In the second volume of my memoirs, "Furthermore!: Memories of a Parish Priest" (Forge, 1999), I said, half tongue in cheek, that while voting Republican might be a serious sin, those who committed it were excused from moral blame because of invincible ignorance. My long-ago altar boy Bryant Gumble recently asked me about the comment in an interview on his morning television program, and somehow its semi-humorous context got lost. Ever since then, I've been deluged with Republican hate mail.

I'll risk more Republican hate mail by saying that I personally do not see how any Catholic, indeed any Christian, can vote for a party that is devoted to the rich at the expense of the middle class and the poor. The Republican tax-cut proposal is blatantly, patently designed to help those who have a lot to get even more. No relief for the elderly for the high cost of prescription drugs, but a lot more breaks for those who earn more than $100,000 a year, not to mention $1 million. The Republicans' proposed income tax cuts look like an across-the-board "anti-big government" measure, but they actually pander to the wealthy. In the House version of the tax-relief bill, for example, everyone in every income bracket would pay lower taxes--but the cuts for the top brackets would be several percentage points higher than for the lowest brackets. The richer you are, the more generous the Republicans would be to you. The entire scheme assumes that middle-class and working-class voters are idiots who can't read numbers (which some of them undoubtedly are).

Moreover, I don't see how any Catholic can vote in good conscience for Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, who permits people in his state of Texas to carry concealed weapons and sends people to the death penalty chamber with almost clockwork routine. Catholic conservatives who support Bush have conveniently forgotten that Pope John Paul II--not to mention many Catholic bishops--is staunchly opposed to the death penalty.

Ah, say my conservative critics, have you forgotten about abortion and tuition vouchers for Catholic schools? The Republican Party, unlike the Democratic Party, is pro-life and supports government aid to faith-based institutions. Both abortion and vouchers are red herrings, in my opinion. I take abortion complaints seriously only from those who also oppose the death penalty, which the Republicans don't. Taking a human life means taking a human life, whether it be of a baby in its mother's womb or of a convict on death row. Moreover, despite all the hoopla, abortion is not a real issue in this election because the Supreme Court is never going to reverse Roe v. Wade, its 1973 decision upholding a woman's constitutional right to choose the procedure.

As for Catholic schools, Republican presidents since Richard Nixon have been promising help for Catholic schools and never have delivered on that promise. Furthermore, if there is ever to be a voucher system, the Supreme Court will have to rule that it does not violate the constitutional principle of church-state separation--which strikes me as unlikely, although not impossible. I wish that the Democrats who support the right to choose abortion would be consistent and also support the right to choose for poor parents who want something better for their children than the miserable public schools that are available to them. But I don't think that a federal voucher system will ever come to pass, and if it does, I don't think the Supreme Court will uphold it.

Granted, I don't support the pro-choice, anti-voucher Democratic platform enthusiastically, either. Nonetheless, Republicans, whatever their pretense of "compassion" and "inclusion," tend to be the party which is more concerned about the rich than about the poor; about whites rather than non-whites; about native-born Americans rather than immigrants; about reactionary self-righteousness (of the sort that produced the Clinton impeachment charade) than about freedom; about the so-called right to bear arms than about safety in the streets and schools; about personal morality (other people's, that is) than about public decency; about using America's position as the world's only superpower to push the rest of the world around instead of presiding with dignity and grace.

For decades, the Republican Party has appealed to all that is narrow, selfish, negative, and bigoted in the American people. The Democrats, I admit, have had their elitist moments, as when they seemed bent on throwing the white working class, much of it Catholic, out of the party a couple of decades ago, sending that bloc to the Reagan camp. That era of militantly liberal, racially divisive rhetoric is over, thank heaven. The Democratic Party is now far more centrist, and white working-class Catholics are back in the fold.

We are in the midst of the greatest era of prosperity in the history of the nation. The election is about whether the fruits of that prosperity will continue to be distributed disproportionately to the affluent. True, even if the Democrats win, the rich will continue to profit more from our prosperity than the poor. However, the poor and the middle class (households earning under $70,000 a year) will get a better break--in taxes and programs such as prescription drug relief--if the Democrats win. That seems to me, as a Catholic who takes Catholic social teaching seriously, to be a good enough reason for voting Democratic this year.

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