My Take: Obama pledged to dial down the culture wars. What happened?
The author says that Obama has let down antiabortion Democrats.
September 6th, 2012
11:30 AM ET

My Take: Obama pledged to dial down the culture wars. What happened?

Editor's note: Michael Sean Winters writes the blog "Distinctly Catholic" for the National Catholic Reporter and is the author of "God's Right Hand: How Jerry Falwell Made God a Republican and Baptized the American Right."

By Michael Sean Winters, Special to CNN

Four years ago, anti-abortion Sen. Robert Casey addressed the Democratic National Convention.

“Barack Obama and I have an honest disagreement on the issue of abortion,” he said. “But the fact that I am speaking here tonight is testament to Barack’s ability to show respect to the views of people who may disagree with him… he’ll pursue the common good by seeking common ground rather than trying to divide us.”

The next day, speaking to fellow anti-abortion Democrats, we all admitted we had been moved to tears by Casey’s speech.

As candidate and as president, Obama promised he would try and heal the culture wars.

”Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion and draft a sensible conscience clause,” he said in 2009 at the University of Notre Dame, a Catholic university, “and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women.”

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He retained the White House faith-based office President George W. Bush had created and even increased funding for religiously affiliated charities.

This week in Charlotte, Nancy Keenan, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, addressed the convention. Nearly all the politicians who spoke celebrated the party’s commitment to legalized abortion, offering some of the biggest applause lines of the convention.

Anti-abortion Democrats were crying again, but they were not tears of pride.

It has been clear for some time that President Obama’s campaign has concluded that they were never going to win the same levels of support among moderate, white, working class voters that propelled him to victory in 2008. Whereas in 2008, he was seen as a remedy for the bad economy, Obama is now seen as the cause, or at least not as the cure.

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So the president is re-litigating the culture wars he promised to salve in 2008. It’s one way to keep the Democrats from having to talk about the 8.3% unemployment rate.

And, so while one expected the Republican Party to be engaged in the culture wars, instead it is the Democrats, feeding off President Obama’s decision to bait-and- switch, that are stoking those wars.

Last November, President Obama met with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference. Obama said that he understood the Catholic Church’s concerns about a new White House contraception mandate that requires employers to provide no-cost contraception coverage to virtually all their employees. That includes those who work at church-run organizations like schools and hospitals.

Fixing this problem wouldn’t have been difficult. Obama could have expanded the exemption and allowed women who work at Catholic institutions to get contraception coverage through the exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act.

Instead, the president announced there would be no change in the conscience exemption.

What happened? Women’s groups besieged the White House with complaints and the Obama campaign needed the fundraising support of pro-choice groups like Emily’s List. And so, Obama picked a thoroughly unnecessary fight with the Catholic Church.

The HHS mandate was the straw that broke the Church camel’s back.

But Obama’s Justice Department had earlier entered a Supreme Court brief arguing that churches had no special protection in the hiring and firing of their pastors, only to have the Supreme Court unanimously reject their view.

Then Obama’s Health and Human Services Department denied a grant to the bishops’ conference program to help the victims of human trafficking because church agencies would not provide or promote contraception, even though the program got high marks from HHS staff.

This week’s convention speeches are more evidence that Obama is still pursuing a strategy of exciting the base and suburban women and forgetting about culturally conservative Democrats.

“[The president] believes that women are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies and our health care,” first lady Michelle Obama said to thunderous applause.

It is possible the strategy will work.

For every culturally conservative Catholic voter Obama loses in western Pennsylvania, he may pick up the vote of an affluent, politically unaffiliated, nonchurch-going and decidedly pro-abortion rights woman in the Philadelphia suburbs. She might be in a position to write a check to his campaign as well.

And it’s true that some Republican actions have made it easier for the Democrats to rally the pro-abortion rights faithful.

In the key swing state of Virginia, the Republican legislature and governor passed a law requiring women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound before getting an abortion, leading many centrist voters to conclude that it is the Republicans, not the Democrats, who are extreme on abortion. In Congress, Republicans tried to cut funding for Planned Parenthood.

What may work for Obama, however, will prove disastrous for his party.

It is difficult to see how Democrats will ever reclaim the House unless they win back the seats once held by anti-abortion Democrats like Kathy Dahlkemper of Pennsylvania , Bart Stupak of Michigan and Steve Dreihaus of Ohio. All three of those seats went Republican after anti-abortion groups targeted them because of their vote in favor of health care reform.

Branding the party as rigidly pro-choice, and even refusing to include “big tent” language on abortion in the party platform, will not help Democrats reclaim the House, so we can all look forward to more culture wars in the future.

Abortion rights groups and the Obama campaign may have cut off their nose to spite their face by reigniting the culture wars. No one looks forward to four more years of squabbles between a GOP-led House and President Obama.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Michael Sean Winters.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: 2012 Election • Abortion • Barack Obama • Politics

soundoff (495 Responses)
  1. ayala

    Since the Democrats haves hunned reference to God, he might as well find shelter under the GOP!

    September 17, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  2. swinehunt

    It is easy to explain! Obama is destroying what is good about this great country. Don't work hard, don't aspire, big government will take care of you, decry the rich, reducing personal freedom, redistributing wealth to those who don't give a dam or know how to work, etc.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  3. Tasha

    Answer to headlines: Republican Pastor Terry Jones and all those like him.

    September 13, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  4. cleareye1

    Obama, as imperfect as he is, is the best choice for independents. He has stabilized what looked like armageddon at the end of the Bush fiasco. His political skills got the healthcare debate taken seriously. Also, he found it important to eliminate Bin Laden. Added to Hillary Clinton's work we are now looked up to instead of down to when the rich kid was in. We should not repeat that blunder.

    September 11, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • ayala

      You should read the news closer! What BS!

      September 17, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  5. tone plus

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    September 11, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
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    September 10, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  7. :> :> :> :>





    September 10, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  8. ..?




    September 10, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  9. tuvia






    September 10, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
  10. peacecj

    Obama tried to focus on too many issues at a given period of time, versus prioritizing. Obama tried to multi task. Unfortunately Obama is a man, and men are not born multi-taskers. To take this a step further. Obama lost focus on important issues, like the economy and job, as other issues took centre stage. A little less than Four years to the date and the US economy has failed miserably. Jobs are missing and americans are angry and nervous. Their focus is to get this tall, lanky president out of their way. They have had enough!!!

    September 9, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • Rachael

      CNN is the new Pravda….there is Pro-Obama propaganda on nearly every one of CNN’s webpages. And most of your, so called, “reporters” are so bias they should be on their knees when his name is mentioned. No wonder your market share has dropped so dramatically over the last couple years. Who can believe anything you say?

      September 9, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • ElmerGantry


      No, actually CNN's numbers have fallen drastically because they have been moving to the right by,

      Hiring FOX refugee executive Margaret Hoover who openly stated CNN needs to move to the right,

      Hiring co servative talking heads Erik Erickson and Dana Loesch,

      Giving unopposed air time to extreme right religious talking heads like FRC's Tony Perkins,

      Giving uncontested air time to right wing republican politicians,

      Tryin to be as "fair and balanced" as FOX by only telling AARP of many stories because CNN is so deathly afraid of appearing biased they will leave out parts of news stories. Got to be like FOX.
      Chasing the refugeeFOX bloggers, but are losing more original CNN bloggers because of the refugee FOX bloggers that CNN has managed to capture.

      CNN trying to capture refugee FOX bloggers is not very successful as they are an entrenched credulous and willingly blind group. (as a whole, not necessarily every single one)

      CNN, you can not outfox FOX. Chasing the FOX caching tabloid business model is failed strategy. CNN, find your own way to success, ther is room for only one tabloid news organization.

      September 9, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • ElmerGantry

      Rats, caught by auto correct.
      Tryin to be as "fair and balanced" as FOX by only telling part of many stories because CNN is so deathly afraid of appearing biased they will leave out parts of news stories. Got to be like FOX 
      Chasing the refugeeFOX bloggers, but are losing more original CNN bloggers because of the refugee FOX bloggers that CNN has managed to capture.

      September 9, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  11. LOST

    Obama did not disappoint. He has remained progressive in insuring equality, despite a societal majority that wanted to dismantle and recant the progress that has been made. Forward we must go into equality, so that abortion will no longer be a necessity. Inequities have brought people to resort to such drastic actions as killing the of the innocent in order to feed societies ideal of a "perfect life".

    September 9, 2012 at 7:01 am |
  12. tuvia

    מלחמה בלתי נגמרת

    September 8, 2012 at 9:41 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.