Noting that the majority of Catholics who serve in the 112th Congress are far more conservative than those in the previous two, former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson asks in the Washington Post, “What influence is this shift likely to have?”
The short answer, in Gerson’s opinion, is none. He cites statistics that show while a couple generations ago Catholics overwhelmingly voted Democratic, out of ethnic loyalties, that today they are basically mirror images of their suburban neighbors. He writes, “There is something vaguely disturbing about the precise symmetry of any religious group with other voters of their same class and background. One would hope that an ancient, demanding faith would leave some distinctive mark. A reflection may move and smile, but it lacks substance and will.”
Gerson then critiques Catholic politicians on both sides of the aisle, while offering a decent, if somewhat limited, lesson in Catholic social teaching. He concludes that both parties fail to live out the lofty demands of the tradition.
Speaking to Catholic Republicans who sympathize with the Tea Party movement, Gerson notes that the church has historically been reluctant to embrace “revolutionary populism,” and that disdain for government is not a Catholic sensibility either. And to his credit, Gerson writes that Tea Party radicals and Republicans in general who profess to be Catholic should be challenged by their faith on such weighty issues as immigration, poverty, health care, and global disease prevention. To that list I would add gun control, education, and the death penalty.
We hear on a regular basis from our bishops how some Catholic politicians fail to live up to the Catholic standard, especially on important life issues. But the chastising is seemingly always directed at Democrats. While not a bishop, and not even a Catholic (a Presbyterian, but who says Catholic social thought informs his views) kudos to Gerson for calling not only Democrats, but Catholic members of his own party, to task and suggesting a critical self-reflection of what their professed faith might offer on difficult subjects.