In 2008, Catholic Democrats supported the presidential candidacy of Senator Barack Obama by sponsoring the website www.CatholicsforObama.org and authoring an online petition that was signed by thousands of Catholics across the country. A civic-minded Catholic leader named Karen Clifton signed the Catholics for Obama endorsement, which read:
Petition to Endorse Senator Barack Obama
For President of the United States of America
Inspired by the Tradition of Catholic Social Teaching
As a Catholic, I believe that Senator Barack Obama reflects core values of Catholic Social Teaching, which informs how we live our faith in the world. For more than 100 years this tradition has championed the rights of workers, the imperative of peace, the elimination of poverty, the advancement of equal opportunity, the healing of our environment, the right to health care, and the life and dignity of all.
Senator Obama has said: "People are coming together around a simple truth - that we are all connected, that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper. And that it's not enough to just believe this - we have to do our part to make it a reality."(A Politics of Conscience, Senator Barack Obama, June 23, 2007, Hartford CT). In the spirit of these words, which convey President Obama's commitment to the common good, a cornerstone of Catholic Social Teaching, we are called to act on the daunting issues confronting our society and the world today.
Therefore, I endorse Senator Barack Obama. He inspires hope and calls us to personal and social responsibility to help make the world, and our nation, a better place for all. May God Bless Our Nation in this Time of Political Responsibility.
The homepage of the website presented an argument supporting the assertion that President Obama was "Pro-Life," based on his advocacy for a broad set of "pro-life" issues, often forgotten by Republicans, like universal health insurance. President Obama has also supported abortion reduction strategies as a more effective approach than the failed 40-year effort to criminalize abortion.
Since signing the petition, Ms Clifton has taken the lead in national efforts to support the US Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in their unequivocal opposition to use of the death penalty in the United States. This has irked one conservative Catholic commentator named Deal Hudson, who has written extensively about loopholes in Catholic social teaching on the death penalty in an effort to provide wiggle room for all the Republican politicians who claim to be "pro-life" while opposing the bishops on state-sponsored killing. Hudson - who was forced to resign his teaching position at Fordham University and as head of the Bush Reelection Campaign Catholic Outreach for the alleged sexual assault of a student - has repeatedly gone after USCCB employees he doesn't like, and tried to coerce the USCCB into advancing his own political agenda in the process.
Earlier this year, Hudson also attacked the Bishops' Conference itself, calling for a new "Tea Party" movement to oppose efforts by the USCCB to advocate on behalf of the poor.
In his continued efforts to smear both Democratic elected officials and those within the USCCB who don't rigidly conform to his own conservative politics, Hudson has again played fast-and-loose with the truth and falsely associated Karen Clifton with contents of the website other than the petition she signed. Hudson has taken a page out of the playbook of his secular soul-mate, Andrew Breitbart, who unjustly maligned U.S. Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod with a selectively edited video that made it seem as if she was admitting to racial discrimination against white farmers. Hudson knows that bearing false witness against one's neighbor may be an acceptable political tactic -- however destructive it is to the common good. However, he doesn't seem to realize that it is not acceptable within the tenets of our faith, particularly for someone who seeks to insinuate himself as a standard bearer -- or in his case, seemingly the standard bearer -- of Catholic teaching and values.
Instead Hudson was quoted in 2004 as saying, "If you're going to play in the sandbox, then you have to take the consequences of your public utterances and your public actions." A late convert to Catholicism, Hudson uses this philosophy--wittingly or not--as a basis for seeking to divide Catholics along political lines. And as his friend Karl Rove would attest, Hudson has done a good job of undermining Catholic unity.
In his continued efforts to both play fast-and-loose with the truth and to smear those within the USCCB and elected officials who don't rigidly conform to his conservative Catholic politics, Hudson has falsely associated Karen Clifton with all the contents of the Website, as opposed to having merely signed the petition like thousands of other Catholics. Hudson has taken a page out of the playbook of his secular soul-mate Andrew Breitbart, who unjustly maligned U.S. Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod with a selectively edited video that made it seem as if she was admitting to racially-motivated actions. Hudson's willingness to manipulate the facts to achieve his own ends can only be described as the worst kind of bearing false witness against one's neighbor--and is hardly compatible with the Catholicism that Hudson claims to be defending.
Catholic Democrats stands behind the arguments we made on the front page of the Catholics for Obama website. We believe that President Obama -- both in his philosophy and in his actions -- does in fact better represent the values of the "pro-life" label that conservatives have appropriated. While conservatives have carried this banner in order to exploit a narrow set of issues for political purposes, and have raised hundreds of millions of dollars in the process, President Obama has embraced the broader "seamless garment of life" ethic espoused by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. Indeed the President spoke about it in his 2009 Commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame. Today, we can see how his philosophy of being "my brother's ... and sister's keeper" has manifested itself: legislative progress on S-CHIP, Healthcare, Jobs Bills, and economic policies have served people and not just the interests of large corporations and the wealthy. These accomplishments are essential contributions to "the dignity of life" that conservatives often neglect in their demonizing rhetoric toward people who oppose them.
Today many Catholics believe - through their prudential judgment - that criminalizing abortion is not an effective means of addressing this moral tragedy. The evidence now overwhelmingly supports their belief, and President Obama's position: social programs that focus on alleviating poverty, on supporting women who have unintended pregnancy, and that promote universal health care are far more effective in reducing the number of abortions in this country. The abortion rate dramatically declined during the Democratic Clinton Administration and stagnated under the Republican Bush Administration. Indeed the newest CDC statistics show that abortions actually went up late in the Bush Adminsitration.
Meanwhile, the number of abortions performed in Massachusetts went down after the implementation of universal health care, in a study reported by the New England Journal Medicine and conducted by Dr. Patrick Whelan, President of Catholic Democrats. Abortions are far more prevalent in South American countries like Brazil, Chile, and Peru -- with Catholics comprising over 70% of the population and where the practice is criminalized -- than they are in Western Europe, where abortion is legal but performed in the context of a strong social safety net for vulnerable women.
Like so many on the Right, Hudson is trotting out his ad hominems to rev up his conservative base for partisan political ends in the only way he knows - by dividing Catholics and attempting to humiliate the Church's leaders into pursuing his partisan-tinged agenda. We've seen this before. In 2004, before he was forced to resign the Bush Reelection Campaign, he divided Catholic parishes by politicizing them. In 2009 he used mock stationary for Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) to raise funds for his organization, questioning whether seven nationally-known Democratic legislators were indeed Catholic--an accusation that violates the Canon Law of the Church.
We all saw the cost of falling for Andrew Breitbart's deceptions. Don't let Hudson do the same thing to Karen Clifton and other faithful Catholics--both inside and outside our Church's leadership--who advocate the full spectrum of Catholic Social Teaching by bringing both their faith and reason to the moral issues of our time.