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After the Election – Still Reckoning

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 Emeritus at Amherst College and the Founder/Director of the James Wilson Institute on Natural Rights & the American Founding. He is the author of Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law. Volume II of his audio lectures from The Modern Scholar, First Principles and Natural Law is available for download. His new book is Mere Natural Law: Originalism and the Anchoring Truths of the Constitution.