It really is impossible to stress too often that there isn't one "Catholic vote" in American politics, right now. When people talk about Catholics being the ultimate "swing vote" factor -- especially in tight races in the Midwest -- they are actually talking about Catholics in the middle of a spectrum of doctrine and practice.
The other day, responding to one of Mark's posts on Catholics and the Democrats, I mentioned a typology given to me once upon a time by a wise Catholic priest here inside the DC beltway. He said that there are actually four different major groups of Catholic voters, the:
* Ex-Catholic/estranged Catholic vote.
* Cultural Catholic/several Masses a year Catholic vote.
* Sunday only, I'm OK at the American Catholic doctrinal cafeteria vote.
* Catholics who sweat the details and go to confession vote.
Now, the GOP has really been targeting group No. 4 in the era after Roe v. Wade and, in large part, that is where you find the most Reagan Democrats who are in Catholic pews. Meanwhile, the Democrats pretty much own group No. 1, which tends to be left of the secular public. There's some great data out there from a study a decade or two ago by Father Andrew Greeley & Co. that fleshes that out, but I cannot find it online. (Feel free to help me hunt!)
So the battles are about the semi-active Catholics in the middle, who swing back and forth. The current theory is that the Iraq war ticked them off in the 2006 elections.
So why is that wild man, the Rev. John Hagee, the subject of this post? As long as the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., is hanging around the neck of Sen. Barack Obama, expect to keep hearing about Hagee and Sen. John McCain -- even if there really isn't anything new to report. I mean, check out this latest Newsweek piece and tell me the hot new information. Here's the key section:
"When someone endorses me, that does not mean that I endorse everything he stands for and believes in," McCain said last month. "I don't have to agree with everyone that endorses my campaign." But that may seem insensitive to those who have been offended by Hagee's more controversial positions. The pastor has made some outrageous comments. He called the Catholic Church, among other things, "the great whore" and "a false cult system." Hagee says his comments were taken out of context; he says he was not referring to modern Catholicism, but to what he says were the anti-Semitic views of the Catholic Church in the past. The Catholic League, which published a list of Hagee's "slurs" against the church, has called on McCain to renounce the endorsement.
Hagee also has strong views about the Middle East. He believes the United States has a biblical obligation to support Israel, and he has advocated a pre-emptive strike on Iran to protect the Jewish state. He opposes a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, suggesting that if Washington backs such a plan, God might punish Americans by dispatching terrorists.
Click here if you want to flash back and read more about what Hagee said and when he said it (and why his view of World War II and the pope make him sound like an anti-Catholic liberal).
But it's important to remember that Hagee is a story because of the "Catholic vote" factor. So reporters need to ask, "Which Catholic vote does Hagee threaten?"
Clearly, the left side of the Catholic spectrum will love to hate Hagee for a whole host of reasons. But they are not listening to the GOP anyway, even on abortion and other life issues that matter so much to the Vatican. So the question is what the conservative Catholics think of Hagee -- which is why the Catholic League link is politically (and thus journalistically) crucial.
I mean, you already know what Catholics who read Frank Rich are going to think of all of this. But what about, oh, Deal W. Hudson?
As it turns out, a month ago, Deal Hudson did sit down with Hagee to confront him about his statements and his claim that they were ripped out of context. Click here to see the result, at Inside Catholic. This is really interesting stuff, and here is a crucial passage:
... I contacted Hagee. He seemed genuinely hurt that he was being seen by the nation as anti-Catholic. He said, "Deal, how can people think I am anti-Catholic when my wife is an ex-Catholic, and a third of my congregation are former Catholics?" I bit my tongue. We really needed to talk; there were some things about Catholics he truly didn't understand.
When we met later, I told Hagee about "biting my tongue," and he looked surprised. I explained that Catholics don't like being reminded of all those who have left the Church. As he started to nod in agreement, his wife Diana said, "He's right, John." She would repeat that sentence several times during our long conversation, and each time her husband would acquiesce in agreement.
For example, she agreed when I told Hagee that his account of anti-Semitism seems aimed entirely at the Catholic Church. He explained that he had written extensively about the anti-Semitism of Martin Luther and other Protestants and had praised the statements of Pope John Paul II that were critical of anti-Semitism. When I asked him why so many of his examples were from the Catholic Church, he said his main source was the book The Anguish of the Jews by Rev. Edward Flannery, which he had bought on his first trip to Israel in 1978. (Father Flannery was first director of Catholic-Jewish relations at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and a pioneer in Jewish-Christian relations.)
Hagee not only recognized why his account could look one-sided, but he also admitted that he knew little about the heroic efforts of many Catholics to defend the Jews, especially during World War II. I gave him a copy of the encyclical read from the pulpit of every Catholic Church in Germany in 1937, Mit Brennender Sorge, of Pius XI. I explained to him that the author was actually Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, the future Pius XII, and how Jews welcomed his election because he was already known as their defender.
There's some interesting information in here, particularly about Hagee's links to and support for a Roman Catholic order in San Antonio.
Some Catholic voters (and newspaper readers) will find all of this picky information interesting. Many will not. It depends on which Catholic voters we're talking about.