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Obama is the Best Candidate – Final Reflections on an Endorsement Well Considered (By Douglas Kmiec)

kmiec5.jpgBy his own standard, McCain is more battle-weary than battle-tested. Old ideas combined with a lack of credible ability to “think anew” to meet the challenges we face make the Senator ill-suited for the presidency; his running mate aggravates that concern.

Douglas W. Kmiec is former head of the Office of Legal Counsel to Ronald Reagan and former dean of the law school at The Catholic University of America.

Today is the final day of the 2008 presidential campaign. Given my somewhat unusual endorsement, I promised to report at the campaign’s conclusion whether any matter arose to cause me to second-guess my support for Senator Obama for the presidency.


None has. Senator Obama has kept his covenant not to campaign in a denigrating and divisive fashion. Quite the contrary, throughout the extended primary and the general campaign, he has called us to our better selves, and he has laid out with patience and clarity a blueprint for change that is needed now more than ever in light of the financial mess left by the incumbent. Despite these unprecedented challenges which jeopardize the economic well being of so many American families, Senator Obama remains resilient in hope and ready to govern. His presidency will be an historic moment of re-commitment to a nation under law worthy of international respect and stature.


Yes, Obama’s policies are not those of the unregulated free market often extolled, but obviously given the corporate bailout, not always observed by the GOP. And yes, at times in the years ahead, I suspect this conservative is likely to urge caution in the face of proposed regulatory flourishes. But the truth is my fellow Republicans in the last eight years forgot anything associated with conservative principle: from fiscal responsibility to the avoidance of ill-considered and endangering foreign entanglement to the giving of honor to the rule of law – a precept hardly advanced when U.S. Attorneys are removed for sport or new enactments only begrudgingly given effect by a President who seemed to have difficulty differentiating the Constitution from royal prerogative. A few good appointments to the federal bench and a tax cut for wealthy friends is all that remains of the substantial deposit of conservative ideas brought to Washington by Ronald Reagan. It’s not enough of to renew the lease on The White House. Senator McCain had an opportunity to campaign on first principle and with honor as well as to differentiate himself from his predecessor. He didn’t. He chose instead to “stay” a misdirected course and take on Sarah Palin whose verbal talents are eclipsed by intellectual and experiential gaps that cannot be masked by humor, snide commentary, or an expensive wardrobe.


Bishops and Republican Partisans – An Unholy and Unseemly Team

If there was one disturbing injustice of the campaign, it was that a few members of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in America indulged low partisanship, and worse, allowed Republican partisans to purvey – sometimes on church property — the untenable idea that voting for Senator Obama was contrary to the faith, a cooperation with evil, or an invitation to eternal damnation. Worst of all, a few prelates asserted this false preemption of individual conscience themselves. Thankfully, the conference of U.S. bishops had in place a thoughtful exposition of the responsible considerations to be undertaken by a Catholic in preparation to vote – the most prominent of which was the reminder that we are not to be “single-issue” voters, even as we may find an intrinsic evil to be disqualifying if both the candidate and our intent is to advance that evil and we lack proportionate justification for accepting that evil in a remote way. Notwithstanding the distortions of the less than Grand Old Party that has grown lazy winning on the incitement of fear, neither candidate is an advocate of evil, and the duty of a Catholic voter is a straightforward matter of satisfying the casting of a ballot with right intention. With respect to Senator Obama in particular, as indicated in my book “Can a Catholic Support Him?” The answer is enthusiastically “yes, we can!”


Obama’s Life of Service & the Social Gospel

The American Catholic Church has gained credibility by placing itself in the service not of the powerful, but the least of these. Of course, this is very much part of what made Barack Obama “a Catholic natural.” In his early career, Barack Obama was privileged to be part of a project funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development – where he found men and women devoted to building up the community with the transformative power of Christ’s message embodied best by their own witness and willingness to involve themselves personally in the well-being of another.

The Catholic witness in America is the positive one of the social gospel — the willingness of the Church to look after the immigrant stranger, the person down on his luck, the poor, and yes, the family, the very heart of the American constitutional body politic. It is the average working men and women of this country who by their daily uncomplaining labors understand that freedom and responsibility are coordinate propositions, and who ask only a fair wage for an honest day’s work – and frankly, a mortgage and securities market in which the American people are not sold short. John Paul II reminded us of the dignity of human work; its capacity to extend our creative and constructive personalities into the physical environment and the importance of not elevating capital over labor. The scandals that have broken the back of our financial system necessitate that they now be remedied by the taxpayer, but they also deserve to be fully explained and understood and accounted for. Those leaving office should not consider themselves finished until then. Barack Obama will not leave the American people in the dark about the mishandling of their own resources.


The Truth of the Human Person

So much of Catholic thought is well-expressed in the truth of the human person. It is important to recognize how this truth is interwoven in the planning for an Obama administration:

The truth of the human person is affirmed by the payment of a family or living wage;

The truth of the human person is honored by recognizing that a market that is not fair cannot ever hope to be free;

The truth of the human person requires that we preserve the created environment so that our safety will not be put at risk by human development in disregard of the natural environment;

The truth of the human person recognizes that the health of society depends greatly upon health of its citizens in body and mind and spirit and this must come to be understood to be as much a cultural right as is the obligation of due process under law;


The truth of the human person is a reflection of God, Himself, deserving of respect without reference to race or gender or ethnicity or sexual orientation;

And yes, The truth of the human person encourages respect for the gift of life at all its stages – from conception to natural death and every point in between and ladies and gentleman, we need not wait for a new justice on the Supreme Court to express that respect.

Building a Culture of Life by New and Compassionate Means

Some see Senator Obama’s respect for the decision of an expectant mother as inviting a denial of the truth of the human person; it is not. An Obama administration will reach out to any pregnant woman who’s economic and social circumstance clouds the truth of a human person.


Some insist that truth demands legal coercion; that without the Supreme Court’s cooperation, truth must be held in abeyance like a “suspended” political campaign.

Well, the unfortunate and undeniable truth is that the evil of poverty and lack of social support is a major collaborator of abortion. The Catholic faith encourages us not to cooperate with evil. Barack Obama doesn’t intend on cooperating with social injustice, and to the extent that resources permit, an Obama administration will never leave a woman without the support needed to encourage a choice for life.

The Catholic faith has guided my professional and personal life notwithstanding the gratuitous assessments of “disservice to the Church” in the personal opinion of Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput or the equally ungrounded posted libel of Bishop Brandt of Greensburgh, Pennsylvania, who banned me from the campus of Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania without even realizing that my remarks were already finished, and by happenstance audio-taped by NPR. Should the good bishop listen to them, he will discover that they were in tone and substance both solidly complimentary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He will discover as well, of course, the view that there is more than one way to be pro-life, including the way proposed by Senator Obama – namely, greatly enhancing the social and economic assistance given to an expectant mother. This, of course, is less than what the Catholic faith champions as the ideal, but in truth, it is more than the opposing party delivers, or can deliver, even with all its speculations and excuses about judicial vacancies and reconsidered precedents. I have never once suggested that the Church forego pursuing life’s full protection in law. I have, however, insisted that none of us need wait upon the law to do good.


A Nation of Many Faiths

While the United States consists of citizens worshiping God in their differing ways who nevertheless hope to believe without reservation of conscience in a common political ideal, one lesson still too often overlooked is that “churches do not always suffer their members to be really free?”

“Thou shalt have no other gods but me, ‘thundered the Jewish Jehovah from Sinai, and ever since the gods of the churches have demanded that their control be not abridged nor diminished.” Likewise, but in the state’s direction, Thomas More would be yanked from his respectful silence in the face of Henry’s oath of supremacy since there the state was a jealous god that could not bear the impertinence of having Thomas die, as he ultimately did, “the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”


Admirably, Barack Obama started this campaign in the hope of lessening the division among red and blue states – of restoring beyond the artificially provoked culture war of partisans, the United States of America. Compelled support for one religious view over another or compelled support for the Supreme Court’s view will likely leave us wrongly divided for years to come in the trenches of opposing views. The way out is to remember that as the creeds clash about us, that it is not primarily in political programs that religion may have its place.

No, sometimes the law must simply leave space for the exercise of individual judgment because our religious or scientific differences of opinion are for the moment too profound to be bridged collectively. When these differences are great and persistent, as they have unfortunately been with abortion, the “common political ideal” to which we aspire may consist only of that space. This does not of course leave the right to life undecided or unprotected. Nor for that matter does the reservation of space for individual determination usurp for Caesar the things that are God’s, or vice versa. Rather, it allows this sensitive moral decision to depend upon religious freedom and the voice of God as articulated in that individual’s voluntary embrace of one of the manifold ways of faith known to America.


Tangibly Helping the Born and Unborn

Yesterday, on All Souls, we remembered the souls that have walked the earth. I am certain my friends who remained behind to support Senator McCain willingly would join now with those of us in the Catholic outreach of the Obama campaign in a commitment never to overlook those who were not permitted their first steps. Tomorrow, whomever merits our confidence for president, let us as we vote recall the far too numerous number of children whose lives were tragically taken in the womb. And as we remember them, let us do so not to condemn, but instead with extended hands of compassion — that with humility must also be frequently folded in prayer–to ask God’s strength of purpose to meet the needs of expectant mothers in more tangible and helpful ways than ever before. In this manner, may something far more powerful than any law made by man — faith and reason – be permitted to resolve in freedom the respect due unborn life.

No one should ever underestimate the likelihood of an individual conscience formed in the Catholic religious tradition to choose life – Senator Obama doesn’t, nor should anyone else.

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posted November 3, 2008 at 11:54 am

I’m glad you feel the way you do.
However, I’m writting in Dr. & Senator Ron Paul.
It’s too bad he did not win the primaries.
I feel he’s the only hope America has left to save ‘us’ from fascism!

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Renita Weems

posted November 3, 2008 at 12:29 pm

Your and my politics, ideologies, and worldviews couldn’t be any further apart.
But I applaud you this morning, not because you and I agree that Obama is the better candidate for the job. I applaud you because yours is the most thoughtful, carefully reasoned, and simultaneously compassionate defense of the conservative position I’ve yet to read. In the hands of lesser minds and smaller souls such reasoning comes across as hateful, bigoted, elitist, and narrow-minded.
Thank you. May history prove that despite our different reasonings we were both right in our choice of president.

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posted November 3, 2008 at 1:38 pm

Taxpayer funded abortions is an odd way to reduce abortions. No one would buy the argument that by allowing Slavery, the Constitution is anti-slavery. No on ewould argue that MLK should have been personally opposed to segregations but unwilling to impose those beliefs on others. No one would argue that arson is “tragic,” but that we should remove all legal limits on it and fund it with taxpayer dollars. The fact that women facing an unexpected pregnancy are in a very difficult position does not change the nature of abortion. The fact that we should have compassion for them and help them does not change what abortion is. Killing innocent people is not okay, ever, even if we can come up with creative ways of making it help us feel better about ourselves.

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posted November 3, 2008 at 2:37 pm

The article I link to here, against Kmiec’s position, is rather hard to refute.

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Melle Johnson

posted November 3, 2008 at 2:54 pm

Obama has managed an organization with hundreds of offices, thousands of employees, thousands of volunteers and did it better than any of his competition while also innovating in terms of messaging and the exploitation of the internet. Can’t wait to see how he manages our government.

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posted November 3, 2008 at 2:58 pm

Your Words:
“The American Catholic Church has gained credibility by placing itself in the service not of the powerful, but the least of these.”
Yes, and the least of these; our unborn children given to the new holocaust, are at stake in this election. Obama will not only do away with some of the protections established in the last 8 years, he will allow infanticide, those who are born alive during an abortion to die.
I am a Roman Catholic. I follow the teachings of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To call Obama “a Catholic Natural” is an insult to all those who truly know what the teaching of the Catholic church, not only because they are moral, but they are truths that are self-evident. Only those who seperate the truth from abortion can rationalize the killing of holy innocents.
To use John Paul II in your analysis of why you will vote for Obama is to mock a saint of our times. He would tell you otherwise if you were able to ask him. We are not to be a part of “this world” but to stand apart from it. Just because the thinking of our time says abortion is okay, does not make it truth. John Paul II always stood for Life, not death.
I do not believe in being a one issue voter either, but there is one issue that is more important than any other and that is the life of all those created by God. I must speak up for those who have no voice, those who have been silenced due to economic, or ill informed choices. I must speak up for those who did not have a choice to live or die. I must speak for God’s children.
May God have mercy on us all.
Friend of St. Paul, who tells us how to be truly free.

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posted November 3, 2008 at 2:59 pm

I was under the impression that All Souls’ Day was the day that we prayed for the souls suffering in purgatory, not a day that we “remembered the souls that have walked the earth.”

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posted November 3, 2008 at 3:32 pm

“I do not believe in being a one issue voter either, but there is one issue that is more important than any other and that is the life of all those created by God.”
Incorrect. Jesus told us to not fear the one that could kill our bodies, but rather to fear the one who could harm our souls. This would seem to trump your assertion regarding abortion being the number one issue.
However, if we assume that you are correct, why should our concern over the lives of children diminish once they are born?

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posted November 3, 2008 at 5:07 pm

I, as many others, do not believe this election is based merely on one issue – there are several. Yes, I believe that once an egg is fertilized it is a human being and to kill that person is murder – regardless of the circumstances. There are still many couples in this country who are childless and would be thrilled to give a child a home with love, kindness and all of the “things” the apparent murderers have not considered because for whatever reason they are selfish. Abortion should not be a means of birth control – however, it is for many. Another issue is the “gay marriage” issue. Yes, we live in a country where everyone is to be entitled to their “rights”, BUT our country was founded by God loving and God fearing men. That same God tells us in the Bible that having sexual relations with members of the same sex is an abomination to God. Yes, we are to love the person, but not the sinner. To stand for marriage as a union between two people versus “a union between one man and one woman” is not going to bring forth God’s blessings. There is a scripture that says we are not to be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds. We are to be an example to those who don’t know Jesus as their Lord & Savior. What kind of “light” can “shine in the darkness” when it is allowing the dark to smother it? Being disobedient to the laws of God is being rebellious and I’m sure everyone knows where rebellion eventually leads if you stay on that path.

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posted November 3, 2008 at 6:30 pm

I am apposed to abortion because I beleive that human life begins when the DNA is formed. I am apposed to “gay” marriage because it changes the meaning of marriage as defined in the American Collegiate Dictionary.
I am apposed to John McCain as president for many reasons. In this election cycle, Barack Obama has demonstrated he has truer Christian values than the McCain Campaign. This doesn’t mean that I agree with him on every issue but his demeanour, temperament and his constant behavior has shown to me that he is the leader that this Nation needs at this time.
Romans 12:16 tells us to “Live in Harmony with one another.” Somehow I don’t see John McCain capable of doing that.

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Bruce T.

posted November 3, 2008 at 6:53 pm

Sorry – a long post!
Thoughtful? Carefully reasoned? Compassionate? Yes, all of these, as Ms. Weems stated above. Therefore, it is truly amazing that Mr. Kmiec comes to such an illogical and unsubstantiated conclusion. He clearly demonstrates that he does not understand our political system and structure and it currently exists. First, politics is the business of a lot of things. However, one of those things politics is NOT is telling the truth (or the whole truth) and one of the things it IS is pandering. It is the rare candidate running for elective office, from any party, which will speak the truth and will not pander to the electorate. Thus, the intelligent and thoughtful elector should (or must) look at history and make a decision much more “from the record” and less from that which is said on the campaign trail. Second, party trumps the person in our political system. This is a fact, and not a pleasant one, at that! When you vote for a candidate in a partisan election, you are also selecting (by voting for) the partisan ideas, goals and objectives that are associated with the party that the candidate is aligned with. Because our political system has devolved over the last few decades into a partisan two party system (emphasis on partisan), the ability of the individual politician to break from his or her “party line” in a meaningful and consistent way is limited and fraught with political danger, at least at the Federal and State levels (examples – Joe Biden, Ron Paul). This is why a knowledge and understanding of party platforms (not just talking points) is so important. The platforms tell you about those ideas and goals. In this election, voting for the Democrat candidate for President will increase the likelihood of implementation of Democrat ideas, goals and objectives as seen, interpreted and implemented by the leadership of the House and Senate and the occupant of the White House. Conversely, voting for the Republican candidate for President will provide a modicum of restraint on implementation of Democrat ideas, goals and objectives as seen and interpreted by the leadership of the House and Senate (since it is unreasonable to assume that the number of elected officials from the Democrat party in both of these legislative bodies will do anything other than increase as a result of tomorrow’s election). The magnitude of restraint that a Republican President could provide is open to discussion. Only time would tell.
It appears that Mr. Kmiec has looked at the record and has made his choice and endorsement. That is the right of all citizens of this great country. I do not know Mr. Kmiec, but reading through his endorsement, it appears to me that his review of the record was made through very selective filters. It appears to me that he dismissed (or ignored) some very important items in the historical record Again, this is his right. An individual reading Mr. Kmiec’s document on his reflections can analyze those reflections and either agree or disagree. The fundamental problem that I have with his analysis is his use, either directly or indirectly, of his credentials as both a Catholic and a senior member of a previous conservative administration to lend credence to his positions and conclusions. His conclusions are not in logical or philosophical conformance with the tenants held by either of group for which he cites credential. As such, in my opinion, his arguments are both illogical and intellectually dishonest.

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Ortoco Nirrinco

posted November 3, 2008 at 7:43 pm

Professor Kmiec has insulted prominent bishops, dismissed the argument of committed Christians, created the impression that pro-life Christians are not interested in social issues and ended up supported the most pro abortion candidate in the US history, providing him with the alibi to receive the vote of confused Catholics. Professor, you will very likely get a very nice, prominent, well paid job in the Obama administration. Good for you. I see no dishonesty in ripping the fruits of your work. But now you calls for “extended hands” to reach others.
Mr. Kmiec, as a Latino voter, as soon as Mr. Obama suspends the Mexico City Policy, I will witness in horror and powerless how US money goes into legalizing abortion in Latino countries. Millions of babies will die because you of policies you justified. Mark my words, Mr. Kmiec: there will be no extended hands for you in this earth from the real Catholics. You will only have the extended hands of “Catholics for a Free Choice,” “Catholics United,” “Catholics for the Common Good,” and all the other Judas that already have you as a hero. Aren’t you surprised that not one decent, non-Republican, reasoned anti-Obama believes you anything but a traitor? One day you will have to give reason to your choice for the golden calf of Obama’s empty promises, but not to me or the bishops and other foot soldier Catholics without academic credentials. I do pray and hope that you will find an extended arm at the last day, an arm to hold the one you did not bend on prayer but extended for to get the 30 coins of betrayal from the most anti-life, anti-human life, anti-Christian president ever to get to the White House. May God have mercy on us, and especially may He have mercy of you.

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posted November 3, 2008 at 11:22 pm

If Obama is a source of hope for many, I submit that the hope spoken of is not a Christian hope. It’s a hope that, due to its cynicism about the value of the pro-life efforts of the past 35 years, has made some remarkable compromises and has put its faith in the wrong messiah.
Kmiec cannot even faithfully reproduce/interpret Chaput’s conclusions.
“[Chaput] discounts reducing the incidence of abortion by cultural (economic and social) means.” I don’t think so. He may have discounted the soundness of Kmiec’s position, but that is not the same thing.
And not even a mention of the possibility a protest vote or a vote for a third-party candidate.
Also, Kmiec refuses to examine his own commitments to some very uncertain outcomes. Who cares if the intent of FOCA is to reduce abortion? Is there any reason to believe that the intent translates into fact? Good intentions do not turn evil acts into good ones. And overturning Roe v Wade — thus turning the decision over to the state level — saves NO lives? Where does this remarkable belief even touch tangentially the reality of the situation?
Kmiec planted his flag in the Obama soil long ago, and he has too much invested to remain intellectually honest about his commitments… which is both a shame for him personally, and a scandal for his fellow Catholics across this country. His conscience may be well-defended, but I’m not convinced that it is well-informed.

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posted November 4, 2008 at 12:08 am

It’s not compassion when the most innocent can be killed in the womb.
“An unjust law is no law at all” — MLK Jr, quoting St. Augustine.
There are no rights unless all have rights. The right to life is foundational. All other rights presuppose the right to life. This trick has been tried before — the trick that “some human beings aren’t fully human, but rather they’re property.” In this case, the property doesn’t have the right to life. It’s a new twist that the former property owners of 150 years ago didn’t have — the right to kill their property.

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posted March 3, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Hello. And Bye.

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