This year, in places like Scranton Pennsylvania and other rust-belt locales, is the old inscription from poet Robert Frost to JFK at his 1960 inaugural still applicable: Be more Irish than Harvard?
Of course, readers of a certain biography, soon to be released as a Warner Bros. documentary, are very familiar with this phrase which held some of the key to Kennedy's success. But Catholic University professor Tim Meagher wonders in this essay if Obama's style on the stump might turn off Catholics who are pivotal in these swing states, pointing to Hillary Clinton's success with white Catholics over Obama during the primary season. That would very ironic given Obama's strong support from the Kennedy family during this election campaign.
But Meagher's essay really doesn't consider the changes in the institutional Church itself between JFK's time and now. Back in 1960, there was a lot obvious ethnic pride surrounding JFK's candidacy, becoming the first U.S. president from a minority background. The priests of this era of Pope John XXIII rallied to Kennedy's cause, at a time when priests and nuns were generally liberal on political matters and the church was a leader in the fight for racial equality. These days, church leaders tend to be more conservative and seem more concerned with Right-to-Life concerns than whether Catholics might not pull the ballot lever for Obama because of his race. McCain's appeal to white Catholics in places like Scranton might succeed in the same way as Hillary Clinton's -- benefitting indirectly from an underlying racism toward Obama dressed up as some cultural problem.
Obama's dilemma in overcoming long-held biases by some voters is much the same as was Kennedy's challenge as an Irish Catholic in 1960. But it seems unlikely many Catholics will see this historical connection and even more unlikely that parish priests in Scranton will address the immorality of voting against a candidate simply because of his race.
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