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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. babooph

    Maybe with Romney believing in many Gods ,instead of one,the dems want to keep all 10 commandments-I am not religious,so 9 is fine with me ,after 3000 years they may need amending anyway...we can even drop down to 4...

    September 7, 2012 at 7:35 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Well that is a good thing since 6 of them are completely unconsti.tutional and could never be part of our laws. The only 4 useful ones are pretty much universal, regardless of any religion.

      September 7, 2012 at 7:47 am |
  2. johnmenacherjr@rocketmail.com

    What a load of crap this is! Cultural war yes it is. and many of us our still fighting for basic rights. Any time its an issue CNN jumps to the Romney and lyin Ryan campaign as savior. It is a war and I hope that the good and meek side wins! Not the Pharisees like Dolan and Romney's nut bags. As for this war settle it by taxing religious holdings and getting them forever out of the government period. The do not belong there. Another thing is , why is the government funding religious charities??? Thats a NO NO!

    September 7, 2012 at 7:26 am |
  3. What's an "anti-abortion Democrat?"

    Really?

    September 7, 2012 at 7:22 am |
  4. John J.

    Obama has done more to divide this nation that any other president in the last 30 years...

    September 7, 2012 at 7:22 am |
    • D

      WRONG

      Through his actions, he has proven two things: a) he will ever regard the whole and common good, and b) despite his religious beliefs, he will make the soundly logical choices.

      The division comes exactly from individuals like you and the nut job who wrote this article who would turn the US into a Theocracy, rather than understanding the law that is separation of church and state.

      Don't let the republican hype be your measure of truth, because as far as truths are measured, their lines don't even come close. Check yourself

      September 7, 2012 at 7:36 am |
    • tlm

      No its 100 years. Thanks for the histrionics and you are dead wrong. I think that the culture wars were created and subsidized by the right to divide an conquer the people. I am just sorry that there are folks who fall for this.

      September 7, 2012 at 7:38 am |
    • DurpDeeDurr

      He isn't dividing anything, it's the nation that is divided. 30 years? Were you around during Bush or is that just cognitive dissonance talking?

      September 7, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • FTROY01

      I couldnt agree more!! This is the worst administration in the history of this nation. I can only imagine what is going to happen if they get re-elected. Maybe it is what is needed then a revolution may finally occur.

      September 7, 2012 at 7:46 am |
    • warsteiner

      I couldnt agree more, Just his being in office divides us. There was a 17 percent increase in the black vote just because he half black. I listened to black people of the public bus talking about how they dragged out family members and friends. I herd some talking about voting 3 and 4 times under fake names. I know how it sounds but there should be basic requirements to vote. To vote you should first be able to speak the english language. In England to gain citizenship you have to pass a basic language test. To Vot we need to make sure the voters understand how to judge a platform. These people are voting strictly on color or race not platform. It is ignorance and racist, I was givin the argument that "maybe black people have just decided to vote more" by a black friend. Weak argument,And with Obama trying to work the illegal immigrant vote with promises of green cards what do we get next. I want this country run by people who can do the job and who will make the hard decisions to help the country and its people

      September 7, 2012 at 7:50 am |
  5. pauleky

    I find it funny that anyone on the right would deride the "culture wars" when it's the GOP that wants to pass laws against gay people, reduce women's rights and disenfranchise minorities. It's the GOP that wants our culture to be lily-white, Christian only and male-dominated. The writer is a hypocrite.

    September 7, 2012 at 7:21 am |
    • FTROY01

      As it should be and will be again I guarentee it!!!

      September 7, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • MarkinFL

      The right-wing is only complaining about the "war" because they are losing.

      September 7, 2012 at 7:49 am |
  6. Essie

    I am so disgusted with CNN! I believe Anderson, Wolf, Candy Crowley, and David Gergen are on Karl Rove & the Romney team payroll!! I watch your reporting & faces...something is OFF! YOU ALL ARE NOT THE NETWORK THAT YOU ONCE WERE!! You all refuse to report the truth & give Pres. Obama a fair shot!! All of the anchors should be fired and replaced!!

    September 7, 2012 at 7:20 am |
  7. Essie

    Shame on you, CNN!! WHO PAID YOU ALL OFF?!?! YOUR NEWS IS NOT FAIR & BALANCED! ...You all have to be Jim bed with Karl Rove & the Romney team!!! The commentators & anchors are so cynical & can't tell the truth about Pres. Obama! You want to size Romney & Obama up evenly. Well, their NOT!! Pres. Obama is in a higher class than Mitt! His speech & convention was 200 times better & classier than Mitt! GET OFF MITT'S TIP, CNN!!! It's PATHETIC!

    September 7, 2012 at 7:14 am |
  8. BAM

    Bart above has already laid down the bottom line but I must say that it is clearly the GOP that insists on radical action regarding this topic. And it is this insensitive radicalism that put Obama in the position to take such a hard line stance, as they have on numerous issues. While you gave an interesting take, this hardly amounts to class warfare.

    September 7, 2012 at 7:09 am |
  9. Thuban

    So? Really? The Republicans are being hard-liners about Everything, this is no time to be mushy on beliefs.

    There IS a class war. Obama didn't start it, but as far as I'm concerned, he's fighting on the correct side.

    September 7, 2012 at 7:04 am |
    • FTROY01

      Yea and you are so da___ dumb that when the doctor and the trash man are taking home the same amount of money dont complain when the country has a revolution and everything is destoryed!!!

      September 7, 2012 at 7:49 am |
  10. NoWay

    Sorry, but your opinion is just a repeat of your leaders vehement opposition to personal choice. No one can legislate moral issues – they must be learned from loving parents as they see them, and above all accepted.

    September 7, 2012 at 7:03 am |
  11. William

    Obama learned long time ago that as long as you wrap your ideology in high minded words people will go along with it. Once he was elected he went off on his own path and doesnt really care because to todays Dem party the ends justify the means. The lurch to the Left by Dems is evident in their platform, their views on Jews and even in this comment section the bile put out by anti-religious Leftists. Their anti-capitalist stance has become even more evident. From union violence to racial animosity Obama has done nothing to help bring anyone together and todays Dems seem to prefer it that way.

    September 7, 2012 at 6:58 am |
    • tlm

      William...so you think this war on women's health was waged by Democrats. That is hysterical. Time and time again the republican led house has trying to pass legislation to de-fund Planned Parenthood, make it illegal for women to buy contraceptives and to overturn the Lilly Ledbedder Act. You think the violence is on the left. Funny because I think that the KKK tea party is most violent.

      September 7, 2012 at 7:20 am |
  12. bear

    Thank God most Dems have conscience that is why Pres Obama is still winning their votes.

    September 7, 2012 at 6:52 am |
    • William

      Dont confuse compassion with blind obedience with blind ideology. Anyone even slighty to the right of where he stands is considered a subversive element. That includes in his own party too.

      September 7, 2012 at 7:00 am |
    • dave rable

      If abortionists have a conscience, they wouldn't be abortionists.

      September 7, 2012 at 7:03 am |
    • tlm

      Dave....stop with the rhetoric. It is getting old and tired. It is not about abortion and you know it, it is about a President who is black and who you hate due to the color of his skin. Plain & simple.

      September 7, 2012 at 7:23 am |
  13. soterio

    I think Pres. Obama should reconsider a lot of things he's done. Healthcare, the big one, is just too extreme and the majority don't want it. When did we become a society of Pres. rule? He's not taking everyone into consideration, just himself and what he thinks is best. This is why I don't like him...he's too radical. I want a Pres. who will be there for the people, not just some, but all (even anti-abortion people)

    September 7, 2012 at 6:50 am |
    • Robert Gertz

      I want it...And I believe firmly if most people understand ACA properly they'll want it. As for "re-igniting the culture wars" that's nonsense. No one has tried harder to bridge gaps, at huge political cost with his supporters, than Mr. Obama. The people insisting there is a "culture war" are simply trying to do anything to block his presidency. He's a man of solid, unchanging values and this Catholic supports him whole-heartedly.

      September 7, 2012 at 6:59 am |
  14. Jarsbait

    Really? You're going to accuse Obama of "reigniting the culture wars?" This is the most disingenuous (read: full of lies) thing I've read today, and I read Romney's latest speech.

    September 7, 2012 at 6:48 am |
    • dave rable

      No, he is definitely igniting the culture wars. And the class wars. And if we're not careful, it could turn into race wars.

      September 7, 2012 at 7:05 am |
    • tlm

      Dave...you are too funny. How about listening once in a while to your beloved talk show hosts and their hate speeches. Talk about insighting violence. Women are feminazi's, the President is a monkey, the blacks are users, the hispanics need to self deport. Gotta love the bait and switch your party tries to pull off.

      September 7, 2012 at 7:34 am |
  15. veep

    America's Christian Right is the divider.

    You can't have a Pro-War, Pro-Death Penalty Culture of Life.

    September 7, 2012 at 6:42 am |
    • trar14

      Why? Didn't Jesus say "go out and kill Muslims, then come home and give tax breaks to your wealthiest citizens?"

      September 7, 2012 at 6:54 am |
  16. .

    We are in the Jimmy Carter phase of the next Ronald Reagan revolution.

    Bye Bye Bama.

    September 7, 2012 at 6:28 am |
  17. Voodoo Idol

    If you're anti-choice then the Democratic Party wants nothing to do with you. Go join the GOP.

    September 7, 2012 at 6:24 am |
    • .

      We're going to be your new daddy after November 6th.

      September 7, 2012 at 6:28 am |
    • William

      Only the Sith speak in absolutes...

      September 7, 2012 at 7:02 am |
    • tj

      I am amazed at the ability of the GOP to turn around what is plainly, apparently, clearly, their own actions. The Dems were more than happy to allow those who did not support birth control or abortion on religious grounds to have their way. However, when the religious right decided that no one, not one single person, should be allowed to exercise their own right to choice, then they moved from religious exception to religious dogma and the crusades began! There are many allowances made for various religious elements to exercise their religion. However, your right to exercise your religion ends with subverting my right to exercise my beliefs. I am still having trouble with religion being right to life ONLY as it concerns a woman's access to birth control and control over her own personhood, yet being pro death-penalty and war being justifiable. That just says the religious are in a position to make life/death decisions. What religion is that?

      September 7, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  18. Tom

    This near depression collapse in the nations economic system began under the Republican leadership. And since the President began his Presidency the Republican Party of no, lead by McConnell and Boehner, had a publically stated goal of making Obama a one term President. To this end the republican party legislatively stopped any and all efforts to accomplish anything. The republican party should be held responsible for the cause and the continued slow recovery of the Great Recession.

    September 7, 2012 at 6:22 am |
    • Dan

      While there is no doubt the GOP made its best attempts to stop efforts by Obama he has been successful at getting many things which did not require their approval...Obama care is a good example...this is touted as a major victory for the President when it is actually one of the failed policies which are holding back recovery. As a small businessman I am sitting on my hands until after this election. I can grow my business even in this bad time due to it;s nature but the prospect of additional employees and the costs associated with them under the new healthcare laws as outlined by my accountants make the reward for growing questionable at best. I agree there is a pressing need for healthcare reform in this country but he went about it in the wrong way. The EPA has grown almost 40% in less than 4 years. We are a nation trying to business in a world market without a level playing field. I have told my key staff that if Obama is reelected we will be doing our business off shore in less than 12 months. I am sure that my departure will not be noticed but the 220 jobs leaving will not be a help and I know of numerous other small business people who are in the same boat. Keeping my family business strong for the next generation is my charge, and my family did build this business.

      September 7, 2012 at 7:18 am |
    • tlm

      Dan..since you really do not seem to care about America in any way then I will say goodbye to you and good luck. If a health care program will be your decision to leave the country then good riddance!

      September 7, 2012 at 7:26 am |
    • LetsBeCivil

      Dan, so, if the ACA had not passed, you would be hiring additional employees? Somehow, your statements do not ring true. Before Obama and the ACA were even on the radar, small companies saw annual increases of 15 to 25% in their health care coverage for their employees. Many were planning to drop coverage. Even my own doctor's practice was planning to drop their employee coverage. Did your accountant take that into account or did he start with a preconceived agenda?

      September 7, 2012 at 9:10 am |
  19. nomobama

    ah...our great divider-in-chief

    September 7, 2012 at 6:14 am |
    • WJM Knight

      President Obama? You mean after all the racism of the GOP tea baggers, Obama is the great divider? Well, maybe that will comfort you when he wins in November.

      September 7, 2012 at 6:38 am |
    • William

      Tea party racism? All they harp on about is debt and spending. I think your hate blinds you. Really, give one example of tea party racism or violence. Keep believing the lies your Commissar tell you.

      September 7, 2012 at 7:04 am |
    • tlm

      The great divider is Mitt Romney and his sidekick Lyin Ryan. Never met a lie that they didn't like. Morals of an acorn.

      September 7, 2012 at 7:28 am |
    • tlm

      William...tea party rallies where the baggers spit on black senators. Signs where the President is being lynched. Teabaggers calling the President a monkey. Where the F have you been? Under a rock. What is wrong with you?

      September 7, 2012 at 7:29 am |
    • FTROY01

      I agree and those who say it is the repubs who are racist GOOD!! I have no problem with it we need to get that____ you fill in the blanks out of office. He is the worst POTUS this country has EVER seen hands down not even close!!! Another 4 years there will not be an america left I guarentee it!!!

      September 7, 2012 at 7:53 am |
  20. Bart

    I am all for special rules for churches but that they have chosen to remove themselves from the realm of being a church and made themselves into businesses. Once they cross that line they must follow all the rules and regulations of other businesses. If they don't like it them they should go back to being a church.

    September 7, 2012 at 5:16 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.