Barack Obama is a natural for the Catholic vote.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Feb. 13 2008 1:29 PM

Reaganites for Obama?

Sorry, McCain. Barack Obama is a natural for the Catholic vote.

Barack Obama. Click image to expand.
Barack Obama

My dear late mother would say: "Steer clear of mixing religion and politics in public discussions." Sorry, Mom, but the mix is unavoidable. Religion shapes us, and politics is our addictive national reality show. In any event, my faith, Catholicism, teaches that pluralism is enhanced, not threatened, when religions talk to one another.

Apparently, we're pretty persuasive. Catholics have been on the side of the top vote-getter (who, as we know from playing hanging chad, is not always the winner) in the last nine presidential elections. The Electoral College and the Supreme Court threw us a curve in 2000, but many Catholics probably put their choice of Al Gore in the "you can't blame us" department. Unlike our Jewish brothers and sisters who trend Democratic, and our Protestant friends who regularly populate Republican ranks, we're the ultimate flip-floppers, picking Republicans five times and Democrats four since 1972. Naturally, this led me straight to supporting Mitt Romney, whom McCain once snidely called "the real candidate of change," claiming that the governor changed positions more often than the rest of them (which from where I sit is a bit like asserting the Atlantic is wetter than the Pacific).

Advertisement

As a Catholic legal scholar chairing Romney's Committee on the Constitution, I worked to help him overcome a form of religious prejudice that had previously plagued John F. Kennedy, who needed to promise Protestant ministers in 1960 that his Oval Office would not have a hotline to the Vatican. Romney was pressed to assure voters that there wouldn't be a Mormon prophet lingering behind the West Wing curtains. Had anyone actually listened, Romney's "Faith in America" address was a tour de force in defense of the best traditions of religious liberty. But his eloquence—unfortunately and unfairly—was not reciprocated with faith in him.

But now that Romney's out, whom might Catholics turn to? Since I served at one time as Reagan's constitutional lawyer, it would be natural for me to fall in line behind John McCain. Don't worry about his conservative lapses, says President Bush, the foremost expert on lapsed conservativism. There is no gainsaying that McCain is a military hero deserving of salute. But McCain seems fixated on just taking the next hill in Iraq. His Iraqi military objective is laudable, but it assumes good reasons to be there in the first place. It also ignores that Catholics are looking to bless the peacemakers.

Now, don't think me daft, but when Obama gave his victory remarks in Iowa calling upon America to "choose hope over fear and to choose unity over division," he was standing squarely in the shoes of the "Great Communicator." Notwithstanding all of Bill Clinton's self-possessed heckling to the contrary, Obama was right—Reagan was a "transformative" president. Reagan liked to tell us he was proudest of his ability to make America feel good about itself. He did. Catholic sensibility tells me Obama wants it to deserve that feeling.

Much of the Catholic primary vote has been in the Democratic column, going at first to Hillary Clinton over Obama, as in New Hampshire, where she won 44 percent to 27 percent. But lately, Obama has been narrowing the gap, using the Catholic vote to vault to victory. In the Illinois primary, where Obama bested Clinton 65 percent to 33 percent, he attracted 48 percent of the Catholic vote. When Obama's share of the Catholic vote drops, the races tighten: In still-undecided New Mexico, only 39 percent of Catholic voters went for Obama.

Clinton lost Tuesday to Obama in Maryland, the first Catholic settlement in America, but also in Virginia, where the number of Catholic households in the burgeoning northern section of the commonwealth is up more than 67 percent over the last decade. However hard-working, intelligent, and policy savvy she may be (and she is), Clinton seldom inspires even the so-called "social justice" Catholics or reveals that rare gift of empathy that defined Reagan and that one glimpses in Obama. Say what you will about not preferring style over substance, modern leadership requires both, especially now when the international community—whose help we need to arrest terrorism—seldom gives us the benefit of the doubt.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.