You gotta have faith
You gotta have faith,
I doubt very much that when
fallen pop star George Michael was singing those words in his 1987
hit song “Faith”, he
was envisioning the Democratic presidential ticket of 2008, but faith
is what Senator Joe Biden brings to Barack Obama’s presidential
campaign. Much has been written about Senator Biden’s extensive
experience on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, filling a hole
that is seen as lacking on the Obama ticket, the junior Senator from
Illinois’ lack of foreign policy experience. I have no doubt Biden
brings much to the table in the foreign policy field, but I still
think Biden’s appointment was made to attract voters the Obama
camp has not been able to draw, working-class Catholics.
Senator Biden is one of the
most recognizable and senior ranking Catholics in the US Capitol and
despite 36 years of earning a senator’s salary he maintains a
reputation as a blue-collar kind of guy based on his roots in working
class Scranton, Pennsylvania. During the Democratic primaries, it was
this base of support, working-class, white, Catholic voters that
Barack Obama had the most trouble attracting. While Obama swept
self-described liberals and secularists, he could not compete with
Hillary Clinton in winning the Catholic vote.
Why is this important?
Because Catholic voters decide elections. While much attention has
been paid to evangelical voters over the past eight years, this
religiously minded group of voters leans overwhelmingly, though not
exclusively Republican. Catholics, who like Evangelical Protestants,
make up close a quarter of the American population, are a less
homogenous voting bloc.
Since 1972, the winner of
the popular vote in presidential elections has taken the plurality of
the Catholic vote. In 2000, with the nation divided, so were Catholic
voters: 50 percent favoured Al Gore to 47 percent backing George W.
Bush. Gore won the popular vote but not the all important electoral
college. In 2004 President Bush won the Catholic vote 52 percent to Catholic
candidate John Kerry’s 47 percent. In 2008, as in all elections over the
last 36 years, Catholics are swing voters, up for grabs to the
campaign that can best woo voters who identify with their faith even
if it may not guide their ballot.
So does all this mean that
by appointing Catholic Joe Biden that the Obama campaign can pick up
all of the disgruntled Hillary supporters and cruise to victory in
November. Perhaps, but likely not. An initial poll by Zogby
International shortly after Obama’s selection of Biden showed a
bump for the Democrats, putting Obama back in the lead after McCain
briefly stole it away. Zogby’s previous poll showing McCain in the
lead was also showing Obama losing Catholic support. The hope is
that Biden will help shore that up. Yet as Sheila Liaugminas points out on
Election2008 blog, Biden’s appointment and his faith bring
challenges. Biden supports abortion in direct opposition to the faith
he so openly talks about.
revives the issue of the Catholic divide, between those who ‘run
afoul of church teachings’ and interpret them to fit a liberal view
of human rights and social justice… and those whose public actions
are informed by Church teachings on all matters of human rights
and peace and justice.”
Among those on the side of
Catholic politicians backing Catholic teaching on matters like
abortion is the group Fidelis, an organization that proclaims itself
to be “Faithful, Loyal, True” when it comes to Church teaching.
In a statement shortly after Biden’s appointment its president,
Brian Burch, said that Biden’s appointment reopens a Catholic wound
everywhere Biden campaigns, we’ll have this question of whether a
pro-abortion Catholic can receive Communion. Senator Biden is an
unrepentant supporter of abortion in direct opposition to the Church
he claims as his own. Selecting a pro-abortion Catholic is a slap in
the face to Catholic voters.”
Democrats gather in Denver to officially nominate their new
leadership, some powerful Catholic clergy are already asking
questions. Charles Chaput, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Denver is
quoted by the Associated Press: “I presume that his
integrity will lead him to refrain from presenting himself for
Communion, if he supports a false 'right' to abortion." The
Obama campaign either unwittingly or unwisely named a dissenting
Catholic as their vice-presidential nominee as the party gathers to
unite in a city where the Catholic faithful are lead by one of the
most outspoken and influential bishops in America today.
In Biden’s home diocese of
Wilmington, Delaware, Bishop Michael Saltarelli is on the record as
saying Biden and other pro-abortion Catholic politicians are not
allowed to speak at Catholic schools. In 2004 he stated that "Our
Catholic institutions will not honor Catholic politicians who take
pro-abortion legislative positions or invite them to speak at our
functions or schools." So, even if he becomes Vice-President, Biden
would not be allowed to speak at Catholic schools he once attended
During the 2004 campaign,
Senator John Kerry had to deal with calls for him to be denied
communion, a distinct possibility in some parishes then for Kerry and
now for Biden. While Biden’s current bishop says he prefers "active
engagement and dialogue" to banning someone from communion and
Denver’s Archbishop Chaput is likely to ask those who rebuke Church
teachings to exclude themselves, others in the Catholic hierarchy,
including Pope Benedict, have insisted that politicians who support
abortion cannot take communion.
Will any of this matter to the
average Catholic voter? Some will be turned off by news of Biden’s
stance against the Church; others will resent what they see as the
Church interfering with politics. For most Catholic voters though,
this point is unlikely to matter. Except... except, it adds to the
cloud of negatives each side will throw at the other during the
campaign. Biden has already been described as Obama’s attack dog
but he will be attacked on this very issue. The issue itself may have
a minor impact but if the hope is to attract Catholic voters, a
negative impression is not what you want.
Senator Joe Biden has
rightly said that his party, the modern Democratic Party, must deal
with faith and religion. Sometime during this campaign, Senator Joe
Biden will have to deal with his own faith and religion.
Brian Lilley is Ottawa Bureau Chief for
radio stations 1010 CFRB in Toronto and CJAD 800 in Montreal. He is
Associate Editor of MercatorNet.
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