Deal W. Hudson
November 20, 2008
Joseph Cao is a Catholic lawyer and former Jesuit scholastic from New Orleans. He is running as a Republican for the Congressional 2nd district seat in Louisiana presently held by Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), who is best known for the $90,000 found in his freezer. The election will be held December 6.
Few candidates for public office are as forthright as Cao when asked about their position on abortion. “I am very anti-abortion,” he told me without hesitation. Cao would like to overturn Roe, but in the meantime, “We have to find a way to defeat Roe without having to overturn it.”
His solid pro-life credentials are attested to by the endorsement of the FRC Action PAC, among others.
At age 41, Cao has been married for seven years to Hieu, also called “Kate,” and has two children, Sophia 5 and Betsy 4. Kate is a pharmacist who works to “pay the bills while I play politician,” Joseph told me. They met at a Marian festival at Our Lady La Vang Parish, a Vietnamese Catholic congregation in New Orleans.
Cao was born in Vietnam but immigrated to the United States at age 8 with his older sister and younger brother. The Communists had jailed his father after the fall of Saigon in 1975, and Joseph was raised by an uncle in Houston where he attended middle and high school and was eventually reunited with his parents. Joseph attended Baylor University in pre-med, where he met a Catholic chaplain who introduced him to the Society of Jesus.
He entered the Jesuits in 1990, spending two years in the novitiate in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. While working as a Jesuit in Mexico he had an experience that led him out of the Order and into the world of politics.
“I went all over the world to work with the poor and experienced a crisis of faith in Mexico over human suffering and God. I asked my spiritual director, ‘What is God doing about all this suffering?’ He told me that ‘God sends people to help.’ That was when I began to realize my calling was politics.”
Cao earned his M.A., in philosophy at Fordham University and spent a year teaching ethics at Loyola University, but left the Jesuits in May 1996. He earned a law degree and continued teaching at Loyola before he began his legal career as an associate at the Waltzer Law Firm. Cao left Waltzer to become in-house counsel for Boat People SOS.
Cao lost his bid in 2007 to become a state representative in his home state, but he wasn’t discouraged. “I have a deep faith, and I believe that I am called to public service.”
Running against an entrenched incumbent doesn’t faze Cao. “The election of Barack Obama suggests that people are willing to cross party and racial lines to vote for the person they think is best for the country and will bring accountability back into politics.”
Cao admits that his personality is not ideally suited for campaigning: “I have a personality that is the antithesis to political life – I am a rather private person.” There’s something else about Cao that is unlike most politicians. When I asked him about his personal philosophy, he spoke expansively about Dostoevsky.
“I read a lot of Dostoevsky who wrote works of literature but really was addressing philosophical questions.” His favorite is Brothers Karamazov with its story of the “good man [Alexei] who lives in a conflicted existence but holds on to his goodness.”
His attraction to Dostoevsky is mirrored by Cao’s commitment to upholding his Catholic faith in politics: “I hold on to my Catholic values, the good of the family, of faith, of social justice in various forms, including the defense of unborn life.”
Joseph Cao represents a new generation of Catholics in politics – a generation with the courage of Dostoevsky’s Alexei who will not follow in the way of the majority of Catholics presently serving in the U. S. Congress.