In response, permit me to explain what led to my own signature of the letter in question.
Readers of Catholics in the Public Square are no doubt aware that I have emphatically disagreed with Henry and those contributors at Vox Nova who supported Barack Obama throughout the 2008 election.
At the same time, to say Catholics shouldn’t have cast their vote for Obama is not the same thing as asserting that they were prohibited from doing so. This, at least, seems to be the conclusion drawn from the USCCB document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”:
There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position [on abortion] may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.
Suffice to say I was among the those who did not believe a “grave moral reason” existed that warranted voting for Obama. And if some members of Vox Nova disagreed, I’ll give them the benefit of a doubt, and trust they thought about it as long and hard as my own decision to vote for Senator McCain.
* * *Given the outcome of the election, there is an understandable inclination on the part of conservatives to adopt a “not MY President” attitude, comparable to how many liberals regarded President Bush in the past 8 years. In an article for InsideCatholic.com, Dale Price countered that we ought to instead respond like Catholics, heeding St. Paul’s injunction in Timothy 2:1-2 and the Catechism:
It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community (2239).
As you can see, corrosive partisanship is not on the list of duties. As Catholics, we are held to a higher standard, and we need to meet it. Given how polluted the public square is these days, we have no choice.
Finally, if Scripture and Tradition are leaving you particularly unmoved today, let me offer pragmatism: Shrill, bitter, and paranoid is no way to go through life, son. Nor are they a blueprint for a reversal of electoral fortune. Obama did not campaign on a mantra of bitter, vindictive gloom, and there is a simple reason for it: Nobody wants to be in the same room with a guy who spews this kind of talk, let alone vote for him.Obama is our next president, like it or not. Our marching orders are clear: Pray for him and our country, work with him where possible to achieve the common good, and fight like a Maccabee when he oversteps his bounds — all the while remembering that November 2010 and 2012 will be here quicker than we think.
It is with Dale Price’s admonition in mind that I greeted Henry’s call to engage Obama:
“Now is the time to dialogue with Obama on the issue of life. Now that he is victor, the next stage is to work with him. This also means to be critical, to be sure, but also to engage what he has said. I think a petition or letter which quotes ALL that he has said positive about working with pro-lifers for removing the causes of abortion, and even of his support for restrictions on late-term abortion, needs to be made.”
Contrary to some assumptions, this wasn’t simply a solo project. Henry drafted the original text, invited the reactions of all participants, and was receptive to changes.
It was actually a suggestion I proposed that the letter address not only or chiefly FOCA, but Obama’s desire to repeal the Mexico City Policy and the Bush administration’s (admittedly imperfect, from a Catholic perspective) limitations on federal funding for ESCR — being proximate actions which are likely to set a precedent in Obama’s relationship to the pro-life community.
Ultimately, I understood the letter to be a critique of Obama’s policies using his own criterion of “choice” — in each case, FOCA, ESCR and the repeal of the Mexico City Policy can be said to undermine the freedom of American citizens conscientiously opposed to having their taxes support the taking of human life.
(Curiously, that approach is not far off from the strategy adopted by a certain YouTube project that I collaborated on a couple months back).
Is the letter precisely what I would have penned? — No. But such are “letters by committee.”
Am I optimistic that the letter will achieve its desired effect? — Regretfully, no.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t engage Barack Obama’s appeals to his pro-life critics: “to find common ground … to reduce the number of abortions.” Obama said he would do it, and we should hold him to that promise.
And if the members of Vox Nova — Henry, Michael Deem, Michael Iafrate, Josiah Neeley, et al. — are willing to make that effort, count me in. Granted, we have had disagreements on many other matters (chiefly the prudential application of Catholic social teaching), but I for one welcome this opportunity to meet them on common ground.
After all, had Senator McCain won — I would be the one penning an “open letter to the President-Elect”.