Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

What They Wished For: American Catholics and American Presidents, 1960-2004

Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

What They Wished For: American Catholics and American Presidents, 1960-2004

Article excerpt

What They Wished For: American Catholics and American Presidents, 1960-2004. By Lawrence J. McAndrews. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2014. 503 pp.

Prompted by the prominence of religious rhetoric and ideology in American politics, recent decades have shown an increased attention by scholars to both the religious beliefs of presidents and the intersection of religion and politics in American life. In a new study, Lawrence J. McAndrews manages to combine both of these interests in What They Wished For: American Catholics and American Presidents, 1960-2004. Using the American presidency, and various presidents, as a focal lens, McAndrews is able to shed new light on old narratives and explore fresh avenues for thinking about religion and politics. For scholars of the American presidency, his study is valuable for its ability to connect presidential policy with broader movements, while simultaneously deepening one's understanding of the motivations and intentions of numerous postwar presidents.

McAndrews, a professor of history at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin, goes beyond extant histories of American Catholicism and examines the ways that Catholics have influenced and even directed American public policy. McAndrews argues that Catholic engagement with American presidents and politics challenges the conventional narrative of an increasing secularization of the political arena during the 1960s and 1970s. He demonstrates the many ways in which Catholics ran counter to this Protestant trend and, in so doing, also explains how Catholics could so actively work to put one of their own, John Kennedy, in the White House in 1960 and then work against another, John Kerry, in 2004. The answer, according to McAndrews, lies in a story of American Catholics' rising power and increasing significance in American society.

McAndrews organizes his chapters by presidential administrations, demonstrating the ways Catholics worked with and against presidential policies and goals. This scheme helps focus his work and allows him to examine the impact of the failures and successes of Catholics in the political arena especially, in regard to issues of war and peace, social justice, and life and death. Subsequently, McAndrews' narrative is refreshingly complex. It is neither the story of an inevitable rise in Catholic prominence nor a defense of Catholic theology or ideology. Indeed, he notes the many occasions when Catholics are stiffly divided on issues and actually work to thwart each other's interests. …

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