Obama's attack on religious freedom will cost himDAVID WARREN
Those with "envelopes to push," tend not to notice the moment when they have gone too far.
The issue is the "HHS Mandate" — a decision by the Obama administration to use the most controversial powers of the new ObamaCare bureaucracy, to force private Catholic schools, hospitals, and other charitable institutions to cover such things as contraception, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization procedures in employee health-care plans, or face astronomical fines.
By forcing this issue — through an edict that compels people to buy something not only against their will, but in direct defiance of their conscience — Obama and company have squared their assault on the U.S. Constitution. ObamaCare itself is already being challenged successfully in court on point one: forcing citizens to buy any commercial product. By adding point two, they greatly enlarge the grounds for that challenge to religious freedom.
That is coming down the pipe, but in the present foreground the fight is political, and in an election year. The most charitable interpretation, from his opponents, was that the Obama team had committed a grave political blunder. This became visible immediately, when a Catholic hierarchy long thought to be supine exploded in outrage. "Conservative" and "liberal" bishops alike have gone on record expressing this outrage. Yet the move was surely calculated to goad only the conservatives.
It wasn't a casual bureaucratic mistake. Carefully phrased exemptions that could be used by Evangelicals focused the attack on the Catholic Church. And the congruent appeal to the Democrats' own core constituency was there from the start. Catholics have long been part of the Democrat coalition, and as everyone should know, the majority of North American Catholics pay little attention to the teachings of their Church, and poll generally to the left of their Protestant neighbours.
Partly the cause, and partly the effect of this, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference had long provided a fairly smooth sidewalk for Democrats to walk on. The strength of their response could not have been anticipated, on the basis of past behaviour. Nor could Obama's tacticians foresee the need to inspire yet another layer of constitutional challenge — this time on free speech — by ordering Catholic military chaplains to remain silent about the matter.
Suddenly it also seems that the administration is short a few crucial allies in the progressive religious community: for even the most "modern" clergy, comfortable with abortions, will not go to the wall in defence of an attack on conscience. Moreover, Evangelicals no longer "have a problem" with Catholics, that can be exploited to divide and conquer. All faithful Christians feel beleaguered, and the attack itself enhances their growing sense of togetherness in the trench.
So that yes, one may see exactly how the Democrat machine miscalculated. Largely religion-free themselves, contemptuous of what Nancy Pelosi called "the conscience thing," persuaded that any assertion of principle is a symptom of extremism, and habituated to number-crunching in every mode of analysis, they walked into the off-chart response.
Yet in prospect it all looked easy. They had done their polling and market testing and focus groups; they knew that, in politics today, "a woman's rights" trumps pretty much anything — especially among modern Catholic voters. They also knew friendly liberal media had, for a generation, left no stone unturned in exposing Catholic priestly scandals. To put it most succinctly, they thought they could sell this as "poor suffering oppressed women versus child-diddling priests," enthusing the Democrat base while winning over a few barrows of "moderate" Republicans.
And now, the trap they set for their reactionary opponents has sprung on their progressive selves. Obama can't back off without triggering outrage in his own feminist constituency. We saw what they did to the Komen Foundation the other day, when that breast cancer outfit tried to withdraw its Planned Parenthood contributions. Democrats dare not go there.
Instead, he is trying to self-extricate with an administrative trick — a game of cups and marbles, which lets religious employers play Pontius Pilate, and wash their hands of direct responsibility, while their employees get just the same as if they'd paid. This may or may not bamboozle anyone.
The very proposal, to get around a moral objection with an administrative expedient, is symptomatic of moral idiocy. To the sincere conscientious objector, it displays only a fundamental insincerity: another attempt at entrapment. It further stokes a fire which has already inspired explicit calls for civil disobedience, and driven Obama's least Catholic opponents to declare, "We are all Catholics now."
This article reprinted with permission from David Warren.
David Warren, once editor of the Idler Magazine, is widely travelled – especially in the Middle and Far East. He has been writing for the Ottawa Citizen since 1996. His commentaries on international affairs appear Wednesdays & Saturdays; on Sundays he writes a general essay on the editorial page. Read more from David Warren at David Warren Online.
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