The Catholic Case for Obama

George Weigel and his fellow McCain advisers are growing frustrated at the state of the campaign, and they should be. This election rightly continues to focus on the millions of Americans at risk of losing their jobs and their homes. The issue of abortion, of course, is tied to the nation's economic fortunes. In part, we endorsed Senator Obama because his tax-reduction plan focuses on the betterment of average families and those living at the margins. Center for Disease Control statistics reveal that prosperity directly affects the abortion rate far more significantly than Republican rhetoric pledging to outlaw abortion—a feat John McCain has failed to accomplish with nearly three decades in Congress.

Mr. Weigel predicts that the emergence of serious pro-life Catholics supporting Obama in this election portends "a new hardening of the battle lines. Not on our part. To us, endorsing Barack Obama was not only about who would make the best president, but also about erasing many of these old battle lines, which, frankly, have been drawn on the wrong battlefield and have served no one well—especially women and the unborn, to say nothing of our political discourse.

In the closing weeks of this election, abortion is among the crucial issues for Catholic voters, but promoting a culture of life is necessarily interconnected with a family wage, universal health care and, yes, better parenting and education of our youth. This greater appreciation for the totality of Catholic teaching is at the very heart of the Obama campaign; it is scarcely a McCain footnote.

In a perfect world, the pro-life argumentation of George Weigel is unassailable. He counsels having constitutional law align absolutely with the defense of innocent human life; to which we say, "Amen." The problem for Weigel is that even our collective "Amen" will not make it so. In the meantime, millions of children are being aborted.

Mr. Weigel is an intellectual and for him it's a simple matter of accessing the objective truth of the human person as explicated in Catholic natural law and saying, "Follow me." For 35 years, however, pro-lifers have followed that intellectual siren call, asking the Supreme Court on multiple occasions to reverse Roe v. Wade. We have no objection to pursuing this legal avenue, which does not depend on who occupies the White House—though we have no illusions about it, either. The legal path has not worked to date, and it may never work.

The church asks its faithful to find meaningful—not hypothetical—ways to promote human life. While getting the law and philosophy right might eventually do that, it does bring up the question: What are you doing for the cause of life now? The McCain answer: not much.

Besides being prepared to nominate justices like Samuel Alito and John Roberts, who in keeping with their judicial oath are certainly not on record as having a predetermined view on the reversal of Roe, McCain's planning has all the narrow, in-built affluent bias of the near-identical Bush ideas. In terms of health care, McCain makes no provision for the uninsured and proposes that the insured pay more, in all likelihood dumping people into a private insurance market that is more expensive and less responsive to those with pre-existing conditions.

By contrast, Obama does make provision for universal health care and recognizes abortion for what it is: a tragic moral choice often confronted by a woman in adverse economic and social circumstances (without spouse, without steady income, without employment prospects, and a particularly stigmatic and cumbersome adoption procedure). Obama proposes to reduce the incidence of abortion by helping pregnant women overcome the ill effects of poverty that block a choice of life. A range of new studies–using U.S. rather than Swedish data–affirm this approach.

We're happy to continue to debate abortion, but the well-worn battlefield Mr. Weigel occupies should not distract voters from tangible policies that would actually reduce abortions. Before unwarranted Republican indenture, Catholic thinking gave proportionate consideration to how well a candidate addressed such important matters as a just economy, a living or family wage, access to health care, stewardship of the environment, fair treatment of immigrants and, not to be overlooked, the just or unjust conduct of a war. This is basic Catholic social teaching. It also just happens to be Barack Obama's policy agenda.

Is Obama the perfect pro-life candidate? No. Is he preferable to the self-proclaimed "pro-lifer" McCain? Yes, because promoting life in actuality beats McCain's label and all of Weigel's elegant theorizing and hand-wringing. The Republican alternative familiar to Weigel is simultaneously self-righteous, easy and ineffective. The Democratic path is practical, anything but easy—as no act of bona fide love of neighbor ever is—but inviting of a life-affirming outcome.

Weigel may also wish to stay tied up in knots over the fitness of Catholic politicians to receive holy communion, rather than practically asking how to be of help to a woman facing an unwanted pregnancy. But as we read the American bishops, they have invited Catholic officeholders to promote life as much as is politically possible (never conceding any life as expendable). The notion of using the sacrament as a political tool we find divisive, deeply offensive and contrary to the Gospel.

Weigel may also wish to engage in a theoretical debate about hypothetical public support for the funding of abortion, and whether that results in improper moral complicity with an evil act. That is a worthy seminar topic, but we recommend he start by asking the same question of himself in terms of coerced taxpayer support for an unjust and unjustifiable war in Iraq costing over $10 billion a month and thousands of Iraqi and American lives, which Weigel aided and abetted with his vocal support, contrary to the express prayers of the Holy Father he called "a witness to hope."

There is no more audacious embrace of hope than faith-based action that honors all of life.