Faithful Citizenship

Newt Gingrich’s surprising comments on health care and, particularly, Medicaid are a reminder of how this issue will shape the presidential and congressional campaigns heading  towards the 2012 election. All the former Speaker had to do was express any  sympathy with Obamacare and the GOP leadership got rattled.

Rep. Paul Ryan who has taken a lead role in defining a policy to reshape Medicaid was  rightly upset with Gingrich’s comments.

Both Ryan and Gingrich are Catholic politicians, the former with future presidential aspirations, and the latter a declared candidate. Gingrich was quick to explain that his comments were in no way an attack on Rep. Ryan, but the steam was already rising out of the kettle.

It would be interesting if both Ryan and Gingrich, and other Catholic political leaders, would begin to address the goal set forth by the Catholic bishops of achieving universal health care without abortion funding. The bishops have never specified how this goal should be met, but they did applaud Obamacare for setting forth that mandate.

I recently published a short overview of a Catholic approach to the health care issue in the 2012 election. It contains the basic outline of the debate, past and future, and suggests an approach to universal health care — respecting the principle of subsidiarity — should be pursued to replace Obamacare.


The resignation of Ambassador Doug Kmiec from his Malta post is being spun by the Catholic left as a tribute to his Catholic convictions.  In point of fact, Kmiec was simply not doing his job, as documented by the State Department audit of the way he spent his time.

It wasn’t the fact that Kmiec was writing about abortion and his Catholic beliefs — he could have just as easily been writing about the upcoming baseball season — but that he was not spending that time doing his job as Ambassador to Malta, which became more important with the influx of refugees from the revolutions in Egypt and other Muslim countries in the region.

Doug Kmiec is a nice man, and quite a brilliant law professor, who for reasons entirely unfathomable to me became Obama’s chief Catholic surrogate during the 2008 election.  I suppose resigning from his presidential appointment means he won’t be going on the road in the 2012 campaign, but that remains to be seen since Obama is going to have a lot of trouble convincing Catholics he is worthy of their vote.

Obama won the self-identified Catholic vote by 54% but lost to religiously active Catholics by a narrow margin. Mass attending Catholics were not quite so taken by the charm offensive and Catholic surrogates who talked about the pro-life convictions of a former Illinois state senator who supported infanticide.

Matt Smith and I co-authored an op-ed elaborating this point and others for the American Spectator entitled, “Obama Faces Hard Times with Catholic Voters.”

Much can, and will, happen between now and November 2012, but one thing is certain, the social justice networks of the Catholic Left will try to move heaven and earth to shift the focus from Obama’s unprecedented abortion advocacy to the GOP’s attempt to cut the budget.  The Catholic Left will argue the ‘heartless’ GOP cares nothing about the impact of budget cuts on the poor, elderly, and needy.  Whether this works or not depends much on the Catholic bishops clarifying the ‘weighting” of life issues versus prudential issues in their upcoming version of Faithful Citizenship.

The recent story about Ambassador Doug Kmiec raises the inevitable question of the future of Obama’s Catholic supporters.  For example, when Kmiec returns from his post on the island nation of Malta will he retain the “pro-life” label he wore as dean of the Catholic University of America Law School and as a Reagan appointee to the Justice Department?  It’s doubtful.

Obama has done everything in his power to enlarge the abortion mandate, including the federal funding of abortion in his health care legislation.  The day President Obama signed that legislation should have been the day Ambassador Kmiec resigned his position and renounced his support of the man he told Catholic voters would reduce the number of abortions.

For details of the Kmiec story read my comment, “Obama’s Catholics Begin to Change Their Story.”

The emotionally-charged disputes over labor negotiations in states like Wisconsin and Ohio have led some Catholics on the political left to claim that the GOP will lose Catholic votes as a result.  It’s true that the history of the labor movement in the United States was closely intertwined with Catholic social teaching beginning with the 1891 encyclical of Leo XIII on capital and labor, Rerum Novarum.

The question needs to be asked, however, if Catholic voters, even those from backgrounds with ties to organized labor, will be sympathetic with the demands being made by unions in the face of huge state budget deficits.  Bishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee made a statement on “the Rights of Workers and the Value of Unions” that affirmed the Church’s support of the workers’ right to organize, but adds this does not mean that “every claim made by workers or their representatives is valid.”

In separate conversations this past week with two bishops, I heard from them that they considered Bishop Listecki’s statement to be right on the mark.  The position of the Church in relation to these labor disputes should not be to treat collective bargaining as a necessary facet of Catholic social teaching on workers’ rights. Indeed, it’s foolish, they said, to ignore the overall state of the economy and the growing deficit of state and federal budgets.

It’s my view, given the strong Catholic socially-conservative presence in the Tea Party movement, that there will be much less sympathy among Catholic voters in the traditional Catholic states of the midwest and northeast than some liberal commentators want us to think.

No one questions the right of workers to organize or the historical contribution of labor unions to a more just economy. But, as unions continue to make demands that dig an already deep financial hole deeper they will inevitably lose popular support.

For more on the question of how labor disputes will impact the Catholic vote take a look at