BLOGGERJacques Berlinerblau is an Associate Professor and Director of the Program for Jewish Civilization at the School of Foreign Service. Berlinerblau has published on a wide variety of issues ranging...
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RELATED RESOURCES: CATHOLIC
Biden vs. Bishops: Should Democrats Panic? Pray?
September 10, 2008
In terms of Faith and Values politicking, it's been a rough week for the Democrats. Yesterday, while Sarah Palin was (again) reminding folks of Barack Obama's views on bitter Americans clinging to religion and guns, Joseph Biden found himself enmeshed in the one religiously themed debate he must steadfastly avoid. The issue in question: What else? Abortion.
On Meet the Press this past Sunday Senator Biden reiterated that, as a Catholic, he is personally opposed to abortion. He went on to add, however, that as a public servant he does not wish to impose this religious conviction on others. (One of the Bishops who challenged this line of reasoning, as fate would have it, came from the battleground state of Pennsylvania. Yup. It's been a rough week.).
Pro-Choice Catholic politicians, like Biden, are in an unusually difficult position. I am deeply sympathetic to any candidate who speaks about the importance of drawing a line between public service and private belief (in fact, one of the most important and least discussed stories of 2008 concerns the degree to which this line has been nearly erased by Democrats, Republicans, clergy, etc. Are you listening, secularists of America?).
This being said, let the Obama-Biden camp please note the following: a politician who discusses his or her personal opposition to abortion all the while stressing his or her public commitment to a pro-Choice agenda will: 1) always be trafficking in cliche insofar as the identical argument has been made by Catholic public servants such as Mario Cuomo, Geraldine Ferraro, Rudy Giuliani, and John Kerry, to name but a few, 2) always outrage Bishops across the country, and, 3) ALWAYS MAKE IT INTO THE NEXT DAY'S NEWS CYCLE. Coming on the heels of the Church's correction of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's reading of Catholic social teachings, I would advise the Democrats to find a better way, a more original way, of broaching the issue.
In truth, I and many others have been dispensing a lot of advice to the Democrats over the past seven days. And for good reason. Now that the Obama-Biden ticket is trailing or tied in every major poll out there, some of their supporters report being afflicted by a quadrennial illness known as Swooning Dem Disease.
Swooning Dem appears every four years in September and/or October. Symptoms include feelings of nausea, hopelessness and rage culminating in dementia as evinced by the patient's desire to immigrate to Canada. (The specter of living in Manitoba, apparently, being just the remedy that sets the illness into remission for a little less than a half decade).
For whatever it is worth let me add that it is way too early for Democrats to despair. The 2008 presidential campaign has been a campaign of momentum swings and basketball-like "runs." The GOP is presently enjoying quite a surge in popularity. (The Democrats were poised to go on a run of their own right after their convention ended. And then Sarah Palin entered the game).
Still, there is plenty of time for the Blue Team to turn things around in the fifty plus days until the election. And one thing they will need to do--this is my last piece of advice, I promise--is to think very carefully about every single word they utter about the abortion issue. They need to avoid thoughtless quips about "pay grade" and they need to abandon formulas that have gotten Catholic public servants into trouble with their Church (and into the news cycles) for a quarter century.