Four Catholic Men v. Obama

First there was Michael Sean Winters, writing “J’Accuse!” in the National Catholic Reporter. “President Barack Obama,” Winters wrote, “lost my vote yesterday when he declined to expand the exceedingly narrow conscience exemptions proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services. The issue of conscience protections is so foundational, I do not see how I ever could, in good conscience, vote for this man again.”

Next up was E.J. Dionne, a good liberal Democrat (and Catholic), who used his Washington Post column to assail the President for how he “utterly botched the admittedly difficult question of how contraceptive services should be treated under the new health-care law.”

Mark Shields, also Catholic, opined on the PBS NewsHour: “The fallout is cataclysmic for the White House and for the president.” 

Doug Kmiec, the former Reagan administration lawyer who backed Obama in 2008, now says he may not in 2012, over the contraception mandate, and that alone.

Of course we expect this reaction from conservatives, and from conservative Catholics. But those three liberal Catholic pundits are taking the president to task, variously, for trampling on the Catholic social justice tradition (theory being that Catholic organizations will close their doors rather than comply with the mandate, a move that’s blamed on Obama, not on said organizations’ refusal to follow the law like everyone else); reneging on his promise in his 2008 Notre Dame speech to find common ground on difficult issues; and snubbing Catholic supporters of health care reform who had bucked the Bishops by supporting the final package that contained no provision for abortion coverage but was falsely depicted as covering abortion by the Bishops.

Obama’s greatest sin, in this view: violating the religious beliefs of the Catholic hierarchy. Not the beliefs or practices of lay Catholics, or the Catholic and non-Catholic employees of Catholic institutions. 

Unnamed “political analysts,” reports The Hill in its coverage of Kmiec’s defection, “say the tension between the Catholic Church and Obama could hamper the president’s bid for a second term.” 

For real? Since the Iowa caucuses all we’ve heard about is how this is an election about the economy, and that the so-called social issues, even for Republican voters, are taking the back burner while people worry about losing their jobs and their homes. One bright spot for Americans in dire economic straits is that they will soon have health insurance! Which will pay for them to plan their families so they can have a child once their house is no longer under water and they have a decent paying job. Are they really going to vote for Obama’s opponent because the Catholic Bishops and their religious right allies (along with “political analysts”) are angry with Obama over this insurance requirement? We have yet to see polling data on this, but I have a hard time seeing how this is true.

Did someone like Doug Kmiec help win Republican-leaning Catholic voters to Obama—or did Obama win them over himself? Will Winters and Shields and Dionne cause Catholic Democrats to flee Obama en masse? Maybe we’d know if any of the media outlets that published their opinions had asked a Catholic with ovaries.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email