Time For Catholics to Leave the Democrats?

The Humanae Vitae Schism

Now that the election is over, the post-game analysis and forecasts for the coming sessions will occupy the media for at least the next week or so. It’s also a good time to consider whether it makes sense for faithful Catholics to remain tied to the Democrat Party.

Catholicism is the largest single religious communion in the United States; we number between one-fifth and one-quarter of the population. Being so large a bloc, if we voted as consistently as do black Protestants, we would have a tremendous influence on public policy: we would not necessarily be able to impose what laws we wish, but we would be in a far better position to persuade the rest of the nation to go along.

However, the political amity that my colleague, Dr. Denise Hunnell, so well described in “Elections and Eternity” probably could be best described as the remnants of a temporary unity, brought on by the shared experiences of our political leaders in the Great Depression and World War II. The tension of subtly shifting values was manifesting itself even in the 1950s, and it finally erupted in the riots, protests, and violence that scarred the “Vietnam era”. Today, the “conservative Democrat” and the “liberal Republican” are mere memories, even oxymorons.

The explosion, when it came, functionally split the Church in America in half. The split was further polarized when Ven. Paul VI issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae; so certain had so many people been that the teaching on contraception would be changed that, when the pope forcefully restated it, the shocked and disillusioned abandoned the pews; weekly Mass attendance fell below 50% almost overnight. Even today, the “cultural” or “Christmas and Easter” Catholics are more likely to be liberal in their politics, while those who are highly active in their parishes are more likely to be conservative.

The Democrat Party Isn’t Dead Yet

At one time, if you were a Catholic, you were most likely a Democrat, especially if you were Irish. One old joke has a little old Irish lady, upon being informed that her congressman has “become a Raypublican”, exclaim, “Sure, he never has! Wasn’t I after seeing him in church last Sunday?”

The recent election shows that the demographic hammerlock the Democrat Party has had on Catholic votes for a century and a half is finally spent: voting was pretty much evenly split, with a majority of men voting Republican but a majority of women voting Democrat. If nothing else, the midterms demonstrated clearly that the Dems can no longer count on the Catholic bloc to pull them through for Congressional dominance.

But to say that the Dems have lost control of the Catholic bloc is not to say that the GOP has gained it. Rather, Catholics are now more of a true “swing vote” than ever, unlike black Protestants, who still vote overwhelmingly Democrat.

More to the point, as Brandon McGinley argues in First Things, the midterms were a slap in the Democrats’ face — but only a slap; while the American people may have become disenchanted with the outgoing crop of Democrat politicians, it doesn’t follow that they’ve fallen out of love with the Democrat ethos. One thing I note is that those who voted Democrat were more likely than those who voted Republican to self-identify as “moderate”. Indeed, the Democrats’ emphasis on concern for the needy, on social justice, and on workers’ rights still appeal to orthodox Catholics.

The Party of Death

The first horn of the dilemma, as I see it, is that when the Democrats shifted their base to include the various civil rights movements during the Vietnam era, they couldn’t help but take on campus radicals and the academic left — largely secular materialists who were heavily influenced by “progressive” and Marxist/socialist thought — as part of the bundle. This bloc has not only grown to become the party leadership and intellectual base but has become more and more openly hostile to the Catholic Church, only willing to suffer those whom they hope can “reform” the Church in America into a virtual party organ.

It’s common to say the party’s adoption of the pro-abortion plank in its platform during the 1972 convention allowed the “culture of death” to take over. On the contrary, that door had already been opened by the Supreme Court, when the justices transformed artificial birth control from an option into a “right” in Griswold v. Connecticut (1967) and Eisenstadt v. Baird (1971). Acceptance of abortion can find no traction where acceptance of contraception hasn’t already paved the ground.

Certainly Catholics are more likely to vote for a Democratic candidate if s/he is pro-life; after the elections, the Coalition of Pro-Life Democrats pushed an open letter to the DNC arguing that the party would continue to lose 21 million or more votes every cycle so long as the platform insists on a right to abort. However, the DNA of the party has changed since ’72, and the “right to choose” is no longer a pragmatic concession but a dogma of liberal faith.

The Party of the Wealthy

This leaves the other horn of the dilemma: The Republicans are generally “pro-life” to the extent that they are against abortion, euthanasia, and assisted suicide; and “pro-family” to the extent that they are against gay marriage. Moreover, their core constituency demands that they defend religious rights. Beyond that, there’s not much to attract an orthodox Catholic who “adheres with religious assent” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 892; cf. Lumen Gentium 25) to the full social doctrine of the Church.

If the Democrat Party embraces a theory of Homo sexualis in which reproduction is deemed irrelevant, if not abhorrent, the GOP embraces a theory of Homo oeconomicus in which, as has been pithily said, “the real world is often a special case.”

It’s true that the left has occasionally depended on exploiting envy of the rich to incite class warfare. It’s equally true, however, that the right places too much trust in the integrity — or at least the self-interest — of the rich; and invests faith in blind, impersonal market forces as a substitute for communal action on behalf of the poor, the sick and the dispossessed. You don’t have to study the economic data for very long before the “rising tide” cliché proves to be empty and misleading.

Becoming Moderate Republicans

Nevertheless, of the two options, the Republican Party offers the best prospects for faithful Catholics to make their presence felt. Catholic Republicans such as Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and former Sen. Rick Santorum are beginning to point the way to a “blue-collar conservativism” that seeks to rebuild the middle class and stop “obsessing over zeroes on the budget spreadsheet”. Moreover, there’s a crying need for a moderate Republicanism, to rebuild a communitarian ethic that offsets the shrill, stingy individualism of the Tea Party and the naked, self-congratulatory wealth-worship of the objectivists, to reach across the aisles to work with moderate Democrats on issues of shared concern.

I submit that orthodox Catholics, applying intelligently and respectfully the social doctrine of the Church, can recreate that moderate Republicanism. I submit that orthodox Catholics can create and support an attractive vision of the future from the reunion of traditional Christian values with traditional American values — a real future, not simply an iteration of an idealized past.

Moreover, I submit that we must create that moderate Republicanism to maintain our presence in the public square. For we are no longer welcome inside the Democrat big tent; and no other party tent is congenial.

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18 thoughts on “Time For Catholics to Leave the Democrats?”

  1. It is wrong to identify voters to any party. Years ago it was more true but those people have died and their offspring do not adhere to a party, just the issues.
    Now, if the “republicans” -and they ran on that party because we don’t have a good one to represent moral people- and the republican party is the best to represent them- certainly not the democrat party since the mafia took them over!!! if the “republicans” will not let anything get in their way to bring back morality to this nation they will be voted in again. Only then, If not anyone running on the rep party will be voted out. They have had their chance before to repeal Roe vs Wade, privatize social security, bring us a Fair Tax to oust the IRS, sell Gov bldgs and land as Reagan did, reduce out taxes etc.etc.. But it they waste the time they have to DO something, they will lose again.

  2. If one looks at the money spent on wars when either party is in power and then one looks at the legality of murder in the womb (it is allowed no matter which party is in control), it is easy to discern that only on party rules. In order to change things we must refuse to vote and in doing so, this is a vote against the current ruling class. Over 50% of the country does not vote, so they are the real majority.

    1. Senators, Representatives, President, VP, SCt justices, judges for life, etc, democrats and republicans, are our aristocracy. But some GOP aristocrats truly are prolife. It may be a mortal sin to vote for some GOP candidates, but it is a mortal sin for a person with a wellformed conscience to vote for any Democrat. Guy McClung, San Antonio

  3. Stop the war on Christianity!

    any catholic who has voted for the demon-crat party during the last 40 years..the party of murdering the child in the womb and now the party that elevates sodomite unions to a man-woman marriage…surely is going to purgatory first…if they make it that far!

  4. It sounds like what you are advocating is what many think is the missing third party that is needed to avoid the two extremes of the existing two parties. I don’t have much hope of this party arriving as a reform of either the Dem or GOP. It must be created as its own entity, free of the skeletons and alliances of the Dems and GOP.

    1. The problem with third parties in the American system is that they inevitably end up helping the side they least resemble. Thus, a more liberal candidate like Ralph Nader pushed George W. Bush over the top in Florida, while a more conservative candidate like Ross Perot was basically responsible for Clinton defeating the first Bush. So a vote for a third party candidate is in effect a vote against the very positions you agree with.

      Unless something drastically changes in our election laws, especially the financing laws (and don’t count on any help from the Supreme Court on this!), a third party in the USA will always be a non-starter.

  5. The worst possible thing (politically, that is) would be for the Church to identify with a specific political party – no matter which one it is. We are the CATHOLIC Church, not some special interest group.

    1. The Church may not identify with any particular party, but it should proclaim that, as AB Burke said, the Dem Party is the Party Of Death. Without telling any of the faithful for whom to vote, the shepherds, the bishops and the pastors and the priests, can tell the faithful that one who votes for a Democrat, if one has a wellformed conscience ie they know the facts and they know the history and they know the promises and they know the platform, such a voter necessarily has the intention to see to it that babies are aborted, black babies are aborted because they are black, Hispanic babies are aborted because they are Hispanic, girl babies are aobrted because they are girls, and the Democrat RETA Policy [Racial Eugenic Targeted Abortion] is effected across the nation via the Party Of Death’s RETA enforcement busine$s, Planned Parenthood. Such a vote, the voters should be told, is a mortal sin. But for RETA, there would be 17,000,000 more black voters and 11,000,000 more Hispanic voters. Guy McClung, San Antonio

  6. Pingback: Women: Working versus Staying At Home - BigPulpit.com

    1. I have not voted for Democratic Party candidates, starting in the 2010 election…


      Good. Catholics must withdraw their generation-after-generation blind support of the party of slavery, Jim Crow, abortion, and the sham of same sex marriages.

      …the platform of the Republican Party, especially when it comes to fiscal and foreign policy, disgusts me…

      Then you’re too easily disgusted by the wrong things. Nowhere in Scripture are we told to render the poor unto Caesar. Rather Jesus instructed, “If you would be perfect, sell all you have, give to the poor, and come follow Me.” (emphasis added to emphasize the portion missed by preachers of Catholic Social Gospel)

      Now that you’ve been shown to be mistaken about fiscal policy and Christ’s teaching (a bishop has stuck up for Paul Ryan, please let us know which bishop publicly calls your politics Christian), you really should question your beliefs about foreign policy. Pacifism is not Christian.

  7. When are people going to wake up and realize the it doesn’t matter what party is in “power”? The second the “democrats” declared themselves in favor of abortion, anyone calling themselves “Catholic” should have RUN away and never looked back. The Republicans are no different, they pay lip service to being “pro-life”, but don’t think twice about supporting abortion when they think it will “help” them politically. How many examples do people need to get it? When Rick Santorum, a Republican, appeared on EWTN’s The World Over for an interview talking about how “Catholic” & how “pro-life” he was, and then not even 30 days later he was out campaigning for the re-election of Arlen Specter, one of the most rabid pro-aborts in Congress before he died, that tells me all all I need to to know about what Santorum was really all about. And he is NOT the only one. When are people going to realize that politicians are politicians first and foremost.

    1. It’s so obvious, Shawn. Raymond Arroyo is just another talking head. All politicians are the
      same when it comes to getting others out to vote – for them.

    2. When are people going to wake up and realize the it doesn’t matter what party is in “power”?
      –Shawn Albert

      Answer: When it is true. Until then, Shawn, here’s your assignment. Compare and contrast the Hyde Amendment versus the Obamacare abortion mandate.

  8. Thanks, Jeff. Actually, I didn’t intend to make a blanket indictment of the rich, but rather to point out that the rich aren’t inherently trustworthy simply for being rich, any more than the poor are inherently lazy morons for being poor. I don’t believe the rich are any more subject to cupidity than the rest of us are. But corporate execs, who now make up a very big chunk of the 1%, have potential to do serious economic damage with just a few bad calls or failed risks — forget about out-and-out lawbreaking.

  9. Anthony, I agree with almost all of what you are saying. But let me add some qualification to the thinking about the rich that governs modern political rhetoric.

    Yes, you are right that the “rising tide” economic metaphor doesn’t hold water. I agree with you as a matter of empirical fact. But to your comments I would add that this unfortunate fact is unfairly and unjustly used as a blanket indictment of all the rich.

    I would say that somewhere in the 1990s, the “rich” became split into two segments: the “rich” and the “super rich.”

    The “millionaire next door” so to speak, is not an evil person. He doesn’t have enough to make all boats rise, but I can tell you that these “rich” give away vast amounts of their money to very holy causes. People don’t know it because the ones who give so much of their time and treasure are not the types to tell the world what they have done. They give silently and without fanfare.

    Now to the super-rich. This is an entirely different culture, with a completely different psychology. The super-rich want their names on the gifts they give. They will show contempt for the “greed” of rich people like themselves, while they shift their financial assets offshore. The super rich are as different from the actual rich as night is from day.

    The actual rich, the good and decent people with the blessing of wealth, really do raise the tides, but the ocean being as big as it is, it’s hard to quantify the lift. The reach of the mere rich is far more limited than that of the super-rich. These ordinary rich folks continue to do their jobs, and they do their best to avoid attention while graciously giving a money, time, and talent to make life better for those who suffer.

    I guess I’m adding to your very accurate analysis of where the democrat party went wrong is to add that part of their error was to demonize a very large group of holy and decent people and make it socially acceptable to hate them.

    1. Thanks, Jeff. Actually, I didn’t intend to make a blanket indictment of the rich, but rather to point out that the rich aren’t inherently trustworthy simply for being rich, any more than the poor are inherently lazy morons for being poor. I don’t believe the rich are any more subject to cupidity than the rest of us are. But corporate execs, who now make up a very big chunk of the 1%, have potential to do serious economic damage with just a few bad calls or failed risks — forget about out-and-out lawbreaking. Beyond that, I don’t think it’s wrong to be rich, or that we need to portray them as thoroughly rotten and greedy.

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