The former head of the Office of Legal Counsel under Presidents Reagan and Bush, Douglas Kmiec has offered this endorsement of Barack Obama for President. By the time one gets through all the caveats, it’s barely clear why Kmiec is endorsing Obama. Normally, I’d ascribe such a move to a desire for publicity, but in this case I think it best to take Kmiec at face value. With that in mind, his logic is less than persuasive, except for why Obama is not the sort of person that a committed Catholic should be supporting. Kmiec even includes a handy list of reasons why not to support Senator Obama:
s a Republican, I strongly wish to preserve traditional marriage not as a suspicion or denigration of my homosexual friends, but as recognition of the significance of the procreative family as a building block of society. As a Republican, and as a Catholic, I believe life begins at conception, and it is important for every life to be given sustenance and encouragement. As a Republican, I strongly believe that the Supreme Court of the United States must be fully dedicated to the rule of law, and to the employ of a consistent method of interpretation that keeps the Court within its limited judicial role. As a Republican, I believe problems are best resolved closest to their source and that we should never arrogate to a higher level of government that which can be more effectively and efficiently resolved below. As a Republican, and the constitutional lawyer, I believe religious freedom does not mean religious separation or mindless exclusion from the public square.
All down this line, Obama stands in direct opposition to these principles. On the issue of marriage, even Prof. Kmiec has noted that Obama would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act—which would force states to accept gay marriages performed in places like Massachusetts. Furthermore, Sen. Obama opposes an amendment to the Constitution protecting traditional marriages. Now, there’s an argument to be made that gay marriage doesn’t harm the traditional family, but that isn’t an argument made by Prof. Kmiec. Obama’s statements are at best wishy-washy when it comes to protecting the family, and can easily be seen as openly hostile. This is one strike against a committed Catholic law professor supporting Obama.
On abortion, Sen. Obama is fully committed to the ongoing taking of innocent human lives. His voting record in Illinois makes it clear that he follows the orders of Planned Parenthood. A President Obama would be likely to repeal the Mexico City Protocol which bans US money going to fund abortions abroad. Again, from a Catholic perspective, any President who would substantially expand the taking of innocent human lives through abortion is not a President that should be supported. Sen. Obama is a creature of the pro-abortion lobby, and he will give only token respect to those who wish to see this country more strongly uphold the innate dignity of each innocent human life.
Sen. Obama also supported the use of embryonic stem cell research, and blasted the ban as contrary to “progress”—despite the existence of non-destructive alternatives that do not require the use of human embryos. Sen. Obama has further attempted to advance the lie that only embryos can be used for research, which is not only untrue, but places the idea that scientific progress should trump human life—which is invariably a dangerous precedent to set.
On the issue of judges and the role of the courts, we’ve already been down this road. Sen. Obama has a vision for a Court that would continue to act in an activist fashion, has only a limited deference for the rule of law, and would continue to interject their own social views in place of the clear strictures of the Constitution. Again, Prof. Kmiec is undermining his own first principles by endorsing a candidate who stands in direct opposition to them.
On the issue of subsidiarity, which Prof. Kmiec hints at, Sen. Obama is also clearly in the wrong. As Pope Pius XI wrote in Quadragesimo Anno, “it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do.” Yet that is precisely what Sen. Obama stands for—the increasing centralization of all sorts of economic and social activities. He supports a centralized government-run health care system. He supports tighter government controls on the media. On nearly every issue, Sen. Obama’s liberal ideology is clear: he supports government-run initiatives over local ones. He supports more centralization of power rather than less. He assigns more to greater and higher associations than to lesser and subordinate ones. At the very best, Sen. Obama sounds much like George W. Bush and his “compassionate conservatism”—which turned out to be neither. Conservatives have been fooled into believing that government money can empower communities rather than enslave them once before—it’s disheartening to see a thoughtful conservative fall for the same idea once again.
As for the separation of church and state, Obama’s positions have been less than clear. However, one can tell a lot about a man from his choice of friends. If anything, Obama takes the increasing politicization of religious life in America and simply shifts it towards other side of the political aisle. In the end, people of religious faith should judge a candidate not on their allusions to faith, but upon the exercise of their principles. On such critical issues as the value of life and the practice of subsidiarity, Sen. Obama simply falls short.
So why does Prof. Kmiec endorse Obama? He gives us two hints, one at the beginning and one in the end. His beginning argument is, or at least was until the last few weeks, the strongest argument for Obama. Implicitly, Prof. Kmiec argues that Obama will allow America to “move beyond” it’s racial polarization. However, the Rev. Wright scandal and Sen. Obama’s own use of racially polarizing rhetoric belie those claims. How can Obama move us beyond racial polarization when much of his appeal is based upon his race? When he tacitly and sometimes openly endorses those who spread inflammatory rhetoric? Yes, Sen. Obama is far less polarizing than previous African-American leaders, much to his credit. At the same time, Sen. Obama has not been unwilling to use the rhetoric of racial polarization to his advantage, especially by tying himself to Rev. Wright. There is a strong argument that this was a political calculation, and the real Obama is someone who does truly believe in his own rhetoric of racial healing. However, that is still taking a chance.
Finally, Kmiec gets to the issue that seems to be the real reason for his endorsement of Obama—the war:
No doubt some of my friends will see this as a matter of party or intellectual treachery. I regret that and I respect their disagreement. But they will readily agree that as Republicans, we are first Americans. As Americans, we must voice our concerns for the well-being of our nation without partisanship when decisions that have been made endanger the body politic. Our president has involved our nation in a military engagement without sufficient justification or clear objective. In so doing, he has incurred both tragic loss of life and extraordinary debt jeopardizing the economy and the well-being of the average American citizen. In pursuit of these fatally flawed purposes, the office of the presidency, which it was once my privilege to defend in public office formally, has been distorted beyond its constitutional assignment. Today, I do no more than raise the defense of that important office anew, but as private citizen.
Before analyzing Kmiec’s argument here, it’s crucial to point out that the very next paragraph belies his own analysis:
9/11 and the radical Islamic ideology that it represents is a continuing threat to our safety and the next president must have the honesty to recognize that it, as author Paul Berman has written, “draws on totalitarian inspirations from 20th-century Europe and with its double roots, religious and modern, perversely intertwined. . . .wields a lot more power, intellectually speaking, then naïve observers might suppose.” Senator Obama needs to address this extremist movement with the same clarity and honesty with which he has addressed the topic of race in America. Effective criticism of the incumbent for diverting us from this task is a good start, but it is incomplete without a forthright outline of a commitment to undertake, with international partners, the formation of a world-wide entity that will track, detain, prosecute, convict, punish, and thereby, stem radical Islam’s threat to civil order. I await Senator Obama’s more extended thinking upon this vital subject, as he accepts the nomination of his party and engages Senator McCain in the general campaign discussion to come.
On this part, Prof. Kmiec is right. Radical Islam is a continuing threat to our safety—which is the reason why we’re fighting it in Iraq. Sen. Obama has little to say about radical Islam because his policies would cripple us in that fight. He can barely name the enemy because to do so would undermine his status as the leading anti-war candidate.
As an American first and foremost, one cannot countenance the surrender of American and Iraqi interests to terror that would come about as a direct result of our unconditional withdrawal from Iraq. To do so would be to hand al-Qaeda the greatest victory that they have ever achieved. We’ve seen what such an act would look like before: al-Qaeda grew from the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan (and our own unwillingness to intercede on behalf of the brave men like Ahmad Shah Masood who freed Afghanistan from Soviet tyranny, allowing financiers like bin Laden and radicals like the Taliban to take the credit). We watch as our ignominious withdrawals from Iran, Beirut, and Somalia emboldened the terrorist into thinking that the US was a paper tiger.
Sen. Obama would see this country further embolden terrorists worldwide. His policies would ensure that Osama bin Laden would be absolutely vindicated: the US would once again run with its tail between its legs as the forces of radical jihad once again defeated the mightiest army on Earth. A basic understanding of the psychology of groups like al-Qaeda make it clear that a withdrawal from Iraq is not in our best interests—which is why politicians like Sen. Obama rarely discuss it in any depth.
Prof. Kmiec merely seems to hope that Obama will see the enemy for what it is. That hope may be “audacious” but it is also misplaced—especially when we have a candidate on the other side who sees the enemy most clearly for what it is. On all the issues that matter, Prof. Kmiec’s endorsement of Obama undercuts all his own first principles. Committed Catholic conservatives cannot rationally endorse Obama without somehow undercutting the own first principles of both faith and politics. While there are many who easily fall onto the Obama bandwagon, it is quite distressing to see someone so prominent and so normally thoughtful make such a leap of logic based on such flimsy grounds.
Sadly, I must agree with Paul Mirengoff on this issue, Prof. Kmiec is not being sufficiently serious on this issue.