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Kmiec’s Obama Endorsement: What He’s Thinking

posted by dgilgoff

kmiec2.jpgGod-o-Meter called legal scholar Douglas Kmiec, former counsel to Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, conservative Catholic, and, until recently, an advisor to Mitt Romney, to discuss his endorsement of Barack Obama. Here’s the exchange:
In endorsing Obama, you said he’d signaled that he’s open to different points of view on social issues like abortion. But has he said anything to indicate he’d deviate from the Democratic Party’s pro-choice line?
What convinced me about his integrity on those issues was his willingness to talk about social responsibility to audiences that aren’t used to hearing that message. For example, when he went to speak to Planned Parenthood, he could have done what every Democrat does: wave the pro-choice flag and talk about defending Roe. He did that, but he also said something very important, that sexual intimacy has to be culturally understood as being a mature choice about being open to creating new life and the responsibility of new life, and that we have an obligation in our churches and in our schools to convey that information.
And so at some point you have to decide whether the incidence of abortion will be more affected by the another conservative Republican appointing the right person to the Supreme court, and resolved as a legal issue, or by a candidate who wants to end the politics of division and who has a healthy responsibility for religion and its place in public thinking and public discourse. I came to the conclusion that his personal faith journey, which causes him to fully recognize how faith answers the hunger in the human soul, and his willingness to talk about self-responsibility, would make him mindful of opposing views on abortion.
Then your endorsement has as much to do with a failed conservative strategy of trying to eliminate abortion through the courts as it does with Obama’s appeal?
It’s even broader than that. It’s not the specific failure of this president or this administration, it’s the conclusion that trying to change the law on this topic [abortion] is a bit of fool’s game, that the thing that needs to be changed is more the heart of the individual person and the attitude of the larger culture. And that can hopefully be done by some of the things that Senator Obama talks about: the attitude of personal responsibility, of importance of the family, the well being of the culture, and quite frankly the economic policies that would affect the needs of the poor and the average American.
As a Catholic looking at candidates, my faith instructs me to look at the whole person respective to the church’s social teaching on wages, education, issues of family, culture, responsibility toward the environment, the reduction of mindless or excess consumption. And the Catholic Church was quite explicit about the concept of preemptive war being contrary to the principles of just war. One of the things that happened to Catholics over the last two decades is because of the evil of abortion, we’ve been somewhat less mindful of the need to serve those around us—those who are calling upon us for assistance in a tangible way.
Why do you think Hillary Clinton is winning Catholics so decisively in the Democratic primaries? In Ohio, she got more than 60-percent of Democratic Catholics. They stand to help her a lot in Pennsylvania next month.
Part of it is the issue of life. Senator Obama cast an unacceptable vote on the Born Alive [Infant Protection] Act in Illinois as a state senator. People have focused on that mistake. But Senator Clinton is not dramatically different on that issue. And this is not provable, but the he Pew Research Center says that our [Catholic faith] has been growing by the largest number among Hispanics, and for reasons that seem to be somewhat historical and cultural, based on unfortunate stereotypes, there has been a divide between Hispanics and blacks.
But I am a bit baffled. When I look at Obama’s eloquent speeches, his references to Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King, those are so much a part of modern Catholic education. And the preferential option for the poor or solidarity with the poor, how that is not heard by the Catholic mind has troubled me. So one of the reasons for speaking out at this point, and one of the reasons to peak out on Easter Sunday, is to have my fellow Catholics reexamine this topic and listen with more careful ear.
Has the Obama campaign been in touch with you since the endorsement?
They sent me a thank you note and an Easter card in electronic form.
The endorsement came after a long process of prayer and discernment. I had navigate my way through the difficulty of the abortion issue, and I did that by studying church teaching and by meeting with my own local monsignor, who is himself a scholar. There was no lobbying by the Obama campaign, but there was lobbying of the spirit, if you will.
Has your endorsement triggered a backlash from your conservative friends and allies?
I’ve gotten all kinds of reactions. The most difficult ones to accept are those who are, as a matter of faith, unable to see past the abortion issue and so are angry with me for reaching a different conclusion. And my answer is to confess that I’ve seen this in the best light I was able to acquire, and that I’ll be a voice for life in the camp supporting this man.
But I’ve also received positive responses. A lot of them say they they’ve been afraid to raise the issue [of supporting Obama], afraid of the criticism from those who would not understand. The email is running four-to-one in favor of my decision. And I’ve received several hundred responses already.


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Michele McGinty

posted March 26, 2008 at 2:09 pm


Excellent interview and very insightful. I wondered why pro-life conservatives would support him and now I have more of an inkling why.
“People have focused on that mistake”
Has Obama admitted this was a mistake?



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Joseph Reciniello

posted March 26, 2008 at 2:59 pm


Mr. Kmiec
You may be a legal scholar, as well as possess a tremendous intellect but your reasoning is highly flawed. Being that you call yourself a conservative Catholic you should be familiar with the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church (copyright 2004 Libreria Editrice Vaticana). If you have read it, please read it again.
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
C. S. Lewis



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DaMav

posted March 26, 2008 at 5:10 pm


Mr Kmiec
A “… candidate who wants to end the politics of division” does not sit in church, bring his children to the church, and financially support a preacher who has on numerous occasions voiced the worst stereotypes against our own country. A candidate who lacks the courage to stand up to a racial hatemonger like Wright can hardly be characterized as wanting to bring us together. You have fallen under the sway of the soothing words of a false prophet who will divide this nation against itself as has not been seen in a hundred years.



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JM

posted March 26, 2008 at 9:11 pm


DaMav,
While there may be some objectionable things that Reverend Wright said, you are not looking at the full picture of the man. It might help to watch his many sermons on YouTube. Nor is he a “racial hatemonger.” Plenty of white people are part of his church or are involved with it in some capacity and insist that he’s not. Again, you can go to Obama’s YouTube page and see all this as well as several interviews with Rev. Wright published in the last year. Of course, you have to be willing to open your eyes and be open-minded.
It is for these reasons that Obama would have been a back-stabber for denouncing the man rather than some of his words. You don’t turn on a longtime friend and pastor (who retired) just because many people like yourself refuse to look at the big picture and take all into consideration.
The division that would be, and there already is, would be your way of thinking, DaMav. There is also the fault of the media. Mr. Kmiec appears to be looking at the big picture and also explains why one-issue voting is not in the best interests of this country, among other things he’s concerned about. Obama’s willingness to understand all people – white, black, gay, straight, religious, non-religious and address each group’s concerns in quite unprecedented.
And Reverend Wright valantly and willingly served this country where people like Bush and Cheney avoided it:

In the early 1960s, at a time when many young people were being radicalized by the Vietnam War, Wright left college and volunteered to join the United States Marine Corps. After three years as a marine, he chose to serve three more as a naval medical technician, during which time he received several White House commendations. He came to Chicago to study not long after Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder in 1968, the U.S. bombing campaign in Cambodia in 1969, and the shooting of students at Kent State University in 1970.

Link: Martin E. Marty, University of Chicago Divinity School, panelist for On Faith, of Washingtonpost.com. His most recent book is The Christian World: A Global History (Modern Library, 2008).
Damav, I hope you begin to see that although Barack Obama is a flawed man like anyone else, he is a good man and better principled than the other candidates. Yes, we need him or there will be the continued division and war that exists right now.
JM



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Mona

posted March 26, 2008 at 10:14 pm


I am a former student of Prof Kmiec’s, and I’ve come to believe that criminalizing abortion in the first trimester constitutes political tilting at windmills even if Roe were overturned, and that with pills/injections soon to be able to accomplish those early abortions, that it should be legal in the first months. Not that I think it is moral; I’m a lapsed Catholic and atheist, but I remain horrified by abortion.
Doug Kmiec is an honest and honorable man, as almost any present or past student of his would attest. This is my second post about his Obama endorsement.
All that aside, with the exception of Ed Murphy on Contracts, Kmiec’s Con Law class was my favorite at Notre Dame. He is one fine teacher.



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cc

posted March 26, 2008 at 10:57 pm


Bravo to Douglas Kmeic for seeing past the superficial divisions that have paralyzed our country politically. An Obama presidency has the potential to transform this nation in a supremely positive way.
And morality cannot be reduced to the single issue of abortion. Life counts at all ages and stages. If you wage a senseless war for the wrong reasons, that is a sin as well. If you neglect the poor and those who are suffering, that is a sin as well. If you divide the country that is a sin too.
For years we’ve been duped into conflating religious morality with conservative Republican political philosophy. That’s just not right. Neither party has a lock on virtue or morality; indeed both struggle with those issues just as all of humanity does.
But we should not automatically support the Republican candidate due to the abortion issue and overlook the rest. And we certainly should be open minded to the positive virtues of the Obama candidacy. No politician today speaks to the heart or soul as well as he does.



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yo

posted March 27, 2008 at 7:45 am


Yes, we need to change “hearts and minds” on abortion, but rules are for the lawless and they are necessary to stop killing. Our country is full of the lawless in case you haven’t noticed.



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Margaret

posted March 27, 2008 at 12:09 pm


Obama’s never met an abortion he didn’t like. Simple as that. And this is not a superficial concern– abortion is *the* civil rights issue of our day, and he is squarely planted on the wrong side of it. He may talk out both sides of his mouth, and act like he’s like there to be fewer abortions, but don’t anybody be fooled– any actual legal remedies to accomplish that goal will be squashed (dare I say, aborted?) before they ever see the light of day.



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CV

posted March 27, 2008 at 12:23 pm


I remain more interested in what Obama has done (i.e. his voting record) that what he says on the critical life issues.
A person whose votes consistently land on the very far left of the spectrum is not someone who can fairly be described as a consensus builder. And when Obama makes such statements as “sexual intimacy has to be culturally understood as a mature choice about being open to new life” (or words to that effect) in schools and elsewhere, what does that really mean, exactly?
We are talking about human lives and civil rights here. That’s an issue Obama is very fond of bringing up (when it suits his political goals). What about the human rights and civil rights of the unborn? I wish someone, perhaps a “conservative” Catholic like Kmiec, would push Obama to seriously address that question, instead of focusing on soothing talk of “openness” and purported concerns about “self responsibility” and “maturity” in sexual decisionmaking.
Deeds not words, Mr. Obama.



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Jeff

posted March 27, 2008 at 2:04 pm


What use are the false labels applied to Mr. Kmeic? He may be a conservative fiscally or on foreign policy, but he can’t be a social conservative when backing a pro-abortion candidate. And as for his Catholicism – Mr. Kmeic needs to re-study the teachings of his church and perhaps consider the recent published statement on political responsibility by the U.S. Catholic Bishops. Given that his choices among the candidates are so clearly delineated, it mystifies me how Mr. Kmeic can back a pro-abortion candidate. It is dishonest of Mr. Kmeic to claim he is being consistent with Catholicism by backing Mr. Obama.



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JM

posted March 27, 2008 at 3:29 pm


Jeff,
I did not read Mr. Kmeic’s view as “pro-abortion” at all. You might want to read it again.
Obama spoke for 50 minutes before a congregation (not his church) about these issues. You can watch this video on YouTube. What I got from it was that he encourages people to listen to the views of those who promote abstinence, however people need to also consider the views and realities of the issue of pregnancy, personal choice and sex education in the US.
My view: The fact is many women become accidentally pregnant, especially teenagers, because they either cannot resist those hormonal urges or they don’t use birth control. One can encourage teenagers to look at the view that I learned in religion class in high school – a Catholic high school – and try to prevent this from the get-go. Part of my Sexuality & Dating Class emphasized everything from respecting one’s own body to thinking of the moral consequences and living with Christian/Catholic values. Rather than simply say, “Don’t do it!”, which has not been completely effective, it would be wise to look at all sides. And the fact is that millions of women feel that this is a personal decision between them and their God or for whatever reasons.
I know Christian women (when young) who have had abortions and later did have children. Myself, I have never faced this dilemma because I avoided getting pregnant in the first place. I was not perfect, but at least I was responsible and am glad I never had to face this moral/religious dilemma.
Unfortunately, what bothers me is that often people speak about abortion yet in the same breath do not address the overwhelming problems of breathing living children in the US. There are countless abused children, foster children with no homes, undernourished children, runaways, and missing children in the US. The figures are staggering. My sister is a social worker. So, while one may find abortion objectionable and morally wrong, it is an issue that people continue to feel strongly about and still children are forgotten.
There is more vocal outrage about abortion than the problems I listed above. If people cared about children they would be posting about these large numbers of neglected children every day. (Some, but not enough do.) It is easy enough to look at all these figures.
Perhaps we need to take care of the children we have now before we talk about civil rights for unborn children. These are all things to consider in the reality of society today. To choose an absolute position and to not consider Republicans’ backing of war (where so many children have been killed) or their thwarting health insurance for all does not compute with an absolute moral position.
I think Mr. Kmeic’s position is brave and honest will ultimately be more fruitful.
JM



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JM

posted March 27, 2008 at 3:39 pm


Oops: I think Mr. Kmeic’s position is brave and honest and will ultimately be more fruitful. (See above post.)



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Anon

posted March 27, 2008 at 3:40 pm


Kmiec should at least acknowledge that Obama opposed the nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts, and actually voted to filibuster Samuel Alito, itself an unconstituitonal violation fo the advice and consent clause. All Obama has shown is outright hostility to conservative legal principles.

Kmiec seems to have abandoned hope that Barack would nominate justices who would view their role as limited stewards of the Constitution. Kmiec has now adopted a more murky stance that Obama’s personal appeal to reduce to number of abortions would have greater affect than a legal change. In doing so, Kmiec has abandoned the goal of restoring order in the courts, not just on the issue of abortion, but on all of the personal privacy rights that liberal judges have imagined and removed from public debate.



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Jeff

posted March 27, 2008 at 3:53 pm


JM,
My comment on this article simply stated my opinion of Mr. Kmeic’s backing of Barack Obama for President.
Your statement is off topic, but I will only respond to provide you and everyone with clarity. I am not going to engage in an argument with you over all these issues. Every assertion in your long statement, from “My View:” on, are either factually wrong, or I disagree with profoundly. Most of your points are clearly the usual tactics used to turn the moral tables on those who defend life and morality. You and I stand on opposite sides of a moral divide. I don’t expect to convert you to my side any more than you should expect to convert me to yours.
You and Mr. Kmeic support Mr. Obama as a candidate for the Presidency of the United States. I do not, because in the whole, I believe Mr. Obama, and you (according to your verbose manifestos), and Mr. Kmeic are WRONG.



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Matt

posted March 27, 2008 at 5:03 pm


JM,
Jeff’s comment wasn’t that Kmiec’s views were pro-abortion. His comment was that Kmiec’s view was not Catholic. And he’s right. Whatever your position on abortion, one thing is clear – supporting a pro-abortion candidate (which Obama is) is not consistent with Catholicism.
Also, Jeff is right that everything in your post after “My View:” was irrelevant to the points he made.
As Jeff asserted, it is, in fact, dishonest of Mr. Kmeic to claim he is being consistent with Catholicism by backing Mr. Obama.
If you want to support Obama despite (or because of) his position on abortion, that is your right. Just don’t claim it’s consistent with Catholicism, because it isn’t.



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Lawrence King

posted March 28, 2008 at 3:23 am


Even if we were to suppose that Senator Obama’s position on abortion could allow a Catholic to vote for him, the Senator’s position goes far beyond support for “mere” abortion. In 2003, as an Illinois state senator, he voted against — and fought against, in committee — the Illinois Born Alive Infant Protection Act. This law said that if, during a botched abortion, the fetus/baby is accidentally born alive, the doctor is not allowed to just set the baby on the cold metal table and wait for it to die of dehydration and hypothermia…. a practice that happens dozens of times each year in America.
Yes, you might say “this is a tiny fraction of abortions”. Very true. But it’s still dozens per year. Suppose some group were killing a dozen members of some minority group every year, and a presidential candidate voted against a bill that would stop them. How can that be justified?
And these babies have already been born. Even if a pregnant woman happens to have a “right to control her body”, this baby is not in her body anymore! Indeed, if she were to beat this premature newborn, that would be child abuse. Why should setting it out to die be illegal?
The earliest Christians vehemently opposed the Roman practice of leaving unwanted newborns out to die. Muhammad forbid this practice, which had been common among pagan Arabs. Are we really such a callous country that this is not only permitted, but is almost a non-issue?



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JM

posted March 28, 2008 at 1:40 pm


Jeff said: Your statement is off topic, but I will only respond to provide you and everyone with clarity. I am not going to engage in an argument with you over all these issues. Every assertion in your long statement, from “My View:” on, are either factually wrong,…
You and Mr. Kmeic support Mr. Obama as a candidate for the Presidency of the United States. I do not, because in the whole, I believe Mr. Obama, and you (according to your verbose manifestos), and Mr. Kmeic are WRONG.
I don’t think my statements are wrong, Jeff, they are my views about the reality of what’s happening in the US versus the Catholic view, which I understand. But thanks for your condescending comment about “verbose manifestos.” I asserted what I got from Obama’s speech on the topic, and THEN went on to add my own view and how I might understand Mr. Kmiec’s view regarding his Catholic faith. You are an absolutist, and that is your prerogative, but you appear to lack the appreciation of nuance, no less criticize me for expressing my views.
And in regards to “turning the moral tables,” again that is my view when I look at the reality of WHAT IS and what should be our immediate focus. You disagree, fine, but the problems still remain and absolutist views don’t help much. I’d also remind you the Pope’s change on expressing “Limbo” to Africans because of their view of such a thing, so apparently the Catholic Church is willing to bend a little. This apparently pertains to divorce too and several other issues where the Church has been more lenient. Again, not off-topic, because these are the realities. You want to say someone is WRONG for going against one Catholic issue, again, fine – be a Catholic hardliner. Again, your choice.
Lawrence, I agree with you about late-term abortions. I think abortions should be in the first trimester. The view out there from pro-choice people is that if you give an inch, they’llake a yard, which is why some people voted against your view. I’m just stating the view, but I do agree with you about what you said.
["Verbose manifesto" over and out.]



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James Yerkes

posted March 29, 2008 at 6:29 pm


I myself find Kmeic’s position moderate and realistic, while keeping good conscience as a Roman Catholic across a broad spectrum of social justice issues. Catholics friends generally, I have found, are more realistic about the need for thinking about the broad and inclusive demands of their faith rather than single hot button issues. I am not a Catholic but so far every Catholic friend to whom I have sent this has responded appreciatively.
Dr. James Yerkes



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