Why No Christian Should Support the Democratic Party

In 1976, Senator Bob Dole rather caustically labeled the Democrats as the “War Party”:  World War I, World War II, the Korean conflict, and the Vietnam conflict were all begun by Democrats, leading to the death of roughly 1.6 million American soldiers in combat.

Dole’s comments deeply divided Americans at the time, and, admittedly, they affected me profoundly.  I had just turned 9 when Senator Dole made this statement, but that debate serves to this day as one of my earliest “political” memories.

Soon after, I rather proudly pasted a Ford/Dole sticker on my third-grade blue notebook and paraded it around Wiley Elementary School in Hutchinson, Kansas, despite a bit of friendly abuse from my beloved teacher, Miss Mackey.

While Dole later became known as little more than a corporate shill (with the low-point being his endorsement of Viagra), he played a pretty good hatchet man for Ford.

Certainly for me, after his speech, I began–even when still in single digits–to question the history and purpose of the Democrats.

[At this point in the blog I should admit, I registered as a Republican the first moment I could, and I’ve been a registered Republican ever since.  Despite this, I have rarely voted for Republicans in presidential elections.  But, there is, of course, a bias in my views, to put it mildly.  Still, whatever commentary I offer, I will offer it around indisputable facts].

Roughly a decade and a half ago, this personal suspicion continued and deepened as I began to teach the history of the early American Republic up through the Mexican War.

One of the single best books I’ve come across regarding this era is Daniel Walker Howe’s Pulitzer-prize winning history, What Hath God Wrought (Oxford University Press, 2007).

For all intents and purposes, the Democratic party is the first of all American parties in any real and recognizable sense.  [And, granted, I’m dismissing the commonly held historical view that dates the first parties back to the Federalists and Anti-federalists].  Founded as an alliance of New York bankers, southern plantation owners, and western farmers, the Democratic party began its institutional life not as a party for the common good (the res publica) but for the benefit of special interest groups.

[Frankly, even in the deepest days of the Great Depression, the Democratic party favored its own or potential own over the good of the country.]

With the relatively successful coming together of these three disparate groups, a new type of man assumed the presidency, Andrew Jackson.

“Despite his bow, Jackson brought to his task a temperament suited to leadership rather than deference,” Howe explains.  “Although he invoked a democratic ideology, the new president had profoundly authoritarian instincts.  Tall, ramrod straight, with piercing eyes and an air of command, the hero of New Orleans was not a man to be crossed.” [Howe, pg. 328.]

Or, as a voice from the time said, fully understanding the democratic mass appeal of the militaristic demagogue:

Beware how you give a fatal sanction, in this infant period of our republic, scarcely yet two score years old, to military insubordination [Jackson’s in Florida].  Remember that Greece had her Alexander, Rome her Caesar, England her Cromwell, France her Bonaparte. [Howe, pg. 105]

So proclaimed Henry Clay.

As Howe argues, correctly, nothing mattered more to Jackson than the forced removal of the Indians.  Such an immoral and constitutionally illegal act dominated his presidential agenda [pp. 347, 357].

Ultimately, Howe concludes, “White supremacy, resolute and explicit, constituted an essential component of what contemporaries called ‘The Democracy’—that is, the Democratic Party” [pg. 423].

Now, one might (especially if defending the Democratic party) brush this aside, stating, well, everyone was racist in 1827.  Of course, not everyone was racist, and not everyone who was racist in private still advocated racist policies in public.  So, simply to historicize Jackson’s views is a huge disservice to many, many of the era.

Let’s look at the record of the institutional “achievements” of the Democratic party.

The first Democratic president Andrew Jackson–against the will and decisions of the Supreme Court–forcibly removed American Indians from their proper and “ancient” homelands.  Good estimates note that of, for example, the southern tribes removed, nearly ⅓ died en route to Indian Territory, while another ⅓ died once arriving there, mostly from exposure to the elements and disease.

In the 1830s and 1840s, the Democratic party as a whole opposed the rise of Personal Liberty Laws [PLLs] in northern states.  The PLLs stated that if the federal government wanted to reclaim runaway slaves, it would have to pay for it, for the states would not.

In 1850, the Democratic party gave us the first federal police force, the slave catchers authorized by the Fugitive Slave Act of that year.

In 1854, the Democratic party gave us the Kansas-Nebraska Act, thus opening Kansas and Nebraska, in complete violation of the spirit of the Old Northwest Ordinance and the Missouri Compromise, to the evils of slavery and civil war.

During the last third of the nineteenth century, the Democrats repeatedly segregated the American population, one group from another, and authored and helped pass a multitude of anti-black laws.

The one clear and important exception to all of this nastiness is President Grover Cleveland.

In 1917, under the leadership of Democratic president, Woodrow Wilson, the United States entered World War I, and nearly subjected American sovereignty to the purposeless League of Nations.

During his presidency, Wilson not only racially segregated Washington, D.C., but he also segregated the American military, forcing blacks into separate units and, generally, away from combat and in support positions.

Finally, Wilson (unlike the later Robert E. Lee) refused to condemn the lynching of blacks.

Through his “minister or propaganda,” George Creel, Wilson violated more civil liberties than any other president of the twentieth century, with the exception of FDR.  Paul Murphy has done an outstanding job detailing all of the violations on the home front in WWI in his readable and disturbing book, World War I and the Origin of Civil Liberties (W.W. Norton, 1979).

Under the executive order (9066) of Franklin Roosevelt, the federal government countenanced and organized the concentration of thousands of loyal Americans of Japanese ancestry (few Japanese has immigrated to the United States after 1905 due to a “gentlemen’s agreement”), so there were relatively very few recent immigrants from Japan).

In a manner comparable to Henry VIII’s confiscation of Church property, Japanese Americans were denied all of their property previously held and earned, as it was sold to the highest non-Japanese bidders.  Conditions in the camps–such as in the Idaho desert–could be horrendous as well, as abuses by local whites were often tolerated by larger society.

In 1945, under the Democratic leadership of FDR and Harry S Truman (who, thankfully, reversed many of Wilson’s earlier segregation decrees), the federal government designed, tested, and used (against civilian targets) Atomic weaponry.

One must give Wilson and FDR some credit, however, as they were the last two presidents to seek a Congressional (hence, constitutional) declaration of war.  Every “conflict” since 1945 has been utterly unconstitutional.

Harry S Truman recklessly got us into the Korean Conflict.

John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson–with even more recklessness–got us into the Vietnam conflict.

As far as civil rights abuses and getting us into armed conflicts, Carter and Clinton seem fairly different from the other Democratic presidents of the last 100 years.

Obama, though, is possibly the worst of all recent presidents.  Not only has he continued the immense and unimaginably costly stimuli packages (which only benefit the politically connected rich), but he has also expanded nearly every one of Bush’s war efforts.

Obama is especially bad when it comes to human rights and civil liberty abuses.  The clearest example of this has been the passage of the NDAA, which now gives the power–false and contrived as it is from the perspective of natural law and natural rights–to the president to detain any person without trial.  The rise of the national security state has grown exponentially under Obama as well.

So, this is our Democratic party.  When the followers of Obama act surprised by his pro-war policies, I can only laugh in deep sorrow.  What did they expect?  What history of the Democratic party have they been reading?

In 1976, no matter his other flaws, Senator Dole made a true point.  If you want death and destruction, vote for the Democratic party.

Does this mean every policy that comes out of the party or all of its supporters are evil?  Of course not.  I know many, many fine persons who support the Democratic party.  Am I trying to write this to that everyone will run out and vote Republican in the November election?  No.  Sadly, since Bush I, the Republicans have become what Bob Dole feared the Democrats had become: the party of endless war.  With endless war comes endless abuse of human persons abroad and at home.  No person and neither major American party is immune.

Still, the history of the Democratic party should be troubling even to its most ardent supporters.  Rarely has it behaved admirably, humanly, or liberally.

In the history of the United States, what single institution has so consistently opposed the common good as well as the dignity of the individual human person while fiercely promoting (at least prior to Truman) racism and (always) war?

Where in any of the above, is it right, moral, ethical, and just for a Roman Catholic to support such a party?  The answer should be clear.

As Catholics, we have a duty to vote against the Democratic party and undermine it in every peaceful way possible.

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38 thoughts on “Why No Christian Should Support the Democratic Party

  1. Robert Courtemanche says:

    Brad, I am seriously thinking of voting for the Green Party as a pure protest vote. Maybe if we ALL did that – voted for a third party candidate, we might wake up the major parties to our dissatisfaction with politics as usual. I think it is time for Christians of all denominations to form a Christian Values party – and base it on the teachings of Christ. But that won’t ever happen in America. Until then just DON’T vote for EITHER Obama or Romney.

  2. Joannie says:

    In my own personal opinion which I know a lot of people may not want to hear or agree with I find it hard to support either Party as a Catholic because it seems neither one really supports totally Catholic Teaching on several issues. Obama made no secret of his far out leftist agenda but what about the GOP and their presumed Candiate Mitt Romney. He did not speak out about the Chic Fill A event because at one time he was actually IN FAVOR of same-sex unions and Marriage. I saw this on a local Channel WXIX and their “Reality Check” that compares both men on their ever changing views on is issue. The GOP supports also illegal wars that are not keeping with our laws and the same is true of torture. We need a Third Party that follows what the Pope called for in his third encyclical and its principles on ALL issues, not just like family and marriage. I believe BOTH parties have been hijacked ideologically and this needs to be stopped now it is destroying our Country and Americans faith in our current political system.

  3. Wow says:

    And there it is. This whole website is a front group for Republican operatives to push the GOP talking points (however fringe) onto Catholics. At least you’re being upfront about it now.

    1. Brad Birzer says:

      Dear Wow, you caught us! That’s why I stressed the only answer is Romney 2012! Give me a break. Yours, Brad Birzer (yes, I believe real names matter).

      1. Sam Pynes says:

        Dr. Birzer, Thank you for the excellent article.

        Concerning Romney, oughtn’t we vote for the lesser of two evils as long as his views are not in conflict with basic tenants of the Christian faith? Abortion is a clear issue, while the justice and constitutionality of specific wars is more murky. I fear that we negate the small voice of our vote by voting for those with no chance of victory. Though it may be an incorrect comparison, Just War theory agrees that a war should not be undertaken without a reasonable chance of success.

        1. Brad Birzer says:

          Dear Sam, great to hear from you. I would only caution that a lesser of two evils is still an evil. I’m not sure where Romney stands on abortion (as his new pro-life stance seems to be rather political). We do have a pretty solid idea that he will continue and enhance Obama’s war policies. But, much to think about. Yours, Brad

          1. Joe M says:

            Brad. How do you know that Romney’s position on abortion is political rather than personal? Is it not true that doubting Romney’s position on abortion could be a politically motivated sentiment?

  4. Mick says:

    It is interesting to me the very same historical piece could be written with the sins of the fathers and mothers of the only other majority party being exposed and viewed with the clear vision of hindsight. And as others have said, that will explain why no good Catholic could in good and informed moral conscience vote for any member of the Republican party this year or any time soon. There are good historical arguments not to call myself an American or a Catholic Christian or a white male. But I have a graced heart that strives to follow Jesus and that helps me stay Catholic in spite of the often sad history (even recent history) of the abuses and wars that we have waged and visited on others, and helps me stay American in the midst of our wonderful and embarrassing history. Your argument is not convincing, but rather a strand of history that makes me smile when one attempts to use it to persuade.

    1. Brad Birzer says:

      Dear Mick, so glad I brought a little happiness to your day. If you don’t worry about crimes the Catholics have committed, you have no right to rejoice in the glories either. Grace alone saves us–not works. Yours, Brad

      1. Rich says:

        OH – so the Crimes the Catholics have committed. I thought you were trying to say that the Republicans were the Salvation of the earth. It is nice that you almost Credit Jesus with that (I don’t think you will find his name on the Partisan Rolls.)
        Now for the Crimes of the Catholic Church, following your logic we should not be Catholic either. The Catholic Wars and Popes Illegitimate children and mistresses, their and corruption in the Vatican, to say nothing about the sins of clergy sexual abuse.
        Perhaps the Church needs your fantasy of the Republican party to help them as well.
        Meanwhile Back on earth, why would anyone listen to your illogical and quite inaccurate historical viewpoint as a valid argument in lieu of their duty to be Faithful in their political actions. I am sure that people are quite able to make good judgments who do not share your value of skewing the truth. Prayer and reflection upon the needs of the world today will lead people to chose good leadership, not political ideology. I am hopeful that people meet with the candidates and confront them when necessary on issues that matter for them, and continue to hold them accountable when elected.

  5. Jon says:

    Since the Republicans have done all this as well (and in recent years are certainly just as bad) please tell us which third party you suggest we vote for. Or should we stay home until either party nominates candidates who are not in favor of death and destruction?

    1. David says:

      Didn’t you see? You are supposed to undermine the Democrats because they sinned in the past even though it’s the Republicans that have become the permanent and unjust perpetrators of endless wars in the present. You are supposed to judge the Democrats for their sins in the past, while supporting the Republicans and their current sins with unjust wars and redistribution of wealth from the working class to the privileged class. Because that is what Catholicism is all about.

      1. Brad Birzer says:

        David, I’m not sure what is leading you to this reaction, but it’s certainly not from my post. If you can find me supporting the Republicans over the last 2.5 decades, have at it. I’m sorry you choose to think in such Manichaen terms. Because I criticize the Dems, I must uphold the Republicans. May you never sleep under the sword of Janus. Yours, Brad

        1. Waiting for Elijah says:

          I am eagerly awaiting your next article criticizing at length Romney and the Republicans.

      2. Antonio A. Badilla says:

        David, “You are supposed to undermine the Democrats because they sinned in the past even though it’s the Republicans that have become the permanent and unjust perpetrators of endless wars in the present.” Was Kennedy a Democrat? Yes, and did he have anything to do with the Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam war? Was Johnson a Democrat? Yes, and did he have anything to do with the Vietnam war? Is Clinton a Democrat? Did he have anything to do with the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina? I’m just curious, are the wars Republican Presidents fight the only ones that are “evil” and the wars fought by Domocratic Presidents “just?” Is it that the “Just-War-Theory” only works for Democrats? What about Libya? Was Obama wrong in going there to save the population butchered by its own government? Was that evil too? What about Syria? If Obama goes in there would you consider that war immoral and evil also?
        What about the butchery of millions of unborn babies? Are Republicans or Democrats supporting this genocide?

      3. Brad Birzer says:

        By the way, David, if you’re willing to defend a single action I mentioned above (and attributed to the Dems), I’m happy to read your defense. yours, Brad

      4. Julie T. says:

        David, do you have no better use of your time than trolling the Web sites of organizations you dislike? How sad for you.

        1. David says:

          Julie: I quite like being a Catholic and consider myself to be quite a devout one at that. What I don’t like is organizations that pervert and distort the Catholic teaching. I don’t like organizations that call themselves “Catholic” and then align themselves with organizations that say they are interested in “fanning hostility” against others. I sure do have better things to do with my life than trolling organizations I don’t like. It’s called holding organizations responsible for their actions, lies, and distortions.

      5. Proteios1 says:

        You had me until that whiney little cry baby comment at the end. Too bad, because these two corrupt and unethical parties are united, whether they think so or not, in destroying America.

    2. Brad Birzer says:

      Jon, thanks for the comment. I wish I had an answer, but I don’t. It looks like Romney will want to get us into a war with Iran, so . . . he’s not really an option for me. Nor, at least as of yet, is there a basis for just war with Iran.

      1. DaveJ says:

        The responses to this article should show all of us how difficult it is for humans to determine what is a just or unjust war. Was it just for us to stop Saddam from killing his own people and potentially his neighboring coutries? I am not sure one way or another. We do not have all the information that our government officials do. We would have a similar debate on the best way to help the poor. As Catholics, shouldn’t we focus first on those issues that are easy to determine and critical to our belief, like abortion? The Catholic teaching is clear that abortion is intrinsically evil; no debate necessary. Because Democrats like Obama continue to support abortion the choice is clear for me. Sanctity of marriage would also fall in this category.

        1. Brad Birzer says:

          Dear DaveJ, thanks for taking the time to write a thoughtful response. I honestly don’t know what the answer is on this. I intentionally ignored the question of abortion–mostly because I didn’t want it to cloud the issue of the Democratic party’s other history. But, I very much understand and appreciate your point. For what it’s worth, I don’t trust Romney on this issue–he’s flipped, and I’m not convinced the flip is anything more than a political move. But, I don’t know. Thanks, Brad

      2. Jon says:

        Thanks Brad, I appreciate the comment. It gives me hope for the future legitimacy of this site, since so many of the other bloggers here are drinking the Republican cool-aid.

        1. Brad Birzer says:

          Dear Jon, thank YOU! As to drinking kool-aid, I can promise you there’s no group mind here at CV. If there is, I missed the meetings. And, I’d rather have beer. Yours, Brad

          1. David says:

            Brad: Why was my original comment not published? Does calling for Catholics to “undermine” the Democrats as opposed to working for a better democratic party make you seem like a reasonable person? I think not.

      3. Joe M says:

        Brad. On what basis do you claim that Romney “will want to get us into a war with Iran”?

  6. Julie T. says:

    Brad, thank for an instructive article every younger Catholic should read. History was one of my majors in college many years ago, but I doubt I would know any of this if not for that. Along with a decline in mathematics and science, Americans knowledge of history appears to also be diminished. I cannot help but wonder if, at least in the public school system, this is by design. Only an educated people can possibly hope to understand the foundations of American liberty.

    1. Brad Birzer says:

      Thanks, Julie! This means a lot.

    2. David says:

      None of the things you mention above were specific to the democratic party. Our COUNTRY has a history of oppression and prejudice. When Andrew Jackson evicted Native Americans from their lands, he did so with the support of the FULL Congress and the support of the American people. When Democrats were supporting racial separation, they were doing so in areas of our country where this was not only accepted, but embraced. When our countries armed forces were segregated, it was during a time when generals were claiming that anything less would not have been tolerated by the troops (incidentally the same argument used to keep gays out until recently – where did CV stand on that issue?). Perhaps you should read some Jefferson some day: “As [society] becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

      1. mike says:

        I find it somewhat offensive that so many people chose to dislike this post. The writer is pointing out some things that are true. We must guard against disliking someone of their opinions, or the facts they bring to the table, simply because they are different that your opinions or facts you choose to bring to the table.

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