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from: AMERICAN ATHEISTS
subject: AANEWS for October 9, 2000
In dispute over RU-486, Bush working to woo Catholic vote. Republicans
mobilizing special Catholic task force
In AANews, #831
9 October 2000
It used to be that political candidates cited remarks from Washington
and Lincoln. In the year 2000 election campaign, though, major party
hopefuls have instead been quoting scripture and verse from holy books
like the Bible, or even the Torah. One candidate -- Texas Gov.
George W. Bush -- revealed that the greatest philosophical force in
his life was Jesus Christ.
Now, Bush is quoting another favorite writer and religious figure,
Pope John Paul II. The pontiff's slogan about a "culture of life" is
now part of the Republican candidate's effort to woo an important
block of voters in next month's election, the Roman Catholics.
In his Tuesday night debate with Vice President Al Gore, Bush said
that if elected he would discourage abortion and use the White House
to promote a "culture of life." It was, as the Boston Globe points
out in today's edition, a phrase quite familiar to churchgoing Roman
Catholics who hear those words echoed in church sermons on a regular
Bush's facility with the phrase demonstrates the continued blurring
between the political podium and the pulpit.
"Culture of Life" was introduced by Pope John Paul II in a 1995
encyclical titled "Evangelium Vitae," or "The Gospel of Life." The
pontiff remarked, "In our present social context, marked by a dramatic
struggle between the culture of life and the culture of death, there
is need to develop a deep critical sense capable of discerning true
values and authentic needs." The phrase came to refer to a hodgepodge
of Catholic social teachings, which the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin
of Chicago said was "the seamless garment" of life. It spelled out
the position of Catholic leaders on issues like abortion, capital
punishment, assisted suicide and even concern for the poor.
That peculiar mix of issues renders Roman Catholics, particularly in
America, what political scientists and election pundits call a
"cross-pressured" group, one pulled to both ends of the ideological
spectrum. Some of those Catholic teachings resonate with political
liberals who see common cause on social concerns and opposition to the
death penalty. The abortion issue, though, locates these same Roman
Catholics on the right; and like many Protestant evangelicals and
fundamentalists, the Catholics oppose physician assisted suicide, and
remain relatively opposed to gay marriage and homosexual rights.
Complicating the picture even more is the fact that Catholics, once an
immigrant block identified with the working class, have prospered in
the American marketplace. The Roman Catholic vote was firmly
entrenched in the Democratic party in the middle of the 19th century;
that relation became even closer when the party nominated Catholics
like Al Smith in 1928 and John F. Kennedy in 1960.
Prosperity and other factors, though, moved Catholics voters into the
Republican camp beginning with Richard Nixon. They provided important
support in 1968 and 1972, and did the same for Ronald Reagan in 1980
and 1984. They joined the "New Democrat" bandwagon under Bill
Clinton, and they may do the same for Al Gore in 2000.
The Bush camp, though, is seeking to capitalize on what some have
perceived as a decline in Democratic Party allegiance among U.S.
Roman Catholics. After the 1996 election, the Republican National
Committee established a special Catholic Task Force headed by
Philadelphia advertising executive Brian P. Tierney. Bush's brand of
"compassionate conservatism" is aimed, in part, at Roman Catholic
voters who, hope GOP strategists, will identify with the party stand
on social issues, including abortion.
The stakes are high, especially since Catholics voters comprise 20 to
30 percent of the electorate in key states Bush needs to win. They
include Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and
"When George W. Bush speaks about the abortion issue, he does so in
authentically Catholic terms," an anonymous campaign advisor to the
Texas governor told the Boston Globe. "He has embraced a very
Catholic notion of the ethic of life on which abortion is just part of
a whole that includes issues like euthanasia and physician-assisted
Bush is also a big proponent of school vouchers, which could be a
financial windfall for the nation's vast Roman Catholic Parochial
school system. The Republican presidential nominee is vulnerable,
though, on an issue which many Catholics feel strongly about --
capital punishment. Bush is a veritable "Governor Death," presiding
over a penal system in Texas which leads the nation in executions and,
say critics, has unjustly convicted innocent men and women.
Abortion Politics and RU-486
Abortion has been a front burner political issue since 1973 when the
Supreme Court upheld a woman's right to choose in the ROE v. WADE
decision. It has been a political litmus test in many electoral
races, and led to spirited -- and even violent -- confrontations
outside abortion and family planning clinics. Doctors and personnel
working in such facilities have been murdered or injured, and for many
it is a "make or break" issue which defines how people react to a
particular candidate. While both Bush and Al Gore have amalgamated
religious rhetoric and programs into their respective campaigns, their
stands on abortion offer a striking contrast.
Gore had repeatedly said that he supports the ROE v. WADE decision.
During the Tuesday televised debate between the vice president and Mr.
Bush, Bush was asked by moderator Jim Lehrer if he would try to
overturn the Supreme Court ruling and the federal Food and Drug
Administration's recent approval of RU-486, an abortion-inducing drug.
Bush responded that he was "disappointed" with the FDA decision, but
said that as President he might not have the authority to undo the
ruling. Bush has pledge that he would select only judicial nominees
to the Supreme Court, though, who would reverse the ROE v. WADE
Bush mutes his rhetoric when discussing abortion, but as his close
friend televangelist Pat Robertson observes, the Texas governor is
"profoundly pro-life." Appropriating language from Pope John Paul and
Cardinal Bernardin, Bush told his television audience, "Surely this
nation can come together to promote the value of life. Surely we can
fight off these laws that will encourage doctors or allow doctors to
take the lives of our seniors. Surely we can work together to create
a culture of life so some of these youngsters who feel like they can
take a neighbor's life with a gun will understand that that's not the
way America is meant to be... And surely we can find common group to
reduce the number of abortions in America."
It was also a political strategy of linkage and "triangulation" --
incorporating some of your opponent's issues into your own platform --
so masterfully executed by Bill Clinton.
"Bush didn't want to come across as having a very strict right-to-life
position, because that would potentially alienate some voters,"
observed Dr. John Green, a political scientist at the University of
Akron. He described Bush's debate strategy and spin on abortion as "a
conscious effort to reach out to Catholics ... who respect the
church's teaching and don't find abortion very appealing."
Green added, "It's quite a clever strategy, if he can carry it off."
For further information:
(Archive of articles on the year 2000 election)