Barack Obama’s message of healing our cultural wounds and stressing all men’s duty to their brothers gives him a stronger appeal to Catholics than any recent Democratic nominee for President. But in the eyes of some conservative Catholics and pro-lifers, Obama’s extreme position on abortion makes him the most objectionable recent major party nominee.
As with John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000, Obama has the firm backing of liberal Catholic Democratic politicians. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), a hero to the abortion lobby and homosexual activist groups, gave Obama a boost in the primary with his endorsement and his speech at the Pepsi Center Monday was the highlight of the convention’s first night. Every Catholic Democrat in the House and Senate, as well as every Catholic governor, has endorsed Obama, in keeping with party loyalty.
Catholic delegates to the Democratic National Committee, including those who pledged to Hillary Clinton, also are lining up behind Obama.
Surprising, however, are conservative pro-life Catholics who are backing Obama. The most notable of them is constitutional law expert Doug Kmiec, a professor at the Pepperdine University School of Law.
Kmiec, a pro-lifer and an alumnus of the Reagan administration, in March endorsed Obama over McCain.
Kmiec, in Denver to speak at interfaith panels supporting Obama, spoke with Catholic News Agency Tuesday at breakfast. Kmiec openly states that Obama’s full support for legal abortion is “morally unacceptable,” but he argues that there are proportionate reasons to vote for Obama.
Pointing out that McCain has voted to use taxpayer money on embryo-destroying stem-cell research, and arguing that McCain’s pro-life efforts would end at nominating a judge who would overturn Roe v. Wade, Kmiec summed up his choices: “I’ve got an imperfect McCain and an imperfect Obama.”
Most impressive to Kmiec, Obama struck him as a sincere “bridge-builder,” trying to find common ground with those with whom he disagreed. “He’s not afraid to borrow a good idea” from conservatives and Catholics, Kmiec said, pointing to Obama’s appreciation of subsidiarity—the notion that local governments, parishes, or families—rather than the central government—are often the appropriate level at which to address problems.
For Kmiec, Obama’s disposition towards diplomacy and peace compares favorably to McCain’s general bellicosity. “Between the two candidates, I think Senator Obama is closer to the Church’s teaching than Senator McCain is.
In line with the Holy See, Barack Obama opposed U.S. intervention in Iraq in 2002 and 2003, while John McCain has long been a supporter. Democratic delegate Deborah Langhoff of New Orleans is a Catholic who favors keeping abortion legal, and she, too, points to foreign policy as a reason for Catholics to support Obama. Suggesting Obama’s foreign policy—and his notion of a fairly rapid withdrawal from Iraq—is a part of a culture of life, she told Catholic News Agency “we need to talk about the lives lost in Iraq war.’
Joshua Mercer, spokesman for the conservative Catholic advocacy group Fidelis doesn’t believe the Iraq war can outweigh abortion in this election. “When you compare the 4,000 soldiers who lost their lives fighting valiantly in Iraq to the 4,000 babies who died today, it becomes clear…. Barack Obama has admirable qualities, but he advocates legal abortion for all nine months.”
Polls and recent election results present a mixed picture of Obama’s chances among Catholic voters. On the question of party loyalty, Catholics have moved towards the GOP in recent presidential elections. According to CNN’s exit polls, Bush defeated Kerry by five points, 52% to 47% in 2004; among Catholics who attend Mass at least weekly, (11% of the electorate), Bush won by 13 points.
In 2006, however, Catholics aided Democrats in their sweep to control Congress: 55% of Catholics voted for the Democratic House candidate.
While winning the Democratic primaries this year, Obama performed poorly among Catholics. In the most crucial state with a large Catholic population—Pennsylvania—Obama pulled in only 30% of Catholic voters (26% of regular Mass attendees), despite the endorsement of pro-life Catholic Sen. Bob Casey (D).