The Catholic Thing
After the Election – Still Reckoning Print E-mail
By Hadley Arkes   
Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Is it really now two weeks since we went to the polls? For many, the depression has become fainter, though it lingers – and with good reason. I spent a quick moment mulling over the possibilities of real estate in Malta. But most of us have to pick ourselves up and go to work, and so we get on with our lives.  

That things will become notably worse, on many fronts, is a virtual certainty. There were anti-Catholic presidents in the nineteenth century, but no administration at that time could act upon the Church on so many points, as the reach of the government has become vastly extended.  

We now have a government that could deny licenses, threaten the withholding of federal funds, from Catholic hospitals that do not permit abortion. Or the government may hit with serious penalties Catholic employers who will not fund abortions and contraception. 

There has been no president of either party, in any century, who has been as radical as the current president in his rejection of Catholic moral teaching on abortion and the “life issues.”  

Lay-offs are starting to appear in the land as private employers expect the regulations and penalties of Obamacare to kick in during the coming year. Already the pension funds of ordinary folk have taken a real jolt, as investors move to sell out of stocks before the tax on capital gains rises notably on January 1. 

Among the readers of The Catholic Thing, there has been no want of concern about the state of the Church in America and the diminished sensibility of the people who call themselves Catholic. Still, there is no denying the shift of several million Catholic votes in this past election.  

Self-identified Catholics did vote 50-48 for Obama, but that was a notable swing from 2008, when the Catholic vote went to Obama 54-45. One extensive study of Catholic voters found that, among those going to Mass at least once a week, the vote was tilted decisively to the side of Romney, 57- 42. That may be a point of consolation for some of us, but I’m still puzzled and partially offended: why that 42 per cent?  

Some writers have inveighed against Mr. Romney for running about 1.25 million votes behind John McCain. But I must record my deep want of sympathy for those conservatives who could find no reason to show up. At some point it is childish to cast blame on Romney for not being better than he was; those non-voters bore a responsibility themselves to see the dangers already made manifest before their eyes.

         A distant mirror? Anti-religious feeling in the 19th century (via Thomas Nast)

But we cannot get away from Mr. Romney. For all of his fine, personal qualities, the campaign revealed flaws running deep. Todd Akin in Missouri fell into gaffes when discussing that tricky issue of abortion and rape, but Mr. Akin was a sure vote to repeal Obamacare. He would not have lost by 16 points if the campaign had been framed, in the main, against Obamacare as a measure that would be do nothing less than transform the American regime and create a new lever for the government in withdrawing medical care from patients. 

A spokesman for the Romney campaign acknowledged that perhaps it was a mistake not to have made that central issue. . .central.

Why did Mr. Romney prove so vulnerable against those bogus charges that he and his party were conducting a “war on women”? Let’s see: Mr. Obama and his party refuse to support a bill that would bar people from killing small humans in the womb because they happened to be female. To allow babies to be killed because they are female is somehow not to countenance a war on women. 

But what apparently does constitute a war on women is to protest a policy in which Catholic employers with moral reservations about contraception would be compelled to buy contraceptives for others.

Some of us urged the Romney campaign to counter these attacks by shifting the focus to the testimony of young women who have survived abortions. We would have had the ads ask whether Mr. Obama would enforce the Born-Alive Infants’ Protection Act, the law that made it wrongful to deny medical care to children who had survived abortions. 

And in doing that we would have brought out again what the media have persistently muted: that Mr. Obama had been the only Democrat of national prominence who had opposed the effort to protect children who had survived abortions.  

But it became evident that the Romney campaign was following what has been taken as “wisdom” among Republicans in the circle of the Bushes: that the most politic way of meeting these issues is to say nothing at all. Better to recede from the argument than agitate more people.  

With a similar sense of things Mr. Romney chose not to engage the president on the mishandling of Libya and the deaths in Benghazi.  And the clever reason: to avoid scaring women by appearing just too typically “manly” or male in the willingness to use force and deploy armies.

But it is through gentle moves of this kind that people confirm just which ideas form the orthodoxies that govern our lives, the principles and policies that are not open to overt challenge. Without being in the least aware of it, Mr. Romney confirmed his position as the defeated party even before the votes came in.

Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College and the Director of the Claremont Center for the Jurisprudence of Natural Law in Washington. D.C. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (15)Add Comment
written by Gian, November 19, 2012
Romney choose not to engage the President in religious liberty and pro-life issues. Add his essential appeal - Trust me for I am rich, and you understand why 42% massgoing Catholics voted for the President.

Is there any good evidence that Romney would have been more favorable to the Church regarding religious liberty exemptions in Obamacare?. We must remember that Romney is for socialized medical care and the logic of socialized medical care tends against religious liberty.
written by Jack,CT, November 20, 2012
Mr Arkes,
Seems to me all your points are valid and
true.I feel strongly we never had the strongest
candidate.Mr Romney had a history of "flip flop-
ing and changing his views to fit the political
map.I hope we choose a more consistant candidate
in four years.
written by Manfred, November 20, 2012
"There has been no president of either party, in any century, who has been as radical as the current president in his rejection of Catholic moral teaching on abortion and the 'life issues'". The election is over, Dr. Arkes, and the persons you should have contacted and explained this was Cdl Dolan and the entire USCCB. I have a color photo of Dolan and Obama at the A. Smith Dinner which will be framed and hung in my den for years. The precedent for all this was the KULTURKAMPF which Bismarck waged against the Catholic Church in late 19th century Germany, which forced many Catholics and religious orders to flee, many to the U.S. When we finish sorting through the alleged "Catholic" vote we will realize, as some of us have for decades, how small the True Catholic Church in the U.S. really is. The Church hierarchy, by its admitted failure to catechize and instruct the faithful in moral theology for OVER FORTY YEARS brought all of this upon itself. So much for "Catholic" schools and universities.
written by jsmitty, November 20, 2012
Dr. Arkes,

Are you really arguing that if Romney had emphasized his and his party's position on abortion alot more than he did that they would turned out throngs of disenchanted conservatives who would have pushed him over the finish line? Or that sharper words on religious liberty would have piqued the consciences of enough church-going Catholics to unseat President Obama. I respect your work alot Dr. Arkes, but this just seems more like wishful thinking than analysis or sober strategizing.

I think the elephant in the room (pun not intended) is that the pro-life movement has entirely wedded its cause to a political party whose fortunes are declining for many reasons--economic,, demographic, cultural, and the still fresh public memories of the failures of the last Republican administration etc. etc. The GOP ship once seemed unsinkable. But who denies now that major leaks have sprung below the ballast which cannot be quickly repaired?

But here is not the place to do yet another analysis of "what's wrong with the GOP." Plenty of other websites for that.

My question to you, Dr. Arkes is what does the pro-life movement do now if (as is abundantly clear to me) the GOP is not going to be the vessel to bring us to the promised land? I hope the answer is not "fade away into oblivion."
written by athanasius, November 20, 2012
I have to agree with Manfred that the time for polite talk from our bishops is over. All of us must speak out, but many will wait for the leadership of our bishops before doing so. Our bishops must strongly and publicly denounce anti-life politicians, especially those who are baptized Catholics. They endanger their eternal souls, and the bishops must remind of this. This, in fact, is an act of mercy.

I saw "Lincoln" this weekend. All the arguments used in favor of slavery are being used in favor of abortion. Society eventually saw the evil of slavery, but it was the Christian abolitionist movement that led the way. We must become the new abolitionist movement, tearing down the walls of ignorance and hate to bring about a culture of life. Jesus told St. Faustina that the world would not know peace until it embraces his mercy. Let's pray that the Holy Spirit gives us the grace and wisdom to help bring this about.

P.S. I also think conservative views on economics are closer to Catholic teaching than progressive views. See Rev. Robert Sirico's book "Defending the Free Market" for a full explanation of why this is so.
written by Other Joe, November 20, 2012
@jsmitty. The pro-life movement does not fade into oblivion because there are two factors involved, the political and the moral. The Catholic Church is facing a pruning job, and a proper pruning can reinvigorate a living tree. The moral value will continue to gain in strength and immediacy as soon as the go-along-to-get-along attitude of the hierarchy hardens off in the coming frost. At some point the political benefits of accommodation and dialogue are insufficient to cover the costs. In truth the diminishing return line was passed a while back, but such is the idol of faith in princes. My guess is that many diseased branches will have to go, but we have assurances from the One who planted the tree that He will not allow it to be cut down and de-stumped. So as the moral issue becomes more clear, the politics will follow because there will be a voting block forming up composed of the remnant for whom accommodation has been shown to be folly. This will be true even if (especially if) the powers that may be at the time decide on open hostility to the Church. Tragedy always undercuts utopian credulity.
written by Chris in Maryland, November 20, 2012
Agree with Other Joe:

Of course, many "self-identified Catholics" have actually cut themselves off from the vine, and they are either pagan, or AM-Church Gnostic heretics (per Douthat's thesis).

What is sobering is that it is us, the self-identified "faithful Catholics," who are being called to the pruning. We cannot be fruitful in The Vine, unless we are willing to be pruned.

Help us then Lord, and we pray with our true friend St. Thomas More, that "these things we pray for Lord, give us the grace to labor for."
written by jsmitty, November 20, 2012
@Other Joe

I wish tougher posturing and less "go-along-get along" from the Bishops would have an effect, but what's the evidence that it will? What more could the USCCB say that they haven't already? How many more pastoral letters read on Sunday warning about Obama and the HHS mandate can there be?

This whole "Fortnight for Freedom" thing was a total flop. Hardly anyone showed up. It was a mild embarrassment if you ask me. The USCCB just doesn't have the clout anymore to move the flock to action, even when they are united on something, let alone when fissures start to form. I'm sad to say I just don't think that many people least not enough to make a difference...not yet.

The comment about pruning the branches is apt. A smaller Church would not be quite so divided. But what brings this about?? Excommunicating members who voted for Obama? Not workable. Explicit condemnations of the President by name with acts of symbolic defiance in hopes that his supporters grow uncomfortable and will just leave the Church?

I honestly don't know what we expect the USCCB to do here.

But I think we need to realize that the hopes the Bishops can move votes to pro-life candidates in an election one way or another are doomed to be disappointed.
written by DS, November 20, 2012
Perhaps the name of Jesus will eventually reappear in a column on this website.
written by Hadley Arkes, November 20, 2012
There is much wisdom in what our friends have offered today in their comments. I did not hide my own view that Cardinal Dolan, generous priest that he is, should not have courted confusion by receiving President Obama as though he were on the same moral plane as every one else. For there is no sugar-coating the fact that Obama is the President most committed in his opposition to Catholic moral teaching. But at the same time, as JSmitty says, what could we realistically have expected the bishops to accomplish when they try to teach, with a sense of urgency, so late in the game? They find themselves trying to stir a Catholic population in which half of their nominal flock doesn’t especially care that Catholic teaching is being treated with contempt by the party in power. Or that many Catholics are not even much aware any longer of what that teaching is.

I think that some of my friends touch a plausible truth when they say that the Church may have to prune itself, even at the cost of contraction. Greta Garbo, in “Ninotchka,” played the role of a faithful Communist apparatchik, and she remarked of the purges in Russia that “we will have fewer but better Russians.” It may be salutary to have fewer but better Catholics; but then we are brought back to dealing, as the Church must deal, with humans as we have them. We are dealing, are we not, with creatures of a fallen nature? Are we really to be jarred by the discovery that many are less than stellar or attentive, or that their diaries are much in need of editing?

But some of our friends make a serious mistake when they are too quick to reject the Republican party or even Mr. Romney. Many of us were drawn away from our Democratic roots because the Democrats became, steadily and surely, the party of abortion. With our defection, the Republicans became more and more what they are today: the pro-life party in our politics. That identity is so firmly in place now that the Democrats will long be able to scare single women who find the right to abortion as the anchoring principle in their lives. Even if the Republican presidential candidate seems soft on the issue, the Democrats know that the Republican party is thoroughly pro-life and they will continue to run ads against that party. The pro-choice Republicans could hope that Mr. Romney was one of theirs, but the lawyers working for him, and the judges appointed by him, would have been pro-life. I’ve just spent several days with conservative federal judges, appointed by Republicans, awaiting the wave of new judges that the Obama Administration will be appointing. Those judges will be engines working to impose same-sex marriage, block every attempt to restrain abortion, and stamp religion ever more as illegitimate in the public life of the republic. We are deluding ourselves if we think that party does not matter, or that the differences between the parties is trivial on the matters of moral consequence.

A pro-life movement that breaks free of the Republican party is destined to be marginalized—and rendered a nullity in our politics. In the marvelous alchemy of party politics, the pro-lifers can make an alliance with conservatives who favor a freer economy and a serious national defense. And that alliance manages to produce a pro-life Administration, appointing judges far more pro-life than anyone who would be appointed by the Democrats of this era.

JSmitty has a plausible point when he wonders whether a more articulate pro-life candidate would have brought out a larger Catholic vote. Rick Santorum might well have done that, but I have no confidence that he could have done any better than Mr. Romney. I do think that a conservative candidate, making the pro-life argument in a deft way, could have disarmed much of the radical pro-abortion sentiment that the Obama people managed to inflame. But the value of a candidate of that kind may not be measured solely in the vote. The larger purpose of a candidate of that character is the reshaping of the culture. It is, as our friends say, the culture war, and we should not discount the deeper effect on our people of making the argument in public. The deft, compelling arguments are there. What has been missing is a cadre of political candidates with the nerve and wit to make them.
written by Jack,CT, November 21, 2012
Mr Arkes,
I read your follow up and found it to be a bit
Negative.I wander who you feel is not embracing the
republican party?
I also found your remarks about the Cardinal a bit difficult
to stomach,since all he did was "break bread" with BOTH sides,for charity!
Thirdly I stand by my own remark that we need a stronger
candidate in four years,as I supported Mr Romney he was
far from a strong Republican Candidate!
written by Grump, November 21, 2012
Professor, it was not so much the differences with Obama that sank Romney but their similarities. Consider first that the People's Republic of Massachusetts is one of, if not, the most liberal states in America. You don't get elected as governor there by taking conservative positions. Romney was pro-abort at first, appointed more liberal judges than Obama and pushed through Romneycare, which is Obamacare writ small. How could he argue against a federal program that had much in common with his very own plan?

Secondly, although Romney won the first debate by default -- it was more about style than substance -- he whiffed in the next two, especially the last one in which he was "me-too" on foreign policy. He could have scored big points on Benghazi, for example, but said nothing and wound up agreeing with Obama on most issues. In short, he thought he had the election won and decided to coast.

On social issues, Romney failed to press Obama on gay marriage, the HHS mandates and religious freedom -- which Santorum had successfully exploited in middle America and beyond.

The impression left was that there really wasn't that much to separate the two and Romney's etch-a-sketch flip-flopping was seen as simply a cynical way to try to win over the "undecided." In the end, he changed few minds.

Judge Andrew Napolitano nailed it when he said, “Barack Obama loves Big Labor; Mitt Romney loves Big Business; but they both love Big Government.”

Steve Baldwin, a former California State legislator and former Executive Director of the Council for National Policy, said:

“As someone who was asked by one of the presidential candidates to investigate Romney’s gubernatorial record, I can assure you there is little in Romney’s background to suggest he will be a Reagan-type president willing to undertake bold action to save our economy and restore our culture. I know every bill he signed and every statement he made as Governor. I know who his appointees were and the liberal vision that governed his actions. As Massachusetts Governor, he sided with the big government types in every crisis he faced. Indeed, he repeatedly sold out constitutional rights–freedom of religion, the 2nd amendment, etc., every time he had the opportunity to do so.

“He raised taxes on the private sector, destroyed job creation when he implemented RomneyCare, and came out in support of amnesty for illegal aliens. Most of his judicial appointees were to the left of Obama’s two appointments to the Supreme Court. As governor, he led the country in advancing three of the left’s most sacred issues: Cap and Trade, socialized medicine and gay marriage. Romney even supported Obama’s bailouts and the useless $8 billion stimulus. And he’s hostile to the notion of engaging in serious budget cuts, telling one reporter, ‘I’m not going to cut $1 trillion in the first year.’

“Let’s not also forget that Romney’s advisors actually met with Obama’s advisors on a dozen occasions to assist them with designing ObamaCare! It’s no surprise that Romney is refusing to call ObamaCare a tax, even though it’s the largest middle class tax hike in American history. The reason for this is because, while governor, his RomneyCare plan–the model for ObamaCare–was attacked as a tax and he argued it wasn’t.

“In other words, ObamaCare has been taken off the table as a campaign issue because Romney is afraid of being portrayed as a hypocrite for his past statements on this issue. This is reason number 167 why Romney should never have become our nominee.

“I don’t care how his campaign portrays him today, his record as Governor is far more indicative of how he will govern than his campaign sound bites. If you’re not familiar with what I am disclosing about Romney, it’s because the truth about Romney was kept from Republican voters. Yes, the conservative movement sold out to Romney. Starting in 2004, Romney created a slew of PACS and foundations that funneled thousands of dollars to hundreds of conservative groups, think tanks, grass roots leaders and GOP entities.

“In return, many of these entities that normally would have attacked Romney during the presidential primary went silent or even promoted him. I’ve tracked all of Romney contributions to conservative and GOP groups and it’s disgusting. It means that the leadership of our own conservative movement is up for the highest bidder and cannot be trusted to do the right thing. Even National Review, the nation’s leading conservative publication, took money from Romney and for the last six years blocked all articles critical of Romney. Instead, they published a slew of articles portraying him to be a conservative superstar. It was all phony and I can prove it.”

As Chuck Baldwin (no relation to Steve), a columnist put it, “Even though Romney will promote at least 85% of the Obama agenda, conservatives have no fear or trepidation of Romney because he is a Republican, whereas Obama scares the pants off of them because he is a Democrat. Ah, don’t you just love partisan politics?”
written by Manfred, November 21, 2012
Thanks for a complete post, Grump. Perhaps the editors of TCT ought to consider giving you a contract.
written by Grump, November 21, 2012
@Manfred. I got a bit carried away, didn't I?
written by Frank, November 23, 2012
Reading every response here, I see different angles to which I offer no disagreement. If I may, let offer another angle using the President's own words, REVENGE. The United States has experienced various eras. We had the "Era of Good Feelings" in the early 1800's, Civil War and Reconstruction, The Roaring 20's, The 60's etc. etc. Welcome to the Era of Revenge led by a narcissistic sociopath. For the past four years, this President has at times, slipped to reveal his vindictiveness. Who's rear end he's going to kick, chiding an interest group to be more active against their common enemy and of course, telling our voting age youth to vote as an act and statement of revenge. To quote the Chinese Proverb, "When taking (political) revenge, dig two (political) graves. In the next four years, we will see both the deconstruction and destruction of what defined the greatness of America. Such greatness in the eyes of this President and his ilk, being the reason for the oppression and exploitation of other races, grievance groups, working people etc. Now it's time for payback. The breakup of Hostess and 18,000 additional unemployed is the opening act. If these 18,000 think Obama is going to be the avenging angel and save them, they are living their own destructive delusion much the same as our fellow Catholics who voted for him. The White male is now an even greater target of scorn and revenge for he has always been seen as the oppressor of so many. Welcome to the second American Civil War. This war may not involve armed lethal violence (we fervently hope there's no violence) but is nonetheless, a war where one side will stop at nothing to impose its will on us, their enemy. It is time all of us here accepted this hard unfortunate reality that we are in a war, a war we did not want but a war we must fight against the other half of the country bent on taking us to a secular utopia led by a man who embodies the evil of both Robespierre and the Marquis de Sade. How do we fight? We hit them in the pocketbook. My wife and I have cut out the fitness center, next will come the cable TV and bundled Internet service. We will carpool. Once we've shed these "necessities" and economized others, we will continue to scrutinize the goods and services that provide entry level jobs, jobs where Obama voters are employed and cut off the spending. True, many of these entry level jobs do employ those who voted for Romney. I am sorry. In war, there are casualties, the culpable and the innocent and my wife and I accept the fact that we may be casualties as well. My giving to the Church will not cease. I will, however, be walking by the Red Kettle and the bell ringers this year without stopping to contribute. We've not given a dime to the Red Cross for victims of Hurricane Sandy. Since New York and New Jersey are "blue states," let Obama bail them out. Besides the taxes my wife and I pay are more than sufficient. If those who read my stance wish to accuse me of letting my heart and blood run cold, be my guest, I won't stop you. I prefer to call it tough love. We are now a nation split in two camps, the makers and the takers. It is one thing to be needy and in poverty and thankful to those who generously lend a hand out of the sheer love and light of Christ and it is altogether another to be robbed and continually shaken down for more by those who have always believed that they have a right of entitlement to continually take and take and take. For those takers, whatever they obtain will never be enough. The challenge for the next four years at least is to find and assist those truly in need, truly thankful and ready to accept our loving push to get on their own two feet so one day they may help others that are there where they too once were. And lest we forget, our Church is under attack by the narcissist sociopath in chief. What discipline Rome will administer to Obama's Catholic political allies, Biden, Pelosi, and Sebellius is a question on many minds. What is certain however, is that Obama has cravenly and maliciously spit into the face of Christ in his action toward our Lord's Church. In His perfect and Divine timing, our Lord will once again act to remind us of Matthew 16, "...the gates of Hell shall not prevail against the Church." Until such time, the war will continue. Those seeking revenge on their "oppressors" will enjoy winning their battles only to lose the war in the end. They will fight their secular cause for a man and an ideal so hollow and vacuous, only the bitterness of their own resultant self imposed poverty will wake them up and once again, those of us left standing (barely) will have to remember the final stanzas of Lincoln Second Inaugural Address, "With malice toward none, with charity for all..." Until that time comes, the war and the fight are before us and our strength, will, and strategies to fight endure, and prevail will be obtained through prayer and grace.

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