The news came last Tuesday when I was doing an interview on radio with a faithful reader of The Catholic Thing, Mike Janocik in Louisville, Kentucky. He sprung on me the findings from the National Catholic Election Survey, taken with quite a large sample. They were the findings that George Marlin would report the very next day in our columns, and so they struck with more of a jolt, taken in for the first time.
Among those who called themselves Catholics, Mr. Obama led Mr. Romney by eight points. I quickly protested: A striking difference will appear as soon as the survey separates the nominal Catholics from the Catholics who regularly attend Mass. But the sample was already arranged in that way, and what it revealed was that Romney led Obama by only one point.
That, it seemed to me, was breathtaking and unbelievable. Could it be that there really was no “Catholic vote,” because Catholics now mirrored the rest of the country in their voting? I know, of course, the tradition that has held many Catholics in the Democratic Party almost as a “default” position.
But as I tell people, “We all used to be Democrats.” I grew up a child of the Cook County Democratic Organization. At a pro-life meeting in Detroit many years ago, a speaker debunking the population problem laid before us an imagined scene in which everyone in the world were moved into Texas. And Texas, under those conditions, would be less dense than his hometown of San Francisco.
When it became my turn I remarked that this account moved me to a recognition of faith: If everyone in the world were moved to Texas, and there was no one anywhere else – not in Europe, in Asia, in Africa – I still believed that there would be. . .400,000 Democratic votes reported from Chicago.
But the Democratic party in which so many of us had grown up is long gone. That party has now made the “right to abortion” and gay rights the central pins on which virtually all of its others interests hinge, along with the power of the public service unions.
The party has brought forth an administration that is perfectly willing to see Catholic institutions close down if they will not fund contraception and abortion in their medical plans. It would see agencies of adoption close if they refuse to place children for adoption with homosexual couples.
In response to the demands of the Democratic caucus in the House, we can expect to see Catholic hospitals faced with the threat of losing tax exemptions, or authorizations to expand, if they will not perform abortions. The assumption of religious freedom, so long settled, so long taken for granted, is now treated as problematic.
The current administration and its adherents in the country do not show the least expression of shame when they are faced with this record of treating religious freedom as a matter of no consequence. No big deal. And now we are told that most of the people who describe themselves as Catholics share the sense that there is indeed, in this record, nothing of consequence; nothing that would make a difference to their judgment on the government they would preserve in power this November – or displace.
George Marlin reflects the reaction of the savvy observers: first the shock at the findings from the surveys, but then the flight to the diagnosis – that Mitt Romney is not “connecting” with middle-class Catholics. Rightly or wrong, many Catholics, worried about their own situations, are not sure, as George Marlin says, that “their working-class values and priorities are [Romney’s].”
For some of us, the complaint is bizarre, for it is hard to look at the personal lives engaged here and see any notable advantage for Mr. Obama on the measure of “caring.” Nor does he seem exactly comparable to his rival in the private record of ministering to people outside his own family.
Obamacare has already been holding out the prospect of heavy new taxes and regulations kicking in when employers add a fiftieth employee; and one finds no flicker of awareness on the part of Mr. Obama that his own policies may be powerfully discouraging employers from the risk of creating new jobs.
But put all of that aside, to the department of conjecture. We are talking now about an administration as hostile to Catholic moral teaching as an administration can be without branding itself explicitly as anti-Catholic.
The taking of innocent life on a vast scale each year in abortions? No deal breaker, we are to told, for most Catholics.
When we add this up, it becomes a massive moral distraction to point to Mr. Romney’s problems in “connecting” as though he bore the major fault here. The real scandal involves a Catholic population that has somehow not noticed the war on Catholic life taking place, or has decided that it doesn’t matter.
I once asked a pro-lifer I knew, an Orthodox Jew, just how he made his argument to Jewish audiences. He said, “I ask them, ‘Are you Jewish? If so, why aren’t you respecting Jewish laws on the child in the womb?’”
Leave aside Mitt Romney. The real question is for Catholics: Where is your own responsibility to face up to what is happening around you, and the responsibilities you bear – if in fact you are Catholic?
Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College and the Director of the Claremont Center for the Jurisprudence of Natural Law in Washington. D.C. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law.