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Beyond the Election: Catholics and America
An interview with Kathryn Jean Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online and associate editor of the print edition of National Review. An award-winning opinion journalist and experienced editor, she has written for publications such as the Wall Street Journal, National Catholic Register, The Women’s Quarterly and more.

Ignatius Insight’s Valerie Schmalz interviewed Kathryn on the importance of Catholics in the 2004 Presidential election, and the impact that Catholics may have in the future decisions made by the US Government.

Ignatius Insight: What was the significance of the Catholic vote in this election? Did the intensive education efforts launched by some groups, such as Catholic Answer, and some bishops' statements on the critical importance of life in making political choices, affect the outcome?

Lopez: I think they did. Especially in the battleground states. These things are hard to quantify, but there was clearly a disinformation campaign going on both on the ground and in the national media, coming from the Democrats, loosely or on a more organized basis. A Notre Dame professor made the case for Kerry in the New York Times, for instance. “Catholics for Kerry” fliers appeared on windshields in church parking lots in Wisconsin, for another for instance.

I’m pretty sure Catholics didn’t want to see bishops coming down on individual Catholic politicians--like denying Kerry Communion, for instance; it is the right thing, probably, but such punitive measures, frankly, seem mean to a lot of well-intentioned, good people. (I’m not suggesting it would be wrong for a bishop to do so, I’m just talking impressions.) But they want--and frankly, in many cases, desperately need--is to know what their church teaches. I think the likes of Archbishop Chaput really did their job, and a service, and I think many Catholics are grateful for that. I base that impression on a little polling I have seen, but mostly a hunch and anecdotal evidence.

Ignatius Insight: How will the election results affect Catholics?

Lopez: Oh, surely. The choice between Bush and Kerry, in my mind, was black and white.

The Democrats ran a candidate who--while a flip flopper on many key issues of our day--was consistently against a ban on partial-birth abortion. It says a lot about a candidate, what his position is on infanticide. I don’t usually consider myself a one-issue voter--I would have voted (I wasn’t a NYC resident at the time) for Rudy Giuliani as NYC mayor, I think, because overall he would have affected the culture of life in a way better than his opponent (the crime rate alone) and in the end would have had little affect on abortion (I say that with reservation, because Michael Bloomberg has been a bit of a problem on this vis-à-vis doctor training); so sometimes it is a lesser of two evils thing, so to speak. But this year I believe we had a clear choice--George W. Bush has a commitment to human life. I have many friends who questioned the Iraq war, but I firmly believe that this was consistent with Bush’s respect for human life. We liberated two countries, while defending our own, and he really took great strides to think it through on a very Catholic just war level. This puts it too simply, but I think we have a president who is more Catholic in temperament than our one Catholic president was in some ways.

I veered a little off the question, but want to add something on a practical political level. Under a Tom Daschle/John Kerry Washington, pro-life Catholics, evangelicals, people of faith, would have a very hard time, particularly when nominated as judges. We’ve seen that in the Senate. Obstructionist Daschle gone from the U.S. Senate is a huge victory for religious Americans. They (we) will not be disqualified from federal benches--or the Supreme Court--based on the mere fact they are religious. There was a real fear of that. There still is to some extent, but some major influences are a lot less powerful today than they could have been.

Ignatius Insight: Will politicians' policy- and lawmaking going forward be influenced by the Catholic vote, particularly in terms of life issues?

Lopez: Definitely. The president got 52% percent of the Catholic vote according to exit polls-according to exit polls, it was 56% among regular Mass attenders.

I’ve always been hesitant to use the phrase, “The Catholic vote” because Catholics are not a monolithic voting bloc, they do not vote as a bloc, I’m not even sure they go into the polling booth as self-conscious “Catholic voter.” But, they are a large population. And politicians and the media paid attention to them this time, trying to figure out what they want. John Kerry went so far as delivering an eleventh-hour faith speech that pretty much flopped--got little attention. His convoluted political theology went over most people’s heads--it did mine. It made little sense--no consistency (I am informed by my faith on flu shots, but not abortion?)

The Republican party, it seems to me, deserves credit for engaging Catholics and evangelicals. Hispanics (who fall under both), too. Their grassroots operation this time was something on a whole new level for them, really beating Democrats at the ground game--the grassroots factor. I think that kind of thing--when not of the negative, potentially illegal variety Dems often do (Kerry at the pulpit of a Baptist church) is actually a great civics service, besides a practical vote getter. Republicans, it seems, registered new voters who have some greater purpose in voting, people who want to secure a culture of life and who see the value in protecting marriage--and that beats people who registered because Michael Moore gave them free microwavable noodles any day in my book.

And you’ll be sure Democrats will be spending time trying to figure out why the same families who once cut school to campaign for the first JFK from Massachusetts rejected this year’s JFK.

Click here to read more on the impact of Catholic Voters on the election. Part One. Part Two.
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