by Charlie Spiering
Pursuing the Catholic vote, both campaigns are focusing on the number one issue for many Americans: Fixing the weakened economy and helping those Americans suffering from the downturn.
When Mitt Romney announced the Catholics for Romney coalition last month, Catholic observers were delighted to see that none other than the Vice-Presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan was the National Honorary Chairman.
“It is an honor to support Governor Romney as he advances solutions that champion the dignity of every human being,” Ryan stated. “That is a goal that people of all faiths can support.”
But why should Catholics support Romney? Ryan has woven a strong narrative reminding Catholics that Republican principles of solidarity are what will successfully battle poverty.
“In this war on poverty, poverty’s winning,” explained Ryan during a major speech on poverty at Cleveland State University in Ohio. Ryan explained that the “centralized, top-down approach” by government pursued by leaders in Washington since the 1970′s have not helped solved the problem.
Strong communities and opportunity, Ryan added, start with economic stability for individuals. Ryan’s economic argument is a rare effort to directly challenge the version of Catholic social teaching put forth by Democrats.
A focus on economic opportunity and social justice viewed through a faith-based lens is essential, as this has always been the greatest issue used by Catholic Democrats to draw Catholics to their side.
For Democrats it’s as simple as pulling a quote from from Matthew 25:40
“We call it Catholic social doctrine: ‘Whatever you do to the least of these, you do for me.’” Vice President Joe Biden explained in a recent ad directed at Catholics. Biden reminded voters that he was “a practicing Catholic like many of you” and explained that the lesson was drilled into his head by priests and nuns.
“We endorse the president because of his tireless focus on economic security for middle-class families,” the national co-chairs of Catholics for Obama explained in a letter announcing their support for the re-election of the president.
The loose coalition of co-chairs for Obama have little else to promote for the president, other than to warn voters that Romney would cut social programs.
The rest of the mission for Catholics for Obama is clear: Defend the president’s four year record from Catholics who are upset with his policies.
But the president’s agenda has put Catholics for Obama in a tough spot. In 2008, they were able to soften the President’s record on social issues, promising to reduce abortions and highlighting his record of work for the poor. This election, however, the president has a record opposing the Catholic Church on a number of issues.
A perfect example of this difficulty is Catholic University’s Stephen Schneck, who recently joined the Catholics for Obama coalition as a co-chair.
Schneck is also the director of the University’s Institute for Public Policy and Catholic Studies and a political science professor.
While Catholic University is suing the president for failing to make exceptions for religious liberty in the HHS contraception mandate, Schneck awkwardly signals his support for the lawsuit in media interviews while campaigning for the President’s re-election.
Catholics supporting Obama, including Vice President Biden, deny that the mandate creates a conflict with religious liberty, insisting that provisions have been made for freedom of conscience. The United Council of Catholic Bishops, however, politely reminds Catholics that the plan pursued by the president is unacceptable.
On abortion and contraception, Obama has whole-heartedly sided with the pro-choice coalition, strengthened by the war-chests of abortion provider Planned Parenthood. But Schneck side-steps the president’s record on the issue, suggesting that by helping the poor, the president actually prevents abortions.
For Schneck, and supporters of Obama, their case for the president relies heavily on their case against Romney, that somehow Romney will cut off the poor and reduce the benefits they receive from the government.
By countering this Democratic argument with Ryan’s Republican approach, Catholics for Romney have a better argument for Catholics who vote primarily on social issues.
For Catholics voting pro-life, it’s obvious now that Obama has sided with the abortion industry. While supposedly against same-sex marriage in 2008, President Obama also embraced the LGTB movement’s push for marriage prior to the election.
What’s more, Catholics this year have an additional concern: religious liberty.
Catholics who were alarmed by the president’s HHS mandate in the latter part of his term, can easily side with Romney, who vowed to overturn the mandate if elected president. Romney and Ryan frequently mention the issue on the trail, reminding people of faith that “our first freedom”—religious liberty—is under attack.
With a faith-based economic message and favorable positions on social issues, it might be easier for the Romney/Ryan ticket to attract Catholic voters looking for a change. Polls taken earlier in the race proved the Catholic vote still favors Obama, who won the Catholic vote in 2008. Romney’s case, however, may eventually persuade a majority of Catholics as Church leaders increasingly remind the faithful of what is at stake in this election.
Charlie Spiering writes in Washington D.C. for the Washington Examiner. He previously wrote for the Rappahannock News and worked as a reporter for columnist Robert Novak.