The Stranding of the Catholic Left – UPDATES

Literally bleary with fever last night, boxing metaphors came tumbling out of my brain and into my column over at First Things:

To that end, the White House seemed to have conferred not with the concerned Bishops but with members of the “Catholic Left” whose criticism of his original plans had had a weighty effect on others, and whose progressive credentials made their alliance vital to retain; he effectively went to Sr. Carol Keehan, President of the Catholic Health Association, and E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, and sought imprimaturs that were not theirs to give, on what the press has taken to call (in apparent ignorance of the word’s meaning) his “compromise.”

Even before the president spoke, Keehan’s approving statement was released through the White Houses own press portals, with Dionne’s endorsement swiftly following. The one-two punch of Keehan and Dionne was meant to knock out the Bishops before they’d had a chance to find their mouth guards or rise from their corners, and also to signal that it was safe for the “Catholic Left” to regroup behind Obama.

It has not gone precisely as planned. If the matter has successfully been driven from the front pages–and why wouldn’t it be, since the press had initially tried to ignore the story–no one has yet been knocked down by members of the “Catholic Left” racing back into Obama’s corner. Stunned by Obama’s initial plans (which, by the way, were codified last Friday, in their original form, even as Obama was speaking) the “progressives” are paused and perhaps skittish.

You can read it all here

UPDATE: I wish I had seen Ross Douthat’s piece yesterday:

The original HHS rule almost seemed to have been deliberately written to leave Catholics like Sister Keehan with no alternative but to oppose it, even if doing so put the “the future of health reform” in jeopardy. The new rule, though, is much more savvy: Because it speaks the language of compromise and conscience, it provides grounds for anyone who desperately wants to believe in it to believe in it, even as it leaves the underlying policy more or less unchanged. (It’s telling, in this regard, that the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne managed to write an entire column today defending the compromise without once engaging with its substance.)

And by winning back the Catholics who wanted to be won back, the White House may have successfully defused the immediate crisis that its own ineptness created. Public opinion is highly malleable on this issue, and by dividing his critics, the president has made it more likely that this will be perceived as a left-right struggle on an issue (contraception) where social liberals have the public on its side, rather than a religious liberty issue that had centrist media types tut-tutting and swing-state Democrats jumping ship. (Compare this Kirsten Powers column on the supposed compromise to her take on the mandate last week, for instance, to get a sense of how the media conversation will probably shift.)

So the president has probably won today’s political battle. The question now is whether the Catholic bishops in particular, and religious conservatives in general, have a strategy for the longer war.

Right. Read it all!

Also: Te-DeumBlog has Cardinal-Designate Dolan’s thoughts:

“We bishops are pastors, we’re not politicians, and you can’t compromise on principle,” said Cardinal-designate Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “And the goal posts haven’t moved and I don’t think there’s a 50-yard line compromise here,” he added.

“We’re in the business of reconciliation, so it’s not that we hold fast, that we’re stubborn ideologues, no. But we don’t see much sign of any compromise,” he said.

“What (Obama) offered was next to nothing. There’s no change, for instance, in these terribly restrictive mandates and this grossly restrictive definition of what constitutes a religious entity,” he said. “The principle wasn’t touched at all.”

From Rome, Dolan tells John Allen that he is not an “Obama hater”. Because whenever you disagree with this administration, you are accused of hate:

“We didn’t start this battle, and I’m kind of uncomfortable with it,” he said, “We’d much rather be conciliatory.”

Dolan also said he was “disappointed” with the quick support given to the administration’s announcement by the Catholic Health Association, saying it amounted to “popping the champagne cork” before the bishops had a chance to react. There too, he said, he wants to keep the dialogue going.

UPDATE II: While Doug Kmiec has not yet — as far as I know — made any public pronouncements, someone just sent this “compromise”-supporting document, which Kmiec has signed, as have others.

It appears the premise of my piece is perhaps a little wobbly; the “Catholic Left” is not so much “stranded” as perhaps being discrete and speaking mostly to themselves?

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