Politics & Policy

Playing Politics With God

John Kerry's insulting campaign.

John Kerry and his surrogates will say anything to secure the presidency this Tuesday.

I admit that this is not exactly breaking news. But it was the first thought that entered my mind this weekend when, during a visit with some good friends in Milwaukee, I was presented with a Wisconsin Democratic-party direct-mail piece fashioned as an open letter from Wisconsin Catholics for Kerry (see here and here.

In visits all over the country these past weeks to mobilize Catholics to support President Bush, I have assiduously avoided questioning the nature, extent, and sincerity of Senator Kerry’s faith as a Catholic. My view has been that his public record in support of destroying human life is what matters, and I will continue to discuss his deplorable record on that issue and others that matter most to faithful Catholics until the last vote is cast on Election Day. I feel obliged, however, to address some contradictions and reckless rhetoric presented by the Kerry-Democrat propaganda machine in this Wisconsin letter.

The letter begins by noting that Senator Kerry is a confirmed Catholic, considered entering the priesthood, carried rosary beads, and wore a St. Christopher medal. The letter closes with similar images of piety: We are presented with a signature block of a couple of dozen names, not simply average Catholics but rather a number of priests and nuns who are identified as such and whose diocesan affiliation is presented as well. The usual disclaimer, “affiliations listed for identification purposes only,” is noticeably absent, and we are left with the impression that white smoke emerged from the halls of a Wisconsin Catholic church and Senator Kerry was declared the victor.

These portions of the Democratic-party letter present yet again a curious Kerry self-contradiction. When it suits him, the senator says that faith should not be misused for partisan political gain. But we are then presented with what, for many of us Catholics, would be very intimate details about the practice of one’s faith: what devotions are conducted in private, and whether one has grappled with the possibility of a calling to religious life. And the senator’s surrogates irresponsibly blur the line between the Church and politics by throwing around their religious titles, as if they were speaking in the letter as teachers of our faith.

The bulk of the remainder of the letter contains the usual pronouncements about caring for the poor and ensuring economic security for all: noble goals, and quite important for anyone who truly embraces the Gospel of Life. But then we are presented with this jaw-dropping declaration: that Senator Kerry wishes to make abortions “as rare as possible.”

Oh really? I find it hard to reconcile that goal with John Kerry’s 1994 statement that “abortions need to be moved out of the fringes of medicine and into the mainstream of medical practice.” I also would add that John Kerry’s votes against the partial-birth-abortion ban (on no less than six occasions), and his 25 votes in favor of using tax dollars to fund abortion, hardly made the practice more rare.

Senator Kerry’s self-contradictions respecting faith and politics are not the product of sloppiness or ill-formed opinion. They are calculated to sow confusion and deceive people. When convenient, he wears his faith on his sleeve, seeking to conjure up amongst Catholics of faith the comforting imagery of piety and submission to God’s will. But when pandering to the chattering class and cultural elite is called for, he steps back from his faith, sending the signal that he’s different from the mass of mindless peasants who populate the pews and hang on every word of Mother Church.

Senator Kerry has in fact damaged the Church in serious ways. The Catholic Church has worked hard to avoid partisanship, and yet, every step of the way, Kerry has baited and tempted the faithful by making outrageous statements about who Catholics are and what they believe. He has also undercut the work of Pope John Paul II, who has worked doggedly to foster an appreciation for how faith and reason are inextricably intertwined. The senator’s recent condescending rhetoric about respectfully disagreeing with the bishops on opposition to abortion laws–as if to say that he is one of those thinking Catholics–plays right into the age-old prejudices about Catholics that Pope John Paul II has worked hard to eliminate through his elegant connecting of faith with reason.

I have no interest in questioning Senator Kerry’s religious beliefs. If anything, we all should hope he has a solid relationship with the Almighty. But the senator has done something grievously wrong in cheapening faith for political gain, and it is appropriate for him to be called to account for it. His behavior has been irresponsible and mean, and, after the election, we will have much work to do in correcting the misperceptions he fostered.

Leonard Leo is a Catholic strategist for the Bush White House and Bush-Cheney campaign.

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