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Will New Voters Refashion the Democratic Party?
BY ANGELO MATERA
the blogosphere, in angry posts and comments, pro-life Catholics are venting
their frustration over Barack Obama’s easy victory over John McCain.
The radical pro-abortion candidate
won the presidential election with the support of 55% of Catholics, despite an
urgent last-minute pro-life appeal by a significant number of bishops.
Yet, for faithful Catholics, there’s
a silver lining to Obama’s victory.
In California, the same voting blocs
that swept Obama into office — blacks and Latinos — also voted solidly in favor
of Proposition 8, the successful ballot initiative that banned homosexual
“marriage.” (See related front-page story.)
What does this mean? It confirms
that Obama won despite — not because of — his social liberalism (Remember,
“It’s the economy, stupid?”) and that there’s a large, untapped constituency of
social conservatives within the Democratic Party just waiting to be organized
on life and family issues and the full range of Catholic social teaching.
The “one-party” pro-life political
strategy of the past 35 years (since the Roe v. Wade decision)
that has identified the pro-life cause with the Republican Party and its
increasingly secular, pro-war political ideology must be abandoned.
What’s needed is a new pro-life
politics for the future that would explicitly open up a “second front” in the
abortion battle within the Democratic Party.
I could go further and argue that
the Democratic Party, with its stated emphasis on “we” over “me” (with the
glaring exception of issues of personal morality) is the natural home for many
pro-life, pro-family voters, just as it was during FDR’s New Deal, a program
that was heavily influenced by the Catholic Church.
But you don’t have to accept that
argument to agree that a two-party strategy makes political sense for the
pro-life movement, if only so pro-life Catholics of either political stripe can
have a home of their own.
Let’s face it. A one-party strategy
hasn’t worked. It leaves the pro-life movement in the political wilderness when
Republicans are out of favor, as they were this year due to the backlash
against the Iraq War and the financial crisis, and as they were in 1992 and
1996 during Bill Clinton’s reign.
It’s also unjust. Democratic-leaning
Catholics shouldn’t be forced to choose between their pro-life and social
justice convictions every four years. The one-party strategy leaves a good
chunk of faithful Catholics without an outlet for expressing their faith fully
in the public square.
What I’m proposing is organizing a
movement within the Democratic Party that is genuinely pro-life and pro-family,
that appeals to Catholics, other Christians and all people of good will, on the
basis of our common, natural reason, in support of a consistent ethic of life,
the dignity of the human person and the common good.
Its ideas would be drawn from
Catholic moral and social teaching on issues such as abortion, marriage, embryonic
stem-cell research, cloning, euthanasia, as well as policies concerning the
economy, the environment, foreign relations and more.
Building a movement within the
Democratic Party that is genuinely informed by Catholic principles might seem
far-fetched. It certainly goes beyond the more limited approach of worthwhile
groups such as Democrats for Life and far beyond the questionable methods of
liberal activist groups such as Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. But the
political research indicates that there is a constituency for these ideas.
In the case of Proposition 8, 70% of
blacks and 53% of Latinos voted in favor of banning homosexual “marriage” —
substantially better than other groups.
More important, survey results from
the 2004 Democratic Convention showed that the attitudes and values of the
Democratic Party leadership are much more liberal than the party’s rank and
file on social issues such as abortion, sex education and freedom of religion.
In other words, the Democratic
leadership is out of touch with their followers.
As Mark Stricherz has shown in his
book Why the Democratic Party Is Blue, changes
in the party’s nominating rules in 1972 have ensured that party leaders would
be drawn from the more affluent, elitist — and liberal — sectors of society and
be unreflective of the party’s grassroots, which value traditional values and
economic security. (The other part of the story is how the Democratic Party has
failed to protect the working and middle classes against a rapacious financial
class. But that’s another story.)
Of course, when you talk about power
in our society, it usually leads to money, which is the real reason that
pro-abortion, pro-homosexual “marriage” forces hold sway over the Democrats.
The so-called “Limousine Liberal”
set that arose during the radical ’60s and has dominated ever since — Hollywood
celebrities, homosexual activists, upper-middle class feminists and
pro-abortion ideologues, even culturally liberal hedge fund executives —
control the party through their contributions. That’s the main reason
traditional values have been expunged from the party.
have been many organizations that have arisen over the years within each party
to promote specific points of view. One successful example was the Democratic
Leadership Council (DLC), a group devoted to promoting more fiscally
conservative policies within that party. In the ’90s, the DLC claimed Bill
Clinton as a standard-bearer.
Similarly, one or more groups
devoted to identifying, training, developing, and running candidates in both
parties who are devoted to the full range of Catholic social teaching should be
launched, with funding adequate to the task. It would take another article to
describe the nuts and bolts of such a group. But the operational models exist;
all it would take is the will and the money to make it happen.
But there is even more at stake:
While in the short run it makes sense to exploit the gap between the more
tradition-minded minority and ethnic grassroots of the Democratic Party, and
the more affluent, educated and liberal elites, in the long run, it will be
necessary to convert the elites, as well.
Obama won large majorities of young
and highly educated voters. These two voting blocs represent the future, and to
reach them, the Church’s long-term project, the New Evangelization, must find a
way to make clear the underlying ethical principles that undergird Catholic
moral teachings, and communicate them in ways that will appeal to people who
are liberal, who are most concerned — at least on the surface — about human
Right now the Catholic “culture of
life” strategy has been to ally with Bible Christians, who have a visceral and
simple attraction to life and family issues.
They are an important ally in the
But their approach is limited, often
relying on harsh language about eternal damnation that fails to distinguish the
sinner from the sin. They aren’t good at articulating the ethical reasoning
behind the moral law, which is based on love and human dignity.
Pope John Paul II’s theology of the
body is one example of how the Church has developed new insights that go far
beyond “dos” and “don’ts” to reveal the beauty and dignity of marriage. This is
missing from most current debates.
As Pope Benedict XVI has said, the
Church must do a much better job bridging the gap between faith and culture.
Until that’s done, the most educated
and creative sectors of society will look to secular idealists like Barack
Obama to lead them to earthly salvation. The populace is dissatisfied, and they
are yearning for a new public philosophy. The country has clearly responded to
Barack Obama’s call for all citizens to work for the common good, in a spirit
of hope and unity.
There is something universal
(small-c “catholic”) about his approach, his manner of speaking and reasoning.
Obama never vents and always appeals to our better natures.
With the collapse of every secular
ideology in the 20th century — especially communism — and now with the crisis
in free-market capitalism in the 21st century, there is a vacuum, and Obama is
filling it. But his progressive humanitarianism is flawed; it lacks a vertical
dimension. Without a transcendent anchor, the contradictions of Obama’s secular
vision, especially the failure to respect life from conception to natural
death, and its failure to fully respect the human person, will cause it to
At that point, we can only guess
what new secular ideology will arise to take its place.
All the more reason for the Church
to redouble its efforts to reach those groups that will determine the future of
our culture. In the short run, that means figuring out how to make a place for
itself in the Democratic Party.
Matera is editor
Godspy in New York.