Guest Column: Forging the Catholic Vote

The 1996 elections had the most dismal voter turnout since the 1920s, despite the long, seemingly endless media coverage of candidates issues. Because of poor participation, Bill Clinton won re-election, as he did in 1992, without a majority of the popular vote.

The two major candidates seemed fixated with the Catholic constituency. This year, it seemed that Clinton himself was running as a moderate-to-conservative Catholic, referring often to his “Jesuit” training at Georgetown University. He and Hillary rarely missed an opportunity to identify themselves with the Catholic faith—they talked about social justice and school uniforms and arranged for innumerable photo ops at Catholic schools and with Catholic leadership.

Bill, Hillary, and Al stressed compassion and their concern for the safety and welfare of children, while continuing to support radical abortion rights and the brutal, painful practice of infanticide—euphemistically referred to as partial-birth abortion. They talked about family values while being supported by and beholden to militant homosexual lobbies and endorsing the need for a village—as opposed to parents—to raise America’s children.

On the Republican side, Bob Dole’s campaign pieced together a disorganized Catholic outreach and failed to communicate convincingly issues that resonated with much of the Catholic community. Dole and Jack Kemp missed a tremendous opportunity to garner the support of undecided Catholic voters during the campaign by refusing to stress their differences with their opponents on character, social issues, abortion, and, specifically, Bill Clinton’s veto of the Congress’s ban on the partial-birth abortion procedure, a practice so heinous that it was condemned by 71 percent of American citizens.

In the states, the electorate responded to a conservative message. However, perhaps the most compelling statistics this past election year are that 53 percent of the 29 percent of Catholics who participated in the 1996 elections, voted for the most aggressively pro-abortion, anti-family candidate and only 48 percent of registered voters in the United States were sufficiently roused to leave their homes to cast ballots at all-52 percent simply decided to stay home.

The 1996 elections present great challenges and clearly define the need for an organized grass-roots effort to educate the electorate and encourage its participation in the democratic process.

Catholic Alliance was formed just one year ago as a nonpartisan voter education and public policy organization. It is a lay-based, independent organization run entirely by Catholics who have taken seriously the call of the Second Vatican Council to “renew the temporal order” and infuse public debate with a Catholic perspective, an arena in which too often, Catholic social teaching has been taken out of context and used by the far Left to promote its own agenda.

In order to effectively empower American Catholic voters through education and foster their participation in public debate, thereby achieving a more balanced representation of a Catholic social and political view, Catholic Alliance will begin this year to organize in the states and build chapters in congressional districts. The focus of our educational and lobbying efforts will be issues such as the inviolability of all human life from conception to natural death, religious liberty, the protection and primacy of the family, and obligation to the poor and needy.

Catholic Alliance will address issues of equality, social justice, education, and ethics in public life. Catholic Alliance will present unbiased and clear information to Catholic voters regarding specific issues and candidates’ positions on those issues. In this way, we hope to inspire greater voter participation, especially on the local levels, where the electorate more intimately identifies with issues at hand.

The 1996 elections proved that there is a need to motivate the Catholic community’s interest and participation in the political process and better educate voters to differentiate between perception and reality. One thing is clear. If lay Catholics Americans do not respond to the challenge of reforming our current culture and reclaiming America for the traditional Judeo-Christian values upon which it was established, in four years we will be back to the position we find ourselves in today. We will live in a country where human life is expendable, where our religious liberties are challenged, where the very foundations of our families are attacked by extremists, where parental rights are diminished, and where the poor will remain in a cycle of poverty, disillusionment, and, lack of control, robbed of their basic potential. And we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

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