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Obamacare vs. the Catholics

The administration’s breach of faith.

Feb 13, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 21 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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The trick, of course, is that when Sebelius issued the final protocol, her lone concession was the one-year delay in implementation. Which, for Obama, has the happy side-effect of pushing the moment of enforcement to August 2013. Meaning that no legal challenge can come until after the 2012 election. Which suggests that the thinking behind the policy may be primarily political. The question, then, is whether Obama’s confrontation with Catholics makes electoral sense.

While Catholics were blindsided by the January decision, the left had been paying close attention to the subject for months. In November, several leftist and feminist blogs began beating the war drums, warning Obama not to “cave” (their word) to the bishops. They were joined by the Nation, Salon, the Huffington Post, and the usual suspects. (Sample headline: “The Men Behind the War on Women.”) At the same time, Planned Parenthood and NARAL launched grassroots lobbying efforts and delivered petitions with 100,000 and 135,000 signatures respectively to the White House urging Obama to uphold the policy and not compromise.

In that sense, Obama’s decision might be thought of as akin to his decision halting the Keystone oil pipeline: a conscious attempt to energize his base at the expense of swing voters, who he concluded were already lost.

The other possibility, of course, is that Obama sees the dismantling of Catholic institutions as part of a larger ideological mission, worth losing votes over. As Yuval Levin noted in National Review Online last week, institutions such as the Catholic church represent a mediating layer between the individual and the state. This layer, known as civil society, is one of the principal differences between Western liberal order and the socialist view.

Levin argues that the current fight is just one more example of President Obama’s attempt to bulldoze civil society. He wants to sweep away the middle layer so that individuals may have a more direct and personal encounter with the state. The attack on Catholics is, Levin concludes, “an attack on mediating institutions of all sorts, moved by the genuine belief that they are obstacles to a good society.”

Seen in this light, Obama’s confrontation with the Catholic church is of a piece with the administration’s pursuit of the rickety Hosanna-Tabor case and another incident from last October, when the Department of Health and Human Services defunded a grant to the Conference of Catholic Bishops. That program supported aid to victims of human trafficking. The Obama administration decided that they no longer wanted the Catholic church in the business of helping these poor souls. That, evidently, is the government’s job.

Of course, there is a third possibility in explaining the president’s motives. It could be that, in deciding to go to war with the Catholic church, President Obama has hit on one of those rare moments where his electoral interests—at least as he perceives them—and his ideological goals are blessedly aligned.

Jonathan V. Last is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.

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