Will Catholics swing on the HHS mandate, or is it really the economy (stupid)?

Peggy Noonan over at the Wall Street Journal (subscribers only; HT to Kevin Clarke at America) warns that the Obama’s administration’s contraception mandate has awoken a “sleeping giant”: “The church is split on many things. But do Catholics in the pews want the government telling their church to contravene its beliefs? A president affronting the leadership of the church, and blithely threatening its great institutions? No, they don’t want that. They will unite against that.” (She followed with what I think is a nasty aside: “There was nothing for the president to gain, except, perhaps, the pleasure of making a great church bow to him.” Really?)

Catholics swung to Obama in 2008, delivering 54 percent of their votes; as Noonan notes, a lot of Catholics live in swing states (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida). It’s hard to see how this decision could help Obama among Catholics. I also thing the HHS rule was a bad decision, at least politically and probably constitutionally, though I think the matter is plenty complex.

At the same time, to invoke a theme from Bill Clinton’s campaign, now more than ever: It’s the economy (it’s not nice to call people “stupid”). I have a hard time believing that anyone will vote for Mitt or Newt or Ron or Rick over contraception or even “religious freedom” if they don’t also think that their economic policies will bring Americans prosperity.

And there’s the rub: With such a quintessentially Catholic issue in play (no one else really cares about birth control, though “religious freedom” has more cachet), a win for Obama among Catholics may reveal that there is indeed no “Catholic vote” anymore, at least not one that can be swung on such Catholic issues as abortion or birth control or same-sex marriage. Of the three, I think contraception is the one that is least likely to convince Catholics to switch sides, given the general lack of adherence to that particular teaching.

Then again, I could be wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time.