There must be something about February that brings out the weird, the unusual, and the strange in politics. That was my reaction when I read Douglas Kmiec’s article in Slate, claiming that Barack Obama is a “natural for the Catholic vote.” Now, I know and respect Doug as a brilliant legal mind and a good man. But I must take issue with him on his ability to take such talents and apply them to the current political situation.
Doug’s first error is comparing the substance and style of Ronald Reagan to that of Obama. Certainly anyone who gives a good speech can be hailed as a great communicator, but the reason that Reagan attracted so many Catholics and Democrats was because they knew him. They knew him as the actor who played George Gip in Knute Rockne. They knew him from the days when he introduced the stories on Death Valley Days. He was the governor in California who stood up to the student sit-ins, and did all of this with a smile. They remembered when he traveled the country giving speeches on economic freedom and against communism. And so when Reagan ran for president and repeated principles based upon respect for the sanctity of life, economic and personal freedom, and national security, much of the Catholic population responded positively. He never tired of reminding people that our rights are a gift from the Creator, especially the right to life.
Ronald Reagan spoke a language that Catholics and those who believed in God could understand.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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Now consider Senator Obama. He is an attractive, articulate voice for secular liberalism, wrapped up in a mantle that eschews labels and bespeaks hope and unity and the future. He creates energy, much like a movie star or celebrity. How much of it is simply a reaction to Hillary is a legitimate question. After all, a year ago, the pundits were telling the great unwashed (and those of us who do bathe) that the general election was going to be between Hillary and Rudy. We pro-lifers were commanded to get used to it. When we objected, we were ridiculed.
Obama — to his credit — has run a positive campaign (notwithstanding his positions on issues that are not very positive at all). People like positive messages. They may not have much substance, but people like them. A lot of people are simply tired of the Clintons, and Obama gives them the chance to vote for something new.
But that should not translate into Catholic support for Obama.
The teaching of the Catholic Church is clear: You cannot vote for a person who thinks that killing children is permissible when there is a reasonable alternative. Educated, practicing Catholics are not going to vote for a person who supports partial-birth abortion and voted against a bill similar to the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act while in the Illinois Senate.
Barack Obama is a co-sponsor of the Freedom of Choice Act, a proposed federal law to nullify virtually all federal and state limitations on abortion.
As for Catholics “giving up McCain for Lent,” as Kmiec says, the truth is that many who were not originally keen on McCain are and have been giving him a second look. Some pro-life advocates are still concerned about his lack of understanding on the stem cell issue, but the latest scientific discoveries may render that discussion moot. He is — and has been for the 24 years of his political life — pro-life.
There are some who are concerned about the Iraq question. His knowledge and understanding of national security will serve him well. But where McCain will score best is on his love of his country and the story of his life. If he can translate that story into one that promotes the best interests of the United States in a very dangerous world; if he can remind people that it is in freedom that we can accomplish the greatest good; and if he can defend the rights of all persons, born and unborn, to live in dignity and opportunity by scaling back the destructive growth of government, then Catholics and others will be drawn to his message.
I can’t imagine anyone who knew and appreciated Ronald Reagan joining the bandwagon of a pro-abortion, pro-same sex marriage, anti-family radical like Obama, once they know his positions and can envision what he intends to do to the country. On the contrary, Catholics will find it “natural” to vote for the candidate who chooses life and will protect the lives of all Americans.