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Obama Has Stranded the Catholic Left


ELIZABETH SCALIA

Source:
First Things
Type:
Media/Opinion
Date:
2/14/2012

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ABSTRACTObama Has Stranded the Catholic Left | First Things Home Visit the Home Page Print Edition Current Edition Previous Edition Archive Subscribe On the Square Latest Feature Archive Blogs Evangel Secondhand Smoke First Thoughts Postmodern Conservative Events Coming Events Recent Events Advertising Advertise on First Things Donate Support First Things About Us Masthead ROFTERS Contact Us Submissions Store Shop First Things Buy The Creed Subscribe Subscribe Customer Service Search First Things 2012 Jan Feb Mar Apr May 2011 Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec 2010 Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec 2009 Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec 2008 Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec 2007 Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec 2006 Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec 2005 Sep Oct Nov Dec 1969 Dec Obama Has Stranded the Catholic Left Feb 14, 2012 Elizabeth Scalia �Catholic Left� and �Catholic Right� are inadequate and irksome labels that too often sully all of us with the �ick� of politics even when our churchy disagreements are not rooted in politics at all, but simply upon a difference in vision and emphasis. So stipulating, and resigned to using more scare quotes than I would like, I am struck by what little assist President Obama gave to his friends on the �Catholic Left� with last Friday�s �accommodation� to their concerns with his HHS mandate. His brief statement was meant to get a hot story off the media front burners (a qualified success) and to telegraph to progressives that he wanted them back in the fold. To that end, the White House seemed to have conferred not with the concerned Bishops but with members of the �Catholic Left� whose criticism of his original plans had had a weighty effect on others, and whose progressive credentials made their alliance vital to retain; he effectively went to Sr. Carol Keehan, President of the Catholic Health Association, and E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post , and sought imprimaturs that were not theirs to give, on what the press has taken to call (in apparent ignorance of the word�s meaning) his �compromise.� Even before the president spoke, Keehan�s approving statement was released through the White Houses own press portals, with Dionne�s endorsement swiftly following. The one-two punch of Keehan and Dionne was meant to knock out the Bishops before they�d had a chance to find their mouth guards or rise from their corners, and also to signal that it was safe for the �Catholic Left� to regroup behind Obama. It has not gone precisely as planned. If the matter has successfully been driven from the front pages�and why wouldn�t it be, since the press had initially tried to ignore the story�no one has yet been knocked down by members of the �Catholic Left� racing back into Obama�s corner. Stunned by Obama�s initial plans (which, by the way, were codified last Friday, in their original form, even as Obama was speaking) the �progressives� are paused and perhaps skittish. Michael Sean Winters admits to registering ambivalence at the White House�s �accommodation� and seeking the input of trusted friends; others have been critical of the bishops but not wholly committed to Obama�s decision, which�it must be said�was neither a compromise nor a negotiated offer; Catholic Charities head Father Larry Snyder has walked back his original statement of support in favor of more cautious words; the ultra liberal retired Cardinal Roger Mahony has reiterated his resistance, calling Obama�s move an �outrage� that �actually makes the entire matter far worse.�� Whether the �Catholic Left� can �hope� for more from Obama is questionable, as the White House Chief of Staff said over the weekend that the administration was finished with the issue. This unwillingness of staunch Obama supporters to quickly embrace his latest idea and perform a full-pivot from the bishops has become for me the most interesting part of the story. As a rule, I think any of these men would be all-too-happy to leave the Bishop�s corners for Obama�s on this particular issue, but�in good conscience�they simply cannot. His stated mandate was so shocking to ideas of justice and constitutionality that whether the president is dealing in good faith has now become an unknowable�why did Obama feel a need to ensnare the churches in an issue that could have been attended to in other ways? If, upon gauging the dismay of his allies within the church, Obama had truly meant to assuage the consciences of his Catholic allies, he could have done so easily and clearly; instead his words suggested to some that even the narrow conscience clause offered in his first decision was at risk, and his solution looks like a shell game, analogous, as blogger Marc Barnes put it, to trying to force Orthodox Jewish restaurants to sell bacon, but then �accommodating� them b.......