During a campaign event in 2011, a feminist stopped Barack Obama in mid-speech to ask him if he supported free contraceptives. Obama replied: “Darn tootin’!”
According to Obama’s secularist philosophy, this invented right to free contraceptives trumps the First Amendment’s right to religious freedom. If religious employers object to financing the sex lives of their employees, well, too bad, says Obama. It is “not fair” to expect women who work for “large” Catholic hospitals and schools to pay for their own contraceptives, he told a reporter earlier this year.
Some of Obama’s advisers, including Joe Biden and his former chief of staff William Daley, warned Obama that this in-your-face secularism could cost him the Catholic vote. But feminists within the administration already had his ear and he moved ahead with the mandate.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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According to the latest polling, this political high-wire act—seeking to win the Catholic vote while warring on Catholic institutions—is not impossible for Obama to pull off. Indeed, it looks like he is headed for an impressive finish. As CNN reports, “Obama leads opponent Mitt Romney among Catholic voters by 54% to 39%, according to the survey, conducted from September 12 to 16 by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.”
How Romney could give Obama this large opening is a source of some bafflement among political observers. Romney’s selection of a Catholic running mate in Paul Ryan appears to have made no difference in the race. The two have largely eschewed moral issues, with Ryan even waiving the white flag recently on the issue of gays in the military. Restoring the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy would be a step in the “wrong direction,” said Ryan, dismissing the issue.
Romney ran an ad earlier in the campaign about “Obama’s war on religion,” but he hasn’t bothered to develop the theme.
Meanwhile, the bishops have sent plenty of mixed signals to Catholics about the race. Bishop Stephen Blaire, who heads up the US bishops’ “social justice” office, has fired off multiple letters to Paul Ryan, upbraiding him for his supposedly un-Christian budgetary plans. Blaire also felt that the bishops hit Obama too hard on the HHS mandate, fretting that their resistance could contribute to an “anti-Obama campaign.”
No doubt Blaire was pleased to see the nun on the bus, Sister Simone Campbell, roll into Charlotte for the Democrats’ convention. Obama continues to enjoy the patronage of the Catholic left, which has spent decades inculcating Catholic pupils in the notion that “social justice” and the platform of the Democratic Party are one and the same. It is no accident that Notre Dame conferred an honorary degree upon Obama for his “community organizing.” He is the “one” the Sister Campbells and Bishop Blaires were “waiting for.”
The Jesuits are in the tank for Obama too. The faculty at Georgetown ranked among his top donors in 2008, and the enthusiasm, evident in its honoring of Kathleen Sebelius earlier this year, continues. The Jesuit magazine America editorialized in support of the HHS mandate, which the Obama administration scooped up and used to neutralize Catholic opposition to it. At a White House meeting with officials from the US bshops’ conference, Obama aides invoked that editorial to lecture the Church on what Catholicism should mean.
Obama has perfected this divide-and-conquer strategy, shrewdly sensing that his Fifth Columnists within the Church would work for his reelection and that the bishops would prove too feckless to stop it. Even at this late date, even as Obama’s anti-Catholic agenda accelerates, the bishops continue to dither on such issues as withholding Communion from pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage Democratic politicians (there is still no uniform policy on that question) and sit on their hands while Obama-supporting Catholic colleges and universities sink ever more deeply into secularism.
Earlier this year Cardinal Timothy Dolan admitted to the Wall Street Journal that the U.S. bishops failed to catechize American Catholics in the Church’s teaching on contraception. This, too, explains Obama’s support amongst Catholics. They don’t care about his contraceptive mandate because they don’t care about the Church’s teaching on contraceptives. Forty years of bad catechesis can’t be undone by a “Fortnight for Freedom.”
If the news that the most anti-Catholic president ever is on track to win the Catholic vote doesn’t sober the bishops up and return them to orthodox basics, nothing will.
This column first appeared October 3, 2012 on RealClearReligion.org and is reprinted with permission.