The Catholic Thing
Rule Changes Print E-mail
By Michael Uhlmann   
Friday, 26 September 2008

John McCain entered last week still buoyed by a sizeable post-convention “bounce,” nearly all of which was attributable to his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. The Obama camp went into a tailspin. Its much-ballyhooed mantra that their man was the anointed agent of change suddenly seemed hollow, dubious, and uninspiring. Almost overnight, the GOP ticket stole that theme, or at least enough of it to make its brand of change a plausible alternative. Doubts that many people had entertained about McCain before the GOP convention were displaced by renewed interest. Among Republican stalwarts, earlier reservations turned to enthusiasm; even more striking, a significant number of independents trekked over to the McCain side of the polls.

The Democrats were, to put it mildly, astonished by this turn of events. Obama’s own post-convention, six-point bounce abruptly vaporized and, according to some polls, McCain actually pulled ahead by as much as four points. Never mind that the spread in either case was within or close to the margin of error; the fact remains that the net swing from Obama to McCain was significant, demonstrating that the Democrat’s hold on the public imagination had only transient purchase.

In stunned disbelief, Democrats resorted to vitriolic personal attack. Politics ain’t beanbag, as the old saying goes, but the vicious rhetoric that spewed forth from outraged feminists and other janissaries of the Obama camp surely set a new record for campaign nastiness. There seemed to be some sort of competition among the sisterhood for the title of junk-yard dog. Just when you thought the previous day’s affront had reached a new low in vilification, the next day’s venomous outpouring would outdo it. Perhaps the all-time record was set by the Democratic National Committeewoman from South Carolina, who said that Palin’s only apparent qualification for office was that she never had an abortion.

All of this backfired, big time, and not only (as might be expected) among red-state Palin fans; it backfired as well among the public at large, and especially among women. That isn’t the way things were supposed to happen. Under the tyrannical reign of feminist censors, which has held sway for much of the past three decades, only women and subservient male acolytes were permitted to talk about abortion, and then mostly in favorable terms. Anyone who violated this rule could expect nasty attacks from advocates of legal abortion, or sharp questioning from their supporters in the mainstream media. That is why major political figures in both parties, with occasional exceptions, have generally avoided any detailed discussion of the subject. Like the rhinoceros in the living room, abortion was unavoidably omnipresent; it was just not to be spoken of in polite company, except, as I say, in generally favorable terms.

Prominent Catholic politicians – e.g., Kerry, Biden, Cuomo, Biden, Pelosi, and almost anyone named Kennedy – have been exceptionally, not to say disgracefully, cooperative in this endeavor. One tack has been to take refuge behind the “seamless garment” veil. Abortion was only one of many important elements in Catholic social teaching, etc., whence it was supposed to follow that if you voted, say, to increase foreign aid to Africa you were somehow exempted from having to oppose Roe v. Wade. A second and related tack invariably produced endless variations on the “I’m personally opposed to abortion, but…” theme. Among many voters and, sorrowfully, too many bishops, these ploys have for nearly thirty years effectively produced the political equivalent of a silent apostolic benediction.

In this presidential year, the rules have changed for two reasons. On the political level, the arrival of Sarah Palin tapped into a deep pool of sentiment that never belonged to the feminists but, apart from active pro-lifers, never managed to express itself. Without having to say much about abortion, Governor Palin has by her courageous example as wife and mother given voice to many women who, if they do not exactly share her views, find them far more compatible with their own than the dogmas of the feminist establishment. In a word, Palin has almost overnight made the pro-life position politically respectable in ways it has never been before.

The second reason is more important. In this year, for the first time in living memory, a sizeable number of bishops and archbishops have taken the gloves off. Appearing a week apart on Meet The Press, Speaker Pelosi and Senator Biden invoked the by now standard Catholic politician’s dodge on the abortion question. No doubt they expected the usual silent benediction. What they got instead was a full-court defense of the natural law and Catholic doctrine and, for all the rhetorical diplomacy of the episcopal statements, a very public chastisement. That is something new, and whatever this year’s election outcome, it is not likely to disappear.

Michael Uhlmann writes frequently in matters of law, culture, and politics.

(c) 2008 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights write to: info at thecatholicthing dot org

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Comments (11)Add Comment
rule changes
written by frank, September 26, 2008
wonder whether Sarah Palin herself is not just another "i,m personally opposed to abortion but"... people. Has she done anything to change the fact that Alaska has some of the most liberal abortion laws in the country?
While I do admire her personal morals and the fact that she has become a successful woman without the ultra feminist anti patriarchy nonsense, I think her selection was just another Republican dirty trick to reframe the debate with Obama that has appeared to work so far.
written by Mark, September 26, 2008
I worry though that the appeal of Sarah Palin is wearing off. As the economic situation gets worse, peoples' attention is turning away from the power of her personality and what she represents.

I am also concerned about the degree to which the bishops are speaking out. I wonder if it won't become some sort of old world Eucharistic power politics. Now, I understand that, for the sake of shepherding their flocks, rebuke is necessary. But, does anyone else worry about where this might go?
written by Angelina, September 26, 2008
I also find Sarah Palin inspiring. Her views on abortion are certainly compatible with mine, as are her other political views. The tremendous threat Palin poses to Democrats was clear to each of them as they watched her acceptance speech. Here is a woman who is everything they have trumpeted for 40 years: she has a successful career, she rose from the middle class, she does all the things men do (and better than most of them!) - but she is pro-life, conservative, and beautiful. This CANNOT be!
Mom, Nanie,Accountant,
written by Ruth Schiavone, September 26, 2008
"The Catholic Thing" is a shot in the arm for lukewarm Catholics. I am most appreciative of your daily essays. One thing I would like to say is that our Bishops, to me, would be and would have been more effective on the abortion issue if they had come out publicly challenging politicians on the basis of the moral law rather than threatening the withholding of the Blessed Sacrament. After all they are supposed to be moral ieaders who can lead those not of our faith into the Light of Christ.
written by Nina, September 26, 2008
This blog is a breath of fresh air. It's not got any ads. I wish you the very best!
written by Stephen M. Bauer, September 26, 2008
I like the term "seamless garment," and I am offended that anyone would think that just because I am pro-life on other issues that I am any less opposed to abortion.
written by Joe, September 27, 2008
And not a moment too soon.
written by Carlos Echevarria, September 28, 2008
Great post, I agree terms of your comments you might want to add an additional line so one can put their URL/homepage, this grants greater interaction amongst those in the blogosphere....
written by atheling, September 29, 2008
Every calumny hurled at Sarah Palin is hurled at middle class America. The selection of Sarah Palin revealed the contempt and hatred that the elites - both on the left and on the right - hold for the "bourgeoisie".

We have a class system in America. And within that class, the Intelligentsia have separated themselves from ordinary life.
written by Eric Wilmurt, September 29, 2008
I don't see any evidence that the comments of the bishops have had any effect on any Catholic politcian. The Catholic faithful and even priests that want to vote for Obama or any pro-choice Catholic, are not in the least concerned about the abortion issue. They quote the bishops "Faithful Citizenship" document where it says "Catholics are not single issue voters" as justification for their decision.
written by Joe, September 30, 2008
I take exception to "Prominent Catholic politicians – e.g., Kerry, Biden, Cuomo, Pelosi, and almost anyone named Kennedy –" If these were really catholic they would have a pro-life commitment. They are not truly Catholic, but people who were baptised Catholic who are no longer practicing the fullness of their faith.

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