Communitarian Lite

American Catholics & their politics

When President George W. Bush gave the commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame in 2001, he did not hesitate to invoke the legacy of Dorothy Day, the patron saint of American Catholic radicalism, and proclaim "God’s special concern for the poor." What stirred these thoughts in a president known for his political conservatism and support for big business? At Notre Dame, Bush was enacting what has been dubbed the "Catholic strategy," the courting of churchgoing Catholics by his administration. Having put that and other political projects on hold after September 11, the Republican National Committee now says it will renew its outreach to Catholics during this midterm election year.

The undertaking is similar to the Republican wooing of evangelical Protestants in past decades, a project that has to be judged a success: Churchgoing white evangelicals are now almost wholly appended to the party (having given Bush 84 percent of their vote, according to a postelection survey by political scientist John C. Green and colleagues at the University of Akron). Some strategists believe active Catholics are ready to imitate evangelicals in this regard, moving to the Republican Party because of its political conservatism and promises of moral restoration, including its opposition to abortion. Yet party operatives must also think Catholics are somehow different. Why else would Bush proclaim at Notre Dame a...

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About the Author

William Bole is a journalist and co-author, with Bob Abernethy, of The Life of Meaning: Reflections on Faith, Doubt, and Repairing the World.