This is a world I know and I think he’s misread it, whether or not he is right about the “theocons” of old. I write, I should make clear, as a great fan of Francis’s, as I am of Benedict’s. I don’t understand the dyspepsia and ire into which the pope throws people I like and admire.
Some of the Catholics Linker talks about are indeed (and alas) Republican partisans. More are conservative partisans who support the Republican party because it’s the only party that comes close to advancing their positions. As many if not more are cultural and moral conservatives who could easily support the Democratic party if it were not so ardently libertine. Political passions and institutional ties will make the last two groups look like Republican partisans, but they are not. (As happens with pro-life but economically liberal Catholics who find themselves enmeshed with the Democrats.)
The situation is complicated by the kind of prudential judgments politics requires. Like almost everyone else in the West, Catholics have come to accept the market economy as the best way of organizing the economy and have noticed the considerable and negative unintended consequences of the welfare and regulatory state. They have long been concerned with the survival of the mediating institutions, especially the family, whose place the state tends to take. They develop the Church’s teaching on subsidiarity while driving it deeper than do their liberal peers. They are often as critical of corporate capitalism as any leftist, but they tend not to say so often or loud enough.
Most would be happy New Dealers and some comfortable with the Great Society, but even if they favor extensive government intervention in the economy, the Obama administration has proved how hostile to Catholic interests the government can be. You support health care reform, you get the contraceptive mandate. Their supporting the one party that can free them from this injustice does not make them Republican partisans.
They will generally vote Republican and cheer when that party retakes the Senate and expands its majority in the House. They will wind up supporting the Republican candidate for president even if he is not everything they would wish, because the Democratic candidate will be even less what they wish the president to be.
But they are not the simple shills for the Republican party that Linker claims they are. The problem with his analysis comes clear in his misreading of Robert George’s blog item, with which he closes the column. George, he writes, “remains committed to the old theocon strategy of explaining away the difficulties — of telling Catholic Republicans that there’s no need to choose, because GOP ideology and Catholic social teaching go together just as easily and happily as ever.” This is not a fair reading of what George wrote, but it is, I think, the treatment to which Linker’s thesis forces him.
I know George and I suspect he wrote out of concern for Catholics of the sort Linker describes, whose political passions can overwhelm their Catholic commitments — not to convince them to be good Republicans but to convince them to remain faithful Catholics. In any case, he offers a short and lucid description of what the Catholic Church teaches about the Catholic’s responsibility in reading papal statements. It’s the statement of a faithful Catholic thinking seriously about what being a Catholic submitted to the Holy Father means for public life. Nothing in it suggests a partisan motive. I don’t think there is anything in it with which Damon Linker would disagree.