Catholic Vote

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After a spiritless first debate and feeling the need to energize his conservative base, President Bush used the anti-Catholic card to accuse Senator John Kerry of wanting to turn control of American foreign policy over to France. France has replaced the Pope as the new code word for anti-Catholicism in America.

Southern conservatives are running two campaigns. Campaign one includes the dog and pony show at the Republican National Convention in New York City that featured an array of Catholic speakers, including former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Gov. George Pataki of New York, and even Edward Cardinal Egan, Archbishop of New York, for the invocation.

Campaign two is the one being run by Southern conservatives underneath the radar in the South, Midwest, and West. The basic appeal here is that America should be controlled by people who represent the fundamentalist evangelical strain of Protestantism. The purpose is to scare conservatives and/or fundamentalist Protestants into thinking that Kerry, a Catholic, is a threat to their way of life and to society.

As Bush and Southern conservatives well know, President Franklin D. Roosevelt consulted and corresponded with Winston Churchill of Great Britain and Charles de Gaulle of the Free French resistance movement during World War II. The Allies had some disagreements but coordinated efforts. Roosevelt still did what he felt was best for America, and the war was won.

While appealing to Catholics on social issues like abortion and traditional family values, Southern conservatives are trying to scare evangelical Christians in states like Ohio, Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Colorado, West Virginia, Maine, New Hampshire, Virginia, New Mexico, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Indiana. The other code word that conservatives usually use is immigration, meaning too many Catholics are entering this country from Mexico and Latin America.

If Southern conservatives can pull off this duplicitous two-phase campaign, then Bush will get both a percentage of the Catholic vote and anti-Catholic vote. This issue came up during the 2000 campaign when Bush spoke at Bob Jones University, which once called the Catholic Church a “satanic cult.” The defense in 2000 was that no offense was intended, especially since Bush’s brother, Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, is married to a Catholic and converted to Catholicism. But Bush’s opponent in 2000, Al Gore, wasn’t Catholic, so an anti-Catholic appeal wasn’t as necessary. When Southern conservatives have their backs to the wall, they are willing to pull out all stops. We saw what they did to Bill Clinton as president and Max Cleland as senator from Georgia.

The issue has already surfaced in West Virginia, where Republican campaign literature featured a picture of the Bible with the word “banned.” We could interpret this several ways, but one of the appeals is that a Catholic running the country would be a threat to the beliefs held by conservative Christians. On a campaign stop in West Virginia, Sen. John Edwards, Kerry’s running mate, said, “I don’t think faith should be used to divide us.” Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia denounced the Republican campaign literature.

The issue also surfaced when George Mason University in Virginia canceled a speech by Michael Moore, director of “Fahrenheit 9/11” and a Catholic, scheduled for five days before the election. Moore’s film questions the Bush family’s financial connections with Saudi oil interests and Osama bin Laden’s family, an issue the national media has chosen not to investigate.

Southern conservatives have always used Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, a Catholic, as the whipping boy for all the alleged sins of liberalism. Most Southern politicians don’t run against Catholics, however, so the issue of a Catholic running the country has been relatively latent since John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960.

The Catholic News Service dealt with the issue of a Catholic running for president in April, noting that in 1960: “The Southern Baptist Convention unanimously passed a resolution voicing doubts that Kennedy or any Catholic should be president. Another statement-signed by 150 Protestant ministers and laymen headed by the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale-said a Catholic president would be ‘under extreme pressure from the hierarchy of the Church” to align U.S. foreign policy with that of the Vatican (with reference to a 2003 book by Thomas Maier titled “The Kennedys: America’s Emerald Kings.”).

As John F. Kennedy was attacked as a Catholic who would turn American foreign policy over to the Vatican in 1960, so Kerry is being accused in 2004 of wanting to give France (Catholic but also secular) a veto over American foreign policy.

What has changed since 1960 and what makes the anti-Catholic card particularly offensive is that Catholics have been a major factor in the Republican Party’s rise to power since 1972. Mark Shields, moderator of CNN’s “The Capital Gang,” pointed out in 2002: “Long gone are elections like the Democratic victories of 1960 and 1964, when three out of four Catholics voted for co-religionist John F. Kennedy and then nearly four out of five Catholics backed Baptist Lyndon B. Johnson. Republican Ronald Reagan twice carried the Catholic vote, as did George H. W. Bush in 1988. Democrat Bill Clinton twice won the Catholic vote. The winning candidate had carried the Catholic vote in every presidential election since 1972 until two years ago, when Democrat Al Gore won a majority of Catholics against George W. Bush. Catholic ties to the Democratic Party have been weakened, but they have not been replaced by strengthened ties to the GOP.”

Catholics in recent presidential elections reportedly voted: 49% Gore and 47% Bush in 2000; 53% Clinton and 37% Dole in 1996; and 52% Bush and 47% Dukakis in1988. The Catholic vote split during the last 40 years because of the anti-Catholicism of the far left, which blamed urban Catholic political machines in the North for most of the inequality in society. The Daley delegation from Chicago was locked out of the 1972 Democratic National Convention, and the Democratic Party hasn’t recovered since then.

Since Catholics are less than 25 percent of the population, it was more than a surprise to be blamed for society’s social problems. Southern conservatives said we were too liberal, and the far left said were weren’t liberal enough. Catholics don’t control the media in this country, so the only way to respond was by voting.

The Catholic vote is important because Catholics are concentrated in some key states: California, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Nevada, Louisiana, and Rhode Island. These 14 states have more than 250 electoral votes. Even so, Protestants are the majority in almost all of these states. The only way anything gets done in this country is when Catholics and Protestants work together.

Kerry deserves better than having the anti-Catholic card used against him. He hasn’t made any blatant religious appeals to Catholics. Kerry represents what many of us were taught. Believe in God, live a decent life, but don’t wear your religion on your sleeve. Kerry’s father was Catholic. His mother was Episcopalian, and a brother converted to Judaism. As a result, Kerry is conversant with the Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish religions. Since he believes in America having strong alliances with other countries, he won’t be carrying the baggage of bigotry when dealing with Muslim nations or nations with Eastern and African religions.

Of course, the Bush campaign and Southern conservatives will deny that they are appealing to both the Catholic and anti-Catholic vote in this country. That is to be expected. The important question is this. How should Catholics respond? We have three choices:1. Ignore it and don’t vote.2. Pretend or hope it isn’t happening and vote for Bush.3. Vote for Kerry and moderate Democrats for Congress and work to make the Democratic Party a centrist party where we can easily fight off attacks from the far right and far left.