The Next Four Years
In the wake of yesterday’s election results, it is clear that the Republican Party did not offer a credible candidate or a credible platform, at least as far as most Americans were concerned. It certainly offered neither one as far as serious Catholics are concerned. This is hardly news. But the Republican loss remains enormously instructive, because it demonstrates the extreme weakness of the Party. The Republicans could not beat a Democratic incumbent presiding over a severely damaged economy.
Another clue that the Republican Party is very weak is that it depends for victory on extraordinarily low voter turnout. Is it disingenuous to ask whether this is a bad sign? It is possible, of course, that our culture is so far gone that even if the Republican Party were to credibly articulate a culture of life, it would not gain significant ground. But the downward spiral of the Party this year, a Party which has now proven itself ideologically confused and unable to field even a remotely attractive candidate, suggests that it is time seriously to consider developing a third party which might, in the foreseeable future, either displace the Republicans or force them to adopt a more compelling vision.
The contemporary Democratic Party retains its New Deal roots (the “common man” as the man who is down and out) but it has clearly become the party of those who are estranged from God, dismissive of religion, and insistent upon the pursuit of desire unfettered by the natural law. We must not be blind to the great appeal in this combination, because it makes people believe that the Democrats really care about how they feel—which is invariably one of the most important components of electoral success.
The contemporary Republican Party, by contrast, is struggling to meld a combination of ideas which appear to be fairly cold and abstract—moral and economic principles which require sacrifice and favor the “uncommon man”, that is, those who are already personally and socially secure. In the same vein, the Party as a whole (in contrast to many of its members) demonstrates little sympathy for moral outsiders, and clearly fails abysmally to welcome economic outsiders, like immigrants and the poor.
It is a liberal myth, of course, that Republicans are all selfish “haves” who don’t give a damn about “have nots”, just as it is a conservative myth that Democrats are all selfish manipulators of the “have nots” so that they can retain their power as political “haves”. Nonetheless, the old adage may well apply: Scratch a myth, find a fact. The Republican Party is not broadly credible, both because of its many internal compromises while chasing the Democrats’ tail, and because of its inability to articulate a cohesive vision of a culture of life, which includes social solidarity.
I am not a political operative. I have neither the strategic ability nor the financial and political connections to create an effective alternative to the Democratic Party. But I can offer some thoughts on what such a party ought to look like. To put this initially in rather technical terms, such a party will have to place a very broad emphasis on the culture of life as the key to forming communities characterized by both subsidiarity and solidarity. Such a party must demonstrate (and reduce to sound bites) the truths that strong marriages, strong families, and a new generation of children are necessary causes and prime indicators of economic well-being; that the needs of the whole person are best served by robust intermediary institutions rather than government bureaucracies; and that reduction in the costs of government opens the way to the development of local infrastructures of mutual support which exceed anything that we know today.
Thus this alternative party must recognize and explain that fiscal restraint is not a necessary evil but an active and productive friend which can transform our local communities into vibrant centers for the solutions to their own problems (subsidiarity) while actively welcoming newcomers and supporting those who are struggling (solidarity). Moreover, it must be always ready to point to great examples of these concepts in action around the country and the world.
Finally, this alternative party must introduce a strong affective element into every point of its platform. It must be a party not of platitudes but of personal care.
But now we must ask ourselves an important question. This approach is right and good, but does it make any sense at all to embrace it with a purely political hope? By this I mean a hope dependent on politics without conversion. It is surely true that even if such a purely political hope exists at the moment, to depend on it would be illusory. The cultural capital necessary to recognize these goods is all but depleted. In presuming success without the work of conversion, we would only slightly improve on all the mistakes we have made over the past fifty years, all the mistakes involved in relying on politics instead of relying on Christ.
As a purely pragmatic matter, it is far more likely that a period of widespread conversion will have to precede political success, even with political principles as attractive as these. But it just so happens that these principles are the sociological face of conversion, the direct and demonstrable result of the work of those who believe and love Christ within the even stronger community of His Church. Christian politics must always be firmly rooted in the Person of Jesus Christ, in what Pope Benedict has called “charity in truth” (see Caritas in Veritate). Conversion is primary; successful politics is one of its secondary results.
For this reason, converting others is the challenge before us. In the beginning, we will have no choice but to speak of Christ and to implement these social principles locally while operating under the severe disadvantages imposed by the taxations, regulations and restrictions of the modern State.
If we want good politics, then we must form good men and women. If we want to form good men and women, then we must shape them for citizenship in Heaven by teaching them to love and serve God first. This is the way forward now, as it has always been the way forward. Failure to observe this priority is the first loop in an ever-descending spiral. The Synod on Evangelization with which Pope Benedict opened the current Year of Faith has already focused on the supreme necessity of re-Christianizing the peoples which once possessed the Faith. Our current political futility reminds us of the immense work to be done.
The continued renewal of the Church herself must, of course, occupy a significant portion of our evangelical energies. A stronger Church will form many more Catholics who can go out into the world to renew all things in Christ. But the whole process requires a rejection of certain attitudes we have seemingly imbibed with our mothers’ milk. There can be no more acquiescence in the notion that the Catholic Faith must be a private thing just because it is a personal thing, as if it could be irrelevant in any setting or at any time. Where, in all of His Creation, should Jesus Christ be refused entry? From which of our neighbors should we withhold the knowledge of Christ? What citizens are to be denied His love? No, it is only through the proclamation of Jesus Christ, and the opportunity for friendship with him, that we can burst the bonds which hold captive both our neighbors and ourselves.
There will be another presidential election in 2016. But it is really the Year of Faith that should occupy us now: The Year of Faith for the next election cycle and beyond.
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Posted by: AgnesDay -
Nov. 10, 2012 1:13 PM ET USA
larry.roach3086, you are correct. Countries with a multi-party system form coalitions after the election. The US forms coalitions prior to the election. That is why third parties fail. This is why we may well lose ourselves as a political entity. The only body that will stand is the Church. No matter what else may happen, we should identify with Her first.
Posted by: eereichert1403 -
Nov. 09, 2012 6:53 PM ET USA
T-Party & Rand Paul are two targets you might focus on to select a new party if you have any connections with them. I think they portray the conservative values of religion, Constitution and economics. In addition I am trying to figure out why Pope Benedict and Cardinal Dolan sent their congratulations to President Obama. Jesus did not condemn nor vindicate Caesar. I paraphrase, “Your laws are not my laws, and your way is not my way”. That should have been their message. The whole abortion movement, the gay marriage, et all needs to be taught in the pews. I think that the secular society can only be changed with Pope Benedict’s evangelization movement.
Posted by: Minnesota Mary -
Nov. 09, 2012 5:19 PM ET USA
We lost for three reasons: 1) A post Vatican II Church that preached Social Justice propaganda instead of faith and morals. 2) We have committed demographic suicide with contraception and abortion. 3) The pap suckers now outnumber the paps, and this will only get worse with comprehensive immigration reform. I recommend everyone order the video "Agenda" which is a documentary about the grinding down of America. It can be ordered on line: www.agendadocumentary.com You can view the trailer.
Posted by: larry.roach3086 -
Nov. 08, 2012 1:03 PM ET USA
I'm hardly surprised at this great epiphany you've had. A third party has not existed successfully in this country in nearly 200 years. And that was at the formative stages of the republic. Experience shows all a third party will do is permit democrat electoral dominance for many years. Great plan. I know you and a small, similar group of Catholics are almost deranged with anger at the R party, but this nation's governmental structure is designed to work with 2 parties. A third will only fail.
Posted by: fwhermann3492 -
Nov. 08, 2012 11:40 AM ET USA
I agree with you 200% on the need for an alternative party. (I also agree with AgnesDay that politics cannot replace evangelism.) I'm a believer in climate change, though, so those of us in this party would have to decide what to do with hot button issues like that, which tend to divide us. Nonetheless, I hope you and others relentlessly beat this drum. You may not have political connections, but you have an audience, and that is the first step for any revolution.
Posted by: bkmajer3729 -
Nov. 07, 2012 9:17 PM ET USA
Politics has never "solved" our problems-never. A Republican victory was not a solution but could have given opportinity to regain basic freedoms. Difficulty now is living in wake of the contempt & veiiled hatred from fed gov leadership toward people of Faith. There is no alternative but to live our Faith offering constant praise & Sacrifice. A more detailed approach to solution is in Fr. Spitzer's book "Healing the Culture". I suggest all of us read & live Father's guidance.
Posted by: koinonia -
Nov. 07, 2012 7:50 PM ET USA
Rush Limbaugh said today that he went to bed after the election results last night thinking: "We've lost the country." It's lamentable that more than half the Catholic vote went to the man whose victory caused such a calamitous assessment. "No, it is only through the proclamation of Jesus Christ, and the opportunity for friendship with him, that we can burst the bonds which hold captive both our neighbors and ourselves." There is hope, but order must be restored. Preach it, brother!
Posted by: AgnesDay -
Nov. 07, 2012 2:58 PM ET USA
All of which is to say that we have here no earthly city, and that politics has ceased to solve our problems even at the most fundamental, material level. It is a strong Catholic Church, unafraid to evangelize sinners, that will renew our culture.