Electoral College: Welcome Week

It was another Olympic year. And as one Olympics were ending, another was getting into shape.

There was a real irony that it was the united South that has been deciding elections for the last 40 years.

The South was once solid for the Democrats, until the votes over civil rights legislation in the 1960s. The facts are, neither John Kerry nor Al Gore won a single southern state in the electoral college in the last two elections. The way those Florida chads were counted. In the 1960s the Republican Party began to make inroads in the South after the Grand Old Party had suffered from its identification with Lincoln and the freeing of the slaves.

Through the time of Lyndon Johnson, the Democrats controlled all the levels of power during the Jim Crow years. Johnson got behind the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it was ensnarled in Congress. As a result of his support over the issue of civil rights, George Wallace entered the presidential contest and the once solid Democratic Party of the South had lost their base of support, for the most part, ever since.

The South was defined to be the eleven states of the Confederacy. The Republican Party began to make inroads in 1968 and in 1972, with Wallace out of the picture. In 1968, Nixon won in the border South and Florida, Humphrey carried Texas but lost the rest of the South, with Wallace taking Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. Jimmy Carter appealed to regional pride to put the South back in the Democrat’s column in 1976, but lost (narrowly) all but his home state of Georgia in 1980. Bill Clinton won with the regional pride of Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky voters in 1992 and 1996, with Georgia in 1992 and Florida in 1996. Little research was required with the abysmal failure of Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis, in the electoral college.

It was the united South that was of interest. Journalists with no understanding of religion failed to understand that the principal purpose of religion was to unite people. Religion and politics had the same fundamental purpose, and that was formulating a common belief in purpose.

As the New Deal made sense to Catholics, especially the ethnic working-class Catholics, with their extended families in urban neighborhoods. Their lives centered around parish and school. Catholics had their own diocese newspaper, entertainment, and feast days. Assimilated into American culture and democracy, by participating in local politics and unions this was how Catholics came to understand rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

Many non-Catholics remained prejudiced against Catholics in 1960 because of their “strange” religious practices. In those days, Catholics never ate meat on Fridays. It was a communal thing. There was no real dogma in fish, even though some saw a theology in Starkist’s Charlie the Tuna, who was never quite good enough. It was pre-Vatican II as ethnic America still lived mostly in the cities, and maybe Charlie really was a Protestant.

That anti-Catholic prejudice would affect the 1960 election. If you missed it, John F. Kennedy and his lovely wife were Catholic. In his run for president, to address those concerns, Kennedy attempted to make his religion inconsequential to his qualifications during his famous Sept. 12, 1960, speech to the Houston Ministerial Association:

“I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic.”

Quoting from Olga Bonfiglio book review of Michael Sean Winter’s Left at the Altar, “Kennedy argued for a ‘privacy of faith,’” which attempted to distinguish between his ‘religion problem’ and the ‘real issues.’ In doing so, he misconstrued the nature of religion, says Michael Sean Winters,” and made a critical shift away from the fundamental basis of any faith which is to unite people. And in a way little understood, the torch was passed to a new generation.

Quoting from ideas of Michael Sean Winters, the issues of the 1960s turned out to be civil rights and the Vietnam War; in the 1970s, it was abortion and consumerism. Americans wanted to debate issues on moral grounds. It was Whip Inflation Now, meat prices, oil boycotts. To quote the theologian, Yogi Berra, “Déjà vu all over again.” Religion was thrust into the center of every election.

The abortion issue of the 1970s separated Catholics and the Democrats. Using the same Kennedy’s “privacy” doctrine to justify their position, liberals responded by being more strident in defending Roe v. Wade. And followers of Catholic moral philosophy struggled with their conscious to vote for any Democrat. Gradually becoming disaffected by the “liberal” politics the Democrats had represented, the Democrats split the Catholic vote.

At the same time, writes Michael Sean Winters, in the 1960s, 70s, and 80’s, immigrant families fled ethnic neighborhood and parishes for suburban life, ‘where they adopted ‘new secular and commercial identities’ that further separated them from their church—and the Democrats.”

And as the Democrats appeared to be irreligious, the Republicans began to look like the party of God, appealing to followers of the born-again evangelical movement.

Where at one time there was discussion of the Catholic vote, in the new millennium the focus was on the evangelicals. And on megachurches.

These megachurches function in the contemporary suburbs in very much the same way the Catholic parish functioned in the urban ethnic ghettos of the early 20th century had. Quoting from ideas of Michael Sean Winters, if ethnic immigrants faced the alienation that came from leaving their homelands to come to America, today’s suburbanites suffer the alienation that contemporary consumerism breeds.

Like the ethnic parish of old or the Jewish synagogue, the megachurch of today creates a subculture with bookstores, schools, day care, and a network of small groups for teens, for college students, for Moms, that meet weekly to discuss how their faith has impacted their daily lives. The bookstores sell books extolling a devotional approach from child-rearing to finance. Megachurches create a humane world for people whose sense of their own humanity has been uprooted by contemporary culture and its economic imperatives. And social texture grows out of its religious ground.

As Democrats ignored those Americans Catholics who tried to be deeply religious, Democrats appeared to be irreligious and the Republicans began to look like “God’s Party,” relying on the evangelical vote.

So it was the days of another election. And it would once again be about the South. Really since the days of Thomas Jefferson, it always had been about the South. Slave or free states. Was the abortion debate really about ‘privacy of faith?’ Was the abortion debate the foundation of moral relativism in modern American culture? Was the abortion debate about a policy of states’ rights versus federal rights in another age? The real irony in all of this united South was that the South which has been deciding elections for the last 40 years was made up of children of slave-owners and slaves who never had come to grips with the dysfunction of this history. And the results of the dysfunction of this history, over slavery, over abortion, were guiding the sails of the ship of American history which has led us to Iraq and Afghanistan.

All the while, in light of the tenets of Washington’s Farewell Address, I question the foundation for the mission overseas which has jeopardized the ideals of the constitution. And it was religion that had given the jib of the sails to what would happen once again down South. We were still all sons and daughters of slaves and slave owners, dealing with the past. And dealing with the still solid South.


Religion and politics had the same fundamental purpose, and that was formulating a common belief in purpose. And journalists with no clear understanding of religion failed to understand that the principal purpose of both was to unite people.


2 comments so far

  1. […] Easing; The Pieta, On Distant Shores; The Morning Show; Noli Me Tangere; Without the Cliff Notes, Electoral College: Welcome Week; Break-ups and Break-downs; The Purpose of the Past […]

  2. paperlessworld on

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