The Catholic Thing
What Romney Needs to Say to Catholics in the Debate Print E-mail
By George J. Marlin   
Wednesday, 03 October 2012

Tonight’s presidential debate matters. The impressiosn viewers take away of Obama and Romney could seal the election for one of them.

This will not be the first time a debate has been crucial to an election outcome. In 1960, the young and little known John F. Kennedy came across as Vice President Richard Nixon’s equal in their first matchup. Kennedy’s performance made the difference in a race that he won by a popular vote margin of only 0.17 percent.

During the October 1976 presidential debate, President Gerald Ford blundered discussing the Helsinki accords, which legalized Soviet control of the Captive Nations, when he said “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and never will be under a Ford administration.”  The defection from the Republican ticket of angry Eastern European Catholics cost Ford the election.

Four years later, Ronald Reagan turned the tide in his favor when he came across as a nice guy who good naturedly dismissed President Carter’s verbal attacks by saying, “There you go again.”

Historically, national debates have favored the challenger. Romney could, however, lose that advantage if he gets caught off-guard by a trick question (particularly one on social issues) and looks like a deer caught in the headlights.

Mitt Romney should have no problems handling economic and fiscal issues. All he has to do is point out that Obama failed to deliver on his promises: The $860 billion of borrowed stimulus money did not jump-start the economy, did not bring down unemployment to 5.8 percent, and his much touted 2010 “Summer of recovery” never materialized. The national debt, which Obama said was “irresponsible” and “unpatriotic” when it hit $9 billion in 2008, has grown to $16 trillion during his watch.

As for questions on social policies, if Romney wants to score points with church-going Catholics, he better be forceful and convincing on issues that matter to them.

It is interesting to note that in past elections, Democrats have blasted Republicans for putting moral and cultural issues on the front burners. For instance, leftist Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter with Kansas, looked upon the 2004 GOP “vote your values” strategy as a corporate Wall Street cover-up: “The culture wars, in other words, are a way of framing the ever powerful subject of social class. They are a way for Republicans to speak on behalf of the forgotten man without causing any problems for their core big-business constituency.”

This year the Democrats are playing a very different tune. Because they do not want to run on their awful economic record, they are trying to energize their left-wing base by focusing on social issues. That’s why the Democrats stacked their convention with pro-abortion speakers and tried to take “God” out of their platform. The Democratic Party doesn’t give a hoot that 30 percent of its members are pro-life.  They hope those voters stay home.

Romney must be prepared to fight back when moderators ask questions designed to paint him as an extremist. He must turn the tables on Obama and expose him as the radical in the race. He should tell viewers that Obama, as an Illinois state senator, even voted against legislation that would have protected infants who survived late-term abortion procedures. 

Romney should point out that Obama opposes any ban on gender-selective abortions and that Vice President Joe Biden did not condemn China’s law limiting families to one child. “Your policy,” Biden said in 2011 at Sichuan University, “has been one which I fully understand – I’m not second-guessing – of one child per family.”

Romney should also remind pro-life Democrats that the leaders of their party are so extreme that they dropped from their platform their decades old pledge to make abortions “rare.” It’s only “safe” and “legal” now.

Romney must vigorously oppose same-sex marriage and he should announce that, upon taking office, he will instruct the Justice Department to once again enforce the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).       

He cannot let himself get bogged down on questions about the availability of contraceptives. That is not where the conflict with the Church lies. He must state clearly that Obama’s decision to order Catholic schools, hospitals, and charities to amend (by August 30, 2013) their healthcare plans to include birth control services (among them abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization procedures) is a religious liberty issue. He must assure Catholics that as president he will cancel the HHS mandates and that he would never approve government policies that would force Catholics to violate their consciences.

If Romney is to have a shot at winning on November 6, in tonight’s debate he must convince undecided blue-collar, Church-going Catholics – who form a significant part of remaining undecideds – that he will protect not only their economic interests, but their right to practice their religious beliefs without government interference. 

If he comes across as timid or vacillating or uncomfortable in expressing his support of their Catholic values, he will lose the debate – and most likely the election.

George J. Marlin is an editor of The Quotable Fulton Sheen and the author of The American Catholic VoterHis most recent book is Narcissist Nation: Reflections of a Blue-State Conservative.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (11)Add Comment
written by Jack,CT, October 03, 2012
Mr Marlin,
More than all you listed (and I totally agree)Romney
needs to convince all Christians that"CHANGE" is what is needed.
Doma,contraceptives,HHS mandate are all important but not "ONE"
are a game changer.I want Romney to speak to all Christians!
We must remember we are in the minority as Catholics,so
he must show "Broad and Bold" Contrasts.
Romney has just tonight to show he can turn this around.
Fact is obama is winning the "PR" war.A compelling reason
"CHANGE" is what Romney needs to show.
written by Jack,CT, October 03, 2012
only one in four people are catholic and 50% will
vote democrat,to reinforce my arguement that "CHANGE"
needs to be the message!
written by Frank, October 03, 2012
If I were Romney, I'd ask Obama why God got kicked out of the Democratic Convention and then let back in. Or he could ask, "Gee Mr. President since this was you convention, are you ashamed of God?
written by Mack Hall, October 03, 2012
Mr. Marlin,

As a product of situational poverty in my youth, I suggest that the use of "blue collar" seems a bit patronizing.
written by Sue, October 03, 2012

All O has to say back to Romney is that Cdl. Dolan blessed his convention and Romney must be trying to be more Catholic than the Cardinal.

O. can repeat this strategy right down the list - abortion, homosexual marriage, NDAA, etc - he's covered by Romney's pathetic stands at every corner. No, Romney doesn't have the infanticide image to beat down, but if you really believe abortion takes a human life, infanticide is just a matter of degree of evil. And O. has already won an election as an infanticide-acceptor anyway.

Tonight's debate is just a kabuki show - bread and circuses for the masses.

written by Ray Hunkins, October 03, 2012
Perceptive piece, Mr.Marlin. I would add only this for consideration: There are plenty of folks who have come to the conclusion, some reluctantly and with much angst, that Gov. Romney is a full spectrum conservative. But some are still skeptical, and most of his new found conservative supporters will be looking for signs of backsliding and inconsistency. It wasn't easy for the Governor to win these folks' loyalty but it will be easy to loose it if he shows less than enthusiastic commitment to positions which are important to conservatives. The debate is an opportunity for the Governor to cement conservative support and I hope, and believe, that he will do it.
written by Alex, October 03, 2012
Can a Mormon really sincerely espouse the tenets of faith and morals necessary to lead and inspire a Christian opposition? I don't relate to him at all.
written by Jack,CT, October 03, 2012
The same was said about Kennedy,you
may not like him but Christians are
fine with Romney.
written by Seanachie, October 03, 2012
Excellent article, George. Let's hope Romney incorporates your recommendations into his arguments. Too much is at stake for our fellow citizens, especially Catholics, for Romney not to have a superlatively effective performance. Isn't it also time for our bishops to speak out clearly, decisively, and fearlessly against re-election of Obama along the same lines as you recommend to Romney?
written by Jack,CT, October 03, 2012
(Wed) 10 30 pm, Romney Cleaned his clock!
Well Done,
written by Stan J, October 05, 2012
We have too many Jerry Brown, Joe Biden Catholics voting out there. They have been conditioned by the Vatican II influenced schools where their attitudes toward social mores are similar to those of public school alumni. Their diocesan leaders have been strong supporters of illegal immigration, encourage tolerance of the "gay rights" agenda (taught by progressive "priests" and "nuns"), and equate socialism with social justice............all anti-Catholic principles entirely! They readily supported Obama overwhelmingly in the previous election simply because they share the same flawed values. We have both Protestant and Mormon candidates who support basic Christian values that are in line with Catholic tradition than do many of the C&E "catholics" who are eligible to vote. May our Holy Father inspire reform of what was once the finest system of primary and secondary schooling. The Church's future is dependent upon it.

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