Confessions of a white Christian Republican

By James P. Gannon

When Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean said the other day that the Republicans were pretty much a "white, Christian party," I must admit I felt a guilty sense of self-recognition. He had nailed me cold, dead to rights. I looked in the mirror and confessed, "Yes, I am a white Christian, and I am a Republican."

Let's get the facts out here:

* I have been white all my life. I was born white in Minneapolis, one of the whitest cities in America. When I was growing up - in the white-bread 1950s, when "multicultural" meant that both Irish Catholics and Italian Catholics lived in the same parish - I knew only white people. There were only two kinds of people in the world, as far as I knew - Catholics and "non-Catholics." You couldn't marry non-Catholics, and you couldn't go to funerals or weddings in non-Catholic churches.

* Fact No. 2: We were Christians, though we never thought of ourselves that way. "Christian" had a vague, slightly non-Catholic feel to it, and it wasn't until after Pope John XXIII and Vatican II that Catholics began to feel comfortable being called "Christians."

* Fact No. 3, and here's where Dean has overlooked something important - we were white Christians, but we were not Republicans. Republicans were mostly Protestant, wealthy and members of country clubs. We were Catholic, middle-class and Democrats.

For most of my adult life, I considered myself a Democrat and voted for Democrats for president - from John F. Kennedy in 1960 to Bill Clinton in 1992. I began voting for Republican presidential candidates, and thinking of myself as Republican, only after it became abundantly clear that people with my views on abortion, prayer in school and other moral issues were no longer considered welcome in the Democratic Party.

A whole lot of us crossed over, taking our whiteness and our Christian beliefs into the party of the country-club set. We didn't feel so much that we had abandoned the Democratic Party as it had abandoned us. Borrowing the spirit of the "No Irish Need Apply" mentality of my grandparents' time, the Democrats posted a "no pro-lifers need apply" sign on their party doors. It became clear that Catholic Democratic officeholders (the Kennedys, Bidens, Kerrys and the rest) had to check their Catholic beliefs at the door and proclaim the Democratic pro-choice loyalty oath to retain good standing in their party.

So if the Republican Party has become the "white, Christian party," as Dean charges, it's partly so because the Democratic Party has made white Christians feel so uncomfortable in its ranks. The Democrats have bent over backwards to please minority groups - blacks, gays, angry feminists and atheists - at the expense of us old white guys (and gals - yes, we're not afraid to call our wives that) who grew up not feeling guilty about being white or Christian.

Of course, Dean is also overlooking an important fact, and that is the only successful Democratic presidential candidates in recent times were two white Christian guys - Jimmy Carter and Clinton, both red-state good ole boys with Southern accents and some familiarity with Scripture. So when Dean vaguely implies that "white Christian" is a pejorative term, he's playing to a Democratic base that's growing narrower and narrower - non-white, non-Christian, non-Southern and non-winning.

As a crossover Republican, I applaud Dean's take-no-prisoners approach to distilling his party into its purest essence. Displaying barely concealed contempt for white Christians is Dean's formula for ethnic and theological purity in the party, and I say, "Pour it on, Howard!" Keep it up and the Democratic Party will be confined to a few zip codes in Manhattan, Hollywood and San Francisco.

The rest of us can just say a little prayer of thanks and join our white Christian neighbors in voting straight Republican.

James P. Gannon is a retired journalist and author of "A Life in Print: Selections from the Work of a Reporter, Columnist and Editor", published in March. Article originally posted 6/15/2005 8:00 PM in USA Today

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