Obama gravely miscalculated. He thought the new Health and Human Services regulations would become a battle over contraception -- politically speaking, a battle he could win. As a Protestant, he forgot the structure of Catholicism is essentially clannish; we may complain about our bishops, but that doesn't mean we want the president of the United States to push them -- or us -- around. The church has been around for 2,000 years, we know it does things funny, and we don't want outsiders interfering with our faith.
President Obama will pay a price, among swing Catholic voters and Latino Catholics, for his totally unnecessary aggression against carefully crafted conscience compromises.
How do Democrats defend the indefensible? I was on "MSNBC Live" with Thomas Roberts this week, debating former Democratic operative Karen Finney, who tried to say that if the Catholic Chur ch opens up "businesses," it has to accept government rules. I interrupted her to say, "These are nonprofits, charities, schools, not businesses." She compounded matters by suggesting the nonprofit tax-exempt status meant these Catholic institutions owe the government. Excuse me, these are Catholic charitable institutions that serve the poor and needy; they were built with love and sacrifice, large and small, over many years by Catholics acting out of our faith, and we are proud of them. Regardless of our political position, we do not stand by and see them attacked lightly.
Even former Democratic Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, a Catholic from Erie, Pa., who cast a crucial vote in favor of Obamacare in 2010, said recently that she would have never voted for the health care bill if she had known Obamacare would force Catholic hospitals and charities to provide contraception and abortion pills.
Mitt Romney was in something of the same position with regard to Romneycare in Massachusetts. He didn't know it would lead to Catholic hospitals being ordered to give abortifacients to rape victims, and when he found out he opposed it, but without success.
The lesson for Republicans ought to be: When you turn over large sectors of the economy to government control, bad things will happen.
The lesson for Democrats? Don't attack the Catholic clan -- it's bad morals, bad form and bad politics.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.