The Beginnings of Immolation
I have written before about the impact of Catholic voters on current elections. In particular, I think that the “Catholic Vote” gave the 2004 election to Bush. And I am not alone. It has been acknowledged by most political analysts (as my last link shows) that the Catholic vote (especially the White Catholic vote) is a swing bloc; if you carry it, you almost certainly win. If you don’t carry it, you have to counter it with other swing blocs. Clinton won the Catholic vote and took office. Gore lost the vote and Kerry, a nominal Catholic himself, really lost it.
How did this happen? After all, Catholic voters were solidly Democrat since, well, the 1880’s. How did they end up giving the election to Republicans?
One interesting clue is in an article by Mark Stricherz in the November 2005 issue of Commonweal. This article discusses the impact of a political advisor named Fred Dutton. Fred came from the California college system and was deeply interested in the so-called New Politics, the concept that the new players in politics would be ‘the campus, the ghetto, and the suburbs’, and the New Left. Both of these ideologies rejected the traditional and wanted to find new sources of political strength. Many members of these groups were influenced by/influential in Eugene McCarthy’s bid for president and Dutton came to believe that McCarthy’s supporters (the young, intellectuals, and certain ethnic groups) were the future of political power.
Because of his belief that political power was shifting, Dutton wrote a book called Changing Sources of Power in 1971 that advocated his views as a path for the Democratic Party. As a member of the McGovern Commission that changed the internal mechanics of the Democratic Party, he was successfully able to implement his ideas. By allocating quotas of minority, youth, and ethnic delegates McGovern was able to clinch the nomination for president and Dutton was able to implement his change in focus for the Democratic party in what it perceived as its base. There was only one problem.
Dutton was wrong.
He wasn’t alone, and a number of current analysts and journalists make the same errors he and his contemporaries did. These inclusions did not create a ‘loose peace coalition’, it created a mandatory venue for radicals, especially radical feminists. Within a very short time abortion was a major topic and by the 1980’s it was, essentially, a litmus test. In fact, the issue of abortion became so central to the Democratic Party that in an infamous moment the Democrat Bob Casey, newly elected governor of Pennsylvania, was denied a chance to speak at the 1992 Democratic Convention because of his opposition to abortion while other speakers included Republicans – who were pro-abortion. The group Democrats for Life were denied a link at the DNC webpage, despite their stated desire to support democratic candidates, because of their pro-life stance.
The political commentators that I mentioned before acknowledge that abortion is a key element in the drift of Catholics from the Democratic party. But it is not the only issue. The memo from the Democracy Corps points out that devout Catholics (meaning, those who self-identify as devout and/or those who attend Mass regularly) voted against Gore and Kerry (especially Kerry) despite holding many of the so-called ‘core-issues’ or Democrats. Carville, et. al., refer to these voters as “Democratic Defectors”. The memo points out that, though, that a group referred to as ‘post-Clinton defectors’ (people who voted for Clinton, but voted Republican in 2000/2004) are not more likely to call themselves devout or attend Mass regularly. This group of Catholic voters does not like homosexual marriage, but doesn’t want homosexuals discriminated against; they staunchly oppose abortion; they are pro-security and generally support the Iraq war, but not going to war; the do not like the NRA or evangelical Protestant groups; and they are more educated than average, statistically. In short, they look like no other voting group. And they are, all by themselves, about 4% of all voters. So, according to this analysis, the swing ‘White Catholic’ vote is distinct from the stereotypical Democratic voter and the stereotypical Republican voter, and is a whopping 10% of all voters.
Dutton was focused on dropping the blue collar worker from the base of the Democratic Party. He was successful in that goal, and the result is a Democratic Party that can’t win. As Dutton was dropping the ‘blue collars’ in favor of college educated voters because he felt that more education would mean more liberal outlooks. While generally true, sources ranging from the oft-linked memo to foreign studies show that amongst Catholics advanced education does not automatically mean that people become more secular and more liberal (and I find it very interesting that liberalism and secularism are so closely linked). Considering that Catholics have built and maintain the most extensive educational system of any particular American group, it should not have been a surprise that a large number of highly-educated American Catholics remain deeply religious.
The end result of the sea change in the Democratic Party’s focus was to ignore the blue collar Catholics and fail to realize that white collar Catholics were a growing force in American politics. The Democracy Corps memo stresses that White Catholics with a college education are a substantial voting bloc. In his recent Weekly Standard column, Joseph Bottums also was careful to point out that the majority of Catholics aren’t blue collar and haven’t been for a long time. As Bottums indirectly points out, this failure to recognize the reality of Catholic intellectual vigor has a direct result; Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Alito, and scores of others within the Republican Party leadership are highly-educated Catholics. Heck, Bottums and others argue that these and other Catholics have become the key intellectual force within the Republican Party. Bottums points out that 50 years ago these men would have been leaders in the Democratic Party while today people like them can’t even be heard within the Democratic Party system.
So where the Democratic Party was once anchored on the values of the Catholic middle-class, today they have trouble connecting to this large segment of America – all why they wonder why they keep losing elections.
Hat tip to the Anchoress.