For most of their electoral history, Catholics have remained a solid demographic for the Democratic Party, but there has been a marked shift in the past two decades mobilizing religious Catholics to the Republican platform. These voters arrived at the polls this year with more than a desire to resolve the war on terror, reform healthcare, or eliminate the death penalty. According to the Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics (www.catholic.com), five non-negotiable issues dictated this election: abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia, human cloning and homosexual marriage.
During this campaign season, endorsement from the pulpit was nearly as popular as “Vote or Die” T-shirts or voting parties with Oprah. This is far from revolutionary, however, because religion has always played a significant role in defining issues and establishing moral parameters that promote the “common good.” What is surprising is how social conservatives have prioritized the issues and aligned themselves with a single party’s platform.
For instance, an inextricable principle within the Catholic doctrine teaches the importance of a just war. In order to have a just war, basic criteria such as a just cause, right intention, probability of success, and last resort must be met. Certainly the criteria of “right intention” and “last resort” are in question by a majority of the American public in regards to the war in Iraq. Many opposed to the war, John Kerry among them, claim that Bush’s precedence for initiating military engagement was false and deterred focus from the true war on terrorism. Also, the Pope strongly emphasized “last resort” by publicly supporting the peace processes of the UN and opposing any action towards preventive war.
Other critical issues demand the moral attention of Catholics. The Christian Science Monitor released this year that 44 million individuals are without healthcare. Bush’s administration has done little to lessen this embarrassing statistic, which continues to increase by a million people per year. Reliability and accessibility to basic health coverage, especially for seniors and children, are inherently Christian concerns. Everyone’s life deserves preservation, not just those who are economically capable of buying that right.
Another seemingly contradictory stance has been Bush’s unfaltering advocacy of the death penalty. His gubernatorial term in Texas achieved a national record for the greatest number of executions in any state, ever. One hundred forty criminals suffered the death sentence under Bush’s watch and due to a new law broadening culpability to include women, the mentally disabled, and juveniles. This hardly reflects the Catholic pro-life mentality.
The moral issues that took priority, the ones most relevant to the nation’s current agenda, were stem cell research, abortion and homosexual marriage. These deciding factors can be narrowed down even further.
According to the same voting guide, “legal recognition of any other marriage undermines true marriage” and is “an objectively immoral arrangement.” Few paid mind to this, but Bush recently claimed that he favored civil unions in the event that the definition of marriage was preserved to mean between a man and a woman – precisely Kerry’s stance.
Stem cell research and abortion were the only issues standing in this election and the only basis for avoiding “grievous sin.” For Catholics, life begins at the scientific moment of conception. Intervening at any stage in the process of life is considered not only immoral, but also homicidal.
One Catholic told me, “How can I vote for a candidate who promises the rights and liberties of this country only if you’re ‘alive,’ only if you’ve been the lucky one to survive your mother’s womb? If you’re not safe there, where are you safe?”
The Family Research Council tallies the abortion death toll rate since the passage of Roe v. Wade at 43 million lives, the total population of 17 states. Though Catholic voters may have compromised on a number of issues during this election, certainly this number exceeds the number of uninsured Americans, those who have suffered the death penalty and the casualty report of any war.
Moral issues do not belong exclusively to the Republican or Democratic Party, and any political measure that impacts the equality, sanctity and preservation of life should be deemed a moral concern.
The Catholic voting guide merely attempts to prioritize those issues that it views as fundamental to a culture of life, and this year the Republican platform happened to pass the test.
Erin Cusack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.