Here Comes Everybody? Don’t Bet on It

According to an old aphorism, a little anti-Semitism is good for Jews. Since the Obama administration announced the guidelines for its Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a new consensus has emerged that a little anti-Catholicism is good for Catholics. On its blog, the USCCB proudly declares “a true ‘here comes everybody’ moment,” and dsplays the growing list of Catholic commentators who have condemned the president.

Everybody — or at least everybody who’s part of everybody — seems awfully eager to point out that this new consensus is non-partisan, or at least bi-partisan. Some commentators are all but predicting an end to partisanship, period. With evident surprise, the Bishops’ Conference blog reports, “National Catholic Reporter has even excoriated the administration over [HHS conscience exemption rules] and has said some supportive things about the bishops.”

In a way, I guess, this is remarkable. Some NCR columnists, like Eugene Cullen Kennedy and Fr. Richard McBrien, come down on bishops so routinely, you’d think they smash their chess sets and storm out of the room whenever the original Oceans 11 comes on TV. But anyone who thinks everyone is going to remain in formation for long is in for a rude awakening.

Reading through the various protests against the administration’s policy, you’ll notice drastic tonal differences. Fr. John Jenkins, CSC, the Notre Dame rector who braved flack for bestowing an honorary doctorate on Obama, confesses feeling “deeply disappointed,” and calls for “a national dialogue among religious groups, government and the American people to reaffirm our country’s historic respect for freedom of conscience and defense of religious liberty.” Compare that to the Passionate Papist’s prediction: “I think it is quite possible that Catholics in this country will one day be arrested for simply proclaiming the teachings of the Church.” To some Catholics, this is a regrettable overreach that can be resolved with some common sense; to others, it’s the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it.

Suggesting that these differences follow party lines would be premature, since I don’t know which party, if any, the Passionate Papist belongs to. Still, ours is a two-party system, and this is an election year. Barring an abrupt reversal on Obama’s part, freedom of conscience, as observers are now calling the issue at stake, would tend to favor his Republican challenger. NCR’s Michael Sean Winters sees the elephant in the room with perfect clarity. Even while announcing he can’t “in good conscience, ever vote for Mr. Obama again,” he disavows any intention to “go rushing into the arms of a waiting GOP.”

Winters never says exactly what he plans to do with his vote. For all we know, he may stay out of the booth altogether. Though I admire his integrity, the times seem not to favor it. If Obama’s narrow conscience exemptions look radical, the Right is pushing just as hard in the opposite direction. Republican hopeful Rick Santorum and former opponent Michele Bachmann both signed The Marriage Vow: A Declaration of Dependence on Marriage and Family. Items in the declaration include: “Support for prompt reform of uneconomic, anti-marriage aspects of welfare policy, tax policy, and marital/divorce law”; and “Humane protection of women and the innocent fruit of conjugal intimacy…from human trafficking, sexual slavery, seduction into promiscuity…and other types of coercion or stolen innocence.” The language is as ominous as it is vague — when did “innocence,” in the sense of “sexual inexperience,” become part of our legal vocabulary?

Granted, Mitt Romney, the current Republican front-runner, pointedly refused to sign the document. (His spokeswoman called it “inappropriate” and “undignified.”) But the voters who supported those who did will make up a sizable part of his constituency. In the meantime, Romney’s heaving hard a-starboard on other fronts. Last Tuesday night, he told Soledad O’Brien, “I’m not concerned about the very poor.” Though Romney did concede, “It’s not good to be poor,” and promised, “if [the safety net] has holes in it, I will repair them,” he insisted, “My focus is on middle-income Americans.” Even the Weekly Standard called his remarks “stunningly stupid.”

The Weekly Standard may be a little hard on Romney. Over the past few decades, the political climate has grown increasingly hostile toward any sign of moderation. James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, reports that the percentage of lawmakers who qualify as “centrist” has fallen from “around 30″ in the 1970s to between 5 and 8 today. According to Mickey Edwards, a Republican representative from Oklahoma, re-districting and the 24-hour news cycle have created an environment where “It’s a lot harder to compromise … and compromise is seen as a bad thing to do.” When you’re competing in that kind of market, disavowing concern for the very poor represents nothing but good sense.

So far left versus far right is no longer a false dilemma; it’s a very real dilemma. Though the dismay among Catholics over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act may seem universal now, I have a hard time believing it’ll last till election day, or even until the Republican National Convention. It helps that those of us loath to pledge support to the GOP, whatever the reason, have an out in the Supreme Court. In National Review Online, Ed Whelan points out HHS’s regulations are incompatible with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Thanks to good old-fashioned checks and balances, the creeping totalitarianism everyone’s seeing can creep only so far. Obama might still qualify as the lesser of two evils.

If two viable choices continue to exist come November, so much the better for the Church. The whole notion of “here comes everybody” is overrated, anyway. I’m more inclined to agree with Patton that if everybody’s thinking alike, then somebody’s not thinking.

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  • Elizabeth Scalia

    I wouldn’t get too cavalier about the SCOTUS. It’s true that their unanimous ruling on Hosanna-Tabor is heartening, but Bush 43 signed McCain-Feingold thinking he could trust the SCOTUS to overturn it on first amendment principles (and that was a stunningly cynical move, btw) and the SCOTUS didn’t do it. The SCOTUS remains the one unpredictable in our ever-more-deeply-divided-and-partisan government.

    [Don't tell me stuff like that.]

  • Luna

    Elizabeth is right. The issues with Tabor-Hosanna are not quite parallel. This thing could shut down my workplace, and send my dumpy middle-aged butt out onto the job market. This is why I will be voting straight GOP in November. They could put up a sea cucumber for president and I would vote for it over the current occupant. I used to think of the raging anti-Obama types as extremists. Now I am one, though silently. This experience has, well, radicalized me.

    What is most enraging is that our insurance recently informed us that they will no longer pay for our son’s asthma medication. Great! The priorities are in such noble order: Asthma: #458; Cheap, sterile, bread-and-circuses sex: #1.

    [Well, there goes the other half of my readership.]

  • Luna

    Sorry! I didn’t think I actually had the power to do that!

  • Todd

    Few enough Catholics cared much for my bruised conscience when I paid taxes for the Bushes to go adventurizing in southwest Asia. And if I have to buy insurance next year as an independent (and likely with far less clout to insist on not subsidizing abortions, etc.), the bishops aren’t going to get too excitable, I’m sure. As long as they don’t get their souls stained. And as long as the conservatives keep that gun loaded, they probably don’t care who hands them the ammo.

    No, I think I will oppose this mandate in my own way, standing far away from the bishops, the NCReg, and the flavor-of-the-month papist. I’m sure as shootin’ not going to vote GOP.

    I don’t mind a good conservative who believes in the US. I’m getting tired of these apocalyptic types who want to blow everything up. We need a single payer health insurance system that embraces Luna’s son. And we need conscience protections. And if Archbishop Dolan, et. al. don’t have the will to join with the laity to turn the Catholic healthcare system into something we Catholics can really use, if indeed it’s as bad as they suggest, they have nothing to say to me.

  • sjay

    Yep, I don’t like this but the odds that I will vote for a Republican in November are infinitesimal and the odds even that I would not vote for Obama are only a a little better. I admire Ron Paul’s apparent honesty, despite my difference with many of his views, and might vote for him if, miraculously, he was nominated.

  • Quid est veritas

    Scary picture! What is it?

  • jkm

    I don’t like this post at all, but my dislike has more to do with the the reality you’re describing, which I don’t want to be the reality, than with the way you describe it. In any case, even though you made me mad you made me think, which you always do, and for that I’m, as always, in your debt.

    But I agree with Quid est veritas: Kathleen Sebelius may be the right’s demon on this one, but blowing her up that way and leaving her unidentified is unfairly scary.

  • Gerry

    I love the “far right” designation being applied to defending the family.

    The label loony leftist (pardon my redundancy) suits you perfectly.

  • Melody

    “Though the dismay among Catholics over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act may seem universal now, I have a hard time believing it’ll last till election day, or even until the Republican National Convention.” I think you are probably right about that.
    My take on this whole thing is that the administration made a massive miscalculation. They thought Catholics weren’t going to vote Democrat as a bloc anyway; so they went for the women’s vote. Trouble is, women aren’t going to vote as a bloc either, even women who consider themselves feminists; since there’s more than one kind of feminist. Too many red flags got raised by this action. Freedom of conscience has a long and honored history in this country. As bad as the actual decision is the bald-faced hypocrisy of Obama’s talk with Archbishop Dolan when he said he wanted to work with Catholics.
    This woman’s vote will be for the same candidate she voted for last time, “none of the above”, unless we see some major surprises between now and election day.
    By the way, I disagree that you should be categorized as a “loony leftist”.

  • JJ

    This is just the nose of the camel under the tent. It starts with forcing coverage… next it will compel Catholic hospitals to perform services. I have seen the euthanasia program in Holland begin with terminally ill who want a humane way to die, evolve into killing infants dubbed too expensive to care for and then moving right along to … so you are depressed.. we can help you there…. I know you guys don’t want to hear that… but as someone who’s mother experienced the Nazi’s it never starts out obvious… it always makes sense in the beginning… this whole health care program… sounds so great…on payor… all will be taken care of…. but when the goverment is the one doing the paying they have the right to determine how they spend “their money” and eventually it comes down to who is the most productive and who is a drain on the system. So laugh all you want… but this coverage business is a small demonstration of that slide. I am sorry it sounds all so melodramatic… but my grandmother was “put to sleep” in Holland… and she was never consulted… it was just more convenient for everyone that she just go. So much for helping the terminally ill… it is a slippery slope

  • Jimmy Mac

    For Elizabeth Scalia:

    Religious Freedom, Supreme Court Wayback Edition
    By Charles P. Pierce, February 7, 2012

    Since the topic for today seems to be “religious liberty” as defined by various columnists and cable-news stars, maybe we should fire up the Wayback Machine and take a look at a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, which decided (in the voice of arch-Papist Antonin Scalia) that the secular law need not bow to someone’s religious “conscience,” even as regards the performance of the sacred liturgy of that person’s faith.

    (Imagine, if you will, the outcry if the FDA demanded to test all the sacramental wine in all the rectories in America to make sure it hadn’t gone bad.)

    On April 17, 1990, the Supreme Court decided the case of Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon vs. Smith. In that case, two men were fired from their jobs as drug-rehabilitation counselors because, as part of their worship service in the Native American Church, they regularly ingested peyote. (It should be noted here that peyote has been regarded as a sacrament in these religions since long before anyone else came up with bread and wine.) They were also denied unemployment benefits for this same reason. They managed to get a ruling from the Oregon Supreme Court reinstating their benefits, but Oregon appealed the case to Washington and, by a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court reversed the Oregon court’s ruling and decided against the two men.

    This was clearly a decision in which the court decided that the practice of a religious liturgy, which is certainly more dear to an informed religious conscience than is the accidental collision between the secular law and a discredited doctrine, could be circumscribed because it was contrary to the secular law. Writing for the majority,

    Justice Scalia said:

    We have never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate. On the contrary, the record of more than a century of our free exercise jurisprudence contradicts that proposition.

    And, also (quoting Justice Frankfurter):

    Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or restriction of religious beliefs.

    And, also, too:

    Subsequent decisions have consistently held that the right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a “valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes).”

    And, finally:

    It may fairly be said that leaving accommodation to the political process will place at a relative disadvantage those religious practices that are not widely engaged in; but that unavoidable consequence of democratic government must be preferred to a system in which each conscience is a law unto itself or in which judges weigh the social importance of all laws against the centrality of all religious beliefs.
    In other words, Native Americans should have had a better lobby.

    Read more:

    [I'll be blogging on this topic this evening or tomorrow. Thank you.]