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Bench Memos

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One of the things that happens when you become old and gray is that you begin to repeat yourself. It happens not only with people, but with institutions and even newspapers too. Take the Old Gray Lady herself — the New York Times. Today’s edition carries a story about the Catholic swing vote, abortion, and Barack Obama. It has some interesting new stuff, mainly in the form of lucid quotations (though to different effects) from Leonard Leo and Bill Galston. And it carries news that Bob Casey the Younger may speak at this year’s Democratic convention. The Times interprets this news as not only a come-hither signal to Catholics. The paper sees it as — somehow — poetic binding of the wound which the party inflicted on Bob Casey the Older in 1992. The Times would even have you believe that the apple fell right next to the tree: the present Senator, “like his late father is a Roman Catholic who opposes abortion rights”. Except that the Younger has compromised with the evil of abortion — and muted his witness against it — in ways that would have made his father sick.

Today’s article is mostly the same-old same old, which means that the Times is desperately rooting for Obama. Take the headline, for instance: “Obama’s View on Abortion May Divide Catholics.” Not so. Obama’s views on abortion do not divide Catholics. Anyone who accepts Church teaching on abortion rejects Obama’s views tout court. Of course, not all Catholics accept Church teaching. But “Obama’s view on abortion” is so extreme that almost no Catholic — indeed, almost no one at all — agrees with him. Given his opposition to the Illinois Born-Alive Act, “Obama’s view on abortion” would even divide a NARAL meeting.

What is true and what the Times’s headline should have said is something like this: “Despite Obama’s View on Abortion, Catholics Still Divided Over His Candidacy.” But the Times does not want to say that. Why not? Because saying that would signal to Catholic readers (in particular) that that there is something really wrong with “Obama’s view on abortion,” such that any Catholic hanging with him would have to do so notwithstanding the injustice of his view on abortion.

The Times noticed that “Obama’s View on Abortion” led him to oppose the Illinois Born-Alive Infants’ Protection Act. The paper does not say that he did so repeatedly; that might have made him seem, well, soft on infanticide. The article instead reports at considerable length Obama’s explanation for opposing the bill. The paper notes especially that Obama “said” he would have voted for the federal version (which later passed the Senate 98 – 0). The Times says nothing critical about Obama’s explanation for his Illinois vote. The paper cites no one (such as David Freddoso) who would have exposed Obama’s explanation as the transparent dodge that it certainly is. Why not? Because the Times wants very much to let Obama off the infanticide hook. You know that for sure when the article’s author (John Broder) describes what Obama did this way: he opposed a ban “on the killing of fetuses born alive.” Maybe it is just me, and you, and everybody in the world beside Barack Obama and John Broder. But I think that “fetuses born alive” are actually called something else, something like “babies” or “children,” or what the law itself called them: “infants.”

The Times wants to sanitize Obama’s pro-abortion views so that Catholics can feel comfortable voting for him. The problem is that this pesky Church — principally, its leaders, also known as bishops — keep reminding Catholics that abortion is a grave injustice, a form of homicide. The Times’s now standard remedy for this annoyance is a cross-cutting distraction: introduce a separate matter, one which (as such) is not about injustice in the political realm. It is instead about the pastoral responsibility of bishops; more precisely, their duty to preserve the integrity of the sacraments and to preserve the witness of the faith inviolate.

But everyone knows that denying communion to pro-choice politicians is unpopular with many Catholics, who consider it heavy-handed and unwarranted. Anyone can see that a Catholic within range of voting for Barack Obama is almost certainly within this group. And anyone can draw the sum of these two observations: make this swing Catholic’s vote a referendum, not only on “Obama’s view on abortion,” but on the Church’s reaction to it. After all, the folks (bishops) who are telling you that Obama is bad on abortion are themselves bullies who don’t really respect people’s right to disagree, in conscience, about politics.

Frankly, I think that if the Times did not have the deny-communion distraction at the ready, we would see even more than we do about the priest sex-abuse scandal this election cycle.

And then we come to the now-predictable quote from Doug Kmiec, this season’s media man-bites-dog story. (“Come one and all. Step right up and hear the Reaganite Catholic law prof who backed Mitt Romney sing a song for Barack.”) Doug says in today’s Times that all Catholics should be asking the question he asks: why not vote for the candidate who “feels” and “speaks” (these are Doug’s words) more “credibly” and more “passionately” (still Doug talking) about economic fairness to the average family, take good care of the environment, and who will treat the immigrant family “with respect” (end of Doug speaking).

I am Catholic. I am asking myself Doug’s question right now. And I can’t help answering it this way: I am not going to vote for anyone based on what he “feels” and “speaks” — as opposed to the record of what he has in fact done, as a firm assurance of what he will in fact do if I vote him into office — even if he does both “passionately”, and “credibly” (whatever that might mean).

Now paraphrasing Doug, I think all Catholics should answer it that way.



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