In All Things
Abortion Politics Part I – The Paleo-Cons
Michael Sean Winters
If I were ever inclined to become a conservative Republican, I would only have to read the latest press release from Bill Donohue's Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights to be dissuaded. Donohue has called for Obama's Catholic Advisory Board to resign en masse because none of them "stand with the Catholic Church on all three major issues: abortion, embryonic stem cell research and school vouchers." School vouchers? How did that become one of the "three major issues" upon which Catholics should base their votes? More importantly, the chair of Obama's advisory board is pro-life Senator Bob Casey. He is joined by pro-life former Congressman Tim Roemer and pro-life Governor Tim Kaine. So, the factual basis for Donohue's demand is shoddy from the start.
It is where Donohue finishes, however, that is most disturbing. He falsely asserts that Obama "led" the effort to deny protection to babies born after a botched abortion. He labels this "a Hitlerian decision." As a general rule, when you find yourself using Nazi analogies for American politics, you have lost the argument. If Donohue really wants to change America's legal tolerance of abortion, then he needs to engage in the hard but noble task of persuading those who currently disagree with him that they are wrong. The adjective "Hitlerian" is not likely to incline their ears or their hearts to his case.
Donohue is a comic figure, but Deal Hudson is more a tragedian. Hudson played a critical role in soothing Catholic sensibilities for then-candidate George W. Bush in 2000 after Bush gave a speech at Bob Jones ("Rome is the Whore of Babylon") University. When Bush "won" the election, Hudson and many Catholic conservatives acted as if the eschaton was at hand, having created a political alliance with conservative evangelicals that they believed would dominate politics for decades, an alliance that has never quite materialized as they wished.
Hudson has entered the current debate to defend Donohue. He argues that Obama's supporters are wrong to suggest the GOP may be right about abortion but wrong about everything else. "Obama's Catholics talk as if a Republican never had a thought about healthcare, immigration, poverty, taxation, and so on," he opines. The problem is that Republicans think wrongly on these issues as far as Catholics are concerned. Even John McCain, who once championed the human dignity of immigrants, has had to abandon his comprehensive immigration reform proposal in order to appease the Republican base. His health care proposal does little to help the poor. And, he flip-flopped on taxes for the wealthy, discarding his once principled stand against huge give-aways to the wealthiest Americans.
The deeper problem with Catholic conservatives is that they have been complicit in the reduction of religion to ethics that was largely responsible for the inability of the Catholic Church to mount a more effective opposition to legalized abortion in the first place. Once abortion became a "moral issue" the pro-life movement was bound to fail. The issue of abortion needed to reach deeper than ethics, into the most fundamental existential questions the human person can ask: Who am I? What is personhood? What are the obligations of the commonwealth to persons? When the Church is reduced to being an ethical authority, it has lost its deepest self-awareness, and can no longer enter a political discussion as the Church. This was a danger the conservatives never perceived because they were too busy giving interviews: allowing yourself to become an ethical authority was a sure-fire way to gain access to the media.
So, this is where the paleo-cons stand in 2008. They will rant. Hopefully, no one will listen. Tomorrow, we will look at what more thoughtful conservatives are saying in this election year.