Dept. of Unrealistic Expectations

E. J. Dionne is a smart guy. In general, I enjoy his political analysis over at The New Republic. So I'm going to do him a solid and assume that he didn't come up with the following sub-header for this piece:
All's Fair by
Has Obama ruined his chances of ending the culture war? [emphasis mine]
Golly. I don't know. And if he fails to end the culture war, how will that impact his ability to eradicate worldwide poverty, stop plate tectonics, and whiten the teeth of every American?

The piece in question looks at the nomination of Kathleen Sebelius, and the response from conservative Catholics, who object to her pro-choice record. It seems there's something for everyone to gripe about.
Sebelius, like Obama, has advocated abortion reduction, but she vetoed a series of bills favored by anti-abortion groups, including restrictions on late-term abortions and parental consent laws. Last May, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City called on Sebelius to stop taking communion because of what he described as "her long-standing support for legalized abortion."
I cannot imagine how I would react if my religious leaders were to instruct me to stop taking communion because of my political beliefs, but I imagine it would be less than reverent. But Sebelius is also (at least according to Dionne) getting flak from the Left, as well.
The rapid mobilization behind Sebelius marked the emergence of an organized movement of religious progressives as a forceful counterweight to religious conservatives, and the case made on her behalf brought home the centrality of abortion reduction to the overall argument.

This has made some traditional feminist groups nervous, as did Obama's decision to give his Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships a mandate to make decreasing the number of abortions a part of its mission.

For a while, I was active with a group called Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, a fairly doctrinaire abortion-rights group. (A vote to restrict abortions in any way would give you a "mixed" rating on choice, a stance I found extreme. Moving to Maine and my own "mixed" leanings on the issue have led to an atrophy in my relationship with the group.) But even PRCH sold certain legislation (eg. access to emergency contraception, the issue on which I worked most closely with them) to anti-abortion pols as intended to reduce the number of abortions over-all. I don't know who these "traditional feminist groups" are, but if they are made nervous by Obama's rhetoric, or policy intended to reduce the actual number of abortions (while still maintaining the right to choose), then they are just as recalcitrant and fundamentalist as Archbishop Naumann.

All of this is a bit beside the point, however. Dionne is confusing two goals in his piece. Obama clearly has made overtures to people who stand across the divide from him on many social issues. (See also: Warren, Rick.) He is trying to enlarge his base of support. If this somehow lessens the cultural divides in this country, more's the better. But nobody expects him to "end" the culture war. Some gulfs are unbridgeable (at least by human agency), and implying that Obama somehow intended to bring me and (say) the Mormon Church together into one, big, happy family is to set him up for an inevitable failure.


  1. On the other hand she is a strong advocate of restricting coal use because of global warming. It almost seems as though this is the current litmus test.

  2. Well, from your perspective it's probably for the best that she's going to be bending her attention exclusively to health care then.