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Nov 3, 2004 2:12 pm

Left and Center

I drove up to New Hampshire a few times to volunteer for the campaign in Keene. Once on the drive a church in Winchester had a sign that said,"Kerry voters, repent," in big red letters. I laughed: one reading was that if your vote for Kerry is somehow sinful, you can always find forgiveness (it was OK to vote your conscience). However, this subversive meaning was not the intent of the writer. The next time the sign had been taken down. The priest or minister must have been informed that the church would lose its tax-exempt status for its involvement in politics. At the time I felt I was robbed of a great photo.

The sign was typical of the preaching throughout the area leading up to yesterday's elections. There were rumors of sermons on"right voting" that were quickly dismissed. Such sermons in other areas may have been more motivating than we first believed. When this election is analyzed, historians will have to contend with how religious institutions inserted themselves in politics. The Democratic Party will have to contend with the loss of Catholics voters, despite running a Catholic candidate. Or because they ran a Catholic candidate.

It's no stretch to say that Catholics may have harshly judged one of their own. That was the fate of Wilhelm Marx, the Chancellor of Germany whom Hindenburg defeated for the Presidency in 1925. A Catholic from Cologne, Marx was regarded as a very pious man, and he should have received overwhelming support from German Catholics. However, nationalists attacked him for the coalition he formed between the Center and the SPD. Some priests, like von Galen (known as the"Lion of Muenster" for his opposition to Hitler), helped nationalists spread doubts about the coalition, spreading fears that the two parties were actually merging, and that the Center was going secular. The rhetoric against the coalition was successful, counteracting Marx's piety. Catholics voted in small numbers.

The loss of religious voters may have no end. Last election the Democrats ran two men who upped the publicness of their faith. Kerry seemed to exhibit enough faith that he might hold Catholics and Jews in place. It does not appear that Democrats can make inroads by appearing to be more spiritual. However, full secularism would only prove to some voters that the left is g-dless.

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