The Catholic Thing
Election Daze Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 07 November 2011

Tomorrow is Election Day! Yeah, I know: voting in the year before the next presidential election is a low-turnout snooze fest, unless you’re in a state where gubernatorial or big-city mayoral races are contested or a ballot initiative has folks fired up. Otherwise, who cares?

Well, Tuesday’s voting may offer a glimpse of the national mood before the presidential race begins in earnest in Iowa on January 3. We may well have a GOP nominee by mid-March, so front-loaded is the caucus-primary process, the only benefit of which is its impact on fundraising. Once Republicans designate a candidate, he or she becomes beneficiary of most anti-Obama fundraising. That may hurt congressional candidates, but the Contender needs mucho dinero, since President Obama will be spending Monopoly money.

Mr. Obama has been uncongenial to the views of pro-life Americans. To many, this was clear in 2008, as he and other Democrats glibly swore their progressive approach to social policy would diminish the number of abortions. That number has gone down, although the reasons why have little to do with liberal intentions. Mr. Obama lifted the ban on the use of fetal stem-cells in medical research, but the promise of therapies based on fetal as opposed to adult lines has mostly been a bust.

And yet, despite the unflagging advocacy of the pro-life movement, “life” issues are unlikely to matter much in next November’s voting. Questions about abortion, same-sex marriage, assisted suicide, and other moral concerns of faithful Christians will be avoided by candidates and advocates alike, if only because formerly vociferous proponents have learned that actual successes are achieved by quietly lobbying state legislators, thereby avoiding the exposure that accompanies big political fights and often results in ballot initiatives that pro-lifers have always won.

It’s all of a piece with the Left’s belief that the greatest threat to enforcement of its own enlightened view of politics is true democracy.

Let’s stipulate that, come April 1, Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee-designate (the formal nod awaits late-August’s GOP Convention in Tampa). Why this stipulation? Mostly money, which Mitt has and the others don’t. And the economy. And voter and media familiarity with Romney: no hidden foibles or scandals after so many years of public scrutiny.

The Mormon thing? In the end, that’ll affect Election Day 2012 as much as Catholicism did in 1960 or racism did in 2008.

Mr. Romney is at best weakly pro-life, having so far refused to sign the Susan B. Anthony List’s Pro-life Citizens’ Pledge, but he’ll probably do nothing as president with regard to life issues that will propel the nation further down the slippery slope. If he serves two terms, Mr. Romney may be in a position to affect the composition of the Supreme Court for a generation, and he may be willing to appoint only justices committed to judicial restraint. This may be political expediency on his part, but it may also come under the category of the Best We Can Get. (This my surmise, not necessarily my hope.)

Mr. Romney may also be the candidate most likely to defeat Barack Obama: looking at possible state-by-state Electoral College totals, he may be able to win back some GOP-leaning states where Mr. Obama triumphed in ‘08, although the bellwether remains: as goes Pennsylvania, so goes the nation.

In truth, it’s too soon to make predictions but not too early to consider the matchup in terms of the recent reissue of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” which emphasizes that life issues matter most:   “. . . direct threats to the sanctity and dignity of human life such as [abortion,] human cloning and destructive research on human embryos, are . . . intrinsically evil.” The USCCB advises Catholics not to vote for candidates who “knowingly, willingly, and directly support” such policies and specifically states that, although we’re not “single-issue voters,” a candidate’s position in support of abortion etc., “may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.”

Given a choice between Obama’s staunchly anti-life positions and Romney’s tepid pro-life stance, does this suggest a Catholic must not vote to re-elect the president? For some this will be a Morton’s fork. Would that the bishops – and the political parties – offered more! The 2011 Introductory Note to “Faithful Citizenship” emphasizes that it’s not “a voters guide, scorecard of issues, or direction on how to vote.” This is akin to empty-calorie collegiate courses that promise to teach critical thinking, without actually teaching facts. The bishops’ even tell us we may choose not to vote at all or opt for the guy we think less likely to do bad (or more likely to do good), but they map no path out of that maze of follow-your-heart subjectivity.

If any one of the bishops’ talking points comes close to being a deal breaker with Democrats it’s a new attention to “conscience-clause” controversies: the attempts “to force Catholic ministries – in health care, education, and social services – to violate their consciences or stop serving those in need.”

A partisan Republican reading the Introductory Note may suppose it’s an anti-Democratic tract: abortion, conscience, same-sex marriage, the economy, immigration reform (cuts both ways, to be sure), peace in the Holy Land. Few Democrats will read it without some discomfort.

Yet most Democrats, the president especially, won’t worry. They’ve learned that most voting Catholics do follow conscience. Unfortunately, those consciences usually aren’t authentically Catholic.

Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, a senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. One of his books, The Compleat Gentleman, was published in a revised edition in 2009.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (4)Add Comment
written by Ray Hunkins, November 07, 2011
This time it may very well be different. There has been a lot of teaching and soul searching going on in the last three years. President Obama has done us a favor by showing what a genuine "progressive", with few political or moral restraints, can do to this nation in short order. Many have looked into the abyss and don't like the view. They will vote against the programs offered by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. This battle will more than likely be won - the war is a different story because it is a war of the ages. The teaching must go on. Keep up the good work, Mr Miner
written by Dave, November 07, 2011
Thanks very much for this piece, Mr. Miner. One could not rightly expect the bishops to give clear guidance on these political matters, for their own thinking is deeply conflicted. The clergy, especially the senior clergy, vote overwhelmingly Democrat. They are not likely, so late in life, to enunciate moral principles that would entail a turning away from the Party they have so faithfully supported throughout their lives.

I suspect the guidance will go unread in any event. Those who have looked at "Faithful Citizenship" see in it the pablum and nostrums you have rightly pointed out. Conservative Catholics won't much care, because the USCCB and its predecessor institutions have been so reliably, utterly, predictably liberal; and liberal Democrats won't care because of the reasons you enunciate in your last paragraph.

In addition, the bishops still really haven't come to grips with the loss of moral authority and prestige they suffered due to the priestly scandals knowledge of which broke out at the beginning of the last decade. Having instituted the safeguards, the commissions, etc. they believe the problem is solved and it's back to business as usual.

But there is no going back. The bishops will have to regain the prestige and authority they lost, and the only way to do so is to stand with the Pope and like the Pope, whose address to the Bundestag ought to go down in the annals of both Catholic thought and political speech. Cardinal George and Archbishop Chaput stand out as bright spots, sort of, but only sort of.

Our bishops have finally realized that the water they've been swimming in has become quite hot indeed; and so I think we need to support them, pray for them, mortify ourselves for them. Archbishop Dolan's letter to President Obama and Bishop Lori's testimony to Congress do lay out the issues clearly, even if a bit weakly. The only way our bishops will recover their moral authority is if faithful laity back them to the hilt whenever they hit the issue square on the head.

Thank you for a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece.
written by Seanachie, November 07, 2011
Well written, well thought out article, Brad. How Catholics voted for BHO 55/45 in 2008 astounds me...even today. BHO's anti-Cathoic thinking and record was well established prior to 2008. Did not Catholics recognize this...did they and their national and regional/local leadership not care? Let's hope there is an awakening among Catholic voters in November 2012. They could well make the difference between four more years of secular- driven destruction of our culture or, leadership built upon re-discovery and reliance upon our shared Judeo-Christian values...values that have served our country well since its founding.
written by Blake Helgoth, November 09, 2011
The 2012 election will be about saving the republic, if it is not already too late. We are on the verge of losing our national sovereignty to the international corporations and banks. Contrary to the naivety of the recent Vatican document, the people running these organizations are nothing but scoundrels and crooks. The UN, in whom many place their hope of regulation, is just as corrupt, think oil for food scandal, and dependent on the international corporate and banking revenue stream. The coming 2012 election is about much more than the pro-life cause, it is about liberty from tyranny. Without that, little else matters. Electing an establishment man this time around will be national suicide.

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