Post-election reflection

Post-election reflection November 7, 2012

It’s finally over. And the results are pretty much as expected. Obama won by a relatively narrow margin. What’s more interesting is the breakdown. He won 93 percent of blacks, 73 percent of Asians, and 71 percent of Hispanics. He won 60 percent of those aged 18-29.

In short, his coalition is a coalition of the future. Romney won an impressive 59 percent of whites, and still lost the election. He got every possible white vote he could realistically get, and still couldn’t pull it off. That should tell us something. It certainly explains the complete shock among many Republicans last night. In spite of the polls, many were predicting a big Romney victory. Because they believed at some fundamental level that the country belonged to them and thought like them. This is a major reason why they never regarded Obama as a legitimate president, and kept talking about “taking back the country” over the past four years. The anger and the vitriol reflected an utter bewilderment with how fast the sands were shifting. Many are quite open about it, noting that this is not the America of their youth. And it’s not.

The Republicans are not fools. They surely understand this. They understand that they can no longer win elections by whipping up fear and loathing among older white men. Hopefully, this will be the first step back to sanity. God knows, we need a legitimate opposition to the Democrats.

Let me talk a bit about the bishops. I found their behavior to be rather disappointing. The sensible majority failed to display much leadership, and the highly partisan minority managed to hijack the debate. Some of them brazenly told Catholics they could not vote for Obama, seemingly oblivious to his overwhelming support among the groups that will make up the future Church. Some glossed over the deep-rooted social teachings of the Church; at least one even distorted them. Some resorted to the overly-simplified moral reasoning associated with the partisan right, paying little heed to the complexity and nuance of traditional Catholic thought. Some seemed more interested in preaching the American constitution rather than the gospel.

Too many played up the issues that most bothered older and whiter people, and had very little to say about the very real concerns of the poor and minorities. They had no compelling message on the failings of our economic system, when the encyclicals are so strong in this area. When they talked about the Affordable Care Act, they only saw the contraception mandate, and not the 30 million people who would get insurance. When they talked of religious liberty, they offered barely a word against attacks on immigrants or Muslims, let alone the plight of Christians in other parts of the world. When Republican candidates opened defended plans to gut safety nets and create untold hardship for the poorest among us, we were treated to a lesson on legitimate differences relating to the role of government. And while Catholic social teaching condemns individualism as harshly as it does collectivization, they seemed a little too comfortable with the American “go-it-alone” mentality, a mentality that has more in common with John Calvin that Pope Leo XIII.

In an international poll, Obama was the overwhelming choice of the rest of the world. I know from Ireland that people from all spectrums, right and left, supported him over Romney. That should tell America something, if America only chose to listen. It should tell America that the philosophy of the modern Republican party is both alien and repugnant to the rest of the world, including the Catholic world. I fear that too many American bishops seem unaware of how this reality, and unaware that their own country is changing beneath their feet.

In the process, they will turn off the very people who will make up the future of the Church, the very people they need to convince to bring Christ to the public square and foster a true culture of life. In retrospect, I believe this election will be regarded as one of of the nadirs for the American bishops. The good news is that there is plenty of time of turn this around.

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