There was a point when the health care debate was very exciting, when pro-life Democrats were actively shaping a plan that would be about extending health care and not about destroying life. The active concern for life was spreading across party lines and giving hope for a change that had also been reflected in attitudes across the country. That consensus was lost due to powerful forces, and sadly those same politicians who were in the trenches fighting were targeted for not going far enough. Some pro-life groups decided to put their efforts into voting out those who were not pro-life enough, instead of targeting those who would actively promote abortion. Bart Stupak, a man I admire, was one of the casualties of the anger, though he retired after the ordeal. House Republican Joseph Cao voted for an earlier version of the health care bill, but not the final one. A consummate Catholic politician, he lost on Tuesday. What we propose, win or lose, should continue to come from the wealth and wisdom of Catholic social teaching and not the dictates of political parties in their rush for power.
The Catholic vote may swing, but it is also readily manipulated by party forces. And a vindictive politics will not consolidate and build. There is more moral consensus than is acknowledged by the media, as argued in a new book by Knights of Columbus leader Carl Anderson, Beyond a House Divided, but can any consensus be forged by cutting out the middle? I wonder how long it will be before the pro-life cause will have another chance to cross party lines.
See this perspective on the election from Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good:
But, my argument that the Church was a loser in this election is not based on worries that Democrats lost or that Republicans won. No, my argument is that the moderates lost and that, in particular, that moderate pro-life and pro-Catholic social teaching candidates were defeated by currents in contemporary American political life that are pushing both the GOP and the Democrats toward their respective right and left wings. Not only do both of those wings stand in tension with the Church's traditional teachings, but their polarization undercuts the possibility for any real advance on the issues that are priorities for the Church.
What are the losses that I have in mind? Let me use two House races to illustrate the larger trend: Republican Joseph Cao in Louisiana's 2nd district and Democrat Kathy Dahlkemper in Pennsylvania's 3rd. Both of these Catholic incumbents are anti-abortion advocates. Both, too, evidence in their votes and public comments a sensitive appreciation of the larger parameters of the Church's social teachings. Both, moreover, are the sorts of moderates within their respective parties who might be inclined to reach across party lines and work for policies that the majority of American Catholics want on moral and social issues. Both, however, were especially targeted by opposition parties and lost last evening because moderates are cannon fodder in the ideological war that is contemporary American politics. Dozens of moderates from both parties went down in this election cycle, with the losses of pro-life, moderate Democrats most evident.