A Watershed Election

In August, I wrote (and in October it was printed in Crisis) that, in my more “pessimistic moments,” I thought that Kerry would win.

I then went on to list the basic reasons why Kerry should not win.

The President had it mostly right about the war (though he still does not identify the enemy accurately), about public decency, about the economy, about common sense, about Texas. Some petulant critic accused him of “swaggering” in his walk. Bush's response was, “in Texas, we call it walking.” My “optimistic” moments, however, told me that Bush would win by 3 million votes. This proves the inestimable value of hindsight!

Predicting elections, even while they are going on, as the exit-poll business proves, is a dubious enterprise.

If we really could or wanted to do this knowing ahead of time, we could dispense with the elections and take whom the polls gave us. The consolation is that we have a number of polls each giving us contradictory results.

William Bennett remarked that this election was, more than any before, an election about public morality. I suspect, when all is said and done, that it was the pro-life evangelicals who won this election.

An Australian friend wrote asking whether I was pleased with the number of bishops who made strong statements that made a difference. The most notable of these statements are those of Archbishops Chaput, Myers and Burke, Bishop Ricken, and a number of others, but the overwhelming impression is rather the reluctance of bishops to say much other than “vote for someone,” a most unhelpful guide.

The District of Columbia for its three electoral votes went 91% for Kerry, which I suspect is approximately the same percentage of votes of the faculties in the leading universities. George Will has noted that almost for the first time in our country's history, the vote is now on ideological lines, not merely on lines of party or prudence about feasible alternatives. This deep division does not bode well. Machiavelli said that between an armed and an unarmed man there is no proportion. Between someone who allows or promotes the killing of the unborn or aged and someone who does not, likewise there is no proportion.

An evangelical friend of mine, whose church was elated at the Bush victory, told me of a conversation with a Kerry-voting Catholic. “If you think it is all right to kill an unborn child,” my friend told the Catholic, “you think in principle it is all right to kill me.”

Kerry, I think, never did get it right about why Catholics are against killing babies, born or unborn. He claimed it was because of the “faith” that they did not do so. So he nobly did not want to “impose” his views on anyone.

Of course, while the faith may also say it is not permitted to kill the unborn, the reason has basically nothing to do with the faith. It is a question of reason and experience. This is a real human life whatever any faith says. To kill it is to claim a power we do not and cannot have. It is not an act of “respect” to any faith to allow it to be indifferent to the killing of what is human in any stage of its growth and life. As my evangelical friend said, this is an absolute and it measures all else. This is a single issue that, more than any other, reveals our attitude to all issues.

Ironically, the war played perhaps less a role in the election than we might have at first thought. The appearance of Bin Laden on the screen a few days before the election in effect telling us to vote for Kerry or else he would blow something up in every state that voted for Bush was an attempt to make the Americans look like the cowardly Spanish voters after the bombing of a train in Madrid. The proper response is not to elect a secular socialist, but to fight.

Bush is a clear thinking and determined man on this issue. Bin Laden and his followers, to their credit, understand this. That is why they wanted him defeated at the polls. Bush has two objectives. The dismantling of terrorists for our and others, security and the setting up of at least some regimes in the Islamic world that are not controlled by militant Islamic forces.

Much is made of the French, Germans and the general world left's opposition to President Bush. Those of us who read European demographic figures know that these classic Christian countries are seeing themselves being replaced by Muslim immigrants. Birth control is definitely working to eliminate Europeans in their very own homes. Paul VI would have been amused, or perhaps, saddened.

The Hispanic vote that the President received is 10% over the last election. For Catholics this is a significant figure. We, too, have our birth problems. These Hispanics are (when they have not been converted by evangelicals) Catholics, family people, folks who do most of our physical labor. They realize that one-party allegiance is a disaster to their own interests. This country has Latinos, not Muslims (though we have some of these too), as the people replacing our own population and labor problems.

The fact that increasing numbers of them now vote Republican should makes a considerable difference in how the Church looks at the Latino population in its pews.

In short, this election was a water-shed. Those who thought it a near-apocalyptic election were probably right, if Kerry had carried out what he seemed to stand for. The important thing about President Bush is that he is a good, commonsensical, and decisive man. He admits he makes mistakes. He has wit and is unassuming. We know we can trust him. I think that this is the underlying factor of this election.

Kerry never did tell us why he changed his mind so often. It does not take a genius to figure out that such a vacillating man ought not to be our president. As I said of 9/11, this country was very fortunate that President Bush was president on that tragic day. It is likewise fortunate that he is still president.

He was not elected by the big cities, those in California, the northeast, Illinois, Minnesota. He was elected by the middle, by the common folks who were able to see through the enormous pressure put on them by what is called the “mainstream” media. Today, ordinary people have, if they will, other ways of finding out the truth – talk radio, internet, bloggers, some of the magazine, journal, and newspaper press.

The election of 2004 is a return at least to some of the virtues of a republic. President Bush can take pride in this return. He is someone who stood for what is most important to most people: security, morality, hard work, common sense, decisiveness.

Jesuit Father James Schall writes from Georgetown in Washington, D.C.