That the Reagan presidency co-existed with the beginning of Pope John Paul II's pontificate is no small link to understanding why the realities shaped by the late president in the 1980s underlie the ways in which the Catholic vote will be contested in November.
The presidency of Ronald Reagan and the pontificate of John Paul II were unified and defined by anti-communism more than anything else. But beyond that obvious connection, the two men also are joined in a Catholic context because they both did much to turn American Catholics from a straight Democratic Party line into a swing constituency.
It's no secret that the same Reagan Democrats of the industrial Upper Midwest will be a key voting bloc in the 2004 election. Understanding how Reagan — and the pope — won them over is vital to understanding the still-emerging realm of American Catholic politics.
Just how did Reagan and John Paul combine to turn the political tide in Catholic America? One thing stands out above all else: the "prophetic sunshine factor."
I like that, the "prophetic sunshine factor.
In a tight election where Catholics will be a core swing constituency, especially in Michigan and Pennsylvania, George Bush and John Kerry ought to look to Ronald Reagan, and also Pope John Paul II, for some prophetic sunshine.
The presidential candidate who can offer prophetic hope — in addition to prophetic challenge — will, you might say, win one for the Gipper.