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. Um...no

    How about those who are "anti-abortion" just mind their own business...don't have an abortion...and let everyone else do what they feel is right for them. When you can prove God doesn't want abortions...then you win.

    September 7, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • Liberalsaretyrants

      Exodus 21:22.
      You lose, in the end.

      But, you'll continue to "win" here on earth as long as you continue to cheer for more murdered babies for your god, Molech.

      September 7, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • Seola

      How about everybody who wants to own slaves owns them, and those who don't don't and stay out of each other's business?

      September 7, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  2. Tod

    I am proud of my President for not continuing to lie down and be run over by the far right that has belittled and disrespected him even before he took the oath of office. I have never seen such blatant disrespect of a man and his family, let alone the President of the United States. He doesn't need to be polite to those who treat him as such and if they want compromise, they need to quiet the rhetoric and learn what CIVIL discourse really means.

    September 7, 2012 at 8:25 am |
  3. greg

    republicans happened; they have become more and more extreme to the point of frightening.

    September 7, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • thegambino

      And a lot of people feel the same way about the "left."

      September 7, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • Voxovreeson

      Anybody who thinks the "left" has become more extreme must have fallen asleep in the 1950's and just awakened. The liberal wing of the Democratic party is far more moderate than the liberals of the 1960's and 1970's. Ridiculous argument to say that the current Democratic party has become radically liberal. It only seems like that because the bulk of the Republican Party has wandered deep into the right field bleachers and loudly proclaimed that they are actually standing at second base.

      September 7, 2012 at 8:41 am |
    • Liberalsaretyrants

      To Voxo,

      Mr. Ostrich, please remove your head from the sand.

      You liberals just removed "God" and "Jerusalem" from your party's platform. that's moving farther left.
      Dear Leader, with you cheering him on, insists that doctors must not be allowed to render any aid or assistance to innocent babies who manage to survive botched abortions. You are the radical and self-destructive liberals that you claim don't exist.

      September 7, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • Voxovreeson

      Note to self: ignore the fact that the Democratic Party platform was amended to restore the words 'Jerusalem' and 'God'. Deny that the speaker list at the Democratic Party convention included spiritual leaders of several different faiths. Figure out how to explain away the inclusion of referenced Biblical passages in several speeches. These inconvenient facts intrude upon the narrative of a godless, increasingly radical left-wing agenda that must be beaten down by the onward march of christian soldiers being drummed into service by the party of the only true American patriots: Republicans. (*tee hee*)

      September 7, 2012 at 9:34 am |
  4. SOMom

    Initially, I think President Obama attempted to reach across the aisle and work with the Republicans. He saw them as folks who may have had differences of opinion with him on certain topics, but people who - in the end - wanted the same thing as every other American, which is prosperity for the country. However, after a while it became painfully clear that all the Republicans were interested in doing was denying the President another term. They were not interested in working together or working for the good of the country. Many of us who staunchly supported President Obama were upset with him for what we perceived as him continually banging his head against a brick wall in trying to negotiate and forge a relationship with the Republicans. So he finally got the message and abandoned that effort. He decided to turn back to his base and the independents and folks in the middle. This is the vast majority of America, and this is who helped him to victory before. The GOP has been overtaken by a bunch of right-wingers who are absolutely insane. And Mitt Romney is willing to dance to any tune to get elected.

    September 7, 2012 at 8:19 am |
  5. M

    As a Catholic you can believe what you want-but do NOT impose your beliefs on me-You support edand keptsafe abusers of children for centuries-you lost me at hello-I think the Catholic church should have been disbanded and lost its tax exempt status period. You are shamed.

    September 7, 2012 at 8:18 am |
  6. Michael Winters

    Hey! I didn't read this article, but I have the same name as the guy who wrote it! HIGH FIVE!

    September 7, 2012 at 8:17 am |
  7. Pantocrator

    The real culture war is the war against the individual mind, and its weapon is propaganda. Propaganda... a blinding, brainwashing, deployment of half-truths, logical fallacies, prejudice, unsubstantiated generalities, paranoid claims appealing to bias to subvert the critical thinking of a human individual, is at the core of the so-called "culture wars." Citizens who are led to become "one issue" voters necessarily set aside their own interests in the process of supporting that one issue. As a result, you have people of faith who for generations have suffered racial, ethnic, and economic oppression voting for the very people who will perpetuate that oppression because said candidates claim to share their religious beliefs. You have families whose sons or daughters will be tempted by poverty to enlist and be maimed and killed in unnecessary wars voting for corporate heads of the military industrial complex because they claim to be "pro life." We vote against our own healthcare, we vote antagonists into stewardship of our government who tell us government is evil, we vote gun control and then vote against immigrants who came from countries ruined by violence fueled by American weapons. Day after day, the propagandists fill our minds with anxiety, with fear, with visions of anarchy, abuse of authority, antichrist, apocalypse, from their studios and pulpits.

    The culture war is a propaganda war.

    September 7, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • lucianne

      Wow! Beautifully said. Thanks.

      September 7, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • appmonger

      I second that, brilliant.

      September 7, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • Liberalsaretyrants

      As is always the case with liberals, You actually did in your post the very thing you ATTACK conservatives for allegedly doing.

      Your post, sniveling about how the other side is brainwashed with propaganda, was nothing but your own prejudiced imagination (brainwashed propaganda).

      Bring facts, logic, and some reason to your argument, or kindly shut your chili-hole.

      September 7, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • Voxovreeson

      Liberalsaretyrants rant about liberal propaganda is a textbook example of why the radicalized Republican party needs to be defeated in this election. When Americans reject the bullying, disrespectful ad hominem attacks of the marginally educated and socially dysfunctional, maybe we can finally start solving some of the bigger problems that face the economy. In the interim...would someone please tell liberalsaretyrants that he should find a new place to stay because his mother wants her basement back?

      September 7, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  8. Loki

    Really interesting is how the democrats took credit for the jobs that were created. Too Funny. I guess the business people who actually did it owe it all to Commie-Obamie.

    September 7, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • Tony B

      Commie ? Really ? You know nothing about politics if that's what you call him. Please stop watching Fox News and try to get a real opinion. We probably won't agree but calling him a Commie shows a certain ignorance that is endemic .

      September 7, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • Mystic Rose


      Funny how your kind seem to blame the president for not creating jobs and then when he talks about jobs created under his administration you say he had nothing to do with it. Are you bi-polar? Do you have a mental disorder that allows you to take opposing positions at the same time? I also want to ask how you come to think our President is a "commie" and do you even know what that word actually means? Do you know where it comes from or are you just another ignorant drone of the right who will parrot any stupid talking point you are given by your masters?

      As a business owner and employer, I built my business but I did it with the help of those who work for me. I also was able to make it work due to the infrastructure that the city, state and federal government have provided. Without those in place, my business could have never survived. Do you even know what it is like to run a business or do you just make outrageous claims based on what others tell you?


      September 7, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • ElmerGantry

      Name calling and innuendo, two of the many techniques of the disinformationalist and the last resort of this with no viable, logical, cogent, and well reasoned thought to express.

      September 7, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • troutmaskreplica

      Completely upside-down logic. When jobs are lost, it's the President's fault, and when jobs are created, the credit goes to "job creators". You can't have it both ways. Why don't business execs ever get blamed for all of the layoffs and plant closings?

      September 7, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • Liberalsaretyrants


      Liberals are intentionally ignorant about reality. They go to great lengths to maintain that intentional ignorance.

      There are only two sides.

      Those who prefer the government and the central planners to have more power and responsibility...
      All of these groups require a more powerful government in order to force folks to stop behaving in ways they don't like. They all gladly hand over themselves and their children to increased tyranny in pursuit of forcing others to behave a certain way.

      And there is the opposition...

      September 7, 2012 at 8:39 am |
  9. Loki

    Talk Talk Talk and take the credit for other peoples work and tax money.
    That's the Liberal/Democratic ticket. Never in a MILLION years will I ever back those bottom dwellers. I don't want to rub elbows with the baby killers, criminals, and hair dressers.

    September 7, 2012 at 8:12 am |
    • Ramsey

      You are a pinhead. No one wants to rub elbows with you either.

      September 7, 2012 at 8:19 am |
  10. buckshot

    what oblablah said was identified as a lie, everything that POS says has been, IS a lie. Ony one that believes what IT says, is in need of a brain transplant

    September 7, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • xx4zu1

      You say that as if everything Romney says is the truth. Considering that he has yet to say anything with substance I guess you're right. Statements like we're going to make American great can't exactly be considered untrue because it will be true for a very small percentage of the population under a Romney presidency.

      September 7, 2012 at 8:43 am |
  11. Tony B

    I totally disagree, there is no culture war. From what I have read in this article is that author's didn't get his way and is throwing his toys out of the pram. One of Obama's great strength is reaching to be bi-partisan and so it seems that his attempt to do this is perceived as him doing wrong because the other side doesn't get what it wants. At least he is listening to all opinions.

    September 7, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • geminijlw

      I think we all have to listen to one another, and forget about what each party says. We know that what is important to the majority of us, is jobs, health care, clean water, clean air, and clean food. When will these things be addressed? Never because our elected representatives do not represent us, they represent those that get them elected, and that is the 1%, Wall Street, banks and corporations. Until we stand together, and say listen to us, or you are out, nothing will change. That takes all of us, which is why I occupy, because I am standing up.

      September 7, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • Steve

      Can you cite any credible examples of his "reaching to be bi-partisan" attempts?? When a bill goes before our current congress all dem's look to the oval office to see which way they should vote. There is no give or take or hammer out the best deal for the country. Its either a case of "ram it down their throats" or "the GOP wouldn't get on board"

      Makes me sick.

      September 7, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • Tony B

      GOP would raise the debt ceiling which caused the US to lose it's AAA rating. That alone cost the country billions. So pandering to the right cost the country.

      September 7, 2012 at 8:54 am |
    • Tony B

      ..... Would not raise the debt ceiling. Can't type today!

      September 7, 2012 at 8:55 am |
  12. alien

    A vote for Romney-Ryan is a vote against your own self interests. Social security, medicare, decent wages, freedom of choice, smaller goverment,....... I could keep going on and on.

    September 7, 2012 at 8:00 am |
    • dandude

      against your interests maybe

      September 7, 2012 at 8:09 am |
  13. Oscar Pitchfork


    September 7, 2012 at 7:55 am |
    • dandude

      your an idiot

      September 7, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • TXdem

      dandude, it's "you're"

      September 7, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • dandude

      who cares? this isn't English class nerd

      September 7, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • Brad

      @dandude: Check your spelling before calling someone an idiot. The correct usage is 'you're'.

      September 7, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • Ben

      It's folks like you who don't get it. You're not listening to both sides of the issue. Not everyone is going to agree with this guy. That doesn't mean that they are on a lower level than you.

      I might have considered voting for a democrat had another run against him. This president is poison.

      September 7, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • CanThinkForMyself

      Amen!! You either get it or you don't. And I am a white female FORMER Republican (ashamed to admit that with how evil they have become).

      September 7, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • HarvardChem

      I am tired of your name calling and sweeping statements. Of course we have some cultural and social issues in our society, we will always have these issues. However, let's not lose sight of the fact that we are in an economic crisis, and these issues you mentioned are pale in comparison with employment and national debt issues. We need someone to fix the more pressing problems first. The jobs the this president created have not been the high tech jobs this country needs. Most of the jobs he created were in the retail sector. Many highly educated men and women are unemployed at the moment, want some proffer? Just ask the thousands of recently downsized chemist from the pharmaceutical industry.

      September 7, 2012 at 8:26 am |
  14. Patrick Lewis

    Obama tried to play against the culture warriors with sense and realistic expectations. The problem is culture warriors don't live in reality. Anyone who has to deal with the world as it is will ALWAYS run afoul of people who live in fantasy land.

    September 7, 2012 at 7:53 am |
  15. MarkinFL

    If there really is a culture "war", then it is more akin to a rebellion of the oppressed. When the people realize just how oppressed they've been, that is the beginning of revolution. Just as we threw off the yoke of monarchy more than 200 years ago, next is the yoke of manipulated superst.ition....

    September 7, 2012 at 7:51 am |
  16. Mark

    Tim, the liar here is YOU. The extremist position of the GOP and some of the catholic hierarchy is repressive and repellant and anti-American. Your beliefs are your own, don't force them on others. If you have abortion, don't have one, and allow others to make their choices as their own beliefs indicate.
    This is called "freedom", something you on the right may not understand.


    September 7, 2012 at 7:48 am |
    • Hunkydory

      Fetus heart starts beating at 18 days [when the mother is only four days late for her first menstrual period], and by 21 days it is pumping, through a closed circulatory system, blood whose type is different from that of the mother. J.M. Tanner, G. R. Taylor, and the Editors of Time-Life Books, Growth, New York: Life Science Library, 1965, p.

      September 7, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • lucianne

      THese so-called Christians should listen to the nuns on the bus, not the archaic old pedophiliac bishops.

      September 7, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • snowyowl

      Even so, the fetus is an extension of the mother, and it's her body. No one, no government, no church, has the right to tell her what to do with it. God created people with freewill, and he gave Mary a choice too. Who are you to take away what God has given, freewill, freedom of choice?

      September 7, 2012 at 8:30 am |
  17. urwrong55

    Teabaggers v Liberal Democratic elected officials. Both spout of harsh rhetoric but only one group is elected into office.

    September 7, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • snowyowl

      Key difference: Liberal Democrats are about tolerance and pulling together. Teabaggers are about intolerance and winner takes all. Vote Dem.

      September 7, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  18. BostonFinancial 02110

    What the author fails to say is that these so-called "church-run" facilities are not actually run by the church at all. Instead, they are managed by a non-church administration staffed with Catholics, Jews, Protestants and many with no religious affiliation.

    The Catholic Church is just playing politics again! It's yet another sad chapter being played out at the expense of others in a poor ole sad ole church!

    September 7, 2012 at 7:44 am |
  19. Grassy

    Anyone who votes for or against Obama (or any presidential candidate) solely on the basis of this one issue isn't thoughtful enough to be taken seriously anyway. Churches have no problems accepting "faith-based" funding initiatives, complete freedom from taxation, etc., on the backs of taxpayers, the majority of whom do *not* belong to their particular creed and are not believers in their particular faith. But imposing on *them* an obligation of any kind is a deal-breaker? Give me a break. I'm *from* western PA and was raised Catholic. And the Catholics I know aren't done justice by this guy.

    September 7, 2012 at 7:44 am |
  20. Timothy

    Well, saw speech last evening- reminded me of speech after Brown won Massachusetts – 'I heard you, I will work on jobs and put health care on back burner'. That was just for the speech. The problem with his rhetoric is he now has too much history behind him that show his words and actions do not match. People who believe that simply saying the right words will make everything alright are too many and too often. Real honesty is missing in communication. We care nopt about the process of communication but only the result. One cannot heal cultural wars if one takes a side in those wars. In this case, he even missed with hio rhetoric in attempting to appear strong and a leader. President Obama relies on words- that is his training and his history and those who hope for his rhetoric to be as he says will stand behind him and those who measure words against actions will more than likely oppose. That will be the legacy he leaves when the churn of events settles in the dust and he is looked at with a more objective eye. Till then, it is tough to really know what he will do...he is a ship without a compass attempting to avoid what lies both above and below the surface.

    September 7, 2012 at 7:40 am |
    • tlm

      Hahahahahahaha....I know this man has no accomplishments and we would be better off with a champion liar and outsourcer. Sounds good to me.

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

      For a guy skeptical of words, you use a lot of them.

      September 7, 2012 at 7:50 am |
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