The 2012 U.S. presidential election surprised many Catholics, but it should not have. The result wasn't exactly predetermined, but the writing had been on the wall for many months. As far back as January 2012, I had predicted that President Obama would be reelected. The one real bump in the road came when his administration imposed the contraception mandate on religiously affiliated institutions, but in retrospect, choosing to announce that policy nine months before the election was a political stroke of genius, because it all but ensured that most of the outrage—most notably among Catholics—would die down before Election Day.
And looking at the exit-poll data, it had. President Obama's share of the Catholic vote dropped from 54 percent in 2008 to 50 percent, but that was enough to put him over the top. As in 2008, Catholics can be said to have provided the margin of victory for the most pro-abortion president in American history. This time around, of course, he had also proved himself virulently anti-Catholic: His choice of Joe Biden, a pro-abortion Catholic, as his running mate in 2008 was nothing compared with his choice of the rabidly pro-abortion Catholic Kathleen Sebelius as his secretary of Health and Human Services, nor his imposition, through Sebelius, of the contraception mandate, which threatens to put many Catholic institution—colleges and hospitals, especially—out of business, not to mention thousands of small businesses owned by Catholics who refuse to violate Church teaching.
Twenty-five percent of those who voted in this election identified themselves as Catholic; 11 percent say that they attend Mass weekly, and 13 percent say that they do not. (The numbers on Mass attendance do not add up to 25 percent because not all of those who identified themselves as Catholics revealed their attendance habits.) Not surprisingly, those who attend Mass weekly were less likely to vote for President Obama (42 percent) than the average Catholic, while those attend Mass less than weekly were more likely to do so (56 percent).
Why 42 percent of weekly Mass-going Catholics would vote for a man who has never hidden his support for the intrinsic evil of abortion is something of a mystery; there is no proportionate reason that would justify ignoring that fact. Those who pointed to President Bush's wars in 2008, and John McCain's willingness to continue to fight them, could not use that excuse this time: President Obama continued to prosecute the war in Iraq according to President Bush's timetable, and he actually stepped up the war in Afghanistan, which continues today. He added to those U.S. military action in Libya, which, like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was opposed by the Vatican.
In the end, of course, the reasons why 42 percent of weekly Mass-going Catholics voted for a man who supports the intrinsic evil of abortion hardly matters; what matters now is that this President, who has shown his willingness to challenge the Catholic Church in the United States head-on, now has four more years to do so. And no one should be surprised if his administration steps up its attacks on the Catholic Church and other traditional Christian denominations.
Opposing those attacks politically, of course, will be very important; but even more important is the recognition that, in the words of the motto of the monthly magazine that I edit, there are no political solutions to cultural problems. And the problem of abortion, and the increasing attacks on religious freedom, are, at root, cultural problems. The changing political life of the United States simply reflects the changing nature of our culture; and politics lags behind the culture, which means that the results of this election reflect a culture that is likely even farther removed from its traditional moorings than President Obama himself is.
Those who are dismayed by the results of this election and by the cultural shift that it reflects can do one of two things: They can spend their time complaining about other people who have undermined traditional culture, or they can do something about it, starting in their own homes and neighborhoods and parishes. They can wait for the 2016 election, and continue to put their trust in Republican politicians to save the country, or they can follow the words of the Psalmist (Psalm 146:3): "Put not your trust in princes: in the children of men, in whom there is no salvation."
In the wake of the 2008 election, I wrote extensively about the changes that could be wrought in the American political landscape if faithful Catholics were to vote only for candidates who broadly reflect Catholic social and moral teaching. (You can find links to those pieces at the end of this post.) I still believe that the only way to change the political landscape in the long term is to break out of the mindset that we must vote for the lesser of two evils, and only cast our votes for candidates whom we can positively support. Imagine if 25 percent of the population (all Catholics who voted) or even just 11 percent of the population (all weekly Mass-going Catholics who voted) had abstained from voting for either of the major-party candidates this year, because neither reflected (albeit in different ways) Catholic social and moral teaching. Had that happened, Catholics would have been the group of voters most sought after four years from now, and potential presidential candidates would have had to bring their own positions more closely in line with Catholic social and moral teaching.
But our efforts need to go beyond the voting booth. We cannot expect to judge political candidates by how closely they reflect Catholic social and moral teaching if we don't understand that teaching ourselves. If we reduce that teaching simply to opposition to abortion (because it is the most important moral issue of our time) and, for instance, dismiss the prosecution of unjust wars as merely a "prudential judgment" (without understanding what a prudential judgment entails), then both major parties can continue to take the Catholic vote for granted. The Republicans can continue to count on the votes of pro-life Catholics, without actually doing anything about abortion when they are in office; and the Democrats can continue to count on the votes of all other Catholics, while increasingly spitting in the face of the Catholic Church.
Our children need to embrace the fullness of the Catholic Faith. They need to understand what it entails beyond one hour at Mass every Sunday. But in order for them to understand that, we need to understand it first. And that means we need to start living our lives as if we believe that Christ is King—not just for one hour per week, but every moment of every day.
Do that, and the culture will begin to heal itself. Do that, and politics will begin to reflect a revitalized culture. Put not your trust in princes, and—oddly enough—we may begin to find that we have more princes we can trust.