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02/ 2/2012 Reese: “Obama will lose if he does not win back the Catholic vote”

Thomas Reese, the former director of the Jesuit weekly magazine “America” speaks about the Republican primaries and how liberal Catholics have fallen out of love with Obama
Alessandro Speciale
Rome
Two Catholics who are as different as chalk and cheese, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santirum come head to head in the Republican primaries; then there is the quarrel with President Obama over his decision to give access to contraceptive care, to employees of hospitals and other Catholic entities: the American Catholic Church, just like the rest of America, is preparing for next November’s presidential elections. Vatican Insider interviewed the Jesuit, Thomas Reese, former director of the weekly magazine America, currently a researcher at the Woodstock Theological Center at Gerorgetown University in Washington, to gain further insight into the positions and contradictions within the American Catholic world, ahead of next autumn’s elections.

Q. Santorum and Gingrich: two of the three leading candidates for the Republican nomination are Catholics. What does their – very different – stories and their ideas say about today’s Catholicism?

A. Santorum and Gingrich show that conservative Catholics observe cafeteria Catholicism just as much as liberal Catholics do. While both are with the hierarchy on issues like abortion and gay marriage, they totally ignore Catholic social teaching. The pope in Caritas in Veritate is far to the left of almost every politician in the U.S. when it comes to economic and justice issues. If the pope were an American, they would condemn him as European Socialist. Instead, they simply ignore him and the U.S. bishops when they talk about justice and the economy.

Q. How do the bishops look at them?

A. The American bishops wisely do not endorse candidates or political parties. That said, there is no question that they do not like the Obama administration’s policies on contraceptives, abortion and gay rights. Liberal Catholics feel that the bishops’ focus on these issues is an indirect endorsement of the Republicans. For example, at their meetings in November 2010 and 2011, they had nothing to say about the economy but lots to say about these other issues.

Q. They are both ‘hardliners’ – or at least more assertive than McCain, to say one – on ‘ethical’ issues. Are the ‘culture wars’ coming back to dominate the 2012 campaign or is it still all about the economy?

A. Jobs and the economy are the two issues dominating the election. Santorum tried to make the “culture” issues the center of his campaign, and he was unable to attract enough Republican voters to be a serious candidate. The Republicans for whom the culture issues are most important will vote for whomever the Republicans nominate because they hate Obama and the Democrats, but to win the election, the Republicans will have to convince people they can do a better job with the economy.

Q. Obama won the Catholic vote in 2008 – what is your assessment of his presidency so far?

A. Obama and McCain split the white Catholic vote, but Obama overwhelmingly won the Hispanic vote. It was not so much that the Hispanics loved Obama as that they were angry at the Republicans who were very anti-immigrant. Although I think Obama himself is sympathetic to Catholics, the Obama campaign and administration appear to be tone deaf in dealing with Catholics. They do not know how to appeal to Catholic voters and they periodically do things that alienate sections of the Catholic community.

Q. Will he win the Catholic vote again?

A. If he does not, he will lose the election. Hispanics are upset because he did not really push for immigration reform in the first two years when the Democrats had a majority in both houses. They won’t vote Republican unless there is a Republican on the ticket as Vice President, but if too many stay home, Obama is in trouble. If Obama losses some of the white Catholic vote, then he could lose key states like Ohio. But how Catholics vote will have more to do with the state of the economy than anything else.

Q. Has Obama lost even the ‘Catholic left’ with his administration position on contraception mandate?

A. A number of progressive Catholics who supported Obama sent a letter asking Obama to expand the exemption to the contraception mandate beyond churches to include Catholic schools, hospitals and charities. The Catholic left will vote for Obama despite the mandate because they think a Republican administration and a Republican Congress would be disastrous for the poor, the working class and the country as a whole.

Q. Is there still a distinctive ‘Catholic vote’ at the elections? And in the primaries?

A. After the anti-Catholic reaction to the nomination of Al Smith in 1928, Catholics voted consistently Democratic until Eisenhower’s second term in 1956. As Catholics moved into the middle class after World War II, they also paid more taxes and became more Republican. Nixon and Reagan appealed to ethnic Catholics and southerners, playing on their fears of blacks. Republicans also took up the pro-life cause, but the rhetoric never resulted in significant changes in policy. Today, white Catholics are the most significant swing voters. In close elections, they can determine the results by movements of a few percentage points.

In the 2008 primaries, Catholic Republicans supported McCain. So far this year, Catholics have voted for the winner in each primary: Romney in New Hampshire and Florida, and Gingrich in South Carolina. In the early Democratic primaries in 2008, Catholics voted for Clinton. In later primaries Obama did better, especially in the states near Illinois, his home state.


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February 6, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | ,

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