Yes, Mitt Romney made
mistakes during his recent European opposite-of-an-apology tour, the most puzzling being his eagerness to portray himself as a worse husband than anyone believes
him to be.
(“It’s a big, exciting experience for my wife,’’ he said, suggesting that he, on the other hand, was but dimly aware of the small, dull fact that his wife Ann’s horse, Rafalca, was competing in the Olympics. “I have to tell you, this is Ann’s sport,” he told NBC News. “I’m not even sure which day the sport goes on. She will get the chance to see it; I will not be watching.”)
Distracted by the Republican candidate’s various blurts and blabs, we missed the play, people, and were slow to grasp that the through line of the tour wasn’t buffing up the former governor’s foreign policy credentials but overtly pitching to religious voters back home, via remarks made to Jews in Israel and John Paul II-loving Catholics in Poland.
Which was actually plenty smart, especially on the eve of what some conservatives have infamously called a “day of infamy” for religious freedom in the U.S. of A, because the Affordable Care Act provisions mandating contraceptive insurance coverage kicked in on August 1.
Comparing August 1 to Pearl Harbor and 9/11, as Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) did, is pretty extreme. Groups that object on religious grounds to being made to include contraception in insurance coverage for employees, contrary to church teaching against birth control, have another year before the mandate kicks in. And during that year, the Obama administration may still find a way to keep its promise to provide
the same coverage without forcing believers to violate church teaching.
Still, Kelly has lots of company in his outrage, and there’s no question that his reaction is sincere and deeply felt; back when he was running for Kathy Dahlkemper’s congressional seat, he told me that when he first heard Barack Obama had been invited to speak at our alma mater, the University of Notre Dame, he got so upset he jumped in his car and drove all night, arriving in South Bend at sunrise to pray and protest on campus.
After all these months of getting called out from pulpits across the country — a Pew poll out last week found that 32 percent of American Catholics had heard a homily on the issue — I fail to understand why the administration hasn’t tried harder to find an acceptable compromise.
Instead, they let it be known that it wouldn’t exactly be politically tragic if the bishops never came back to the bargaining table — the calculation being that energized, happy pro-choice groups would help Obama a lot more than a bunch of frowning bishops could possibly hurt him. And they decided just recently that they won’t be revisiting the issue until after the election.
As it turns out, the White House may have been right on the politics: That Pew poll also indicated that while a majority of those Catholics who are aware of the concerns voiced by the bishops agree with the prelates, 56 percent to 36 percent, birth control is not going to be
the matter that sends them to the barricades. On the contrary, Catholics favor Obama over Romney at this point, 51 percent to 42 percent.
That doesn’t mean the issue isn’t hurting Obama with Catholics, though; I recently received an anguished letter from a 70-year-old woman in Rockville, Maryland who had walked out of Sunday Mass after her pastor preached that one could simply not be both a Catholic and a Democrat. She and another lady headed for the exit, but how many stayed, listened and took it to heart?
I’m stumped, too, as to why the president still hasn’t found a way to make it up to Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Last fall, Obama personally assured Dolan that the conscience protections in the Health and Human Services regulations would be sturdy. Then, after Dolan had publicly stood up for Obama — even after being derided by some brother bishops who told him outright he’d been rolled — the president changed course.
At this point, the math has been done and the trenches dug, but the issue isn’t going away. And in a race as close as the one in November is going to be, every point Romney wins with religious voters in swing states like Florida or Pennsylvania matters a lot more than what his traveling press secretary yelled at reporters on what may turn out to have been a not-so-bad day in Poland after all.
Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors the paper’s ‘She the People’ blog. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.