Catholics and the Mid-Terms

There’s no doubt about it. Tuesday night’s election results were historic. The Republican sixty-three-and-counting pick up in the House of Representatives is the biggest gain for an out-of-power party in a president’s first mid-term election since 1922. Even at the height of the Great Depression in November 1930, Democrats running against the policies of an unpopular president, Herbert Hoover, managed to defeat only fifty-three GOP congressmen.

As for the U.S. Senate, the Republican pick up of seven seats is the best performance since 1994, nearly doubling the the post-World War II first mid-term election average of four Senate seats gained. The national victories also translated into significant Republican gubernatorial and state-legislative gains, which are important for 2011 when Congressional redistricting will begin.

Election Day exit polls reveal that 60 percent of Americans believe the government is going in the wrong direction; 47 percent say the government is a disaster; 48 percent call for the repeal of Obamacare; and 41 percent find the Tea Party’s limited-government philosophy very attractive.

Catholics, who went for Obama 55 to 45 percent over McCain in 2008, changed direction this year: 53 percent voted Republican. This switch had a major impact on elections in the key swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. Two years ago, a large percentage of pro-life, GOP-voting Catholics in these economically troubled rust-belt states were AWOL on Election Day. They stayed home then because they could not, in good conscience, vote for pro-abortion Obama, but they were uninspired by McCain’s anemic economic vision.

But this year Catholics came out in force and provided the votes needed to defeat one Congressional Democratic incumbent in Indiana, and four each in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Flipping these closely-contested seats was the sine qua non of the GOP master plan to retake the House, and Catholics provided the margins of victory.

The Capitol at dawn

More good news for Catholics: the likely next Speaker of the House, John Boehner, is a pro-life, practicing Catholic. Born in Cincinnati, Boehner is the second oldest of twelve children. He attended Archbishop Moeller High School and graduated from Xavier University. Americans United for Life presented the ten-term Congressman with this year’s Henry Hyde Defender of Life award.

At least twenty pro-abortion Catholics will not be returning to the House in January, including three members of the infamous Stupak Five. Bart Stupak (D-Michigan) announced earlier this year he was retiring. Now two of his fellow pro-lifers who also caved on Obamacare, Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) and Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Pennsylvania), were defeated by genuine pro-lifers.

When freshman Congressman Driehaus signed on to the Stupak deal to support Obamacare in exchange for the toothless presidential executive order that allegedly forbids healthcare-related abortion funding, fellow Ohioan Boehner predicted that Driehaus would not be able to “go home to the west side of Cincinnati,” because Catholics “will run him out of town.” Boehner’s prediction was right on the money. Driehaus lost handily in a rematch with former Republican Congressman Steve Chabot, who had held the seat from 1995 to 2008.

While the GOP does not have numerical control of the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, with forty-seven members, will have effective control – and for faithful Catholics that’s a good thing. Obama won’t be able to run against a “Do Nothing” Republican Congress, as President Harry Truman did in 1948, because Democrats will be responsible for management of the upper chamber. And Senator Harry Reid, a pedantic whiner and deeply unpopular public figure who barely won re-election, will remain the public face of Senate Democrats – and that, too, is a good thing.

New Speaker, old Speaker, same President

On another front, New York Republicans took back majority control of the state Senate, which guarantees that another attempt to send same-sex marriage legislation to the governor’s desk for his signature will fail. This puts a serious obstacle in the way of the standard narrative that insists approval of gay marriage in liberal bellwether New York is “inevitable.”

But in terms of public policy initiatives that are of interest to Catholics, we should not expect much progress. The voters fired scores of Democrats mostly because of frustration over a growing national debt and the stagnant economy. Social issues, we should be clear, were not as much on voters minds as in the past, although in many races growing pro-life sentiment worked in favor of pro-life candidates, particularly in blue states.

The best case scenario suggests the pro-life movement will not lose ground in the next two years. The Freedom of Choice Act, which would further codify abortion and partial-birth abortion as fundamental rights, is D.O.A. A national “gay-rights” bill, which would establish a new federally-protected class based on sexual orientation, will get nowhere in the next Congress.

Patience is the key over the next two years. There is reason to hope that Obama will be evicted from the Executive mansion in 2012 and, perhaps, be replaced by a pro-life president. After all, in 2009 and 2010 Republicans won statewide elections in the presidential battleground states of Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Ohio. Add those 92 electoral votes to the 173 John McCain won in 2008, and the  GOP is only five shy of retaking the White House.

Of course, Republicans are quite capable of ignoring the voters’ overriding wish that our legislators fix, as soon as possible, America’s fiscal and economic woes. This would be a great tragedy for many reasons, not least because the GOP would also squander the opportunity to fix the nation’s moral and social woes as well.

George J. Marlin, Chairman of the Board of Aid to the Church in Need USA, is the author of The American Catholic Voter and Sons of St. Patrick, written with Brad Miner. His most recent book is Mario Cuomo: The Myth and the Man.