Bush vs. Kerry: The Consequences

John Kerry wants to be our nation's second Catholic president.

For the past several weeks, we've been looking at issues the November election will affect. But, for Catholics, there is another important aspect to this race: What consequences would we feel from a Kerry victory?

Catholic faith and voting. In his final debate with President Bush, Sen. Kerry said of abortion, “What is an article of faith for me is not something that I can legislate on somebody who doesn't share that article of faith.”

Ironically, a few sentences later, Kerry refuted his own logic when he said, “My faith affects everything that I do and choose. … That's why I fight against poverty, that's why I fight to clean up the environment and protect this Earth. That's why I fight for equality and justice. All of those things come out of that fundamental teaching and belief of faith.”

The Church agrees with his approach in the second part of his statement. The difference is that the Church includes the right to life as even more fundamental.

After the past year's vigorous debate, the Church is finally making headway against confusion caused by Catholic politicians who claim they can be “personally opposed” to evils like abortion but can only “legislate” their faith on politically correct issues.

Electing Kerry would make him the most prominent Catholic in the country — and the second most conspicuous Catholic in the world. It would give his “opposed, but …” philosophy a giant bully pulpit. This could seriously set back the Church's gains on this question.

Catholics and the Republican Party. Because of its pro-life platform, Catholics have been joining the Republican Party in record numbers. But Catholics’ relationship with the party has to be guarded, and the Republican convention in New York showed why. Many of the keynote speakers were secularists who don't agree with Catholic positions on issues like abortion — notably, lapsed or nominal Catholics such as Rudolph Giuliani, Arnold Schwarzenegger and George Pataki.

These leading lights in the GOP have a radically different understanding of morality from the Church's. Catholic are more comfortable with the Republicans’ strong religious wing, which includes George Bush.

If the unabashedly religious Bush loses, party pragmatists will likely blame not the war in Iraq, which they support, but Bush's stand on social issues, which makes them uncomfortable. Where will Catholics be left if, post-Bush, the party brass thinks pro-family issues are a loser for them?

Catholics and the Democrats. After all, we have seen the scenario of a secularist party moving away from its Catholic faithful before.

When abortion first entered the scene, the Democratic Party was the Catholic party of choice. Catholic Democratic leaders instinctively opposed abortion — they knew their philosophy couldn't embrace something so quintessentially against the little guy. But under pressure from abortion money, Catholic Democrats like Ted Kennedy abandoned the pro-life position one by one.

By the time John Kerry was voted into the Senate for the first time in the early 1980s, pro-lifers were barely tolerated in the party. Kerry quickly built a pro-abortion record, voting dozens of times to use taxpayers’ money for abortion, and voting six times to keep partial-birth abortion legal.

In the 1990s, Bob Casey, the Catholic governor of Pennsylvania, was banned from speaking at the party's conventions because of his pro-life views. Meanwhile, pro-abortion Bill Clinton was twice elected to the presidency, and by this summer's Democratic convention, it was as if the party had issued a zero-tolerance policy on pro-life issues.

If John Kerry is elected president, the effect on the Democratic Party will be predictable.

Party leaders will be convinced that Kerry's no-compromise record in support of abortion got him elected, and that it had no serious downside. This attitude will only accelerate the Catholic exodus from the Democratic Party.

What do all three of these consequences have in common? In each case, Catholics are cast in the role of capitulators, the ones who have to give up our agenda for others’. It should not be so. No matter who wins, Catholics should build on the momentum bishops have started. We should demand our politicians change the agenda to fit their faith, and not the other way around.

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