Catholics here in America have a very intense and interesting relationship with the mainstream press.
First of all, there are just so many of them and so many different kinds — with active and inactive, believing and non-believing being the simple points of reference.
Second, their sheer numbers make it impossible to ignore Catholics when it comes to the raw, swing-vote data so often used when talking (journalists may want to cross themselves here) POLITICS.
Third, there are so many Catholic politicians out there that issues of doctrine (does this or that vice president openly attack the teachings of the church) often become entangled with the practice of the faith, especially the Sacraments. Honestly, it often seems that many journalists truly believe that there is a Constitutional right to receive Holy Communion that cannot be denied by weird bishops and priests who think they have something to do with hearing confessions and protecting the Sacraments of the church.
You add all of that up and it’s pretty clear that it is pretty important to take a look at the faith content and status of any Catholic who may or may not be seeking the presidency.
This is especially true if the candidate speaks Spanish.
Yes, this is true even if the candidate’s last name is B-U-S-H. In fact, that fact may make the candidate’s Catholicism even more interesting.
If that is the case, then what is going on in the following Style piece from The Washington Post? I’m talking about the one with the headline, “Hispanic consciousness lends weight to Jeb Bush as GOP eyes 2016 presidential race.”
Marriage and family are at the heart of the story, of course, but so are issues of Latino culture, broadly defined. Here’s the opening:
MIAMI — She was almost like a member of the family. An employee, but almost one of them. For three years, Maria Magdalena Romero had tended to the suburban Miami home of Jeb and Columba Bush, had helped to raise their three children, had twined into the fabric of their lives.
Then, with lurching swiftness, she was yanked away. On a mild winter morning in 1991, two immigration agents appeared at the door of the family home looking for the woman Bush’s younger son and namesake, then just 10 years old, remembers as “a super nice lady.” They carried deportation orders.
It didn’t matter that Bush’s father was president of the United States at the time or that a Secret Service agent had answered the door. Romero, who was in the country illegally but had a work permit, wasn’t getting a reprieve.
“It was a difficult time for all of us, but most of all for Maria,” Jeb Bush said in an e-mail about that day. His son, Jeb Jr., hadn’t even realized she’d been deported. “I thought she just left,” Jeb Jr. said in a recent interview.
That long-ago deportation is one among many inflection points for the elder Bush in what has been a lifetime of intimate proximity to America’s Hispanic community, to its searing pain and its buoyant joy, to its mores and its politics. While Republicans cast about for leaders who can connect with Spanish-speaking voters, this tall Texas native with the Mexican American wife has remarkably come to represent a kind of Hispanic consciousness for the party.
I would not argue with any of that material, in terms of its placement in the story. The Post team had to deal, immediately, with Jeb Bush’s broader contacts with the complex, multifaceted Latino world that is Florida and, especially, South Florida (I say that as someone who was living in West Palm Beach during four years of his time as governor). The man speaks Spanish for a reason — in fact, for multiple reasons.
So how important is this Bush’s faith, especially in an era in which (a) moral/religious concerns continue to frame key political debates about religious liberty and (b) the rising Latino population all but requires additional attention to Catholic institutions?
For the Post team, it appears that this is all about ethnicity and politics, pure and simple. When it comes to the whole Catholic thing, this is all readers are given:
The unlikely evolution of John Ellis “Jeb” Bush into a sort of honorary Hispanic loops back to 1970 and a tree-lined square in Leon, a colonial-era city in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato. Bush, then a teenager and student at the elite Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., was in Mexico for a three-month exchange program. One Sunday, he spotted a girl in the back of a car promenading around the square. She struck him as “beautiful,” and so did her name: Columba Garnica de Gallo.
They courted by phone and letters, but the teenager from Mexico had her doubts. “I never thought I would marry him. … One thinks about the differences in culture and things like that,” Columba Bush, who now seldom gives interviews, once told the Miami Herald.
Those cultural barriers were significant. She was Catholic; he’d been raised Episcopalian. She spoke little English. But as he drew her into his culture, she drew him into hers. He already spoke her language fairly well; then he converted to her religion. They were married in 1974 in a small ceremony at a Catholic student center at the University of Texas at Austin, where he graduated with a degree in Latin American affairs.
The story — as it should — devotes plenty of attention to Bush’s command of Spanish, complete with a short tour of his favorite Cuban phrases. But here is another question: Do they speak Spanish in his church?
Eventually, readers are given a hint of content about moral and cultural issues. So what is missing in this passage?
A staunch conservative on taxes and social issues, Bush developed a reputation as a reliable centrist, perhaps even a liberal, on immigration. He argued for the Dream Act — which would give an opportunity for citizenship to the children brought to this country illegally by their parents — and for giving driver’s licenses to those who entered illegally. And he spoke out in favor of creating a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, a position that he reversed in a controversial book released in March. He then reversed himself again by praising proposed legislation crafted by the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that includes a path to citizenship. His uncharacteristic vacillation has called into question his potential appeal to a broad swath of Latino voters.
That’s it. Just how Catholic is this family?
Apparently, this is the rare newspaper story that is not all that interested in the Catholic content of American politics and Latino life.