Political Animal


November 09, 2012 4:49 PM How’d That “War on Religion” Wedge Issue Work Out?

By Ed Kilgore

A dog that definitely did not bark on November 7th was the once-very-intense Republican effort to “wedge” Catholic voters with claims the Obama administration was waging a “war on religion,” notably via the allegedly insufficient exemptions it offered to a contraception coverage mandate created by Obamacare. Obama won Catholics by a 50-48 vote, almost exactly his margin among voters generally, and continuing Catholic voters’ very close similarity to the electorate as a whole. The failure of the “war on religion” effort is all the more remarkable since it received tactic (and in some cases overt) support from the Catholic hierarchy, particularly via the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign during the spring, aimed at mobilizing the faithful against the contraception mandate.

In a thoughtful piece for the National Catholic Reporter on Election Eve, Maryland parish priest Fr. Peter Daly examined the failure of the “Fortnight for Freedom,” and basically schooled the bishops:

Our Catholic bishops started out leading a political parade in the spring. But when they looked behind them in the fall, they discovered that almost nobody was following. What happened?
A few groups got in line. The Knights of Columbus were very active. EWTN had several programs devoted to Fortnight. There were some rallies around the country. A lot of money was spent on pamphlets and videos. There was an opening Mass in Baltimore and a closing Mass in Washington, D.C. But there was hardly any talk about it in the pews. The average Catholic hardly even noticed a Fortnight for Freedom was happening.
Why didn’t this movement catch fire? Four reasons, I think.
First, perhaps some of our language was hyperbolic. When language is perceived as exaggerated, it is not taken seriously.
Bishops and Catholic publications used words like “alarming,” “unprecedented” and “unconscionable” about the HHS mandate. But most people did not see it as an existential threat to our religious liberty. They saw it as a disagreement over government policy….
Second, the statement that this was unprecedented was not historically accurate.
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.
Third, the Catholic church is not a convincing defender of religious liberty because of our own history…..
Fourth, the 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.

Fr. Daly might have added that sizable majorities of the laity don’t agree with traditional Church teachings on contraception to begin with, and that the hierarchy is not exactly standing on high moral ground these days. But he’s right: The Bishops and their political allies wrote a check on “the Catholic vote” they couldn’t cover. We’ll see if what looked to be a burgeoning alliance between conservative evangelicals and Catholic “traditionalists” of the sort that Chuck Colson and Richard John Neuhaus long dreamed of will find a way to make a comeback after this ignominious incident.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on November 09, 2012 5:14 PM:

    Jayzoos H. Christ, pulling three cards out on the table for people to bet on - it looks like Ralph Reed's continued fleecing of Conservative rubes made him another fortune:

    It looks like those 17 million people were either smarter than we thought, or they weren't as big a group of suckers that Jesus-grifting Ralph they would be.

    Maybe, the "plus" out of this elections, is that Rove and Reed, like Romney and Ryan (notice anything?), lose any credibility.

    We should all PRAY for that! Even us Agnositics and Atheists!

  • Anonymous on November 09, 2012 5:45 PM:

    How does this even make sense:

    The bishops, of course, did not intend to be partisan and vociferously denied that they were partisan...

    Writing and thinking as a Catholic Priest, even one who probably sees himself as "speaking truth to power" seems to have radically deformed this guy's logical abilities. In what sense could any or everything in his article be considered true and the statement "the bishops...did not intend to be partisan..." also be true? By definition, since they focused their activism on voting and voters in order to influence a political policy they disliked, they intended their actions to have consequences that were DEFINITIONALLY partisan. The only way to avoid not only the appearance of partisanship, and not only accusation of partisanship, but partisanship itself would have been to confine their critique of the policy to their own membership.

    "A good Catholic would never purchase health insurance coverage that covers contraception or, if they did purchase such coverage, they would never avail themselves of it" is non partisan.

    "A good catholic should vote to do X..." is, by definition, partisan.


  • boatboy_srq on November 09, 2012 5:56 PM:

    The fact is that religious liberty has never been absolute.

    This needs to be carved on stone tablets and handed to every Teahadist.

    The bishops, of course, did not intend to be partisan and vociferously denied that they were partisan

    I'm rather sure Dolan would argue with that; and Donohue will most likely elaborate on the exact opposite of Fr. Daly's assumption - probably while using these exact words.

    And when it's not Romney over Obama but Obama opposes God and therefore..., while that's obviously targeted, they can still get away with it not being literally partisan since it doesn't explicitly promote the GOTea. Convenient, no?

  • Daniel Kim on November 09, 2012 6:27 PM:

    You know, I've been feeling a vague sense of anticipation and fear this afternoon, without any relief. Suddenly I realized that I was waiting for the latest edition of "Chronicling Mitt's Mendacity!"

    I'll have to read back issues or something.

  • Anonymous on November 09, 2012 6:54 PM:

    Bishops said that never before had people been required to violate their religious conscience to comply with the law.

    They're somewhat underminded by the fact that many of their organizations have been complying with the gist of the contraceptive policy since 2000, totally without complaint.

  • schtick on November 09, 2012 7:09 PM:

    I think Catholics in particular, have been going with their religious conscience by leaving the church. I know I have. To the point of being agnostic. And that was many years ago.

    crapcha has been a hoot lately....teenHot spiritual

  • AndrewBW on November 09, 2012 8:42 PM:

    At our parish a couple of weeks before the election one of our priests gave a fiery sermon on the threats to religious liberty, doing everything short of coming right out and saying parishoners should vote Republican.

    After mass, as the priest was greeting people, a man whom I'd guess was in his early sixties strode right up and got right in his face and told him, "If you think you can get me to vote for Mitt Romney, you're crazy." As a non-Catholic (I go with my wife) I don't feel in a position to argue with the priest, but I was very happy to see that man do it.

  • thebewilderness on November 09, 2012 9:48 PM:

    This is not the first or likely to be the last time the bishops forgot that they are dependent on the uncompensated labor of women to get things done.
    When the priest at my cousins church asked her group to join him picketing planned parenthood they informed him that if they came they would be on the other side.

  • Rose on November 09, 2012 10:56 PM:

    I never liked the priests much.The nuns taught me better, even if they didn't know they were teaching me to question authority. Used to be a Catholic, then I realized how money hungry the local church was where I had gone to school for 8 years and would not let me marry in the church that I used to call my "home". And the priest that came to my sister's deathbed to "give" her last rites also made a smirking remark about she didn't go to church, and he knew because she did not contribute. Feckers, all.

  • Helen Bedd on November 09, 2012 11:01 PM:

    "Obama won Catholics by a 50-48 vote"

    Yes, but...Obama lost white Catholics by 19 points and won Hispanic Catholics at least 70-30. So, not only have the Bishops placed a bet that only half the faithful agree with, they placed a bet that put them on the wrong side of the racial divide.

    They're potentially short-circuiting their future. If it wasn't for the increase in the American Hispanic population, the church would be shrinking, not growing.

    I think this is the slow rolling disaster to watch.

  • Chuck Murphy on November 09, 2012 11:08 PM:

    It devolved into "Two Weeks of Tedium".
    The bishops strive to gain the whole world, while losing their own souls.

  • Helen Bedd on November 09, 2012 11:09 PM:

    On the other hand...the reason Ohio was much closer this time around was that Catholics moved from supporting our President 52-47 in '08 to supporting Romney 54-44.

    In Wisconsin, same story...Obama won Catholics over McCain 53-47 while they shifted to backing Romney over Obama 56-44.

    14 points swings are not to be ignored.

  • Ken on November 10, 2012 11:12 AM:

    what looked to be a burgeoning alliance between conservative evangelicals and Catholic “traditionalists”

    I'm also wondering how long the new ecumenical attitude to the Mormons will last.

  • KK on November 10, 2012 11:03 PM:

    Correct me if I am wrong but didn't NY adopt a contraceptive mandate long ago? I know we no haven't had to pay for it for quite some time. Never heard peep from Dolan until Our Black Prez Kenyan Muslim Prez endorsed it.