Friday, May 22, 2009

Get over Notre Dame ...
and look at the big picture

A guest post by MIKE POTEMRA

Thanks for your observations on "Father James Martin's strife with the saints," Dawn. Important post.

As with most human matters, the problem here is ego. Pro-lifers need to ask themselves what's more important--that life be protected, or that we win our ego-contest against pro-choicers (and against people like Father Martin who are deemed "insufficiently pro-life")?

Look at the deeper meaning of the two polls that came out last week. One poll said that, for the first time, more Americans declare themselves pro-life than pro-choice. The other poll said that more Catholics approved of Obama at Notre Dame than disapproved.

The first poll was an important sign that we pro-lifers are making inroads toward eventually protecting all human life in law. It is important.

The second poll showed--surprise, surprise--that a majority of Catholics do not view the movement to ban abortion as the centrally important political issue. This poll is much less significant (I'll try to explain below).

Reagan used to quote the wise old maxim, "There's no limit to what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit." Thanks to sonograms and many other factors, the American people are--over the long haul--turning against abortion. Meanwhile, the pro-choice Catholics are confusing the message about where Catholics stand on this issue. The result may be one of the great historic ironies: The American people in general may be ready to ban abortion before the majority of American Catholics are. An interesting irony, to be sure--but unimportant in historical terms, compared to the actual banning of abortion.

As someone who was for a long time a pro-choice Catholic (now a pro-life Protestant) I beg for your understanding of the pro-choice Catholics. You know what it is with them? Not ill-will, or (except in a very small number of cases) a "pro-abortion" agenda. All it is is a combination of poor catechesis with a laudable if misguided sense of politeness: They have come to believe that legal protection for the unborn is not a matter of human rights and justice, but a sectarian Catholic distinctive (like, e.g., the veneration of relics) that it would be churlish to force on non-Catholics.

But once the pro-choice Catholics see "pro-life" as the American mainstream, I think they, too, will come around. Their being late to the cause will strip away the grounds for any claim that it was "the Catholic vote" or "Catholics" as a whole that stopped abortion; but it cannot take away from the fact that it was the witness of individual Catholics that kept this issue alive--especially back in the early '70s, when even very conservative Protestants were letting themselves get stampeded into the acceptance of abortion-on-demand.

I understand that the Notre Dame event was deeply embarrassing to Catholics who were hoping to present a united pro-life front. I can't sugarcoat that: It was, indeed, a very bad week. But please remember that this problem of abortion was never going to be solved on our schedule, but on the Holy Spirit's--so all of us pro-lifers, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, should just suck it up and move on. Consider the following analogy: Let's say a young George Wallace had been invited to get an honorary degree at Princeton in 1959, and received a warm reception. Pro-civil-rights Princetonians would have been appalled, and heartbroken at the warm welcome. They would have exchanged hard words with the inviters. But all of it--the rage, the ovations, the hard words--would have been wiped away by the tidal wave of what happened with civil rights in the 1960s. Fifty years later--i.e., now--who would care (except someone trying to make a cheap debating point about "Princeton in the old days")?

I have a similar sense right now, deep in my gut: We're winning this thing, and Barack Obama speaks for yesterday. Let's focus on that.

Mike Potemra is literary editor of National Review.