Sense and Nonsense: October, Election Year

Every election year in Oc­tober, I write an “opinion.” My views have, astonishingly, been known to be wrong from time to time. I write under my academic hat as a political science professor, a mem­ber of a group likewise not known for prophetic accuracy, having been sur­prised both by the fall of communism and the rise of Islam.

Here is my pessimistic opinion: John Kerry will win with the help of a majority of Catholic votes, both clergy and laity. This is what happened in the Clinton years, our worst presidency. Kerry could be worse even than that. He’s actually more of an ideologue. The most probable estimate of his character is, “What the people want, I want, whatever it is.”

Crisis, I believe, thinks that most practicing Catholics will vote for Bush as they voted against Clin­ton. That is also true. The hidden premise, however, is the numbers of Catholics who do not “practice.” David Carlin, in The Decline and Fall of Roman Catholicism in America, main­tains that Catholics officially listed as 50 million or 60 million are vastly overestimated. There may be only 20 million to 25 million.

Most of the reasons Kerry’s Cath­olic supporters give for voting for him (especially as regards life issues) are options that would go against any sensible position on the dignity of human life. That seems like a closed case that even Kerry implicitly recognizes. But what about the “seamless garment” ar­gument? List all the great social issues Kerry is for and that Bush is against. You can try to balance things all you want, but it just doesn’t work. You still have to end up approving what cannot be approved.

On the other hand, many con­servatives, including Catholics, think Bush is a disaster—the war, the grow­ing government, social issues, diplo­macy. They don’t want to vote for either candidate. What elected Bush the first time was the heartland the mountain-to-mountain section of America. If he’s reelected, it will only be because he succeeded in winning them over again.

The Wall Street Journal wrote that the main issue in this election is “whether America treats terrorism as a problem of law enforcement or as an act of war.” It is an act of war, re­sponded to justly, and the president has clearly understood this from the beginning. The terrorists also under­stand quite well. Their dilemma is whether it’s possible to turn this into a Spanish election—that is, blow some­thing up close to the election to push Kerry to victory.

But terrorist leaders are prob­ably also clever enough to realize that this may backfire by proving that Bush has been right all along. This country was marvelously for­tunate that it was George W. Bush in the presidency when the wake- up call came on September 11. This was the terrorists’ greatest tactical mistake.

And what about the culture wars? We are, no doubt, losing them. Why? Because we don’t yet understand the logic of our position and the need to turn it into political force. With every election we slip from divorce, to contraception, to abortion, to fetal experimentation, to gay marriage, to surrogate parent­ing, to cloning. In reality, this is all the same issue rehashed in different ways, each manifestation worse than the former.

John Henry Cardinal Newman once said that in politics, one side is right and one wrong: “I am not saying which side is right and which is wrong, in the ever-varying course of social duty…. I only say there is a right and a wrong, that it is not a matter of indif­ference which side a man takes, that a man will be judged hereafter for the side he takes.”

This is my opinion, as well.


  • Fr. James V. Schall

    The Rev. James V. Schall, SJ, (1928-2019) taught government at the University of San Francisco and Georgetown University until his retirement in 2012. Besides being a regular Crisis columnist since 1983, Fr. Schall wrote nearly 50 books and countless articles for magazines and newspapers.

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