Religion & Politics: CatholicVote.org Misses The Mark
by Kevin Sullivan | Georgetown University
Being both a political junkie and a staunch Roman Catholic, a somewhat dangerous combination, I had a great interest in following CatholicVote.org. At first, the idea seemed to have great potential. An advocacy organization to unite the suddenly revived “Catholic vote,” a demographic that used to have great sway during the age of immigration in the early 1900s through the 1950s. But on further thought, the concept of “American Catholic” presented is not very unified at all.
With assimilation, the Catholic immigrant population became just as strong a part of the American population as the Anglo-Saxon Protestants that preceded them. Soon the “Catholic vote” had disseminated among various social issues, usually along lines of social welfare and conservative social views on abortion and the family. The polarity within the American Catholic Church grew right along the lines of the national political sphere, as the Democratic Party gave in to radical feminism and tossed aside the blue-collar Catholic vote that once safeguarded the moral foundations of the American left.
Now, Catholics are forced to choose between a Democratic Party that is waging open-war on the religious freedom of the Catholic Church and which pursues abortion rights religiously (pun intended) and the Grand Old Party, which seeks war and the alienation of the Catholic working family just as religiously.
CatholicVote.org seeks to resuscitate that Catholic vote in a time when it is sorely needed. It has positions on all the important issues of the day, has it’s own super PAC (a necessity in this day and age), a well-populated blog, and endorsements. It has launched two well-received advertisements, brought a large number of politically active-Catholics into conversation on important issues, and disseminated information on highly relevant legislation moving through Congress. Even more importantly, it will be a center for coordinating activism on the religious liberty issue.
CatholicVote.org also seeks to reestablish the Catholic vote in a time when it is actually up for grabs. The Obama administration has sorely miscalculated on its HHS mandate move that has done more to damage separation of Church and state than any other executive action. By imposing its own agenda on the institutions of the Church, the mandate has made many Catholics that voted for President Obama’s social platform and bought into the shady delivering of Obamacare wary of his next move. The Catholic bishops, many previously supporting the President and some of his reforms, have united in opposition at the threat of a government that can force a religion to violate its own conscience even while charitably serving the larger population.
But for all this seeking, CatholicVote.org unfortunately misses the mark. Now granted, “Catholic” means universal, and a political platform that takes into account the grand array of Catholic social doctrine and teaching is nearly impossible. CatholicVote.org therefore attempted to apply those aspects of Roman Catholicism that are most relevant to our larger issues in the United States. These ended up being the right to life, subsidiarity, marriage and family, and religious freedom. However, choosing these issues should not have led to the rapid and wholehearted endorsement of Rick Santorum as the “Catholic vote candidate for President.” It is clear that his Roman Catholic faith pushed him easily into this endorsement, but Newt Gingrich is also “Catholic” and Ron Paul is a Protestant of great personal faith. The quick jump to endorse Rick Santorum represented, to me, the shortcoming of this idea of uniting the Catholic vote.
If the American Catholic community cannot rally around a person that best represents the mission of Catholicism — the advancement of the message and call of Jesus Christ — then there is no point in the Catholic vote, or no reason to accept it as legitimate at least. The Catholic vote shouldn’t be about electing Catholics who hold up single issues as the reason they best represent the Church. It should be about electing candidates — regardless of their own personal faith — who best represent the universality, or “catholicism” if you will, of the American church. Noticeably absent from CatholicVote.org were any explanations of how Rick Santorum fits into the incredibly valuable and rich “just war theory,” or even of subsidiarity — the idea that decisions and actions should be carried out at the level of bureaucracy closest to the lay flock that the hierarchy serves.
This shows why bringing the Catholic vote back will not be as easy as some claim, even if the President is in open war against the largest and — human service-wise — most important institution of faith in the United States. My suggestion? CatholicVote.org should not give candidate endorsements. No candidate will best fit into the calls of the Church as far as serving the political and social world. Instead, CatholicVote.org should refocus its mission on educating American Catholics on important issues and legislation, judicial rulings, and executive answers. Armed with this united source of information — as opposed to a divided source of endorsements — we might truly see the rich diversity of Catholic social teaching embodied in our great nation, which so sorely needs a moral answer to its problems that are fundamentally problems of morality.
If properly approached, the Catholic vote could restore the bi-partisanship of blue-dog democrats and the older Republican Party (before the neoconservatives hijacked the GOP). That is the bi-partisanship that once safeguarded American liberty and promoted truly American values of hard work, community, charity and a common experience.Kevin Sullivan is a NGJ 'News and Politics' Editor and a rising Junior at Georgetown University, where he is majoring in International Political Economy.