Obama's Catholic Problem

For months, a prominent theme in the mainstream press was Senator John McCain’s alleged difficulty attracting evangelical support. After years of watching helplessly as conservative Christians handed political victories to conservative candidates, Big Media thought it had discovered a new type of evangelical voter, one for whom “fetus fatigue” had set in. This new type of believer, we were told, was tired of debates over abortion and marriage and wanted instead to discuss issues like AIDS and universal health care.

But as quickly as this narrative was picked up by the media, it has been abandoned — and for good reason. As the candidates’ positions have come into sharp focus, polling indicates that evangelicals have rallied around the conservative candidate for president, John McCain.

The media did get one thing right — churchgoers will again be instrumental in this year’s election. But while the press focused on evangelicals, they should have been looking at Catholics as the decisive vote in this year’s election.

Catholics comprise not only a fourth of the electorate but also about a third of voters in pivotal states likes Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin. Catholics traditionally have been reliable Democratic votes. But Catholic allegiance to the Democratic Party has softened in recent years as the party has shifted radically leftward on social issues. On Wednesday, a front-page New York Times story about the Catholic vote cast a revealing light on how social issues are again foremost on the minds of Catholic voters in swing states.

And, after reading the piece — which pointed out that many Catholic independents and Catholics who supported Hillary Clinton now support McCain — I thought: Barack Obama, call your office!

The first signs that Obama was blowing it with people of faith came at the Saddleback forum, where the Democratic nominee’s glib answer to the simple question about when he thinks a child gets human rights stunned those assembled (including me) and millions watching at home. Then came increased scrutiny on Obama’s extreme voting record on abortion, which includes twice voting against legislation in the Illinois senate that would have required that abortionists give medical aid to children born-alive after botched abortions.

Obama tries to distract Catholic voters by appealing to their strong sense of social justice with calls for universal health care and government-mandated environmental protection. But, as many of the Catholic voters interviewed in the Times article made clear, for Catholics, as with all voters, political issues are not created equal.

Obama is hemorrhaging Catholic support for the same reason John Kerry lost the Catholic vote in 2004: because most Catholics believe that some issues are non-negotiable. And as a popular new video ad by explains, there is no more important set of issues than the protection of our most basic values of liberty, family and life.

Obama must have seen his Catholic problem coming months ago after losing the white Catholic vote in the primaries. It partially explains why Obama chose Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate. But the Biden pick reveals a certain level of cluelessness in the Obama campaign. Because while Biden is Catholic and originally from Scranton, P.A., he is out of touch with Heartland Catholics on the issues they care about most.

Although Sen. Biden has occasionally supported pro-life legislation, including a ban on partial-birth abortion, he has compiled a very pro-abortion record in recent years. In 2007-2008, he received a zero rating from the National Right to Life and 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood.

In a presidential debate, Biden pledged to appoint only justices who would uphold Roe v. Wade, and he has been a leader in obstructing confirmations of conservative justices. All of which explains why NARAL lauded the choice of Biden as Obama’s vice presidential nominee, stating, “Sen. Biden has consistently expressed support for a woman’s right to choose.”

Then, just after his nomination, Biden talked his way into a minor scandal by misrepresenting Catholic teaching on human life. Biden told Tom Brokaw that even though he believes life begins at conception, he does not think abortion should be criminalized. He said, “I voted against telling everyone else in the country that they have to accept my religiously based view that it’s a [sic] moment of conception. “

Biden’s stance of acknowledging that abortion takes a human life while promoting its perpetuation revealed his deeply flawed moral reasoning and caused dozens of Catholic Bishops (including the bishop of Scranton) to speak out publicly in order to clear up any confusion about the Catholic Church’s steadfast pro-life views.

All of this underscores that no matter how much Obama tries to run from cultural issues, they will remain paramount for values voters on Election Day. After all, many voters aren’t likely to trust a candidate to solve complex issues like tax policy or health care if he doesn’t know when live begins (Obama) or is unwilling to stop homicide (Biden).

It also underscores that in an election that’s supposed to be all about change, there is one thing that will remain unchanged on Election Day: religious voters will be crucial. And, as in most recent elections, the conservative candidate will win the support of faith-based voters, while the liberal candidate will dominate among the small share of the electorate who call themselves atheists. Only trouble is, as Joe Biden could tell you, there aren’t many atheists in Scranton.