Over at Crooked Timber, Henry responds to Prof. Bainbridge’s argument that nominating Douglas Kmiec as ambassador to the Holy See would be an insult, because of Kmiec’s vocal support for Obama’s candidacy.  Bainbridge now seems to have written a clarificatory update, and I am not sure it helps his case.

I’m interested in this mostly not so much because I care about who gets sent to chat at the Vatican, but because among pro-life Catholics I know, whether to support a pro-choice Democrat is an issue that comes up nearly every election cycle.  Ten years ago, “but what about abortion?” swung them to the Republicans; this year, not so much.

Here’s the issue.  Catholicism holds that abortion is morally wrong.  So does Kmiec.  Obama’s pro-choice, but pro-life, Republican Kmiec supported him anyway, writing a booklet called ““Can a Catholic Support Him?”, in which he argues that despite Obama’s pro-choice position, his positions on matters like torture, the Iraq war, and social justice constitute good reasons to vote for him. *

Here’s the bit that piqued my interest.  So, one might think that the reason Bainbridge finds Kmiec objectionable is that he finds Kmiec’s argument to be bad; that is, that the reasoning isn’t persuasive, and that in fact a Catholic shouldn’t vote for Obama.   But this isn’t what he says; because it’s pretty clear that Catholics are allowed to vote for pro-choice candidates:

Henry is quite right that Kmiec has made clear that he supports Obama despite the latter’s abortion position, grou[n]ding his support on peace and other social justice concerns.

In my view, however, there is a difference between simply voting for a pro-choice candidate and being a highly public supporter of that candidate. Kmiec went so far as to write a book trying to persuade pro-life Catholics that it was okay to vote for Obama. In doing so, I believe he gave Obama significant political cover. Kmiec’s high profile position allows Obama to make an argument by appeal to authority to people who aren’t as informed on these issues or have failed to make a close study of the relevant doctrines as has Kmiec.

This is the part that doesn’t  make a lot of sense.  It’s permissible for a pro-life person to vote for Obama, but not permissible to argue publicly, and with good faith arguments, that it’s permissible to vote for Obama, because other people might trust your good faith arguments.   I suspect this isn’t a general principle that he could apply consistently. (I doubt the people arguing positions favorable to Bainbridge, for example, are held to this standard.  But it would apply to theology instructors, CCD teachers, way too many people.)

But then Bainbridge seems to go back (and forth) on this, arguing that because of Obama’s radicalism on abortion**, Kmiec can’t actually make the case that it’s okay for Catholics to vote for Obama in good faith.   But then it seems that it shouldn’t be okay for Kmiec personally to vote for Obama, either.  It seems that if Bainbridge accepts that it’s permissible for a pro-life voter to vote for Obama, then he should concede that Obama’s so-called radicalism isn’t a problem for the Catholic voter; and if he wants to make the case that Obama’s so-called radicalism is a problem, then he should give up the pretense that he thinks it’s okay for a pro-life Catholic to vote for, let alone endorse, a pro-choice candiate.

And he cites Pope Benedict XVI in support:

[…]There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

But Kmiec doesn’t disagree with the Church’s teaching on abortion, and Bainbridge acknowedges this, so this quote doesn’t seem to help his case, either.

But Bainbridge gets all snippy when Benen suggests that voting for Obama would be a dealbreaker:

Did Benen even bother to read–let alone try to understand–the argument? Nowhere did I say that voting for Obama is a deal breaker. Obviously, Obama is going to appoint someone who supported him.

Well then.  So, what’s the real issue?  That Kmiec is a renegade Republican, rather than a renegade Catholic, seems to be relevant.

I think the problem with the argument here is in trying to give broader rational justification to what’s at bottom a fairly simple pragmatic issue; Kmiec is high-profile because of his book, and has allegedly butted heads with some of the Cardinals at the Holy See (whether they were rational or not to do so), and that makes him a poor choice for a diplomatic position that has no serious duties***, and is mostly there because Catholics make up a significant swing constituency.

But that’s not a question that has anything to do with whether it’s permissible morally for Catholics to vote for Obama or whether it’s permissible to write books explaining one’s reasons for voting for pro-choice politicians, just whether it’s prudent to do so if one wants a cushy ambassadorship.


* I am not sure if Kmiec makes this case, but one thing that was persuasive among some people I know is that Republicans have controlled the Presidency for 20 of the 35 years since Roe, and it hasn’t amounted to a hill of beans for pro-life people, which leads them to suspect they’re being played for fools.

** I am certain it’s an artifact of updating and editing and the boldface Bainbridge uses for his links, but nevertheless, the fact that within the same blogpost the man links to his twin arguments that Obama is a dangerous pro-abortion radical not once, but twice, using the exact same language, makes me want to calm him down. We heard you, Steve.  It’s okay.  No need to shout!

***As near as I can tell, this position is distinct from the official ambassador to the Vatican.  Either way, it’s usually a reward for high-profile Catholic supporters.  I doubt Bainbridge would argue that the U.S. has a general duty to send only those ambassadors who agree with their host country.