God-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.