"The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life."

-John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Speech, January 20, 1961

With these words, John F. Kennedy encapsulated the dichotomy of the modern age: we have mastered the science necessary both to save us and to destroy us. Half a century later, we wrestle with the same demons. We have not yet annihilated ourselves, but neither have we fed the hungry.

To counter recent aspersions cast by right-wing pundits on the Catholic concept of social justice, whose rhetoric would seem to label Jesus a socialist with an agenda, President Kennedy’s prescient inaugural speech offers a thoughtful revisit to an American embrace of social justice. Kennedy, America's only Catholic president, wore the cloak of social justice well. In what turned out to be his only inaugural speech, he articulated a vision of Catholic social justice that predated both the documents of Vatican II and Pope John XXIII's social encyclical, Peace on Earth (Pacem in Terris). Kennedy affirmed the Catholic "belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God", and further stated that America would be "unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights".

I try to picture my parents, watching this speech on a black-and-white television in their 1961 living room. They would have been just beginning their thirties, younger than Kennedy, much younger than I am now, the parents of only two of a future six. I try to imagine their reactions to these lofty words: did their souls stir as hopeful young parents at the dawn of a new decade? Or did they dismiss the speech as political rhetoric? I have no memory of my parents as Democrats. I do remember the day nearly three years later, November 22, 1963: it was the day the first color television set my family ever owned was delivered, and the day President Kennedy was assassinated. I was in first grade; my brother in fifth. One of the first things we watched in living color was the president’s funeral, his starred-and-striped, flag-covered coffin pulled by a horse and his little boy saluting its passing. It was one of the few times I ever saw my father cry. It was also the last time he ever voted for a Democrat.

Now I wonder if any infant sense of Catholic mission in national politics died in Dallas along with President Kennedy. I am struck, reading his inaugural speech fifty years later, by how he presented his Catholicism as a springboard to idealism, rather than as something for which he needed to apologize.

From the distinctly Catholic viewpoint that "faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead", (Jas, 2:17), Kennedy spoke of a "peaceful revolution of hope", wherein the American people were committed "to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty." Rather than being an isolationist, or promising to pray for the less fortunate from a safe distance, the new President pledged "to convert our good words into good deeds". It is a statement that would seem simplistic today, whose style would likely be ridiculed by a jaded punditry, but it goes to the activist heart of the Catholic calling.

"To those peoples in huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required . . . because it is right." These inaugural words could comfortably appear in any Catholic encyclical on social justice. They exhibit the core beliefs of Catholic social justice teaching: to work for the common good, to insist that political authority behave justly, to uphold human dignity and human solidarity, and to exhibit a preferential option for the poor.

"The kingdom of God is among you," proclaimed Jesus, (Lk 17:21) birthing a revolutionary movement that got him killed, and Kennedy envisioned a new world "where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved": the kingdom of God indeed among us. The work Kennedy saw before the country - the "struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself" - is the very work that Jesus calls us to do in the corporal works of mercy.

The speech further described a global fraternity that would "heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah - to 'undo the heavy burdens . . . and to let the oppressed go free.'"  This Biblical vision little resembles our fractured modern world; rather, it is reminiscent of the "Federation" of the futuristic universe of "Star Trek", which was also a creature of the idealistic 1960s. It is also very much a Catholic world view.

The inaugural speech of President Kennedy is best remembered for its "ask not" lines, the immortal words that beckoned his fellow Americans and his fellow citizens of the world to act with "strength and sacrifice" in asking not what the country could do for them, but what they could do for the country and for global freedom. But it is the closing line of the speech that haunts me with its grace and its grasp of Catholic social justice: ". . . let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own."

God's work must truly be our own. These are the words of mission that resonate, that call to us, that guide us even today. Was there ever a clearer, more pared down understanding of what we as people of faith are to be about on God's green earth?

Comments

Vince Killoran | 1/7/2011 - 12:15pm
JFK's speech-written by non-Catholic Ted Sorenson-was an important statement of mid-twentieth century liberal internationalism.

I appreciate Vincent Miller's mention of QUADRAGESIMO ANNO since it was the first in a long line of papal encyclicals and apostolic statements about the positive good of the labor movement and criticism of unfettered capitalism.
Anonymous | 1/6/2011 - 4:42pm
I know I've already posted twice, but as a Southerner, I feel the need to respond to Mr. Mazzellas factual errors.

"Catholic and Protestant ministers in the South were gutless. Ted Hesburgh, arguably the greatest Catholic of our times, shamed them for their outllook and actions."

This history is factually incorrect, Mr. Mazzella.  Roman Catholic priests in the South were frequently on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement.  Archbishop Joseph Rummel ex-communicated one of the most notorious Catholic segregationists in the South - Leander Perez, the "boss" of Plaquemines Parish, because of his anti-segregation views (interesting that ex-communication was used over a political matter when we're told today such things are "divisive").  Moreover, a young Catholic priest in Jackson, Miss. made a name for himself on behalf of his heroic anti-racist actions.  That priest?  Bernard Law.  These are only a few of many examples.

Furthermore, Democrats didn't "lose" the South at the time of Civil Rights.  It is true that many Southern states went increasingly for the GOP in presidential elections, but until relatively recently, many Deep South States still sent Democrats to federal office.  This was done largely because Southern Democrats tended to hew to more conservative positions representative of their constituents while the national Democratic party went increasingly liberal, particularly on social issues such as abortion.  The "defection" of Southern Democrats is a 2 way street.  Moreover, until THIS past election cycle, Democrats continued to hold many of the state legislatures in the Deep South, including my own state of Louisiana.  In fact, Democrats still retain a majority in our state Senate, which has been this way since Reconstruction.  I do agre JFK was a mixed bag, and it is true that death tends to wax over rough edges.
Bill Mazzella | 1/7/2011 - 2:30pm
Jeff,

At the time of the civil rights movement because of Hesburgh and others, ministers and priests began to speak out. Before that they were mum.  But we have to remember that civil rights became fashionable at that time so people like Law and Neuhaus rode the wave. Both of them showed their opportunism when they became staunch right wingers when the mood of the country shifted. You are one of the few that state that the South did not go Republican because of the integration issue. President Linden Johnson, who owned the Southern vote predicted it and he was right. Nixon exploited Southern fears and prejudices to further increase their joining the Republican party. You will have to show more explicitly how abortion was the overriding concern in the shift. Certainly, Falwell and Robertson exploited the abortion (and homosexual) issues for political and fund raising reasons. Further, the South has no moral superiority on this issue except that opportunistic leaders championed laws that the people  did not necessarily believe. The South coincides with the national average when it comes to marriage, divorce and abortion. They just come to New York to get done what they cannot do locally. Finally, there are substantial statistics that show that the morals of "born again Christians" are not substantially different from the rest of the country.
Bill Mazzella | 1/6/2011 - 3:49pm
I tend to forget how old I am when I notice bloggers  are reading history of events which I witnessed. Besides the fact that Kennedy put Catholics on the National map, he really stirred the nation. Remember this was the threshold of the civil rights movement with the ascendence of blacks and women. I wonder if you are from the South Valerie, because the Democrats lost the South when JFK and Johnson put an end to segregation. Catholic and Protestant ministers in the South were gutless. Ted Hesburgh, arguably the greatest Catholic of our times, shamed them for their outllook and actions. The  South was always democratic until the Civil Rights movement with its integration. JFK had his problems but he did stir the nation like no one since FDR. The way he confronted big Steel was a moment of admiration for most of us. JFK's campaign did pay off ministers in West Virginia to get out the vote. Maybe that's where Carl Rove got it from. Kennedy was bad with women and only went to church because his father insisted. For the Kennedy men being Catholic was political more than a way of life. Not to mention, at least at that time, that being Irish was the same as being Catholic.

Valerie, your father and the South was part of a paradigm change from the democratic to republican party. As democrats became more affluent they tended to become more Republican. If the democrats were the party of the poor those who felt they made it did not want that identity. The paradox is that Republicans still hypocritically seek government aid whether is is in getting government contract or bailouts. Police and fire personnel, traditionally democratic but now mostly Republican are a drain on cities everywhere with their preposterous pensions, unequaled in the mainstream. 

JFK was a mixed bag. He was certainly an inspiration to many young people who got into politics at the time. The Peace Corps was his doing and a great idea. I must admit I was chagrined when I read the negative things about him later on. But for one great shining moment, he was something. He was Camelot.

 
Beth Cioffoletti | 1/6/2011 - 12:59pm
"Given the geo-economic and political realities today, I'm curious what "radical changes" you would make to cure what you view as an inherently unjust system?"

Actually, Jeff, I think that the U.S. bishops did a very good job outlining how Catholic Social Justice would apply to the economy in their 1986 letter. -

http://www.osjspm.org/economic_justice_for_all.aspx 

- the heart of which is that the economy serves the people, and not the other way around.

As for a radical change, reregulating the financial industry so that it can no longer get away with abuse and fraud is a good start.  (Go Elizabeth Warren!) I'd like to see some of those white collar crooks see some jail time.
Anonymous | 1/6/2011 - 11:20am
I thank Mr. Miller for his excerpts from Pope Pius XI's encyclical.
 
Based on the experience of the last 100 years it should mean for government to do very little to ensure the common good.  Government policy is often tantamount to coercion and maybe the most effective government policy for the common good is to exert as little as necessary. It is certainly necessary in some key areas but what are these areas.  For example, justice, education and national defense seem to be areas that call for government involvement.  But maybe redistribution of the resources is counter productive and actually hurts the poor and the common good and should be areas where the government should tread lightly if at all.
 
As I said several times maybe we should have a discussion on just how to elevate the common good and provide social justice.  Surely, 70% illegitimacy and high unemployment is not in the common good and these were created by government policies.  Government policy created the Great Depression and government policy extended it for several years.  Government policy created the housing crisis and the subsequent financial liquidity problem and the subsequent high unemployment.  The health care legislation and large deficit spending is continuing to exacerbate the unemployment problem.  Maybe we should discuss what is in the common good.  After all Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, the Perons, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, Kim il Sung etc. thought they were promoting the common good.
 
Yes, what is the common good?  And how best to ensure it?  You can not just blithely wish it or legislate it to happen.
Anonymous | 1/6/2011 - 11:19am
"The kingdom of God is among you," proclaimed Jesus, (Lk 17:21) birthing a revolutionary movement that got him killed"

"Birthing a revolutionary movement that got him killed"??! 

This author has been reading too much Dominic Crossan and other ideologues who twist the Gospel for their own political ideology.  Christ was not the leader of a political movement "that got him killed."

This is the reason that social justice champions are often maligned - they are sentimental and hyper political.  There is no justice without Truth (Caritas en veritate) and Truth is not the domain of a political party - it is the domain of God.

As for Kennedy, he was a cad (a la Woods or Favre) who is romanticized by the left for sentimental reasons.  He and his family were a disaster for Catholicism (as he promoted a private faith and morality that was disconnected from public service) and a disaster for the nation who promoted centralized power and technocratic rule from Washington.

Kennedy on our progress:

"Most of us are conditioned for many years to have a political viewpoint - Republican or Democratic, liberal, conservative, or moderate. The fact of the matter is that most of the problems … that we now face are technical problems, are administrative problems. They are very sophisticated judgments, which do not lend themselves to the great sort of passionate movements which have stirred the country so often in the past. [They] deal with questions which are now beyond the comprehension of most men…."

Right, all our problems are technical and scientific now - not a very Catholic view point!  (very similar to Obama's dismissal of moral objections to stem cell research in favor of "objective science")
Anonymous | 1/6/2011 - 11:05am
Beth -

Given the geo-economic and political realities today, I'm curious what "radical changes" you would make to cure what you view as an inherently unjust system?

I ask this question because I think this is precisely the "social justice" rhetoric that is as far from JFK's "social justice" rhetoric as night from day.  Of course JFK recognized that not all in society benefitted equally materially, and he of course saw some government action as necessary to alleviate those problems (as do most Republicans), but I think he would scoff at the notion of a fundamental "re-making" of the economic order.  furthermore, I just don't see any other viable alternatives realistically available.  You can't just pick an economic order out of thin air, and I think trying to re-create a pre-modern Hebrew economy is about as fundamentalist an approach as "women should be silent in church".  We have to recognize that we live in a fallen world, and as such the economic order is flawed by sin as well.  BUT would the cure be worse than the disease?  This is another problem with much of the "social justice" rhetoric today - it seems to occur in a vacuum apart from fiscal reality.  Health care is an example; Republicans are not opposed to health care for poor people, but is it so wrong to ask if the government should be engineering markets for health care that could lead to an increased burden on taxpayers when our federal spending is already dangerously close to disastrous?  It would seem the "social justice" response to these concerns is simply "tax the rich", an alternative the President himself has admitted is not the solution.

 I know in previous posts you have advocated for radical individual choices that, frankly, the majority of Catholics would scoff at, so what would you advocate that could form a political consensus even among Catholics?
Vincent Miller | 1/6/2011 - 10:57am
"The problem for today's 'Social Justice' proponets is that they have revolted both at Kennedy's natural law framework AND actual policy initiatives largely because TODAY's 'social justice Catholics' have come to identify 'social justice' largely with liberal policy initiatives that increase and require the size, scope, and action of the federal government at each and every turn. "

Having spent half of my life in the company of such folk, I have never found this to be the case.  Social Justice catholics are among the most persistant critics of the abuse of government power.  Pick a protest rally or march against the government and the vast majority of catholics  present will be social justice catholics.

They do however, fully embrace the notion of social justice in Catholic Social Teaching that Government exists to serve the common good and must do so.  So they are not anti-government.  They are critics of the government in the name of its true purpose.  Thus, they expect local, state, and federal governments to do the things that only they can.
(If there is a local, grass roots voluntary organization I can serve in to bring health care to the local portion of the 40 million uninsured...sign me up.)

Likewise, social justice catholics are heavily involved in local civil society, voluntary organizations, "charities," and grass-roots democracy.

They are similar in that regard to pro-life catholics (more often than our cultivated political divides allow-they are the same people) who protest the current state of the law and are involved in pregnancy support centers.

People who care about justice understand subsidiarity quite well.
Vincent Miller | 1/6/2011 - 10:47am
JR's comments and question call for some texts:

Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno is the most of cited reference for the Catholic notion of the
common good.

''the distribution of created goods, which, as every discerning person knows, is labouring today under the gravest evils due to the huge disparity between the few exceedingly rich and the unnumbered propertyless, must be effectively called back to and brought into conformity with the norms of the common good, that is, social justice'' (#58)

Pius develops the older notion of distributive justice.  The difference is the modern awareness of the malleability of the social order, thus humans have the responsibility to structure the social order in a manner that serves the traditional forms of justice. (See Compendium #201) Thus, this definition from the Catechism:

''Society ensures social justice when it provides the conditions that allow associations or individuals to obtain what is their due, according to their nature and their vocation. Social justice is linked to the common good and the exercise of authority.''  (#1928 , the section continues through # 1948)

Finally, the Compendium on the Social Doctrine of the Church.   JR your understanding of government as ''coercion'' is simply not Catholic.  Certainly government cannot and should not do everything, but the state exists to serve the common good and must do so.  This involves matters of social justice - maintaining, reforming and establishing structures that serve the common good.   This is by no means simple, and of course history is riddled with tragic mistakes in this regard.  But from a Catholic perspective the mistakes cut both ways: both in misguided interventions and sinful omissions.  

Compendium:
c. Tasks of the political community
168. The responsibility for attaining the common good, besides falling to individual persons, belongs also to the State, since the common good is the reason that the political authority exists[355]. The State, in fact, must guarantee the coherency, unity and organization of the civil society of which it is an expression[356], in order that the common good may be attained with the contribution of every citizen. The individual person, the family or intermediate groups are not able to achieve their full development by themselves for living a truly human life. Hence the necessity of political institutions, the purpose of which is to make available to persons the necessary material, cultural, moral and spiritual goods. The goal of life in society is in fact the historically attainable common good[357].
169. To ensure the common good, the government of each country has the specific duty to harmonize the different sectoral interests with the requirements of justice[358]. The proper reconciling of the particular goods of groups and those of individuals is, in fact, one of the most delicate tasks of public authority. Moreover, it must not be forgotten that in the democratic State, where decisions are usually made by the majority of representatives elected by the people, those responsible for government are required to interpret the common good of their country not only according to the guidelines of the majority but also according to the effective good of all the members of the community, including the minority.
170. The common good of society is not an end in itself; it has value only in reference to attaining the ultimate ends of the person and the universal common good of the whole of creation. God is the ultimate end of his creatures and for no reason may the common good be deprived of its transcendent dimension, which moves beyond the historical dimension while at the same time fulfilling it[359]. This perspective reaches its fullness by virtue of faith in Jesus' Passover, which sheds clear light on the attainment of humanity's true common good. Our history - the personal and collective effort to elevate the human condition - begins and ends in Jesus: thanks to him, by means of him and in light of him every reality, including human society, can be brought to its Supreme Good, to its fulfilment. A purely historical and materialistic vision would end up transforming the common good into a simple socio-economic well-being, without any transcendental goal, that is, without its most intimate reason for existing.

Anonymous | 1/6/2011 - 10:08am
Very interesting post sure to generate much comment.  Just a few thoughts:

On the level of generality and rhetoric, the blogger is spot on that THIS Kennedy speech represents the best of the Catholic ''social justice'' teachings, rooted as it is primarily in a natural law tradition best espoused by John Courtney Murrary a few blocks away at Georgetown (his Dallas speech to the Baptists is another topic all together).  The problem for today's ''Social Justice'' proponets is that they have revolted both at Kennedy's natural law framework AND actual policy initiatives largely because TODAY's ''social justice Catholics'' have come to identify ''social justice'' largely with liberal policy initiatives that increase and require the size, scope, and action of the federal government at each and every turn.  Kennedy was a New Deal liberal, but unfortunately such liberals would hardly find a home in today's liberal politics.  First, Kennedy's rhetoric, including the ''ask not'' line, requires citizens to themselves to take responsibility and shoulder the burdens of their own lives and communities rather than asking looking primarily to the federal government to take control and responsibilities for various problems (reminds me of a great line from GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels that the best thing a young person can do for the country is to start a small business).  Secondly, Kennedy's actual policy initiatives (few as they were) backed up this rhetoric.  He was extremely hesitant to get involved in the Civil Rights issues in Alabama (more hesitant than his Republican predecessor had been in Arkansas) and he of course passed the largest tax cut in history (until Reagan) believing firmly that ''a rising tide lifts all boats''.  Most importantly, perhaps, he was a firm believer, as most liberals of his day, in American exceptionalism, another tenet at which today's ''social justice'' proponents scoff.  Indeed many of Kennedy's most ardent (Catholic) supporters later joined the GOP and became many of the now-bemoaned ''neoconservatives''.

So there is indeed much to laud about Kennedy's ''social justice'' focus, and if today's social justice proponents took more of that seriously instead of projecting their imagined view of JFK, it might be more compelling.
Beth Cioffoletti | 1/6/2011 - 8:39am
You've brought this up many times, JR.

My understanding of social justice does not have to do with government welfare, or taking from the rich to give to the poor, as much as it has to do with correcting the underlying structure of society in which one group is literally "feeding" off of the other.

(An example of this today is the prison industry in the United States, whereby wealth is generated for some through long-term warehousing of others.)

This radical restructuring to maintain economic and ecological balance is deeply rooted in the ancient Hebrew prophets.  

The year of Jubilee was part of this restructure.  The ancient Hebrew prophets recognized the human tendencies for those with wealth and power to establish structures within the society so as to maintain and increase their advantage.

The provisions of the jubilee (found mainly in Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 15) instruct the Israelite community every seventh year to let the land lie fallow, to cancel debts, and to release slaves. During the jubilee year, the fiftieth year, the community would also redistribute the land. The jubilee was restated by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Nehemiah - and Jesus.

The English word "justice" is thin compared to the word that the Biblical scholars use - "tsedaqah".  It can be translated as the very heart of God. 
Anonymous | 1/6/2011 - 7:41am
On the Civil War thread, I asked the question: ''What is social justice?''
 
I am sure we could give a lot of examples but many tend to use it for government intervention as opposed to voluntary individual action.  It is one thing to volunteer to help the people in the many extremely poor areas in this world, it quite another to impose programs to make poverty go away by fiat.  Kennedy's last line as the author related:
 
''let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.'' 
 
It is not saying that the government should do anything though I am not sure that is what Kennedy meant after all he was a Democrat and part of a legacy in which the government tries to cure all.  And when the government tries to do something is it social justice.  It certainly wasn't during the Great Depression as government caused and prolonged the depression far longer than it should have lasted.  
 
Government action is coercion and not something that we individually voluntarily do.  A couple years later Johnson started the Great Society which devastated the poor in unbelievable ways.  Illegitimacy which was only 5% among Blacks when Roosevelt inaugurated his government assistance programs but then rose to 28% in 1965 and would go to 70% under the even more intrusive government programs of the Great Society.  The government gives us social justice and we get Detroit.  
 
In today's world, the government tries to give everyone housing and we get the worse unemployment since the Great Depression.  And instead of solving the unemployment problem the Government mandates a health care system that causes more economic costs and uncertainty on business and prevents hiring.  Yet we have had legions of people endorsing these programs under the mantra of social justice.  How much do we have to hurt the poor before we stop these insane programs implemented in the name of social justice.
Beth Cioffoletti | 1/6/2011 - 7:32am
"Now I wonder if any infant sense of Catholic mission in national politics died in Dallas along with President Kennedy."

It seems so, Valerie.

I was 10 years old when Kennedy was elected, and I remember the night well.  My father and I stayed up until the early hours of the morning to hear that he had won.  It was an exciting time, probably especially because JFK was Catholic, and we were Catholic, and something of our sense of the very "rightness" of our life had been carried over into the public domain.

But my questions now revolve around just what is this "Catholic mission", and is it really uniquely and specifically "Catholic".  Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran, possessed an integrity that encompassed what I would call the mission, as did Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Dag Hammerskjold, the Dalia Lama - and none of them are Catholic.
Vince Killoran | 1/9/2011 - 5:19pm
Jeff-I don't think you've read my post carefully: I wrote about a process of movement to the GOP and the evidence bears that out beginning in '48 but quite noticeable with LBJ in '64.  Of course Democrats continue to be elected to office in the south (your homestate of La. is the most obvious example) but, after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, black voters begin to replace white voters in party ranks.


Your contention that Dem. politicians "held the same conservative views on race as their GOP counterparts" doesn't seem correct, e.g., there was no Democratic version of Jesse Helms on the national scene since 1980.  The plain fact is that many white Democrats defected because the civil rights movement gained traction within the party. Nixon and others were effective at folding other cultural issues alongside race.  It is difficult for Republicans to accept this but it's a fact and one that must be confronted honestly. There's overwhelming evidence of this process by historians such as Matthew Lassister and Kevin Kruse.


I DO agree that the Church's handling of civil rights after 1945 was complicated (see Stephen Och's DESEGRAGATING THE ALTER).
Anonymous | 1/9/2011 - 11:21am
"Beginning in the late 1940s with Strom Thurmond and the "Dixicrats" white Southerners began moving out of the Democrat Party."

Again, this is not borne out by evidence.  True, most white Southerners began voting for the GOP in presidential elections, but remained steadfast Democrats for generations, sending Democrats to federal office, as well as maintaining the Dems' hold on statehouses and state legislatures really until this last election.  Thus, well into the late 90s, White Southerners sent such prominent Democrats as Sam Nunn, Russell Long, John Breax, Fritz Hollings, Zell Miller and Lawton Chiles to the Senate.  Many of these Democrats held the same conservative views on race as their GOP counterparts.  Indeed, it was a Mississippi Republican named Clarke Reed who is credited with building the southern GOP primarily because of the Southern DEMOCRATS' hold on southern politics.  Of course, the numbers are even stronger on the state level.  As I've already mentioned, the Louisiana state senate remains in Democrat control, and has been since Reconstruction.  The evidence simply does not support the myth, powerful as it is.

Hesburgh is a hero in many ways, but I do think that Mr. Mazzella's propping him up as the sole cause of many Southern clerics role in the Civil Rights movement is exaggerated.  I think that largely has to do with politics.

FInally re: "the decline of the moderates in the Republican Party
", of course many southern conservatives would point to a decline in the moderates in the Democratic Party as well, particularly with respect to abortion.

Finally, "
Vince Killoran | 1/8/2011 - 3:28pm
I'm from the Midwest so I'll let Bill and Jeff fight over regional pride and prejudice.

I don't think anyone, however, is "romanticizing" Hesburgh's role.  I know from the many hours I've spent reading the minutes of meetings of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (housed at the National Archives) that Fr. H. played a central role in linking local activism efforts to national policy making.

Beginning in the late 1940s with Strom Thurmond and the "Dixicrats" white Southerners began moving out of the Democrat Party. The reason they gave publicly until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 was their opposition to strong civil rights legislation-and, yet, the existence of pro-civil rights GOP moderates keep them hanging around the Dem Party until the rise of "color-blind conservatism" in the 1970s and the decline of the moderates in the Republican Party
Anonymous | 1/8/2011 - 12:34pm
Mr. Mazzella,

In light of your romanticization of Ted Hesburgh's role in the Civil Rights Movement and trivilization of heroic acts of people whose politics you disagree with, something tells me no amount of objective evidence would convince you to temper some of your factually erroneous statements.   I did not say that race played no role the Democrats losing the South; all I said was that the myth told by self-righteous liberals that all Republicans are racists and that's why they control the South is not supported by evidence.  Furthermore,  I know its not acceptable now to think Bernard Law capable of heroic acts, but I find it a highly tendentious point that he would risk what he did in Jackson, Miss. all because Civil rights became "fashionable".  Maybe in Manhattan, but I can assure you there was nothing "fashionable" about it Jackson, Miss.  But then again, I'm not a smart New Yorker, so what do I know?
JIM MCCREA | 1/7/2011 - 9:04pm
The quote he should be remembered for:


"In my experience, all nuns are Democrats and all bishops are Republicans."  John Fitzgerald Kennedy