Election Results Show We Live in a New America

National Catholic Reporter, November 23, 2012 | Go to article overview

Election Results Show We Live in a New America


Welcome to the new America, in which a black man wins a second term as president, in which it is no longer possible to pile up enough of a lead among whites to assure victory, in which the fastest-growing minority, Latinos (overwhelmingly Catholic), vote for their most pressing interests, ignoring the warnings by some Catholic bishops that they were endangering their very souls.

President Barack Obama's impressive win, in which he captured all but two of the states he won four years ago, was accomplished with a broad coalition of minorities, including Hispanics, Asians, women and young voters.

Strategists already are marveling at the dimension and precision of the Democrats' strategy that identified those groups, persuading them both of the cause and to get out and vote, while the punditocracy focused on "independents."

According to various exit polls, Obama received more than 55 percent of the women's vote, with women making up 54 percent of the electorate. In all, the president benefited from an 18 or 19 percent gender gap. He also received 70 to 75 percent of the Hispanic vote, depending on which poll one consults, and exit polls show he won a slim victory among Catholics, 50 to 48 percent.

The results are further evidence of the browning of America, and by extension, the Catholic church. The irony, of course, is that the very group that helps the church maintain a steady bottom line when it comes to membership is the very group that _ probably more than any other element pushed to victory the candidate so vociferously disparaged by a fringe group of Catholic leaders.

The contrast in images tells the story. Romney's rallies and his final event in Boston on Nov. 6 were overwhelmingly white. Obama's rallies and his victory celebration in Chicago were a reflection of the - new America, a multi-hued, multi-ethnic reality that came into sharp focus during this election season.

That new reality has implications for both civil society and the Catholic church in the United States.

The bishops clearly need to rethink their political alliance with the Republican Party and their emphasis on making abortion and gay marriage illegal as the principle marks of Catholic identity. On the first matter, the shameless pandering to Republican talking points and budget rationale by some of the bishops further compromised the already seriously damaged moral authority of the church's leadership in this country.

The self-indulgent tantrums of some bishops--comparing the president to Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler, warning Catholics that their souls are in danger should they mark their ballots for certain candidates, grossly overstating the threat to religious liberty and playing loose with such terms as "intrinsic evil" and "prudential judgment"--became public embarrassments.

The Vatican needs to take note that some of its appointees in the episcopal ranks in this country--a minority, to be sure, but they grab the headlines with their incendiary bombast--make it difficult for more responsible members of the hierarchy who have to regularly deal with legislators and the White House.

The insistence by Catholic officials on measuring all political actors on whether they advocate overturning Roe v. Wade and oppose abortion in all circumstances eliminates any opportunity to more creatively deal with making abortion rarer and, ultimately, unthinkable. The polls during the last 40 years show the bishops have not only been unsuccessful in persuading anyone but the already converted to their cause, their actions have hardened the divisions and played nicely into the political agenda of the extremes.

The bishops and such allies as the Knights of Columbus have poured untold millions into fighting against referendums allowing same-sex marriage and for constitutional amendments that would define marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. …

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