I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Can Good Catholics vote Republican?

Bush opponents spend a great deal of time analyzing all sorts of political issues when trying to determine how best to campaign for the 2006 Congressional elections. We hear that Republicans are in serious trouble because of issues such as Iraq, the port controversy, corruption problems, Katrina ineptitude, and a general dissatisfaction with the direction of the country.

All of that may be true, but issues like that are only one level on which these elections are fought and decided. Karl Rove has specialized in winning elections by waging battle on an entirely different level that has little to do with substantive issues and everything to do with cultural symbols and religious divisions -- a level which Democrats want to ignore and seem to be afraid of engaging. But those who want to end the one-party rule under which our country is suffocating have no choice but to engage those levels, and there is no reason at all why they should fear doing so.

One of the most reprehensible (and effective) electoral tactics which the GOP used to defeat John Kerry in 2004 -- and, unquestionably, it is a tactic which Republicans are gearing up to exploit even more aggressively for 2006 -- is the increasingly overt claim that adherence to Catholicism compels a vote for Republicans (and precludes voting for Democrats). It is difficult to overstate the potency and efficacy of that tactic. From Reason Magazine:

Hence, the Republican Party's "Catholic Strategy." Bush strategist Karl Rove identified the Catholic vote as central to his long-term plan to convert swathes of traditional Democratic voters, thereby transforming the Republicans into the majority party. Throughout the 2004 campaign, Rove maintained that, if Bush won the Catholic vote, he would be reelected. Rove was right.

Rove sought to turn out several million additional Catholic voters. Last year, Catholic turnout was 63 percent, up from 57 percent four years earlier, and constituted more than one-in-four voters nationwide, voters disproportionately distributed in key battleground states such as Ohio and Florida. Bush, a Methodist, impressively won 52 percent of the Catholic vote versus 47 percent for John Kerry, only the third Catholic to win a major party's presidential nomination. Only one Democrat since 1952 (Walter Mondale in 1984) had previously lost the Catholic vote by such a margin.

Republicans spent 2004 attacking the authenticity of John Kerry's Catholicism, insisting that good Catholics were compelled to vote for Bush and that Kerry -- to use the GOP's phrase -- was "wrong for Catholics." These religious smears reached their low point with the campaign by certain prominent Republican Catholics to deny communion to Kerry. As the above-quoted passage from Reason illustrates, this attempt to equate religious Catholicism with political Republicanism was as successful as it was despicable. As a result, it is unquestionably clear that this tactic is not going away, but will only intensify.

Last week, Kellyanne Conway, on her National Review blog, mockingly and scornfully reported on a group of 55 Congressional Democrats who -- get this! -- claim to be Catholic and claim that they believe in Catholic principles. Conway dons her most pious sneer and scoffs at the hilarious notion that Democrats could possibly claim -- of all things -- to be Catholic:

Earlier this week, a press release that crowed, "House Democrats Release Historic Catholic Statement of Principles" was issued in the names of 55 House Democrats. These "Catholic" "principles" from non-principal Catholics were at least as ambitious (and absurd and audacious) as those existentially mouthed by John Kerry during his run for the Presidency, see, e.g, his statement in the summer of ’04 that "Life begins at conception."

According to the solemnly religious Conway, it's so painfully obvious that any Good Catholic could only be a Republican, and that this silly little attempt by Democrats to masquerade as people with religious beliefs will never work:

Reasonable limits to unfettered access to abortion, like a ban on late-term procedures that the American Medical Association has said are not medically necessary and the interstate transport of minors to receive abortions, enjoy majorities of support among Americans. And Catholics join people of all faiths in their deep opposition to totally stripping religion form (sic) the public square, including ripping God from the Pledge of Allegiance and continuing to ban prayer in schools.

From dust this statement of principles was made, and to dust it shall return.

Attention should be paid to Conway's rantings. Conway and her husband, George, were given a National Review blog for a reason. As I've previously documented, those two were among the leading smear merchants of the 1990s who built their political notoriety by trafficking in the lowest and filthiest political tactics from the sewer. They are both well-connected to the GOP establishment and are cogs in its political machinery. Their blog is undoubtedly a harbinger of the gutter tactics that will be used this year by Rove and the GOP, who -- I hope Democrats are appreciating -- are not going to simply allow Democrats to waltz into control of the House (with the subpoena and investigative power it entails) without a vicious fight that recognizes no limits.

One of those tactics is going to be an escalation of the exploitation and inflammation of religious divisions. On his blog GOP Bloggers, Mark Noonan effusively celebrated an e-mail he received from Ken Mehlman which touts George Bush's commitment to Catholic values, and in which Mehlman quotes Jack Kelly, the Director of the RNC's Catholic Outreach program, as follows:

"Working through the RNC's Political Division we are committed to an expansive outreach program that will not just maintain but increase the support shown by Catholics in 2004. The Republican principles of a strong commitment to a culture of life and to the economic and national security of our country resonates with active Catholics. Our goal is to let Catholics know they are the key to the future success of the Republican party."

Noonan gave a hint of what is to come this year by claiming that GOP's pro-Catholic approach stands "[i]n contrast to the insult offered Catholics by the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee" (meaning opposition to Sam Alito's nomination), and then spat out this religiously exploitive claim, which we are going to be hearing a lot more of:

Because we aren't wanted in the Democratic Party. Oh, sure, the Democrats will take a "Catholic" who essentially denies his faith - like a Kennedy or Kerry - and comes out against core Catholic morality on issues such as abortion, but let there be a Catholic who takes his faith seriously, and the Democrats want nothing to do with him.

There you have it: Democrats hate real Catholics who believe in Catholicism rather than just pretending to believe in it. The only place for real Catholics is the Republican Party. And the media has clearly internalized this theme. To them, the notion that any Democrat could possibly claim to be Catholic is just so very hilarious and absurd. Everyone knows that all real Christians are Republicans and that any Democrat claiming to be religious -- like John Kerry, or Bill Clinton -- is just doing that because he knows that it will be politically helpful, not because he's genuinely religious. That's just obvious.

The reason why it is so nonsensical that this tactic works -- and so infuriating that Republicans are allowed to get away with this -- is because scores of Republican policies, including their most prominent ones, are plainly contrary to Catholic doctrine and have been vigorously condemned both by John Paul II and by the current Pope. Those policies could not be any more anti-Catholic.

Begin with George Bush's flagship policy -- the invasion and occupation of Iraq. From Fox News, two weeks before the invasion of Iraq:

Pope John Paul II and top Vatican officials are unleashing a barrage of condemnations of a possible U.S. military strike on Iraq, calling it immoral, risky and a "crime against peace."

The unwavering stance has made the pope one of the most visible opponents of war in current circumstances, and a rallying point for peace groups and politicians who seize on his words counseling against war.

The Vatican -- including the prior Pope and the current one -- has emphatically condemned the Administration's policy of pre-emptive war generally as immoral and contrary to core Catholic principles:

Pope John Paul II (see p. 8-9), Cardinal Ratzinger, Archbishop Martino (President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace), the influential and authoritative Jesuit journal in Rome, Civiltá Cattolica, and the U. S. Catholic Bishops. have all denounced the plans of President Bush to attack Iraq.

Cardinal Ratzinger has said, "A preventive war is not in the Catechism."

Civiltá Cattolica points out that an American attack on Iraq would be motivated in large part by political and economic reasons rather than military necessity and rejects the Bush argument that a preventive war should be considered a defensive action. Archbishop Martino said that "a preventive war is a war of aggression."

And Republican fare no better when it comes to pro-life issues. One of George Bush's most central political positions as Texas Governor was his fervent belief in the death penalty, and he presided over a parade of executions. And one of the current bugaboos of national Republicans is the reliance by the Supreme Court on precepts of "foreign law" -- something they did most prominently when blocking the execution of a juvenile offender on the grounds that such executions constitute "cruel and unusual" punishment (as demonstrated, in small part, by the fact that such a practice is banned in most of the world).

And yet, few things are more anathema to Catholic doctrine than the state-sanctioned killing of human beings; it is one of the central principles of the Church's pro-life position:

This principle is set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church:

If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994, Par. 2267)

More recently Pope John Paul H in his eleventh encyclical entitled "The Gospel of Life" (March 25, 1995), toughens the church's stance on the death penalty. In this papal letter is found one of Catholicism's strongest condemnations of capital punishment. . . .

In this recent teaching, Pope John Paul II affirmed the catechism's teaching that the death penalty is acceptable under some conditions, but in the encyclical he said such conditions are very rare or even non-existent in the modern world. (Par. 56) In the encyclical, the pope listed the death penalty as one of the pro-life issues calling for church concern and action.

The only reason Republicans get away this tactic is because Democrats let them. It's as though Democrats find political appeals of this sort so distasteful and ugly that they just hope they can ignore them and they will go away. They aren't and they won't. Democrats have no choice but to engage these tactics directly and to expose their corruption -- not by whining about their unfairness or protesting them with platitudes, but by directly confronting their substance and turning them to their advantage.

The reality is that Catholicism translates politically into support for liberal views at least as much as it does for conservative views. Large majorities of Catholics support abortion rights generally, stem cell research, and oppose further tax cuts. There are also dormant and lurking religious tensions between evangelicals and Catholics which Bush opponents allow to remain hidden and unexamined, while Republicans exploit every cultural and religious division they can find. There is no virtue in continuing to win policy debates while losing elections due to a ceding of these submerged and ugly battlefields.

Republicans have all sorts of vulnerabilities on these issues. So many of their leading pundits and political figures have personal lives filled with private moral atrocities or activities which so plainly violate the religious and cultural principles they claim to embody. Their flagship policies are squarely prohibited by core Catholic principles and have been condemned as immoral and unjust by the Vatican. How can that same party parade around as the true party of Catholicism?

It would be preferable if our elections were decided exclusively on the substance of the issues. But they just aren't, and pretending otherwise ensures defeat. The Republican Party is no more the party of Catholicism than it is the party of moral piety or the restoration of honor and integrity in government. Not only does adherence to Catholicism not compel a vote for Republicans; if anything, it can be argued much more persuasively that Catholicism precludes such a vote. Democrats have to aggressively make that case, and related points, no matter how much they would prefer not to have to. If they don't, we will continue to be a country whose elections are decided by filth merchants and rank religious manipulation.

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