Great Times Editorial on Partisanship

From the New York Times:

Imagine, for a moment, that George W. Bush had been president when the Transportation Security Administration decided to let Thanksgiving travelers choose between exposing their nether regions to a body scanner or enduring a private security massage. Democrats would have been outraged at yet another Bush-era assault on civil liberties. Liberal pundits would have outdone one another comparing the T.S.A. to this or that police state. (“In an outrage worthy of Enver Hoxha’s Albania …”) And Republicans would have leaped to the Bush administration’s defense, while accusing liberals of going soft on terrorism.

But Barack Obama is our president instead, so the body-scanner debate played out rather differently. True, some conservatives invoked 9/11 to defend the T.S.A., and some liberals denounced the measures as an affront to American liberties. Such ideological consistency, though, was the exception; mostly, the Bush-era script was read in reverse. It was the populist right that raged against body scans, and the Republican Party that moved briskly to exploit the furor. It was a Democratic administration that labored to justify the intrusive procedures, and the liberal commentariat that leaped to their defense.

This role reversal is a case study in the awesome power of the partisan mindset. Up to a point, American politics reflects abiding philosophical divisions. But people who follow politics closely — whether voters, activists or pundits — are often partisans first and ideologues second. Instead of assessing every policy on the merits, we tend to reverse-engineer the arguments required to justify whatever our own side happens to be doing. Our ideological convictions may be real enough, but our deepest conviction is often that the other guys can’t be trusted.

You should read the whole thing.  It’s Ross Douthat at his finest.

This obnoxious partisanship is a serious danger for Christians, since neither party is wholly devoted to the Gospel (that seems to be putting things a bit too delicately, doesn’t it?).  For about a century after its founding, the Republican Party was the party of Yankee WASPs, while the Democrats were everyone the Republicans hated: namely, bootleggers, Confederates, and Catholics.  Or, as was cleverly put during the 1884 campaign, the Democrats served as the party of “rum, rebellion, and Romanism.”  To be Catholic, particularly in the Northeast, was to be a Democrat.  When the Democratic Party went bad, buying into abortion, the gay rights agenda and the like, they took many good Catholic souls with them, folks who’d lost that distinction between “Catholic” and “Democrats,” and chose the wrong side when the two divorced.  You still see this today: read virtually any theologically-liberal Catholic blog or newspaper, and note the way that the Vatican and the GOP appear to be interchangable.  Nearly everything is viewed through the lens of the politics of the day.

Nowadays, we face nearly the opposite problem: good Catholics do tend to be a very Republican group, not because the Vatican and GOP are the same, but because the Democrats seem more committed to anti-Catholicism. But the danger is still present that they’ll forget whether they’re Catholics who support the Republican Party, or Republicans who go to Mass.  And the consequences are very real: as I noted yesterday, there are some seriously anti-Christian ideas in vogue on the Right as well as the Left.

If we stay true to our Faith, placing our trust in God and His Church’s teachings above the political zeitgeist, we’ll be able to work from there to develop an authentic and consistent political ethos. Otherwise, we risk just be carried along by the current, supporting whatever moral or immoral thing “our” side says next.  At Mass last night, the Responsorial Psalm was one of my favorites, Psalm 146, in which the Psalmist tells us (Psalm 146:2-5):

I shall praise the LORD all my life, sing praise to my God while I live.
I put no trust in princes, in mere mortals powerless to save.
When they breathe their last, they return to the earth; that day all their planning comes to nothing.
Happy those whose help is Jacob’s God, whose hope is in the LORD, their God

That’s how you build up immunity to partisanship.


  1. Joe, I agree wholeheartedly. I would also add that BOTH major parties need committed Christians in them to fight against partisan excesses. Abandoning the Democratic party to feminism and gay rights is not the answer any more than uncritically supporting the Republican party platform.

  2. That’s the really tricky question. On the one hand, if Catholics vote a straight party-line ticket, it’s hard to get either party to listen to their concerns (since Republicans take them for granted, and Democrats give them up as a lost vote from the start), and it can lead to that dangerous over-identification between GOP and Holy See.

    On the other hand, it’s hard to be a Catholic Democrat in good faith. The official Democratic Party platform says (page 53 here –
    “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports
    Roe v. Wade
    and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. “

    The difference between this and their earlier platform is that the Democrats changed “safe, legal, and rare” to just “safe and legal,” because as a party, they’re not for abortion being “rare” any more. That’s appalling. And the reference to “regardless of ability to pay” is a nod towards their desire to make US taxpayers pay for Medicaid abortions, like it or not.

    It goes without saying that either formulation is a declaration of support for mortal sin, and cannot be embraced by good Catholics. So there’s a difference: there are dangerous and anti-Christian people and groups on both sides of the partisan divide, but the Democratic Party has institutionalized evil in a way Republicans haven’t yet.

    The Democrats have, as a party, consciously removed the welcome mat for pro-lifers. Asking Catholics to suck it up and stay in the party would be like asking African-Americans to suck it up and join Strom Thurmond’s State Rights Party in order to reform it. So I think Catholics should flee from the Democratic Party (since the party is largely the problem), but are free to vote for those Democratic candidates who aren’t against the Faith. If Catholics did this, Democrats would either change their position to something less hostile to unborn human life, or they’d die out, and the void would be filled by a less evil party. That won’t happen until Catholics stop holding their noses and voting against their own children, though.

  3. And what you’ve articulated, Joe, is of course the “mainstream” pro-life political strategy that has gotten us to where we are today. I submit, that is not a satisfactory place.

    The Democrat party, in some form or another, has existed since the founding of the Republic. It’s not going to “die out.” Abandoning a pillar of American life to the Enemy is exactly what the Enemy desires. “Lose hope, all ye who enter here.”

    The Enemy doesn’t get a pass. I intend to fight him on his turf. Call me a “cafeteria Democrat,” but the difference between one’s political life and one’s spiritual life is in the former one is free to pick and choose what one believes in and supports. The purpose of the American Democratic Party is to run candidates for office, not to perform abortions or promote a change in the legal definition of marriage. The fact that some in the party have formed a coalition for the time being that assists those latter activities is simply a current fact, it does not predict the future.

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