Obama and Catholics: Faithful and Generic

Democrats were rightly alarmed when George W. Bush took not only the faithful Catholic vote against Catholic John Kerry but he took the generic Catholic vote, too. The Catholic vote has traditionally belonged to the Democrat.

Some, like Jody Bottum, claim there is no longer such a thing as the Catholic vote. Since it tracks so closely to voters in general, it makes no sense to consider a Catholic distinction when it comes to voting.

The parties think otherwise. Both have spent time and treasure creating Catholic outreach operations, and unique Catholic messaging.

After Bush creamed Kerry among Catholics, the Democratic Party ginned up a Catholic outreach mirroring efforts of the Republicans. They had a pretty good advantage, too. There was Bush fatigue, even among conservatives, and it was exponentially larger among the left of center. But it was more than that. Democrats developed an effective Catholic outreach that included a successful appeal to some self-identified conservatives.

And they came up with a clever argument that fit nicely with Bush fatigue. They said that Obama might not want to change Roe v. Wade, which the Republicans had failed to do all these years, but that he wanted to reduce abortions through liberal economic policies. Moreover, they said he was better on war, “torture,” rendition, Guantanamo, and the like. This was a calculated effort to show that, across the full spectrum of issues related to Catholic social teaching, Obama was superior to the Republicans. And it worked.

Will it work again?

Already reporters and pollsters are sniffing around the question: whither Catholics in 2012? Certainly Barack Obama will have a trickier time keeping Catholics in his camp this time around than he did getting them in 2008. Politics and policy have intruded upon dreams.

There was the debate over health care. Who would have thought that after the bishops’ moral authority had been tarnished over the sex abuse scandals that it would be their voices that drove the debate in its final hours? Would Obamacare fund abortion, or wouldn’t it? Even now it is a hotly debated question and one where faithful Catholics and perhaps even some “generics” stand with the bishops in their concern that it does.

        That was then: Obama honored at Notre Dame

Then, it was recently announced that the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, headed by a Catholic – Kathleen Sibelius – who has supported Planned Parenthood, has defunded the U. S. Catholic Bishop’s Migration and Refugee Service, which has assisted 2,700 victims of human trafficking since 2006. The administration gave a non-response as to why, but Catholic bishops suspect it has something to do with the lawsuit brought in 2009 by the ACLU, which tried to force the Church to make referrals for abortion in its anti-trafficking program.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the USCCB thought it had something to do with the HHS requirement that Catholic Migration and Refugee Service provide the “full range of reproductive services.”

Catholic agencies are also being denied federal funding for provision of other social services because of the homosexual ascendancy. The Church has stopped managing adoptions in Massachusetts precisely because of homosexual influences. Illinois just passed a civil-unions bill and, though supporters swore it would not touch other aspects of public policy, the state just told the Church she may no longer offer adoptions in Illinois for the same reason.

Catholic universities and hospitals are now facing pressure to provide contraception and abortion in their health insurance plans because HHS has tried to define them in ways that will not permit them to claim religious exemption.

Professor Robert George of Princeton was one of the hosts during a recent campaign debate for the Republicans and asked each candidate if the U. S. government should provide funding to states that violated freedom of religion in this way. The U. S. bishops are so concerned about these developments that they have created a committee on religious freedom headed by Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport.

This is the climate into which Barack Obama will be making his plea to the Catholic voter: widespread assault on Catholic consciences and on the freedom to practice our religion, even in public policy and services. A crafty Republican will play this tune for all its worth.

What’s more, the arguments about war and Guantanamo seem unlikely to work anymore since Obama, upon taking office, discovered that there were not many viable alternatives to the Bush policies, and has consequently continued to extended them. The economy is in tatters with slim chances of improving significantly before Election Day 2012. Will the abortion rate be up or down by then, and who takes credit or blame? The fact is that Obama never met an abortion he didn’t like or at least had an excuse for.

The last time out, Catholics such as Doug Kmiec, a former Reagan official, gave Obama cover on these and other issues. Kmiec was rewarded with the Ambassadorship to France. Just kidding, nothing quite so grand for selling out the unborn. No, Kmiec went to Malta – tiny, Catholic Malta, an assignment that he quickly bungled. And he promptly bit the hand that put him there. Who will be Obama’s house-Catholic next time? 

The bottom line is Catholics, faithful and generic, now know who this man is. It is impossible to imagine that Obama will maintain the faithful Catholic vote, and he may end up losing the generics, too.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-Fam.