Neuhaus on Pro Life Progressivism
Mark Sargent November 30, 2006 - 5:11pm
Father Neuhaus has some interesting comments on a symposium issue of the University of St. Thomas Law Journal on the topic of "The Future of Pro-Life Progressivism" in the December 2006 issue of First Things at 71-72. While generally dismissive of the papers and of the very concept of "pro-life progressivism," he was kind enough to refer to me as among "the more thoughful participants," for which I am grateful. But, I did not escape unscathed! One of the points I made in my paper was that the old Catholic Democratic vote had disappeared (this was written in 2005), and I tried to explain some of the reasons. The first reason I proferred "was the Republican Party's enormous success in forging an iron link between race and taxes-- i.e., paying high taxes came to mean spending money on undeserving and threatening black people," and that this "tore white ethnic Catholics, now largely middle class or at least lower middle class, away from the Democratic Party and its tax-and-spend, race-coddling liberals." Father Neuhaus takes me to task for this argument, asking whether I "really want to stand by [this]...reason," because "[i]t is a terrible thing to suggest about Catholics, that once they were non-poor they no longer cared about the poor." Moreover, "resentment of undeserving and threatening black people does sound like liberal-talk for racism." I am befuddled as to why Father Neuhaus is surprised and apparently offended by this argument. It was no original argument on my part to point out how the Republican linkage of race and taxes undermined not only the Democratic vote, but solidarity between the middle class (including white Catholic ethnics--"Reagan Dems") and the poor. Thomas Byrne Edsall's "Chain Reaction:The Impact of Race, Rights and Taxes on American Politics," makes this point beyond dispute, at least in my opinion. Catholics in that group may have "cared about the poor" at the level of private charity, but Republican pandering to and exploitation of their resentments about welfare, affirmative action etc.(almost exclusively associated with blacks) and their own economic insecurities, had the effect of exacerbating class divisions that was indeed frankly racist. I didn't think I was engaging in "liberal-talk" in my discussion of this -- I assumed it was entirely obvious that I was talking about racist politics. In any event, I would be interested in seeing an someone try to argue that one of the key elements in the alienation of Catholics from the Democratic Party and progressive politics in general was NOT race. Of course, I know that the other big issue was abortion -- I discussed that at length in my piece, so no one needs to remind me of that here -- I am simply focusing on the race issue in response to Father Neuhaus' critique. In any event, Father Neuhaus raises other points about the papers and the concept of pro-life progressivism, but that is a topic for another post.