Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Catholic Candidates, Voters and Contraception

By Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil

From the announcement of President Obama’s controversial new contraception policy, to Rick Santorum’s unexpected triple-win on Tuesday—Catholics have determined this week’s news cycle. To understand these developments, Moment speaks with Shaun Casey, a religious outreach advisor to the Obama campaign and author of The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy v. Nixon 1960. He is also associate professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC.

MM: What does it mean that we have two prominent Catholic candidates vying for the Republican nomination right now? Is this the first time all the top candidates—from either party—have not been Protestant Christians?

SC: Of course the Democratic Party has nominated Catholics—John F. Kennedy and John Kerry. But on the Republican side, I don’t believe we’ve ever had a non-Protestant be the nominee. The evangelical Protestant vote is very powerful—it’s a huge piece of the Republican base. They have struggled this time to pick the person they want to go to, and no single candidate has been able to garner that vote. So if you’re an evangelical voter, you’re flummoxed where to go.

MM: How does Catholicism inform Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich’s politics?

SC: Newt Gingrich is a recent convert, and he comes to Catholicism from having become a Southern Baptist in his college years—so he’s made quite the pilgrimage. You can’t point to any visible political changes as a result of his conversion to Catholicism, but what unites Gingrich and Santorum is that their faith overlaps with their conservative politics. Both Gingrich and Santorum are drawn to the anti-abortion stance, the stance against gay marriage—there’s a very strong correlation between their conservative faith and their conservative politics. On the other hand, there’s some tension between Catholic social tradition and their conservative political beliefs: the preferential option for the poor, the desire for universal health care, the right for unions to organize—there’s a robust list of political stances that Church teaching points towards that goes in a different direction from Santorum and Gingrich. While their faith does shape their politics, there’s not only an area of conjunction, there’s also an area of disjunction between their political beliefs and the faith of their Church.

MM: Tell me about Catholic voters—how have they voted historically and where do they stand now?

SC: Since the early ‘90s, the Catholic Church has migrated from predominately Democratic to the ultimate swing voters today—typically, the candidate who wins the Catholic vote wins the overall vote. At the same time, mainline Protestant voters are going the other way. They were predominately Republican in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and now they’re moving toward the center. And going back 40 or 50 years, evangelical voters were predominately Democrats, and now they’re predominately Republican. Those are the three great migrations in religious voter patterns.

The Catholic community is also becoming more and more an immigrant church. The Pew forum has data showing that if you’re an American-born, Anglo Catholic, there’s a fairly high attrition rate or movement out of the Catholic faith, while immigrants from Mexico and Latin America, and to a certain extent Asia, are replacing them. Yet again it’s becoming an immigrant church as it was in the 19th century.

MM: Does it matter that Santorum and Gingrich are taking such a hard line on immigration when so many Catholic voters are Hispanic?

Absolutely. Hispanic Catholic voters tend to vote Democratic—Obama won the overall Hispanic vote rather handily over McCain in ’08. While they are social conservatives—they’re not liberals on abortion or same-sex marriage—they are very concerned about immigration reform, and that’s the trump issue right now. Even though theologically and socially they might be more attuned to the Republican Party, they fear their stance on immigration.

MM: Do Catholic voters feel any loyalty toward Santorum or Gingrich because they’re fellow Catholics?

No—they don’t feel any sectarian affinities toward those two that I can detect. I think both Santorum and Gingrich have trouble Catholic voters overall. Conservative Catholics love them, but they don’t make up the majority of Catholic voters.

MM: Are Catholic voters in line with Church leadership in opposing Obama’s new contraception policy? Will it affect voting in the fall?

No, they are not. At the same time, there are some liberal Catholics who support birth control—and even support universal access to it—but who also feel in terms of the First Amendment, that religious groups that don’t share that view have the right not to coerce their employees to get it. The administration was surprised by the breadth of the outcry from progressive and moderate Catholics for whom the issue of contraception is not a big deal, but the issue of religious liberty is. Is that going to drive another 30 percent of Catholics into the Republican Party—I doubt it. But people are watching very carefully to see if there’s a compromise we can come to. At the end of the day, the bishops want to find a solution, and that’s what the Obama administration also wants. Despite the heated rhetoric, I’m pretty confident they can find a way to work through this because it’s in everyone’s interest.

MM: One topic that rarely gets talked about is war and poverty. What’s the Church’s stance on these issues, and why don’t we hear the Church pushing back against the government as much as we do on the social issues, like abortion and contraception?

SC: On the question of poverty, the bishops have been active behind the scenes in Congress, trying to push both parties towards preserving social services to the poor and to children. During this difficult budget process, they have been walking the halls of Congress and calling the White House, but in a much quieter way—they’re not reading letters against Speaker Boehner, President Obama or Vice President Biden on the budget issues and the poor. On war, they were quite good during the Bush administration—they were very clear in their opposition to the Iraq War, which they expressed in letters and direct conversation with the president—but it hasn’t been the same dramatic, direct confrontation.

MM: What’s something most people don’t know about Catholics and politics?

SC: I think that the Catholic vote is going to be an important constituency in this election. While Obama won it handily over McCain in ‘08, it remains to be seen whether that’s going to play out in 2012. But I wouldn’t assume that because there’s a Catholic nominee in the Republican Party that the Catholic vote will immediately flip toward the Republican Party. I think that assumption is debatable.

CAP’s “God in Politics” Forum

By Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil

The Center for American Progress in Washington, DC hosted a forum earlier this week on “God and Politics: Examining Religion in the 2012 Religion.” Jews were never mentioned in the 90-minute talk, but speakers raised some illuminating points about the country’s religious voters:

  • Changing Demographics: The white mainline Protestant population is in decline, says Robert Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute. While the Catholic population has been steady, the demographics are shifting—the number of white Catholics is dwindling as Hispanic Catholics are on the rise. These racial divisions are also reflected in voting patterns: non-white Christians voted heavily for President Obama, while white Christians were split.
  • Evangelicals and Mormons: Almost half of white evangelicals—49 percent—say Mormonism is not a Christian religion, slightly higher than the 47 percent who say they would be uncomfortable with a Mormon president, according to PRRI surveys. Even factoring in other factors like Mitt Romney’s moderate social views and his work at Bain Capital, Jones says, “In the data, we see a consistent sign that his religion, particularly among evangelical voters, is still playing an independent role.”
  • More Believe Obama is Muslim: Forty percent of Americans still say they don’t know Obama’s religion, and 18 percent say he’s Muslim. “That number has actually gone up from 12 percent since he’s come into office,” Jones says.
  • Religion and Favorability Rating: Jones explains the strong correlation between perception of religious difference and favorability rating: Of the 51 percent of Americans who say Obama’s religion is at least somewhat different than their own, only 7 approve of him. Similarly, those who say Mormonism is very different than their own religion favor Mitt Romney 20 percentage points below those who say Mormonism is similar to their own.
  • What All Religions Agree On: Six in ten Americans agree with the statement, “Society would be better off if the distribution of wealth was more equal.” Every major religious group agrees despite a stark partisan divide.
  • Trouble for Obama: Obama could lose this fall, says Shaun Casey, professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary. But only if four circumstances come together—evangelical voters show up in record numbers, white mainline Protestants and white Catholics sit this election out, Obama’s campaign has poor religious outreach, and if the Catholic bishops voice their discontent with the White House. “If you have those four, then the president could be in very big trouble,” he says.
  • Hispanic Vote: Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Hispanic Evangelical Coalition, says Hispanic evangelicals could be swing votes in several states this year. “The question, I think, is, are they voting around the immigration reform issue, or are they going to vote with their sisters and brothers in the wider evangelical communities around social conservative issues?”
  • Religious Intolerance: Since the anti-Catholic backlash against John F. Kennedy in the 1960s, “religious intolerance has mutated,” says Casey. “Now the targets are different, and they’re harder to detect because people have more social pressure to not admit it to a pollster. We do know that if you’re a Muslim, a Mormon, or if you’re unaffiliated, you’re in deep trouble if you’re running for elected office in the United States.”
  • Historic Anti-Mormonism: “This meme of Mormons not being trustworthy, of being secretive, of not being fully assimilated into the United States—this has been with us for more than a century,” says religion scholar and journalist Joanna Brooks. “So what Mitt Romney is working out and working through right now is more than a century in the making.”

Go East, Mr. President

by Maddie Ulanow

We’ve passed the first two weeks of November, and the 2012 presidential elections are now just a year away. It seems the campaign is already in full swing, and Israel is already an issue on the table; Republicans are scrambling to defend it and place President Obama’s Middle East policies in a bad light, and Obama is similarly grasping at straws to defend himself.

In response to Republican claims that he “threw Israel under the bus” (from Mitt Romney) and that his policies are “naive, arrogant, misguided and dangerous” (courtesy of Rick Perry), the President’s supporters have claimed he doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s done for Israel, and the President himself gave a highly political, heavily worded speech at the United Nations seemingly designed to pull the Jewish vote back in his favor. Because that’s what a lot of this is about, isn’t it? The Jewish vote.

Obama won 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, but that support is now slipping steadily (along with his support from other groups). A May survey revealed that only 12 percent of Jews surveyed viewed his policies as pro-Israel, while after his UN speech 54 percent–a significant jump, but still low. Republicans would love to sway pro-Israel Jewish voters wary of Obama’s policies, particularly in swing states such as Florida.

Amidst all this political back and forth, accusations left and right and a president struggling to maintain his simultaneous image as a light for the Arab world and also an ally of the Israeli democracy, Obama has yet to visit Israel during his presidency.

Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter each visited during their first terms, setting a Democratic precedent. But Obama hasn’t been since he was a candidate in 2008, leading some to wonder if he sees Israel as a mere political tool. According to Politico, the White House says they want to reserve a trip for when “the president can advance the peace process,” but current efforts have fallen to pieces and a 2012 trip risks being seen as a political maneuver–which it is, essentially. In theory, an Israel trip would build confidence amongst the Jewish base and reaffirm his stance as their ally.

In light of the recent news buzz surrounding French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s and Obama’s private conversation, in which Sarkozy called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “liar” and Obama responded with unenthusiastic remarks about Netanyahu, Obama needs to go to Israel not just to score political points, but to re-solidify his commitment to a long-time ally. Republicans will no doubt jump on his failure to defend Netanyahu, and the comments cast doubt on unity between Israel and its Western allies. But Obama needs to visit Israel not just to score political points, but to see just what Netanyahu may or may not be lying about. He needs to see the settlements, revisit the rocket-battered villages in the south, meet with members of Knesset and see the situation from the ground before he decides who’s a liar, who’s telling the truth, and who else is just as desperate for political points as he is.

At this point, if Obama doesn’t go before 2012 –which doesn’t seem likely, after his trip to Europe and upcoming tour of Hawaii, Indonesia and Australia–it will seem like a political move. And it will be. But if he wants to protect the Jewish vote, and to truly understand facts on the ground, it is a necessary one.

Israel and the Left

by Theodore Samets

In its consistent effort to commoditize political positions as “left” or “right,”“conservative” or “liberal,” much of American media has determined that to be pro-Israel is to be right-wing, to be anti-Israel is left-wing.

It exists even here on InTheMoment, when last week a blogger called CAMERA, a pro-Israel media monitor, “conservative,” without qualifying what she meant by that term. CAMERA itself claims to be “non-partisan.”

This equation of “right equals pro-Israel” is problematic on a number of levels, but each time a writer, pontificator or politician repeats it, it seems to gain ground.

Why is this concerning? Because the people who will be most hurt by making support for Israel a partisan issue are the Israelis; the country whose existence will be threatened is Israel.

Israel has long enjoyed high popularity among the American left, and that should be no less true today. What’s more liberal than supporting gay rights, women’s rights, and democracy in the Middle East? Israel is an environmentally conscious, universal health care-providing, equality-loving nation. Democrats and Republicans alike should be vehement defenders of the Jewish State and passionate believers in the vibrant US-Israel relationship.

Most Democratic politicians understand the importance of standing with Israel. At this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference, for example, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said that with any future two-state solution, “Israel’s borders must be defensible and must reflect reality on the ground,” rebutting President Obama’s call for a return to 1967 lines with mutually agreed upon swaps.

Nonetheless, Republicans are occasionally guilty of trying to turn Israel into a partisan issue, such as when the Republican Jewish Coalition exaggerated new Democratic National Committee chair and pro-Israel stalwart Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s minimal ties to JStreet. But some Democrats encourage this effort when they refuse to make clear that they stand with Israel.

When groups like JStreet defend Donna Edwards, a Maryland congresswoman with problematic positions on Israel, when Democrats allow voices that are not pro-Israel to claim that mantle, it hurts Israel, it hurts the Democratic Party, and it hurts the United States. Democratic leaders need to sideline JStreet and its allies and focus on recruiting pro-Israel candidates to run for office; if not, support for Israel will become an ever-more Republican issue, and the media will be correct when they equate pro-Israel with right wing.

We need more members of congress like Eliot Engel and Brad Sherman and fewer like Dennis Kucinich.

Which is not to say that Republicans never voice anti-Israel sentiment; but when they do, the Republican Jewish Coalition condemns it. It’s hard to imagine the RJC’s counterpart, the National Jewish Democratic Council, doing the same thing, given their decision to stand with JStreet, an organization whose destructive policies put Israel’s security at risk.

Democrats need to turn their focus inward: Why is it that the far-left’s animosity toward Israel has found its voice protected by a contingent of the party leadership, when Republicans have successfully silenced much of the isolationist, anti-Israel rhetoric of past leaders like Pat Buchanan?

It’s time for Democrats to tell the president that his pressure on the Israelis to return to peace talks is misplaced; it is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who has avoided the table for the past two and a half years. It’s time for pro-Israel Democrats, who make up the vast majority of the congressional caucus and the party as a whole to do this in the open.

It’s easy to throw punches at your enemies in Washington; it’s much harder to tell a friend that they’re wrong.

If Democrats can’t stand up and do this, the ever-present warnings of the Jewish right – that Jews might start voting for and giving to Republicans in larger numbers – might just come true.

For a whole host of reasons, Jews remain loyal to the Democratic Party, as well they should. Democrats at the core represent the belief in tikkun olam that Jews embrace so strongly. Yet if the Democratic leadership can’t prevent the right from successfully making support for Israel a partisan issue, the loyalty of past generations may not remain.

Celebrating Bin Laden’s Death

By Symi Rom-Rymer

When President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden in the late hours of May 1st, the country breathed collective sigh of relief.  Spontaneous celebrations broke out in front of The White House, at Ground Zero and in Times Square.  College students mugging for the camera chanted “U-S-A, U-S-A!”  There were even some reports of kegs.  Eugene Robinson, a columnist for the Washington Post, wrote the next day,  “The flag-waving, horn-honking crowd that converged at the White House Sunday night was brimming with unrestrained joy, unmitigated patriotism and a sense of unlimited possibility—which meant Osama bin Laden had suffered not only death but defeat as well.”

The frat-party atmosphere, however, made others queasy.  The sense of unease seems to come not so much from the question of whether it was right to kill Bin Laden, or even whether to rejoice at his death, but rather how to express that feeling.  Several readers wrote in to Robinson’s weekly live chat on the Washington Post, expressing their ambivalence over the hyped-up atmosphere that seemed more in line, as one reader commented, with a sports game than with someone’s death.  Robinson defended his position, saying, “I’m cheering. The man was a mass murderer—not a henchman, but the leader who ordered the 9/11 attacks, among other atrocities. I don’t usually celebrate death, but I’m making an exception.”

Conversely, President Obama—who arguably has the most reason to cheer—announced the news at a sober press conference in his typical calm, professorial style.  The words that he said were explosive but there was no cheering, no fist pump and no ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner.

This ambivalence is not limited to the secular world.  The Jewish religious response has been equally varied.  Some, like Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center representing the Jewish Renewal movement in Philadelphia, have turned to the story of Passover as a guide for how to respond.  In a recent New York Jewish Week article, he commented that although Jews narrowly escaped death at the hands of their Egyptian pursuers, God cautioned angels not to rejoice at the drowning in the Red Sea of the Egyptians who pursued the Jews escaping their bondage. They too were God’s creations, after all.  According to the same article, others like Orthodox Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz teaches his yeshiva students  that “most sources permit celebration of the death of a person who is ‘objectively evil’ as distinct from someone with whom an individual may have a dispute.”

Jews know what it means to have suffered at the hands of bloodthirsty tyrants, determined to exterminate them.  The almost karmic timing of the killing of Bin Laden and Yom Ha’Shoah—the slaughter of innocents temporarily avenged by the death of a more contemporary mass murderer—has not gone unnoticed.  Yet we should also recognize that even the death of an “objectively evil” person does not wipe clean the suffering he inflicted.  Last week, I wrote about Sonia Reich, a woman who continues to be haunted by her childhood during the Holocaust, over sixty years ago.  Those who lost family on September 11th or in the subsequent wars will be similarly haunted by their losses, even after the death of those responsible.  Instead of celebrating our success with Bronx cheers, perhaps a more fitting response is a somber appreciation for what was done on our behalf. We may have won this battle but it has come at great human expense. And the war is not yet over.

This Week’s Links

BrunoBy Michelle Albert

  • The Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades have threatened Sacha Baron Cohen’s life because of their inclusion in his latest film farce, Bruno. Fashionistas of the world, unite: Save Sacha! [Jewlicious]
  • Persian Jews live the high life in Los Angeles. [W]
  • According to cartoonist Rich Tenorio, the right beverage can solve even the stickiest problems. [TheDevilMadeMeBlogIt]
  • Iranian protesters meeting to honor the people killed in the post-June 12 presidential election fracas were met with violence and tear gas. [NYT]
  • Jewish author Michael Chabon dislikes circumcision. [Jewcy]
  • Haaretz examines the rumors that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is a “self-hating Jew” and is turning the Obama administration against Israel. [Haaretz]

The White House Seder Used Maxwell House Haggaddah

By Marista Lane

White House Seder

For the now legendary White House Seder, the Obamas used the widely popular Maxwell House Haggaddah, (which we wrote about in our last issue). Roughly 20 people attended the Seder, including the Obama family, White House senior adviser David Axelrod (who helped organized the event), and other White House staffers.