President Obama's attack on Catholic organizations has managed to do what the bishops have been unable to do, as Peggy Noonan points out: Unite the Catholic right and the Catholic left.
Obama's decision to use Obamacare to force Catholic hospitals, schools, universities and charities to fund abortion pills, contraception and sterilization constitutes a deep betrayal of his staunch allies on the Catholic left.
They went out on a limb for Obama and Obamacare, and he has cut off that limb and left them bereft.
Professor Doug Kmiec supported Obama and even wrote a book to justify how a pro-life Catholic could support a pro-choice president (and was rewarded with the plum job of ambassador to Malta). Kmiec has just written an open letter of rebuke to Barack Obama, charging he "put the cold calculus of politics above faith and freedom." "Where is the common good, sir, in not making room for the great Catholic traditions of education, health care and meeting the needs of the least among us?" Kmiec demanded.
The Rev. John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, took heat from many Catholics in 2009 for giving President Obama an award and a speaking platform at a university named "Our Lady"; he now scolds the president's "unnecessary government intervention" that puts Notre Dame in the "untenable position" of dropping coverage for 5,229 employees.
Even Chris Matthews on MSNBC is calling for a retreat.
And poor Sister Carol Keehan, head of the Catholic Health Association! She broke openly with the bishops to endorse Obamacare, promising it would not lead to the funding of abortions. She never imagined that, much worse, it would lead to requiring Catholic organizations to dispense contraceptives and abortifacients (the morning-after pill) on demand. She called the new regulations a "jolt."
Catholic reaction may well have jolted Sen. Rick Santorum back into contention for the GOP nomination. In last Tuesday's contests, he ran 10 points ahead of the last pre-election PPP poll, indicating a sudden intensity in the turnout for him. Pundits are focusing on the evangelical vote, but Santorum ran surprisingly well in heavily Catholic counties surrounding Minneapolis/St. Paul. He was on fire in his victory speech: President Obama has gone after the liberty of "just a small group of Americans," he said incredulously, "just Catholics in America."
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.