Book Review: Can a Catholic Be a Democrat? by David Carlin

David Carlin is a former Democrat member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives and is currently a professor at the Community College of Rhode Island as well as a faithful Catholic. A life-long member of the Catholic Church, he grew increasingly disturbed by what he saw as an increasing pro-secular and anti-Christian perspective starting to dominate the Democrat party.

He begins by chronicling the history of the secularist takeover of the Democrat party, beginning with the destruction of the local party machines which helped keep the party from being too ideological as they would have to appeal to a wide variety of voter across the country. With the destruction of these machines, they lost the ability to keep people easily in the Democrat fold come Election Day and so the ability to raise money grew in importance. As money grew in importance, the Party had to rely more and more on the very wealthy for support. With their money came their influence and their ideology, which pushed the Democrats to oppose traditional values driving out many Catholics and Southern Protestants who had formerly been a significant portion of their coalition. (I spoke a little about this effect and how Mike Huckabee is emblematic of it here.) He also feels the commitment of the new elites of the party to supposed “civil rights” movements like gay rights is merely a “penance” for their seeking to steer the Democrat party towards more of an oligarchic position, to promote their own wealth, which he feels has steered the Democrats away from their traditional support for the poor. This was an interesting history to read.

The next section of the book deals with the incompatibility of Catholic belief and Democratic policies. First he explains why Catholicism is incompatible with the secularist agenda now pushed by the Democrats. Then he demolishes the many excuses used by Catholics to attempt to justify their continued support for Democrats. My favorite was his tearing down of the “personally opposed, but…” line taken by so many Democrats, including our own Senator Biden, by showing how their argument can be used in defense of white supremacy:

I have a duty to represent all my constituents, not just Negroes. I’m duty-bound to represent my racist constituents too, and they favor a regime of white supremacy. Personally, I’m opposed to racism, but…

I’ve taken a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. In Plessy v. Ferguson the U.S. Supreme Court has declared that racial segregation is a constitutionally protected practice. Therefore, it’s my duty to support and defend the institution of racial segregation.

He also does an effective job defusing the arguments of Catholics who support pro-abortion candidates using the “seamless garment” metaphor of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. He shows not only that most of those fail to actually account for abortion in the seamless garment but also that they misinterpret what the Cardinal was actually urging.

Surprisingly, in his summary, Carlin acknowledges he is still a registered Democrat and actively advises and supports many Democrats. He makes a valid point that, living in Rhode Island, there isn’t much difference between the two parties, so there’s no real point in switching. He also admits that it might be just an inbred bias against the Republican Party given that his family is Democrat for generations back or that he’s just too old to change.

One criticism of the book I’d have is that he seems to accept as fact that the GOP is dominated by the rich and looks out for business interests. (Although he is generous and honest enough to admit that those who argue that a strong economy is better for the poor than government welfare programs have a strong case.) Besides the fact the Republican Party is on the correct side of the moral debate, one of the reasons I am a Republican is because their economic policies will help the poor more than those of the Democrats. As the trope goes, “the best welfare program is a job,” so we need to support policies that will create jobs. Unfortunately, the Democrats propose policies such as increased governmental regulation, higher taxes, higher minimum wage, protectionism, etc that will destroy jobs.

Carlin closes his section on the future of this secularist-Christian divide that serves as a warning for Democrats that also works as a good closing for this review:

Once upon a time it was the most natural thing in the world for a Catholic to be a Democrat. In the foreseeable future, unless the Democrats drastically change their present anti-Catholic course, it will be the most natural thing in the world for a Catholic to be a Republican.