Does Ron Paul Have a Catholic Problem?

Recently by Christopher Manion: Ups and Downs

There are millions of traditional Christian conservatives who have not bought into the Washington Culture of the Beltway Trough. Many of them embrace Ron Paul's intrepid demands for serious cuts in the size, budget, and power of government. Many more cheer Dr. Paul's drive to end Fed-driven theft-by-inflation. In fact, that effort appeals to members of many denominations who honor the Commandment, "Thou shalt not steal."

Of course, many (but not all) Christians who embrace radical Dispensationalism have a different set of priorities: they desire Armageddon. Their millennial passion disposes them to support candidates who advocate expanding the wars in the Middle East, in order to bring on the Second Coming of Christ – which will apparently inaugurate his one-thousand year reign, which they will then share with him. These voters are not inconsequential in number and influence: in 2008, for instance, both Huckabee and McCain slavishly sought the blessing of Pastor John Hagee of San Antonio's Cornerstone Church, the founder and leader of "Christians United for Israel." Hagee finally endorsed McCain, only to find McCain denouncing the endorsement because of Hagee's long history of Anti-Catholicism.

Which brings us to the Catholics. The Catholic faith does not applaud Armageddon or urge its early arrival. Of course, we pray "Thy Kingdom come," but we do not pretend to know the day or the hour. As far as Israel is concerned, Catholics believe that the Catholic Church, and not any specific ethnic group or geographical territory, is the "New Israel." So why aren't Catholic "leaders" inclined to applaud, and even zealously support, Ron Paul, not only for his fiscal honesty, but for his opposition to abortion and Roe v. Wade? Sure, Dispensationalists might oppose him because of his condemnation of BushObama's illegal wars, but Catholics have no similar theological calling to do so. In fact, they have good reason to resonate that condemnation.

So what's Ron Paul's Catholic problem? When offered this pro-life constitutionalist who reflects the moral views of millions of Catholics, why do prominent Catholics follow the lead of the secular liberal media and treat Dr. Paul like the "thirteenth floor of a hotel"? I think a great deal of the problem lies not with the people in the pews, but with professional Catholics who have put their faith in the Republican Party – specifically, with the GOP establishment "left behind" by George W. Bush. Specifically, many people among the establishment's Catholic faction are closely identified with the Iraq War, and to this day long to vindicate their support of it.

These self-appointed "professional Catholics" do not represent all the faithful, of course. Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina, of "Freedom Fries" fame, was honest enough to say publicly what many Republicans thought privately: the Iraq War was a mistake, and he said so, admitting that he was wrong to support it. Nor does it include all pro-lifers: yes, after watching Obama's strident support of abortion and gay marriage, many Catholics believe that the Republican Party istheir only hope. But "put not your hope in princes" certainly rings true here – the GOP has used, abused, and betrayed pro-lifers for decades.

The problem rests with a small group of Catholics, chosen and cultivated by Karl Rove, who were given entrée to the White House early on in Bush's presidency. With their help, Rove traveled the country speaking to leaders of various interest groups that he identified and assiduously cultivated. In one city after another, he would meet with pro-life, pro-family groups on one floor of a hotel, and then went upstairs to meet with another group that supported the government of Israel. For Rove, getting Catholics to support the war was a high priority, while there were no parallel efforts on the other side.

Well, that is, except for Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – later to become Pope Benedict – both of whom profoundly opposed the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. At Pope John Paul's beatification this past May 1, his closest friend and confidant, Cardinal Dziwisz, described how the pope expressed real anger only twice in his reign – condemning the Mafia in southern Italy, and condemning the US invasion of Iraq. Pity poor Jim Nicholson, the Catholic whom Bush appointed as his envoy to the Holy See, whose job it was to sell Bush's war to a Pope who opposed it so strongly. Other Catholic neocons like George Weigel, Michael Novak, Fr. Richard Neuhaus, and William McGurn also fervently supported the war in any way they could.

In a way, their support was somewhat ironic. The Iraq War kicked to the back burner all efforts to advance the pro-life, pro-family cause. Attorney General John Ashcroft, one of the most ardent defenders of the family ever to hold that position, once told me (when I lived next door to him) that the war on terror was his first priority, and he never got to address other pro-family priorities like abortion and Internet obscenity. While Bush would have lost both the elections of 2000 and 2004 without the support of pro-life Catholics, he brought into his inner circle only pro-war Catholics. They did their best to give the war a Catholic imprimatur, concocting an upside-down version of Just War theory twisted to justify the unjustifiable: “preemptive war.” They threw 1500 years of Just War tradition down the Memory Hole, but that is the neocon dialectic at work – northing is true forever, and, after all, "9-11 changed everything."

One of the most disingenuous of these depredations came from William McGurn, who left his post as chief editor at the Wall Street Journal to work as Bush's chief speechwriter, and later returned to News Corp. as Rupert Murdoch's speechwriter. In 2007, when Pope Benedict visited the White House, McGurn used his Journal column to announce that Pope Benedict had somehow changed his mind, and now actually supported the war in Iraq. I recently asked him about that at a Washington function. The usually loquacious wordsmith roared, "I don't wanna talk about it," and turned on his heel – an uncommon reaction for a celebrated conservative who is a frequent speaker on the Catholic circuit.

In sum, a small group of professional Catholic apologists for President Bush pushed the war to the front burner, leaving serious issues like abortion, Internet obscenity, and other issues important to the indispensable pro-family coalitions to gather dust. During the 2004 campaign, Rove admitted as much, and promised pro-family leaders that, "after the election," their issues would finally get attention – but that never came to pass: the endless, disastrous conduct of the war virtually blacked them out. And no, Karl Rove never apologized.

A specific and troubling vector has emerged in the crusade for secular democracy on the part of professional Christians, including Catholics: they virtually ignore the persecution, killing, and forced emigration of Christians from Iraq caused by the Iraq War. Curiously, President Bush, whom many hailed as a "good Christian," did not manifest any interest in the plight of Iraqi Christians, their pastors, their families, or their churches. Clearly they were not ignorant of it: Mr. McGurn had foreseen that very prospect in the Journal as early as 2003, but he was strangely silent thereafter – when the persecution was widespread, murderous, and rampant (Mr. McGurn did not respond to a request for comment for this article).

So today's strange professional Catholic silence regarding Ron Paul is not surprising, even though he is a champion of everything Catholic conservatives believe in. It's humorous, really: Pro-life Catholics are often ridiculed for being "single-issue" voters. However, pro-war Catholic neo-conservatives, to whom the war was the paramount issue, don't have to deal with that criticism. Take Rick Santorum, who seizes every opportunity to condemn Ron Paul's foreign policy of defending America, rather than exporting secular democracy. Santorum is at the bottom of the polls because he toured Pennsylvania with George W. Bush in 2004 supporting the reelection of Senator Arlen Specter. The ardently "pro-choice" Specter was the number one target of prolife groups nationwide, but, for Santorum, backing Bush's war was apparently more important than the life issues. As a result, he lost his own reelection bid by twenty points in 2006.

Santorum is a sore loser. He can't stand Ron Paul because Dr. Paul's very presence mocks Santorum's hypocrisy (not to mention his oversize ego). On polls, Santorum is regularly in the one percent range, while Ron Paul heads for the first tier as one GOP pygmy presidential after another takes a tumble. Santorum proudly sings his own praises as a family man, but can't find a kind word for the doctor who has delivered four thousand babies without ever seeing a medical case that required abortion. The petulant Santorum doesn't aim his spiteful cheap shots at his fellow pygmies, several of whom know nothing about foreign policy besides chanting the "stop Iran" mantra. He blasts Ron Paul, who has spent years on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and who towers above him in consistency and principle.

But Santorum is a player: he became a hero to pro-life Catholics when he opposed Partial Birth Abortion in the 1990s. He knows that more than one percent of Republican primary voters are pro-life, and is vexed that they are voting for other candidates. He considers himself the natural beneficiary of their votes, ignoring his own flip-flopping past – but when you support Arlen Specter, that's all prolifers need to know. You're finished. It's the same syndrome that Mitt Romney runs into: RomneyCare and his support for "choice" on abortion in Massachusetts alone are enough to alienate a majority of Republican primary voters.

Nonetheless, Santorum represents the views of the "professional Catholic" political establishment. After his defeat, he joined the same think tank that Elliott Abrams had run in the 1990s. Abrams, who pleaded guilty to federal charges of withholding information from Congress in 1991, was pardoned by Bush 41 the next year. Wonder of wonders, he was nonetheless hired by Bush 43 to run his Middle East policy at the NSC. Abrams undoubtedly shares some blame for the ensuing Iraq disaster, but, like his fellow failures, he has never apologized either – neocons never do. Losers seem to flock together, alas, and to persist: now Santorum pouts that the U.S. has "lost the war," and blames Obama.

Only Ron Paul dares to remind the Republican pygmies that all the country's problems did not begin on January 20, 2009. He adds that Republican congresses were also complicit in Bush's domestic failures and his unconstitutional foreign wars. Such honesty is so refreshing that Washington's establishment, where Down is Up, finds it asphyxiating. The Hot Tub crowd returns the favor by doing everything it can to suck the air out of Ron Paul's campaign.

Because every one of the other current GOP candidates suffers from flaws that would be fatal in the real world, Ron Paul might wind up as the last man standing. Hot Tubbers would be aghast, of course, but if Ron Paul wins the nomination, we can expect some professional Catholics to foment an undercurrent of resentment and retaliation. It does not matter that America’s Catholic bishops have finally discovered that the Obama Administration is the most anti-Catholic, anti-Christian administration in history. For these diehards, Obama is just the competition: Ron Paul is the enemy.

After all, self-vindication is a high priority inside the Beltway, right up there with the endless wars. Why else did God invent memoirs?

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