The Christian Review 2015

Governor Christie — Go to Green Bay!

Deal W. Hudson
January 8, 2015

Following the victory of the Dallas Cowboys over the Detroit Tigers, longtime Cowboy’s fan, Gov. Chris Christie, gave Jerry Jones a hug — Jones is the owner of the Cowboys.  Since Christie was sitting in the owner’s box his impetuous embrace was caught on TV and broadcast to the nation.

The pummeling soon began: Fox commentator Terry Bradshaw was “appalled,” the Daily Beast asked if Christie would “regret his Cowboy hug,” and those New Jersey politicos defeated by Tunnelgate started rumbling about another ethics investigation. The Democratic co-chairman of the joint legislative committee, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, that led an investigation into the George Washington Bridge scandal, said Christie sitting in owner Jones’s skybox looks “very suspicious.”


Such furor over Christie’s loyal devotion to the Cowboys and his delight in their playoff victory makes me wonder, once again, why anyone wants to serve in public office. Accused of bad taste, bad politics, and bad ethics, Gov. Christie now faces the decision of whether or not to attend Sunday’s playoff game between Dallas and the Green Bay Packers at Packer Stadium.

If Christie is the man I think he is, he will not only go to the game but will give Jones another, even bigger, hug if the Cowboys beat the Packers in what will be the most highly rated professional football game of the year.

Over the years, Christie has gained many admirers for his boldness in responding to the kind of media questions that make most politicians duck and run.  His return to commonsense was refreshing to many of us who have grown nauseous with media bias and inane political correctness.  It’s as if male politicians have embraced a castration complex as a fait accompli.

Bradshaw was completely off base in his reaction to Christie’s jubilation — wouldn’t any fan in the proximity of Jerry Jones started whooping it up?  The Daily Beast, of course, will grasp at any straw to undermine the Republican Christie’s appeal. And the New Jersey legislature, well, need it even be said? They’ve been trying to hang Christie from the day he was elected.

From one lifelong Cowboy fan to another: Governor Christie, go to Green Bay on Sunday!

By the way, if Christie was a Detroit Tigers fan and had thrown his arms around Mike Ilitch, I would be saying the same thing.

The American voter may have lots of quirks, but one thing they will not do: Penalize a politician who dances around and starts shouting when his favorite football team wins!

A Writer Who Questions Whether or Not Jesus is Real

Deal W. Hudson
January 10, 2015

Madeline St John (1941-2006), pronounced “sin-gin,” is a writer who never caught on in the United States, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was her early death in 2006. When Carroll & Graf published three of her novels in the late 90s, I was certain American readers would be intrigued by this writer whose Anglicanism and Britishness, though born in Australia, is both charming and morally serious. She published only four novels before her death, The Women in Black (1993), A Pure Clear Light (1996), The Essence of the Thing (1997), and Stairway to Paradise (1999). Her work deserves to be widely read by those traditional readers who are in the habit of recommending only writers now long-deceased.

To my mind, St John deserves to be grouped with writers such as Ron Hansen, Donna Tartt, Oscar Hijuelos, Jon Hassler, Marilynne Robinson, and the Swede Torgny Lindgren — whose literary achievements have been widely recognized in spite of rather traditional moral and spiritual attitudes. St John would undoubtedly be surprised to find herself mentioned in such company. Her books contain nothing of the historical gravitas, for example, of Hansen’s Hitler’s Niece (2000), the exotic lyricism of Hijuelos’s Empress of the Splendid Season (1999), or the confessional realism of Lindgren’s masterwork Sweetness (translated and published in 2011). The comparison to Marilynne Robinson, however, is more apt. Robinson’s four novels, the latest being the award-winning Lila (2014), are situated domestically and address matters of faith directly.

St John’s books are disarming in a way the others are not: Her characters inevitably, under the pressure of life-changing events, calmly pause for tea. Composed entirely of short chapters, filled largely with dialogue, her novels begin with the offhandedness of a soap opera and end with the wallop of an Ibsen play.


I suggest starting with A Pure Clear Light — it traces the return to Christianity of Flora, whose husband Simon is carrying on a red-hot affair with Gillian. The halting steps of Flora toward her recovery of faith are convincingly presented. Her two children accompany their mother to church but are puzzled by her sudden change of habits. Her daughter finally asks why she should go to church: “‘Because,’ said Flora, ‘there are two possible worlds, the one in which Jesus is real, and the one in which he is not, and it actually does matter which of these two worlds you believe you’re living in.’” The emptiness of the relationship with Gillian is gradually revealed to Simon by the “clear light” of Flora’s example.

Another reflection on the difference between love and narcissism is found in The Essence of the Thing, nominated for the Booker Prize in 1997. This tale is both more acerbic and troubling than A Pure Clear Light. It begins with the sudden and unexplained breakup of a relationship that appeared, to both family and friends, headed for the altar. In Jonathan’s decision to leave Nicola, the exposure of his shallowness, and, especially, the onslaught of Nicola’s painful loneliness, St John catches the sad spectacle of serial relationships devoid of marital purpose. After Jonathan moves his things out of their apartment, Nicola returns to her bedroom, “a habitation now only for denial, desolation, and grief: for whatever dark spirits are sucked into the vacuum left by the departure of tenderness, love, and trust.”

In St John’s last published work A Stairway to Paradise (1999) Alex, a married journalist, and Andrew, a newly divorced academic, duel for the favors of the India-bound Barbara. As in her previous novels, St John explores the reasons men cheat on, and sometimes leave behind, the women who have loved them and borne their children. All the men in St John’s fiction create capsules of insulated time and space where their false loves can gestate. The women grow tired of this fantasy, as in the case of Barbara telling Alex she can no longer pretend their affair does not affect his wife and children: “It’s not separate from the rest of our lives, or the rest of our selves, or the rest of the world,’ she said. ‘It only feels as if it is. That’s the whole point of it. Don’t you see?’”

St John is not timid: Her characters talk about choosing between a world where Jesus is real or He is not, and they come to conclusions about what real love may allow and what it will not. Yet in spite of grappling with the big issues, her writing remains lithe and lively, her ear for the moral undertones of conversation unparalleled in this generation of writers.

Obama’s Decision Was Repugnant

Deal W. Hudson
January 12, 2015

I really don’t understand this President.  It’s one thing to say, I don’t like this President, or I don’t agree with this President, but to say, I don’t understand this President, is even more alarming to me.

Obama’s decision not to accept the invitation of French President François Hollande, to march side-by-side in France’s historic protest against terrorism is repugnant.  I use that term on purpose: When I was in sixth grade, I asked my teacher, Mr. Hoppe, “what’s the worst thing I can call a person,” he replied, “repugnant.”

So, President Obama, I want to tell you, “Your choice not to join arms with the nation who gave us the Statue of Liberty in 1886 is repugnant.”  Why? If you knew the history of the special relationship between this nation and France, your first impulse would have been, “Of course, I’ll go!” You would have told your staff, “Let’s make this happen, regardless of my schedule.” Sadly, President Obama who had nothing on his schedule for January 11, 2015, didn’t go to Paris and didn’t say why.

World leaders walk alongside French President Holland, but without President Obama.

World leaders walk alongside French President Holland, but without President Obama.

Even a CNN commentator, Jake Tapper, remarked from Paris that he was “ashamed” by the lack of U.S. presence, meaning Obama, Biden, or Secretary of State Kerry. Need it be said that CNN, as a news organization, probably has done little than promote Obama and cover for his mistakes for the past seven years?  CNN didn’t cover for Obama this time. Why? Because it was repugnant.

Not only did the nation of France officially recognize our common commitment to freedom by the gift of the Lady Liberty but France was also the only European nation to come to our aid during our American Revolution, sending much-needed ships, thousands of men, the leadership of Marquis de Lafayette and the expenditure of 13 billion dollars in modern currency.

This history, alone, should have sent Obama to Paris to join the other 3 million who walked in protest of the slaying of 13 staff members of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo by three Muslim terrorists. The political leaders of Germany, Italy, Turkey, Britain, Israel and the as well as Palestinian territories march through the historic Place de la Republique.

Over 100,000 American soldiers died defending France in World War 1.  In World War II over 400,000 died with 9,387 buried at the Normandy American Cemetery after the D-Day Invasion of June 6, 1944, where 2,499 Americans died and thousands more were severely wounded.

It was Paris, the President might also remember, where Charles Lindbergh landed on May 21, 1927, at Le Bourget Aerodrome where the tens of thousands who had waited in the dark for “The Spirit of St. Louis” to land nearly shredded the plane, and the pilot, in their frenzied celebration.  One biographer of Lindbergh cited a witness who said, the crowd was “behaving as though Lindbergh had walked on water, not flown over it.”

It’s a certainty that Obama will never be heralded by the French in such a manner.

Obama has been described as becoming “invisible,” and we can all wish that was really the case. But it isn’t. Obama’s presence is still noticed in his absence, not merely because he’s the President of the United States but also the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (2009). When Obama was elected to office in 2008, he was celebrated as the savior of America’s power and reputation around the world. Now his lack of character, education, and vision have become apparent to all, even the liberal media.

The thrill that MSNBC’s Chris Mathews once described going up his leg is gone. Why? Because Obama’s decision was repugnant.

St. Thomas Aquinas Came to My Ambulance

Deal W. Hudson
January 28, 2015

The Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas

I would guess that most Catholics look at the sanctity of St. Thomas Aquinas as primarily an intellectual charism, given that he was the greatest Christian intellectual of the Middle Ages, a period of over 800 years.

I had viewed St. Thomas in this way, ever since the first day I read from the Summa Theologica, accelerating my journey into the Catholic Church. The day I “met” Aquinas, so to speak, was in the spring of 1980. In February 1984, I was received into the Church taking the name “Tommaso” in tribute to the saint who had opened my eyes to the truth, and truths, of our faith.

Five years later I would learn that the sanctity of St. Thomas extended far beyond the teaching that designed the architecture of all subsequent Catholic philosophy and theology.

The Bronx River Parkway

The Bronx River Parkway

It was a beautiful September afternoon in 1989, and I was driving south on the Bronx River Parkway to the new faculty reception at Fordham University. Not being in a hurry, I was driving in the middle lane below the speed limit. It was around 3pm, and the traffic was very light.

Out of the corner of my eye, in the side view mirror, I saw a car coming very fast in the lane to my left. Just as the car passed me, it swerved in front of me — I assume the driver was trying to impress me with his driving skill. Well, the driver failed to execute his “manly” maneuver; his car clipped the front left fender of my mine, turning my car 45 degrees to the right and hurtling towards a steel guard rail.

I looked at the rail and my speedometer, which read 40 mph, and said “goodbye” to my wife Theresa and my sixteen-month old daughter Hannah. Since I wasn’t wearing a seat belt, I knew I would not survive the impact.

My car hit the guard rail and bounced backwards into the middle of the parkway. As the car came to rest, I was amazed that I was still conscious, though blood was streaming down my face and onto my (brand new!) sport coat. I sat completely dazed as other cars whizzed around me.

I was starting to lose consciousness when the door opened and a off-duty firefighter started to take care of me, applying pressure to the deep wound in my scalp. He apologized telling me he had to leave but assured me an EMS vehicle was on its way. I was left feeling afraid and vulnerable, but within a minute I heard the sound of an ambulance approaching.

But once again, I was losing consciousness and feeling cold.

The door opened again and I felt myself being lifted out of the car, placed on a stretcher, and put into the back of the vehicle. Everything was going dark when I heard a woman’s voice, with a strong Irish accent yelling in my face, “You’ve got to get yourself together, now!” Her voice brought me back to consciousness. Then, I found myself whispering, “Thomas, Thomas, Thomas…..”

After repeating his name, my mind cleared, my body lost its chill, and I started conversing as if nothing serious had happened.

It was a quick ride to the North Central Bronx Hospital, where after several hours of waiting, a female resident freshly arrived from Mississippi, applied double stitches to my scalp, which was almost removed, and the deep cuts in my forehead. Her Southern accent was reassuring though I was shocked when she told me I was being sent home the same day.

Later that evening Theresa arrived to take me home. When she put baby Hannah was put in my arms I broke down, uncontrollably, remembering I had said “goodbye” to her and her mother only a few hours earlier.

As the days passed and the details of the accident on the Bronx River Parkway became more vivid to me, I realized that I owed my life to Irish lass in the EMS vehicle and the saint whose presence I spontaneously implored. Her’s was the voice that pierced the darkness making way for the Angelic Doctor to shine through.


The Near-Fatal Flaw in My Education

Deal W. Hudson
March 2, 2015

I’ve always viewed myself as classically educated, a proponent of the “Great Ideas” and the “Great Books.” In fact, I spent three summers as the Mortimer Adler Fellow at the Aspen Institute, working side by side with the great man himself.

As a college professor for 15 years, I avoided textbooks where possible and taught from original sources, my regular conversation partners being Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Boethius, Aquinas, Bonaventure, and Dante; along with moderns such as Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Freud, Maritian, C.S. Lewis, Chesterton, Gilson, Adler, and Pieper.

My own education had been in philosophy and classics at the University of Texas-Austin; Christian Doctrine at Princeton Theological Seminary; and theology and literature at Emory University. Outside the classroom, I pursued the history of the novel and classical music and eventually everything I could learn about the movies.

But it wasn’t until my 60s that I started to study history seriously. For the past five years, I’ve found myself intrigued by both World Wars; the Russian Revolution; the Spanish Civil War; the history of the Czars; the War of 1812; Fin de siècle Europe; English history since Richard II; the history of China; the Middle East since the British-French Mandate; U.S. expansion westward; the American Revolution and Civil War; Peloponnesian War; the Greco-Persian Wars; Rome after Julius Caesar; the French Revolution and the Terror; Louis XIV, XV, and XVI; Europe after WWII; 20th century dictators; Napoleon; Queen Victoria; and the history of Byzantium.

Ruth Scurr's biography of Maximilien Robespierre.

Ruth Scurr’s biography of Maximilien Robespierre.

I wouldn’t say that I was ignorant of history, but I was ignorant of its essential importance in my education. I’m guessing that I was not alone in thinking history was a narrative to be memorized, a series of epochs, each with a dominant culture; important leaders and events; ideas; forms of government; institutions; works of art, all encompassed in a timeline starting with its rise, continuing through its flourishing, and ending with its decline and demise.

One lesson most of us have taken away from even a cursory knowledge of history is that kingdoms, no matter how dominant, are impermanent. They may bear the same name, such as Britain, but they went through a fundamental change in order to survive their decline. Think of what countries like the Netherlands, Spain, France, Portugal, Japan, Greece, and Russia once were. Remember the heyday of the Vikings and the Norman conquest.

However, the fatal flaw in my education was not noticing that history taught human nature, the centrality of character in human events, both public and private. I’m not using a character in the philosophical sense of a person possessing virtue but in the descriptive sense: Henry V had a character, largely admirable but far from perfect, while Richard III had character, most despicable but not devoid of compassion. What was the debacle known as the Treaty of Versailles other than the product of men with flawed characters clashing over claims of idealism, vengeance, ownership, and guilt?

What I take away from my recent reading of history is simple — I’ve been much too willing to put my trust in people. I’ve been naive in assuming people will generally do the “right thing.” Fallen human nature makes people more complicated than that. The probabilities of character are darker than I had assumed from a lifetime of reading philosophy.

Kenneth Branagh as Macbeth.

Kenneth Branagh as Macbeth.

I could have learned this much earlier from Shakespeare. Macbeth, Richard III, and King Lear teach the same lessons, but my mind at the time was too deeply etched with the theory of the virtues to be distracted by the dissonance of these counter-examples.

As a good friend of mine said, one who helped to guide me through some tough times in my own life: “Everyone has a little larceny.” He was probably putting it nicely. It’s truer to say everyone has a little larceny, but more than a few people are capable of, given the circumstances, a lot of larcenies.

Some might ask here, what about your Christian faith? The life and death of Jesus Christ, the constant quarrel with the Pharisees, the abandonment by all but one of his disciples, the denial of Peter, the murderous intent of the Sanhedrin, the people’s choice of Barabbas over Christ? What about the history of the Church itself, which contains all the plot twists of the War of the Roses during its periods of decadence?

Finally, someone might say, have you looked at yourself? Yes. Though I’d like to think I’m exempt from all the character flaws and destructive inclinations described above, I know I am not. But my late encounter with history has overcome what must have been an inner resistance to recognizing human nature in the raw, so to speak. That’s why I call it a near-fatal flaw because I’m still here but better armed and ready for what may come.


Challenges Facing Catholic Voters in the 2016 Election

Deal W. Hudson
March 11, 2015

Anyone who wishes to understand the Catholic vote needs to recognize two things from the start. First, there is no reliable “Catholic block” of voters, but there is a sizable group of white Catholic moderates who “swing” back and forth from one party to the other. They can determine the outcome of elections, as has been the case in every presidential election since 2000.

White Catholics as a whole made up only 18% of the electorate in 2012, but as a group of 18,000,000 voters, the moderates among them are significant.

Next, there is an important distinction to be made between Catholic voters who attend Mass regularly, called “active Catholics,” and Catholic who do not call “inactive” or “self-identified Catholics.” The latter’s voting pattern is indistinguishable from the national voting pattern, while active Catholics can differ between 4% to 10%, always in favor of the socially conservative candidate, usually a Republican.

On the distinction between active and inactive Catholic voters, see the November 1998 of Crisis Magazine which I edited, containing the groundbreaking study by Steve Wagner and commentary by the late Bob Novak. After the publication of this study and it’s subsequent — and successful — implementation in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, the distinction has become standard in the political analysis of Catholic voters.

Pope Francis

Whether he intended it or not, Pope Francis has re-energized the Catholic left, the so-called “social justice” arm of the Catholic electorate. This means that those lay leaders and clergy who have been taking heat for downplaying the life issues will be able to point to the new Holy Father who said, Catholics should not be “obsessed” with abortion. It won’t matter that Pope Francis has repeatedly condemned abortion as an “unspeakable crime,” because in politico-speak you never get past the first distinction. Any further distinctions are ignored or dismissed.



Catholics rightly call immigration policy a prudential matter, but it has become de facto a non-negotiable at the USCCB, so much so that much of the clergy — and particularly Catholic Democrats — now include immigration as a “life issue.” It will not matter in the 2016 campaign that this position is wrong or that Catholics are not morally obliged to accept the bishop’s position on immigration.

The GOP, Catholic Republicans, and “conservative Catholics” will be pounded repeatedly on their supposed immigration stance, the assumption being they’re opposed to the bishops and to Pope Francis. Even Catholic presidential candidates, Sen. Rubio and former Gov. Bush, who has supported immigration reform — and paid a political price — will be found wanting.


Pope Francis has promised an encyclical on the environment. It has already been drafted by Cardinal Peter Turkson and is being readied for publication sometime later this year. If the Holy Father writes in support of the dubious global warming theory, it will hand the Democrats and the Catholic Left a very large cudgel to use against the GOP and Catholic Republicans in particular.

It will not matter what precisely the Holy Father says about the prudential issue of environmental public policy, his words will be treated as “Church teaching” in support of all the pro-abortion Catholic Democrats running for office. In truth, it will not matter if Pope Francis specifically endorses global warming. As long as he addresses “climate change,” which he assuredly will, the Catholic left will be free to claim the Holy Father has made global warming part of “Church teaching.”

With the addition of both immigration and environment arrows in their issue quiver, left-wing Catholic activists will have quite an advantage going into 2016.


The issue of religious liberty and taxpayer-funded abortion failed to make much of a dent in the 2012 presidential election. The reasons were multiple: a weak GOP candidate who ran from all the life issues; Catholic leaders such as Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Medical Association, offering Obama cover; and the tepid response of the USCCB, signaling to the White House a tacit acceptance of healthcare reform regardless of its abortion coverage. The presidential debate — not necessarily the congressional debates — will move from Obamacare, taxpayer funding of abortion, gay marriage, and religious liberty to the fate of the Pain-Capable Act see below.


Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

The most important Congressional legislation since Roe v Wade (1978) was withdrawn from the House floor under pressure of pro-life Republican women citing concerns about its reporting requirement for rape and incest victims. That it was withdrawn on the day of the annual March for Life when it had been promised by House leadership, was especially galling for the pro-life community, which is predominate, if not entirely, Republican.

If the Pain-Capable Bill is not brought to the floor of the House and the Senate this year, where it would undoubtedly pass, a large percentage of the GOP ground troops will feel much as they did in 2012 when Romney ran away from any discussion of abortion or marriage. Pro-lifers once again will feel the Republican establishment had stabbed them in the back. It’s simply not possible for any Republican presidential candidate to win the White House without the active support of pro-life activists.

Hispanic Catholics

Hispanic Catholics are a growing segment of Catholic voters, now over 20%. (Hispanic voters represented 8% of all 2014 voters.) The voting record of Hispanic Catholics does not differ significantly from Hispanic voters in general, thus raising a question about the oft-repeated claim that Hispanic Catholics are “natural” social conservatives and ripe for wooing by the GOP.

Hispanic voters did respond as a group to President George W. Bush’s reelection effort, voting 44% in his favor over John Kerry. But the ugly immigration debate of 2005 put an end to that trend towards the GOP among Hispanic voters. In the congressional election of 2006, Hispanic votes for GOP candidates dropped by 50% with Romney receiving only 27% of the Hispanic vote in 2012.

Hispanic Evangelicals vote very differently from Hispanic Catholics — they consistently favor social conservatives by a large margin, a fact worth pondering.

Catholic Candidates

At present, there are three Catholic GOP candidates: Rubio, Santorum, and Bush. The only Democratic Catholic candidate on the horizon is former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, who given the growing resistance against Hillary Clinton’s candidacy may move towards center stage.

Given the addition of immigration and possibly environmentalism as Catholic issues on the 2016 campaign, O’Malley would be somewhat shielded from his abortion advocacy — his support of federal funding for abortion — as well as his dismissal of the religious liberty issues arising from his support for Obamacare. He’s relatively young and attractive, so JFK nostalgia will naturally flow in his direction.


Rick Santorum’s moment came in 2012 when he was within a few primary victories of the nomination. It’s doubtful that moment will return. Both Bush and Rubio have already gained some momentum, in spite of their intra-state rivalry. Putting aside the issue of fundraising and political infrastructure, both Bush and Rubio will have a reasonable defense against charges they have ignored the Church’s “teaching” on immigration, but their record will be ignored since they belong to the party still besmirched with, and in some cases cases still practicing, the anti-immigration rant of 2005.

However, any of these three candidates will eventually receive the wholehearted support of the pro-life ground troops. Santorum would be their first pick, but the records of both Rubio and Bush would win them a solid following, after some initial grousing.

In sum, Catholics voters who hope our nation can recover from eight years of an Obama presidency face serious challenges. The ongoing battle with the Catholic left has been made more difficult by the papal encouragement of the Cuomo-Kennedy legacy of social justice Catholicism. This cannot be overcome by the emergence in spite of stronger pro-life, pro-marriage leadership by individual bishops.

Until the culture of the USCCB undergoes a radical conversion, the message of Catholic bishops to Catholic voters in the U.S. will not favor candidates who espouse life, marriage, and the rejection of euthanasia. The settled moral issues of the Catholic faith, those that bear no qualification, will continue to be paid lip service by most Catholics.

The only solution is for lay Catholics to amplify the voice of individual bishops who are leading on these issues, create a loose grassroots network of Catholics nationwide, and outwork and out-shout the newly-energized and well-funded organizations who publish lies about the faith to support pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage candidates.

10 Ways Catholics Can Elect the Next President

Deal W. Hudson
March 13, 2015

The 2016 election will be decisive for the future of our nation. Eight more years of leadership such as we have witnessed under Obama will stamp our culture so deeply it would take a century to undo the damage.

What damage, you ask? Eight more years will bring an end to religious liberty. Expressing the Christian view of human existence will become the occasion of bureaucratic and legal censure and punishment.

The fuse will be ignited by those who defend the Christian understanding of homosexuality, but the ensuring explosion will extend along an entire range of issues from the meaning of marriage, public school curricula, freedom of speech, control of the internet, radio and TV programming content, euthanasia and, of course, abortion.

To put it bluntly, if the Democrats win the 2016 election the United States of 2050 will be completely unrecognizable from the nation into which I was born in 1949.

The generations who fought and even died against the tyrants of ideology — the reduction of the human person to vacuous materiality — will have sacrificed for nought. The tyrants won without firing a shot. They took control of the culture by taking over the leadership of our basic institutions — education, entertainment, journalism, medicine, banking, social services, and religion.

To have any chance of impacting the next election, which as I have written will be difficult, Catholics should consider the following lessons that have been learned by those of us who have been actively involved in successful and unsuccessful political campaigns on behalf of life, marriage, religious liberty, and the protection of those near to death.

These are not merely my personal recommendations but represent a consensus of Catholics who have been active in leading political, grassroots efforts on behalf of worthy candidates.


1. Promote Mass attendance: All the exit polling since the late ’50s shows that Mass-attending Catholics, not self-identified Catholics, are most likely to vote for socially conservative candidates who oppose gay “marriage,”oppose abortion, oppose euthanasia, support the military, espouse traditional values, support fiscal responsibility, oppose the growth of federal power, and look upon the United States as an “exceptional” nation. If Mass attendance continues to drop, Catholic voters will have less and less impact at the ballot box. Their voting pattern will lose its distinctiveness.

2. Maximize the likely voters: Outreach to Catholic voters should focus on maximizing the identification, education, recruiting, and actual voting of Mass-attending Catholics.  Effort spent going after historically hostile or indifferent groups is a waste of time and resources.  Self-identified Catholics vote with the general population, as do Catholic groups bound by ethnicity.  Yes, Catholics need evangelization, but that’s a long-term project which cannot be completed by 2016.

3. Watch your language: Most Catholic politicians and activists sound like Evangelicals.  That’s not meant as a criticism of Evangelicals but a criticism of Catholics who do not bring the concepts and diction of their own faith into the public square.  It’s also a criticism of Catholics who think they have to sound like an Evangelical preacher to gain a following or create applause. Catholics speaking about politics need to develop their own effective political language and their own powerful, persuasive rhetorical models.

4. Don’t ask for permission from clergy: The Church teaches that the Catholic layperson has a specific obligation to participate in politics, to be political all the way to the grassroots.  Our clergy and religious have an obligation to vote but do not have the same obligation to engage politics in a partisan manner. Catholics make the mistake of asking for permission to create groups or support candidates when asking permission is not required.  Our clergy teach us the moral-social principles upon which our participation is based, but they cannot — and should not — become obstacles to lay participation in politics.  (The only exception is in the case of ex-communication when a politician is “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin,” such as abortion; see Canon 915.)

5. Collect lists, stop waving fists: Too many Catholics confuse public complaining with political participation. They spend their time making impassioned comments at political rallies, or in religious meetings, about the state of the culture and the need to change our political leadership. None of these impromptu speeches gain any votes because they are “preaching to the choir.” The fury, however, can be an effective starting point of genuine political outreach, which includes list-building, volunteer recruitment, volunteer and voter education, door-knocks, messaging through media, and get-out-the-vote programs.

6. Realize Catholics play dirty: One of the hardest lessons to learn and accept is that Catholics in politics will play dirty.  By that I mean they will lie about the faith, misrepresent its teaching, ignore its non-negotiable moral principles, distort the views of pro-lifers and other socially conservative Catholics, and will proclaim “Church teaching” for policies that have no authoritative standing in the “sacred deposit of faith.” We have responsibility to expose those lies in a timely manner to keep them from becoming embedded in the public consciousness.

7. Politics is about passion, not reason: Catholics will have noticed that the candidate who “tells it like it is” is not necessarily the candidate who wins. That’s because political outcomes are not determined by who tells the truth but who stirs the passions — wins the admiration — of the most voters.  Voters vote, first and foremost, for the candidate they “like,” who they are “favorable” toward. Politicians and their supporters who do not get this are beaten from the start. Of course, Catholics should support a politician who tells the truth about human existence, but they should also either recruit likable candidates or convince the grouchy ones they need to smile more and frown less.

8. Take sentimentality seriously: Catholics, for good reasons, are a sentimental tribe.  Any acquaintance with the last 200 years of Catholicism in America will appreciate the hardships of generation after generation of Catholic immigrants.  And before that, the America of the Founders was not at all hospitable to Catholics, an anti-Catholic attitude that was still evident in the 1960 presidential election.  This fact makes the passionate nature of politics even greater among Catholic voters. Candidates and activists need to tread carefully and, most of all, know who they are talking to when they talk to Catholics.

9. Master Catholic symbols: Catholics, as liturgical worshippers, are naturally alert and vulnerable to the power of imagery and symbols. For example, I was told some years ago, “never wear French cuffs when you speak to Catholic voters.”  Good advice, such symbols only remind voters – even if they wear French cuffs themselves – of the Protestant elites who looked down upon their Irish, Italian, or Slavic grandparents. You will not believe the pains taken by candidates to have “collars” or “habits” behind them during their stump speeches. This is why it’s rare for an Evangelical political consultant to successfully manage Catholic outreach.

10. Happy warriors win, grumps lose: Politicians are in sales. Voters are the buyers. When you are selling, you don’t browbeat the buyer, you don’t sadden the buyer, you don’t demean the buyer.  No, you befriend the buyer, meet his or her eye with a smile, learn his or her name, shake hands warmly, and talk about how buying your product will make life better.  In short, be the kind of person they like and trust, who they can believe in.  Anger, condemnation, self-righteousness and such attitudes and tones of voice may delight a small percentage of angry, condemning, and self-righteous voters, but it won’t win an election.

*This column is the personal opinion of its author and does not represent an endorsement of any political party or candidate by the Morley Publishing Group, Inc.