In politics, the Waterloo metaphor is often overused, blindly lobbed by political opponents hoping to make a candidate’s or politician’s blunder the decisive sign of defeat or the ending of a political career. But is it possible that Obama’s latest battle with religious liberty is a sign of the president’s political decline?
Waterloo is of course a reference to the famous military genius Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon’s brilliant rise during the latter half of the French Revolution made him famous enough that he crowned himself emperor of the French. The newly self-appointed emperor proceeded to consolidate power throughout Europe by putting together a series of spectacular military victories.
Napoleon, perhaps miscalculating his capabilities and spheres of influence, engaged in a series of battles that ultimately would end in his banishment. In particular, the Battle of Waterloo, fought in present-day Belgium, is where the combined armies of the Seventh Coalition defeated Napoleon’s armies.
Waterloo is considered to have put an end to Napoleon’s rule as emperor of the French and marked the decline of a once-powerful political force. The political analogy of course is obvious; overreaching is rarely rewarded and is often punished. The analogy with President Obama might be in his overreach in attacking religious liberty.
A provision of the Obama administration’s new health care policy aimed at forcing all employers, including religious organizations, to pay for birth control and some abortion-related services has the faith community up in arms.
It was just last month, in what many considered to be one of most significant religious liberty decision in two decades, that the Supreme Court reaffirmed the “ministerial exception.” In a 9-0 decision and a strong rebuke to President Obama and his Department of Justice, the court held that churches and other religious groups were to be free in choosing and dismissing their leaders without government interference. Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, stated, “The Establishment Clause prevents the government from appointing ministers […] and the Free Exercise Clause prevents it from interfering with the freedom of religious groups to select their own.” For scholars of religious liberty, the administration’s effort to effectively repeal the centuries-old ministerial exemption was a shocking overreach that appeared to antagonize the entire American religious community.
It seems wholly illogical that after a stinging political defeat the president would again go to war with the religious community.
Obama’s new proposals affect all religious institutions but particularly affect Catholic ones. In response, Catholic League leader Bill Donohue has said the proposals will “be fought out with lawsuits, with court decisions, and, dare I say it, maybe even in the streets.”
Already, as The Daily Caller reported yesterday, “165 Catholic bishops — or roughly 90 percent of all U.S. bishops — plus all 53 Christian Orthodox bishops, have strongly opposed the federal government requirement as an unconstitutional intrusion into church affairs.”
In The Wall Street Journal, Gerald F. Seib writes that Catholic voters should be taken very seriously:
In nine of the past 10 presidential elections, the Catholic vote has gone with the candidate who ultimately won the election. Five times it has gone to a Republican; five times to a Democrat. In five of those elections, the percentage of the Catholic vote taken by the winner has been within a single percentage point of the share he won overall.
Catholic voters represent the single largest religious voting bloc in America; they are projected to account for one-quarter of the voting population in 2012. President Obama’s polling with religious voters has already fallen out from underneath him, not only with white Catholics but with an ever-increasing segment of the American religious pie.
It is not an enviable political position to be in and might be viewed by future political scientists as the straw that broke the camel’s electoral back. A retreat by the Obama administration on the rule might not matter in rekindling religious goodwill. It just might be Obama’s Waterloo.
In the words of another military genius, Julius Caesar, “The die has been cast.”
Thomas Grier is a third-year law student at The Ohio State University. A graduate of Arizona State University, Grier writes on constitutional law, politics and pro-growth policy.