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.
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.
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.
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.