On One Hand

September 5, 2008

Joe Biden was a Good VP Choice

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 11:05 pm

I was at my parents house when I watched Joe Biden’s VP acceptance speech on NBC.

I was thinking it right about when my mom said it: this guy is really Catholic.

His tone, his mannerisms, his way of putting all the momentum into the very end of each sentence so as to nearly cut off half of the second half of the last word, his scrappy “you-gonna-let-him-get-away-with-that?” mode of arguing strikes to the heart of the American Catholic culture and reminds me of every man on my mom’s side of the family.

Obama is weakest when it comes to Catholics, which leads me to beleive that he couldn’t have picked a better VP than Joe Biden.

John Kerry was only the third Catholic presidential nominee in American history (and all three were Democrats) – and if he had won, would have been the second Catholic president. In many ways Catholics are only just now nessled in as fully-accepted participants of American culture. And that being so, one would have thought John Kerry would have been easily pegged as a leader of that cultural group.

But Joe Biden is much, much more Catholic than John Kerry.

American Catholic culture is inherently blue-collar, since most Catholics are decended from Irish, Polish and Italian immigrants that came to the country just about 100 years ago – my own family included. They came amidst cries that the Catholics would corrupt American culture, that they were dirty, lazy, alcoholic, that they took too long to speak English, that they were less legitimate than previous waves of immigrants, that they weren’t suficiently “Christian,” that they remained loyal to their foreign homelands or the pope rather than the U.S., and that they were too resistant to assimilate.

Catholics were loyal to Democrats until recently, when – ironically – John Kerry lost the Catholic vote to George W. Bush. But John Kerry’s upbringing and lifestyle was so far removed from blue collar that it didn’t ring. John Kerry didn’t really represent what it is to be Catholic in America – at least not on a visceral level.

Third- and fourth-generation Irish and Italian Americans are now so assimilated that Catholics no longer cohere as a culture or voting bloc; they’ve moved deftly from the cities to the suburbs and are more and more Protestant in their thinking; more than half of them are the “cafeteria Catholics” that only go to church on Christmas and Easter, haven’t been to confession since they were teenagers, marry non-Catholics, beleive in gay marriage and abortion, and the rest are fiercly pro-life and no longer identify as outsiders. They’ll be just as likely as anyone to bash on Mexican Americans with the very same arguments that were used against them 100 years ago. People hear that you’re Catholic and hardly think anything of it anymore.

That’s how it is for my generation, in my family. But that isn’t how it is for my grandparents. My grandfather was a coach for a Catholic school in a suburb of Denver, and he and my grandma still keep tabs on everyone who went to their church growing up. In high school I’d talk about somebody who’s last name is Murray or Lombardi and they’d jump on it – “oh, we coached his dad. We went to high school with his grandparents.” Chances are they know someone directly related to every Catholic person in Denver, from a time when everyone was having 6 or 7 or more kids.

Those are people that Barack Obama has had a tough time reaching – and while my grandparents are loyal enough Democrats that there’s little any Democratic nominee could do to lose them, they were strong Hillary supporters and they’re probably more ambivalent about Barack Obama than they’ve been about any nominee till now.

Joe Biden is someone they could understand. If the strong cultural Catholics are already party-line Democrats who would strongly favor its populist politics (which I suspect maybe the case), Biden at least will whip up enthusiasm with them and will prevent any from straying.



  1. Thanks for sizing up and generalizing us Italian Catholics. You’re dead on about a lot of things. But I must say there are quite a number of Republican Italian Catholics and my father and his older brothers are amongst them.

    Comment by octoberxswimmer — September 7, 2008 @ 10:05 am | Reply

    • Were they Republicans a generation or two ago or is this a relatively new thing?

      Remember George W. Bush and John Kerry split the Catholic vote 50-50, with the slight advantage going to Bush.

      Comment by ononehand — September 7, 2008 @ 3:59 pm | Reply

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