Tom Hoopes is Vice President of College Relations and writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. He has written for the Register for more than 20 years and was its executive editor for 10. His writing has appeared in First Things’ First Thoughts, National Review Online, Crisis, Our Sunday Visitor, Inside Catholic and Columbia. He has served as press secretary for the Chairman of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee. He and his wife, April, were editorial co-directors of Faith & Family magazine for 5 years. They have nine children.
Like many pro-lifers, I spent the weekend after the March for Life (make that marches for life) eagerly lapping up articles about the historic win in Massachusetts.
As writer after writer explained how this spelled the end of Obama’s dominance, it reminded me of the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statues in Baghdad after the U.S. invasion … and then of the “Mission Accomplished” sign displayed on the U.S. aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf that proved embarrassing for President Bush.
Conservatives are reveling in Scott Brown’s win over Martha Coakley in the race to replace the late Ted Kennedy in the Senate. But Catholics who for pro-life reasons are also reveling in the win need to remember a few lessons.
1. Don’t learn that we are the annointed heroes marching to our rightful place.
We’ve seen this again and again in Washington. When Bill Clinton won, the Washington Post celebrated with a banner headline: “A New Era.” Within three years there was a new era, alright: The dashing of the Clintons’ health care hopes and a new GOP Congress with its Contract With America.
When the GOP took over Congress, we again saw triumphal headlines, this time in the conservative press, about how the “realignment” would last for decades. But this time it took less than a year for the GOP to overreach, cave and then cower.
When Obama won last year, the celebrations were bizarrely hyperbolic. A party hadn’t won the presidency … the world had changed from a place of limitation to a kind of Pandora world of infinite promise. “We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories,” said Obama in his Inaugural speech. “And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.”
The problem in each case wasn’t ambition, but pride, which is ambition unmoored from civility. Republicans smell blood in the water, but they should remember:
2. Don’t learn that voters are now partisan opponents of Obama.
In November 2008, Obama won because he promised a post-partisan world. Of course, we will never have a post-partisan world. And it would be a bad thing to have one: Disagreement is the combustible fuel that powers the engine of democracy.
But it seems that what Obama meant by “post-partisan” was “one-party.” He began to govern by steamrolling over his opponents, sneering at Republicans in Congress as “Rush Limbaugh” followers and answering their requests for discussion with the two-word dismissal, “I won.” He wrote his legislation in secret meetings with Democrats and their lobbyists. He went to Notre Dame and won over Catholics by promising to reduce the number of abortions and preserve the conscience clause, and now backs a health care bill that plays for fools anyone who took those promises seriously.
He stopped being the post-partisan guy and, as Peggy Noonan put it, voters said “Uh oh. He’s a nut”—a zealous partisan ideologue.
People see this, and recoil from it. But they don’t recoil to a partisan Republican position. They recoil to where they began: Looking for someone who is willing to dialogue, for real.
Pro-lifers need to answer 2010 Obama’s losing persona by imitating 2008 Obama’s winning persona of dialogue, not by imitating his 2009 partisan triumphalism.
3. Obama’s biggest failures should be our biggest fear.
The conventional wisdom I’ve seen shaping up hits Obama, hard, for four things:
A) Going to Copenhagen to try to get the Olympics for Chicago, and failing to bring home the prize.
B) Going to Copenhagen to try to get his Global Warming Treaty, and failing to bring home the prize.
C) Pushing health care as a key priority, and failing to bring home the prize.
D) Going to Massachusetts to help Coakley and failing to bring home the prize.
Some commentators have even condescended to explain to Obama how these things are done: You don’t put yourself on the line for an idea unless you have already secured it. Just like a lawyer in cross-examination won’t ask a question if he doesn’t know what the answer will be, a politician doesn’t associate himself with an issue he doesn’t have in the bag.
But wait a second — of the two kinds of leaders, which would you rather have: a bold one who puts himself on the line for something he believes in, going for the outcome he thinks best, or a cautious one who won’t do anything unless he knows he won’t lose face?
And who ultimately wins great battles in politics: The one who is willing to push for what he wants despite the naysayers, or the one who timidly advances an agenda made to make him look good?
Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan … leadership books have been written about men who were willing to risk failure — and in fact fail again and again — on their way to their goal.
If you fear what Obama stands for, be very afraid of his willingness to go to Copenhagen twice, Coakley once, and that he says he won’t back down on health care, even now.
4. Pray for political vocations.
Democrats have a 40-vote advantage in the Senate – counting Sen. Joe Liberman, I-Conn., who votes with them as much as any other Democrat does. The GOP would have to keep all of their own 18 seats at stake this Nov. 2, and win enough Democratic ones to win a majority.
There’s a problem with that: At the moment, says Dick Morris, there are no strong candidates to challenge Democratic Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Evan Bayh (Ind.) and Russ Feingold (Wis.). “Yet each of these senators is vulnerable,” he says.
In the House, the GOP would have to pick up 41 seats to take the majority. Though by all accounts the Republicans will gain, a change in control is highly unlikely.
The problem: We don’t have Catholics and Christians who consider it their vocation to make the world a better place through politics.
Pray to St. Thomas More for more political vocations.