‘Smart’ Obama outreach to Catholics seeks to offset abortion concerns, commentator says

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama


Catholic commentator Deal Hudson says the Obama administration is engaging in "smart" outreach to Catholics by offsetting concerns about abortion with unifying rhetoric and compelling stories. In his view, this outreach also benefits from Republican inaction towards Hispanics and Catholics.

Speaking with U.S. News & World Report writer Dan Gilgoff, Hudson questioned President Barack Obama’s "common ground" rhetoric about abortion.

"It's very smart for Obama to actually take the advice of his Catholic outreach team. They have done a good job navigating the challenges they face among Catholics over their policy positions," Hudson, Catholic outreach director for Republican George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns, told Gilgoff.

He said that the common thread among Catholic nominees such as Judge Sonia Sotomayor and prospective surgeon general Regina Benjamin is that they are presented as Catholics but the White House highlights a part of their story that is "compelling from another direction."

"The administration knows in both cases that, once the Catholic issues are explored, there are going to be problems," he explained.

However, members of the Obama administration have worked to "offset" questions about abortion by putting forward nominees like Dr. Benjamin,who rebuilt a clinic to help the poor, or Judge Sotomayor, a minority woman.

"They have thought carefully about how they are going to offset the expected criticism of these pro-choice Catholic nominees by having stories ready that they know will appeal to Catholics and blunt criticism from the pro-life side," Hudson commented.

Hudson then criticized the Republicans’ 2005 anti-immigration campaign as a "huge mistake" that helped drive away Hispanic voters. He also said the Republican Party "just hasn’t done anything" to reunite the religious conservative base and to "reanimate" Catholic supporters.

He also said that Republicans had not offered Catholics anything to "rally behind" like President Obama has in his meeting with Pope Benedict XVI and his speech at Notre Dame.

Claiming that Obama’s Notre Dame speech cost the president support among some Catholics, Hudson said that Catholics are nonetheless receptive to appeals to "common ground" and "working together."

According to Hudson, Catholics don’t like "a lot of confrontational and aggressive speechmaking in politics" or "the old evangelical, more stringent-type message."

"Common ground" rhetoric also has resonance among Catholics because it was used by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the late Archbishop of Chicago.

However, Hudson himself was skeptical of the Obama administration’s rhetoric in light of its policy actions.

"The policy itself is the funding of abortion, the appointment of pro-choice Catholics, and the repealing of the Mexico City policy, and that's the narrative people need to pay attention to."

Speaking with CNA in a Thursday e-mail, Hudson expanded on his comments to Gilgoff.

"Catholics can and do see issues like immigration in a special light," he commented. "Many American Catholics are descended from immigrants. Thus, Catholics understand the often harsh circumstances that drive people from one country to another."

Asked whether he believed the "common ground" initiatives to reduce abortion were sincere, Hudson replied:

"I see no evidence it is anything other than a political strategy to offset the image of Democrats and Obama as abortion supporters. The present health care bill with its abortion benefits tells the true story."

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