to change the state’s marriage laws. I believe the reason that the Court gave 180 days to the Legislature was to allow the Legislature the chance to look through the laws… and see how they should be adjusted… for purposes of same-sex marriage; the Legislature didn’t do that.”

And State Sen. Bruce E. Tarr, a gay-marriage supporter, said in April 2004 that he believed the legislation would ultimately pass bills that would insert gender-neutral language into the state’s marriage laws in time for the May 17, 2004, deadline. “No one should interpret inaction thus far with the idea that no action is forthcoming.”

But the Massachusetts legislature never acted to change the law. What happened between April 2003 and May 2004 when Romney decided a “new law” existed and ordered town clerks to follow it by issuing same-sex marriage licenses?

And since the court ruling never ordered the governor to do anything, why did Romney order justices of the peace to perform the unions or resign their positions if they objected on moral grounds?

Even if some people not familiar with the Massachusetts Constitution felt that somehow the court did change the law since the court had violated its constitutional authority, what would have happened if Romney had had the courage to stand up and defy it?

Virtually every pro-family conservative in the country urged Romney to stand strong at the time and defy the court. The Family Research Council said, “Most important right now is for the governor to stand firm [and] not allow any marriage licenses to be handed out on May 17.”

Concerned Women for America urged Romney to intervene via executive order and “put the brakes on this madness. He needs to make it clear that the law has not changed, and that on May 17 homosexual couples cannot make a mockery of God’s institution of marriage.”

Patrick Buchanan called on Romney to declare, “There is no basis for it [the court’s decision] in law… in the letter or spirit of the Constitution of our Commonwealth… And as I took an oath to defend the Constitution of the Commonwealth, I intend to disregard the court order of last November.”

The Massachusetts Catholic Conference went on the record saying the SJC “exceeded their authority,” and Governor Romney failed in his duty to “uphold the Constitution.”

Instead of standing up for his supposedly strong beliefs on marriage and defending the Constitution, Romney exercised his leadership by ordering justices of the peace to perform same-sex marriages.

This is consistent with his 2002 campaign promise to the Massachusetts Log Cabin Republicans, who, according to the New York Times, Romney courted at a gay bar and promised if a same-sex marriage court case worked its way through the judicial system, he would “obey the court’s ultimate ruling and not champion a fight on either side of the issue,” telling those gathered that he would “keep [his] head low,” according to one participant.

Romney has countered that he was “forced” into implementing homosexual marriages, but he refused to pursue other options backed by pro-family conservatives and his own state Constitution.

Now Romney campaigns against the same-sex marriages he himself, not the court, made a reality. In short, he is campaigning as a social conservative against, and in spite of, his own record as governor.

Pro-life Catholics in Massachusetts are increasingly bitter that social conservatives are ignoring Romney’s record and listening only to his promises. I can’t blame them.

Catholic Left Beats McCain with Hagee Stick

Deal W. Hudson
March 13, 2008

The moment Bill Donohue demanded that Senator John McCain repudiate the anti-Catholicism of Rev. John Hagee, the Democrats began rubbing their hands in anticipation. Between February 28 and March 10, Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, issued eleven press releases.

By the time Donohue announced “this case is closed” the McCain-Hagee story had been referenced every day on cable news and in the print media.

But what satisfied Bill Donohue was not enough for a group called “Catholics United,” a middle-to-left organization “dedicated to promoting the message of justice and the common good found at the heart of the Catholic Social Tradition.”

For the past year, Catholics United has pushed a number of issues it considers of importance to Catholics, most of them at the expense of Republicans: global warming, torture, children’s health care, ending the Iraq War, and now the endorsement of McCain by Texas pastor John Hagee.

A March 7 press release from Catholics United applauded McCain’s repudiation of Hagee’s anti-Catholicism but called upon him to “reject” Hagee’s endorsement outright.

Chris Korzen, executive director of Catholics United, stated, “By publicly accepting and celebrating this endorsement, McCain is sending a signal that he tolerates these extremist positions. Hagee has offended many groups besides Catholics. The best way for him to move forward is by simply rejecting his endorsement.”

Here’s what McCain said:

I repudiate any comments that are made, including Pastor Hagee’s, if they are anti-Catholic or offensive to Catholics.

The “Hagee moment” in McCain’s campaign even gave pro-abortion Catholic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) the opportunity of criticizing the pro-life senator from Arizona. The fact that Pelosi’s statement failed to provoke widespread laughter demonstrates the power of the anti-Catholic label to turn off Catholics.

Here’s the new reality among American Catholics: There is nothing that will lose a candidate the Catholic vote more quickly than the taint of anti-Catholicism. Among laymen, Bill Donohue should be credited more than any other single figure for telling Catholics to demand respect for their faith. Donohue’s Catholic League makes media moguls think twice about bashing the Catholic Church – and he’s made the reality of anti-Catholicism a factor in presidential politics.

In the background of Donohue’s achievements are the myriad changes in the U.S. Catholic Church since the beginning (1978) of John Paul II’s papacy. These changes are part of the story I tell in my recently published book, Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States (Simon & Schuster).

John Paul II gave America’s Catholics pride in their Church, and a sense of empowerment they had not felt in many years. The changes stemming from the Second Vatican Council – some mandated by the Council, some not – had left Catholics unsure about their legacy and the traditions they, their parents, and grandparents had followed for many generations.

John Paul II helped to make sense out of those changes and reestablished spiritual and moral priorities that seemed in line with those previous generations thought left behind in the old “pre-Vatican II” world.

Among those priorities was the support he gave to the Catholic pro-life movement which had been started by the U.S. Catholic Conference in the early 70s but was superseded by the bishops’ embrace of the “seamless garment” approach to social teaching.

The life issues under the leadership of John Paul II, and now Benedict XVI, have become the focal political issues – the non-negotiables – by which Catholics can evaluate their political leaders and their platforms. The consequences of which were witnessed clearly in the controversies surrounding the candidacy of Sen. John Kerry.

If you look for a pro-life message on the website of Catholics United you will find it connected to support of children’s health care (S-CHIP) legislation. Whatever your position on that legislation, it is hardly the totality of the Church’s understanding of what it means to be pro-life.

Catholics United did not get much traction in making S-CHIP into a “pro-life” issue. But anti-Catholicism is an altogether more potent charge to make against the Republican candidate, and one that the GOP should take very seriously.

So should McCain be forced to completely reject Hagee’s endorsement? No, it is enough that he repudiated his anti-Catholic attitude and statements. If candidates could only accept endorsements from people they were 100% in agreement with no one would be able to accept anyone’s endorsement! McCain did the right thing, but it gave his opposition ten days of media time to send out negative buzz to Catholic voters.

The bottom line is this: Any politician who wants to win the Catholic vote will not only have to contend with Catholic concerns about life issues but also avoid any flirtation with anti-Catholicism.

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.

Who Are Obama’s Catholic Supporters?

Deal W. Hudson
April 15, 2008

Last Friday, the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama released the names on its Catholic National Advisory Council. The list contains three governors, six senators, and 16 House members, for a total of 25 elected officials. Twenty-two of the 25 is solidly pro-abortion politicians.

Five senators and 13 House members have earned 100 percent pro-abortion ratings from NARAL. Of those remaining, Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA) gets a 65 percent rating – rather surprising for a “pro-lifer.” James Oberstar (D-MN) is at 50 percent, while only two are pro-life: Jerry Costello (D-IL) and George Miller (D-CA). (Former House member Tim Roemer (D-IL), a committee co-chair, is pro-life as well.)

Notable for his absence is Prof. Doug Kmiec of Pepperdine University’s School of Law, who shocked his friends and colleagues with his endorsement of Obama. Kmiec, who held positions in the White House Office of Legal Counsel under Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, was considered one of the most important pro-life Catholic jurists in the nation.

Does his name be missing from the list mean Kmiec is having second thoughts, or simply wants to take a lower profile in the campaign? Time will tell.

In the meantime, those who are on the list tell us much about the Catholic advice being received by Obama and his strategists. Just as I wrote in my unsolicited memo to the Obama campaign, the left-wing, and sometimes dissenting, view of the Church is inaccurate and puts him at a disadvantage politically. The composition of the Catholic National Advisory Committee suggests the advice given to Obama will be no different than that given to Al Gore and John Kerry.

Whatever kind of advice Obama receives, however, his campaign has put together a list of respected Catholic lay and religious leaders. These are people who collectively encompass the entire network of middle-to- left Catholic institutions and their leadership. They can give the Obama Catholic outreach tremendous heft and credibility in the eyes of elites, especially the media. These are individuals who, regardless of their politics and theology, can make inroads into the Catholic vote.

Included on the list are prominent academics such as Mary Jo Bane, Harvard; M. Shaun Copeland and Lisa Cahill, Boston College; Cathleen Kaveny and Vincent Rougeau, Notre Dame; Vincent Miller, Georgetown; and David O’Brien, Holy Cross. The religious orders are also represented: Sr. Catherine Pinkerton, Congregation of St. Joseph; and Margaret Gannon, IHM, a sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Several members have strong and recent ties to centers of power in the Catholic Church. Sharon Daly has been described as one of the highest-ranking lay women leaders in the Church and was for many years vice-president for social policy at Catholic Charities USA. Ron Cruz, listed now as a consultant, was, only last year, director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Hispanic Affairs.

The biggest problem Obama’s Catholic supporters face is the candidate himself. Only a few months ago he was on a charm offensive; now he is mired in one verbal gaffe after another. As the list of regrettable statements grows, it becomes more difficult for Obama supporters to make a case to Catholics. His candidacy is in danger of losing swing voters – many of whom are Catholic – who are starting to see a side of him that is both condescending and extreme.

His now-famous comments at a San Francisco fundraiser are another example of the real Obama revealing himself in the glare of constant media attention. The attitude toward religion is shocking for someone who has made hope the focal point of the campaign message. Describing the bitterness from loss of jobs he meets in “small towns” in Pennsylvania and the Midwest, Obama said, “And it’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

Here Obama explicitly equates religion to gun ownership, nativism, and racism by assigning them a common motive. Wasn’t religion supposed to be about hope in the future, not rancor toward the past? And barely a week earlier, Obama had equated unwanted pregnancy with punishment and sexually transmitted disease.

Catholic outreach will not be helped by Obama’s association with his parish, the Trinity Church of Christ in Chicago. The problems started by Rev. Jeremiah Wright are not likely to be left behind, if only because Wright’s successor, Rev. Otis Moss III, is determined to restore Wright’s reputation. In his Easter sermon, Reverend Moss called the treatment of Wright a lynching – but he didn’t leave it there. What followed was an echo of Reverend Wright’s tirades:

The lynching was national news. The RNN, the Roman News Network, was reporting it and NPR, National Publican Radio had it on the radio. The Jerusalem Post and the Palestine Times all wanted exclusives, they searched out the young ministers, showed up unannounced at their houses, tried to talk with their families, called up their friends, wanted to get a quote on how do you feel about the lynching?

publican is the Jewish tax collector (mentioned in the parable of Luke 18:10-14). The entire statement verges on the anti-Semitic. Reverend Moss could become a bigger problem for Obama than Reverend Wright if he keeps up this line of thinking about who is responsible for the “lynching” of his predecessor.

The Catholic National Advisory Council has some challenges ahead, but they have gathered a notable list of supporters to press Obama’s case among Catholics. They will have to convince Catholics to vote for a pro-abortion candidate whose public comments disparage small town religion and the gift of life, and a candidate whose ministers, past and present, make deeply disturbing comments that awaken the most divisive prejudices and hatred in this country’s history.

Are Religious Conservatives and the GOP Heading for Divorce?

Deal W. Hudson
May 27, 2008

On May 22, 2008, a new era began in the history of what is called the Religious Right. Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain rejected the endorsements of two of the leading Evangelical pastors in the United States, Rev. John Hagee, and Rev. Rod Parsley. The impact of McCain publicly disavowing these two major figures will create a new alignment among politically active religious conservatives and the political parties.

In my recent book Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States, I wrote a final chapter titled, “Can the Democrats Get Religion, Can the Republicans Keep It?” I predicted the 2008 election would bring about a struggle within the Democratic Party to close the “God Gap,” while within the GOP those uncomfortable with the influence of conservative Christians would seek to push them to the sidelines.

The new emphasis on discussing personal faith among Democrats appears to be working. (It is noticeable, however, that the label “theocrat” has yet to be applied to Obama or Clinton, as it was to Bush and other Republican leaders who discussed their personal faith.)

Among Republicans, the move of religious conservatives to the campaign fringe has come about for two reasons, one intentional, the other accidental. When McCain was nominated, Republican voters knew that the Religious Right wasn’t going to play the role it had with Bush in 2000 and 2004. The natural affinity didn’t exist between these religious activists and the religiously reserved McCain.

The expectation remained, however, that through an effective faith outreach, the McCain campaign would bring reluctant religious conservatives into the fold. It would be a tough sell, but given the choice between Obama, the “infanticide candidate,” and the pro-life McCain, religiously active voters would come around.

Then the unforeseen happened: Hagee, the mega-church pastor from San Antonio, was charged with anti-Catholic statements by Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. McCain, hesitant to offend Evangelicals, waited over a week before issuing a statement repudiating Hagee’s comments. By that time, the damage was done to Hagee among Catholics, many of whom were upset it took so long for McCain to respond. Not only did the Hagee affair threaten Catholic support, but it also cast a shadow over the 30-year coalition of Catholics and Evangelicals that make up the religious right.

The unexpected apology by Pastor Hagee to Donohue, and their subsequent warm meeting in New York City, appeared to have put the controversy to rest. It didn’t last. The Huffington Post unearthed a video of Hagee describing Adolph Hitler as God’s “hunter” who forced Jews to create the state of Israel. This time McCain did not hesitate – the next day he rejected Hagee’s endorsement and added a rejection of anti-Muslim Ohio televangelist Parsley as well.

“Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them. I did not know of them before Rev. Hagee’s endorsement, and I feel I must reject his endorsement as well.”

Hagee tried to beat McCain to the punch by withdrawing his endorsement. If McCain had simply waited a few hours, he could have graciously accepted Hagee’s withdrawal, thus accomplishing the same thing but softening its impact on Evangelical voters. Interestingly enough, Hagee’s former critic, Bill Donohue, immediately issued a statement defending Hagee against the ridiculous charge of anti-Semitism:

One week ago today, I met with Pastor Hagee in my office. I found him to be sincere, apologetic, and friendly. I also found him to be the strongest Christian defender of Israel I have ever met, and that is why attempts to portray him as anything but a genuine friend to Jews – one for whom the Holocaust is the horror of horrors – is despicable.

Controversial statements from leaders of the Religious Right are not new – Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and James Dobson all committed their share. Never before, however, has the leader of the Republican Party made such a point of distancing himself and the party. McCain’s rejection of the endorsements, added to his already well-known reticence toward religious activists, places a marker in the political landscape that will last into November and beyond.

There will surely be those who applaud McCain for distancing himself from the “fanatics” on the Religious Right. They will argue that McCain will gain moderate support as a result. Maybe so, but much more important is the message this sends to the religiously conservative voters who have given the GOP its winning edge for nearly 30 years.

Ronald Reagan won Evangelical support with a now-famous line at a 1980 National Affairs Briefing held in Dallas: “I understand that you can’t endorse me, but I’m here to endorse you.” Some historians point to this moment as the official beginning of the Religious Right movement.

The unanswered question raised by McCain’s words on May 22 is whether he will be viewed by Evangelicals as explicitly reversing Reagan’s endorsement. How many Evangelical voters will feel rejected along with Reverend Hagee?

Within the past two months, McCain has unintentionally aggravated both Evangelicals and Catholics. Both groups had already responded to the McCain nomination with skepticism: Catholics because of McCain’s position on embryonic stem cells, Evangelicals because of his blistering attack on Falwell and Robertson after the 2000 South Carolina primary.

As things stand, I believe Catholics are still in play for McCain, if his campaign conducts a vigorous outreach. L’Affaire Hagee will be harder for his campaign to overcome with Evangelicals without significantly ramping up their relationship with grassroots leaders.

And this is no small thing: McCain will need religiously active voters over the next five months. It’s not the moderate voters who raise money, register voters, print and pass out voter guides, recruit their neighbors, and drive people to the polls. Moderates are… well… moderates. They don’t bring passion to a campaign.

The fact is, McCain’s moderates can’t beat Obama’s adoring groupies. With many religious conservative voters feeling benched, and others feeling outright rejection, the Religious Right will begin exploring other options for the investment of its energy. (Bob Barr, the newly nominated Libertarian Party candidate, may find himself the beneficiary of the present unhappiness.)

More likely, new leadership will emerge among religious conservatives propelled to the forefront by the national fight over gay marriage. McCain’s best chance to recover their support would be to make the marriage issue a priority of his campaign. Lacking that, it will take another surprising circumstance to bring the Religious Right wholeheartedly back into the presidential campaign.

John McCain Meets With Catholic Leaders in Philadelphia

Deal W. Hudson
June 12, 2008

Sen. John McCain reached out to Catholic voters yesterday in Philadelphia at a gathering of Catholic lay leaders and clergy. The meeting, held at the venerable Union League on South Broad St., is one in an ongoing series being held nationwide by McCain and his Catholic surrogates – Sen. Sam Brownback, Gov. Frank Keating, and former Vatican ambassador Jim Nicholson.

Before his remarks, McCain met privately with Rev. Frank Pavone, president of Priests for Life. Father Pavone’s organization promotes voter education and registration throughout the nation, and his pro-life advocacy has been crucial in bringing the non-negotiable life issues to the attention of Catholic voters.

In his prayer, before McCain spoke, Father Pavone prayed that the “Lord would let all Christians know they are still His sons and daughters when they are in the voting booth.”

The first issue addressed by McCain was abortion. He said that the “noblest words ever written” were “the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” McCain believes that those words “apply to the unborn.” He reminded the Philadelphia Catholics of his pro-life voting record, adding that he would “maintain that commitment” if elected president.

McCain talked about the “stark contrast” between himself and Sen. Barack Obama on the life issue – the evidence being Obama’s vote against the ban on partial-birth abortion and his opposition, as a state senator, to legal protection for babies born during an abortion procedure.

Introducing McCain was former ambassador Jim Nicholson, who described the need for outreach to Catholic voters as “self-evident.” In Pennsylvania, 30 percent of the voters are Catholic, he said, and argued that “McCain would attract Catholic voters because his beliefs line up squarely with them on issues like protecting unborn life, defending marriage between a man and a woman, and the all-important appointment of judges.”

Nicholson told the group that McCain was qualified for the presidency based upon his years of experience and his judgment in times of challenge and adversity. “His opponent is young, untested, inexperienced, green, and liberal – not a bad man, but unqualified.”

In addition to protection for the unborn, McCain emphasized the pressing need to protect America from Islamic extremism, “a transcendent challenge to everything we hold dear.” He said that the heart of this battle is being fought in Iraq, but it is also playing out on the Internet, where well-educated young people are being recruited to terrorist organizations.

McCain also brought up the subject of defending marriage, saying that some in the room may differ with his view that this decision should be taken up first in the states. “But,” he added, “if some federal judge rules that all the states must recognize the [gay] marriages in Massachusetts, I would be in favor of pursuing a Constitutional amendment.”

During the question-and-answer session, McCain talked about a wide range of issues, from energy and tax policy to the political unrest in South America. When someone asked him for a demonstration of his “famous Irish temper,” McCain tore into “pork-barrel” spending and earmarks – a long list that would have been funny, if it weren’t such a waste of taxpayer money.

When asked about the possibility of universal healthcare, McCain rejected the idea completely. “The government can’t run the healthcare systems it already has; take a look at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.” He argued that government-run health systems around the world have been “colossal failures,” and inevitably become two-tiered systems, “one for the rich and one for the poor.”

The answer to the need for more healthcare coverage, he said, was giving people more choice, not “mandating” those choices. If elected, McCain said he would propose a $5,000 tax credit for those who must pay for their own health insurance. This insurance should be made affordable while those who are “uninsurable” will be covered by government-assisted programs of high-risk pools among insurance companies.

On the controversial question of immigration policy, McCain said that border security must come first. True immigration reform, he elaborated, will only happen when the American people are confident that the borders have been brought under control. The 12 million illegal immigrants, McCain insisted, are “God’s children” and should be treated with compassion. This country “does not have 12 million pairs of handcuffs to arrest all these people – that’s not the kind of country we are.”

The final question to McCain was about his choice of a vice-president. Though he said he was not close to making a decision, he did explain that his running mate should share “my values, principles, and priorities.” This decision will likely be the most important (and perhaps most difficult) one McCain will make during his campaign.

McCain was well-received by the Catholics gathered in Philadelphia. The campaign is planning many more of these events in the months leading up to the Republican National Convention, September 1-4 in Minneapolis.