There are two traps Catholics can fall into at election time.

Discouragement had the upper hand before the election. That was when Catholics were busy trading information about the records of the two candidates.

Sen. Kerry had a record of opposing the Church on four of the five “non-negotiable” Catholic issues of abortion, euthanasia, cloning, embryonic stem-cell research and homosexual marriage. President Bush, for all his faults, had a record of supporting the Catholic position on each of these.

It was therefore deeply discouraging to watch Bush suffer a barrage of invective and ridicule. The leading lights of academia pronounced him a dunce, Hollywood stars and a propaganda documentary smeared him as wicked, and nearly every major media outlet followed CBS in “exposing” him as a draft shirker using forged memos.

It was discouraging because we had the sense that one reason so many people hated Bush was that he arrived at unpopular moral conclusions because of his faith. We do the same thing.

Great damage was done. We all know people who were convinced by media smears or cowed by media sneers. If it wasn't for the variety of new news sources, including Internet and radio (and alternative newspapers such as the Register), the elite opinion-makers of the world might have convinced even more people to reject the president's policies.

It was all very discouraging indeed — until Bush won, decisively. As you might expect, the size and scope his victory are being downplayed by the same people who maligned him before.

In fact, Bush was elected by the most united electorate in more than a decade. It was disunited in 1992, when Bill Clinton won the presidency with 43% of the vote against two opponents and his party lost control of Congress two years later. It was still disunited in 1998, when Clinton won re-election with only 49% of the vote. In 2000, Bush won with just 48%.

But this year, Bush won with 51% of the vote — a 4 million-vote margin — while increasing his party's majority and seeing his opposition leader in the Senate defeated. Look at the map on the opposite page — the counties the President won stretch unbroken from coast to coast, and from the borders of Canada to the borders of Mexico.

That map shows there's no reason for discouragement.

But when the dam of discouragement breaks, a flood of wishful thinking may be the first thing to follow. There's a mighty temptation to think that the enormous swath of “red” counties filling up most of the country means America is united on the Catholic side of moral issues.

But Republicanism is a far cry from Catholicism, and Bush is far from perfect. And don't forget that, in this election, more people voted for the nation's most pro-abortion senator than voted for Ronald Reagan in 1988. Far from lining up behind Bush on the “non-negotiable” Catholic issues, even while they elected him, the majority of Americans in some polls still think the country is headed in the wrong direction and don't approve of the job the president is doing.

And assuming Bush appoints pro-life Supreme Court justices, the GOP doesn't have the filibuster-proof majority it would need to confirm them — so even uglier attacks on our beliefs are probably on the way.

So wishful thinking is no good, either. Instead, we should take encouragement from the election, and redouble our efforts to convince others about the sanctity of life and the importance of the family.

Think of the map on the opposite page as a guide to where Catholic evangelization is most needed. If the map is polarized, it's metro vs. rural — cultural sophisticates vs. plain folks.

If we're accustomed to the culture of life being the quiet majority while its opponents get the limelight, we should rethink that attitude. Opinion leaders who oppose pro-family positions have been eating away at the quiet majority for decades. They will continue to do so as long as anti-religious people keep their near-monopoly on the organs of opinion.

Frankly, we see no reason Catholics and other religious believers should cede that territory.

Catholics need to be more savvy in the next four years. Only when unabashedly religious people become leaders in the “elite” fields like academia, media and entertainment will we make deep and lasting gains.

We once prayed for the conversion of Russia. Now, let's pray for the conversion of the media — and look for ways to make our sons and daughters the leaders of tomorrow.