It definitely feels counterintuitive to think back on 2005 as a kinder and gentler time in American politics – it certainly didn’t feel particularly kind and gentle at the time — but I think Ross Douthat has a point:
The mid-2000s were the last time the Catholic vision of the good society — more egalitarian than American conservatism and more moralistic than American liberalism — enjoyed real influence in U.S. politics. At the time of John Paul’s death, the Republican Party’s agenda was still stamped by George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” which offered a right-of-center approach to Catholic ideas about social justice. The Democratic Party, meanwhile, was looking for ways to woo the “values voters” (many of them Catholic) who had just helped Bush win re-election, and prominent Democrats were calling for a friendlier attitude toward religion and a bigger tent on social issues.
That was a long eight years ago. . . .
[Since then, there has been] a substantial loss of Catholic influence in American political debates. Whereas eight years ago, a Catholic view of economics and culture represented a center that both parties hoped to claim, today’s Republicans are more likely to channel Ayn Rand than Thomas Aquinas, and a strident social liberalism holds the whip hand in the Democratic Party.
Indeed, between Mitt Romney’s comments about the mooching 47 percent and the White House’s cynical decision to energize its base by picking fights over abortion and contraception, both parties spent 2012 effectively running against Catholic ideas about the common good.
I would quibble only with the notion that Romney was “running” on the “47 percent” idea. He wasn’t actually campaigning on that; he was caught saying, in private, something he really believed (but that he probably didn’t intend in as mean a way as it was taken). After the election, he sort of owned it; and was immediately blasted for doing so by Republicans ranging from Bobby Jindal to Jim Geraghty. True, Republicans these days don’t much like George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” phrase; but Romney and his campaign were not as strongly “un-compassionate” as the 47 percent blunder suggested.