For over a hundred years, Catholics have been a core constituency of the Democratic Party, along with urbanites, minorities and unions. This year, for the first time ever, a Democratic Presidential candidate is running directly against the public policy goals and influence of the American Catholic Church. This is neither coincidence nor accident, but an intentional strategy to energize their new base.
Relations between this White House and the Catholic elite started well. In 2009, in a speech at Notre Dame, Obama said, “Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics.” This was jam for liberal Catholics: “This guy gets it!”
As late as 2010, the President massaged Catholics. In the leadup to Obamacare, the President signed Executive Order 15535, re-asserting the ban on federal funding for abortion. That Order won over a group of (mostly) Catholic members of Congress, and secured passage of Obama’s signature legislation, the ACA. It also allowed the Church hierarchy to back one of its long-term goals, universal health care. Peace reigned, temporarily.
The truce was short-lived. This February, HHS Secy. Sibelius mandated that every employer in the nation must offer free contraceptive services, including abortifacients, under the auspices of the same ACA. This was in direct contradistinction to E.O. 15535, and also overruled Obama’s call for a viable conscience clause. The mandate revealed that E.O. 15535 was an exercise in bad faith, and for members of the Catholic intelligentsia and hierarchy, it stung. Badly. (Many Catholic universities later sued the Administration over this mandate.)
The HHS contraception mandate exemplifies the fault line between the Catholic hierarchy and the Party: Sex. After 1968, when the New Left took over the Party, many Catholics got the heebie-jeenies over unmarried, unwashed kids conjugating in the mud at Woodstock and elsewhere. By the 1996 Convention, Gov. Casey of PA was not allowed to speak because he was anti-abortion, and the rift was clear. Still, the Democrats routinely won the Catholic vote in Presidential elections, though by far narrower margins than before Nixon.
In 2011, the Administration decided not to support the Defense of Marriage Act, and then the White House came out for Same-Sex Marriage this summer. The breach over sexuality widened into a chasm. Without prompting or fuss, the Administration seemingly jettisoned the Church leadership and devout Catholics (along with the already-alienated Evangelicals and probably a lot of Muslims and Orthodox Jews, as well). They may reckon other burgeoning demographics – secular voters; Hollywood and its fans; LGBT advocates; unmarried women – are more likely to support the new Party going forward. They have become to the current Party what the SDS was in 1968: The Future, the “New, New Left.” Indeed, these voters dislike the Church and other devout folks, and like nothing more than to see them tweaked. I believe the Administration sees their overt slap at the hierarchy as a way to pull more of the New, New Left vote.
But is it wise to not merely tiptoe past but to actually stomp on your former allies? We tried that in Libya and Egypt, and so far the result hasn’t been spectacular. Make no mistake, this new stance runs counter to fundamental Party orthodoxy going back to FDR. A recent Hart/McInturff poll showed Romney winning 51% of the Catholic vote, which may be related to these provocations, and which could make the election close indeed. This is a new era for the Party, and every new era brings both opportunity and challenge. Think of this as the “Arab Spring” for the Democrats and their Catholic wing.
V. Giandurco is a Breitbart contributor who also founded a Catholic non-profit.