Election Daze

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 the Senior Editor of The Catholic Thing and a Senior Fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His most recent book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. His The Compleat Gentleman is now available in a third, revised edition from Regnery Gateway and is also available in an Audible audio edition (read by Bob Souer). Mr. Miner has served as a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA and also on the Selective Service System draft board in Westchester County, NY.