Way back in January, an editorialist wrote on catholic.org, “This election is going to be a nightmare for Catholics.” I wish I could remember who it was so I could quote him or her accurately, but alas. Way back in January, I read the article and shrugged. The election, almost a year away, was hardly a topic of importance; I was more focused on my last semester of college and finding a job. Of course, as the [ridiculously long and dramatic] primary season drew to a close I became more invested in learning about candidates, policies, and voting histories. The 2000 version of me would have been a straight ticket Republican, no exceptions. The 2004 version was more a mixed ticket, unhappy with the President but equally unhappy with John Kerry. However, this time around I’m truly in agony as November 4th draws closer. I’ve seen the USCCB’s DVD about “Faithful Citizenship” and read Archbishop Chaput’s excellent book, Render Unto Caesar . However, even the guidance of the bishops isn’t helping all that much. Whoever it was who said this election would be a nightmare was right on the money.
It’s even more fun now, since Obama has selected Joe Biden as his running mate and we’re off to the conventions. The pundits are all pretty confident that this smiling elder statesman from Delaware will help Obama draw the “Midwestern lunch-pail” vote, i.e. people who don’t own a Prius, Mac Book Air, or stock in Google. More specifically, Biden is a Roman Catholic (or claims to be, at least), and it seems logical, then, that the Catholic vote will turn for Obama/Biden. I’m not so sure. First of all, what is the “Catholic vote,” exactly? The “Catholic vote” is about as descriptive as “the brunette vote.” There are several broad constituencies that could fall into the "Catholic vote" category. There are “cultural Catholics” like Senator Biden, perhaps better known as cafeteria Catholics. There are lapsed Catholics. There are traditional, old school Catholics. There are moderate orthodox Catholics. So which group are the pundits talking about?
Cultural/Cafeteria Catholics were often raised Catholic and like the comforting rhythm of Catholic life- Mass, baptisms/weddings, those nice feast days, fish fry nights, bingo. But when it comes to following Church teaching on important issues of morality, forget it. Contraception? “Stay out of my bedroom, old celibate men in Rome!” The death penalty? “Fair crime and punishment, like in Leviticus (only the nice parts of Leviticus, though; that part in chapter eighteen isn’t relevant anymore).” The Iraq war? “That whole Jesus, Prince of Peace thing? Just marketing.” Abortion? “Psalm 139 is simply nice poetry. People aren’t people until* they’re born.” (*maybe not even then, if you agree with Barack Obama). To be fair, there’s a sizable subset of cafeteria-goers who are legitimately in love with Christ and His Church. However, for whatever reason (tough life situations, poor catechesis, etc.) they aren’t on board with everything the Church teaches. By no means am I condemning these people, most of whom are wonderful, loving folks trying to do the best they can in a crazy world. But the point is that Cafeteria Catholics don’t fit into either party’s platform, so I’m not sure which way the pundits expect their vote to swing.
Then there are the lapsed Catholics. I’d guess these are folk who might go to Mass at Christmas and Easter, or when someone gets married. They might even try out a Protestant church or two, especially if those denominations fit more nicely with their own personal version of right and wrong. The religion in which they were raised has little bearing on their decisions. Like their friends in the cafeteria, lapsed Catholics don’t fit into either party’s platform, so I’m not sure which way the pundits expect their vote to swing.
Next up are the traditional old school Catholics. These are the sort of people who hated Vatican II, who cringe when the choir sings anything by Dan Schutte, frown when they see girls as altar servers, and not-so-secretly want us to go back to the Tridentine Mass. God love them, I’m sure they’re nice people, but seriously. As far as November is concerned, I’m betting they don’t like either candidate. Historically, the Catholic vote was a sold bloc for Democrats, especially for Kennedy. But that really isn’t the case anymore, especially since the Democratic Party decided that the only way for politicians to hold a membership card was to condone the murder of 40 million children since 1973. The GOP doesn’t have it much better, given that their version of health care and social concern doesn’t quite jive with “caring for the least of these” as Jesus would like. Really, traditional old school Catholics don’t fit into either party’s platform, so I’m not sure which way the pundits expect their vote to swing.
Moderate orthodox Catholics are just as perplexed. I (speaking as one myself) don’t like either candidate. McCain is apparently pro-life, but I’m not quite sure I believe him. I strongly dislike his Iraq policy, economic plan, firearm position, and health care plan. I like Obama’s health care plan, education policy, willingness to repair our shattered international image, energy plan, and stance against the Iraq war, but I don’t like his abortion record. Moderate orthodox Catholics don’t fit into either party’s platform, so I’m not sure which way the pundits expect their vote to swing.
Let’s Hear it for the Rainbow Tour
Just as disturbing is the apparent cult of personality that’s gathered around Obama. It seems like a lot of talk and little substance; a lot of “hooray for us!” sentiment going around. I don’t think that a nice smile, charisma, and popularity entitle someone to be president. He’s also getting a tad cocky; on his recent European Rainbow Tour (à la Evita) he seemed to be acting as though he’s already been inaugurated. “Fake it till you make it” might work to impress classmates at a high school reunion, but I’m not sure it’s the best strategy for someone running for president.
I’m really torn here. I have no desire to cast a vote for either one, but if I abstain (courteously) I’ll feel like a washed-up, pathetic, poor excuse for an American citizen. The only reason I would vote *for* John McCain (instead of just *against* Barack Obama) would be the judges thing. In the next eight years there might be two to four seats open on the Supreme Court. There are big issues coming up in the next few years, stem cell funding and same-sex “marriage” among them. As much as I dislike some most of McCain’s policies, I’m pretty sure that he’s more like likely to appoint judges who will uphold traditional marriage. However, I don’t know if that’s a good enough reason to vote for him. Even when I try to make myself feel better about (maybe) supporting Obama, I cringe when I think about his votes on the Born Alive Protection Act. I truly wrestle with whether or not I can vote for someone who shows that much contempt for life.
In the end, though, does it matter? I don’t know. There’s a sense of inevitability about Obama’s candidacy (granted, I watch Jon Stewart for my news, so maybe that’s why). Even though latest polls show that the country is evenly divided, I still have a hard time believing that a nation coming off eight years of presidential ineptitude will elect another old white man from the same party. I have a feeling it’ll ultimately be Obama. Maybe I should just pray that if he does become President he’ll change what needs to be changed and otherwise leave well enough alone.
In the end, there really isn’t a Catholic vote. There are perhaps seventy million self-identified Catholics in the United States, but the gradations of who’s a “practicing Catholic” and what that even means splinter off from there. The best I can hope for it not getting too angry when CNN or MSNBC shows snippets of Nancy Pelosi claiming that we don’t know when life begins.
Way back in January, I already had a feeling of ennui about November. It’s August now, and not much has really changed.
St. Thomas More, pray for us!