Most of us (outside of the set of "conservative legal scholars") had never heard of Professor Douglas Kmiec until he became until the Romney campaign, which he had been working for, ran aground and he became "the conservative legal scholar who has endorsed Barack Obama". Perhaps realizing that fame is fleeting, and that short of the highly unlikely event of a judicial appointment from a President Obama (which would seem next to impossible, given that Kmiec lists his favorite Supreme Court justice as Clarance Thomas -- whom Obama considers manifestly unqualified to be on the court) he will never be heard of again after this election, Kmiec now seems unwilling to cede the dubious notariety that he has earned for himself. Thus, he has an interview in today's New York Times, which is in turn a promotion for the book he has coming out in two week, which is about (wait for it...) how Obama is a great candidate for Catholics to support.
Catholics are, all accusations to the contrary, people too. And far be it from me to suggest that there is some sort of monolithic "Catholic line" one must take to voting. We are, as Catholic, obliged to vote in a manner that will, to the best of our understanding, help society. Because there is much reasonable room for debate over just what is good for society, Catholics may most certainly disagree about who in any given election (this one included) is the best choice.
So it's not that Prof. Kmiec supports Obama that I object to. It's that he attempts to insist that some of Obama's positions are good and moral which are obviously not, at least if one accepts Catholic moral teachings. High among these is the issue of abortion. Obama insists that while a "grave matter" and an "agonizing moral situation" abortion is an fundamental right which must be protected, funded, and readily available at all times. This is clearly and absolutely wrong from a Catholic moral perspective.
Now it is possible (I personally think very difficult, but still theoretically possible) that there might be circumstances in which one might argue that the president at this time has little ability to affect the legality of abortion in this country, and that there are other factors which are more important in a given election. However, Kmiec does not attempt to make that argument. Instead of arguing that there are other good things Obama that outweigh his support for abortion (or bad things about his opponent that make Obama a better choice) Kmiec wants to argue that Obama is a better pick specifically in regards to pro-life issues.
It's a bad argument, and he makes it badly:
So given those views [Kmeic’s view that: 1) overturning Roe would only return abortion to the states (duh!) and 2) we might not get the magical fifth justice out of the next president since we’ve missed it before with Kennedy and O'Connor], the better question is how could a Catholic not support Barack Obama?
At best, they’re reasons to think that simply electing a Republican president will not automatically achieve everything we as pro-lifers desire. (Anyone who thought that in the first place was delusional.) I see no way in which it means that one must vote for Obama, who seeks to make sure abortion remains legal in all states.
Senator Obama’s articulated concerns with the payment of a living wage, access to health care, stabilizing the market for shelter, special attention to the needs of the disadvantaged and the importance of community are all part of the church’s social justice mission.
Whereas the Republican platform advocates refusing to pay anyone a just wage, denying people access to healthcare, plunging the housing market into chaos and ignoring the needs of the disadvantaged?
No. This is precisely the problem with the sort of partisan rhetoric that Kmeic has apparently been taking all to seriously while attending the Democratic Convention. No party is devoted to “let’s screw the poor and keep all the money for the rich”. Rather, there is difference of opinion between the two parties over what practical policies would best serve the common good. When conservatives oppose “universal healthcare” it’s not because we don’t want people to receive the medical help that they need, but rather because we strongly suspect that a government run system would make things worse than they currently are.
Consider the choices: A Catholic can either continue on the failed and uncertain path of seeking to overturn Roe, which would result in the individual states doing their own thing, not necessarily, or in most states even likely, protective of the unborn. Or Senator Obama’s approach could be followed, whereby prenatal and income support, paid maternity leave and greater access to adoption would be relied upon to reduce the incidence of abortion.
First of all, Obama has not actually jumped on board with all those –- Kmiec just imagines that they might be in keeping with the overall Obama vibe. Secondly, this is not an either/or issue. If Kmiec wants to reduce the need for abortion through social services, there are many conservative pro-lifers who would be happy to work to make sure that that happens – whether privately or publically.
But he is deceiving himself (or more cynically: attempting to deceive others) if he claims that Obama’s policy of removing all restrictions on abortion and providing comprehensive public funding for abortions would not increase the number of abortions. It’s not really a matter of opinion: if you remove all restrictions and costs on a means of alleviating a large future expense (raising a child) the use of that means will go up.
It is, of course, not enough for a Catholic legislator to declare himself or herself pro-choice and just leave it at that, but neither Senator Obama, who is not Catholic except by sensibility, nor Joe Biden, who is a lifelong Catholic, leaves matters in that unreflective way.
Not enough? My good professor, it’s not acceptable at all. If one believes that an unborn child represents an innocent and unique human life deserving of the right to life (a topic on which Obama refused to provide a straight answer, and which Biden claims to accept “on faith”) then it is clearly the height of moral bankruptcy to say that one must leave it as a matter of “choice” whether that life be snuffed out. The most basic duty of a civic government is to protect the lives of its citizens.
In my view, Obama and Biden seek to fulfill the call by Pope John Paul II, in the encyclical “Evangelium Vitae,” to “ensure proper support for families and motherhood.” It cannot possibly contravene Catholic doctrine to improve the respect for life by paying better attention to the social and economic conditions of women which correlate strongly with the number of abortions.
No one has suggested that it contravenes Catholic doctrine to pay better attention to the social and economic conditions of women – or indeed to attempt to improve those conditions, which I suspect is what Professor Kmiec actually means.
However, it does contravene Catholic teaching to insist that a woman has a right to kill her unborn child if her economic situation is dire, or for any other reason. And not only do Senators Obama and Biden both insist that, but their economic policies upon which Kmiec rests so much face are predicated upon the assumption that the mother does have that individualistic right to terminate another’s life in order to assure her own comfort. John Paul II, in Evangelium Vitae, explains that our duty to provide for the needs of others and our duty to protect the lives of the most innocent among us stem from one and the same duty to respect life in all its forms.
If Professor Kmiec truly believes that conservative economic policies are predicated upon a total disregard for the needs of others – then shame on him for supporting them for the last twenty years and more. But even if that is indeed his conviction, and he has only now realized that it is wrong to trample upon the needs of others, that merely shows that (surprise, surprise) no political party has a lock on all aspects of the Gospel of Life.
But what is absolutely clear is that the platform of the Democratic Party (which Kmiec has wedded himself to and insists on publicly embracing again and again) is totally at odds with the Gospel of Life. Freedom and prosperity can never be based upon nor include the “right” to kill another. Obama's proposals in regards to economic justice may bear some surface resemblance to certian interpretations of Catholic Social Teaching, but the philosophy which drives the current political progressive movement is one which includes the most complete autonomy possible. Catholic Social Teaching is based upon out duty to care for each other. While the claim that the government has a duty to give us whatever we want may sound a little bit like that, when paired with our absolute right to terminate those who are inconvenient to us, it begins to look much more like old fashioned individualistic selfishness.