Waldman: Why the bishops matter

bishopsAs a rule, your GetReligionistas do not pay much attention to op-ed page pieces and opinion essays. We waive this rule, however, when there is a piece that we believe would be of immediate interest to mainstream professionals who cover the Godbeat or topics that often collide with faith issues -- such as the politics of health care. It also helps if the author of the piece is a religion-news professional.

Thus, please click here and head on over the Beliefnet.com, where the czar of that sprawling domain -- Steven Waldman -- has published what amounts to a memo to the nation's political reporters and assignment editors. The title of this God-and-politics piece is blunt: "Why The Catholic Bishops Matter on Health Care Reform."

The No. 1 reason the bishops matter is the point I have been trying to make over and over in my posts about bishops-free coverage in the mainstream press:

... I believe Bishops matter a great deal politically when it comes to the abortion-and-health care debate.

(1) They want health care reform to pass. Most pro-life groups are either opposed to Democratic-style universal health care plans (e.g. Family Research Council) or neutral (Right to Life Committee). The Catholic Bishops are the only major pro-life group that wants health care reform. As a result, they have no interest in using the abortion issue to block health care. So when they raise objections about abortion provisions, members of congress may perceive them to be substantively rather than politically motivated.

And then there is reason No. 2, which also may sound familiar to GetReligion regulars:

(2) They may influence pro-life Democrats. Pro-life Republicans are unlikely to support health care reform even if the legislation was perfect, from their perspective, on abortion. The more important group is pro-life Democrats, who may be on the fence on health care reform, or lean in favor, but have expressed unwillingness to support it if legislation subsdizes abortion. Even those pro-life Democrats who aren't Catholic can look at the Bishops as kindred spirits, since they too want to both oppose abortion aid and support health care reform. A reminder: about one quarter of Obama's coalition came from pro-life voters.

By all means read it all.

Once again, the point is that the action on health-care is a classic left-and-right war. Yes, but it is more than that. If legislation is going to pass, if will need a coalition of all of the people who sincerely want health-care legislation to pass. Duh.

That includes the bishops. That includes the pro-life left and middle. That certainly includes the small circle of people who dare align with Democrats for Life.

As I wrote the other day:

All of the debates that really matter are taking place between Democrats and, once again, they are about abortion and health-care rationing that's controlled by the government or by independent boards set up by the government. People who care about the latter -- hello, U.S. Catholic bishops -- are trying to find ways to talk about this issue without the press ensnaring them in a "death panels" trap.

So keep your eye on one story: The attempts by pro-life Democrats to force and up-or-down vote on the status of the Hyde Amendment. Why is that so important? You see, there are all kinds of non-GOP people who are convinced that the legislation favored by President Barack Obama would, one way or another, steer tax dollars toward abortion coverage.

That's my journalistic instinct and I am glad that Waldman is thinking along similar lines. In other words, reporters, look for the health-care supporters in the evangelical and pro-Catechism Catholic pews. And start calling your local Catholic bishops.

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