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Why liberal Catholics should vote for McCain

Posted by Eric (September 25, 2008 at 11:16 am)

Pope John Paul IILately some Catholic commentators have been arguing that Catholics either can or should vote for Barack Obama, arguing that he espouses more positions that adhere to Catholic teaching than does John McCain.

That’s debatable to say the least, as is whether Obama can actually deliver on the particular campaign promises attractive to some, mostly liberal, Catholics. But aside from those arguments, there is entirely different calculus by which liberal Catholics would do best to vote for John McCain in 2008.

Let me first clarify that I’m speaking here of those liberal Catholics—a majority, I think—who believe with the Church that abortion is a grave injustice, even if they are of mixed opinions on what the legal status of abortion ought to be.

In a nutshell, liberal Catholics should vote for John McCain to take abortion off the national table. That issue, more than any other, stands in the way of the domestic and foreign policies liberal Catholics want to see enacted.

What liberal Catholics—liberals in general—don’t understand about conservative Catholics is that they are far more loyal to the vision of Pope John Paul II than that of Ronald Reagan.

They vote Republican because they were taught by John Paul II that protecting the lives of unborn children is their most important political task—”the most important work on earth”, as he said to pro-life leader Fr. Paul Marx—and far more often than not, the pro-life candidate is the Republican.

Now, I happen to be a fan of Ronald Reagan. I voted for him in my first election, in 1984. During a liberal phase in my twenties, I disavowed my earlier support for Reagan, even voting for Bill Clinton in 1992. I still opposed abortion then, but I reasoned that Clinton’s plans—like a national health care system—would dramatically reduce abortion.

I was wrong about that—as wrong as Obama’s Catholic supporters are now in arguing his policies would substantially reduce abortion—but in the mean time I’ve returned to espousing the conservative political views championed by Ronald Reagan.

But there are many other Catholics who are loyal to the Republican party, on the national level, not because they are Reaganite conservatives, but because they know the only way that Roe v. Wade is going to be overturned is if a Republican president appoints more justices to the Supreme Court in the mold of Roberts, Alito, Thomas and Scalia.

And while it’s true that Reagan appointees O’Connor and Kennedy and Bush 41 appointee Souter proved to be tremendous disappointments to pro-life Catholics, Thomas (Bush 41) and Roberts and Alito (Bush 43) have restored the hope of one day overturning Roe v. Wade. One more constitutionalist on the court could mean the end of Roe v. Wade.

That, of course, would not mean the end of abortion in the United States—it would only be the beginning of the state-by-state battle over abortion that should have taken place in the 1970s.

But the reversal of Roe v. Wade could mean the end of abortion politics in national elections—or at least radically diminish the importance of abortion in presidential and congressional races.

And for liberal Catholics—especially those who are willing to describe themselves as pro-life—that could mean a new opportunity to join forces with the those conservative John Paul II Catholics who are sympathetic to traditionally liberal positions.

If liberal Catholics are really serious about advancing issues like these, they would to well to vote for John McCain on November 4, with a view to gaining future allies among those John Paul II Catholics who will never vote for a candidate who claims to seek social justice while condoning the legalized killing of 1.2 million unborn babies every year.

That injustice was paramount for John Paul II. Once that injustice is no longer being perpetuated by the federal government, John Paul II Catholics will gratefully embrace the opportunity to deliberate policies addressing the many other social injustices the late Pope spoke out against. Many of them will become allies of liberal Catholics on issues like immigration, a living wage and the death penalty.

But if liberal Catholics choose instead to vote for Barack Obama—in an election where Catholics votes will decide the outcome—they could be ensuring that abortion will remain on the national table, a perpetual hindrance to moving forward on the issues they really care about.

This entry is filed under Catholicism, Law & Politics, Pro-Life. You can follow responses through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

8 Responses to “Why liberal Catholics should vote for McCain”

  1. Brian says:

    Good argument but there is one factual error. Souter was a Bush 41 appointee.

    Comment posted September 25th, 2008 at 9:14 pm
  2. Eric says:

    I stand corrected, Brian—thanks. (Post updated, too.)

    Comment posted September 26th, 2008 at 9:03 am
  3. Lexington Green says:


    Comment posted September 26th, 2008 at 5:09 pm
  4. Brian says:

    A counter-argument is that overturning Roe would result in races for Congress becoming centered on whether or not you favor the Freedom of Choice Act. This would renationalize the issue but on a political rather than judicial level.

    Comment posted September 26th, 2008 at 7:40 pm
  5. Eric says:

    Brian—That’s an interesting thought, but I don’t think it would play out that way.

    Even now, with Roe and Doe holding significant restriction of abortion by the states in check, the FOCA doesn’t have legs. If those rulings are dramatically undermined, or even overturned, I think FOCA’s chances would be even less.

    Here’s why (if I’m right):

    In a state that enacts significant abortion restrictions, it would be very difficult for a pro-choice candidate to run on a platform of passing FOCA.

    In a state that adopts a very liberal abortion policy, it would be hard for candidates for federal office to get the electorate very excited about FOCA—only a tiny minority of voters would be so committed to the idea of “abortion rights” as to insist on depriving other states of the ability to restrict abortion if they saw fit.

    In fact, there are few states, and few congressional electoral districts, that would enact legislation like FOCA. Most Americans oppose the unrestricted abortion regime that has reigned since 1973, including many who call themselves pro-choice.

    Measures like the partial birth abortion ban, informed consent, parental involvement, waiting periods and even a ban on late term abortions (a measure blocked by Roe/Doe) —all of which enjoy widespread support—would be forbidden by FOCA.

    So I don’t think FOCA has legs. It’s more of a gesture towards the hard-core pro-choice base of the Democratic party—and a fundraising opportunity—than a serious piece of legislation.

    In fact, if Obama is elected, I hope he tries to follow through on his promise to enact FOCA. Let’s have a national debate on abortion, whether any restrictions at all ought to be allowed. I think that would be a big loser for pro-choice Democrats, especially considering the rise of pro-life Democrats these days.

    Comment posted September 26th, 2008 at 10:59 pm
  6. Brian says:

    “especially considering the rise of pro-life Democrats these days.”

    That last phrase doesn’t jibe with what I see. There were a lot of pro-life dems in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s. In fact, Al Gore, Joe Biden, Dick Durbin, and even Jesse Jackson were all pro-life back then. But there is no room for actual pro-lifers in the Democratic party and they switched their positions to placate the base (see Party of Death, by Ramesh Ponnuru).

    Think of the difference between Gov. Bob Casey, Sr. and Sen Bob Casey, Jr. Sr. battled Planned Parenthood to the Supreme Court and came one vote from overturning Roe. Jr. is an empty suit that the Dems say is Pro-Life but won’t be there when it matters (think judges). I would argue that pro-life dems were destroyed when Clinton refused to let Bob Casey even speak at the ’92 convention.

    Whom did you have in mind for pro-life Dems on the rise?

    Comment posted September 27th, 2008 at 9:42 am
  7. Tiffany says:

    I appreciate your thoughtful analysis and must say that it’s the first rational argument I’ve ever heard for making abortion the primary concern in a national election–but I don’t think that the outcome is as simple as you suggest. If you have the time and inclination, please take a look at my response (over 1000 words, so not really appropriate for the comment space) linked from my name. I would very much like to dig deeper into this issue with you and your readers.

    Comment posted January 4th, 2009 at 1:42 pm
  8. Eric says:

    Dear Tiffany,

    I’m sorry that I’ve neglected your comment for a month. Somehow it got caught in the spam trap, which I cleared only today. Too busy for blogging lately.

    I’ll take a look at the response on your blog—thanks for taking the time to ponder these issues and share your thoughts.


    Comment posted February 6th, 2009 at 12:40 pm
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