“Social Justice” and the New Politics
The ground shifts beneath the Catholic left.
By George Neumayr | December 2010
The phrase “social justice,” when invoked by members of the Catholic left, is a euphemism for the agenda of the Democratic Party. “Social justice” refers not to objective principles of justice but to specific policies of Democrats on health care, labor, welfare, and other matters.
This is why the historic November defeat of Democrats was treated as such troubling news in many chanceries and Catholic university faculty lounges. Worried headlines, of the kind that were nowhere to be found in the Catholic left’s publications after the election of Barack Obama, suddenly appeared, such as Catholic San Francisco’s headline, “Social Justice Agenda in Jeopardy in US.”
America magazine also sounded an alarm. Steve Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America, wrote in a piece on its website that the Church’s “years of efforts in America to support public policies that reflect its moral vision were dealt a blow Tuesday evening.”
The panic was understandable. After all, the Catholic left had invested a great deal in the success of the Democrats and in particular Barack Obama. Many nuns and priests voted for him, with some even openly serving on his “Catholic” campaign advisory committee; Catholic college presidents and faculties generously donated to his campaign (Georgetown, out of all college faculties, ranked second in donations); and Catholic public figures such as Doug Kmiec portrayed him as the very embodiment of the Church’s vision of “change.”
After he won the election, the Catholic left’s excitement grew still more. Notre Dame conferred upon him an honorary degree, and bishops such as Archbishop Michael Sheehan of New Mexico, afraid that criticism of Obama’s policies might make Catholics look like the “Amish,” made rationalizations for him. Kmiec, before departing for his ambassadorship to Malta, burbled victoriously that “President Obama has far more in common with our great faith tradition than any political administration in recent memory.”
Always late to an awareness that its trendy enthusiasms are no longer trendy, the Catholic left simply hadn’t anticipated the wave of anti-Obama feeling that swept over the country in 2010. Particularly galling to members of the Catholic left is that the Catholic vote contributed to the backlash and appears to be slipping away from the Democrats. In 2008, 55 percent of Catholics voted for the Democratic ticket. In 2010, 54 percent of Catholics voted for Republicans.