While the religion angle was soft in first-day coverage, expect plenty of references to Sen. Joe Biden and his rosary beads in the days ahead.
The New York Times offered a very straight-forward reference to Biden’s very public Catholic faith and, of course, linked that to the obvious issue linked to Sen. Barack Obama’s efforts to reach out to pro-life liberals in Catholic and Protestant pews:
Mr. Biden is Roman Catholic, giving him appeal to that important voting bloc, though he favors abortion rights. He was born in a working-class family in Scranton, Pa., a swing state where he remains well-known. Mr. Biden is up for re-election to the Senate this year and he would presumably run simultaneously for both seats. …
Mr. Biden has run twice for the presidency himself, in 1988 and again in 2008, dropping out early in both cases. He was also the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during two of the most contentious Supreme Court nomination battles of the past 50 years: the confirmation proceedings for Robert H. Bork, who was defeated, and Clarence Thomas, who was confirmed after an explosive hearing in which Anita Hill had accused Mr. Thomas of sexual harassment. Mr. Biden led the opposition to both nominations, although he came under criticism from some feminists for not immediately disclosing what were at first Ms. Hill’s closed-door accusations against Mr. Thomas.
While pro-life conservatives are sure to note Biden’s strong support for abortion rights — his most recent National Right to Life rating was 0 percent — his past is a bit more complex. Like many Democrats who once ran as moderates — think Sen. Al Gore — Biden has moved left as he tried to “go national.”
However, the God-o-Meter over at Beliefnet.com offers information about Biden’s Catholic identity that suggests that this was almost certainly a key factor in his selection by Obama. The key question: Was Biden’s mixed record on abortion in the past — viewed from the perspective of the strictly pro-abortion-rights camp — complex enough that many Catholic bishops will say that he has never completely supported the nation’s current abortion-on-demand regime. Biden voted, for example, for legislation against Partial-Birth Abortion.
As Beliefnet.com czar Steve Waldman noted:
But choosing a pro-choice Catholic could backfire because the Bishops and others will attack him or her for being a bad Catholic. Choosing a full-blown pro-life Catholic would alienate pro-choice, independent women and Hillary voters. Biden is pro-choice but got a low rating from abortion rights groups (60% in 2007, 39% in 2003). In other words, he’s Catholic enough to appeal to Catholics, pro-life enough to avoid Bishop attacks, and pro-choice enough to satisfy Hillary voters.
So, all together now, let’s say the Biden quote that Catholic supporters of Obama-Biden will be noting frequently in the days ahead.
“I get comfort from carrying my rosary, going to mass every Sunday. It’s my time alone.”
As you would expect, traditional Catholics are going to roll their eyes, big time. As the conservative Catholic Culture weblog quickly noted:
In an odd way, the Obama-Biden ticket might be helpful to the pro-life movement, insofar as both Democratic candidates have been willing to discuss the question of whether or not human life begins at conception. (Biden has acknowledged that it does.) Any public discussion of that issue can only help the pro-life cause, because the scientific facts are hard to deny.
Biden’s presence on the ticket also ensures a fresh debate on whether or not pro-abortion Catholic politicians should receive Communion. On that issue, too, the discussion can only be helpful.
Help us watch for mainstream-press coverage of the Catholic debates in the days ahead.
Speaking of which, does anyone know if Denver’s Catholic archbishop was invited to offer an invocation during the upcoming Democratic National Convention?
Photo: Getty Images.