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The Great Perplexity for Catholic Voters

New Hampshire polls close in just a few hours, but in the build-up to today’s primary, Manchester’s Catholic Bishop John B. McCormack gave an insightful quote that hints at the proverbial wall that many Catholics all over the country will be beating their heads against in the struggle to determine how to cast their vote. “Some candidates advance proposals that fail to mirror the commitment of the church to the protection of all human life. In many cases, these same candidates advance other policies and proposals that can be supported in light of church teaching. This frequent mixture of laudable and unacceptable positions causes great perplexity,” said Bishop McCormack.

What’s a Catholic to do when (1) it’s a moral responsibili ty to vote, (2) it’s a moral responsibili ty to vote for the candidate who best espouses the Church’s moral teachings, particularly on respecting life, and (3) no candidate on either side of the political aisle fits into the “perfect” mold of the Church’s moral teachings?

Now that’s a dilemma. Thank God I belong to the United Church of Christ now.

The battle for the Catholic vote will likely rev up in the coming weeks and months, as we get out of primary election mode and into general election hysteria. Who knows what lurks in the hearts (or empty vessels they pretend are hearts!) of political operatives and pollsters this year in terms of nabbing the Catholic vote. One thing is almost for certain: the right is going to argue that Democrats are unsuitable because of issues like abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, and gay marriage. The left is going to argue that Republicans are unsuitable because of issues like poverty, immigration, health care, education, and most importantly, war. Who’s right?

Well, if you look at what the institutiona l Church (i.e. The Catholic Bishops Conference) has said, here’s their take on the number one issue that should inform a Catholic voter’s conscience in 2008 (quoted directly from Faithful Citizenship, released every Presidential Election season by the Bishops):

The right to life and the dignity of the human person.
Human life is sacred. Direct attacks on innocent human beings are never morally acceptable. Within our own society, life is under direct attack from abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, and the destruction of human embryos for research. These intrinsic evils must always be opposed. This teaching also compels us as Catholics to oppose genocide, torture, unjust war, and the unnecessary use of the death penalty, as well as to pursue peace and help overcome poverty, racism, and other conditions that demean human life.

Talk about triangulatio n! Did Mark Penn write this for the bishops?

Whether it’s McCain, Romney, Giuliani or Huckabee who ends up the eventual GOP nominee, clearly they don’t fit the bill given their records on issues like war, the death penalty, and torture (particularl y Romney, who wouldn’t rule out using waterboardin g as an interrogatio n technique). And that’s not a liberal Massachusett s blogger saying this…that’s the institutiona l Catholic Church.

On the Dem side, it gets trickier. Sure, you can argue (like the right will) that Obama and Clinton support abortion rights and support stem cell research, thus Catholics in good conscience shouldn’t vote for them. But when you peel back the layers of these complex issues, particularly abortion, and start to look at which party’s platform might actually lead to a reduction in abortion rates and teen pregnancy rates because of how it handles issues like economic justice, poverty, health care, and education, the waters get much muddier. That’s because Obama’s and Clinton’s principles seem to line up more with the principles of Catholic Social Teaching than, say, a war hawk, someone who wants to jail clergy for feeding illegal immigrants, those who would execute entire populations of prisoners, and those who would condone torture.

So the great perplexity for Catholic Voters, and Bishop McCormack put it, might just be turning away from the rants and raves of Bill Donohue, Phyllis Schlafly, Deal Hudson and others who would sabotage Catholic Social Teaching to fit their own political sympathies, and looking more deeply at the moral teachings of the Church.

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Pat Robertson endorses Rudy Giuliani. And I’m not making that up.

They say shocking news comes in threes. First we get news this week that Rep. Ron Paul raked in more than $4 million in just ONE DAY, on an interesting fundraising campaign that coincided with Guy Fawkes Day. (This was also the Nile’s birthday, but rumor has it that this had little to do with Paul’s decision to use November 5 as a fundraising push.)

But even more shocking than that comes news this morning that Pat Robertson — yes, that Pat Robertson, who once suggested that maybe we’d be better off if a nuclear weapon hit our State Department — is endorsing Rudy Giuliani for President.

I can only imagine the sh*t-eating grin that Rudy has on his face right now, as you can bet he’ll be throwing this endorsement out there left and right to quash the talk that the religious right is uncomfortabl e with him due to his somewhat pro-choice inklings and his tacit support of some gay rights. Mitt Romney must be so pissed right now. After all, Romney fought so hard for the endorsement of uber-Christi ans Bob Jones and Paul Weyrich, that a Robertson endorsement seemed written in the stars.

More on this later, but surprising news nonetheless.   Ron Paul rakes in $4 mil in 24 hours; Pat Robertson endorses Rudy Giuliani; what shocking news comes next? Perhaps the Miami Dolphins, a sentimental Nile favorite, might win a game?

Now that would be truly shocking.

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Mitt Romney proud of Bob Jones endorsement

Bob Jones University in South Carolina once threatened to arrest its gay alumni, up until the year 2000 banned inter-racial dating on campus, and has previously called Catholicism a cult and the Pope the anti-Christ.   Rumor also has it that the university refuses (or at least refused) to honor Martin Luther King Jr., and that a former Chancellor once called King an “apostate.”

All that said, one has to wonder why Mitt Romney’s campaign was so proud last week to receive the endorsement of Bob Jones III. To quote Romney spokesman William Holley: “We’re proud to have Dr. Jones’ support and look forward to working with him to communicate Governor Romney’s message of conservative change to voters.”

Proud of an endorsement from a school with a track record of racism, sexism, heterosexism  , and vehement hatred of other religions, including Catholicism, Islam, and Romney’s own Mormon faith? (Yes, that’s what might be most odd about this — Bob Jones III is quoted as saying “As a Christian, I am completely opposed to the doctrines of mormonism.” But Bob Jones’ fear of Rudy Giuliani is propelling him to make this endorsement.  )

This may be the biggest sign yet of how much Mitt Romney is willing to sell himself out to become President. Romney’s willing to kiss the fundamentali st ring of a University Chancellor who believes that the former Governor belongs to a cult, that the races were created separately by God for a reason, and that gay people should be arrested just for stepping foot on campus. Yes, for all of that Romney is “proud.”

At this rate, maybe Romney can angle for an endorsement from crazy pastor Rev. Fred Phelps, the uber-right bigot who protests the funerals of fallen soldiers because America tolerates the gays too much. I mean, come on, is it that much of a step from Bob Jones III to Rev. Fred Phelps? It hardly seems so.

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Peaking inside the religious right’s playbook?

Today marks the beginning of a three-day meeting in Washington labeled the Values Voter Summit, which will likely bring scores of conservative activists and leaders to the Hilton Washington Hotel (where the event is taking place…tip your cleaning people, please). More importantly, perhaps, is that about 50 of the nation’s leading conservative religious folk will gather again to follow up on a September meeting in Salt Lake City where the idea of a third-party presidential candidate supported by the religious right first picked up steam.

All this talk about a third party candidate from the religious right has me thinking: Who do they fear more, Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani? I’d be curious to hear what people think. But for now, let’s look at this article from Paul Weyrich, the Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation, who lays out his high-school- football-coa ch-chalkboar d-drawing for how a third party candidate can be successful on the right.

Step 1: Major figures from the existing Republican party would publicly need to defect. This is not like when Alec Baldwin said he’d move to Canada after the 2002 elections, or when I quit the Cub Scouts in 5th grade because I didn’t like the uniforms. As Weyrich spells it out, this would include major leaders from the GOP holding a press conference and declaring that the “pro-life” party has lost its way. (In Weyrich’s world, this movement starts with the two Senators from Oklahoma, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Gov. Mitt Romney going AWOL. Now, I have a fondness for Sen. Tom Coburn, one of the Senators from Oklahoma, because he does crossword puzzles during Senate confirmation hearings. But the other three dudes? Come on…why not start a third party with three Ritz crackers? They contain about as much excitement.)

Step 2: A third party effort would require a multi-millio naire prepared to spend his own money for a Presidential campaign. Let’s bold the obvious there — clearly Weyrich thinks only men have millions of dollars. But really, where oh where will the religious right find a multi-millio naire candidate with money bleeding out of his ass, AND who hasn’t been indicted yet on any fraudulent charges….if only there was a wealthy former governor of Massachusett s running for President….

Step 3: A third party would require the defection of a major media outlet. does not count; no, this major media outlet has to have more than 45 people reading or watching it. Who does Weyrich suggest? Fox News Channel and/or the Wall Street Journal. Hmm, not very original.

In short, Weyrich’s point is pretty simple: third party candidates need a miracle to win. But the best thing about the religious right is that, well, they tend to believe in miracles. That, coupled with the fact that I suspect the religious right would rather see a Hillary Clinton presidency (or a Barack Obama presidency, John Edwards presidency, etc.) than a Rudy Giuliani presidency, makes a third-party possibility pretty real. Why?

That answer is easy, and it doesn’t require a game plan from Paul Weyrich. If the religious right can prevent Giuliani from winning (even if, in the short term, they lose), they can assert what they’ve been saying since 1980: that Republicans can’t win without them. Nothing will give them more influence in future elections than that very sentiment. And, for them, that may be worth five Hillary Clintons.

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The religious right’s threat of a third-party candidacy

Here’s a poll: How many of you think all the major GOP presidential candidates are sweating buckets right now that leaders of the religious right suggested they may back a third-party Presidential candidate in 2008, due to less than enthusiastic support for the current crop of candidates?

Giuliani’s camp fought back by pumping the media with stories about how the GOP has “to have a candidate that can run in all 50 states,” and arguing that he’s the only Republican contender who can do so.

McCain’s camp arranged for him to give an interview to Beliefnet, where he slandered Islam and suggested that he’d only be comfortable with a Christian president.

Thompson’s been trying to thwart attention from his religion to his tax proposal, in hopes of convincing the religious right to vote with their pocketbooks instead of their bibles.

Huckabee issued a statement saying that a third-party backed candidate would hand Hillary Clinton the election.

And this past weekend, the Boston Globe reported that Romney is doubling his efforts to lure the support of the religious right, by asking Rev. James Dobson of Focus on the Family (the media’s anointed leader of the religious right) to take a second look at his candidacy.

At that’s just the news from the past few days. My god, I don’t even know if the children of Elm Street were this afraid when they went to sleep!

The truth is that Huckabee is probably right. A third-party candidate would handicap the race for Democrats, splintering the coalition of the willing comprised of social conservative s and fiscal conservative s. All of the leading GOP candidates know this, and my guess is that all of them have the head of James Dobson on a dartboard in their war rooms. Imagine having to kiss Dobson’s ass just so he doesn’t pull behind a rogue candidacy?

It’s kind of like the last season of The West Wing playing out in real time. Remember how Alan Alda’s character had to placate the religious right?

Though Tuesday’s Republican debate in Dearborn, Michigan is meant to focus on economic issues, I’ll be curious how the candidates work in some religious right talking points to kabash the growing story line that the moral majority is magnificentl y dissatisfied with this bunch. Stay tuned.

(Note: For those who may be interested, I hold a soft spot in my heart for Dearborn, MI. It’s where I tried out for Jeopardy back in 2005. I didn’t make it, but I can hardly hold that against Dearborn. I blame it on Jeopardy’s penchant for asking too many damn opera questions.)

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Catholics and pro-choice candidates, 2.0

Proving that he’s not just a one-hit wonder, St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke has issued a public statement saying that he would deny Presidential Candidate Rudy Giuliani Communion if Giuliani were to approach his altar. Archbishop Burke made the same comments about John Kerry in 2004.

Think Burke’s alone in his testiness toward Giuliani? For now. But watch Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln (NE), Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker (OR), Bishop Robert Baker of Charleston (SC), and Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte (NC).   All of these cats — following the lead of Burke — signed a letter in 2004 saying they too would have refused Kerry Communion. You can bet they’ll be jumping at the chance to offer Giuliani the same treatment. (In fact, one might say that if they don’t offer Giuliani the same treatment, you’d have to question whether they were just being partisan in 2004 and trying to pack the pews for Bush and the GOP.)

This is the wrong battle for Bishops to be waging, and my only hope is that some of the more reasonable minds in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) push back on this. The Bishops will meet November 12-15 in Baltimore, MD to issue their document Faithful Citizenship, a set of guidelines and principles issued every four years providing Catholics with the myriad of issues they should be called to focus on.

Make no mistake, there is a large and influential group of Catholics — these bishops perhaps among them — who will again in 2008 try to boil the Catholic vote down to four issues: abortion, gay marriage, stem cells, and euthanasia. THEY ARE WRONG. Every Faithful Citizenship document that has come out since the Bishops began issuing it has NEVER boiled the Catholic vote down to these four issues. Instead, Faithful Citizenship suggests to Catholics that when they enter into the voting booth, they should be thinking about which candidate will bring about an end to the war quicker, which candidate will help alleviate poverty more, which candidate will provide better leadership on health care, which candidate will work with the internationa l community respectfully and move away from a doctrine of preemptive war, which candidate will responsibly and justly address immigration policies, and the myriad of other issues that benefit the common good.

So while I enjoy seeing Giuliani squirm his way around these issues, this debate is bad for everyone. Archbishop Burke, and any other Bishop willing to boil Catholic Social Teaching down to four issues, chips away at the social justice roots of the Catholic Church by playing this Communion game.

And during times like these, those social justice roots are exactly what Catholics should be thinking about when they enter the voting booth — not whether someone is worthy or unworthy of Communion. Indeed, does anyone think that Jesus would refuse bread to someone? If they do, they should probably go back and read the New Testament again.

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A crumbling Christian right?

Another campaign week goes by, and more evidence is emerging that the Christian right is flailing as it heads into 2008.

I wrote last week about a disappointin g gathering in Florida that attracted only 100 or so conservative Christian organizers (not including the plants from Americans United), and the general disorganizat ion of the once supreme Christian right, who are still searching for their Mr. Right four months ahead of Iowa. Need more proof that the Christian right has lost its Christian version of chutzpah?

  • Check out the public tiff this week between former GOP Presidential candidate Gary Bauer (and founder of American Values) and Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, over whether Fred Thompson is religious enough to be President. Dobson went so far as to say that his impression of Thompson was that he wasn’t a Christian, prompting Bauer to fire back that Dobson was hurting the entire Christian movement with his comments. Round one.
  • Just this past weekend, a gathering of influential Christian right leaders gathered in Salt Lake City (Rev. Dobson among them), and let it be known that if a pro-choice candidate heads the Republican ticket (*cough* Giuliani *cough*), they’ll likely back a third-party candidate. Round two.
  • Conservative Catholics, not wanting to miss a beat, have formed a Web site, sagainstrudy .com, to (in their own words…I can’t write stuff as good as this): “empower faithful Catholics at the local level to educate their fellow parishoners about Rudy Giuliani’s abysmal record on non-negotiab le “Culture of Life” issues (e.g., abortion, embryonic stem cell research) and traditional marriage.”   (Note: If I had written that, you can bet that I would have spelled parishioners right!) Round three.
  • And check out the continued stories coming forward – in both secular and religious press – that show Americans more uncomfortabl e voting for someone who is a Mormon (25 percent, according to this article) than voting for a candidate who is Jewish (11 percent), evangelical  (16 percent), or Catholic (7 percent). Sure, this is ignorance at play, but it still has to influence the level of Christian right support that Romney will be able to pick up. Can a Mormon unite a base that really wants an evangelical Christian? It’s hard to say. Round four.

To keep the boxing metaphor running, I don’t think a knockout blow has been delivered to the Christian right. But clearly they are disorganized  , petrified of any of the top-three Democrats, and totally unfocused heading into 2008.

Is it a result of putting all their eggs in one basket with President Bush, while failing to focus on his successor? Is it the result of the death of leaders like Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy, and the falls from grace that folks like Ted Haggard and Ralph Reed have taken?

Or is it that, FINALLY, after years of shoving gay marriage, stem cells and abortion down peoples’ throats, folks are ready for a more spiritually mature movement that focuses on poverty, human rights, the environment, and war, as opposed to wedge issues and rhetoric that just create more division in this country?

That might be the ultimate question, and one that may not be answered until November 2008.

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