Michael Gerson considers the implications of the Obama administration’s betrayal of its Catholic allies in its adoption of Obamacare regulations requiring the provision of benefits including sterilization, contraception and abortifacients. He singles out three Obama supporters for consideration:
Consider Catholicism’s most prominent academic leader, the Rev. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame. Jenkins took a serious risk in sponsoring Obama’s 2009 honorary degree and commencement address — which promised a “sensible” approach to the conscience clause. Jenkins now complains, “This is not the kind of ‘sensible’ approach the president had in mind when he spoke here.” Obama has made Jenkins — and other progressive Catholic allies — look easily duped.
Consider Catholicism’s highest-ranking elected official, Vice President Biden. Biden had encouraged engagement with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on conscience rights. Now he will be remembered as the Catholic cover for the violation of Catholic conscience. Betrayal is always an inside job.
Consider Catholicism’s most prominent clerical leader, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, head of the Conference of Catholic Bishops. Dolan had pursued a policy of engagement with the administration. In November, he met face to face with Obama, who was earnestly reassuring on conscience protections. On Jan. 20, during a less-cordial phone conversation, Obama informed Dolan that no substantial concession had been made. How can Dolan make the argument for engagement now?
Gerson’s anger is revealed in the middle of these three paragraphs. While Jenkins and Dolan are dupes, according to Gerson, Biden is a betrayer. That is a rather loaded charge in this context. Gerson then moves on to the larger point:
The implications of Obama’s power grab go further than contraception and will provoke opposition beyond Catholicism. Christian colleges and universities of various denominations will resist providing insurance coverage for abortifacients. And the astounding ambition of this federal precedent will soon be apparent to every religious institution. Obama is claiming the executive authority to determine which missions of believers are religious and which are not — and then to aggressively regulate institutions the government declares to be secular. It is a view of religious liberty so narrow and privatized that it barely covers the space between a believer’s ears.
Obama’s decision also reflects a certain view of liberalism. Classical liberalism was concerned with the freedom to hold and practice beliefs at odds with a public consensus. Modern liberalism uses the power of the state to impose liberal values on institutions it regards as backward. It is the difference between pluralism and anti-clericalism.
This is a provocative column. Gerson has a point here, but I think it is too particularized in his telling. Obamacare represents the progressive assault on limited constitutional government. If Catholic leaders have lent the assault a hand in the past, one can only hope that they awaken to the implications.