Push Calls and Voter Guides

The guides do not distinguish between the "moral weight" of the various issues, what some call the "non-negotiable" or "settled issues" and prudential issues.

Published on Catholic Online - October 6, 2012

By Deal W. Hudon and Keith A. Fournier

Things are really starting to percolate in the boiling cauldron of the “Catholic voter.”

The Obama campaign continues to “categorically deny” our reports of the anti-Mormon, and really anti-Catholic, calls made to a Catholic voter in Pennsylvania, Joy Allen. Peter Roff at U.S. News & World Report is staying on top of the story with a must read “On Catholic Push Calls, If Not the Obama Campaign, Who?”

Joy Allen will soon be telling her story from a major media platform. Watch for it early next week!

Now, to the growing concern over the voter guides being issued by state Catholic conferences. It became clear today that the voter guide issued in Pennsylvania, call it the “Alphabetical Guide to Catholic Issues” (my name, not theirs), was produced by collaboration from several state conferences, including our home state of Virginia.

The official title of this guide is “Know the Positions of the Presidential Candidates” and contains the names of President Obama and Gov. Romney at the top, followed by a list of ten issues listed in alphabetical order:

Abortion
Death Penalty
Education Choice
Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Freedom of Religion
Health Care for the Uninsured
Immigration
International Security
Marriage
Poverty Assistance

From the perspective of accuracy, we think the conferences did a good job in briefly and clearly describing the positions taken by the candidates.

However, various groups and individuals are registering their discontent with the form of these voter guides. Why? The guides do not distinguish between the “moral weight” of the various issues, what some call the “non-negotiable” or “settled issues” and prudential issues.

If you take a look at the guides, you will see that the design and layout of the ten issues makes them appear equal in importance.  Abortion comes first only because it starts with an “A.” Marriage, one of the few settled issues, comes in at the 9th position, because it starts with an “M.”

What makes an alphabetical presentation so disappointing is that it appears to ignore what the bishops themselves emphasized in their New Introduction, added last November, to “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” As the bishops explain in this passage about their intention in writing “Faithful Citizenship”:

“It [Faithful Citizenship] does not offer a quantitative listing of issues for equal consideration, but outlines and makes important distinctions among moral issues acknowledging that some involve the clear obligation to oppose intrinsic evils which can never be justified and that others require action to pursue justice and promote the common good. In short, it calls Catholics to form their consciences in the light of their Catholic faith and to bring our moral principles to the debate and decisions about candidates and issues.”

In other words, the voter guide issued by the state conferences seems to ignore the bishops’ concern that issues not be presented in a “quantitative” manner, which is precisely what an alphabetical list is!

Those issues, such as abortion, marriage, and embryonic stem cell research that involve intrinsic evils are not distinguished in any way.

This “all issues are equal approach” has long been the tactic of those who publicly support the election and re-election of pro-abortion Catholic politicians.  It’s a shame, to say the least, that state Catholic conferences would seem to legitimize this tactic.

But, there is more to be noted: The issue of “religious liberty,” about which the bishops mandated a Fortnight for Freedom is mysteriously renamed “Freedom of Religion.” Why?  The public debate over the HHS mandate has been about religious liberty all along, why suddenly change it to something else?

We certainly hope it wasn’t an attempt to play down the unified effort of the bishops to raise the visibility of this fundamental human right and its violation by the Obama administration.

Another issue, which may be a bit pedantic on our part, but it’s worth mentioning: “Health Care for the Uninsured” is listed as one of the ten issues.  Universal health care has long been a priority for the bishops and the USCCB; however, the bishops and the USCCB did not support the health care legislation because it contained federal funding for abortion and no conscience protection for health care workers.

Why is this important to mention?  A vote against the Affordable Health Care Act should not be considered a rejection of universal health care because the bishops themselves urged Catholic members of Congress not to support it.

What will happen in terms of practical politics in this?: The inclusion of “Health Care for the Uninsured” in the state voter guides will be used to put an “x” in the column of every member of Congress who voted against the Affordable Health Care Act.

We are not yet sure how many state Catholic conferences used this form of voter guide, but we guess it’s quite widespread.  Given the explicit warning of the New Introduction to “Faithful Citizenship”, we never imagined the state Catholic conferences, which represent the bishops of each state, would issue a guide that presents issues in a “quantitative” manner.

That the state conferences did, in fact, ignore the New Introduction is a serious matter, and we are sure this story is just beginning to roll out.

We will keep you posted!