Tuesday, September 21, 2004

A Catholic Votes for George W. Bush

by George Weigel

In 1960, millions of Catholics voted for John F. Kennedy for little reason other than that he was a Catholic. In 2004, millions of Catholics, myself included, will vote enthusiastically for George W. Bush because this Texas Methodist has a clearer understanding of, and a more serious commitment to, the Catholic vision of the free and virtuous society than his Catholic opponent. This is, to put it gently, a dramatic change.

And it requires some explaining.

Part of the explanation is that 1960 was the high-water mark of Catholic tribalism in American electoral politics; Catholics today are no longer a multiethnic tribe who vote their tribal loyalties (early and often, as they say in Chicago). Then there's the unhappy fact that John Forbes Kerry's personality is a lot more WASP-Brahmin than Last Hurrah. But these explanations only touch the surface of things. Millions of Catholics are going to vote for George W. Bush - and millions of Catholics are, frankly, appalled at the thought of their fellow-Catholic, John Kerry, as President of the United States - because of two dramatic changes in ideas and institutions over the past four decades. Catholic social doctrine has changed; so has the Democratic Party. In those changes lie the deeper reasons for my vote for George Bush, and the votes of millions of other Catholics across the country.

The Maturation of Catholic Social Doctrine.

In the politics of 1960, "Catholic social doctrine" meant little more than the Church's traditional support for trade unions: the George Meany/George Higgins axis, if you will. Catholic political intellectuals like Eugene McCarthy debated the meaning of the "common good" and "subsidiarity," but these debates had little traction in public life. That has all changed, thanks to the Second Vatican Council and the social magisterium of Pope John Paul II.

The Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World outlined a pluralistic vision of the free and virtuous society; John Paul II has filled in the outline with the encyclicals Laborem Exercens, Centesimus Annus, and Evangelium Vitae. The Church's social doctrine now teaches that the free and virtuous society is a complex set of interactions among a democratic political community, a free economy, and a public moral culture. The last, John Paul II insists, is the key to the rest. Democracy and the market are not machines that can run by themselves. If free politics and free economics are going to promote genuine human flourishing, the tremendous energies they set loose have to be tempered and directed by a vibrant public moral culture. The culture is the key to the entire edifice. A culture that teaches freedom-as-license is going to wreck democracy and the free economy, sooner or later. A culture capable of sustaining the high adventure of democracy over time is a culture that teaches and celebrates freedom for excellence - freedom as the way we choose the good as a matter of habit.

John Paul II has also developed the Church's social doctrine by teaching that abortion, euthanasia, and the range of questions raised by the new biotechnologies are, in fact, social justice issues. Addressing the life issues is a crucial part of the Church's social doctrine. In Evangelium Vitae, which completes Centesimus Annus, the Holy Father insisted that when grave moral evils - "wrongs" - are legally defined as "rights," the entire democratic project is threatened. A democracy that arrogates to itself the power to declare entire classes of human beings - the unborn, the radically handicapped, the elderly - outside the boundaries of common concern and protection is a democracy at war with itself (a point Lincoln made a century and a half ago, in his 1858 "house divided" speech).

Thus, in the developed Catholic view of things, not all issues are equal. Some issues must weigh more heavily on the conscience of a president, a legislator, or a voter. Indeed, the life issues are of such gravity that opposition to the requirements of natural justice on these questions (which is also opposition to the Church's settled teaching) seriously damages a Catholic's communion with the Church.

I don't know whether George W. Bush or John Kerry has read Centesimus Annus and Evangelium Vitae; I rather doubt it. But President Bush gets the vision, and Senator Kerry is manifestly blind to it. The president has spoken eloquently about an America in which every child is protected in law and welcomed in life - an America in which a culture of life (a phrase Bush has borrowed unapologetically from Pope John Paul II) sustains legal protection for the unborn, the "inconvenient" elderly, and the handicapped. Senator Kerry has voted time and again to permit infanticide, in the form of partial-birth abortion. And like certain fellow-Catholics in the U.S. Senate - Biden, Daschle, Durbin, Leahy, Kennedy, Mikulski, and others - Kerry has voted time and again to block the confirmation of Catholics who want to apply the elementary principles of justice (which, to repeat, coincide with the teaching of the Church) to abortion jurisprudence in the federal courts.

Indeed, if there is anything that captures the truly bizarre nature of the second change that have led so many Catholics into the Bush camp, it was the sight of Catholic senators on the Judiciary Committee joining a scurrilous attack last year by New York's Charles Schumer on the "Catholic" views of a superbly qualified nominee for the federal bench, William Pryor - all in the name of defending the non-negotiable abortion license.

The Transformation of the Democratic Party.

Like many of my fellow-Catholic Bush voters, I was genetically a Democrat, having grown up in an environment where "Catholic" and "Democrat" were synonymous. Have we changed? Perhaps. But the party into which we were born, so to speak, has changed far more dramatically than we have. And that is why some of us have left it, while others regularly vote for Republicans.

In retrospect, the McGovern Revolution of 1972 was the first major fracture in the old Catholic-Democratic alliance. But the electoral debacle of 1972 didn't teach the Democratic Party anything. Remember the old charge that the McGovern Democrats were the party of "acid, amnesty, and abortion"? What was the most enduring of the three? It was the abortion license, a lethal infection that has thoroughly corrupted the moral fabric of the Democratic Party. As the Democrats have become ever more intransigently the party of abortion-on-demand - it is inconceivable that any sort of pro-life candidate could be on a Democratic national ticket, and it is extraordinarily difficult for pro-lifers to become Democratic candidates for the Senate - the Democrats have also become the party whose judicial nominees want to create ersatz "rights" to euthanasia and gay "marriage."

Which is to say that the Democratic Party has become the party of freedom understood as personal willfulness - the party of the imperial autonomous Self. Which is to say, further, that the Democrats have become the party that rejects the teaching of Centesimus Annus and Evangelium Vitae.

The breakpoint for many of us former Democrats came, in fact, three years before Evangelium Vitae, when Governor Bob Casey of Pennsylvania - a pro-life, pro-family, pro-worker embodiment of the old Catholic-Democratic alliance, and a proven voter-getter - was denied the opportunity to address the convention that first nominated Bill Clinton. If pro-abortion passions in the Democratic Party trumped the Catholic governor of a crucial swing state, well, then, there wasn't much room left in the Democratic Party for the likes of me. Others evidently felt, and feel, the same way. That's another thing that has led us to George Bush, the president who pushed through the partial-birth abortion ban that John Kerry sought to override. Indeed, were Kerry to be elected president and given the opportunity to shape the federal judiciary in his image and likeness, any hope for legal protection for the unborn is probably gone in my lifetime.

In my case, the break with my "genetic" party was also influenced by international politics. If Bob Casey was my last Democratic hero on the domestic policy front, it was a Democrat who died in 1983, Henry M. Jackson, who was the last national Democratic figure to understand the world and America's distinctive responsibilities in it. Scoop Jackson, not Jimmy Carter, created modern U.S. international human rights policy; and it was Jackson Democrats who brought that policy to life in the Reagan Administration and in Jacksonian initiatives like the National Endowment for Democracy.

Judging by his nineteen-year record in the Senate, John Kerry is the polar opposite of a Jackson Democrat. Kerry was wrong about the nuclear arms race and the end-game of the Cold War; wrong about Central America; wrong about the first Gulf War; and wrong (insofar as one can discern his position) on the Iraq War. The Bush Administration's record has not been perfect on the national security/international affairs front. But to a Jackson-Democrat-turned-Republican like me, there is a world of difference between recognizing the serious failures of U.S. public diplomacy since 9/11, and a foreign policy approach that imagines the impossible (French and German support for deposing Saddam Hussein) and proposes the imprudent (waiting for French and German permission to do what needs to be done - whether that be in Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Darfur, or wherever.)

When Scoop Jackson died, one of his aides said to me, "The last adult is gone." That was, arguably, true about the Senate Democrats. But it is not true of George W. Bush. He is an adult with an adult's view of the world: realistic, yet not cynical; idealistic about freedom's future, but without conventional multilateralist illusions; steadfast and courageous. George W. Bush is the kind of president Scoop Jackson would have eagerly supported (as he supported Ronald Reagan); I cannot imagine Senator Jackson summoning any enthusiasm for John Kerry, the kind of Democrat who twice denied Scoop the party's presidential nomination. That's another reason I will vote, gratefully, for George W. Bush.

Rebuilding the New Home.

The Republican Party is not a perfect home for Catholics. Its libertarian wing is a cause for concern on the life issues; its corporate wing seems too frequently interested in federal protection and too infrequently attentive to worker re-training. But no political party is ever really "home" to those who take Catholic social doctrine seriously. And the fact of the matter is that, for Catholics like me, the party of Lincoln is a far more comfortable place today than could be imagined forty years ago; moreover, it is an immeasurably more comfortable platform from which to work on the great issues of the day than Michael Moore's party.

Republicans now have a real chance of fashioning a long-term governing majority, built in part on the "new ecumenism" of Catholics and evangelical Protestants. Catholic social doctrine - including those priority life issues - could become an even more important factor in shaping the political philosophy of that new majority than it already is in a Bush White House where staffers and speechwriters already take Catholic social thought seriously. There is no chance of doing this in today's Democratic Party, because the party's leadership and the overwhelmingly majority of its activists are unalterably committed to the pro-abortion agenda, to embryo research (which Senator Kerry has tried to demagogue in a singularly ill-informed and cynical way), and to the utterly un-Catholic concepts of human dignity and freedom that the abortion license and embryo research exemplify.

Catholics struggling today with their "genetic" Democratic political loyalties should remember this: Americans don't just elect a president; we elect a party and its people, who will fill the federal government for years - and the appellate bench for decades. A second Bush Administration will give Catholics an unprecedented opportunity to help create a new governing majority informed by the riches of Catholic social doctrine. That can't be done in the Democratic Party. And that's yet another reason to vote for a good, decent, and brave man, George W. Bush, the Methodist who gets the Catholic vision more than his Catholic opponent.


8 Comments:

Blogger MsGnomer said...

This is awesome! I'm going to send the link to some of my Catholic friends who are thinking of voting for Kerry.

Not only is this a thoughtful article, it is also thought provoking. Thanks!

8:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was a thoughtful article, though it does not address some major concerns people have about Bush's current crusade. Many people thought the war in Iraq, and the subsequent and current killings there, are unjustified. Things in Iraq are getting worse with no clear end it sight- did the writer of this article support the Vietnam War as well?

Bush's major economic policies tend to benefit the priviledged few over the many- he makes no apologies for doing so. His not so successful policies helped to amass an unprecedented national debt and deficit. Should we not be concerned that these failings will need to be paid for by current and future generations to come?

9:45 AM  
Blogger David said...

I think the situation in Iraq is debateable. The mainstream media report that it is worsening, but military bloggers, grunts on the ground there, report otherwise. I do not think we are getting the whole story.

I am curious, what does Weigel's position on the Vietnam war have to do with this? Iraq and Vietnam are very different efforts.

The (Democratic) party line that President Bush's policies only help the rich is old and does not stand on it's own. Yes, the debt, deficits and more importantly, skyrocketing government spending, are concerns. But are they enough to support a pro-abort candidate like Sen Kerry? Me thinks not.

2:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'I think the situation in Iraq is debateable. The mainstream media report that it is worsening, but military bloggers, grunts on the ground there, report otherwise. I do not think we are getting the whole story.'

I agree, we are not getting the whole story- I wonder why? Oh, that's right, the Bush administration has passed laws prohibiting certain information from begin publicized. You know, I've read several military grunts' blogs who say the war in Iraq is going swimmingly. But then the majority of media reporters, other grunts who've returned from there, and even military officers tell us it's kinda scary how badly the situation is deteriorating. It's debatable to those close to Bush; it's not debatable if yer an Iraqi or a soldier fighting in Iraq.



'The (Democratic) party line that President Bush's policies only help the rich is old and does not stand on it's own. Yes, the debt, deficits and more importantly, skyrocketing government spending, are concerns. But are they enough to support a pro-abort candidate like Sen Kerry? Me thinks not.'

Hey dude, our government tells us Bush's poorly planned tax cuts went predominantly to the rich (OMB and CBO). It's not only that Bush has robbed the government to feed the rich, but he's killed alot folk in Iraq under false pretenses. It woulda been better if he woulda admitted when we found out that we killed the wrong people that he was wrong, but instead, he said kllling those people was A-OK because Sadam was a bad man. He didn't even say, 'whoopsie, i done bad'. What's the deal with that?

5:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I object to Weigel's reference to John Kerry as a "fellow Catholic." John Kerry is not MY "fellow Catholic." He is Catholic in name only, and has dropped the predominant markers of a Catholic. He is divorced and remarried (before he had his marriage to Julia Thorne annulled--I'm sure his children are thrilled for that). He is nothing if equivocal on the question of abortion, which is not a "choose if you like" question. The moral wrong of abortion is a doctrinal matter on which there is no middle ground. I believe that the appropriate title for John Kerry, as for all people who call themselves "pro-choice Catholics," is "heretic."

"You don't have to be Catholic to be pro-life, but you do have to be pro-life to be Catholic."

7:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'I believe that the appropriate title for John Kerry, as for all people who call themselves "pro-choice Catholics," is "heretic."'Absolute genius. Burn him, he's a witch! I'd cast my stone, but for the logs in my eyes.

9:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was the war on Iraq justified ? John Kerry's current opinion is that the war was not justified. President Bush , times and again , affirmed that it was justified. I do not believe that any war involving killing people and making any one man miserable is to be justified. As Christians and Catholics , any holy war is unjustifiable. I mean if we worship the One who went like a sheep to the slaughter , and we claim as ours the first 300 years of Christian martyrdom , then there is no war that can be justified. Those who live by the sword , shall die by the sword ( JESUS CHRIST).The key to victory is trust in God , and turning the other cheek. After Jesus died , He rose again. After 300 years of Christian Martyrdom , Christianity defeated the Roman Empire and became its master.

Inspite of all of the above , we are faced with an already-begun war. The threat from Islamic militants have been breeding in the Middle East , and devouring Christian minorities for centuries , yet we turned a deaf ear to those poor minorities. We turned a deaf ear to organizations like the US Copt (www.uscopts.com) and their warnings of the dangers their fellow countrymen are facing in their homelands. We turned a deaf ear , under Clinton's administration , to many others for the sake of support from regimes full of corruptions and are nothing but masqueraded dictatorships in the form of democracies.

US foreign policies have been deemed idiotic by anyone ,who truly understands the Middle East, ever since the 1950's. Blind support for Israel and cooperation with corrupt Arab governments in the Middle East , proved the shortsightedness of the US administrations. The US , if I may say , was indifferent to the lasting ideological disease of Islamic extremism and dictatorship brewing in the Middle East for years , and was mesmerized by the temporary support from corrupt governments ready to do the US dirty work for her , and was constantly blinded by her thirst for Arab Oil.

And whatever man sows , he reaps. The US reaped her ignorance of this area and its permanent ailment.

Now there comes along a President who seemed to understand how this area works , and half of the American populace does not seem to support him. The war is ideological to the greatest extreme , and fear seems to be the only language those Arab governments understand. The best way to scare a band of wolves off , is to kill only one , and all will run away. This is what Bush is doing.

No wonder after the US invaded Iraq , there are less sucide bombers in Israel. No wonder after the US liberated Iraq , Islamic governments grew increasingly tolerant to their minorities. No wonder after the US liberated Iraq , Moslems became on the defensive , rather on the offensive as they always were from the American Mosques' minarets and during Friday's Prayer sermons.

In no time , the US will have a strong , vast , oil-rich ally in the Middle East , but this time , it is not Nasser or Saddam Hussein or any other fanatic communist or pan-Arab or dictator who does the dirty work for us , but a true democracy like Germany , France and Japan. The presence of US forces in the Middle East is tantamount to bring balance in this area , and to progressively overturn the Extremism and corruption in both the societies and the governments. The bulleys cannot continue on as long as the Principal can surgically strike them in a matter of minutes.

The US should've seen the World this way long time ago , because the symptom did not appear causeless , but it has been brewing for years encouraged by the hypocritical indifference of the symbol of Democracy in the World : The United States of America.

Iraq was not linked in anyway directly or indirectly to Al-Qaeda , and none of the hijackers were Iraqis , yet Iraq and Al-Qaeda are ideologically identical. Bush made an example out of an easy-to-reach target and by that achieved stability in the Middle East , and scared the heck out of Bin Laden. It was a genius move , yet regretably without its sacrifices. Iraq does not have to be linked to Al-Qaeda in order for the War to be jusified , yet it was probably the only right thing to do , and the solution to the diseased infectious Middle East.

George W. Bush in that sense protected generations to come from the threat of many 911's by shaking the building from its foundations : By reshaping the ideological foundation of the source of all diseases. The hijackers hit the twin towers from the skies , now the US is shaking their structures from the ground up. George W. Bush looks forward to changing the Middle East , rather than trying to deal with it.

The Middle East is totally depraved , it needs to be born again. A New Birth that was necessary some 50 years ago.

And May God always continue to bless America

9:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was the war on Iraq justified ? John Kerry's current opinion is that the war was not justified. President Bush , times and again , affirmed that it was justified. I do not believe that any war involving killing people and making any one man miserable is to be justified. As Christians and Catholics , any holy war is unjustifiable. I mean if we worship the One who went like a sheep to the slaughter , and we claim as ours the first 300 years of Christian martyrdom , then there is no war that can be justified. Those who live by the sword , shall die by the sword ( JESUS CHRIST).The key to victory is trust in God , and turning the other cheek. After Jesus died , He rose again. After 300 years of Christian Martyrdom , Christianity defeated the Roman Empire and became its master.

Inspite of all of the above , we are faced with an already-begun war. The threat from Islamic militants have been breeding in the Middle East , and devouring Christian minorities for centuries , yet we turned a deaf ear to those poor minorities. We turned a deaf ear to organizations like the US Copt (www.uscopts.com) and their warnings of the dangers their fellow countrymen are facing in their homelands. We turned a deaf ear , under Clinton's administration , to many others for the sake of support from regimes full of corruptions and are nothing but masqueraded dictatorships in the form of democracies.

US foreign policies have been deemed idiotic by anyone ,who truly understands the Middle East, ever since the 1950's. Blind support for Israel and cooperation with corrupt Arab governments in the Middle East , proved the shortsightedness of the US administrations. The US , if I may say , was indifferent to the lasting ideological disease of Islamic extremism and dictatorship brewing in the Middle East for years , and was mesmerized by the temporary support from corrupt governments ready to do the US dirty work for her , and was constantly blinded by her thirst for Arab Oil.

And whatever man sows , he reaps. The US reaped her ignorance of this area and its permanent ailment.

Now there comes along a President who seemed to understand how this area works , and half of the American populace does not seem to support him. The war is ideological to the greatest extreme , and fear seems to be the only language those Arab governments understand. The best way to scare a band of wolves off , is to kill only one , and all will run away. This is what Bush is doing.

No wonder after the US invaded Iraq , there are less sucide bombers in Israel. No wonder after the US liberated Iraq , Islamic governments grew increasingly tolerant to their minorities. No wonder after the US liberated Iraq , Moslems became on the defensive , rather on the offensive as they always were from the American Mosques' minarets and during Friday's Prayer sermons.

In no time , the US will have a strong , vast , oil-rich ally in the Middle East , but this time , it is not Nasser or Saddam Hussein or any other fanatic communist or pan-Arab or dictator who does the dirty work for us , but a true democracy like Germany , France and Japan. The presence of US forces in the Middle East is tantamount to bring balance in this area , and to progressively overturn the Extremism and corruption in both the societies and the governments. The bulleys cannot continue on as long as the Principal can surgically strike them in a matter of minutes.

The US should've seen the World this way long time ago , because the symptom did not appear causeless , but it has been brewing for years encouraged by the hypocritical indifference of the symbol of Democracy in the World : The United States of America.

Iraq was not linked in anyway directly or indirectly to Al-Qaeda , and none of the hijackers were Iraqis , yet Iraq and Al-Qaeda are ideologically identical. Bush made an example out of an easy-to-reach target and by that achieved stability in the Middle East , and scared the heck out of Bin Laden. It was a genius move , yet regretably without its sacrifices. Iraq does not have to be linked to Al-Qaeda in order for the War to be jusified , yet it was probably the only right thing to do , and the solution to the diseased infectious Middle East.

George W. Bush in that sense protected generations to come from the threat of many 911's by shaking the building from its foundations : By reshaping the ideological foundation of the source of all diseases. The hijackers hit the twin towers from the skies , now the US is shaking their structures from the ground up. George W. Bush looks forward to changing the Middle East , rather than trying to deal with it.

The Middle East is totally depraved , it needs to be born again. A New Birth that was necessary some 50 years ago.

And May God always continue to bless America

9:25 PM  

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