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“GOP Having Trouble Threading The Needle On Crazy”: When You Court Crazy Long Enough, It’s Hard To Put It Back In The Box

A fight brewing in Virginia’s highly competitive 10th congressional district shows just how tough it’s becoming for conservative Catholic candidates to move to the center to woo moderates when they’re beholden to a base that’s now as unhinged on contraception as it is on abortion.

Three-term state delegate Barbara Comstock is vying in a crowded Republican primary field to replace retiring Congressman Frank Wolf in a purplish district that stretches from the moderate suburbs of Fairfax Country to the still bright red reaches of rural Virginia.

The candidacy of the former Bush administration official was off to a strong start, with the backing of numerous GOP insiders, including fellow conservative Catholic Rick Santorum, and the state’s business community. But despite a solid anti-abortion record she’s coming under fire from the influential LifeSiteNews for joining in a request last year to the Department of Health and Human Services to make oral contraceptives available over-the-counter.

Now it should be noted that this wasn’t due to a sudden fit of moderation but of political calculation. It came one month after Bobby Jindal penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed saying that the Republican Party should “take contraception out of the political arena”—and by inference diffuse the “war on women”—by pushing for the Pill to be made available without a prescription. “I believe that we have been stupid to let the Democrats demagogue the contraceptives issue and pretend, during debates about health care insurance, that Republicans are somehow against birth control,” he wrote.

According to Jindal, it was the perfect solution. Women could get all the birth control they wanted and employers with religious objections to contraception wouldn’t be “forced by government health-care edicts to purchase it for others.” The only problem was, as women’s health advocates were quick to point out, women would have to pay for something they would otherwise get for free under their insurance and Jindal’s nifty little work-around did nothing to address access to expensive, long-acting forms of birth control, which would still require a prescription.

Motivation aside, the request won Comstock praise from conservative columnist Mona Charen in the National Review, who called her the model for fighting the “war on women” meme. “It’s hard to paint her as someone who wants to keep women barefoot and pregnant when she advocates making birth-control pills easier to obtain,” she wrote.

But Comstock’s political ploy may have backfired. LifeSiteNews lambasted Comstock as a Catholic for promoting access to birth control, rehashing every conservative canard about oral contraceptives, from discredited claims that they cause breast cancer to everyone’s favorite far-right myth that the Pill is actually an abortifacient.

And disgraced former Bush “Catholic advisor” Deal Hudson joined in the fray with a column for Catholic Online in which he took Comstock to task for being insufficiently Catholic for voting against a measure to strip abortion coverage out of the state’s insurance exchange, which she claims was a procedural maneuver to register her opposition to ObamaCare.

The push back induced Austin Ruse of the truly wingnut Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute to call for an intraparty cease-fire on contraception in Crisis magazine, where he warned that fighting birth control was futile and asked, “Is Contraception the Hill We Want to Die On?

Even someone as far right as Ruse, who’s no stranger to crazy, grasps that attacking Comstock on birth control will destroy her ability to court moderates, but it just goes to show that when you court crazy for long enough, it’s hard to put it back in the box.


By: Patricia Miller, Religion Dispatches, February 20, 2014

February 24, 2014 Posted by | Contraception, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Expanding Conservative Religious Fanaticism”: The Contraception Mandate Cases Aren’t Really About Contraception

Earlier today, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear not one, but two challenges to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate; they’ll be heard together in an action-packed hour of oral arguments sometime in the spring. Both cases deal with conservatives’ ever-growing penchant for anthropomorphizing corporations—this time, the justices will decide whether companies can be exempted from the mandate to provide birth control at no cost to employees because of the owners’ religious beliefs.

Oddly enough, neither of the business owners involved are Catholic, even though the first objections to the contraception mandate were raised by Catholic leaders, who didn’t want religiously affiliated hospitals and schools to provide birth control, which the Catholic hierarchy considers taboo. One case—Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, documented extensively for the Prospect by Sarah Posner earlier this summer—deals with an arts-and-crafts chain owned by evangelical Christians. The other—Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius—hones in on a smaller, Mennonite-owned cabinet door manufacturer.

Neither of the plaintiffs’ arguments mention doctrinal objections to contraception. That’s because Protestants, unlike Catholics, don’t believe that birth control is immoral. In fact, the denominations’ divergent views on the two issues created a kind of intra-Christian culture war throughout much of the twentieth century. Haunted, in part, by neo-Malthusian fears about the world’s rapid descent into overpopulation, the Church of England officially moderated its stance on contraception in 1930. Over the course of the following decade, most American Protestant denominations followed suit. The Mennonite Church does not have an official stance on birth control.

In the 1970s, the “Masters and Johnson of Christianity,” Ed and Gaye Wheat, published Intended for Pleasure, a bestselling Christian sex manual with a chapter on “planning and achieving parenthood,” with extensive information about artificial contraceptive methods. Alfred Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, observed in 2006 that although the “birth control revolution…let loose a firestorm of sexual promiscuity,” it also “offered thoughtful and careful couples an opportunity to enjoy the joys and fulfillments of the marital act without remaining at all times equally open to pregnancy.” A Guttmacher Institute report released in 2011 revealed that three-quarters of Protestant American women were using some form of artificial birth control.

When evangelical Christians decided to throw in their lot alongside the Catholic hospitals and schools seeking an exemption from the contraceptive mandate, their argument was, to put it mildly, a stretch. When Wheaton College, an evangelical liberal arts school in Illinois, asked the Obama administration for an emergency injunction against the contraception mandate last year, it emerged that the college was not eligible because it had “inadvertently” been including emergency contraception in its student health plan.

It should also be noted that neither of the cases that will appear before the Supreme Court are founded on sound science; both allege that emergency contraception—and, in the Hobby Lobby case, the IUD—is a form of abortion. This relies on the notion that pregnancy begins when the egg is fertilized—not, as the medical community contends, when a fertilized egg implants in the uterine wall. This means that regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, the facts of the case will be based on junk science, not theology. The Catholic Church, whether you agree with it or not, has consistently maintained that birth control is a fundamental evil. Protestant attempts to overturn the contraception mandate aren’t about theological objections to birth control—they’re an effort to dramatically expand religious freedom rights for conservative Christians.


By: Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, The American Prospect, November 26, 2013

November 27, 2013 Posted by | Contraception, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Incomplete Resume”: Should A Sarah Palin Adviser Speak For America’s Catholic Bishops?

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced on Monday that it has hired Kim Daniels as spokeswoman for the USCCB president, currently Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York. Daniels, the USCCB announcement explains, is “an attorney whose practice has focused on religious liberty matters,” and she “brings to the USCCB her experience as director of Catholic Voices USA, an organization of lay Catholics that works to bring the positive message of the Church across a broad range of issues to the public square.”

The bishops left a few things off her résumé, says Grant Gallicho at Commonweal. Notably, the announcement “does not mention two of Daniels’s previous employers: Sarah Palin and the Thomas More Law Center,” a conservative legal organization at which Daniels fought for the right of pharmacists to refuse to dispense the morning-after pill. She spent nine years, from 2000 to 2009, at the Thomas More Law Center, established in 1998 by its president, Richard Thompson. Thompson and his center increasingly tend to “make news by making provocative comments about Islam.”

The more eyebrow-raising job is Daniels’ work as a paid adviser to Palin and her political group, SarahPAC. Daniels signed up to work with Palin after doing some legal work for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, at a time when “the former Alaska governor tried to remodel herself” after McCain’s loss, says David Gibson at Religion News Service. Daniels was described as “Palin’s personal domestic policy czar,” and that association leaves an open question for the bishops about “whether Daniels will deflect controversies or become a lightning rod herself,” says Gibson.

Palin has continued to alienate herself from all but her most loyal fans on the movement’s right flank, and it is not clear where Daniels’ relationship with Palin stands today. [RNS]

Yes, Daniels worked for Palin, says Kathryn Jean Lopez at Patheos, but “I wouldn’t read too much into the political significance of this as a bishops’ conference matter.” As Daniels has explained it, she “felt a call to work with this most prominent pro-life mother who was giving voice to issues close to her heart in the public square.”

Her heart belongs to her family and the church, and her work with Palin was an outgrowth of that…. One of the key questions the church is confronted with today is: How do we teach and share the Gospel effectively?…. How Catholics in the pews hear and what they hear plays a major role in that. But the media in all its mainstream and social forms is where most people’s views of the church is formed. How do we engage there clearly, as Christians, lovingly and responsively? Kim has been devoting her time to just that question as a director of the Catholic Voices USA project. So I really can’t think of a better person to be joining Cardinal Dolan and the bishops’ conference in that effort to address that question. [Patheos]

What role Daniels will fill remains an open question, however. Her position is a new one, separate from the USCCB’s official press office. “Kim Daniels is not in the Communications Department,” Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the USCCB’s longtime spokeswoman, tells Religion News Service. “As head of the USCCB Office for Media Relations I speak to the media in that capacity.” That makes this “new territory for everyone,” says RNS‘s Gibson.

Daniels’ hiring also looks like an effort to satisfy Dolan’s goal of finding an “attractive, articulate, intelligent” laywoman to help recast the hierarchy’s image… because, as he put it, “In the public square, I hate to tell you, the days of fat, balding Irish bishops are over.” Yet Daniels, a mother of six, will also have to be credible, which means she would need to have a clear mandate. [RNS]

Whether Daniels has that mandate isn’t clear, since not all the bishops are comfortable with one spokeswoman speaking for all of them. Will she be the public face of Dolan’s policies, or a rival to Walsh’s media shop, or a behind-the-scenes policy shaper? We’ll find out. But there’s also “a final wrinkle,” Gibson says: “Dolan’s three-year term as USCCB president ends in November, and a new president may want to use Daniels in a different capacity, or not at all.”


By: Peter Weber, The Week, April 30, 2013

May 2, 2013 Posted by | Catholic Bishops, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Women And Their Beans”: Why Does Abortion Have To Be A Personal Question For Men?

I have a nasty head cold, and it’s sort of surprising that I was even able to stay up to watch the vice-presidential debate, so I’ll just have a couple of quick takeaways here.

Because both candidates are Catholic, it was widely expected they’d be asked questions relating to abortion and the contraception mandate. On the latter, Paul Ryan predictably portrayed it as an “assault on religious liberty” and Joe Biden pointed out that no Catholic institution is actually being required to provide, refer for, or pay for contraception. It wasn’t the most elaborate discussion of the constitutional questions there, but it was pretty standard fare.

Moderator Martha Raddatz, who, incidentally, was otherwise really, really good, asked both candidates to discuss their views, as Catholics, on abortion from a “personal” perspective. It was intended for some tension, of course, given their opposing political views. And Ryan was prepared to talk about Bean. Everyone who has had a child since the invention of the ultrasound has seen their own Bean. Does that make Ryan’s public policy position on abortion more legitimate than someone who rejoices over their own Bean and still thinks abortion should be legal?

Biden pointed out that he personally agrees with the Church on abortion but doesn’t want to impose his religious beliefs on others. Which is, of course, the heart of the answer to both the abortion and contraception questions. Raddatz gave both men the chance to discuss their faith. Ryan pointed out that faith informs everything he does; Biden took pains to highlight that as important as his faith is to him, he wouldn’t use it to force others to adhere to his beliefs. And as it happens, most Catholic voters don’t really rate abortion and contraception at the top of their list of concerns.

As the other Sarah discussed earlier today, Catholic doctrine has a lot to say about issues unrelated to reproductive matters. Biden took a probably little noticed dig at Ryan when he pointed out that the Republican’s economic policy proposals are at odds with Catholic social justice teaching. Raddatz could have asked about how quite a number of Catholic theologians have something to say about that. Of course it seems preposterous that we would mix up religious doctrine with economic policy, doesn’t it? But somehow men must opine about their personal religious beliefs about women’s bodies.


By: Sarah Posner, Religion Dispatches, October 11, 2012

October 14, 2012 Posted by | Abortion, Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Intrinsic Evils And Prudential Judgments”: The Right-Wing Catholic Vice-Presidential Voter Guide

Before there were soccer moms or NASCAR dads, there were Catholics. Once a Democratic bastion, they have been the bellwether voting bloc for the last forty years. As Ross Douthat of The New York Times notes, “Exit polling tells us that in every presidential election since 1972, the candidate who has won Catholics has won the popular vote as well.

Now the religious right is targeting Catholics with a narrow message of what Catholic teachings should mean in the political realm.

The Family Research Council, a socially conservative advocacy organization, has released a “2012 Catholic Vice-Presidential Voter Guide.” This seems especially relevant since both Vice President Joe Biden and Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) are Catholic and were chosen partly for their putative appeal to Midwestern Catholic voters. FRC defines Catholic issues in a way that is far more congenial to Republicans.

They list nine “Intrinsic Evils,” of which eight favor the Republican position: various manifestations of opposition to abortion, gay rights and stem cell research. The one outlier is torture of foreign prisoners of war, which Vice President Biden, like the Catholic Church, opposes. (FRC could not find a position on torture taken by Ryan.)

Then there are “Prudential Judgments” on which good Catholics may disagree. These include more issues on which Catholic teaching would line up with Democratic values, such as amnesty for undocumented immigrants. Curiously, FRC offers the proportions of Biden’s and Ryan’s income that each gave to charity, but no other mention of helping the poor. It’s as if the few thousand dollars Ryan gave matters more than the trillions he would cut from social programs.

The justifications for how FRC determined what is a Catholic issue and where the candidates stand on them are provided in a “supporting document.”

Given the Catholic Church’s long commitment to aiding the needy, the absence of economic policy seems a bit odd. Ryan, after all, has been criticized by Catholic bishops because his budget would cut funding to essential anti-poverty programs such as Medicaid and food stamps to pay for tax cuts for the rich. In fact, the voter guide would give a Catholic the false impression that Ryan actually supports more aid to the poor than Biden, because he has given more to charity. (Although, as the supporting document unintentionally demonstrates, many of those charities—such as the Boy Scouts and crisis pregnancy centers—have little if anything to do with addressing poverty.)

FRC’s response would be that the Catholic Church only holds a vague notion that poverty should be ameliorated, not specific positions on how to do so. “Ryan makes the argument it’s not that you don’t help people in need rise out of poverty, it’s how you do that,” says Tom McCluskey, senior vice president of FRC Action. “It’s a political difference that has no relevance to Catholic teaching.”

I’m no expert in Catholic teaching, but I beg to differ. The church has repeatedly supported federal anti-poverty programs, such as the expansion of Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act, that Biden supports and Ryan opposes. Even taking at face value Ryan’s claim that cutting taxes on the wealthy will grow the economy and thus lift more poor people into jobs, or better-paying ones, there will always be unemployed people, especially the disabled. The fact that Ryan would decimate their essential social services is fundamentally at odds with any concern for the vulnerable.

But McCluskey clearly believes in this distinction. He says:

Catholic doctrine is an official edict of the Catholic Church. On the issue of life, for example, there is only black and white, there is no gray [as is there is on economic justice]. A pro-life universal health care bill was supported by US Conference of Catholic bishops, but opposed by many individual bishops and that did not hurt their standing in the Church.

If a Catholic bishop were to take an opposing view on the life of the unborn, that would be unheard of and going against Catholic teaching. Support for increasing Medicaid funding would be more like Catholic opinion [than Catholic doctrine].

McCluskey also says the voter guide’s scope was limited by available information. “We couldn’t compare apples and oranges. If Ryan had a position we need one from Biden.” The one exception they made, given how essential it is Catholic teaching, is for torture. That notwithstanding, the general impression conveyed by the voter guide is that a good Catholic would prefer Paul Ryan, since Ryan’s decidedly un-Catholic fondness for warfare and opposition to welfare are not mentioned.

FRC is currently just sending the guide to thought leaders in the Catholic community such as priests and groups at Catholic universities. “We’re not at this point sending to voters but if it’s financially possible it’s definitely something we’re going to look at,” says McCluskey.

It might not even matter if they do spread it far and wide. There is tendency among journalists and political professionals to act as if the Catholic vote’s priorities reflect Catholic theology. The lazy conventional wisdom holds that this is because Catholics follow their church’s teachings and thus hold commitments that are orthogonal to the partisan divide. Here’s Mark Stricherz, of

While experts define the Catholic vote in many ways, I define it as a vote that mirrors the social teaching of the hierarchy, especially the American bishops: culturally conservative, economically populist or liberal, and moderate to liberal on foreign policy.

Stricherz is approvingly cited by Douthat as a premise to Douthat’s argument that Obama has failed to appeal to these voters because he has emphasized his commitment to women’s rights and gay rights. Also in The New York Times, and also cited by Douthat, is Jim Arkedis, a Catholic Democrat who works for the Progressive Policy Institute. Arkedis writes:

The key to winning the Catholic vote is to understand its composition—litmus-test abortion voters, moderates, women and Hispanics—and to aim to carry persuadable Catholics by healthy margins in crucial swing states. The Obama campaign should tread lightly, however, and resist any poll-driven urge to drive a wedge between the faithful and official church positions on women’s issues or same-sex marriage. Divisive messaging probably won’t fly among most Catholics, who may grumble about their religious leaders’ positions, but don’t seek overt separation from them. I can’t say that there’s any scientific evidence to support this theory, but it comes from my observations over a lifetime in the Catholic community.

The Obama campaign’s message should unequivocally stand with the Church and Jesus Christ’s humble message of social justice, equality and inclusion.

Arkedis certainly does lack scientific evidence. And considering there is no shortage of polling data on the opinions of Catholic voters, it is mysterious that the Times would allow him to make such an unsubstantiated argument.

Catholics are actually no more socially conservative than the electorate as a whole. Gallup polling has found “almost no difference between rank-and-file American Catholics and American non-Catholics” on whether abortion and stem cell research are morally acceptable. That’s because Catholic voters do not take their marching orders from the church. A massive study by Georgetown University found Catholics growing more likely to make up their own minds about social issues. “American Catholics…increasingly tune out the hierarchy on issues of sexual morality,” reports the Religion News Service. “The sweeping [Georgetown] survey shows that over the last quarter-century, US Catholics have become increasingly likely to say that individuals, not church leaders, have the final say on abortion, homosexuality and divorce and remarriage.”

At the state level the Catholic electorate seems to actually be a force for social moderation. Take a look at the religious breakdown of states and you will find that predicting whether a state will lean Democratic or Republican is often as easy as simply asking whether it has more Catholics or white evangelicals. The ten states with the highest proportion of white evangelicals reads like a roll call of Red America: Tennessee, Oklahoma, Alabama, West Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, South Carolina, Mississippi, Kansas. The most Catholic states are concentrated in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, including such Democratic bastions as New York and Massachusetts. In the Republican primaries, Catholic voters consistently favored the mainstream Mormon Mitt Romney, while evangelicals voted for the staunchly socially conservative Catholics Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich.

Stricherz points to the existence of Catholic anti–abortion rights Democrats as proof that a distinctly economically populist, socially conservative Catholic vote exists. “Think of the late Bob Casey Sr., governor of Pennsylvania, as the beau ideal politician for the Catholic vote,” Stricherz writes. “If there was no Catholic vote, these pro-life Democrats would be Republicans.” But a few anecdotes is not evidence. One could easily counter with the example of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is Catholic, socially liberal and fiscally conservative.

The real cleavage among Catholics, as has been the case in recent elections, is how religious they are. Voters who go to church once or more per week, regardless of their denomination, tend to vote Republican, and those who go less often or not at all tend to vote Democratic. McCluskey points to this as evidence that their voter guide is in line with religious Catholics, if not Catholics more generally.

“One thing when talking about polling of Catholics is look at how frequently they go to church,” McCluskey said. “It’s basically an ethnic identity at this point. There are people in my own family who call themselves Catholic but don’t go to church on a weekly basis; that’s a sin. Most polls find those Catholics who go to church on weekly basis tend to run more conservative.”

That’s true, but it also suggests that there are not a large number of undecided voters out there who are socially conservative and fiscally liberal, who can be suckered into voting Republican by being told Catholic issues are limited to abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage and torture. But conservatives will give it a try.


By: Ben Adler, The Nation, October 9, 2012

October 10, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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