Goodbye, Catholics

How One Man Reshaped the Democratic Party

In mid-1971, a short book called Changing Sources of Power: American Politics in the 1970s argued that the Democratic Party should loosen its historic ties with Catholics. The book acknowledged that “the Catholic vote” had consistently supported Democratic presidential candidates since the 1930s. Even so, it contended, the “party’s political self-interest” lay in appealing to other constituencies.

“The net effect of these groups in relation to the dynamic of social change has become vastly different from thirty or sixty years ago,” the author wrote, referring to white ethnics who opposed racially integrated neighborhoods and the permissive youth culture. “Then they were a wellspring of cultural diversity and political change; now they constitute an important bastion of opposition. They have tended, in fact, to become a major redoubt of traditional Americanism and of the antinegro, antiyouth vote.”

The author of the book was Fred Dutton, who died last June. Though little remembered today, Dutton once enjoyed a kind of national prominence. In 1968, he managed Bobby Kennedy’s presidential bid and drafted the minority peace plank at the convention in Chicago.

But nothing Dutton did was as influential and far-reaching as his work on a Democratic commission that ran from 1969 to 1972. Better known as the McGovern Commission, for its chairman, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, the twenty-eight-...

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About the Author

Mark Stricherz, a writer in Washington, D.C., is working on a book about how secular, educated elites took the Democratic Party away from Catholics and the working class.