May 11, 2012

Catholics and Politics – Part 1

I recently had the experience of going to Sacramento to meet with lawmakers on some key legislation of interest to the Catholic bishops. To be clear, I vote but otherwise do not get very political. I also do not associate with bishops and would never normally do such a thing, especially because while I agree with all the Catholic Church teaches, I do not accept that I must therefore be a Democrat. Why did I do it? Because I have to go outside my comfort zone, and because I believe the legislation we were going to promote was right in the light of our faith. So I went, but what did I find?

I met with two assemblymen, and the aides to two Senators. One Democrat, three Republican (these were my assignments, not choices). I found the Democrat uninteresting and unopen. There was no discussion, he simply stated his positions and told us to “have the priests tell people they need to pay more taxes.” It is the Republicans that interested me.

Most of the bills were for the poor or prisoners. Compassionate release for prisoners with terminal illnesses, making it possible for youth released from detention to be mainstreamed into public schools (if not a danger), removing restrictions on vehicle worth for those in work programs, and a few others. These were things that would generally save modest amounts of money, reduce government, and make life better for a few people in a few cases. Nothing earth shattering. I felt the legislators listened, and got the message, but were afraid to damage their brand. These were (mostly) bills that they could have reached out to Democrats on (I would have) and said, “this is a no-brainer, it is obviously the right thing to do, and I am not afraid to agree with you.”

Another Republican senator, with whom I did not meet, was reported to have said, “you Catholics come here and ask for support, but then your bishops support the Democrats.” Many of my fellow “lobbyists” were young Catholics, 18 – 23, and they got it. But the older ones dismissed this senator as unfair, even after the Mandate. They are stuck as Democrats and cannot let go. The Republicans are stuck in their own brand and cannot let go. And they cannot work together. If there is to be cooperation across the aisles, at a time when America needs it most, perhaps it needs to come from the young Catholics I met, who only care passionately about the issues, not their identities as Democrats or Republicans.

And will there ever be a candidate they can support?

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