The Associated Press and other news outlets are saying today that the White House is considering a “compromise” on the HHS mandate requiring Catholic institutions to cover abortion pills, contraceptives and sterilization.
How can you compromise on this question? Either the government is forcing our Catholic institutions to do this, or it isn’t. There isn’t any room in-between those two positions. I forget who wrote it recently, but once this mandate is in place, the question becomes “how much tyranny will we tolerate?” — I would submit we should tolerate none, when it comes to our religious freedom (the editors of Commonweal, to their shame, disagree).
Obama, it seems, still believes this is a fight about contraception, a fight he believes he can win. As Kathleen Parker correctly argues, it’s not — it’s about religious freedom. And this fight Catholics cannot afford to let him win. It’s going to be tough for the White House to get out of this because it’s become increasingly clear that this was, in the end, Obama’s call and his call alone. He can’t pass the buck on this (though I’m sure if things get really bad, he will try).
Make no mistake, Obama was warned by his inner circle that this would happen, and he chose to ignore it. It wasn’t a miscalculation. Despite the efforts of some liberal Catholics (such as Doug Kmiec) to rub their hands and exclaim “how can this be?!” those of us who have said all along the President was not sincere when he spoke in favor of religious freedom are not at all surprised by all that has transpired.
And it’s going to get worse, you can mark my words.
Michael Sean Winters notes a third strategy the administration may try — stalling.
The most troubling part of Axelrod’s comment [about seeking compromise] was the idea that finding a compromise will take time. I read that to mean, let’s paper this thing over until after the election. Does he take us for fools? If there is a second Obama term, something that I suspect seems more in doubt because of this decision, which is why Axelrod is saying anything at all, what leverage will Catholic leaders have after the election? Clearly, we cannot count on this president to do the right thing, nor even to do the thing he promised to do.
I agree, Catholics must keep up a sense of urgency among ourselves and in our efforts to make our position clear to Obama’s administration. We’re not going away on this one, ever.
More good from Winters:
Mr. Obama and his advisors decided to walk out on this limb, I didn’t. They chose to punch us Catholics in the nose. If they are now feeling the heat of a backlash they were warned about, that’s how politics works. Their political predicament was foreseeable and they made their choice. I do not want to sit down to negotiations with them unless and until there is a little blood coming from their nose too. Negotiations are more honest when both sides have some essential parity in the bloody nose category. And, if the White House and Mr. Axelrod think the heat is too much for them, they should reverse this decision, not seek negotiations. It is never fun to admit one was wrong. Certainly, as the Komen Foundation brouhaha showed, there will be hell to pay on the other side if the administration reverses course. This is not an issue on which there is an obvious consensus everyone can live with, and because the issues raised entail first principles, there are limits to what any negotiators can achieve.
My only disagreement with Winters here is that there is an American consensus that religious liberty should trump this attempt of government to force Americans to violate their conscience by subsidizing things they morally oppose. That at least, has been our tradition and I see no evidence the majority of Americans desire to see that tradition and precedent abandoned.
So, to all fellow Catholics, I urge you to stand strong. Don’t back down. The road to tyranny –and giving up the freedoms our forefathers won for us– is paved with precisely the minor concessions and brokered compromises which some are tempting us to seek.