The National Catholic Review

On this election night, Mark Stricherz offers guest blog post, below, on why a Romney victory would be good for Catholics. Stricherz is the Capitol Hill correspondent for The Colorado Observer, a contributing reporter for The Daily, and author of "Why the Democrats Are Blue: Secular Liberalism and the Decline of the People's Party" (Encounter Books). - K.W.

Pity the Catholic voter who steps into the voting booth tonight to choose a candidate for president. If she knows the Catechism well and follows American politics closely, she doesn't feel empowered and righteous. She feels humbled and chastened. Her attitude is more Simone Weil than Simone de Beauvoir.

Some issues that the Catechism defines as significant are irrelevant on the federal level, or close to being irrelevant. The death penalty is a good example. Church teaching allows civil authorities to resort to capital punishment, but the last two Popes have made clear that they should not resort to using the death penalty in all but the most extreme cases. This teaching would make the Catholic voter slightly more inclined to the Democratic Party, because its plank is critical of its application while the Republican Party's is not. But the federal government executes prisoners almost never. Since the feds reinstated the death penalty in 1988, three inmates -- three -- have been executed. (School choice is only slightly more relevant on the federal level, as the President can affect the public schools in Washington, D.C. but little else).

Other issues that the Catechism attaches importance and extreme importance to are off the table politically speaking. The Church supports laws that forbid adultery. But neither major presidential candidate has endorsed this position because of a lack of public support; a pol might call this a "20-30" issue which means that only 20 to 30 percent of voters agree. The Church also approves of handgun control. But even President Obama, a self-described progressive, approves only the mildest of gun restrictions because taking a bolder stand would cause him to end up like Al Gore in 2000.

Still other issues are ambiguous. The Catechism supports government assistance to the poor and the government's role in the economy. But whether Obama's or Romney's plan would help the poor and middle class more is unclear. The Obama administration said its stimulus plan contained a provision that lifted 3.9 million people, including 1.7 million children, out of poverty in 2010. That result is a good thing. But who is to say that Romney's plan to hand control of food stamps to the states would be worse? Turning over welfare to the states did not result in a higher poverty rate. The poverty rate stayed the same largely, a finding that should chasten liberals and conservatives alike.

And still other issues are a wash politically. The Affordable Care Act is a perfect example. On the one hand, the Catechism and most Catholic bishops support universal health insurance, as it gives a medical safety net to those who cannot afford it. That gives an advantage to Obama. On the other hand, the Cathechism and most bishops oppose the administration's requirement that religious employers pay indirectly for employees' contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. That issue gives an advantage to Romney.

But one group of issues differ from those mentioned: the culture-of-life issues -- abortion and embryonic stem cell research. To be sure, culture-of-life issues have not been front and center in this election, to say the least. In addition, Romney supported legal abortion during most of his tenure as governor of the Bay State (2003-2007) and continues to support abortion in the circumstances of rape, incest, and threat to the mother's life.

Yet culture-of-life issues provide the clearest and most dramatic example of why a Romney victory would be good for Catholic America, not to mention America as a whole.

Culture-of-life issues remain relevant in American politics; very much so in fact. Romney caught flack from pro-life Democrats for saying he knew of no pro-life legislation he would promote as president, but federal legislation is largely beside the point. Nominating Supreme Court justices committed to overturning Roe v. Wade is the whole ball game. Romney has said he will take this step; Obama has said he will not. That difference is relevant.

Culture-of-life issues are also on the table politically speaking. While Melinda Henneberger stated that Romney will not appoint justices committed to overturning Roe, there is a lot of evidence to the contrary. Republican presidents appointed Supreme Court justices who banned partial-birth abortion; the GOP delivered on this issue. And Roe's standards on abortion are not as popular as many believe. For example, the public is divided evenly on whether women should be allowed to have an abortion for health reasons; as is true of many things in politics, the wording of the question makes a key difference. Contra Michael O'Loughlin, overturning Roe would not result in the criminalization of abortion; it would result in returning the issue to state legislatures. Most legislatures in the South, Great Plains, and Midwest would impose stronger restrictions on the practice (or legal protections for the unborn if you prefer), while some in the East and West would not.

Culture-of-life-issues are mostly unambiguous morally. Yes, Romney supports abortion in the "hard cases," but so does Obama. The national Democratic Party is best thought of as the pro-choice political party in the country, while the national Republican Party is a pro-life party.

Finally, culture of life-issues are not a wash politically. Whether the unborn receive legal protections matters a lot. Restricting abortion has been found to more effective at saving unborn lives than providing a strong safety net for abortion-minded women. While Henneberger sought to connect abortion rates with poverty, the evidence points to a much tighter connection between the number of abortion providers in a states and abortion laws. As Richard Florida in The Atlantic noted, "Abortion rates track closedly with the wealth and affluence of states: the richer the location, the higher the rate of abortions. This effect is in line with previous studies and thus appears to be long standing.

Some Catholic thinkers, surveying the American political landscape, have concluded that both presidential candidates are fatally compromised and argued for a quietist, Dorothy-Day like position. Although I love and admire Dorothy Day's heroic service to the poor and marginalized, I prefer the wisdom of the Catechism in its emphasis on political prudence. The election of Mitt Romney won't be a great thing for Catholics, but it might well be a good thing.

Mark Stricherz

Pity the Catholic voter who steps into the voting booth tonight to choose a candidate for president. If she knows the Catechism well and follows American politics closely, she doesn't feel empowered and righteous. She feels humbled and chastened. Her attitude is more Simone Weil than Simone de Beauvoir.  Some issues that the Catechism defines as significant are irrelevant on the federal level, or close to being irrelevant. The death penalty is a good example. Church teaching allows civil authorities to resort to capital punishment, but the last two Popes have made clear that they should not resort to using the death penalty in all but the most extreme cases. This teaching would make the Catholic voter slightly more inclined to the Democratic Party, because its plank is critical of its application while the Republican Party's is not. [[Insert link for "its plank" http://www.thenation.com/blog/169714/democratic-platform-good-and-bad]] But the federal government executes prisoners almost never. Since the feds reinstated the death penalty in 1988, three inmates -- three -- have been executed. (School choice is only slightly more relevant on the federal level, as the President can affect the public schools in Washington, D.C. but little else). Other issues that the Catechism attaches importance and extreme importance to are off the table politically speaking. The Church supports laws that forbid adultery. But neither major presidential candidate has endorsed this position because of a lack of public support; a pol might call this a "20-30" issue which means that only 20 to 30 percent of voters agree. The Church also approves of handgun control. But even President Obama, a self-described progressive, approves only the mildest of gun restrictions because taking a bolder stand would cause him to end up like Al Gore in 2000.  Still other issues are ambiguous. The Catechism supports government assistance to the poor and the government's role in the economy. But whether Obama's or Romney's plan would help the poor and middle class more is unclear. The Obama administration said its stimulus plan contained a provision that lifted 3.9 million people, including 1.7 million children, out of poverty in 2010. That result is a good thing. But who is to say that Romney's plan to hand control of food stamps to the states would be worse? Turning over welfare to the states did not result in a higher poverty rate. The poverty rate stayed the same largely, a finding that should chasten liberals and conservatives alike.  And still other issues are a wash politically. The Affordable Care Act is a perfect example. On the one hand, the Catechism and most Catholic bishops [[INSERT LINK: http://www.pacatholic.org/a-statement-of-the-pennsylvania-catholic-bishops-on-the-2012-elections/]] support universal health insurance, as it gives a medical safety net to those who cannot afford it. That gives an advantage to Obama. On the other hand, the Cathechism and most bishops oppose the administration's requirement that religious employers pay indirectly for employees' contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. That issue gives an advantage to Romney. But one group of issues differ from those mentioned: the culture-of-life issues -- abortion and embryonic stem cell research. To be sure, culture-of-life issues have not been front and center in this election, to say the least. In addition, Romney supported legal abortion during most of his tenure as governor of the Bay State (2003-2007) and continues to support abortion in the circumstances of rape, incest, and threat to the mother's life.   Yet culture-of-life issues provide the clearest and most dramatic example of why a Romney victory would be good for Catholic America, not to mention America as a whole.  Culture-of-life issues remain relevant in American politics; very much so in fact. Romney caught flack from pro-life Democrats [[INSERT LINK: http://ncronline.org/blogs/distinctly-catholic/why-i-cant-vote-romney]]  for saying he knew of no pro-life legislation he would promote as president, but federal legislation is largely beside the point. Nominating Supreme Court justices committed to overturning Roe v. Wade is the whole ball game. Romney has said he will take this step; Obama has said he will not. That difference is relevant. Culture-of-life issues are also on the table politically speaking. While Melinda Henneberger stated that Romney [[INSERT LINK: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2012/10/09/stp1010/?print=1]] will not appoint justices committed to overturning Roe, there is a lot of evidence to the contrary. Republican presidents appointed Supreme Court justices who banned partial-birth abortion; the GOP delivered on this issue. And Roe's standards on abortion are not as popular as many believe. [[Insert link: http://americamagazine.org/blog/entry.cfm?blog_id=2&entry_id=5471]] For example, the public is divided evenly on whether women should be allowed to have an abortion for health reasons; as is true of many things in politics, the wording of the question makes a key difference. Contra Michael O'Loughlin, overturning Roe would not result in the criminalization of abortion; it would result in returning the issue to state legislatures. Most legislatures in the South, Great Plains, and Midwest would impose stronger restrictions on the practice (or legal protections for the unborn if you prefer), while some in the East and West would not. Culture-of-life-issues are mostly unambiguous morally. Yes, Romney supports abortion in the "hard cases," but so does Obama. The national Democratic Party is best thought of as the pro-choice political party in the country, while the national Republican Party is a pro-life party. Finally, culture of life-issues are not a wash politically. Whether the unborn receive legal protections matters a lot. Restricting abortion has been found to more effective at saving unborn lives than providing a strong safety net for abortion-minded women. While Henneberger sought to connect abortion rates with poverty, the evidence points to a much tighter connection between the number of abortion providers in a states and abortion laws. As Richard Florida in The Atlantic noted, "Abortion rates track closedly with the wealth and affluence of states: the richer the location, the higher the rate of abortions. This effect is in line with previous studies and thus appears to be long standing.[[Insert: www.theatlanticcities.com/politics/2012/06/geography-abortion/1711/]] Some Catholic thinkers, surveying the American political landscape, have concluded that both presidential candidates are fatally compromised and argued for a quietist, Dorothy-Day like position. Although I love and admire Dorothy Day's heroic service to the poor and marginalized, I prefer the wisdom of the Catechism in its emphasis on political prudence. The election of Mitt Romney won't be a great thing for Catholics, but it might well be a good 

Comments

Michael Schlacter | 11/7/2012 - 5:31pm
He missed the war mongering. Democrates get that one. He mixes personal responsibility with the government makes me do it. Abortion is such an issue. You can does not mean you should do it. War mongering is a republican thing of late and kills many who have no choice and no involvement in the conflict and destroys many they ignore upon return home from hostilities. 
Mary Sweeney | 11/7/2012 - 3:19pm
I am sure that this must be a matter of interpretation and details. It says above: ''The death penalty is a good example. Church teaching allows civil authorities to resort to capital punishment, but the last two Popes have made clear that they should not resort to using the death penalty in all but the most extreme cases. This teaching would make the Catholic voter slightly more inclined to the Democratic Party, because its plank is critical of its application while the Republican Party's is not. But the federal government executes prisoners almost never. Since the feds reinstated the death penalty in 1988, three inmates - three - have been executed.''

I am guessing that the operative expression is ''federal government executes prisoners almost never''. Yes, but http://www.txexecutions.org/stats.asp Is the author saying that we should overlook the words in the plank because they have no Federal level impact? It seems to me that following that line of reasoning would lead to some very interesting applications... Think about it.
David Smith | 11/7/2012 - 5:34am
Kevin's right, of course.  And Mr. Stricherz's piece is pretty mild (not to mention poorly edited) compared with what's come before from the other side on these pages. It's welcome, but hardly timely.
Vince Killoran | 11/7/2012 - 1:32pm
I've searched high and low on conservative Catholic websites for posts complimentary to Obama but came up empty so I know how Kevin Murphy feels.


Kevin Murphy | 11/7/2012 - 1:07am
America decides to run a post complimentary to Romney, expressing the traditional Catholic viewpoint on right-to-life, at 7:33 p.m. on Election Night, when all the voting has been done?   Would that it had run last week, or at least on the same day, November 4th, that Michael O'Loughlin was urging us to support Obama.    This strikes me as a "CYA" post, allowing America to say it presented all sides of the debate. Way too little, way too late.  Nothing has changed: America's, i.e. "progressive" Catholicism's, candidate has won, to a great degree by assuring women that their reproductive rights are safe.   Enjoy your victory.
Bernadette Guthrie | 11/6/2012 - 9:37pm
I would respectfully take issue with Mr. Stricherz's presentation of Richard Florida's data from The Atlantic. While it is true that the number of abortion providers in a state does correlate to the relative wealth of that state, this does not necessarily mean that poverty plays no role in the abortion rate. Indeed, one of the primary points of The Atlantic article appears to be that poorer women must—and do—travel further than richer women to attain an abortion. For instance, Mr. Florida cites a 1994 NBER study which ''found that restrictions on Medicaid funding for abortion result in 'lower aggregate abortion rates in-state and higher abortion rates among nearby states,' suggesting one of the main effects of these policies is to induce cross-state migration for abortion services.'' In short, Mr. Florida's data never appears to question the connections made by others between poverty and abortion.

If anything, Mr. Florida's results demonstrate that throwing the issue of abortion back to the states via a reversal of Roe v. Wade may not necessarily be the panacea that some predict, since women are already traveling out-of-state at relatively high rates to obtain abortions. Rather, his data suggests that if we want to see meaningful and lasting change in both the legal status and the rate of abortion, we must (1) engage in a process of dialogue with those on the other side of the issue in order to change hearts and minds, rather than relying solely upon legal remedies that may leave the situation in many states unchanged and (2) that we must attend to all issues involving human life and dignity, including poverty, to address the material conditions that lead many women to seek abortions in the first place and to demonstrate that our commitment to life extends beyond the womb.