The “Catholic” Vote

As the token Catholic in the group, I had promised a brief reflection on whether anything is left of the “Catholic Vote” in our modern political landscape. Here is the promised reflection, though I cannot come through on the promise for brevity.

My basic supposition is that there is no distinctly Catholic vote in any measurable sense anymore. That conclusion is based less on the political climate of our day and more on internal deficiencies I see among individual Catholics.

There was, once upon a time, a need for politicians to play to a distinct Catholic vote. After all, we have been consistently about 25% of the population. The number of Catholics hovers somewhere around 70 million right now–enough to win any election if you were able to get them all on your side (Obama had just under 67 million votes to his name this past year). With the election of JFK, Catholics had become mainstream–which ended up being both our crown and our curse.

Becoming mainstream meant coming of age amidst the tides of change of the 1960s. Prominent Catholics sought a way to sustain their positions of power. One fateful meeting made the first crack in what proved to be a fissiparous structure.

Once Catholics like the Kennedys embraced a liberal social agenda, the “Catholic” voice became less one of principle and more one of inclusiveness and compromise. Those latter attributes are not bad in themselves, but they are deadly when one includes and compromises on the wrong issues.

It began, perhaps, with Catholics being “pro-life Democrats,” a sort of via media between a purported lack of Republican concern for the poor and a need to uphold basic Catholic teachings on life. The pro-life Democrat is largely a thing of the past, given the recent treatment of such folks, and recent statements of the Democratic party on life issues.

The Catholic voter does not take his cues from Church Magisterium–if he ever did. At times, bishops seem to muddy the waters rather than express Catholic teaching. (A prominent example is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ document on Faithful Citizenship.) Even if Catholics pay attention to what priests and bishops are saying, they are unlikely to hear a strong argument in favor of voting according to Catholic principles in the public square. (Some bishops have been very clear in expressing the Catholic position in relation to voting, as in Archbishop Chaput’s book, Render Unto Caesar.)

When a Catholic goes to vote, he has many teachings to consider before making his decision. The Church has a special concern for the poor, being the largest provider of social services in the world. Catholic religious orders, hospitals, charitable organizations, and individual parishes have consistently given of their time and resources to provide the poor with basic assistance and healthcare. On the other hand, Catholic teaching seems to favor a robust free market economy (with certain limitations) and a focus on individual responsibility. The Church does not think that people should live off the largesse of the State, but neither should we blindly accept an unjust system of wealth accumulation and distribution.

These issues are important, and the Church can speak to many more–care for the environment, international relations, war, the primacy of federal or state control, and others. Yet among all these, the Church has spoken clearly on five “non-negotiables.” Abortion, Euthanasia, Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Human Cloning, and Same-Sex Marriage. These five actions are considered “intrinsically evil”–i.e., directly contrary to the moral law–and therefore never justifiable. These five activities do not further the common good in any way and as a result of their immoral content, to vote in favor of them would be a sin.

Speaker Pelosi and now-VP Biden’s inaccurate statements about Catholic teaching in interviews leading up to November’s election only served to give lukewarm Catholics a reason to soften their positions on the non-negotiables. Many run-of-the-mill Catholics are willing to capitulate so easily because they see prominent Catholics–in name only–no longer hold the core beliefs that makes one a Catholic. Being baptized in the Faith surely makes you Catholic forever after. Whether you practice that Faith, understand that Faith, or renounce that Faith through your actions is a different matter entirely.

The lack of belief among Catholics is more of a systemic problem among Christians in general. Many people who are publicly religious fail to understand how faith and public life should interact. Catholic friends told me prior to the election that abortion was a “non-issue” for them, that the economy and Iraq were far more pressing concerns. There is a disconnect between Church teaching and the everyday Catholic that I do not quite fully understand. (If you are reading this and you understand, please comment below.)

So, the result of that disconnect is that there is no single Catholic voting block. Catholics are all over the map. I’d like to say that younger Catholics are forming themselves better to make more informed decisions in the past, but every Catholic undergraduate and law school student I met in the fall leading up to the election was voting against the non-negotiables.

Perhaps this year was just a matter of people getting caught up in a tide of hope and change. If it was something else–the deep penetration of secularism into Catholicism in America–then that is an issue more for the Church and less for politicians. In the meantime, we can invite “Catholic” politicians to explain themselves and their positions in light of their faith to shed light on the wisdom of Church teaching and its benefits in society.

Broken Promises: Obama’s Plan to Reduce Abortion

In a hypocritical albeit unsurprising move today, President Obama signed an executive order lifting the Mexico City Policy. Implemented by Reagan in 1984, the policy restricts federal family planning funds from being distributed to foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that perform abortions or “actively promote” abortion as a means of family planning. A foreign NGO could access these funds provided it did not perform or promote abortion in its family planning programs.

To clarify, “actively promote” meant to encourage women to have an abortion, or conduct public health campaigns advertising it. NGOs could still refer abortions in the case of rape, incest, or if the woman’s life was endangered and not violate the Mexico City Policy. Furthermore, it allowed women to receive post-abortive treatment, regardless if the abortion was legal. The nearly half billion dollars appropriated for family planning programs served to legitimately protect women will now be funneled to pro-abort groups and undeniably increase abortions worldwide.

But let’s not forget, last year Obama stated he would work to reduce the number of abortions. He hoped to find “common ground” with the pro-life movement. But in speaking at a Planned Parenthood meeting, he made it clear that any semblance of compromise was non-existent, “[t]here will always be people, many of good will, who do not share my view on the issue of choice. On this fundamental issue, I will not yield, and Planned Parenthood will not yield…”

Now that Obama has rescinded the Mexico City Policy, Planned Parenthood wasted no time in issuing a statement commending the President, “[Obama’s] repeal of the global gag rule ends eight long years of policies that have blocked access to basic health care for women worldwide. . . . [W]e can clearly say that thanks to President Obama, it truly is a new day for women’s health.”

Apparently not encouraging abortions prevented basic health care for women. Who knew?

The State of Human Life

Today, January 22, is the 36th yearly remembrance of the millions of children killed by abortion since Roe v. Wade.

From the time the Supreme Court handed down its verdict/command/instruction to the states regarding abortion until today, more than 40 million unborn children have been killed. 40 million. What exactly does that number represent?

It’s larger than the population of Florida. Of Texas. Of New York. The entire Southeast. The entire Northeast. Every state in the Republic, save for California.

More Americans (or as the pro-abortionists might prefer, “potential Americans”) have died from abortion than have died in all American wars combined (<1,500,000). The 40 million children represent 100 times the number of American deaths during World War II. More than twice as many children die from abortion as people die from all cancers each year.

Worldwide, it’s a number larger than all but 29 nations in the world, larger than Argentina, Canada, Iraq, Australia, and most of Europe.

Thirty-six years later, where do we stand?

We have traded arguably our most instinctively pro-life president for the most unashamedly pro-abortion president in history. President Obama may yet moderate his views on a number of issues—but abortion doesn’t appear to be one of them.

In July 2007, then-Senator Obama told a Planned Parenthood crowd, “The first thing I’d do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act…on this fundamental issue, I will not yield.” The Freedom of Choice Act would essentially roll back all of the incremental victories made in the name of human life over the last 36 years and impose an unrestricted abortion diktat across the United States.

Mere campaign bluster? If you buy that argument, then perhaps you will be persuaded by the indications that President Obama is on the verge of repealing the Mexico City Policy. The policy, which prevents American taxpayers from funding abortions in other countries, was reinstated by President Bush in 2001, who said at the time, “It is my conviction that taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions or advocate or actively promote abortion, either here or abroad.”

Instead, we now have a president who insists that tough thinking on abortion issues is above his pay-grade.

On many issues, it may be better for the country for conservatives to work with the new president. But on this issue, compromise kills.

As conservatives, what is our plan of action over the next four years? Efforts must continue at the state level to provide women with information regarding fetal development and abortion alternatives. Republicans in Congress should immediately introduce legislation codifying the Mexico City Policy. Pro-life voters across the country must pressure their Congressmen and Senators into voting against the Freedom of Choice Act.

And the egregious Supreme Court burden, Roe v. Wade, should join other stains of American jurisprudence, Dred Scott, Plessy, and Korematsu, on the ash heap of history.


Other excellent articles: Robert P. George, Michael New, Star Parker and Gary Bauer, Richard John Neuhaus and Neuhaus again

Cleaning (the White) House

President Obama has wasted no time in scrubbing away Bush’s filth accumulated over the last eight years; housecleaning began with the nation’s website. In publicizing his agenda, Obama set forth his vision for the next four years as well managing to denounce his predecessor’s “unconscionable ineptitude” in the process.

I post this for information’s sake – taken directly from the White House. Liberals may rejoice, staunch conservatives may revolt, and the moderates may be apathetic. This post is not meant to critique the validity or implications of Obama’s plan – that I’m sure, will come later. It is important that citizens, regardless of whether they fall on the political spectrum, at least have some idea where the new administration will lead the country. As an elected official, he should be supported. Not every policy need to be agreed with (and some policies should be lobbied against) but the beauty of democracy is that there is room for differing opinions. That being said, here is some of Obama’s change:

Supports a Woman’s Right to Choose: President Obama understands that abortion is a divisive issue, and respects those who disagree with him. However, he has been a consistent champion of reproductive choice and will make preserving women’s rights under Roe v. Wade a priority in his Adminstration (sic). He opposes any constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in that case.

Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples: President Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions. These rights and benefits include the right to assist a loved one in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits, and property rights.

Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage: President Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006 which would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prevented judicial extension of marriage-like rights to same-sex or other unmarried couples.

Supporting Stem Cell Research: President Obama and Vice President Biden believe that we owe it to the American public to explore the potential of stem cells to treat the millions of people suffering from debilitating and life-threatening diseases. Obama is a co-sponsor of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, which will allow research of human embryonic stem cells derived from embryos donated (with consent) from in vitro fertilization clinics. These embryos must be deemed in excess and created based solely for the purpose of fertility treatment.

Expand Hate Crimes Statutes: President Obama and Vice President Biden will strengthen federal hate crimes legislation, expand hate crimes protection by passing the Matthew Shepard Act, and reinvigorate enforcement at the Department of Justice’s Criminal Section.

Thank You, Mr. President

I considered writing some sort of tribute to President Bush to post today, Inauguration Day, but I don’t see the need to repeat the superb words of others. The following was written by my friend, Clifton Drake, a student at Georgetown Law.

As President Bush ends his tenure in office, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for his service to our country these last eight years. He has served this nation honorably with a steadfast commitment to do what is right regardless of popularity. His faith, character, and positive outlook remained throughout his entire presidency, and he always knew to look to God as the source of all wisdom and strength.

He continually reminded us that freedom is a gift of God to all of humanity. He emphasized the need for Americans to give, to volunteer, and to care for others. He ensured that we never overlooked the sacrifices and honorable service of those who defend our country. And he modeled a lifestyle of integrity and a love for his family that serves as an example to all.

I am frustrated and saddened by how unfairly he has been treated by the media and by those who have exhibited such hatred for him. It is one thing to disagree with someone because of his political ideology or a particular decision made. It is something else entirely to be filled with passionate hatred of an individual.

How quickly people forget all of the good that has been accomplished.

Can you imagine having any other president than George W. Bush during the days immediately following September 11, 2001? Think back to that first address to the nation from the Oval Office that night. The entire country was looking to him, desperately searching for reassurance, for hope, for security. His address concluded with these words:

“Tonight, I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray they will be comforted by a power greater than any of us, spoken through the ages in Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.”

“This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day. Yet, we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.”

As he spoke that night, every heart in America beat with his.

Think of his inspirational statements as he met with the relief workers at Ground Zero. When a man in the crowd said he couldn’t hear the President, he responded amid roaring shouts and applause, “I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”

Will you ever forget the words “We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail”?

He continued that State of the Union address with these words:

“I will not forget this wound to our country or those who inflicted it. I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people. The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.”

How dare anyone suggest that his post-9/11 plan was for people to simply “go shop.”

As a result of President Bush’s tough decisions, there are now two new democracies in countries people could hardly have imagined only a few years ago. Regimes of tyranny, genocide, and utter disrespect for human life have been replaced with governments elected by and accountable to the people. True, they have a long way to go, but the flame of democracy has been kindled. Who can forget the beaming smiles of men and women with ink stains on their fingers from voting for the first time, even risking their lives in order to do so?

One of the accomplishments President Bush never received enough credit for was his aid to the people of Africa. His HIV/AIDS relief program was larger than any other president in history ($15 billion). He also led the fight against malaria (which kills more people annually than AIDS) and as a result cut the rate of malaria in half. These programs represent America’s commitment to caring for those less fortunate around the world, and George W. Bush is Africa’s unsung hero.

President Bush was also able to bring the brutal practice of partial birth abortion to an end as part of his commitment to protecting unborn children. He ensured protection for infants born alive after failed abortions, and he provided insurance for pregnant mothers and permanent tax credits for adoptions.

Additionally, his stance against stem cell research resulting in the death of embryos may have been unpopular politically to some, but it was a policy grounded in respect for every human life, born or unborn, and it has produced tremendous results through adult stem cells. Our country still has a long way to go in fully protecting all unborn life, but great gains have been made. Let us hope that the new administration will not destroy all of the progress that has been achieved.

We must also be aware of the enormous impact President Bush has had on our judicial system. He made two outstanding appointments to the Supreme Court – Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito – as well as numerous lower court judge appointments. He appointed judges who understand that their role is to interpret the Constitution and not to make new laws. Many of the judges he appointed were relatively young, so we will benefit from the impact of these appointments for many years to come.

Looking back at all of these and other accomplishments, recognizing that Americans have been kept safe from terrorist attack for over seven years, and noting President Bush’s steadfast display of character, courage, compassion, and conviction throughout his entire term, my response is one of heartfelt gratitude, awe, and respect. My hope is that in time, all Americans will come to realize the positive and significant impact of George W. Bush’s presidency.

I conclude with the end of President Bush’s Farewell Address:

“It has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve as your president. There have been good days and tough days. But every day, I have been inspired by the greatness of our country and uplifted by the goodness of our people.

“I have been blessed to represent this nation we love. And I will always be honored to carry a title that means more to me than any other — citizen of the United States of America.

“And so, my fellow Americans, for the final time, good night. May God bless this house and our next president. And may God bless you and our wonderful country.”

Mr. President, there have indeed been good days and tough days, but we have been inspired by your words and actions and have been blessed to have you represent this nation we love. We will always be honored that you held this position of service and we are truly grateful. May God bless you, sir, and all in your wonderful family.

Progressive Evangelicals: Bipartisan Conciliation or Moral Concession?

In a move to reach out to progressive evangelicals, Barack Obama extended an olive branch to Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church to speak at today’s presidential inauguration.

Significantly, Warren and Obama differ on two vitriolic issues: homosexual marriage and abortion. Already, Warren’s selection has provoked the ire of several liberal organizations, some of which refuse even to attend the inauguration. To his credit, however, Obama realizes that he needs the support of evangelicals if the Democratic party –and the nation– is to press forward in its social agenda.

Evangelicals, too, understand that a Republican majority, while favorable, is not sufficient to permanently advance its socially conservative agenda. There are certainly areas for evangelicals and liberals to reach a common ground, especially on issues that do not stir the waters of abortion or same-sex marriage. But compromise in the former does not oblige evangelicals to reciprocate in the latter.

Arguably, there needs to be bipartisan cooperation in advancing a unified agenda. Republicans and Democrats both desire to recession-proof the economy, strengthen social justice, and secure our national borders. While the means of accomplishing such goals will vary, Republicans and Democrats needn’t be seen as strange bedfellows. Best epitomized was the national and bipartisan cohesion after the September 11th terrorists attacks.

But unilateral cooperation must be measured with a healthy dose of caution, especially with the emergent group of progressive evangelicals who are concerned about the environment, AIDS and education. Emphasis toward such laudable goals should not come at the expense of relinquishing the protection of the unborn or ceding ground to same-sex marriage proponents – basic bedrocks of the evangelical movement.

By focusing on the “important” issues of the current generation, Obama managed to sweep nearly a third of white evangelicals between 18 and 31 years old – double what John Kerry attained in the 2004 presidential election. The problem for conservatives is that by putting tangential goals (e.g. global warming) in the forefront, progressive evangelicals are side-tracked into supporting an underlying liberal agenda. In other words, social conservatives win the battle but lose the war.

Rick Warren’s speech should certainly be viewed as one step forward for the progressive evangelical movement. But given that Obama stands diametrically opposite to evangelicals on key issues, his administration may unfortunately result in two steps back for the conservative agenda.

Lessons Learned?

I’ve been watching Israel’s military actions in Gaza with great interest. The question in my mind is this: What lessons has Israel learned from its war with Hizballah in 2006?

Make no mistake, this is the second major battle of that war—a rematch. In one corner is America’s ally, Israel. In the other is Iran. Hamas is merely Iran’s proxy, just as Hizballah was Iran’s proxy back in 2006. Israel lost the first battle to Iran. In 2006, Israel’s dual goals of breaking Hizballah and destroying the rocket infrastructure were not achieved. Moreover, Iran (and Hizballah) achieved a two-fold strategic victory. First, by merely surviving a head-to-head match-up against the Middle East’s most powerful military, Hizballah “won.” Furthermore, Hizballah—bankrolled by Iran—moved back into southern Lebanon and provided humanitarian and financial assistance to all Lebanese (regardless of religion) who suffered loss during the war. With these acts, Iran dealt a psychological blow to Israel (the “invincible” was, perhaps, no longer invincible) and successfully undercut the legitimacy of Lebanon’s pro-democratic, pro-Western government.

Fast forward to 2008. We now have Hamas, financed and armed by Iran, precipitating a new war that has cost hundreds of Muslims their lives. Israel has stated that its goal is to stop the attacks from Gaza into Israel. Because the rockets Hamas uses are relatively small and portable, stopping the rocket launches requires “boots on the ground” in order to go door-to-door to seize these weapons. Even if it were possible to find all the rockets, the cost in life—both Muslim and Israeli—is a price too high for Israel to pay…in real terms, in the court of public opinion, and for future peace prospects. Therefore, Israel has no choice but focus its efforts on defeating and destroying Hamas. Israel is already going after Hamas’s leadership. The question is: Has Israel learned its lesson from 2006? Will Israel go after Hamas’ master and chief supporter?

While the world focuses on the tragedy in Gaza, it turns its attention and efforts away from Tehran. In the meantime, more and more centrifuges throughout Iran are brought on line, and money and materiel continue to flow from Iran to Gaza, to Lebanon and to Iraq.

Has Israel learned its lesson from 2006? Have we? The United States, the European Union, and Arab regimes concerned about growing Iranian influence have a common threat in the form of the radical Iranian regime. We must not lose sight of this. Gaza is merely a symptom of the larger problem—the radical Iranian regime. The Obama Administration must focus on Iran if it is to bring about a comprehensive peace process in the Middle East. Whether through the United Nations, through other alliances (mainly the EU), or—gasp—unilateral action, the United States must move swiftly. Iran has proven itself, time and time again, to be a roadblock to peace in the Middle East. It is also, by some estimates, less than a year away from acquiring nuclear capability.