Blacks and Catholics pitted against each other, again...
“The Ignorant Vote—Honors Are Easy” Harper’s Weekly, 1876
Simian representations of southern blacks and northern Irish Catholics, by Thomas Nast, the man who gave us Santa Claus.
Yeah, I know holding onto perpetual resentments and a sense of victimology can make for wearisome reading, but too bad... I'm feeling irascible this week... ;-)
There was some dark muttering beforehand, but in the aftermath of Hillary Clinton's victory in the Pennsylvania Primary, there was suddenly a great deal of talk going around about whether or not Obama had a "Catholic Problem", or more accurately, if Catholics had a problem with Obama's race. Now, as similar results in the Ohio primary showed, Obama does indeed seem to have a "Rust-Belt Problem". Is that the same thing as a "Catholic Problem" based upon racial prejudice? White evangelical southerners didn't turn out for him in great numbers. Was that racial prejudice? Well, maybe that's the unspoken assumption... If women and low income voters go for Hillary in a big way, does any of that get put down to race? Actually, as far as I can tell in looking at the Democratic electorate, a lot of the Clinton/Obama split is based upon age. Younger voters, the most tolerant and non-judgmental in American history, clearly tend towards Obama, and the older voters towards Clinton. Are the older voters accused of racial prejudice? Sorry to sound paranoic, but I think that a certain stereotype persists about the northern Catholic ethnic. Most stereotypes contain a kernel of truth in them, but I think this one is running out of legs, particularly since the Catholic vote in this country, coveted for several decades now as the most critical "swing vote", is so fractured.
A lot of this is familiar to me, perhaps because I went to High School in the same years that the forced busing crisis was roiling Boston and gaining national attention. There is a certain image of Massachusetts, for instance, as a bastion of Democratic Party liberalism. There is also the other image. I wrote about it on this blog's inaugural post:
Then there is the other Massachusetts, or rather, the other image of Boston... Ethnic. Bigoted. Parochial. Insular. Clannish. Rude. Racist. Stand-offish. Unfriendly. Bog-Irish. Catholic.
The busing crisis of the 1970’s left an indelible mark on the city that has been hard to shake, especially when it had been built upon a perception already held.
Back in the NBA heyday, it was a common refrain to hear from Los Angelenos what a racist city Boston was. Unfortunately for us, the glory days of the Celtics ended before the L.A. incidents surrounding Rodney King, Darryl Gates and the LAPD, the riots, and the O.J. Simpson trial fiasco, so we were never able to return the favor in full.
This state went for Clinton easily, but does some of that ethnic lunch-bucket image linger instead upon Catholic Pennsylvanians?
It's sad to see this old African-American vs. Irish Catholic thing raise its head again, as it has at various times in this nation's history. There's no need for it now, and there was no need for it back then. The old Divide-and-Conquer trick usually works to the benefit of someone else.
A smattering of thoughts on this topic from the web...
From Fr. Andrew Greeley:
Catholic racism in Pennsylvania? Seventy-two percent of Catholic Democrats in the heavily Catholic state of Pennsylvania voted for Sen. Hillary Clinton, according to the MSNBC exit polls, and more than half of them said they would not vote for Sen. Barack Obama if he won the nomination. The finding gave me a chill. On the other hand, most Obama voters said they would vote for Clinton if she should win the contest. Is Catholic racism rearing its ugly head again?
I have spent almost a half century monitoring Catholic attitudes in this country. Through the years, Catholics have been ahead of Protestant denominations though behind Jews in measures of racial tolerance and on liberal issues -- including the Vietnam war.
What is happening? Chris Matthews, a native of the Keystone State (poor dear man!), pointed out that many of them might be in neighborhoods where they felt threatened. Abortion does not seem to be an issue in this election, and not many Catholics shape their vote on this issue. Obama did very well in his home city and state among Catholics...
The media commentators operate in a world of cliches and stereotypes -- "blue collar Catholics," "ethnic Catholics," "Reagan Republican Catholics." Either these labels are false or, charitably interpreted, misleading. At their worst, they are exercises in bigotry.
Irish Catholics crossed the line of national college attendance in the first decade of the last century, Polish and Italian Catholics after World War II. Catholics now are above the national average in white-collar and professional class occupations. Some of us are showing up on elite university faculties. Some even on television news programs. There are, of course, many Catholics still in blue-collar jobs, perhaps especially in uncivilized places like Philadelphia and Boston. (Hey!!) Yet on average Catholics are disproportionately in the middle, upper middle, and even upper levels of American society. It is not Civil War time, and Catholics are not struggling for jobs with blacks as they did in the New York riots.
Research by two first-rate sociologists, Clem Brooks and Jeff Manza, has demonstrated that Catholics remained disproportionately Democrats in the Reagan years, not shifting more than anyone else. It is time to stop using "blue-collar" as a routine descriptor for Catholics. Yet many Democratic leaders are embarrassed to admit that they need Catholic votes to win an election. They are somehow unclean.
It turns out that the three-fifths of Jewish and Protestant Democrats in Pennsylvania also voted against Obama. Is it white racial prejudice in Pennsylvania?
When the Clintons go around telling people that Obama cannot win, they mean a black candidate cannot be elected. The country isn't ready for an African-American president. That's playing the race card as a trump.
From Deal Hudson:
On the heels of his relatively poor showing among Catholic voters, came the remark of well-known Catholic jurist Douglas Kmiec that Obama is a "Catholic natural." Evidently, Catholic voters are slow to recognize him as such. It's hard to blame them when Obama has voted against a law that would have protected a child once it was born and outside the womb -- the Illinois Born Alive Infant Protection Act.
One Catholic blogger labeled Obama the most "Anti-Catholic Presidential Candidate." It's hard to disagree when Obama has a 100 percent pro-abortion rating from NARAL, supports partial-birth abortion, supports spending tax dollars for abortion, voted against notifying parents of minors seeking out-of-state abortions, and supports homosexual marriage.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that Obama was endorsed by one of the nation's leading abortion advocates, Frances Kissling, former president of Catholics for a Free Choice. Calling Hillary Clinton "not radical enough on abortion," Kissling praised Obama as the man who could complete "the social transformation that Roe began but did not solidify."
From a blogger calling himself Mister Furious:
It's race. As someone who grew up Catholic in Connecticut with my father's family being Irish Catholic from Boston, and my mother's family Polish Catholic from New York, plus my ten years living in and around NYC among the Italian Catholic community, there is no shortage of, nor subtlety to, the racism among Catholics.Deal Hudson is full of shit (big surprise, right?) and is pretending his church doesn't have a problem with race by blaming regionalism and issues like abortion.Not even counting the supposed reluctance of Latinos (overwhelmingly Catholic) to support black candidates, there is more than enough old-school racism in these tradional Catholic cities, communities and neighborhoods. Abortion need not enter the discussion...
From a blogger named Ron Saunders:
Mr. Barack Obama does not have a Catholic problem. White Catholic voters have a problem with Mr. Obama because he is a Black man. Indeed White Catholics have a malignant racial problem which is much deeper than the candidacy of Barack Obama.
From Cathleen Kaveny on dotcommonweal:
1. The Catholic vote is not monolithic. As EJ Dionne has noted - “Despite a certain convergence of views among Catholics‹a concern for social justice, a collective dedication to the value of the family. Catholics haven’t voted as a bloc since the early 1960s, when they solidly backed America’s one and only Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson. Catholics’ loyalties are unpredictable and in flux.”
2. Getting to know Senator Obama. Senator Clinton is already well-known to voters. But as voters have come to know Senator Obama, he has been slowly but steadily gaining ground among Catholics, as they come to see who he is and what he stands for. Many Catholics are responding to his vision of the common good and his values on issues such as ending the unjust war in Iraq, providing decent jobs, ensuring affordable healthcare for all, and working for comprehensive immigration reform. Many have also been inspired by his life choices, especially his decision early on to work as a community organizer with parishes in the South Side of Chicago.
The Obama Catholic Advisory list includes:
Senator Bob Casey
Representative Patrick Murphy (PA-08)
Former Congressman Tim Roemer, President of the Center for National Policy
Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas
Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia
Tom Chabolla, Assistant to the President, Service Employees International Union
Victoria Reggie Kennedy, President, Common Sense About Kids and Guns
Sr. Jamie Phelps, O.P., Director and Professor of Theology, Institute for Black Catholic Studies, Xavier University
Sr. Catherine Pinkerton, Congregation of St. Joseph
National Steering Committee:
Mary Jo Bane, Professor, Harvard Kennedy School
Nicholas P. Cafardi, Catholic Author and Scholar, Pittsburgh, PA
Lisa Cahill, Professor of Theology, Boston College
M. Shawn Copeland, Associate Professor of Theology, Boston College
Ron Cruz, Leadership Development Consultant, Burke, VA
Sharon Daly, Social Justice Advocate, Knoxville, MD
Richard Gaillardetz, Murray/Bacik Professor of Catholic Studies, University of Toledo
Grant Gallicho, Associate Editor, Commonweal Magazine
Margaret Gannon, IHM, A Sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Scranton, PA
Don Guter, Judge Advocate General of the Navy (2000-2002); Rear Admiral, Judge Advocate General's Corps, U.S. Navy (Ret.), Pittsburgh, PA
Cathleen Kaveny, Professor of Law and Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame
Jim Kesteloot, President and Executive Director, Chicago Lighthouse
Vincent Miller, Associate Professor of Theology, Georgetown University
David O'Brien, Loyola Professor of Catholic Studies at the College of the Holy Cross
Peter Quaranto, Senior Researcher and Conflict Analyst, Resolve Uganda (Notre Dame Class of 2006)
Dave Robinson, International Peace Advocate, Erie, Pennsylvania
Vincent Rougeau, Associate Professor of Law, University of Notre Dame