Despite criticism for being tolerant of anti-Catholicism, George W. Bush has gathered a small group of Catholic advisors around his campaign and readily employs Catholic terminology in his discussions of social policy, reports the New Republic magazine (June 5).
Bush’s speech to fundamentalist Bob Jones University last spring led to wide criticism that he took a hands-off position when it came to that school’s anti-Catholic teachings. But Franklin Foer reports that even Bush’s evangelical mentor Marvin Olasky, who formulated the concept of “compassionate conservatism,” says he took many of his ideas from Catholic social thought, particularly the idea of subsidiarity. This concept teaches that social problems are best understood and solved by the organizations and people closest to them. Subsidiarity has meant different things to different Catholics, but Bush is closely associated with the neoconservative version of this teaching.
Represented by such thinkers as Michael Novak, Richard John Neuhaus and George Weigel, this school of thought seeks to reconcile papal teachings with the free market and democracy, while arguing that church teachings provide a moral anchor in a consumerist society. In facing “pressure to shake his party’s reputation for cold-hearted libertarianism,” Bush incorporated Catholic themes even before the Bob Jones incident. In his first major stump speech last July, Bush invoked “solidarity” and the “common good, two phrases right from Catholic social teaching.
Around this time, key Bush advisor Karl Rove said that churchgoing Catholics would be this year’s “soccer moms — the essential swing voters to whom rhetoric must be tailored . . . Bush has explicitly rejected the `leave us alone’ libertarianism that is thought to drive away the socially conservative Catholics who voted for Ronald Reagan but against Bob Dole,” writes Foer.