Thursday, November 15, 2012

Free Will

catholic (small c):  Of broad or liberal scope; comprehensive.

Catholic with a small ‘c’ may be used to describe the voting habits of Catholics with a big ‘C’ after last week’s election.   Obama won the Catholic vote by a 50-48 vote, almost exactly his margin among voters nationally, proving once and for all that there is no such thing as the Catholic vote.  You could say that the catholics outvoted the Catholics based on their catholic views and not their Catholic views.  Amen.

It was not for lack of trying by the Catholic hierarchy.  The Church as an organization was transparent in its push for the Romney/Ryan ticket.  It not so cleverly tried to disguise its preference for the Republican ticket with its hyperbolic War on Religion and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign.  Both were designed to drum up opposition to Obamacare directly and by extension, Obama himself.   Didn’t work out.

At issue was the ACA’s mandate that health plans include contraception as part of the standard package of minimum benefits.  Churches were exempt from the mandate but not religiously affiliated institutions, like Catholic hospitals and schools.  That was untenable for the men in charge.

The weekly pulpit message sounded something like this:  “We’re not telling you how to vote exactly, in order to protect our tax favored status.  You understand.  But if the candidate on the ballot wants to take away your freedom and his name is Obama, well then you should prayerfully consider your options and remember that you’ll burn in Hell if you don’t cast your vote for the candidate of life and freedom bearing the initials WMR.”

Here’s why the Church campaign failed to sway the Catholic vote:

Too Much:  When everything is described as “unprecedented”, or a “direct assault on Catholics’ ability to practice their faith”, or compared to totalitarian practices, pew dwellers tune out.  The over the top verbiage becomes self-defeating at some point, and frankly unbelievable.  Most people saw the controversy over the contraception mandate as a policy debate and not a theological discussion.  On top of that, most Catholics had used birth control, so they weren’t afraid of it.

Not “Unprecedented”:  26 states already had such a birth control mandate on the books, so “unprecedented” wasn’t accurate as a descriptor.  Beyond that, Maryland parish priest Fr. Peter Daly wrote in the National Catholic Reporter on how far a reach the use of “unprecedented” was:

Bishops said that never before had people been required to violate their religious conscience to comply with the law. But every day, we tax Quakers and other religious pacifists to support wars. Jehovah’s Witnesses pay Medicare taxes for blood transfusions. Seventh-day Adventists in the military must report to duty on Saturdays. Mormons had to give up their cherished practice of polygamy as the price for bringing Utah into the Union. The fact is that religious liberty has never been absolute.

I'll bet Fr. Daly can expect a strongly worded letter to arrive soon from his superiors.

Question Authority:  The Church hierarchy was in lock step behind Romney (or at least against Obama if not for Romney).  The problem with translating that message into votes from the faithful is that the Church hierarchy has had some high profile credibility issues lately.  That credibility gap with the average Catholic had to blunt the power of their message about the war on religious freedom.  The more legal settlements that the Church pays out, the more parishioners start to question authority.

Fortnight Failure:  Ed Kilgore in the Washington Monthly wrote about the Church Fortnight for Freedom campaign that:

Fortnight for Freedom was perceived as a partisan effort to influence the election.

The bishops, of course, did not intend to be partisan and vociferously denied that they were partisan, but both sides of the political equation perceived “Fortnight” as an effort to defeat President Barack Obama. I went to one Knights of Columbus meeting that ended with a blunt appeal to “get behind our bishops” and defeat the president.

No one was fooled that Fortnight for Freedom wasn’t a single minded partisan event created for the sole purpose of gather support to oust the President.  As my parish priest once said, and I paraphrase, "the problem with Catholics isn’t the faith; it’s the marketing.”  Fortnight for Freedom was a marketing disaster.  Catholics did not fall in line and in fact, the needle against Obama didn’t even move.

The grand takeaway is that hopefully the myth of the monolithic Catholic vote is now dead and buried, never to be resurrected by some future pollster as a wedge.  Contrary to the wishes of the Church power structure, Catholics tend to vote for the candidate they think is best on a wide range of issues, the same way other voters choose.  It’s not unprecedented.

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