Election 2004

The Church
and the Election

David Forte, a Republican and a Catholic, is Professor of Law at Cleveland State University and Consultor to the Pontifical Council for the Family. Here, he discusses the principles behind the moral stakes that took the front seat in Election 2004

by David Forte

On All Souls’ Day, the American people went to the polls to choose the moral future of their nation, and they had a hard time doing so. In the election, a Christian President with Catholic values survived the challenge of a Catholic Senator with anti-Christian values.
As Europe continues its demographic and moral decline, the United States represents the last chance for a Christian country to coax human history toward an encounter with God. Once again, Catholics, representing 28% of the population, had the chance to reform their country and, once again, they chose to divide along traditional sectional and party lines. What saved the avowedly Christian President and his Catholic sensibilities were the evangelical Protestants.

A moral stake

There were some outspoken Church leaders, like Archbishop Chaput of Denver, who understood the moral stakes in the election. Other Catholics spread the word regarding President Bush’s courageous stand on cloning and stem-cell research, his explicit defense of the unborn, and the need for judges who understand the moral compass of their calling. On the whole, however, the hierarchy remained timid, some fearful of legal action to remove tax-exempt status for being too “political.”
The Church’s opportunity came early in the campaign, when Cardinal Ratzinger raised the issue of whether a prominent Catholic politician who publicly and scandalously supports the killing of the unborn should be denied access to the Eucharist. Faced with the moral challenge, most of the bishops blinked. They left the question of the reception of the Eucharist up to the “conscience” of the communicant.
That timid position was itself a scandal. It taught Catholic voters that the question of abortion was really not all that important a political issue. It was also a pastoral disaster, for it in effect declared that the moral teachings of the Church–even those that were bedrock–could be safely ignored by the faithful. It proclaimed the faith to be morally irrelevant in the public square.
Some years ago, an Episcopal friend said to me, “We Episcopalians have everything you Catholics have. The only difference is that we don’t have to believe in it.” We are all Episcopalians now.

Night and day

Candor requires me to say that even CL’s statement on the election evinced some of the same equivocation. It declared as examples of “the greatest danger to an authentic political process” the “Republicans’ insistence that the Iraq war was positive and in the Democrats’ insistence that a fetus is not a human life or that the nature of marriage can be defined by the State.” Rhetorically, the statement makes both parties’ failings equivalent. But were they? For all the insistence on “facts,” the statement ignored the fact that a mass murderer of his people is incarcerated, the fact that the Iraqi people have a chance for a polity that could affirm basic human dignity, and the fact that over a million unborn are destroyed in this country every year. If the Iraqi war could be fairly faulted, it is in its execution. But the difference in moral principle between one candidate who seeks to bring freedom to the stranger and the voiceless and the other who calls Iraq a mistake and the aborting of millions a fundamental right is like night and day.
In contrast, evangelical Christians–most of whom used to be Democrat or apolitical–came out in droves to support marriage amendments in eleven states and to give the President the narrow edge to retain him in office. Our Christian brothers voted for Mr Bush not because of the economy, nor for tax cuts, nor even because of Iraq. They voted for him because he is a man unembarrassed to pray, unembarrassed to base policies on moral principle, and unembarrassed to acknowledge Christ. Thanks be to God.

More curious than anything else is the consistent regional division between Red and Blue states with the Northeast, the upper Midwest, and the West Coast remaining Democrat and the rest of the country going Republican. How the President will unite the nation remains the greatest challenge, an effort that needs to breach the cultural divide as well as issues of policy, both foreign and domestic. The dignity and effectiveness of the office requires that.
Ralph, Milwaukee

The outcome of the election is a disappointment but what causes me greater sadness is the growing influence of religion in the political process in the United States. The fact that George Bush based his strength (and possibly mortgaged some of his future policies) on the Protestant evangelical movement coupled with the anti-Kerry “guidance” which some American bishops dared give to Catholics throughout the land, and that the two principal candidates fell all over themselves bidding for the Jewish vote, just goes to show that America has a separation of Church and State in name only. The continuing Israel/Palestine conflict that, alas, is the source of much of the “terrorism” against which our government has declared a war, is one which not one candidate mentioned seriously. Yet, if this very long-standing controversy were addressed by those now (and again) in power with as much vigor as are some of the international military endeavors of the first George W. Bush administration, then maybe we could get somewhere and the second Bush mandate now about to begin would have been merited.
Jan, New York City

I’m trying to bear in mind what Msgr Albacete wrote in Traces about neither side being purely good or purely evil. I’m very happy that Bush won because Kerry rejects the rights of the youngest and the most vulnerable, but the reality of the war continues to trouble me. Perhaps the most encouraging thing for the future is that many voters made their choice based on “moral values”--on a notion of what is good for the human person. It gives me hope to know that there are hearts that are open to what is good.
Lisa, Milford (MI)

While preparing for a long night of election results, we decided that the school board matters. Local offices are the heart of day-to-day living. Our President should merely be an extension of our mayor and governor rather than the reverse, which, sadly, seems to be the common mentality.
K., Bloomington (IN)

This is the first time I worked for a candidate. Working for the Bush campaign in an overwhelmingly Democratic county, I learned not to be afraid to be pro-life because this campaign made me decide who I really am. Now let us go forward and build.
Mary Jane, Gainesville (FL)

Call us moralists in the US, but Bush wins it because he bet on the so-called “values”–family, life, and religion, while Kerry was too much of a liberal Catholic, quite an ideologue. For me this is a sign that, opposed to the European trend, we are more traditional and thus those questions, beyond war and economy, do matter to Americans, since these were really the kind of issues that set both candidates apart.
Pat, Allentown (PA)

It is horrifically apparent that the United States has been suffering the real consequences of a leadership vacuum for the past several decades. This vacuum extends beyond the political realm, seeping into corporate America, even ecclesial America. What contributes to this void? First and foremost, lack of vision that reaches back to whence we have come as a nation, a realistic assessment of where we are currently, and bold and innovative plans which will direct us courageously into the future. Secondly, what’s missing is backbone, the ability to speak the unpopular, take a firm stand, and hunker down for the long haul toward positive, painstaking change. What I’m talking about here is certainly not the rhetoric of our newly elected President who has flagrantly and summarily undone centuries of Just War Theory and instead embraced and employed his home state motto (“Don’t mess with Texas”) instead of real diplomacy.
Paul, Charlotte

Alasdair MacIntyre writes, “When offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives, it is important to choose neither.” Unfortunately, that leaves an impossible choice. Whatever the outcome of this election, I find it unsatisfactory. It’s a sad commentary that our nation seems incapable of finding a candidate who represents anything close to holistic embodiment of Christian social teaching.
Joel, Philadelphia

John Kerry was a gift from God to the Catholic Church in the year ‘04. Kerry carved out a public position diametrically opposed to the fundamental teachings of his Church on social issues. His presence at such a high level drew bright lines, made sharp distinctions, and brought into high relief the contradiction of some Catholics who believe they can support abortion and still be considered faithful. Not coincidentally, George Bush was selected to be President in 2000 by the voters and confirmed by the Supreme Court on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Not coincidentally, he was voted into office this year on the Feast of All Souls. Given the incredibly high stakes in these two elections, one can see the results of millions of Aves both on this earthly plain and in the heavenly one, too. One can see the hand of God.
Austin, Washington (DC)

After being stunned last night, we have been debriefing and analyzing how we Democrats have lost our way with the electorate and how we might possibly reclaim it. Kerry’s loss challenges us, precisely to the extent that the commentators will not be able to find a way in which he (or the party) failed. We had money and he was phenomenally energetic, intellectually superior, and, from the first debate on, in possession of a presidential presence.
Patricia, Detroit