The Obama campaign knows it is in trouble in the key swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Public opinion polls show that many practicing Catholics who voted for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries as the lesser of two evils are now leaning toward the pro-life, pro-gun John McCain.
To blunt this voting trend, Sen. Obama has chosen as his vice presidential running mate, a baptized Catholic from blue-collar Scranton, Pa. – Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.
The instant media analysis that Biden will help Obama in the heavily Catholic populated rust-belt states, however, may be wishful thinking because of Biden’s pro-abortion stance.
It appears the Democrats never learn. Four years ago pro-abortion Catholic John Kerry received fewer Catholic votes than the 2000 Democratic candidate, Protestant Al Gore.
In 2004, practicing Catholics were the decisive factor in numerous swing states. In Ohio, for instance, 65 percent of them voted for Bush, and in Florida the president’s support from practicing Catholics reached 66 percent. Working-class Catholics, many of whom were of Eastern European origins, stuck with the president, because they agreed with him on cultural and moral issues.
These issues were more important to them then their economic woes.
Even in Kerry’s home state of Massachusetts, one of America’s bluest states, there was a significant shift in the Catholic vote. In 2000, Catholics for Bush totaled 32 percent of the state’s electorate while in 2004 his total was 49 percent. In raw numbers this increase represented 166,000 additional Catholic votes for Bush in Massachusetts (622,000 versus 456,000 in 2000).
Former Boston Democratic mayor, Ray Flynn, who founded the organization Liberty, Life and Family to register and motivate Catholic voters, while visiting numerous parishes in his home state sensed a shift in the loyalties of old-line Catholic Democrats. “The [Democratic] party,” he said, “thinks that just because a guy’s an electrician or works for the gas company, he will be a traditional Democrat who will ignore culture issues, but that’s not true any longer.”
In the election of 2004, Catholics were part of a growing voting population who considered the moral and cultural issues the most important factor in their electoral decision-making process, 22 percent of the voting population in 2004. The power of this block explains in part the increased support for George Bush as well as the overwhelming opposition to same-sex marriages in eleven state referendums.
Here’s the 2008 Catholic challenge Biden faces: Earlier this year in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the Catholic bishops of the United States declared Catholics “have a serious lifelong obligation to form their conscience in accord with human reason and the teaching of the Church . . . by studying sacred scripture and the teaching of the Church as contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.” (The Catechism states: “Since the first century, the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. The teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.”)
The bishops also advised: “As Catholics, we are not single-issue voters. Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter, to disqualify a candidate for receiving support.”
It will be interesting to hear how the loquacious Biden reconciles his pro-abortion views with these Church teachings.
Biden is in a difficult position because if he resorts to using the Mario Cuomo defense, “I personally oppose abortion but can’t impose my views.” to wiggle out of his dilemma, he will come into direct conflict with Barack Obama, who rejects the position that moral principles are an imposition on the body politic.
As Obama said in a 2004 speech: “Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King — indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history — were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. To say that men and women should not inject their ‘personal morality’ into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.”
Obama is absolutely right. To argue that one can’t vote one’s conscience on issues is morally and intellectually incoherent — for both politicians and ordinary voters.
Regardless of how rehearsed, do not expect informed Catholics to fall for Biden’s double shuffle.
Elitist Barack Obama will learn this November that tossing a political sop to Catholic Reagan Democrats doesn’t guarantee they’ll shimmy back to the Democratic fold.
George J. Marlin is author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact" (St. Augustine’s Press).
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