Here in the heart of America's wine industry, the Napa Institute brings together a few hundred Catholics in the company of many of the faith's senior prelates and a raft of the country's Catholic public intellectuals. The beautiful Meritage Resort is full, and the winery tours and golf are wedged in between various seminars, keynote addresses and a Mass schedule designed to please even the most rigorous monk or nun -- and there are quite a few religious in attendance.
The conference theme of "The Next America" has the attendees looking far forward on topics of religious freedom, Catholic higher education and Catholic evangelization, but the presidential campaign is the buzz of the cigar and wine gatherings that begin late and go later. The Aspen Institute may have better mountain views, but the Roman Catholics know their viticulture and their Cohiba from their Romeo y Julieta.
And their politics. It is in the blood.
The mainstream media have pushed the absurd "Mitt Romney had a bad day in London" theme in a typical over-the-top-we-must-save-the-president frenzy, but to zero impact on these voters, who are supremely indifferent to gaffes as news. Not even the real political news -- "You didn't build that!" -- or the real news of a sputtering economy and dreadful 1.5 percent GDP growth or the massacre in Aurora, Colo., make for much conversation on the patio and in the hallways.
Chick-fil-A, by contrast, does. Who knew that the Democrats' war on a chain restaurant would move quickly through the new media into the awareness of most Americans on the center-right, mostly skipping the clueless mainstream media?
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is quickly walking back his bullying of the Chick-fil-A franchisee in the Windy City, but he is still identified with the attempt by the government to muscle down on the "Eat Mor Chikin" cows because the company's president, Dan Cathy, dared express support for traditional marriage in America, joining 30 states that have since 1998 adopted amendments to their state constitutions defining marriage as between one woman and one man, and the voters of North Carolina, who recently voted overwhelmingly to define marriage the old fashioned way.
Boston Mayor Tom Menino also went all Joe McCarthy on Cathy last week, telling the chicken sandwich purveyor that "[t]here is no place for discrimination on Boston's Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it." That is classic viewpoint discrimination by the government, and obviously as unconstitutional as it is stupid politically, but Menino did the great service of showing every supporter of traditional marriage how the game will work if the president is re-elected and his cronies across the country feel energized.
Incredibly, the mainstream media are finding it hard to get a comment out of President Obama on Chick-fil-A, so busy are they trying to turn Mitt Romney's "disconcerting" statement into a major campaign story, even as the president's "You didn't build that!" metastacizes into the soundbite that ate the president's re-election. Romney is off to Israel and Poland and his lead in the Rasmussen tracking poll is growing despite the best efforts of the Manhattan-Beltway media elite to block for Obama with a two-day assist from Fleet Street. The reason Romney has the momentum is that the country's voters are very good at discerning meaningful moments and data from manufactured ones, even if the elite media Bigfoots are not.
The economy's lifelessness; the "You didn't build that!" exclamation; and now the attack on a job creator and force behind 1,600 restaurants, employing who knows how many thousands of people, for what is in essence a thought crime against the Left -- these are real issues that have defined the president's summer. It's not just engaged Catholics and their church leadership, but wide swaths of previously indifferent voters are waking up to the lethal combination of the president's incompetence and his supporters' maximalist ideology.
Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com.