Catholics For Obama?

Prof. K. calls our attention to a piece by Doug Kmiec, late of the Romney campaign, warning McCain that Reagan Catholics may vote for Obama. As a factual matter he may be right --many professed Catholics ignore the teachings of their Church. But while I can imagine Catholics staying home or leaving the top of the ballot blank, it's hard to see how a vote for Obama could square with orthodox Catholic teaching. It's not just the so-called "life issues." In an address to Catholic politicians in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of three Catholic "non-negotiables":

  • protection of life from conception until natural death;
  • defense of the natural structure of the family (union between a man and a woman based on marriage);
  • and protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
I'm a little bit shocked to find the illustrious Kmiec --a former dean of the Catholic University law school-- promoting the old "seamless garment" approach, suggesting that McCain's support for the war and the death penalty would be sufficient reason for Catholics to embrace Sen. Obama --a man so "pro-choice" he even defends partial birth abortion--instead. Quoting the Holy Father again, (pre-papacy, but exercising his role as protector of sound doctrine):
Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.
So McCain has all the non-negotiables substantially correct, Obama none of them, and Catholics are going to vote for Obama? Not qua Catholic, they're not. Then there's this:
Beyond life issues, an audaciously hope-filled Democrat like Obama is a Catholic natural. Anyone seeking "liberty and justice for all" really can't be satisfied with racially segregated public schools that don't teach. And there's something deeply hypocritical about being a nation of immigrants that won't welcome any more of them. And that creation that God saw as good in Genesis? Well, even without seeing Al Gore melt those glaciers over and over again, Catholics chose Al to better steward a world beset with unnatural disasters. Climate change is driven by mindless consumption that devotes more ingenuity to securing golden parachutes than energy independence.
Is Kmiec unfamiliar with No Child Left Behind, "comprehensive" immigration, and all the Bush Administration support for "green" policy? Conservatives are furious about those things, but Catholic voters of the sort Kmiec is describing should be happy with Bush and not eager to shed their Republican identities if he's correct -- if we bracket the Iraq war, which I'll come to in a minute. Does Kmiec not know that McCain supports school vouchers (there's that 3rd non-negotiable) while Obama opposes them? Or that McCain's in trouble with Conservatives precisely because he supported Bush's immigration program and is aggressively in favor of attention to climate change? If Kmiec is right about what Catholics care about, he's listed reasons in favor of McCain. I'm surprised he didn't bring up Catholic opposition to torture --another topic on which McCain deviates from Conservative orthodoxy in the Catholic direction.

To now unbracket the Iraq war, I grant Kmiec's point that many of my fellow Catholics, including the practicing ones, opposed and continue to oppose the war (a fact I think explains Ron Paul's popularity among lots of young Catholics I know), and might for that reason find themselves unable to support McCain either. I would only point out that the Holy See and the US Bishops, in spite of their vigorous opposition to the war before it started, are equally opposed to a precipitous US withdrawal now, which is what Sen. Obama is promising. The Church at this point has a very Colin Powell-esque "you break it, you bought it" approach to Iraq, and those who want to pull out now regardless of the consequences to the populace there are not taking their cues from the Pope or their Bishops. There again, it's preposterous to suggest anyone would vote for Obama on Catholic grounds. Many Catholics may vote for him, but they'll be doing so in spite of their Church and its teachings.

Prof. K. looks at the same facts and concludes they serve as a warning not so much to McCain as to those in the GOP he tend to flee the social issues and "compassionate conservatism." He says the point to remember is
Catholic social teaching as a strain in conservatism, something too many conservatives are willing to forget in their headlong flight from anything that smacks of compassionate conservativsm. It's also worth noting that Catholic social teaching is attractive also to some thoughtful evangelicals.