Friday, February 15, 2008

Ramesh Ponnuru on Douglas Kmiec and "Catholic Reaganites for Obama" [UPDATED]

[UPDATED and bumped to the top]

Ramesh Ponnuru writes at The Corner on National Review Online regarding Douglas Kmiec's Slate piece dubbing Obama the "natural" choice for the Catholic vote:
I don't think I have ever found him persuasive on any topic—the nomination of Harriet Miers comes to mind—but his Catholics/Reaganites for Obama piece is the weakest effort of his that I have yet read. It is entirely possible, of course, that Catholic voters will back Obama in the fall, for the same reasons that he is likely to win. But the notion that Obama is "Reaganite" because he is an effective public speaker—well, when Kmiec has to preface that comment by saying "don't think me daft," it's a bad sign.

What's most irritating about Kmiec's method is the fact-free speculation that most Catholics—and Reaganites!—must naturally share his sensibilities and reactions. So, for example, Kmiec has a soft spot for Huckabee; therefore there is something Catholic-friendly about him. Never mind that, based on every exit poll and, for that matter, other type of poll, actual Catholic voters have run screaming from Huckabee.

I can't say that this passage was the weirdest bit of Kmiec's essay, but it's certainly odd: "But if either Clinton or Obama would acknowledge the myriad problems associated with a declining population in the developed world and affirm the importance of both having and raising children (and not just punting these duties over to Hillary's 'village'), Catholics could well contemplate a Democratic adoption." He certainly has his finger on the pulse of American Catholics.

Kmiec holds it against McCain that he hangs out with Joe Lieberman and co-sponsored legislation with Russ Feingold. That counts as evidence that he's not a conservative. And therefore we should vote for . . . Obama? There may be a good reason to support Obama, but darned if I can find it in Kmiec's op-ed.
(emphasis added)

UPDATE (15 February)
Kmiec responds in a lengthy letter.

To which Ramesh replies:
I found much of Kmiec's letter incomprehensible, so I will not make a detailed response. (I am, by the way, using his last name, where he uses my first, not to indicate any hostility, but merely because I don't know him.) I will say only that I do not think it odd "to be concerned about the declining population of the Western world including the United States, and its significant impact on human freedom, economic prosperity, and even military defense." I do think it is odd to assert that Obama or Clinton would make serious inroads among Catholic voters by expressing that concern. It is an odd assertion because there is no reason to expect either candidate to say any such thing, and it is odd because Kmiec adduces no evidence—nor do I think any evidence exists—that significant numbers of American Catholic voters share this concern. If Kmiec had written an essay on why one Catholic Reaganite was attracted to Obama, it might have been interesting and worthwhile. Instead he repeatedly made dubious claims about the political psychology of Catholic Reaganites in general, which happened to line up very conveniently with his own sentiments.
Shannen Coffin offers this take on Kmiec's Obasm:
I have a lot of respect for Doug Kmiec, but with respect to his latest missives on Catholics and Obama, he is, respectfully, off his rocker. Whatever can be said of John McCain, I fail to see how his perceived imperfection would lead faithful Catholics to support a candidate who has a zero rating on life issues from the National Right to Life Committee, who voted against a state ban on partial-birth abortion, who has supported expanded stem-cell research, who emphatically supports Roe v. Wade, and who opposes even reasonable restrictions like parental notification or even a state version of the Born Alive Infants Protection Act (which passed the federal Senate 98-0). Faithful Catholics would seem to have an obligation to consider Sen. Obama's positions on the sanctity of life, and Professor Kmiec's recent response to Ramesh, while acknowledging Obama's general pro-abortion positions, fails to offer any hope that this particular "vineyard" would yield any fruit. There is no indication in Obama's record that he has anything but a reflexive pro-abortion bias or that he would not further ingrain the "culture of death" into our political and legal institutions. I appreciate Professor Kmiec's enthusiasm for "change," but think this is an area where Obama would be as status quo as any Democrat.
To which Kmiec replies:
Abortion as an intrinsic evil necessarily governs the public choices of Catholics. I did not, as you note, say anything to the contrary. I do believe, however, that some are missing the point of the Slate essay — which, by the way, had a question mark at the end of its title for a reason. The point was not only to take Senator Obama up on his invitation to get passed the negative, anti-approach that so typifies and blocks meaningful solution to a myriad of problems, but it was also to put a direct challenge to a rather complacent Republican party seemingly marching in oblivious defeat in November. Meaning no dishonor to Senator McCain, he is widely perceived as a candidate of the status quo, rather than of needed cultural and economic and ethical change. If that is so, the Senator's likely nomination now invites a serious Catholic to actually ask: "how well does the Republic status quo meet the social teaching of the church on topics other than abortion?" The answer, it turns out, is not particularly well, especially when the candidate of the status quo has a military occupation position ("100 years, sure, maybe a 1000") that is far too flippant for an issue of human life or national security and that is directly contrary to an equally resolute teaching of the Church. So if the primary process takes out a candidate like Governor Romney who had a grasp of the kind of humanitarian rebuilding necessary to stabilize (and not merely occupy) Iraq, who stood for religious liberty in an eloquent and historically-informed way, who had the intelligence to make conservatively-based steps to meet the economic realities facing the working class, middle-income families that came to the Republican party because of President Reagan almost 30 years ago, and most of all, who had a genuine passion and understanding for the significance of family as a cultural building block, there is then a reasoned, rather than "on the rocker," basis to evaluate what else is being said, and said very well, by one's opponents in a national campaign. Now, Governor Romney has loyally endorsed the Senator as a matter of party. He is an honorable man to do so especially given the ill-considered manner in which the Senator acted especially in Florida and at the last Reagan Library debate. The Governor calls upon us as a matter of politics to fall behind Senator McCain. Perhaps, eventually all or most of us who supported the Governor will do so because, as you say, the other vineyard will yield less. Nevertheless, I, for one, will be waiting to hoist my rocker upon that wagon since talk of the wagon-master has been anything but straight, and since, as a matter of faith, there is more to consider than one — albeit overriding — issue, and thus far, what Senator McCain has said or ignored has been troubling or unpersuasive. Republicans should not think Catholics incapable of broader considerations because of the ethical stumbling block that abortion represents. It would be wrong to use one aspect of ethics to defeat ethics.
At which point Ramesh says "ENOUGH!":
Kmiec Slimes McCain

He writes, below: " the candidate of the status quo has a military occupation position ('100 years, sure, maybe a 1000') that is far too flippant for an issue of human life or national security and that is directly contrary to an equally resolute teaching of the Church." Well, no. McCain has said that a military presence could be sustained for a long, long time if violence subsides and both governments consider that presence in their interest. He uses South Korea as an example. He has not said anything about a 100-year "military occupation," and the notion that McCain's position contradicts the "resolute teaching of the Church" is simply an invention. It looks more and more as though, once you take away Kmiec's sour grapes over the primaries and his fuzzy thinking, there's nothing left to his case.

Previous Pro Ecclesia posts on this subject:
Romney Advisor Says Obama "a Natural for the Catholic Vote"

Obama "Post-Partisan"? Ask John Roberts

Obama and the "Pragmatic Center"

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At 2/15/2008 7:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I found much of Kmiec's letter incomprehensible"

That makes two of us. I think Kmiec is suffering from a bad case of MDS, McCain Derangement Syndrome, or Kmiec has been bitten by Gerald Campbell over at Vox Nova and caught a bad case of Obamamania.

At 2/15/2008 7:51 PM, Anonymous Kathy from Kansas said...

Barack Obama as a state senator voted against the Illinois version of the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, the law that made it illegal to strangle, starve or cause to die by exposure an infant who actually survives an abortion. Not only that, but in their January 5 debate, he and Hillary Clinton argued about who opposed the protective law most vigorously! In other words, each fought to establish himself or herself as more pro-infanticide than the other. This display was so appalling that I am frankly horrified that there is a single Catholic remaining in America who could even consider the possibility of voting for either one of these cold-hearted monsters. How can it be that Catholics even find room for discussion on this matter? When I read discussions such as this, I feel as if I've entered some alternative universe. And Catholics "run screaming" from Huckabee? What's THAT all about? Mike Huckabee exemplifies Catholic social teaching on a whole variety of issues more than any presidential candidate in memory. (See also Robert Stackpole's excellent commentary "The Only 'Catholic' on the Ballot," in the 1/29/08 issue of Catholic Online,

At 2/16/2008 9:10 AM, Blogger Dale P. said...

It would have made a lot more sense if he'd just said "I despise McCain so much that I prefer Obama."

I think he officially takes the crown of "Biggest Romney Fan" from Hugh Hewitt, which I didn't think was possible.

At 2/16/2008 7:48 PM, Blogger Jay Anderson said...

"Mike Huckabee exemplifies Catholic social teaching on a whole variety of issues more than any presidential candidate in memory."

My own personal opinion is that that particular distinction belongs to Sam Brownback. But I agree that Huckabee is a lot closer than most other candidates.


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