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Last Night's Big Losers

I just got off an overnight flight to Milan. Polls were just beginning to close when the plane pushed back from the gate, and the election had pretty much been called by the time the plane landed at 2am eastern time.It seems to me that, besides Mitt Romney and the tea party right, two of the biggest losers in tonight's election are the conservative Catholic hierarchy and Catholic Social Teaching. The Catholic hierarchy has made its hostility to the Obama administration plain from the beginning. From the bishops' inflexible opposition to the Affordable Care Act, to the decision to file dozens of lawsuits in an election year against a rule the administration had already promised to change, to the several high profile partisan statements by bishops across the country, there can be no question that the Catholic bishops decided this year to cast their lot with a single party in a way that is genuinely new (at least in my lifetime). This shift is based on the belief that opposition to same sex marriage and legal abortion trump everything else -- inequality, tax justice, immigrant bashing, and even coded appeals to racism. On issues related to sexuality and abortion, it's their way or the highway. On all other issues, literally anything goes, as long as you mouth some tired aphorisms about wealth trickling down or rising tides lifting all boats. The bishops' claims to be above the partisan fray are increasingly impossible to believe.

The consequences for the Catholic hieararchy seem clear enough. Romney came much closer to winning than seemed likely in mid-September. The bishops' gambit almost worked. Had Romney won, they would have had access to the highest levels of government. But he fell short. And now the hierarchy finds itself identified more closely than ever with a single party in the United States, a party that is on the wrong side of inexorable demographic change. The result will be diminished influence for the Church in American politics and greater hostility towards requests for accommodation from the Democrats in power.Why do I call Catholic Social Teaching a loser? In support of their losing effort, numerous bishops said things that make it perfectly clear that, in their opinion, Catholic social teachings have little to contribute to our political deliberations when abortion and gay marriage are at stake. Here's Archbishop Chaput, of Philadelphia, in NCR:

Im not a Republican and Im not a Democrat. Im registered as an independent, because I dont think the church should be identified with one party or another. As an individual and voter I have deep personal concerns about any party that supports changing the definition of marriage, supports abortion in all circumstances, wants to restrict the traditional understanding of religious freedom. Those kinds of issues cause me a great deal of uneasiness.What about the wing of the church that says a party that supports the Ryan budget also ought to cause concern?Jesus tells us very clearly that if we dont help the poor, were going to go to hell. Period. Theres just no doubt about it. That has to be a foundational concern of Catholics and of all Christians. But Jesus didnt say the government has to take care of them, or that we have to pay taxes to take care of them. Those are prudential judgments. Anybody who would condemn someone because of their position on taxes is making a leap that I cant make as a Catholic. ... You cant say that somebodys not Christian because they want to limit taxation. Again, Im speaking only for myself, but I think thats a legitimate position. It may not be the correct one, but its certainly a legitimate Catholic position; and to say that its somehow intrinsically evil like abortion doesnt make any sense at all.That said, do you find the Ryan budget troubling?The Ryan budget isnt the budget I would write. I think hes trying to deal with the same issue in the government Im dealing with here locally, which is spending more than we bring in. I admire the courage of anyone whos actually trying to solve the problems rather than paper over them. I think a vigorous debate about the issues, rather than the personalities, is the way through this problem. Its immoral for us to continue to spend money we dont have. I think that those persons who dont want to deal with the issue are, in some ways, doing wrong by putting it off for their own political protection or the protection of their party.

Here's Springield bishop Paprocki a few weeks ago:

There are many positive and beneficial planks in the Democratic Party Platform, but I am pointing out those that explicitly endorse intrinsic evils. . . I have read the Republican Party Platform and there is nothing in it that supports or promotes an intrinsic evil or a serious sin . . .[I]am not telling you which party or which candidates to vote for or against, but I am saying that you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote, because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.

Abortion and gay marriage are intrinsically evil and must be opposed at every opportunity, but when it comes to cutting taxes for the rich and slashing social spending will help the poor . . . what is truth? I think this decision to throw the social teachings of the Church under the bus will have lasting consequences.I have no doubt that there are bishops who disagree with the likes of Chaput and Paprocki. But their silence conveys consent. Perhaps the disastrous implications of this election for the bishops' influence will empower dissenting voices within the hierarchy, but I sort of doubt it. The bureaucracy is already too committed to its one-party strategy.One final thought. Race. The time has come for proponents of the Catholic two-issue, one-party approach to confront the poisonous tolerance of racism within the Republican party. It is true that not all Republicans are racist, and not all racists are Republicans. But racists are more likely to be Republican, and Republicans know it. Arecent AP poll found that 79 percent of Republicans (compared to 32 percent of Democrats) expressed explicitly racist attitudes in response to their questions. Implicit racism was the same between the two parties -- we all have a long way to go -- but the Republican party has coddled and relied on overt racists (people like Joe Arpaio, who was elected to a sixth term last night) for far too long. In this election, it looks like Obama won almost 100% of the black vote and almost 80% of the Latino vote. Those are incredible figures. They should give all Republicans pause. The nearly universal rejection of the Republican party by African Americans is significant enough in its own right. But the numbers among Latinos are mind-blowing. Latinos historically have not voted in a block, and yet only 20% voted for Romney (down from the 40% who voted for W.)Many, many of the black and Latino voters who filled out their ballots for Obama last night agree with the Catholic hierarchy on abortion and gay marriage. But they simply will not vote for a party whose political strategy relies on repeated use of racist and nativist dog whistles. When members of the Catholic hierarchy like Paprocki say those who vote for a Democrat are endangering their souls, they are implicitly indicting virtually the entire black and Latino communities. What is the conclusion of this syllogism?1. Right thinking people must vote against the Democratic Party, because it supports intrinsic evil.2. Nearly all Black and Latino voters support the Democratic party.3. Therefore, ?It's not the fault of black and Latino voters that the Republican party refuses to clean house or that its Catholic enablers refuse to call the party on it. Of course, all the heated rhetoric about the intrinsic evil of abortion and gay marriage trumping all other issues diminishes their bargaining power, even in Republican circles. After all, where are they going to go? To the Democrats? 

About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the Allan R. Tessler Dean of the Cornell Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.



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Amen. Thanks especially for your closing meditation on race and racism. For over 100 years (starting no later than the selection of Andrew Jackson as the party's leader, ending no earlier than the 1948 adoption of a civil rights plank in the party platform) the Democratic Party basically defined itself as the "white man's" party. Republicans were the party of civil rights and the party of equal rights.Close identification with today's Republican Party by our bishops runs the risk of making impossible any evangelization (old or new) with most young Americans (for whom racial inclusion is, however unevenly, a given and accepted norm in their lives).

The USCCB did not make a political endorsement. They simply opposed Obama on a policy. Were the bishops losers because Bush won re-election in 2004 despite their opposition to the war in Iraq? I can't imagine Mr. Penalver would ever describe liberal Christians as losers and urge them to compromise whenever Republicans win elections. Of course, he makes no mention of Nancy Pelosi, whose party failed to recapture the House of Representatives.If Mr. Penalver thinks that the only ways to help the poor, sick, and elderly are through government programs (and that charity is now obsolete), then why doesn't he, as a Commonweal contributor, urge the magazine to surrender its nonprofit status and start paying its "fair share" of taxes like any business or corporation. Doesn't the entire nonprofit sector (which includes universities, labor unions, activist groups on the left and right, grant-making foundations in addition to churches) keep vital revenue out of the hands of the wise and all-knowing federal government?If we want all these goodies, we have to find ways to pay for them.

Still think the election was about economy, scope and role of government, foreign policy.Based on those metrics, Obama's vision is the the one American's prefer.There is a shift now from the Reagan and then centre-right later Clinton. Now this shift may be due to the fact that ideologically more Latino's favour the Democrat's approach to economy, scope and role of government and foreign policy.As far as the so called assault on religious liberty. It just did not ring true in voter's minds.No question that Obama's vision prevailed. but it is more about vision, direction and approach than it is race. Republicans have a different vision that does not resonate with the experience of most Latino's and African-Americans.

One other point.Why does this result have to do with bashing the opponent. Is it not a lot more charitable to simply say that American's were presented with two choices and visions (and neither of them is "intrinsically" evil) and they made a rational decision based on the information that was presented.American's opted for one of those vision and in a democracy, all have to accept the judgement of the majority and move on to the business of governing and enacting that vision.I don't see how accusing the opposition as being racist helps to heal or bring together a nation.

Jesus didnt say the government has to take care of them, or that we have to pay taxes to take care of them.Jesus didn't say that the government has to take care of the unborn or protect the definition of marriage either. Does that mean positions on those issues are also prudential judgments?There is an insidious dodge here. "Intrinsic evil" applies to some government policies, but other issues are prudential judgments because they are government policies. Actions, like abortion or neglecting the poor, might be intrinsic evils; government policies, like the Hyde Amendment or Obamacare, are prudential judgments. Confusing these, as Chaput does here, is confusing.

"Republicans have a different vision that does not resonate with the experience of most Latinos..."Further to that interesting observation is what could possibly be last night's biggest loser which is the correlation of traditional economic statistics and the behavior of the median voter. Where I work, the companies we invest in rely almost exclusively on Federal government expenditures on health care products and services and national defense for their revenues and we consequently mine economic data ad nausem to inform our decisions on where to spend our lobbying dollars. It is sufficient to say lack of reversion to the mean behavior was unexpected. The biggest winner for me was AKPD - there is virtually no amount of money which is too much to spend on their research.

These were my thoughts exactly! Just one addendum: the big winners in the Catholic world? Nuns on the Bus!I think one of the lessons in comparing the "fortnight for freedom" and the nuns' bus tour is that the bigger God wins. The God of petty political opportunism and prohibition lost to the generous God of gratuitous giving (to the poor, the sick, the hungry...). In that sense, I would like to believe that while Social Teaching seems to have lost among some Bishops, it won among most Catholics as well as the larger population. This also says something about evangelization. While many on the Catholic right were spending their time and energy trying to get the law to help them evangelize by other means through the protection and preservation of Catholic identity, the "nuns on the bus" were talking about substantive issues that are actually found in the Gospel. I don't remember Jesus ever saying anything about filing lawsuits to protect religious freedom (in fact, I think the suggestion was that persecution was unavoidable), but he did have something to say about doing something for "the least of these."

It was a bad day for white men and white bishops. It was a good day for minorities, women, Latinos and the downtrodden.

The Catholic hierarchy in Florida dearly wanted two proposed constitutional amendments to pass, even exhorting the faithful from the pulpit to vote for them. One would have banned taxpayer funding of all abortions except in cases of rape or incest; there was exception for life of the mother. The other would have lifted a ban on state funds for religious institutions. Both were emphatically defeated.

Arizona Hispanics voted 77% for Obama.

Where are you, David Gibson?Why don't you respond to this contributor's claim that Catholic Social Teaching was a loser in this election, David Gibson?Yes, to be sure, Catholic Social Teaching appears to have lost out in this election among the U.S. Catholic bishops, who preferred to advance their ridiculous claims about supposedly "intrinsically evil" acts such as artificial contraception and legalized abortion in the first trimester.Nevertheless, because the Catholic bishops appeared to eschew Catholic Social Teaching, their apparent abandonment of those teachings could be a blessing in disguise for Catholic Social Teaching. In effect, the bishops have apparently abandoned emphasizing Catholic Social Teaching. As a result, their apparent abandonment of Catholic Social Teaching opens the way for David Gibson and Peter Steinfels and other informed Catholic journalists to step in and advance Catholic Social Teaching independently of the Catholic bishops.

@George D (11/7, 8:12 am) I thought the original post was quite explicit about not accusing the opposition of being racist, i.e., "It is true that not all Republicans are racist, and not all racists are Republicans. "What matters most in the public arena is what we do, not what we believe. The Republican party has, in ways large and small, made clear over the past two generations that it is willing to be a party that represents citizens who, for example, oppose the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the 1965 and 1986 immigration laws, etc. George W. Bush and Karl Rove understood the political dangers of becoming a "white man's" party, and the political opportunities that existed if the Republican party represented, say 40-50% of Latinos and 15-25% of African-Americans. They acted accordingly and were rewarded, politically, for their actions. Prof. Penalver is, I think, merely reinforcing the wisdom of that course of action (as well as cautioning our bishops about the potential dangers to the Church if that path isn't followed).

Three additional lessons from Election 2012:engaged Catholics of the conservative and progressive persuasions increasingly loathe one another. Few appear disposed to seek a deeply understanding of the moral matrices of the other without disdain. Many are wounded. Few acknowledge wounding.the Catholics are politically homeless trope is so overrated. Progressive Catholic enthusiasm for the Democratic project is no less evident than conservative Catholic enthusiasm for the Republican project. Proof positive: absence of sustained public critique of ones own teams convention performance.the seamless garment vision of CST is exhausted, perhaps beyond resuscitation. An embrace of the comprehensive definition of prolife is resisted all around. The 'anti-abortion' camp wants to abandon the consistent ethic in favor a nearly exclusive focus on abortion. The 'anti-anti-abortion' camp seems intent on redefining abortion opposition out of prolife discourse. Alas, no contemporary Joe Bernardinbut deep appreciation for the occasional contributions of Bill Collier on this theme.

Interesting posts on this subject. When I look at all those southern red states and think of their history, it is, indeed, all about race. I have been doing research for a forthcoming book which involved a lot of research into America in the 1830s-40s. The huge political issue was states rights, and states rights was a euphemism for the right to own slaves. The Democrat part was the party of states rights. When the Republicans, under Lncoln, freed the slaves, the South became solidly Democrat for generation after generation. And again, the issue was still race, as the southerners found new ways to keep the black people down. This lasted, incredibly, until the 1960's. When Linden Johnson signed the Civil Rights act, he predicted that the Democrats would lose the South, and they did. Nixon's "southern strategy" pulled the southern states into the Republican Party, where they remain. When Reagan said he favored states rights, it was code for racism. The Republican Party has to face this heritage. Their advantage in the South was founded on racism. Will the larger Republican Party finally challenge the racists who form so much of their present base?

Jesus didnt say that the government has to take care of the unborn or protect the definition of marriage either. Does that mean positions on those issues are also prudential judgments?Jim McK,Your logic is faulty. Jesus also didnt say that the government may embrace the killing of the unborn or change the institution of marriage. He did, however, say 'thou shalt not kill' and embrace marriage. Your formulation of the statement is the one which contains an insidious error.The real sadness of this election is that our society lost; there are no winners.

Luke --I don't doubt for a moment that Dubya was not a racist. Far from it. He, after all, appointed a black man as head of the Army, plus a black woman as Secretary of State, and he has remained close friend with her. His other social policies are another matter.

The real sadness of this election is that our society lost; there are no winners.There are millions of winners. A joyous day for all of us! Supreme Court vacancies will be filled by a Democratic President!!!Sasha and Malia get four more years in the White House!!! won't be hearing any more about Tagg et al.Claire McCaskill TROUNCED Todd Akin!!!ET CETERA!!!

Mike McG: Precisely. And the critical questions for Catholics is how, and in what manner, they will be involved in the public square. If it simply to spin faith to accomodate political ideology, then it is fair to conclude that Kant and the Enlightenment was quite correct. Faith is a private and not public matter. In other words, there is no obligation on the part of Catholics to work internally for changes in particular ideologies that do not cohere with our faith. This, in practice is the situation that Americans find themselves in right now and your post shows clear evidence of that fact.Luke:

It is true that not all Republicans are racist, and not all racists are Republicans.

And then Eduardo goes on to cite the AP article which finds that "found that 79 percent of Republicans (compared to 32 percent of Democrats) expressed explicitly racist attitudes in response to their questions."First point, correlation is not causation. There are a myriad of other variables that could explain that phenomenon. I looked at the article but did not see the original study. And even if I did, I would like to know what other variables were considered. For example, exposure to diverse ethnic groups. Someone living in New York City (who is likely to be Democrat) is likely to have far more exposure to diverse ethnic groups than someone living in rural Iowa (likely to be Republican). However, the Iowan rural person's only exposure to diverse ethnicities is through the media which, in turn, impacts perceptions of ethnic group. All you need to do is look at criticism of Disney fims to see a clear illustration of that fact. (e.g. the hyenas in The Lyon King have hispanic and African American accents, and on and on). But instead of examining that variable, Eduardo joins with the AP and the researchers in only highlighting the variable of political affiliation.

@ George D (11/7, 11:40 am) Thanks for your thoughtful response.Speaking just for myself, when we're discussing politics I'm less interested in people's beliefs than their behaviors. As Jay Smooth explained (with great wit and clarity) four years ago, "I don't care what you are; I care what you did." other words, the fact that Sheriff Joe Arpaio is a respected figure in Republican circles is an obstacle for Latinos who might otherwise affiliate with Republicans. Or the fact that Gov. Romney endorsed "self-deportation". Or the fact that the entire congressional Republican caucus opposed the DREAM Act just a few years after many of them (during the Bush presidency) advocated for comprehensive immigration reform.

The reason that the hierarchs can engage in these hair-brain political gambits to try to sabotage the President's reelection is that they have unaccountable, unfettered access to mountains of money.The reform of the priesthood from parish to pope will not begin until the PEOPLE gain control of the money and put the hierarchs on small stipends and short leashes.

@ george D... Luke answered your inquiery about GOP racism very well.. I would add just take another look at the red states map.

...last word - yours

"Someone living in New York City (who is likely to be Democrat) is likely to have far more exposure to diverse ethnic groups than someone living in rural Iowa (likely to be Republican)."They flew into Boston from all over the country to be at Mitt Romney's victory party; according to the director of Logan airport, there were twice as many private jets as usual on the ground. Now, looking around at that crowd in Boston and comparing it to the crowd at President Obama's victory party, any Martian would have to say, "Correlation is not causation, but this sure is one white crowd here."

Re: Eric B.Nuns on the Bus were the winners? I hope they enjoy their moment in the sun because it won't last for long. By 2016, will there be any nuns left to go on the bus? Probably only ones in habits because the rest of American women religious life is pretty much an exhausted project.

@ little stone... 'women religious life is pretty much an exhausted project.' you are ignorant about life stats and know nothing about grit.

The biggest winners in this election were all those people in minority heavy precincts who stood in line for hours to witness to all how precious is our right to vote and how much an evil vote suppression truly is.

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