Bench Memos

Raising the Stakes in the Veepstakes

I wrote in this space last week (here) that John McCain would lose needed Catholic support if he took on a pro-choice running mate.  Now Barack Obama has selected a pro-choice running mate in order to attract needed Catholic support.  But there’s a twist.  McCain would be seeking pro-choice voters.  Joe Biden’s support of abortion rights was undoubtedly a pre-requisite for the job.  But Obama scarcely needed a pro-choice running mate to attract additional support in the NARAL sector.  That’s one luxury of having an off-the-charts promoter of abortion rights at the top of the ticket.  And so the pundits say that, even after thrity-five years in the United States Senate, Joe Biden was chosen to “connect” with blue-collar Catholics in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. 

Still, Biden is Catholic and he is incorrigibly pro-choice.  That raises the question of whether his repudiation — in vote after vote, year after year — of clear and definitive Church teaching on abortion will cost Obama some votes in the blue-collar rust belt.  Because Obama is more radically pro-choice than Biden, it may seem strange to suggest that it might; after all, why would anyone otherwise inclined to support Obama be put off by Biden’s selection?  

There are two reasons why I think it is not so strange.  One is that Obama is already paddling away from his most extreme positions on abortion, so much so that he seems to want to run for President as if he were Joe Biden: reliably but not fanatically pro-choice.  Except that Biden has been compiling a pro-choice record since Barack Obama was a teenager.  When all is said and done on Election Day, we may discover that Biden’s pro-choice credentials are neither redundant nor an afterthought.

Another reason is that Biden is Catholic.  Some Catholic voters — not many, but perhaps enough to swing Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Michigan — are uniquely turned off by the pro-choice Catholic, especially if the renegade persists (as did Kerry in 2004) in denying that they have rejected Church teaching.  Nancy Pelosi is the latest in a long line of Catholic pols who have embarrassed themselves trying to escape the obvious. Even some Catholics who are less than completely pro-life recoil at the dishonesty and, even, the cowardice of such displays of inartful sophistry.

One variable in this analysis is path to be taken by the American Church’s authoritative teachers, the bishops.  Will they call Biden to account for betraying the least of his brethren (those not yet born) and for scandalizing the faithful? One who called John Kerry to account — Raymond Burke, formerly Archbishop of Saint Louis — has moved on to duties in Rome. But another who stood tall and fast in 2004 on this issue has already risen to the challenge. See Eric Gorski’s AP story of Sunday about Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver’s advice to Biden, that he not present himself for Holy Communion until he repents his “pro-choice” convictions. 

For a concise explanation of Church teaching about Communion and pro-choice politicians, see this post by the outstanding canon lawyer Ed Peters.

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