Back in 1999, when he was running for the Republican nomination for president of the United States, George W. Bush famously declared that he was "a uniter, not a divider." The eight years of his administration, alas, proved otherwise: Despite the incredible unity brought about in the first year of his first term by the terrorist attacks of September 11, the presidential election of 2004 was among the most divisive in the history of the United States.
In the 2008 election, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama may not have adopted Bush's phrase, but he certainly attempted to present himself as "a uniter, not a divider." Yet from the earliest days of his administration, President Obama has overturned previous policies, especially on moral and life issues, that enjoyed broad popular support, from reversing the Bush administration's "compromise" on embryonic stem-cell research, to expanding federal funding for abortion and contraception, to announcing that his administration will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act.
Despite the polarizing nature of these policies, President Obama had largely escaped sustained public criticism over any of them. But with the announcement of the imposition of the contraception mandate, timed to coincide with the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the President pressed his luck a bit too far. Even the "compromise" that he presented a few weeks later has not brought an end to the public outcry over this blatant attempt to impose the values of the Obama administration on religious organizations that declare the use of artificial contraception to be objectively immoral.
And yet, in the midst of the division that he has sowed, President Obama has truly proved himself a "uniter," at least when it comes to one important group: the Catholic bishops of the United States.
As reported by Thomas Peters on February 16, "Every single Roman Catholic bishop in the United States has condemned in public the Obamacare HHS mandate—all 180 bishops who lead dioceses in the U.S. have spoken." And this is the revised mandate, which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has rightly seen as simply a shell game, designed to hide the fact religious institutions will ultimately still bear the costs of paying for artificial contraception for their employees. (To understand why, see The Obamanomics of Contraception.)
To say that such a response from the Catholic bishops of the United States is unprecedented would be the understatement of the year. Not that long ago, before a certain generation of bishops began reaching retirement age and were gradually replaced by bishops appointed by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, I'm not sure you could have found unanimity on all matters of Catholic doctrine, much less on a political threat to the religious freedom of the Catholic Church in the United States. Even at the height of the controversy over President Obama's commencement address at Notre Dame, a significant number of bishops sat on the sidelines.
No more. President Obama has finally pushed his agenda too far for even the most reticent of bishops to stay quiet. In the process, he's become a uniter, not a divider.
And that may prove to be the most important accomplishment of President Obama's first term. So important, in fact, that I'm beginning to think that President Obama may wind up a one-term President, even though, just a month ago, I was certain that he would win reelection.
Time will tell, of course, and I should note that the "compromise" did change the nature of the public debate, returning some portion of those Catholics who had voted for Obama in 2008 to his fold. But as the Catholic bishops of the United States continue to explain the far-reaching nature of the Obama administration's assault on religious freedom, even some of those Catholics may come to understand that the "compromise" was no such thing.