What conclusions are we to draw from the 2012 election? President Barack Obama survived a fierce challenge. After billions of dollars were spent, the status quo broadly prevailed: The president remains the president. The U.S. Senate remains Democratic. The U.S. House of Representatives remains Republican. The popular vote was, as predicted, narrowly but deeply divided, giving no great comfort to either party, and certainly not making consensus an easy road.
For Catholics, exit polling suggests that Catholics voted, again, for President Obama, this time despite a strong campaign by many Church leaders to prioritize such issues as same-sex marriage, abortion and the Health and Human Services mandate forcing Catholic organizations to provide abortion-inducing drugs and contraception.
Efforts to analyze the Catholic vote and the impact of the bishops’ leadership must take into account the division among self-identified Catholics that pollsters rarely highlight. The impact of the (primarily Catholic) Hispanic vote has implications for the Church as well.
|Our hope is that President Barack Obama will use his re-election victory as an opportunity to reset the national discussion.
In terms of the culture wars, our national divisions still seem to be profound, with ballot initiatives for gay marriage, physician-assisted suicide, restrictions on abortion and the death penalty all on the ballot, several of them winning popular support in various states.
So where do we go from here? On a national level, the president will be pulled between two poles. His fiercest supporters will want him to play to his base with his message of economic populism and liberalism on social issues. Congress will be as divided as ever, with both sides likely to claim a mandate from their supporters. But another two to four years of legislative gridlock will have grave economic implications, starting with the “fiscal cliff.” The sequestration that threatens to tip the country back into recession if no compromise can be reached will have the greatest negative impact on the poor, on families and on children.
Our hope is that the president will use his victory as an opportunity to reset the national discussion. Issues like the HHS mandate have provoked a needless battle with the Catholic Church and many other religious organizations. President Obama can signal a desire to unify rather than divide by revoking the mandate, which in turn will allow him to focus on building support for truly important national priorities.
Many millions of people in this country are dependent on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, for example, and these pillars of the social safety net must be strengthened so that the most vulnerable will not be abandoned.
If this social safety net is to be strengthened, then the priorities of jobs and the deficit must be addressed. Half measures and smoke and mirrors will not suffice. These will only increase the social anger and resentment that is already dividing Americans.
As for the Church, it must not abandon its powerful witness on behalf of the human dignity of all — the unborn, the poor, the dying, the prisoner, the undocumented. It must find ways to communicate the basis for this witness effectively to its own people and to society.
It must also call Catholics together to pray for their president and their country, to get involved with their parish, and to remember that our hope is ultimately in the Lord, now and forever.
Where to now? Back to work.