What If

A recent blogpost at CatholicCulture.org (formerly Catholic World News) by Diogenes, the anonymous blogger who loves to name names but never reveals his/her true identity (classy), blames all the controversy in the past 50 years about Catholic politicians who do not march lock-step in accordance with the remnant-church wishes of...well, of anonymous bloggers, on John F. Kennedy's famous speech in Houston in 1960 in which Kennedy told an audience of Baptist ministers that while he was a faithful Catholic, his actions as President would not simply be a matter of parroting the political opinions of the Roman Pontiff.

Of course, the issue was more illusory than real--no pope in the past half-century has ever even attempted to deliver political marching orders to the President of the United States (and the closest one came to doing so--when Pope John Paul II (and later Pope Benedict) made it clear to George W. Bush that the Catholic Church would in no wise see the invasion and occupation of Iraq as anything but a moral travesty--the President simply ignored them), so it became less a matter of reality than of perception--could a Catholic president be trusted to protect the interests of the United States when Rome disagreed?

Kennedy confirmed that his first priority as President would be to defend the interests of the United States, and that to be Catholic hardly meant one must exclude oneself from the messy business of secular politics (a position Pope Benedict has affirmed several times  as perfectly in keeping with the practice of one's faith).  Many political scientists credit that speech as the turning point in Kennedy's battle to win the election over Richard Nixon.

Let's do a simple thought-experiment on what would have happened if Kennedy had not given that speech, or believed what he believed.

1.  Nixon would have been elected.  Catholic politicians would still find themselves in the position all of us do--of faithfully seeking to practice one's faith in a secular realm.  Except Nixon would be president.

2.  Nixon would have overseen the Cuban Missile Crisis.

3.  The Civil Rights Act would have come before a Congress and a government apparatus controlled by Richard Nixon and his political machine, not Lyndon Johnson (and his political machine).

4.  The Catholic politicians (even priests!) who called Nixon to account for Watergate and other assorted violations of the integrity of his office would almost certainly not be political players at the time.

5.  Every election--local, statewide, national-- in which a Catholic was pitted against a non-Catholic opponent would result in a rehashing of the same argument--"how can you as a Catholic participate in a secular process that includes the weighing of moral goods through a foreign tradition?"  The implication would be the same as it was in the case of Kennedy: you cannot.

6.  Catholics would be, by and large, excluded from the American political process.

7.  Almost every other democratic political society in the world would enjoy and benefit from the influence and actions of large numbers of faithful Catholic politicians--except the United States.

8.  The moral theology tradition of Thomas Aquinas and the entire Catholic church would be marginalized as a resource for American politicians, unless enlightened non-Catholic politicians recognized the beauty and strength of that tradition and borrowed it from their politically non-participating Catholic brethren.

9. How would American legislative history be different in the case of abortion, euthanasia, health care, just war, and countless other issues on which the teachings of the Church have influenced politicians?


Playing "what if" is always a dangerous game, and it would be easy to play it with a much more positive list of possible results; but at the same time, there is value in recognizing the consequences of turning our Church and our faith into a political ghetto which serves only its constituents, refusing to participate in a larger world that desperately needs the wisdom of informed, educated, zealous Catholics.

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Gabriel McAuliffe
7 years 4 months ago
Also, Roger Taney (notable for the notorious Dred Scott Decision) was a Catholic. I believe that there were others.
ed gleason
7 years 4 months ago
Catholics would not be on the Supreme Court .. not six ..not even one.
Gabriel McAuliffe
7 years 4 months ago
Not true!  What about William Brennan, appointed by Eisenhower fours years before Kennedy gave that speech?

I still think that Catholics would still have a prominent role to play whether or not Kennedy gave that speech.  It is more likely that Catholics may have had a lesser role but to say that Catholics would be completely marginalized if JFK hadn't given that speech is a little extreme.

And what role does the moral theology tradition of Thomas Aquinas have to play in the political process?  Where, in particular?
Tom Maher
7 years 4 months ago
The Nixon-Kennedy race was a very close.  So many factors could have influenced the race other tan religion.  Of course religion was a very big factor but likely in a way that favored Kennedy.   It should also be remembered that massive voter fraud in Chicago and Texas  especially in such a close race that the 1960s election was, may have also tipped the balance for Kennedy winning ecectoral collge rich Illinois and Texas.  Of course the Kennedy's vice president was Johnson from Texas help also .   

But as of the 1950s census Catholics were a larger part of the U.S. population than ever before or after - 35%, more than a third of the population?.? ? ?And further Catholics were concentrated in even higher percentage in t???he e?lectoral? college rich industrail states of the Northeast and Mid-??W?e?s?t?.? ?  These industrail states by them?selves dominated the electoral colle?ge votes in 1960?.??
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Tom Maher
7 years 4 months ago
But also remeber that not all Catholics even in the 1960s were Democrates.  Many Catholics did not vote for Kennedy because he was a Democrat with more liberal in foriegn policy and domestic plicy.   It was also the middle of the Cold War and Nixon as  President  Eisenhower vice president had demonstrated foreign policy leadership and ability.  Many Catholics like leaders who they can depend on even in a crisis.  

After returning from WW II which by the way Catholic were disproportionaltely represented many Catholics had a stronger sense of ownership and belonging  in America than ever.  It was no longer needed to have a Al Smith to represent them.  Many Catholic family of vetrans wanted the strongr leader possible to keep the country out of war by keeping America strong.. Many Catholics though that Nixon was a stronger foriegn policy leader given the very menacing days  of the Cold War.  Catholics wanted the strongest tested leader available and therefore favored  Richard Nixon.

Of course for many decades now most Caholics are no longer  Democrats as they likely would have been in the 1920s, so they would not dream of some of the pro-Democrat conjectures this article offers.
7 years 4 months ago
Also kind of interesting would have been the effect of  all that on the church, because of the connection between Kennedy and John Courtney Murray SJ.  As an article at US Catholic notes, Murray and his ideas about religious liberty was really unpopular with the church, but when he published his book "We Hold These Truths" during Kennedy's presidential campaign, his ideas about the separation of church and state helped quell fears about Kennedy's Catholicness.  Murray made the cover of TIME magazine and Kennedy asked for his advice on church-state issues.  After that, Murray was fianlly asked to join the US contingent to Vatican II where he had an influence of the council's stance on religious liberty.  The US Catholic article is "Catholic dissent - When wrong turns out to be right"  ...
http://www.uscatholic.org/church/2008/07/catholic-dissent-when-wrong-turns-out-be-right
ed gleason
7 years 4 months ago
Tom Maher's analysis is so so wrong. 'Catholics wanted the strongest tested leader available and therefore favored  Richard Nixon.'' sure Tom... they loved Nixon so much Catholics gave JFK 80% of their vote.... even the Tea party would not try that kind of spin.. .

 
Tom Maher
7 years 4 months ago
In 1960 of coustse many Catholic wer still nominally Democrats and Kennedy benefited promarily from of having Catholic run for president.  Plenty of Catholics voted for Nixon and accordingly the race was very very close. 

John Kerry a Catholic lost his presidential bid becasue a majority of Catholics did not vote for him.   Very fortunately as more and more Cathholics become bettter educated they no longer vote as block as their grandparents did.

And the world has radically changed since the 1920s and so have the political parties.  Strong party loyalties of our grandparents or great garandparents to the Democratic party just do not make sense to most Catholics anymore.  It is definitely no longer  automatic  that a candidate who is a Democrat and a Catholic makes them favored by Catholics. 

But even in the 1960s many Catholic identified more strongly with being an American than with their Catholic ethnic subgroup identity.   Most Catholic no longer identify at all with their country of origins of their great great greadparents.   In the 1960s being an American was becoming more important than sub group identity.  Leadership that helps America and not our ethnic sub group is expected by  most Catholics today and in the 1960s.
William Kurtz
7 years 4 months ago
A footnote to the comments about the percentage of Catholics who voted for JFK. Catholic support for Democrats had declined in the 1950s, whether because Eisenhower's first term proved that a Republican president need not mean hard times for blue-collar workers, because of Adlai Stevenson's divorce, or Catholic attraction to the Dulles foreign policy, or other reasons. Kennedy's 1960 strength among Catholics was a sort of one-time reversion, as Catholics who had gone with Eisenhower returned to back one of their own. Tom Maher's summary of subsequent Catholic voting is as good as any.
A similar pattern showed among Southerners for Jimmy Carter in 1976- one-time reversion to previous levels of support, after which the previous trend of voting behavior resumed.
James Lindsay
7 years 4 months ago
A/B Chaput spoke about this earlier in the year and I blogged about it at the time.  Here is what I said:


Today's Catholic Herald includes a story by Nancy Frazier O'Brien about Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput's talk at Houston Baptist University on "The Vocation of Christians in American Public Life." The Archbishop bemoaned how, since JFK's talk to the Baptist Ministerial Alliance, Catholic politicians have been putting a wall between their religious beliefs and their political duties. O'Brien interviewed the Archbishop by email on the talk, included coverage of an editorial in the Los Angeles Times criticizing the talk and sought comments from Catholic scholars on both sides of the issue. Those who criticize the Archbishop point to a decline in anti-Catholicism in the public square and an increase in pluralism while those who support his comments think that they may be part of a move to call Catholic politicians to task on support for abortion and gay rights.

As a Catholic politician, I agree that we must discuss life issues. What the Archbishop does not seem to realize is that Catholic politicians really don't wall off their beliefs. Indeed, support for health care reform while walling off federal funds from abortion services is an example of putting the Magisterium into law to a very great extent. While Catholics talk about pluralism on the issue, what they are really saying is that they don't want to get into a public discussion on the issue with the Church. For some, this is out of respect for the bishop's office, especially for those of John Kerry's generation. Others fear alienating the portion of Catholic voters who would resent such disrespect, even if they agree with the argument made by the politician. Resorting to pluralism allows some Catholic Democratic politicians to have their cake and eat it too.

Disagreement is not without its risks as well, since many bishops have a nasty habit of excommunicating politicians that agree with them publicly, even (and especially) if those politicians are right. Many bishops, especially A/B Chaput and his ally on this issue, Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde, mistake the nature of the public law on abortion in the United States. In most Catholic nations, legalized abortion was done legislatively. This is not the case in the United States. While they understand that, they are not quite ready to concede that most Catholic politicians have no say in the question - including state governors - since the right to privacy in abortion services has been constitutionalized. Indeed, former governor, now Secretary of HHS, Kathleen Sebelius has still been advised to avoid Communion for her quite correct veto of an abortion ban in Kansas, since the ban proffered was, in fact, unconstitutional. The Secretary has been treated most unfairly and the bishops have been cutting themselves off from the wise counsel of Catholic politicians who disagree with them on abortion law.

This lack of knowledge allows the Republican Party to politicize the issue while at the same time making it unsolvable, since even the last two Republican justices appointed to the Court upheld Roe while also supporting the Partial Birth Abortion Law. If overturning Roe were really important, Roberts, Alito and Kennedy would have been told to avoid Communion. It is odd that Catholics are told to make abortion the primary issue - but when they do and support a President who runs on this issue nothing happens. I smell a rat called coalition politics.

Even if abortion and gay marriage were not, at heart, constitutional issues, there is a big difference between not fining doctors who perform abortions and active participation in providing or paying for abortion services. Telling young girls that they should have abortions if they get pregnant out of wedlock would be wrong (in view of the Magisterium), however making sure that they do not die in a back alley abortion is not (no matter what the Magisterium says) since the remedy offered by the pro-life movement does not pass the smell test as public policy. Catholic Democrats who think so should explain why and what to do instead.
Pearce Shea
7 years 4 months ago
I'd like to see a response from a recent blogger at America, Michael Sean Winters whose book makes much of the sea change wrought by Kennedy.

I think you'd hear him say something to the effect that while some of the above what ifs are true (and lets be honest, some of them are just nonsense and blatantly self-serving conjecture), what effectively happened at Houston was Kennedy showed Catholic politicians that, when it came to the more difficult points of their religious belief, a politician could (and, if Kennedy was an example, it was a winning strategy to) suggest that faith was a private matter and not necessarily something to alter their  position on matters of public policy, _even where the two seemed to naturally meet_. What we get then is the subsequent Cuomo speech and similar capitulations from liberal (and some conservative) politicians: Catholic first when the Church's teachings lend support to their talking points, but a politician first when this isn't so. I think you'd hear him say something to the effect that while Kennedy's Houston speech won national acceptance and political power for Catholics, it also suggested that Catholics in the public square ought to be willing to compromise their beliefs when they did not coincide with popular policy decisions. What it gets us are politicians and faithful who profess to a faith but only adhere to articles of that faith that suit them best. Seems a bit like a Pyhrric victory to me.
Tom Maher
7 years 4 months ago
Theodare H. White's book The Making of the President , 1960 was considered a classi which was at one time required reading in college history courses. 

White in his book points out the significance of Kennedy winning the West Virginia Democratic primary. 

First things first.  Kennedy had to win the Democratic nomination  in a crowded field of Democrats, all of whom were not Catholic.   But Kennedy's win in West Virginia was most significant because West Virginia is a blue collar, southern and fundemental Protestant.  The blue collar was ok for Kennedy but southern and fundemental Protestant  - well your just not in Massachusetts anymore.  White indicates that Kennedy's primary win in West Virgina was a critical test that showed that  a Catholics could be acceptable as a presidential nominee even to southern and fundament Protestant groups.  Kennedy primary win impressed Democratic party officials and made them more confident that he could get votes even from southern fudemenatist Proestants.  (Remeber that Al Smith in the 1920s was bitterly oppossed by fundamental southern Protestant groups.)   (My thoughts: Kennedy distiguished WW II military service was probably very favorably recieved by fundamental Prootestant who tend to be extremely patriotic, bless them all.) 

But Kennedy the Catholic unlike Al Smith forty years before in the 1920s had acceptance and maybe even appeal broader than Catholics long before any speech on religion and separation of church and state.   
ed gleason
7 years 4 months ago
Lot of talk here about the Catholic pols ignoring church teachings on sexual issues, No talk about the hundreds thousands of Catholic military officers and enlisted men and women  who refused active service when the Pope and the vatican condemned the Iraq war .   O!O! I'm wrong... there were not thousands not hundreds even ,, maybe a dozen.. Anybody know how many Catholic chaplains disobeyed orders? I know of no military bishops that did. The whole US  military Catholic Archdiocese saluted and marched off to the damn war..and  can we all agree that the war was stupid, unnecessary and built on lies?  The big success pointed out by the conservatives is that we dragged out Hussain from a hole and put a rope around his neck and tore his head ioff.  
Gabriel McAuliffe
7 years 4 months ago
It is really too bad when some people do not stick with the topic at hand.
7 years 4 months ago
This is a silly post.  Not because it is ''what if'' but because it assumes a lot of false premises.
 
Little would have changed because Nixon was president.  Catholics after World War II were entering all realms of society in a big  way and becoming wealthy.  They were a force in the country and would continue to do so under continued Republican administrations.  They were powerful politically in many areas in 1960 and as was pointed out, many Protestant areas voted for Kennedy.
 
 
There would probably not be any Cuban Missile Crisis.,  Kennedy was a weak president and seen as such by the Soviets.  A strong president would probably not have had to face the Missile Crisis.  There might not have been any Cuba to worry about.  I have no ideas what Nixon would have done but the US/Soviet stand off might have been very different.  Kennedy was in Texas because his re-election was anything but assured. He was in big trouble.
 
Your could argue Kennedy was a racist and because the civil rights legislation passed with strong Republican support so it is likely that Nison would have supported civil rights.  He became a liberal president when he was elected 8 years later.
 
There would have been no Watergate.
 
All the rest is piffle since it imagines a world that would not have happened.  Yes, the world would be different but Catholics would be a storng force in the country.  Also one could argue Kennedy was not a Catholic.  He certainly was not a good one.
James Lindsay
7 years 4 months ago
If Kennedy had not made the speech in Houston, Johnson would have been the nominee.  A Johnson v. Nixon race would have been interesting and Johnson would have won anyway.  Catholics would have reacted in the same way on abortion and Roberts, Scalia, Alito and Kennedy would have all still been on the Court.  Civil rights would have happened in exactly the same way - and might have happened more easily.  Bobby Kennedy would be alive today and Jack would have died of natural causes long ago due to his Addison's disease.  We might not have had Teddy in the Senate as the liberal lion of the Senate, and that would have been a tragedy for the poor. Of course, with Teddy not in the Senate, Carter would have been re-elected because his base would not have been split, which means Reagan would never have been President and the supply siders would not have gained ascendancy.  Carter and Pepper would have funded Social Security with general funds long ago and without raising payroll taxes and there would be no large national debt.  Carter might have been succeeded by Mondale, who would have passed Health Care much earlier. 
Mario Cuomo would have given the same speech, which is essentially what every pre-law student in Catholic undergrad school was taught regarding the question of whether one must resist paying taxes in a state that allows (and even funds) abortion.  Fagothy writes that because the United States is a pluralist society, we can't tax resist over the issue just because we don't get our way.  An extension of that is what Catholic politicians have been saying ever since.  One wonders why the seminarians in the same classes did not pick up on that fact.  Of course, that was in the second semester special ethics course - but its in the same book.  Business students use it too. 
On a different vein, if Nixon had won, Goldwater would not have been the nominee and LBJ would have still won in 1964, since the nation would have had Republican fatigue after 12 years.  That means no Goldwater, no Reagan as governor of California or President.  Nixon might not have let Diem be killed so Viet Nam may not have happened, so LBJ would have served a second term.  There would have been no Watergate, which means no anti-government backlash putting Carter in office and no anti-Carter backlash putting Reagan in office.  The Johnson presidency would have had someone else besides Nixon do a southern strategy and Howard Baker might have been President in 72, unless Humphrey won as VP.  Papa Bush would not have been given the experience he got under RN, so he would have been an unknown Texas ex-Congressman, which means no W. either.  Almost makes you want to chant Nixon Then, Nixon Then.  Baker as President for two terms would have been very different.  Roe would have happened anyway, by the way, because even though the arguments are out of whole cloth, they do proceed from a plain text reading of the 14th Amendment and an evolving understanding of equal protection.  Instead of Baker, Bob Dole might have been elected instead, or would have been VP with a GOP regime to 80 or 84.  Presumably by then Bobby Kennedy would have made it to the White House, but maybe not.  Maybe Cuomo would have made it in 84.  Nothing could have stopped Clinton from eventually being President, nor Obama for that matter.  The only possible wrinkle in the LBJ two term scenario is the fact that Johnson lapsed into full blown alcoholism after leaving the White House until it finally killed him.  That would have happened anyway, since nothing stops the disease when it is ready to take over except recovery.  LBJ might have resigned or died, although there would have been no 25th Amendment with no JFK assassination backlash.  Humphrey might have been POTUS in 70 and then be reelected in 72, with Baker in 76 (remember, no Goldwater means no Reagan).
Of course, Reagan might have been as inevitable, but his timing might have been a bit different.  The Shah would have fallen anyway, so RWR would have had to deal with it - and second guessing aside, there is likely not much he could have done differently about it, making him a one termer with Cuomo in 80 and whomever Cuoma ran with in 88 (maybe Clinton as a one termer).  Still no Bushes, however and Cuomo would have raised taxes early enough to stop the debt explosion.
ed gleason
7 years 4 months ago
Off topic? being a Catholic triumphalist at this time in history, as some above posters are is a sad joke.

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