Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Catholic Candidate?

Rudy Giuliani is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage. He is a fallen-away Catholic who frankly acknowledges that he is "interested, but not involved" in religion. I think he may be a great Catholic candidate for president.

This post will be a preview of many of the themes of this blog.

Now in general, Giuliani is a good candidate because he is a good conservative. He'd be a fine commander-in-chief, he's a solid fiscal conservative, and he's great on law enforcement. He made New York healthier for commerce and small business, and safe for families. Those are big things.

But I like Giuliani for the revolution he represents. I think it's not quite the revolution people expect.

First, Giuliani could mean an end for the "Christian Right." I think Catholics should be cautiously optimistic about this -- because there is a difference between the Christian Right and social conservatism. George W. Bush is a great example of the Christian Right: government based on Evangelical intuition rather than natural law. Evangelical intuition is often right, because Evangelicals are basically decent people. But the difference between George Bush and Rudy Giuliani comes down to the difference between faith and reason.

And government is not a matter of faith. Salvation is. The two are related. Christians tend to be better people, with sounder judgment, because they are not quite such slaves to their passions. Nonetheless, government is not a "Christian" task. The president should rule according to sound principle, not according to Christian intuition. George Bush is a great example of how intuition can go right and wrong. I would like a president who can argue a coherent case, not just say, trust me, I'm a Christian.

Especially on abortion. Rudy Giuliani could be our most forceful advocate against Roe, precisely because he is not a Christian and not pro-life. Abortion is wrong not because the Bible says so and not because Christians just feel it in their hearts. Abortion is wrong because it kills children. Roe is wrong not because it thwarted the Christian Right but because it is incoherent law. We need a president who can say, "look, I support a woman's right to kill her children, but that just isn't in the Constitution. I'm personally opposed [to restrictions on abortion], but . . . ." Because that is what's at issue in Roe; that is the real dispute on the federal level. What we need is a coherent lawyer, not a believer-in-chief. Giuliani is the Catholic candidate because he is a candidate of reason, the beginning of the end of the Christian Right. Giuliani is good on this.

The second way Giuliani would revolutionize the Republican party is by being a man of the city. An exalted friend once said, "We [Catholics] are a tenement people." It is no surprise that Catholics abandoned their faith when they went to the suburbs. In fact, part of the reason Roosevelt so eagerly pushed people to the suburbs was to tear down the urban Catholic communities. (See E. Michael Jones, The Slaughter of Cities: Urban Renewal as Ethnic Cleansing.) Catholics are a tenement people because we are a communal people. It is not natural, nor Catholic, for work to be so separate from home, or for people to live in total isolation from their neighbors. The suburbs are not a Catholic place.

The Republican party is in thrall to the suburbs. Republicans are terrified of cities -- one of the big "arguments" against Giuliani is precisely that he's from New York City: yikes! (Don't forget that Al Smith, the first great Catholic hero in national politics, was as New York as they come.) A Washington insider recently commented that blacks often use "urban" and "black" as political synonyms: urban concerns are black concerns. The same is likely true of Hispanics, Jews, and all the other ethnic groups who never vote Republican. Because Republicans know nothing of cities, care nothing for cities, hate cities.

Giuliani ran New York City (and was re-elected) as a fiscal and law-enforcement conservative. As a social conservative, too, to be fair: he fought against anti-Christian art, fought to push pornography to the margins, fought for adoptions, and lifted not a finger to promote abortion. Abortions plummeted in Giuliani's New York -- partly due to national trends, partly as a side-effect of other things he did, but I think he deserves a little credit. And all of these things were fights.

Giuliani could be the first Republican president who understands cities and who reforms federal policy to actually help. There is a great urban renewal afoot in this country, and that's something Catholics should care passionately about. We should be looking for a candidate who can fight for conservative principle in our cities. Giuliani might be our man.