Why should President Obama have thought the Catholic Church was serious?

From the Lonely Conservative:

Internal White House Debate on Catholics and Contraception Shows Obama Will Never Be a Moderate

February 10, 2012 | By

Some people think that if we elect a conservative Senate and House that President Obama will have no choice but to compromise with Republicans. Well, think again. Look no farther than the internal debate within the White House on the rule mandating Catholic universities and organizations to provide free contraceptives to employees.  According to ABC News, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and Vice President Joe Biden – all Catholics – warned him against this. He didn’t listen. Despite the known political fallout, Obama went with the far left.

The debate within the White House on this issue was, sources say, heated, and President Obama was legitimately torn. Panetta wasn’t alone in his concerns. For months, Vice President Joe Biden and then-White House chief of staff Bill Daley argued internally against the rule, sources tell ABC News. Biden and Daley didn’t think the rule was right on either the policy or the politics, sources said. Joshua Dubois, head of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, also expressed concern.

The policy was wrong, the two Catholic men, Biden and Daley, argued, saying that the Obama administration couldn’t force religious charities to pay for something they think is a sin. Sources say that Biden and Daley in these internal debates emphasized the political fallout more so than the policy issue. Catholics are the ultimate swing voters, they argued. President Obama won the Catholic vote 54-46% in 2008, but he lost among white Catholics 47-53%, according to exit polls.

But Biden and Daley faced a strong group making the case for the rule within the administration – including Catholics such as senior adviser David Plouffe and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, senior White House advisers Valerie Jarrett and Pete Rouse, and then-domestic policy council director Melody Barnes. Others outside the White House also pushed hard for the rule, including former White House communications director Anita Dunn, Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards. (Some of the details of this internal division were first reported yesterday by Bloomberg’s Mike Dorning and Margaret Talev.)

Read the whole thing. According to the article, Plouffe, Sebelius and Jarrett were arguing for this assault on religious freedom based on “science,” saying birth control saves lives. But we all know it had nothing to do with science – women are still free to purchase birth control. It was about appeasing the abortion lobby and ginning up the base before the election.

In this case, it’s looking like they pushed the envelope just a little bit too far.

What I find ironic is that so many Catholic organizations were so gung-ho for Obamacare, and are now shocked that Obama would cross this line. Hello!

Hat tip to The Other McCain.

The Catholic Church is very much on the political left on economic issues,1 and has been very supportive of the idea of guaranteed health care coverage for everybody. It was never a surprise that the Church would support the proposals for universal health care coverage after Barack Obama was elected, though the bishops should have seen this coming with the way the Stupak Amendment was treated during the passage of the Affordable Care Act: it was accepted and used just long enough to get the bill through the House of Representatives, but once that was accomplished, it was deleted from the final bill.

However, if you read Jake Tapper's original, it is unsurprising that President Obama, who is not Catholic, and the other non-Catholic liberals in his Administration, did not anticipate this fight. The Catholics who did foresee the fight — Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and former Chief of Staff William Daley — were “Catholics” who oppose the Church's position on contraception and abortion, while other supposed Catholics, including Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and every Catholic Democrat in the United States Senate — including the supposedly pro-life Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) — either support full abortion rights or at the very least conveniently get out of the Democrats' way when abortion is the subject. The history of the Stupak Amendment, in which then Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI), a pro-life Catholic, was essentially bought off by the promise of an executive order, something which this President or any of his successors can rescind at any point, without any check on his authority. The Catholic bishops, though they did protest the removal of the Stupak Amendment and the substitution of Executive Order 13535, were still happy to have the health care reform bill passed. On so many other issues, the Church takes a politically liberal position.

Why, then, should we have expected a supposedly Protestant Christian, who appears to be more more secular and political in outlook than religious, to believe that the Catholic bishops and Catholic parishioners would actually be serious in their opposition? Why shouldn't such a man have concluded that any opposition would have been pro-forma and easily pushed aside? Now, having has realized that, hey, these guys were actually serious, the President is attempting to placate them with a proposal which amounts to nothing more than a shift in language: the Catholic institutions wouldn't have to pay for contraception, but the insurers with whom they contract would have to pay, as though somehow the insurance companies would simply accept increased costs without passing them on in the form of increased premiums.2 Given that he was able to buy off the pro-life Democrats like Bart Stupak and Bob Casey with the mess of pottage that is his executive order, why shouldn't he think that he could placate the bishops with meaningless words? As Benjamin Keach put it, 323 years ago:3

    I know not whether those who did our Rights betray,
    And for a mess of Pottage, sold away
    Our dear bought Freedoms, shall now trusted be,
    As Conservators of our Libertie.

Our President, canny politician that he is, surely knows that such has worked before, for many, many other people, as well as for himself.


  1. Your editor, who is Catholic, would also be on the political left on economic issues, being the charitable soul that he is, if liberal economics and the welfare state actually worked. He is an economic conservative precisely because liberal economics, socialism and the welfare state don't work to provide a better and wealthier society.

  2. In his proposal, President Obama showed just how ignorant and amateurish his Administration is: many of the larger Catholic institutions, especially hospitals, are self-insured, meaning that even under the new language, they would have to pay directly for contraception, including abortifacients such as “Plan B.” That fact renders the President's proposal useless, even if the Church were willing to look the other way when it comes to outside insurers, but it appears as though not a single soul in the Administration was aware of the self-insurance problem.
  3. Benjamin Keach, Distressed Sion Relieved, line 3300. (London, 1689)

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