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November 3, 2008

Obama is the Best Candidate--Final Reflections on an Endorsement Well Considered

By his own standard, McCain is more battle-weary, than battle-tested. Old ideas combined with a lack of credible ability to "think anew" to meet the challenges we face make the Senator ill-suited for the presidency; his running mate aggravates that concern.

Douglas W. Kmiec, former head of the Office of Legal Counsel to Ronald Reagan and former dean of the law school at The Catholic University of America

Today is the final day of the 2008 presidential campaign. Given my somewhat unusual endorsement, I promised to report at the campaign's conclusion whether any matter arose to cause me to second-guess my support for Senator Obama for the presidency.

None has. Senator Obama has kept his covenant not to campaign in a denigrating and divisive fashion. Quite the contrary, throughout the extended primary and the general campaign, he has called us to our better selves, and he has laid out with patience and clarity a blueprint for change that is needed now more than ever in light of the financial mess left by the incumbent. Despite these unprecedented challenges which jeopardize the economic well being of so many American families, Senator Obama remains resilient in hope and ready to govern. His presidency will be an historic moment of re-commitment to a nation under law worthy of international respect and stature.

Yes, Obama's policies are not those of the unregulated free market often extolled, but obviously given the corporate bailout, not always observed by the GOP. And yes, at times in the years ahead, I suspect the residual conservative in me is likely to urge caution in the face of proposed regulatory flourishes. But the truth is my fellow Republicans in the last eight years forgot anything associated with conservative principle: from fiscal responsibility to the avoidance of ill-considered and endangering foreign entanglement to the giving of honor to the rule of law -- a precept hardly advanced when U.S. Attorneys are removed for sport or new enactments only begrudgingly given effect by a President who seemed to have difficulty differentiating the Constitution from royal prerogative. A few good appointments to the federal bench and a tax cut for wealthy friends is all that remains of the substantial deposit of conservative ideas brought to Washington by Ronald Reagan. It's not enough of to renew the lease on The White House. Senator McCain had an opportunity to campaign on first principle and with honor as well as to differentiate himself from his predecessor. He didn't. He chose instead to "stay" a misdirected course and take on Sarah Palin whose verbal talents are eclipsed by intellectual and experiential gaps that cannot be masked by humor, snide commentary, or an expensive wardrobe.

Bishops and Republican Partisans -- An Unholy and Unseemly Team
If there was one disturbing injustice of the campaign, it was that a few members of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in America indulged low partisanship, and worse, allowed Republican partisans to purvey -- sometimes on church property -- the untenable idea that voting for Senator Obama was contrary to the faith, a cooperation with evil, or an invitation to eternal damnation. Worst of all, a few prelates asserted this false preemption of individual conscience themselves. Thankfully, the conference of U.S. bishops had in place a thoughtful exposition of the responsible considerations to be undertaken by a Catholic in preparation to vote -- the most prominent of which was the reminder that we are not to be "single-issue" voters, even as we may find an intrinsic evil to be disqualifying if both the candidate and our intent is to advance that evil and we lack proportionate justification for accepting that evil in a remote way. Notwithstanding the distortions of the less than Grand Old Party that has grown lazy winning on the incitement of fear, neither candidate is an advocate of evil, and the duty of a Catholic voter is a straightforward matter of satisfying the casting of a ballot with right intention. With respect to Senator Obama in particular, as indicated in my book "Can a Catholic Support Him?" The answer is enthusiastically "yes, we can!"

Obama's Life of Service & the Social Gospel
The American Catholic Church has gained credibility by placing itself in the service not of the powerful, but the least of these. Of course, this is very much part of what made Barack Obama "a Catholic natural." In his early career, Barack Obama was privileged to be part of a project funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development -- where he found men and women devoted to building up the community with the transformative power of Christ's message embodied best by their own witness and willingness to involve themselves personally in the well-being of another.

The Catholic witness in America is the positive one of the social gospel -- the willingness of the Church to look after the immigrant stranger, the person down on his luck, the poor, and yes, the family, the very heart of the American constitutional body politic. It is the average working men and women of this country who by their daily uncomplaining labors understand that freedom and responsibility are coordinate propositions, and who ask only a fair wage for an honest day's work -- and frankly, a mortgage and securities market in which the American people are not sold short. John Paul II reminded us of the dignity of human work; its capacity to extend our creative and constructive personalities into the physical environment and the importance of not elevating capital over labor. The scandals that have broken the back of our financial system necessitate that they now be remedied by the taxpayer, but they also deserve to be fully explained and understood and accounted for. Those leaving office should not consider themselves finished until then. Barack Obama will not leave the American people in the dark about the mishandling of their own resources.

The Truth of the Human Person
So much of Catholic thought is well-expressed in the truth of the human person. It is important to recognize how this truth is interwoven in the planning for an Obama administration:
The truth of the human person is affirmed by the payment of a family or living wage;

The truth of the human person is honored by recognizing that a market that is not fair cannot ever hope to be free;

The truth of the human person requires that we preserve the created environment so that our safety will not be put at risk by human development in disregard of the natural environment;

The truth of the human person recognizes that the health of society depends greatly upon health of its citizens in body and mind and spirit and this must come to be understood to be as much a cultural right as is the obligation of due process under law;

The truth of the human person is a reflection of God, Himself, deserving of respect without reference to race or gender or ethnicity or sexual orientation;

And yes,

The truth of the human person encourages respect for the gift of life at all its stages -- from conception to natural death and every point in between and ladies and gentleman, we need not wait for a new justice on the Supreme Court to express that respect.

Building a Culture of Life by New and Compassionate Means
Some see Senator Obama's respect for the decision of an expectant mother as inviting a denial of the truth of the human person; it is not. An Obama administration will reach out to any pregnant woman who's economic and social circumstance clouds the truth of a human person.

Some insist that truth demands legal coercion; that without the Supreme Court's cooperation, truth must be held in abeyance like a "suspended" political campaign.

Well, the unfortunate and undeniable truth is that the evil of poverty and lack of social support is a major collaborator of abortion. The Catholic faith encourages us not to cooperate with evil. Barack Obama doesn't intend on cooperating with social injustice, and to the extent that resources permit, an Obama administration will never leave a woman without the support needed to encourage a choice for life.

The Catholic faith has guided my professional and personal life notwithstanding the gratuitous assessments of "disservice to the Church" in the personal opinion of Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput or the equally ungrounded posted libel of Bishop Brandt of Greensburgh, Pennsylvania, who banned me from the campus of Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania without even realizing that my remarks were already finished, and by happenstance audio-taped by NPR. Should the good bishop listen to them, he will discover that they were in tone and substance both solidly complimentary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He will discover as well, of course, the view that there is more than one way to be pro-life, including the way proposed by Senator Obama -- namely, greatly enhancing the social and economic assistance given to an expectant mother. This, of course, is less than what the Catholic faith champions as the ideal, but in truth, it is more than the opposing party delivers, or can deliver, even with all its speculations and excuses about judicial vacancies and reconsidered precedents. I have never once suggested that the Church forego pursuing life's full protection in law. I have, however, insisted that none of us need wait upon the law to do good.

A Nation of Many Faiths
While the United States consists of citizens worshiping God in their differing ways who nevertheless hope to believe without reservation of conscience in a common political ideal, one lesson still too often overlooked is that "churches do not always suffer their members to be really free?"

"Thou shalt have no other gods but me, 'thundered the Jewish Jehovah from Sinai, and ever since the gods of the churches have demanded that their control be not abridged nor diminished." Likewise, but in the state's direction, Thomas More would be yanked from his respectful silence in the face of Henry's oath of supremacy since there the state was a jealous god that could not bear the impertinence of having Thomas die, as he ultimately did, "the King's good servant, but God's first."

Admirably, Barack Obama started this campaign in the hope of lessening the division among red and blue states -- of restoring beyond the artificially provoked culture war of partisans, the United States of America. Compelled support for one religious view over another or compelled support for the Supreme Court's view will likely leave us wrongly divided for years to come in the trenches of opposing views. The way out is to remember that as the creeds clash about us, that it is not primarily in political programs that religion may have its place.

No, sometimes the law must simply leave space for the exercise of individual judgment because our religious or scientific differences of opinion are for the moment too profound to be bridged collectively. When these differences are great and persistent, as they have unfortunately been with abortion, the "common political ideal" to which we aspire may consist only of that space. This does not of course leave the right to life undecided or unprotected. Nor for that matter does the reservation of space for individual determination usurp for Caesar the things that are God's, or vice versa. Rather, it allows this sensitive moral decision to depend upon religious freedom and the voice of God as articulated in that individual's voluntary embrace of one of the manifold ways of faith known to America.

Tangibly Helping the Born and Unborn
Yesterday, on All Souls, we remembered the souls that have walked the earth. I am certain my friends who remained behind to support Senator McCain willingly would join now with those of us in the Catholic outreach of the Obama campaign in a commitment never to overlook those who were not permitted their first steps. Tomorrow, whomever merits our confidence for president, let us as we vote recall the far too numerous number of children whose lives were tragically taken in the womb. And as we remember them, let us do so not to condemn, but instead with extended hands of compassion -- that with humility must also be frequently folded in prayer--to ask God's strength of purpose to meet the needs of expectant mothers in more tangible and helpful ways than ever before. In this manner, may something far more powerful than any law made by man -- faith and reason -- be permitted to resolve in freedom the respect due unborn life.

No one should ever underestimate the likelihood of an individual conscience formed in the Catholic religious tradition to choose life -- Senator Obama doesn't, nor should anyone else.

November 5, 2008

Catholics contribute to sweeping victory for Obama and Biden

Decision day arrived after nearly two years of intense debate over everything from the fate of the polar bears to the future of Iraq. Catholics had a commanding influence on yesterday's election at every level, with their concentration in the swing states and their unusually high identification as independent voters. And they voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama, 54% to 45% nationally. Even weekly church-going Catholics were cleanly split between the two candidates.

One big story in this election was the unprecedented debate that took place within our Church. Catholic lay groups emerged after the last election in response to a perception that the most vociferous Catholics were in the pocket of the Republicans, and had essentially endorsed their wars, their budget deficits, their authorship of a soaring new economic inequality, their inattention to crushing world poverty and stagnating family incomes at home, and their head-in-the-sand attitude about science and the impending threats of global warming. The extreme language about abortion in 2004, comparing John Kerry unfavorably to George Bush, led to wildly unrealistic expectations--43% of respondents in a CBS News/NY Times poll in 2004 predicted that most abortions would be illegal by the time Bush left office this year.

Many more bishops this year were alarmed by the alternative Democratic narrative that emerged. Whether it was the fact that lay people were tired of being told to ignore everything but abortion, or whether the language had grown so hateful that they decided to tune it out, Catholics this year followed the lead of the most courageous bishops and the new lay groups to a new set of conclusions. They hearkened to the old anthem of a "consistent ethic of life" articulated so beautifully by Chicago's beloved Cardinal Archbishop Joseph Bernardin in the '80s and '90s--and to the newest disciple of that idea, a rising political star who made his name serving the poor during that time in that same great city as a community organizer.

These new lay groups, like Catholics in Alliance, Catholics United, and the Catholic Democrats, offered Catholics a new, more reasoned voice amidst all the shouting. We argued that there was no need to choose between whether abortion was a more important issue than all the rest; all the life issues are important. There is no need to say that abortion is so foundational that it must be solved first, before other issues can be addressed; the data shows that solving the other issues has a direct beneficial effect on decreasing abortion. Above all, there is no need to hate one another because of the abortion issue; the fact is that there is dramatic common ground for making progress without acrimony.

Senator Barack Obama recognized this new approach, made real in bills co-authored by many Democrats in Congress the last four years that were comprehensive approaches to abortion reduction--and almost universally disdained by the so-called 'champions of life' in the Republican Party. President Bush vetoed the first of these measures in October 2007, claiming the Health and Human Services Department appropriation in which it was contained was "fiscally irresponsible." Abortion apparently is important enough to use as a club to cartoonishly attack the morality of one's political opponent, but not important enough to spend money to solve.

Supported by Catholic intellectuals from across the political spectrum--like Doug Kmiec, Nick Cafardi, and Thomas Groome--Senator Obama articulated a new vision for solving the abortion problem. Impose reasonable legal restrictions on late-term abortions, "partial birth or otherwise," he said, but focus primarily on constructive measures that decrease abortions and solve many of our other social problems in the process: provide health care for all children, decrease the prohibitive costs of adoption, cut the scandalous high rates of HIV transmission to black women, and work to bring more single fathers back into the lives of their children, to name a few. For the first time, Catholics began to question the conservative logic that "you may go to hell" if you didn't vote Republican.

Now the die has been cast. Across the U.S., Catholics have voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama's new solutions to old problems. They defied the few pundits who said that white Catholics wouldn't vote for a black man. Mostly they voted for reconciliation, and against the politics of blame and the discredited school of thought that seeks to stigmatize one's opponents as unworthy of dialogue. In the end, creativity and common ground won this election for Barack Obama, and the Catholic drive for "peace at all levels of our lives" will be better fulfilled as a result.

Pope sends congratulatory message to Obama

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI sent a personal message to President-elect Barack Obama Nov. 5, congratulating him and offering his prayers for Obama and for all the people of the United States.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said that because the message was addressed personally to Obama the Vatican did not plan to publish it.

However, he said, the papal message opened by referring to the "historic occasion" of the election, marking the first time a black man has been elected president of the United States.

The pope congratulated Obama, his wife and family, Father Lombardi said.

"He assured him of his prayers that God would help him with his high responsibilities for his country and for the international community," Father Lombardi said.

The pope also prayed that "the blessing of God would sustain him and the American people so that with all people of good will they could build a world of peace, solidarity and justice," the spokesman said.

Asked if the pope mentioned any specific issues he was concerned about, Father Lombardi responded, "peace, solidarity and justice."

The message to Obama was sent through the office of Mary Ann Glendon, the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, he said. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, also sent a message.

Father Lombardi said it is likely a formal message also will be sent on the occasion of Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration; in past years, the Vatican custom has been that the pope congratulates a new U.S. president only when he formally takes office.

The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, was published Nov. 5 with an opinion piece headlined "A choice that unites."

"In the end, change occurred. The slogan that accompanied Barack Obama's whole electoral campaign found its expression" in the results of the Nov. 4 election, said the article by Giuseppe Fiorentino.

"As the president-elect underlined in his victory speech in Chicago, America really is the country where anything can happen," a country "able to overcome fractures and divisions that not long ago seemed impossible to heal," it said.

But, the article said, the vote for Obama was "very pragmatic" because he was the "more convincing" candidate for "an electorate needing new hope, especially for a quick economic recovery."

The newspaper said Obama and his supporters know "not everything is roses and flowers," because of the "huge political, social, economic and moral challenges" the United States is facing.

For complete story, click here.

Cardinal George congratulates Obama

Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement congratulating Obama:

I write to you, in my capacity as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to express our congratulations on your historic election as President of the United States. The people of our country have entrusted you with a great responsibility. As Catholic Bishops, we offer our prayers that God give you strength and wisdom to meet the coming challenges. Our country is confronting many uncertainties. We pray that you will use the powers of your office to meet them with a special concern to defend the most vulnerable among us and heal the divisions in our country and our world. We stand ready to work with you in defense and support of the life and dignity of every human person. May God bless you and Vice President-elect Biden as you prepare to assume your duties in service to our country and its citizens.
Wednesday, December 13, 2017

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"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."

First Inaugural Address, President Barack Obama



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