Bearing has an interesting post up which I suspect reflects the political experience of many serious Catholics over the last twenty five years. The whole thing is worth reading, but I’m quoting it extensively because I think the point she’s making is interesting and widely applicable:
I entered full communion with the Catholic church at the Easter Vigil in 1993, when I was a freshman in college…. A couple of years after that, I had a second conversion in which I was forced to realize that I could not be simultaneously a believing Catholic and a supporter of legal abortion. (Why it took me so long is another story again. Hint: There were some serious problems in that particular RCIA program.)
My first vote was cast for Clinton, and my sympathies lay with Democrats in general, and I was in particular strongly anti-capital-punishment (still am). So I went through a certain period of gritted-teeth mourning about that….
I argued with myself about it for a long time, and I read the arguments of Catholics who honestly argued that there were proportionate reasons to vote for candidates despite their support for legal abortion, and I read the arguments of Catholics who honestly argued that the standards for what’s “proportionate” have to be very high indeed, and I struggled with it, and ultimately I became convinced that practically nothing else in the current political climate is proportionately serious. I remain sympathetic to people who have not become so convinced, and I acknowledge that greater or more urgent evils could arise, but I’m certain of my own position now. Not really happy about it, but certain.
I find myself voting for a lot of Republicans, and I have been for a while. When I first started, it was hard to do and I didn’t much like it. But it has gotten easier. For one thing, as time has gone on (and especially after I had children — I know not everyone has that reaction, but many do, and I’m one) I’ve felt less conflicted and more confident about my decision to give so much weight to abortion policy when making up my mind about candidates.
But another reason it’s gotten easier? Over the years I’ve started paying more attention to the content of the arguments of the people I’ve been voting for, and really trying to hear them out. And a lot of it has made more sense to me than I expected it to, way back when….
Anyway, my point? If the Democrats had been a little bit more ideologically diverse, they might have kept me. As it is, the longer I spend voting Republican because I feel I ought to, the more I seem to be drawn towards conservative and/or libertarian policies that are unrelated or only marginally related to life issues, and the more I seem to be repelled by many progressive policies.
From the inside, I can report that it certainly seems that the shift in my thinking is the result of being rationally convinced by many of these arguments. And I still hold a number of positions that are generally associated with liberals rather than conservatives (for instance, I still don’t like capital punishment), and I still wind up being pissed off at people I vote for from time to time because they violate other principles I hold dear (hello, expanded domestic surveillance? excuses for torture?) so it’s not like it’s been a universal move to the right. Plus, sometimes the left-right continuum has seemed to spin around beneath me: I’m practically a free-speech absolutist, and efforts to control speech all seem to be coming from the left these days, what’s up with that?
But I do think it is fair to acknowledge the possibility that my political positions are at least partly due to a subconscious desire for less cognitive dissonance.
Of course, if it’s true for me it’s probably true for a lot of people.
I like this post because it was something which summarized what I had myself thought for quite some time. In my case, I was heavily conservative on many issues (my own main exception being immigration) from a very early age — but I’ve noticed more and more over the years that serious Catholics I know who I would not think of as being political seem to gradually get drawn into strongly conservative stands on a number of essentially secular issues. I think this is very much a result of the long standing association of the pro-life, pro-family movements with the wider conservative one.
At the same time, I think there’s a reverse effect: The influx of serious “life issues” voters into the conservative movement has also helped to change conservatism. Who, for instance, would have imagined Senator Brownback’s work on AIDS relief for Africa to be seen as a conservative project back in the Goldwater days. And yet few would question Brownback’s conservative credentials.